Eagles Of Death Metal/Bowery Ballroom/September 16, 2015
At age seven, Jesse Hughes moved from his native Greenville, South Carolina, to Palm Desert, California. In high school, Josh Homme stopped a bully from picking on Hughes, and Hughes and Homme became best friends. After college, Hughes worked as the manager of a video depot until he and Homme formed Eagles Of Death Metal in 1998. Since 2004, Eagles Of Death Metal has recorded four albums; the most recent album, Zipper Down, will be released on October 2, 2015, and is the band’s first album in seven years. Hughes and Homme are the only permanent members of Eagles Of Death Metal, though Homme rarely plays live shows because of his primary commitment as lead singer of Queens Of The Stone Age.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Hughes’ backup consisted of long-time guitarist Dave Catching, along with bassist Matt McJunkins and drummer Jeff Friedl, who also comprise the rhythm section of Puscifer and A Perfect Circle. Despite Eagles Of Death Metal’s tongue-in-cheek name, the concert sounded nothing like the Eagles or death metal. A similar spirit of levity permeated the hard rocking band’s performance. The musicians came on stage, launching the party spirit by singing along and dancing as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born On The Bayou” played loudly through the house speakers. Hughes’ larger-than-life stage persona and between-song banter remained comical right up to a mock guitar battle at the end of the set. The band opened with “Bad Dream Mama” from the first album and continued with gritty garage-basic arrangements of 10 more songs from all four albums. Hughes played Keith Richards’ style riffs and Catching played Billy Gibbons’ style slide, and it all rocked and rolled. For the encores, Hughes came out alone and performed four audience requests, beginning with the Ramones’ “Beat On The Brat” and ending with The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” accompanied only by his guitar. The rest of the band then returned for “Wannabe In L.A.,” “I Only Want You” and a 10-minute “Speaking In Tongues” with the aforementioned guitar battle. Eagles Of Death Metal did well in leading a 90-minute fun-filled rock and roll party.
Babes In Toyland/Irving Plaza/September 17, 2015
Originally from Woodburn, Oregon, vocalist/guitarist Kat Bjelland (formerly of Pagan Babies with Courtney Love) relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bjelland met drummer Lori Barbero at a friend’s barbecue. Over the following months, Bjelland convinced Barbero to play drums and they formed Babes In Toyland in 1987 with various bassists over time. Between 1989 and 1995, Babes In Toyland released three studio albums before becoming inactive in 1997 and eventually disbanding in 2001. Babes In Toyland reformed in 2014 and the new trio consists of Bjelland, Barbero and bassist Clara Salyer. Babes In Toyland’s most recent studio album is 1995’s Nemesisters.
At Irving Plaza, Babes In Toyland revisited 17 of the band’s garage punk anthems from the 1990s and kept them raw and angry. The three musicians seemed to make little attempt to polish the muddy rampage. Long, messy strands of dark hair dancing over her face, Bjelland howled her lyrics from her gut, and her fuzz-intoned guitar licks both scraped the floor and then soared into the sky while the rhythm section pounded ominous tribal beats. There was nothing cute or sweet about this roaring onslaught—no snappy dance tunes, no harnessed harmonies, no charming anecdotes between songs. The set was coarse and crude and even as it crashed into the soundspace like a downed aircraft, it somehow remained utterly feminine. This was not a female interpretation of a male-defined punk genre, this was a fierce release of untamed, unhinged power. There is room in the music world for women rockers to obliterate the norms and be this raucous—all we need now from Babes In Toyland is new songs.
Rancid/Terminal 5/September 18, 2015
Guitarist/vocalist Tim Armstrong and bassist/vocalist Matt Freeman met at the age of five playing Little League baseball in the working-class town of Albany, California, near Berkeley. The two later played together in the ska punk band Operation Ivy from 1987 to 1989. When Operation Ivy split, Armstrong and Freeman formed a series of ska and hardcore bands with short life spans before forming Rancid in 1991. Rancid presently consists of Armstrong, Freeman, guitarist/vocalist Lars Frederiksen, and drummer Branden Steineckert. Rancid’s eighth album, …Honor Is All We Know, was released on October 27, 2014.
On the second of two consecutive sold-out shows at Terminal 5, Rancid performed 28 rapid-fire songs with hardly a breath of air between the songs. Rancid celebrated the 20th anniversary of its biggest selling album, …And Out Come The Wolves, with a set strongly peppered with those songs; the band played six songs from the earlier breakthrough album Let’s Go and only one or two songs from each of the more recent, lesser-selling albums. Rancid proved that it was primarily a live band however, as the band drilled massive holes in the atmosphere with fast and powerful sonic blasts of pure hardcore. Song after song, the riotous music rocked fast and loud with rallying choruses. From beginning to end, “Maxwell Murder” to “Ruby SoHo,” high-octane energy generated from the stage; the front line musicians only stood still when they had to use the microphones. This tsunami poured into the bouncing, shouting, fist-pumping audience. Rancid perfected the art and power of maximum throttle punk rock.
Breaking Benjamin/Best Buy Theater/September 19, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Burnley originally formed a soft rock band named Breaking Benjamin in 1998 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The moniker originated when Burnley broke a borrowed microphone. The original band disbanded when Burnley moved to California. After returning to Pennsylvania in 1999, Burnley formed the hard-rocking Plan 9, but the group soon reclaimed the name Breaking Benjamin from the previous band. This second Breaking Benjamin sold millions of units, but went on hiatus in 2010 due to Burnley’s still-undiagnosed illness. In 2014, Burnley formed a third band and once again adopted the name Breaking Benjamin. The current lineup consists of Burnley, lead guitarist Jasen Rauch (of Red), rhythm guitarist Keith Wallen (of Adelitas Way), bassist Aaron Bruch, and drummer Shaun Foist (of Picture Me Broken). Breaking Benjamin released its fifth and most recent album, Dark Before Dawn, on June 23, 2015.
At the Best Buy Theater, the new Breaking Benjamin performed songs from the previous band’s catalog as well as songs from the new album. The new songs were knit from the same threads, however, as radio-friendly hard rock tunes that each built to crescendos in quickly arriving choruses. Burnley has lived through many battles and perhaps his emo-oriented angst set apart Breaking Benjamin from similar commercial rock bands. In the end, the concert’s weakness was its homogeneity; most song arrangements sounded predictably similar to the other predictable songs. Construction was uniformly led by tortured lead vocals, crunching guitar riffs, vocal harmonies on the swelling choruses, and Burnley’s frivolous potty-mouth messages between songs. Burnley branded the formula, and his band was taught to burnish it well. The surprises included the occasional sharing of lead vocals among the front line musicians, Rauch playing synthesizer on several songs, and several covers: Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever,” Tool’s “Aenema,” and a medley of snippets from Star Wars’ “Imperial March,” Tool’s “Schism,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Pantera’s “Walk.” The 15-year regiment of Breaking Benjamin was executed well and profoundly pointed to a previous decade; the concluding question was whether the new band will be allowed to evolve beyond the long-confining walls it inherited and blossom with new potential.