I Am The Avalanche/Bowery Ballroom/December 26, 2014
Vinnie Caruana was the vocalist for Long Island-based melodic hardcore punk band The Movielife from 1997 to 2003. Caruana formed the Brooklyn-based post-hardcore outfit I Am The Avalanche in 2004. The homecoming concert at the Bowery Ballroom was marked with passionate vocals, smooth musicianship and thoughtful lyrics. IATA opened with “Where Were You?” which referenced the devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy but in a broader light saw Caruana accusing himself for not being present to his friends and family during hard times. Even with Caruana as a sensitive guy who hurts, the band’s rocking guitars and slamming rhythm section drove the music to volcanic eruption. Nearly every song was a rallying anthem, designed for audience sing-alongs and stage diving, and both of these goals were well executed and accomplished. This was the final performance for guitarist Brandon “Aggro” Swanson, so two former bandmates, guitarist Michael Ireland and bassist Kellen Robson, joined in for one song, appropriately “Gratitude.” For the encore, Caruana came on stage with an acoustic guitar and started a solo version of “Symphony.” Moments later, the other musicians joined him on stage and the song was completed as a band. The show ended with “Brooklyn Dodgers,” and Caruana’s final move was to dive off the stage into the crowd below. Maturity set in, but IATA retained a bit of a wild side.
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die/Bowery Ballroom/December 27, 2014
Derrick Shanholtzer-Dvorak taught himself to play drums in his basement in Willimantic, Connecticut. A band started to come together, and as more local musicians caught the vision and joined, Shanholtzer-Dvorak moved to guitar. The fluid collective was entitled The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die (sometimes shortened to TWIABP) and was finally a band in 2009. TWIABP’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom cannot be simply described as emo. That limited description would not relate the depth and width of the performance. The modulation of the songs started here and then traveled there, sometimes detouring slowcore through outer space. Songs started as a whisper and ended with a scream or vice versa, with a meandering, brooding shoegaze in between. Songs built and faded and then ended abruptly. It was a raw and more experimental art-school version of Pink Floyd. It was a cerebral landscape, like a soundtrack to psychedelic movies. TWIABP’s performance was weird, yet captivating.
Television/Irving Plaza/December 28, 2014
Tom Miller left Hockessin, Delaware, and moved to New York City in the early 1970s, aspiring to become a poet. He changed his name to Tom Verlaine, after the 19th century French poet, Paul-Marie Verlaine. In 1973, he formed Television and the band became a regular on New York’s burgeoning punk rock scene at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. Television split in 1978, reforming briefly in 1992 and 2001. At Irving Plaza, Television proved to be the granddaddy of the indie movement. Just when the quartet started to sound a bit polished, Verlaine and Jimmy Rip tore into jarring, atonal and dissonant guitar licks. Verlaine’s tenor voice sounded less strangulated than in olden days, perhaps because he was now singing less in favor of longer guitar jams. The frequently extended instrumental sections roared and soared, providing color and intrigue to an anchor of heady lyrics and steady rhythms. Television performed seven of the eight tracks on its debut album, “1880 Or So” from the third album, the band’s first single, “Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2),” and an unrecorded song entitled “Persia.” The songs generously took their sweet time. Television ended its main set with a 13-minute jam on “Marquee Moon,” and returned for a six-minute encore of “I’m Gonna Find You.” The loose but intense musicianship on these old songs kept them sounding fresh. The world needs new music from Television, however.
Patti Smith/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/December 30, 2014
Patti Smith left a factory assembly line in New Jersey to move to New York City, work in a book store, spend the early 1970s painting, writing, and reciting her poetry. By 1974, Smith began turning her poetry readings into rock readings, initially with guitarist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band. Smith headlined two consecutive December nights at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, and the second night was her 68th birthday. Opening with a brooding, haunting “Dancing Barefoot” and gliding into the more driving “Fuji-San,” Smith was in fine voice and the band was tight and fluid, building on her nuances. Smith dedicated “This Is The Girl” to the late Amy Winehouse, then followed with the song Smith co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen, “Because The Night,” and her version of “The Stable Song” by South African folkie Gregory Alan Isakov. Midway through the set, Smith walked off stage and let her band members perform a couple of songs. When she came back on stage, the band launched into a cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday.” Smith daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, brought out a cake with candles, followed by Michael Stipe of R.E.M., television chef Mario Batali, actor Michael Pitt, and musician Andy York. All sang “Happy Birthday” a capella, Smith blew out the candle, and dozens of large white and silver balloons fell over the audience. The concert resumed with “Ain’t It Strange” and a seven-minute surprisingly quiet and stripped down cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which included Smith’s own prose. To end, she donned eyeglasses and recited then sang from a book the lyrics to a nine-minute version of “Ghandi,” much like how she started her music career. For the encore, Smith sang five songs with a choir composed of her celebrity guests, strapped on a guitar and ended the show by tearing each string. Even at 68, Smith proved to be a mighty feisty rocker.
The Dictators NYC/The Bowery Electric/December 31, 2014
The Dictators formed in New York City in 1973 with a raw and aggressive rock and roll crudeness. Periodically, the band resurfaces, albeit with different members. The Dictators NYC is the most current upgrade. At The Bowery Electric on New Year’s Eve, the band rocked from the start with “New York, New York,” originally recorded by Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom for the Mondo New York soundtrack in 1988. “The Party Starts Now” said equal truths about the band and the audience. “Avenue A” concretized The Dictators as a Lower East Side icon. “Who Will Save Rock And Roll?” asked a still-relevant question. Vocalist Richard “Handsome Dick Manitoba” Blum sang about gritty city life and superficial junk culture, all filtered through an ironic sense of humor and a bigger-than-life WWE-type personality. His impromptu between-song rambles showcased this cartoonish Bronx-born persona. Meanwhile, his hoarse singing voice and the band’s locomotive blast delivered lighthearted songs with waves of frenzied punk energy. The Dictators NYC generated a loud, hard and fun New Year’s Eve party.