San Cisco/The Bowery Ballroom/July 2, 2015
At age 13, guitarist/vocalist Jordi Davieson had a working band in the coastal resort town of Fremantle, Australia. Davieson had known Scarlett Stevens since early childhood; she had played drums in a band at age 10 and was attending a nearby college. While in high school in 2009, Davieson assembled a band with Stevens and two of his schoolmates, guitarist Josh Biondillo and bassist Nick Gardner. Initially called King George, the band changed its name to San Cisco after surveying friends and fans. San Cisco’s second album, Gracetown, was released on March 6, 2015.
San Cisco ended its three-week 2015 North American tour with a return engagement at The Bowery Ballroom. From beginning to end, San Cisco filled the air with light, breezy, upbeat songs, with a propensity for rhythm & blues-flavored verses, whispered bridges and falsetto choruses. The band may be marketed as indie, but unless jangly guitars qualify it as indie, the bright, bouncy delivery was classic pop. Except for a couple of songs where Stevens sang at the front of the stage, very little had changed by the time San Cisco performed its final encore, “Fred Astaire.” San Cisco’s simple melodies and rhythms had charmed its young audience.
The Bowery Boys/Otto’s Shrunken Head/July 5, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Joff Wilson (often stylized as jOff wilsOn) started playing guitar left-handed as a youth in Rochester, New York. Upon relocating to New York City and settling into the East Village in 2005, he began teaching guitar lessons by day while at night he played behind the late Jim Carroll, David Peel, Puma Perl and other downtown luminaries. His primary musical vehicle now is his Bowery Boys, which presently consists of Wilson, bassist Dav McGauley and drummer Jeanne Carno-Rosenberg.
The Bowery Boys performed an unannounced set in Frank Wood’s Wind-Down Sundays concert series at Otto’s Shrunken Head, and the small audience responded by abandoning chairs for the dance floor. The songs were fashioned after 1960s guitar-based garage rock, with Wilson singing bubble gum melodies and playing Chuck Berry-styled leads while the band powered the songs like the Ramones. Yes, it was a bit retro and a bit classic, but it was all about bringing the fun back into rock and roll.
Mudhoney/The Bowery Ballroom/July 6, 2015
While in high school in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, Mark McLaughlin (later known as Mark Arm) started Mr. Epp And The Calculations, a joke band named after his math teacher, and performed from 1981 to 1984. Arm and his friend Steve Turner in 1984 formed a more serious band, Green River, which released an album and two EPs until its demise in 1987; members went on to form Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam, while Arm and Turner formed Mudhoney in 1988. Arm and Turner named their new band after Russ Meyer’s Mudhoney, a film neither had ever seen. Mudhoney presently consists of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Arm, lead guitarist Turner, bassist Guy Maddison and drummer Dan Peters; original bassist Matt Lukin left the band in 1999. Mudhoney released its ninth and most recent album, Vanishing Point, in 2013.
Mudhoney launched a seven-date East Coast tour at The Bowery Ballroom. The alternative rock quartet performed 24 songs from all but one of its albums but introduced no new material. The set reached back to the band’s first single, “Touch Me, I’m Sick,” and its b-side, “Sweet Young Thing (Ain’t Sweet No More),” songs which even pre-dated the band’s 1989 debut album. Mudhoney also resourced the band’s early 1980s punk inspirations by covering songs by the Angry Samoans, The Dicks and Black Flag. Mudhoney’s set demonstrated how the band converged the primal rage and energy of punk with the minor-key thud of heavy metal for a fuzzy, distorted, pre-grunge sound. Mudhoney performed like a garage band that exploded the garage walls. Whether it was a slow, sludgy song or a high-adrenaline rocker, Arm abused his vocal chords with a snarl and a screech as Turner played roaring leads with wah-wah, fuzz and other dark, heavy tones. When Arm put aside his guitar, he commanded even more attention as he writhed around the stage like Iggy Pop. With 27 years of experience, Mudhoney knew well how to work its music and its audience; all the audience needed was new songs.
Newsboys/Radio City Music Hall/July 7, 2015
Newsboys is a Christian pop rock band founded in 1985 in Mooloolaba, Australia, and presently is based in Nashville, Tennessee. Newsboys released 17 albums, six of which were certified gold, and has had 33 #1 songs on the Christian charts. After many personnel changes, Newsboys currently consists of lead vocalist Michael Tait (formerly of DC Talk), guitarist Jody Davis, keyboardist and bassist Jeff Frankenstein, and drummer Duncan Phillips; no original members remain in Newsboys. The band’s most recent album, Hallelujah For The Cross, was released on 2014.
Newsboys closed a free concert at Radio City Music Hall as part of evangelist Luis Palau’s weeklong NY CityFest. Due to the nature of the event, Newsboys showcased its more direct messages with hits including “God’s Not Dead” and “We Believe.” Tait sang the rallying songs with soulful vocals while the three musicians drove slick, energetic rock arrangements behind him. Radio City Music Hall has an enormous stage, and Tait used it well, constantly pacing the edges to connect with fans. Newsboys had an impressive stage presentation as well, with the musicians on risers and behind them a massive screen projecting lyrics and performance videos. The half-hour set did not give a full representation of what Newsboys would be like at a regular concert, but it was a short and sweet taste for a future full performance.
Burlap To Cashmere/The Bitter End/July 8, 2015
Brooklyn-based vocalist/guitarist Steven Delopoulos envisioned Burlap To Cashmere in 1994 as a theater project for a college final exam. He then recruited his 14-year-old guitarist cousin, John Philippidis, and drummer Theodore Pagano. As more members joined, the ensemble was transformed into a band. Delopoulos wrote the songs and their music drew heavily on American folk and world music influences, especially Greek folk music. By 1995, Burlap To Cashmere had become a septet and started electrifying audiences regularly at The Bitter End. Exhausted, the band split in 2001. In 2005, Philippidis was nearly beaten to death in a road rage incident near his home; an extended hospitalization, which started with a month-long coma and ended with radical facial reconstructive surgery, ultimately sparked a band reunion. Burlap To Cashmere’s third album, Freedom Souls, was released on June 23, 2015.
Returning to The Bitter End, Burlap To Cashmere once again proved that its music is singular and unique. Imagine Cat Stevens verses, Simon & Garfunkel harmonic choruses and the instrumentation of the Gipsy Kings. The rollicking Mediterranean-influenced melodies and Philippidis’ flamenco-styled guitar picking, particularly on acoustic guitar, were exotic to American ears. Delopoulos’ introspectively poetic lyrics called the listener to higher places and hopes, as in “The Other Country” and the current single, “I Will Follow.” Burlap To Cashmere’s warm rootsy textures and passionate tightly-woven harmonies, given the intriguing Greek troubadour twist, were triumphant in spirit and sound. There is no other music quite like Burlap To Cashmere’s music.