A Silent Film/Bowery Ballroom/November 1, 2015
From 2000 to 2005, Robert Stevenson (vocals/piano/guitar) and Spencer Walker (drums) played in a band called Shouting Myke in their native Oxford, England. In 2008 they formed a new rock band which they named A Silent Film after Stevenson wrote a song using the melody from a Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid; the band liked the style and chose the name as a reference to Chaplin’s many silent films. A Silent Film released its third album, A Silent Film, on October 16, 2015.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Stevenson and Walker were assisted adeptly by three American musicians on bass, guitar, and keyboard. A vibrant and charismatic Stevenson fronted the band well, singing in a clear, strong voice, and enthusing the audience through animated movements at the edge of the stage. A Silent Film’s set circled around unabashed big-energy pop hooks, perhaps too commercial and calculated to be deemed alternative or indie rock. Drawing from all three of the band’s albums, the strength of the emotive songs were that they were distinctive enough to be deemed related yet uniquely individual. The overall big sound echoed U2 and Coldplay, and appeared ready for radio play.
Blind Guardian/ Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/November 3, 2015
Blind Guardian formed as a speed metal and power metal band in the mid-1980s in Krefeld, West Germany. Since 2005 the band has consisted of vocalist Hansi Kürsch, lead guitarist André Olbrich, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen, and drummer Frederik Ehmke. Barend Courbois is the band’s new bassist. The 10th Blind Guardian studio album, and the first in five years, Beyond The Red Mirror, was released on January 30, 2015.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Blind Guardian performed songs from all its albums except, curiously, A Night At The Opera. Throughout the set, the band’s melodic metal featured solid use of Kürsch’s expressive range and anthemic style of singing, Olbrich’s stinging guitar work, and dense, epic musical arrangements. The use of European folk melodies deepened and helped authenticate the songs’ fantasy-laden premise, and intricately-woven progressive metal arrangements brought muscle into the mix. The intense two-hour performance was recorded for a live album.
Soldiers Of Fortune/Max Fish/November 4, 2015
In 2004, bassist Brad Truax of Interpol and Spiritualized conceived of an anti-band in which several musicians would gather periodically to play together but never write songs, rehearse, tour, record or make any products for public consumption. Soldiers Of Fortune came together as an anarchic improvisational collective, but a traditional convention snuck in and a debut album, Early Risers, will be released on November 6, 2015. The loose collective consists of Truax, drummer Kid Millions (Man Forever, Oneida), keyboardist Barry London (Oneida), and guitarists Matt Sweeney (Chavez), Jesper Eklow (Endless Boogie), Mike Strallow (a.k.a. Mike Bones), and Patrick Sullivan (a.k.a. Papa Crazee of Oneida and Oakley Hall).
The Max Fish bar had no stage, sound system or lighting system. Instead, instruments and amplifiers were lined lengthwise along a narrow hallway. Eventually, the musicians began gathering and tuning their instruments. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, Steve Malkmus & The Jicks), who contributed to the album, joined the core Soldiers Of Fortune. At an undefined moment, the tuning evolved into the composition. The five guitarists, the keyboardist, the bassist, and the drummer turned toward the center of their grouping and mostly stared at their instruments or kept their eyes closed, never once looking up at the audience of about 50 people. No one seemed to be directing either the general compass or the solos. The octet played one improvisational piece for over an hour, slowing down and speeding up, with sporadic grunts, howls and chants from several musicians. Spontaneous chaos rubbed against instantaneous creativity, swinging from unconstruction into lucid construction and then back into deconstruction. What happened tonight can never happen again—at least not exactly.
Amaranthe/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/November 4, 2015
Vocalist Joacim “Jake E.” Lundberg and guitarist/keyboardist Olof Mörck had performed in various bands in their native Sweden when they joined forces to form a new melodic power metal band in 2008. This band, originally called Avalanche before changing its name to Amaranthe in 2009, was to be different in that it would alternate three types of lead vocalists. Amaranthe’s present lineup consists of Lundberg on clean male vocals, Elize Ryd on clean female vocals, Henrik Englund on unclean vocals, Mörck on guitars and keyboards, Johan Andreassen on bass and Morten Løwe Sørensen on drums. Following three studio albums, Amaranthe released a compilation, Breaking Point – B-Sides 2011-2015, on October 30, 2015, consisting of b-sides and bonus tracks.
Amaranthe headlined at the Marlin Room At Webster Hall but Lundberg bowed out of the tour due to a family emergency. Chris Adam replaced Lundberg on clean male vocals. The three vocalists frequently sang on the same songs, with the Ryd and Adam dual-gender clean-singing effect contrasting sharply with Englund’s death growls. The band opened with newer songs, “Digital World” and “Trinity,” before digging into the catalog with “Hunger” from 2011’s debut album. While most of the music was radio metal for the masses, the band periodically hammered some crunching power chords, which were quickly offset by floating synth lines and Ryd’s soaring vocals for an epic sound. The mix constantly hovered between light and dark, dwelling mostly on the sunny side. Perhaps more than any band before it, Amaranthe mastered the unlikely combination of commercial power metal with elements of underground metal in doses small enough to challenge without going over the edge. Marketed to the right audience, Amaranthe could be huge.
Dead & Company/Madison Square Garden/November 7, 2015
The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California, and while the core band enjoyed great success and stayed together over the next 30 years, it was haunted by many deaths. Following the death of guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia in 1995, the Grateful Dead disbanded. The surviving members reunited in various combinations, however, including the Other Ones, the Dead, Furthur, and the Rhythm Devils. In addition, many of the musicians started their own bands, all of which played Grateful Dead music. In the summer of 2015, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart reunited for five stadium concerts called “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead,” stating that this would be the last time that the “core four” would perform together. The Grateful Dead’s music would live on, however. Shortly after the stadium concerts, Lesh toured with his own band, Phil Lesh & Friends, while Weir, Kreutzmann, and Hart announced the formation of Dead & Company with guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, and bassist Oteil Burbridge.
Dead & Company’s third concert at Madison Square Garden was sponsored by American Express, and tickets were distributed free via lottery. Despite the mix of old and new musicians, the entire concert was comprised of songs that the core musicians had played in concert since at least 1978, with additional songs that stretched as far back as 1967. Mayer, an accomplished blues and pop artist, sang and played lead guitar well on songs largely composed before his birth in 1977. Mayer added a gritty, swampy layer to the songs, but otherwise the concert was yet another retread for the vast and undying Dead Head community. Dead & Company was not the Grateful Dead, but instead the remaining scraps of the Dead’s legacy. For Dead Heads everywhere, Dead & Company will have to do, at least until the next combination of surviving musicians reunites.