The Delta Saints/Mercury Lounge/August 25, 2015
The blues-rocking Delta Saints formed in 2007 when several college students started jamming in Nashville, Tennessee. Louisiana-born singer/lyricist Benjamin Ringel co-founded the band with Kansas native bassist David Supica. Soon after, they were joined by Tennessee-bred guitarist Dylan Fitch and Kentucky keyboardist Nate Kremer. The band’s second studio album, Bones, was released on August 7, 2015.
At the Mercury Lounge, The Delta Saints brought a whole lot of Bayou to their blues rock. The weaving of Ringel’s soulful singing and finger-picking on a resonator guitar, Fitch’s slide guitar, Kremer’s rolling organ and Supica’s funk-infused basslines gave the set its swampy sound. It brushed with genuine Southern twang, but there was more Delta blues than backwoods honky-tonk etched in its brow. While the roots of the music were a throwback to traditional American sounds, the band members gave the set a contemporary pulse with singer-songwriter sensitivities at one end and barroom bombast at the other. It will be fascinating to see where the modern road will lead the hybrid Delta Saints.
The J. Geils Band/Beacon Theatre/August 26, 2015
While attending college in the mid 1960s in Worcester, Massachusetts, vocalist/guitarist John Geils led an acoustic blues trio with bassist Danny “Dr. Funk” Klein and harmonica player Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz. In 1967, the trio recruited drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and Bronx-born singer Peter Blankenfeld, known professionally as Peter Wolf. They became the rocking J. Geils Blues Band, later dropping the word “Blues” from the band name. The following year, keyboardist Seth Justman joined The J. Geils Band. Since its initial breakup in 1985, The J. Geils Band several times has reunited briefly, beginning in 1999, but has not recorded new songs. The band presently consists of Wolf, Dick, Justman and Klein, with additional hired musicians for live shows.
Headlining a New York concert for the first time in more than 30 years, The J. Geils Band stormed the Beacon Theatre with its 1970s rhythm & blues, pop and rock blend. The band opened its 90-minute set with a revue-styled instrumental, highlighting Dick on the harmonica as a lead instrument. Wolf then came onstage and both started and later ended with songs from the band’s 1970 debut album. Drawing from seven of the band’s 12 studio albums, Wolf and the nine-piece band performed familiar originals and obscure blues and soul songs. Even as the 69-year-old Wolf seemed to grow a bit winded, the quick-moving and hyper-jiving frontman still poured more octane into his performance. The high-energy set was very much like the shows The J. Geils Band performed some 35 years ago, and even without Geils and Bladd in the current lineup, the show retreaded 22 timeless treasures to great effect.
Bodeans/City Winery/August 27, 2015
Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas met in 1977 while in high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin. They wrote songs together until Llanas entered college, but soon after Neumann persuaded him to pursue music with him. They began to sing and play guitar under the name Da BoDeans in 1980. By 1983, Da BoDeans were playing Milwaukee’s music scene with a hired drummer and bass player. They shortened the band’s name prior to the release of a debut album in 1986, and Bodeans achieved moderate success over the years. Bodeans’ 12th studio album, I Cant Stop, spelled without an apostrophe, was released on April 21, 2015.
Bodeans is still recovering from the departure of Llanas in 2011, but Neumann continued to lead the band in stride. At City Winery, Bodeans played it safe. Much of the set was comprised of songs from when Llanas was a Bodean, but now with Neumann as the sole frontman. The band that in its early years straddled between country rock and pop settled into a comfortable middle ground. The problem with the middle ground was that the performance also was very much middle of the road. Neumann sang well, the backup musicians were polished, the arrangements were sweet, and the accordion was a very nice touch, but there was little bravado or ingenuity to propel the music beyond passive car-radio likeability. Today’s Bodeans is a quintet that sits comfortably in its history, and the concert was pleasant enough, but the performance would have been more compelling if it had been less predictable.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers/Bowery Ballroom/August 28, 2015
Tim Bluhm, guitarist/vocalist of The Mother Hips, based out of San Francisco, California, was at a New Year’s Eve party when he heard a woman from nearby Lafayette sing. The woman was not a professional singer; she had teaching credentials and lived on a ranch in San Diego, caring for horses. He persuaded her to pursue a singing career—with him as her mentor. In short time, he also persuaded her to become Mrs. Nicki Bluhm. He co-wrote his bride’s first two solo albums, recorded a duet album with her, and now plays in her band, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, along with guitarists Deren Ney and Dave Mulligan, bassist Steve Adams and drummer Mike Curry. Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers’ second album, Loved Wild Lost, was released on April 21, 2015.
Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers performed at the Bowery Ballroom without guitarist Tim, who was touring with his primary band, The Mother Hips. Nevertheless, The Gramblers successfully presented a country-kissed rock set highlighting the soulful singing of Mrs. Bluhm. The band claimed its calling immediately with the countrified leanings of “Heart Gets Tough” from the current album. The 18-song set largely showcased the band’s two albums, with just three songs from Bluhm’s solo albums. Recognizing that The Gramblers first became known through internet-posted zero-budget videos of cover songs sung in a van while touring, the set tonight included impressive takes on surprising covers. Singing from the gut, Bluhm sang a credible version of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” early in the set. Later, the musicians gathered around a single microphone for a remarkably clever country-meets-funk acoustic take on Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That” and a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Opening act Andrew Combs and his band then joined The Gramblers to jam on Gram Parsons’ rousing “Ooh Las Vegas.” Still later, guitarist Andy Falco of The Infamous Stringdusters joined The Gramblers for an extended, guitar-driven “Jetplane.” Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers’ concert gravitated increasingly from record promotion to stage party, and that made the band’s performance all the more engaging.
La Luz/Bowery Ballroom/August 29, 2015
A native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Shana Cleveland relocated to Los Angeles, California, where she developed the intricate finger-picking guitar style she would employ in 2009 with the indie-folk Shana Cleveland & The Sandcastles. After recording two albums in The Curious Mystery, the vocalist/guitarist formed the all-woman quartet La Luz in 2012 in Seattle, Washington. La Luz’s second album, Weirdo Shrine, was released on August 7, 2015. La Luz presently consists of Cleveland, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, bassist Lena Simon, and drummer Marian Li-Pino, with all four sharing vocals.
At the Bowery Ballroom, La Luz performed rock music that uniquely sourced girl-group harmonies, surf guitar and garage rhythms. While La Luz’s attempt at eloping the sounds was sometimes fractured, it was consistently intriguing. A listener may have desired less sugar-sweetened vocals or more guitar reverb, but the band was finding its way to make the marriage work. Cleveland sometimes heightened the fuzz on her guitar twangs for a captivating “surf noir” sound. Sandahl followed with poppy keyboard leads. At times the fusion was vibrantly spellbinding; at other times it was trance inducing. Halfway through the set, La Luz added to the lively spirit of the music by requesting an audience “surf train,” similar to a Soul Train dance lineup but for crowdsurfers. The center lane of the crowd moved more than a dozen bodies, mostly female, over their heads from the back of the room to the stage. La Luz stood out as a highly original band.