Dr. John/Rumsey Playfield/August 1, 2015
Malcolm “Mac” Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, was born almost 75 years ago in New Orleans, Louisiana. Active as a session pianist since the late 1950s, he gained his own following in the late 1960s as Dr. John The Night Tripper, when he combined a theatrical stage show inspired by medicine shows, Mardi Gras costumes and voodoo ceremonies with music rooted in New Orleans music. Dr. John has recorded over 20 albums; his most recent album, a tribute to Louis Armstrong entitled Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit Of Satch, was released on August 19, 2014.
Dr. John & The Nite Trippers performed a free Summerstage concert in Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield for two hours. Walking with a cane, Dr. John made his way to his piano. Before long, John was singing one of his many cover songs, “Iko Iko,” a song about two tribes of New Orleans Indians clashing during the Mardi Gras parade. The syncopated rhythms of many similar songs brought the French Quarter to the stage with a rhythmic gumbo that featured his deep, dark vocals, his fast fingered piano runs and extended solos by his musicians. After a few of his better-known songs, including “I Walk On Gilded Splinters” and “Right Place, Wrong Time,” John recalled Louis Armstrong with covers of “(What A) Wonderful World” and “Mack The Knife.” For Dr. John, Mardi Gras is more than an annual event, it is a pervasive state of mind, and his performance today celebrated that festive life.
X/City Winery/August 2, 2015
Bassist John Doe and guitarist Billy Zoom met through the musicians’ classified page in a music newspaper in Los Angeles, California. Doe began bringing his poet girlfriend, Exene Cervenka, to their rehearsals and she began to share vocal duties with Doe. After trying out several drummers, they finally settled on DJ Bonebrake. The seminal lineup for the punk band X was completed in 1977. X released seven studio albums from 1980 to 1993 and, after a period of inactivity during the mid to late 1990s, X reunited in the early 2000s. X’s most recent album of new songs is 1993’s Hey Zeus!
Zoom withdrew from the current tour in order to seek medical treatment for bladder cancer. With little time for debriefing, Texas-based guitarist Jesse Dayton (Waylon Jennings, Supersuckers) sat in for Zoom, learning 28 songs in eight days. At City Winery tonight, the opening act, Dead Rock West, closed its set with a cover of The Staple Singers’ “This May Be The Last Time” and were joined on stage by X members singing harmony. After intermission, X rocked 22 songs from the band’s early 1980s catalogue plus an older song, 1978’s “Adult Books.” Most of the set was high-speed punk rock; there was very little from the band’s more subtle folk and country side. Doe and Cervenka’s off-kilter harmonizing was riveting, Dayton added a punky twang and Bonebrake’s propulsive percussion drove the songs home. X injected punk sensibilities into two cover songs, the Otis Blackwell–composed “Breathless” and The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” All the public needed was some new material, please.
Amy Helm/Drom/August 3, 2015
Amy Helm was born and raised in a musical conclave in Woodstock, New York. Her father, the late Levon Helm, was the drummer in The Band, her mother was singer-songwriter Libby Titus and her stepfather was Donald Fagen of Steely Dan. As a teenager, she played her first show in a Manhattan bar, then sang and played in several other bands until joining her father’s band, The Midnight Ramblers, for 10 years. Her father passed away in 2012, and she is now leading Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers with guitarist Dan Littleton, bassist Byron Isaacs and drummer David Berger. After three albums with the alt-country collective Ollabelle, her first solo album, Didn’t It Rain, was released on July 24, 2015.
At Drom, Helm showed that the roots of her music remain close to those of her father. As a formidable singer-songwriter, her lyrics explored the timeless themes of life, love and loss. The songs pivoted largely on traditional folk and country, but stretched generously into blues and gospel. Helm played mandolin on a few songs, and sang soulfully and expressively whether the song simmered on bluegrass or rhythm and blues. Littleton played an acoustic guitar but curiously made it sound like an electric guitar; he and Berger brought the rock jam sound to many of the up-tempo songs. In all, Helm’s heartfelt singing, choice of material and arrangements drew by the buckets from the many streams of Americana. Given proper exposure, Helm may revitalize the Woodstock sound.
KMFDM/Irving Plaza/August 4, 2015
German vocalist/programmer/keyboardist Sascha Konietzko founded the industrial band KMFDM as a performance art project in 1984. KMFDM experienced many lineup changes before splitting in 1999. Konietzko resurrected KMFDM in 2002, and by 2005 he had assembled a consistent lineup that included American singer Lucia Cifarelli, British guitarists Jules Hodgson and Steve White, and British drummer Andy Selway. Our Time Will Come, the band’s 19th and most recent studio album, was released on October 14, 2014. After brief residences in Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington, Konietzko presently is based in his hometown of Hamburg, Germany.
KMFDM was one of the first bands to bring industrial music to mainstream audiences, pioneering the crossover between techno/dance and heavy metal with a signature techno-industrial sound. At Irving Plaza, KMFDM backed the male and female vocals with a fusion of crunching heavy metal guitar riffs, electronic music, industrial beats, pre-programmed samples and dance floor sensibilities. The band performed 20 songs from 13 albums. The Mohawked, sunglassed Konietzko growled the first song, “Money,” alone; Long Island native Cifarelli received applause when she came out to howl with him on the second song, “Light.” Koneitzko and Cifarelli each stood before a small synthesizer/programmer/sequencer, but often stepped away to sing at the edge of the stage, Cifarelli often dancing and slithering like a cobra. Throughout the set, flashing lights and fog played with the dark and dense dance grooves (and with the auto focus on our cameras). If there are raves in hell, they might sound like this.
Desaparecidos/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/August 6, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Conor Oberst formed the band Desaparecidos in 2001 in Omaha, Nebraska, but put the emo band on hiatus after one album as his other band, the indie folk band Bright Eyes, began to gain popularity. Charged with a political bent, the band took its name from the Spanish word “desaparecidos,” which means “disappeared ones”; it is a reference to the political dissidents who mysteriously disappeared under Latin American dictatorships. With Bright Eyes on hold, Desaparecidos reunited for a single show in 2010, and in 2012 embarked on its first tour since 2002. Desaparecidos released its second album, Payola, on June 23, 2015, 13 years after the debut Read Music/Speak Spanish. The band consists of original members Oberst, guitarist Denver Dalley, keyboardist Ian McElroy, bassist Landon Hedges and drummer Matt Baum.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Desaparecidos performed 11 of the 14 songs from its new album, six of the nine songs from the debut album, and a cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs.” If anyone came to see the folkie side of Oberst, that person was in for a surprise. This band rocked an intense wall of sound, many of the songs fit for crowd surfers and stage divers. Often the musicians’ faces were covered with hair as the five men bounced to the hard and heavy rhythms. Rooted in loud tuneful punk, the melodies rode on escalating, anthemic cascades and were given drama by Oberst’s angst-filled vocals. The thrust of the adrenalin-driven music felt like it was caught in a tornado. If anything, this was the fault of the set; there was little if any nuance in the mix. Many songs also took on a socio-political defiance, such as the anti-corporate, anti-CEO “Golden Parachutes” and the anti-racism “MariKKopa,” adding to the vibrant urgency of the music. For the encores, Desaparecidos brought out their opening acts: The So So Glos on “Slacktivist” and Band Droidz on “Spanish Bombs.” The evening ended with the pro-worker “Mañana” and the anti-establishment “Greater Omaha.” Rather than Bright Eyes, this was more like Angry Eyes.