Bridget Barkan/Overthrow Boxing Club/October 7, 2015
Native New Yorker Bridget Barkan has been acting since childhood, most recently in a recurring role as the one-legged hooker on Law & Order: SVU. As a vocalist, she performs in cabaret productions and toured as a backup vocalist for the Scissor Sisters for almost three years. Barkan also is a teaching artist with Carnegie Hall’s Music Connections, working incarcerated youth. Barkan’s Dear Stranger album was self-released in 2012.
Barkan debuted her new single, “Danger Heart,” with a concert staged in the ring of the Overthrow New York Boxing Club. Taking full advantage of the theme, Barkan had two “boxers” introduce each song as another “round.” The two men enhanced her songs with costumes and choreographed moves, and one song featured a female weightlifter. Barkan herself changed outfits to fit the theme of each song. An animated artist, Barkan sang well, and her songs were catchy pop tunes. In the end, this was more than a music concert; it was a well-designed musical theater piece.
Atreyu/Irving Plaza/October 7, 2015
At age 14 in Orange County, California, vocalist Alex Varkatzas formed the punk rock group Retribution in 1996 with guitarist Dan Jacobs and drummer (and later co-vocalist) Brandon Saller. Over the next two years, Retribution developed a heavier metalcore style and changed its name to Atreyu, after a character in Michael Ende’s fantasy book The Neverending Story. Rhythm guitarist Travis Miguel joined in 2000 and bassist Marc McKnight joined in 2004. Atreyu achieved success but went on hiatus in 2011 and reunited in 2014. Atreyu’s sixth album, Long Live, released on September 18, 2015, is the band’s first album in six years.
Headlining at Irving Plaza, Atreyu performed an energetic, hard-hitting metal set featuring 15 songs from the band’s catalogue. Varkatzas frequently launched the band into a pounding rocker with aggressive vocals, but then many of the songs would interject a more melodic interlude, often sung by Saller. Several times during the set, Varkatzas sang at the stage barriers to connect with the fans in the front line, and at the end of the set he crowd surfed over them. The songs were powered by strong guitar riffs, although there were few extended solos; the regular set ended with the two guitarists momentarily playing behind their heads, but this was for show purposes only. While not breaking new ground, Atreyu’s overall performance nevertheless engaged its fans by smoothly and dynamically detonating rough and melodic forces alternately.
The Winery Dogs/PlayStation Theater/October 10, 2015
In 2011, bassist Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai, David Lee Roth, Talas, Mr. Big) and drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Adrenaline Mob) had quit a failed project and were looking for a vocalist/guitarist in order to launch a new project. That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk suggested they contact Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big). The Winery Dogs became a rock super-trio and released a self-titled debut album in 2013. The Winery Dogs’ second album, Hot Streak, was released on October 2, 2015.
At the PlayStation Theater, the staging was minimal. A simple backdrop of the band’s logo hung on the back wall. No blinding lights, fog or other gimmicks introduced the band, save for George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” blasting through the sound system. Portnoy, Sheehan, and lastly Kotzen walked out on stage avoiding rock star trappings and concentrated only on the music that three super-talented musicians could make together. The classic-sounding rock trio charged cohesively into “Oblivion” and “Captain Love,” the first two tracks from the new album. The band’s 16-song set, eight songs from each of the band’s two albums, showcased the three members’ musical acrobatics individually and corporately. Each performed an extended solo with tasteful grace. Kotzen shined particularly with masterful finger-picking on his electric guitars; he also played an acoustic guitar on a new song, “Fire” (perhaps the only song in which he used a pick), and a keyboard on “Think It Over.” While the musical virtuosity was mind-blowing, the band demonstrated two liabilities that has stunted it from reaching mega-audiences: Kotzen’s soulful, smoky vocals were often strained, and the band’s well-tempered tension-and-release songs often were overshadowed by their prominent musical proficiency. Despite these vulnerable points, the sonic big picture was astounding.
Blitzen Trapper/Bowery Ballroom/October 11, 2015
The band that would become Blitzen Trapper began as an experimental progressive psychedelic band called Garmonbozia in 2000 in Portland, Oregon. By 2003, Garmonbozia evolved into the more country and folk rock quintet Blitzen Trapper, presently consisting of Eric Earley (vocals/guitar/banjo/harmonica/keyboard), Erik Menteer (guitar/keyboard), Marty Marquis (guitar/keyboard/melodica), Michael Van Pelt (bass), and Brian Adrian Koch (drums/harmonica). Blitzen Trapper achieved initial success with 2007’s Wild Mountain Nation album. Blitzen Trapper released its eighth studio album, All Across This Land, on October 2, 2015.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Blitzen Trapper held close to its new album, only touching down lightly on the four mid-career albums that established the band. Performing 23 songs, Blitzen Trapper honed in largely on country-rock twang and spread out from soft acoustic songs to blazing, hard-pounding Southern rock. Earley, who began playing music at the age of three, wrote most of the songs performed, but the set also included covers of The Beatles, Townes Van Zandt and Thin Lizzy. Guitar licks that recalled the Grateful Dead and an occasional funky Band-like groove occasionally gave way to chunky Lynyrd Skynard-styled hooks. Earley often sang with fiery urgency, a tone that was sporadically lightened by his fellow band members’ multi-part harmonies. Menteer on guitar and Marquis on organ frequently filled out the songs with rolling leads. Bordering on jam band ethos, Blitzen Trapper mined the sounds of America and balanced inventive ensemble arrangements for a rocking set.
Hollywood Undead/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/October 12, 2015
Jorel Decker (J-Dog) and Aron Erlichman (Deuce) posted an original song online in 2005 and its popularity led them to start a rock rap band. Based out of Los Angeles, California, Hollywood Undead presently consists of multi-instrumentalists Jorel “J-Dog” Decker, Matthew “Da Kurlzz” Busek, Dylan “Funny Man” Alvarez, George “Johnny 3 Tears” Ragan, Jordon “Charlie Scene” Terrell and Daniel “Danny” Murillo; Deuce and the band parted ways in 2010. Hollywood Undead has sold over two million records in the United States, and about three million records worldwide. The group’s fourth studio album, Day Of The Dead, was released on March 31, 2015.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Hollywood Undead’s six members came on stage wearing individualized goalie masks. They removed the masks after a few songs, but it still was challenging to keep tabs on who was doing what, as they moved constantly and rapidly between microphones and musical instruments. Many of their songs featured three and four rappers in rotation. Likewise, the genre-hopping music behind the raps ranged between sweet pop, harder alternative rock and howling nu metal, some propelled by growls and heavy riff breakdowns. From one song to the next, the lyrics jumped from pensive street poetry to light-hearted party-time hoopla. Hollywood Undead opened with the new “Usual Suspects,” and minutes later had the audience joining them in chanting the humorous lyrics to “Undead.” The scope was so wide that if one did not like one song, one only had to wait for it to end and the next song to begin. Perhaps because each of the six rappers presented his character to the fore in continuously kinetic bursts of breathless pacing, the performance remained exciting and riveting.