Sleater-Kinney/Terminal 5/February 27, 2015
Guitarists/vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein met in 1992 and formed Sleater-Kinney in 1994 in Olympia, Washington. The group’s name was derived from Sleater Kinney Road in Lacey, Washington, the location of one of the band’s early practice spaces. With no bassist, both Tucker and Brownstein tuned their guitars one and a half steps down (D♭ tuning), such that Tucker’s tone and style enabled her to fulfill the role of bass. Janet Weiss became the band’s longest lasting drummer. Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus in 2006 and reunited in 2014.
In just under two hours at Terminal 5, Sleater-Kinney performed 23 songs, including eight of the 10 songs from the new album. The revived Sleater-Kinney 2.0 was more refined than ever. The band stepped down the punky rawness of its music and consistently presented slicker workouts. Even the two early songs from the band’s second album were less riot grrrl garage band and more classic rock. With shredding guitar leads, barreling percussion and sweet harmonies, Sleater-Kinney preserved its integrity with a solid foot in the past and the other foot in the present. Once a clawing, biting band, however, this polished presentation of Sleater-Kinney has evolved into a much tamer pop act.
Third Day/Beacon Theatre/March 3, 2015
Vocalist Johnny “Mac” Powell and guitarist Mark Lee met in high school in Powder Springs, Georgia. Powell began writing songs that expressed his faith, and the duo formed the Christian rock band Third Day in 1991 in Marietta, Georgia. The band’s name was a reference to the biblical accounts of Jesus’ rising from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion.
Third Day launched its 2015 tour at the Beacon Theatre, and the 90-minute set was comprised entirely of worship songs, most of them original and many of them new. Oddly, many of the obvious songs from Third Day’s 12-album catalogue, like “Cry Out To Jesus” and the band’s stirring remake of the traditional “Blessed Assurance,” were not included in the set. Many songs from the new album, including “Soul On Fire,” were performed live for the first time, and other songs were brought back after a long absence. The set was made strong by Powell’s brilliant vocals and the backup from extra musicians and vocalists, including a local choir for many of the songs. Whether on raucous barn raisers, like on the cover of Bob Dylan’s “Saved,” or on mid-tempo, somber compositions, as in “Mountain Of God” and “Show Us Your Glory,” Powell’s über-masculine, heartfelt singing was intensely compelling. Third Day is a dynamic rocking band, and possibly the best Christian rock band in history.
Show Me The Body/The Marlin Room at Webster Hall/March 4, 2015
Vocalist/banjo player Julian Cashwan Pratt and bassist Harlan Steed met when they were 15 years old and began making music together. By their 16th birthdays in 2010, they had formed the concept of Show Me The Body, an experimental banjo-led punk rock power trio. The band presently consists of Cashwan Pratt, Steed and drummer Noah Cohen-Corbett.
Opening for Trash Talk at The Marlin Room at Webster Hall, Show Me The Body sounded like no trio ever before. The bassist and drummer laid down progressive grooves and the one lead instrument, the banjo, was used in a far from traditional manner, creating gnarly, tinny-sounding atonal lines. Meanwhile, Cashwan Pratt shouted jarring slam poetry with unhinged passion. The result was a raw, lo-fi, avant-punk dissonance that was weirdly unique and beyond indie. This young band harnesses an aggressive and exploratory energy that will become its best creative advantage.
John 5 & The Creatures/Gramercy Theatre/March 4, 2015
John William Lowery was born in 1971 in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where at age seven he was inspired to play guitar after watching Buck Owens and Roy Clark perform on the television series Hee Haw. At age 18, he relocated to Los Angeles, California, did session work and played in bands with Rudy Sarzo, Lita Ford, Randy Castillo, k.d. lang, Rob Halford, David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie. Lowery was renamed John 5 with his Marilyn Manson gig, and has kept the name.
At the Gramercy Theatre, John 5 & The Creatures’ 90-minute set began with a trio of face-painted musicians playing in the dark, 5 with a green light held in his mouth. The lengthy instrumental track ended, and 5 tossed his light into the audience. Henceforth, the rest of the set was similarly all instrumental, with 5 playing proficient lead guitar non-stop from the beginning to the end of each song. Although his metal drop-D tuning style was forefront, the show was also a display of his diverse abilities, featuring sojourns into jazz fusion, industrial, bluegrass, country, and much more. For one song, 5 played an LED-covered Fender guitar, but for the most part, all the flash was in how his fingers slid across his Telecaster fretboards with surgical precision, speed and finesse, ranging from the rockabilly “Jiffy Jam” to the flamenco-inspired “El Cucuy.” Perhaps the down point was an overly long instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” but this was followed soon afterwards by a medley of heavy metal riffs which included Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” Black Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell,” Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight,” and Dio’s “Stand Up And Shout.” All evening, John 5 said little between songs and never sang a note; the dazzling guitarist’s talented hands impressively communicated all the necessary verbalization.
Water Seed/Drom/March 5, 2015
In New Orleans, Louisiana, future Water Seed drummer Lou Hill began playing the alto sax in fourth grade and over subsequent years became immersed in rhythm & blues, funk and jazz. Down the road, Water Seed keyboardist J. Sharp learned to play piano at age five and trained for concertos throughout his youth. Both played in local bands before bonding and forming Water Seed in 2000. Cinese Love of Pasadena, California, an orchestral-trained flautist who switched to jazz, later found her way to Water Seed. Born in Houston, Texas, blues and gospel-influenced singer Shaleyah sang in her university’s Philharmonic Society; she found her way to Water Seed as well. For them, Water Seed has been the opportunity to marry many musical experiences into a contemporary urban hybrid.
At Drom, the seven-piece multi-genre Water Seed took original songs and made them last between five and 10 minutes. Most songs had a funk rocking skeleton that grew flesh through cascading vocal interplays and jazz-like interpretive instrumentation. The joyous rhythm and groove was for gyrating hips on the dance floor, while the sophisticated instrumental flourishes fed the head and the big, soulful vocals nourished the heart. The sound was old school cool, recalling the golden era of Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock. While this sound no longer moves major music sales in the present era, Water Seed as a live entity did a fine job of sparking an exuberant New Orleans party spirit in New York.