InCircles/Tompkins Square Park/July 25, 2015
Punk rock even originates in a remote hamlet of Southampton, Long Island. Vocalist/guitarist Jewlee Trudden and bassist Eric Ponto met there in elementary school and when they first jammed, they discovered that they knew how to play all the same covers. They formed InCircles in 2005. Bronx native Oscar Silva presently completes the trio on drums. The band has two albums, and released a five-song EP, Stable 8, on April 14, 2015.
Performing a free concert in Tompkins Square Park, Trudden frequently related her East Village anecdotes between songs. Now she has another story to tell: this may have been the first concert filmed by a low-flying drone that hovered over the band and the audience. Singing in a clear voice remarkably similar to Chrissie Hynde, Trudden and her band made The Pretenders sound like they were pretending to be punk rock. InCircles played authentic high-energy punk rock with strong melodies, driving grooves, raw aggression and explosive guitar leads. Just when Trudden’s vocals started to sweeten the sound, Ponto crashed the party to great effect with howling screams. InCircles took Screaming Females’ sound one step further out. Suffolk County has never produced a band as rad as this!
Screeching Weasel/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/July 25, 2015
Since its formation as a punk rock band in 1986 in Prospect Heights, Illinois, Screeching Weasel has broken up and reformed at least four times and has had dozens of lineup changes. Vocalist Ben Weasel has been the sole constant member of Screeching Weasel. The band presently consists of Weasel, guitarists Zac Damon and Mike Hunchback, bassist Zach “Poutine” Brandner and drummer Pierre Marche. Screeching Weasel recorded 13 studio albums; Baby Fat (Act 1), the first act of a two-act rock opera, was released on May 26, 2015, and Baby Fat (Act 2) is projected for a 2017 release.
Headlining at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Screeching Weasel played a fast and primitive punk rock. Like the Ramones, most of the hyper-speed songs were under three minutes long and packed a tidal wave of barraging sound, with barely a pause between songs. Both the beauty and the problem with Screeching Weasel’s performances was that despite all the personnel changes, the band’s musical vision has changed little over the past 30 years. Snotty attitude, pop melodies, double-time rhythms, hard chops and stinging buzz saw guitar licks were all proficient, but seemed trapped in 1986. Signature songs spun on different riffs but registered similar listening experiences. Perhaps it was all a bit too familiar and could have been boosted by a more expansive format.
Rise Against/Rumsey Playfield/July 28, 2015
Rise Against formed under the name Transistor Revolt in 1999 in Chicago, Illinois, and changed its name to Rise Against in 2001 for its debut album. In addition to its seven albums of melodic hardcore punk music, Rise Against actively advocates progressive issues, supporting organizations including PETA, Amnesty International, Punkvoter and the It Gets Better Project. Rise Against’s current lineup comprises vocalist/rhythm guitarist Tim McIlrath, lead guitarist Zach Blair, bassist Joe Principe and drummer Brandon Barnes. The band’s most recent album, The Black Market, was released on June 24, 2014.
Rise Against performed only two songs from its latest album at SummerStage Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield. The remaining 16 songs were from five of the band’s earlier albums. The band began with “The Great Die-Off,” and the crowd surfing commenced. Springing from raw and intense punk roots, each song seemed like a chant, and much of the audience responded by pumping fists in the air. McIlrath’s forceful vocal style was rallying, Blair’s swirling lead guitar work sounded raw and muscular, and the rhythm section pounded madly. Just a bit over an hour after it began, Rise Against ended the main set with McIlrath and Blair on an acoustic “Hero Of War” and McIlrath alone on “Swing Life Away” before the full band returned for two more rocking encores, “Dancing For Rain” and “Savior.” Early fans have lamented that Rise Against has withdrawn from its hardcore infancy for a more mainstream sound; this evolution was evident, but Rise Against married the best of both worlds.
The Mavericks/Damrosch Park/July 29, 2015
Raúl Francisco Martínez-Malo Jr., known professionally as Raúl Malo, started playing bass in high school and played in local bands until switching to guitar and vocals and forming The Mavericks in 1989. The Mavericks combined neo-traditional country music, Latin, and rockabilly influences on six studio albums between 1991 and 2003. The band split in 2000, reformed in 2003, split again in 2004 and reformed again in 2011. The Mavericks released an eighth studio album, Mono, on February 17, 2015. The band presently consists of Malo, guitarist Eddie Perez, keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden, and drummer Paul Deakin; on tour the band hires additional musicians.
The Mavericks headlined a Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors concert at Damrosch Park. Rooted in country swing, the band stretched out in many directions. Some songs sounded like they were meant for the ballroom and others for the billiards room. When Malo sang, his baritone was lush and supple; when the band jammed, the musicians provided a series of finely-orchestrated blasts to keep the audience swaying its hips. Songs were often punctuated by stinging guitar leads, rolling keyboards or a brassy horn section. Many songs were from The Mavericks’ more recent albums, but the band delivered its better known songs as well. Malo slowed the momentum when he started the encores with two songs solo on acoustic guitar. The band then returned for another 20 minutes of heartland-centered rock and roll. The evening was a timeless display in richly rooted American music.
Veruca Salt/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/July 31, 2015
Based in Chicago, Illinois, guitarists/vocalists Louise Post and Nina Gordon were introduced to each other in 1991 and became fast friends. They wrote songs for a year and a half before being joined by Gordon’s brother, Jim Shapiro, on drums and Steve Lack on bass. By 1993, they were Veruca Salt, named the spoiled rich girl from the children’s book Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Despite worldwide success, the original musicians started dropping out acrimoniously until Post became the only original member by 1998. Popularity faded and Veruca Salt largely went dormant by 2007, although Post did not announce a hiatus officially until 2012. That same year, Post and Gordon met and sang together for the first time in 14 years. They contacted Shapiro and Lack, and the original band reunited in 2013. Veruca Salt’s fifth album, Ghost Notes, released on July 10, 2015, is the first to feature the band’s original lineup since 1997’s Eight Arms To Hold You.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Veruca Salt seemed to pick up where it left off almost 20 years ago, with perhaps even more enthusiasm than in its first life. Featuring a hefty eight new songs interspersed between 13 songs from the 1990s, Veruca Salt maximized use of its dual-female vocals throughout the set. Sometimes Post and Gordon alternated lead vocals, often they sang in harmony, all the while driving a guitar-led sonic aggression with melodic pop hooks. Halfway through the set, the musicians stopped for an a cappella version of “One Last Time,” with the audience ending up shouting the refrain, but then the post-grunge rocking continued with “Volcano Girls,” never to soften again. The music landscape has evolved considerably since Post and Gordon began working together nearly 25 years ago, but apparently riot grrls still rule.