Dir En Grey/Gramercy Theatre/November 11, 2015
Dir En Grey formed as a metal band in Japan in 1997. The name was composed of words from several languages so that it has no specific meaning other than the band’s name itself. Originally a visual kei band, Dir En Grey has opted for less dramatic attire in recent years. The five members each go by a single name: vocalist Kyo; guitarists Kauro and Die; bassist Toshiya; and drummer Shinya. That lineup has been since its inception. Dir En Grey released Arche, its ninth and most recent album, on December 10, 2014.
At the Gramercy Theatre, Kyo (京) wore a long white robe and draped his head in a low hanging black fabric that partially concealed his face mysteriously. Positioned over a bright light and fan for most of the show, Kyo swayed, squatted and spun, and the robe and drape billowed and created shadow effects. As Kyo unwrapped the shroud, the audience saw a man with bizarre face paint that included two eyes painted above his real eyes. Kyo’s dramatic posturing paralleled his vocal dynamics, which ranged from whispering croons and operatic inflections to guttural screams. Behind him, the musicians sometimes played a simmering backdrop or played scraping industrial, progressive and experimental metal. Free from clichés and commercial hooks, the songs were innovative and daring, designed more to be experienced than heard. The concert was non-traditional and uniquely rarified.
tobyMac/Theater At Madison Square Garden/November 13, 2015
DC Talk was the hugely successful rap-rocking Christian equivalent of the Beastie Boys from 1987 to 2001. Between five DC Talk albums and six solo albums, Kevin Michael McKeehan, better known by his stage name tobyMac, has sold more than 10 million albums. His sixth studio album, This Is Not A Test, (stylized as ***This Is Not A Test***) was released on August 7, 2015. Originally from Virginia, tobyMac is presently based in Franklin, Tennessee.
TobyMac and his band, Diverse City, brought their signature mix of pop, rock, hip-hop, Latin, and funk to the Theater At Madison Square Garden. Utilizing a video backdrop and a stage that projected into the audience in a T shape, tobyMac opened with a new song, “Til The Day I Die,” and finished the electrifying set 20 songs later. Looking and sounding at times like Justin Timberlake, tobyMac rapped, crooned, danced and even prayed to jumping, good-timey pop music. Each of the three opening acts (Hollyn, Colton Dixon and Britt Nicole) joined tobyMac on stage at various points, and one song, “Love Feels Like,” reunited tobyMac via lyric video with Michael Tait and Kevin Max of DC Talk. Not only did tobyMac sing well, but each song was built colorfully and intriguingly around a thick and clever arrangement. This performance proved that if tobyMac could ever break through to the mainstream, he would amaze pop, rock and hip-hop audiences.
Lettuce/PlayStation Theater/November 14, 2015
Lettuce began in 1992, when the members were teenagers attending a summer music program at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1994, the musicians reconvened as undergraduates at Berklee and asked jazz club owners and other musicians if they would “let us play,” giving birth to the name Lettuce. The core of Lettuce has remained intact since then. Its members consist of guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, keyboardist Neal Evans, bassist Erick Coomes, drummer Adam Deitch, and the Shady Horns (saxophonist Ryan Zoidis and trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom). The funk band has since relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and its fourth album, Crush, was released on November 6, 2015.
Lettuce lit up the funk for two headline nights at the PlayStation Theater. Playing a mostly instrumental set, Lettuce specialized in uptempo grooves and plenty of symbiotic jams. Riveted in place by the solid rhythm section, the guitars, keyboards and horns provided the bright, melodic leads. Occasionally the music would drift towards psychedelia, but for the most part focused on its smooth, jazzy foundation. Sounding very much like an updated Average White Band, Lettuce kept the energetic jams warm and bouncy, inducing considerable hip-swaying in the audience. For the finale, the band was joined by rhythm and blues singer Nigel Hall, who sang a soulful medley of “Makin’ My Way Back Home,” “Do It Like You Do” and a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” For more than two decades, Lettuce has ignited dance parties by injecting rich textures and fiery vitality into classic funk rhythms; the closing night show at the PlayStation Theater was equally impressive and refreshing.
Fuzz/Bowery Ballroom/November 15, 2015
In 2011, Charles Moothart, the second guitarist in the Ty Segall Band, was looking to create a vehicle for his heavy guitar riffs. Segall moved from guitar to drums, and Fuzz was born. The garage-rock trio presently also features bassist Chad Ubovich, and all three musicians sing lead. Fuzz’s second album, II, was released on October 23, 2015.
Fuzz was an appropriate name for the band’s performance at the Bowery Ballroom. While the three instruments were played clearly, there was an overall fuzz to the sound and even to the mood of the songs. Hearkening back to the bluesy acid rock sounds of early classic rock, Fuzz looked and sounded like Blue Cheer, a late 1960s mega-thrusting, ear-bleeding trio also from the Bay Area of California, but probably owed more to the heavy rock influence of Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix. Powered by Moothart’s riffs, riffs and more riffs, Fuzz was pure stoner rock with a dash of punk vocals. The question remains whether Fuzz will continue as a side project or if it will disappear and melt its sound back into the Ty Segall Band.
Public Image Ltd./PlayStation Theater/November 16, 2015
In 1975 London, England, manager Malcolm McLaren invited John Lydon to become the singer of the newly-formed Sex Pistols. Renamed Johnny Rotten, Lydon subsequently became the poster boy of the punk movement. The Sex Pistols disintegrated in 1978 and Lydon formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. (PiL), which recorded eight albums under various lineups and then went on hiatus in 1992. Lydon resurrected Public Image Ltd. in 2009 and recorded two more albums. The band’s 10th album, What The World Needs Now…, was released on September 4, 2015.
At the PlayStation Theater, the nearly 60-year-old Lydon looked like he was double the weight of his bad boy days of 35 years ago. Still spikey-haired, he wore two earrings in each ear and a black-and-white-striped prison-styled pants and top, partly decorated with safety pins. Instead of the snarl from ages ago, he frequently sucked his upper lip into his lower lip. Half of the set was comprised of newer songs and half were older songs given a new twist. Guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith hit on a funk or dub reggae groove, and Lydon howled his lyrics, barely moving away from his microphone and sheet music stands. He frequently became Patti Smith, extending many songs with what seemed to be stream-of-consciousness lyrics and acerbic social commentary. The uneven two-hour set shifted between the angry passion of Lydon and Edmonds’ interplay and the languishing tedium from repetitive trance-like rhythms. PiL’s magnet was the legend of Johnny Rotten, even as Lydon these days evolves more into poet than performer.