!!!/Bowery Ballroom/November 18, 2015
Vocalist Nic Offer formed !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”) as a dance punk band in 1996 in Sacramento, California. The band’s name was inspired by the subtitles of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which the clicking sounds of the Bushmens’ Khoisan language were represented as “!”. The band !!! is composed of Offer, Mario Andreoni (guitar), Dan Gorman and Allan Wilson (horns/percussion/keys), Tyler Pope (bass/various electronic devices), and Paul Quattrone (drums). The band currently is based in New York City, Sacramento, and Portland, Oregon. Their sixth album, As If, was released on October 16, 2015.
!!! headlined at the Bowery Ballroom and had its fans dancing from the first note until the last. Dressed in a plain t-shirt and short shorts, Offer also danced throughout the show, several times even in the audience. As the band played simple dance grooves, Offer sang in his best Sam Smith falsetto. It all seemed tongue-in-cheek, like faux disco to make the listener chuckle and dance simultaneously. Nevertheless, the trap house beats, the sinewy bass lines and the chigga-chigga guitar lines were real and thoroughly retro. It may be a novelty, but !!! revved up a party spirit very well.
Hot Tuna/Beacon Theatre/November 21, 2015
Hot Tuna formed in 1969 as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane while vocalist Grace Slick was recovering from throat node surgery and was unable to perform. Hot Tuna began by covering many Airplane tunes and adding traditional blues and folk songs. When Slick was ready to resume singing, the members of Hot Tuna returned to Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna performances were intermittent, sometimes even opening for the Airplane, until the demise of the Airplane in 19xx. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady then turned Hot Tuna into a full-time band. Hot Tuna’s most recent album is 2011’s Steady As She Goes.
This year’s Hot Tuna concerts at the Beacon Theatre celebrated Kaukonen’s 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane. On the second night, the first part of the set consisted of Kaukonen, Casady and drummer Justin Guip performing mostly Americana tunes. Kaukonen used two electric guitars, one for the bluesy songs and the other for the folkie songs. Kaukonen’s blues work was impressive, but when he played the folk songs, he was outstanding, perhaps the best in the field, with a busy finger-picking style hearkening back to Rev. Gary Davis. The set ended with two rockers, “Funky #7” and “Hit Single #1.” The second set featured a larger ensemble performing Jefferson Airplane songs. Vocalists Jeff Pehrson, Rachel Price (Lake Street Dive) and Teresa Williams, and guitarists G.E. Smith (on a rare 12-string Telecaster!) and Larry Campbell joined the three core musicians. Kaukonen and Casady, the only Airplane members onstage, for the most part laid back, however, and let others direct the music. Here is where the evening began to tread water, as these covers paid tribute but reflected little of the magic of the original versions. 25 songs after it all began, all 10 musicians jammed on the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree.” Overall it was a pleasant show, honoring the vast history of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane.
My Morning Jacket/Beacon Theatre/November 25, 2015
In 1998 Louisville, Kentucky, Jim James began writing acoustic songs that were not appropriate for his demising band, Month Of Sundays. He recruited several former members of a Shelbyville-based emo-punk band, Winter Death Club, and the first lineup of My Morning Jacket was formed. James was inspired to name the new band after finding a tainted coat emblazoned with the letters MMJ. The band currently consists of vocalist/guitarist Jim James, guitarist Carl Broemel, keyboardist Bo Koster, original bassist Tom Blankenship, and drummer Patrick Hallahan. My Morning Jacket released its sixth album, The Waterfall, on May 4, 2015.
My Morning Jacket announced that it would perform completely different setlists at its four nights at the Beacon Theatre. This was the second night, and like the first, it dug deep into the band’s catalog. The set featured the band’s earlier psychedelic side first before gravitating to newer, high-energy anthems. My Morning Jacket started with “The Dark” from the band’s 1999 debut album, The Tennessee Fire. Rooted in rock and country, the set occasionally hinted at dub and reggae influences and often drifted into experimental and psychedelic jams. In addition to songs not performed in a few years “You Wanna Freak Out” and “Movin Away,” the set included several surprises. James’ take on “Nothing To It” from the Bob Dylan tribute compilation, Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes. Opening act Strand Of Oaks (a.k.a. Timothy Showalter) returned to the stage to sing “Wonderful (The Way I Feel).” The set also included “State Of The Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” a song from James’ solo album. Rather than assembling a slick greatest hits package for the masses, My Morning Jacket designed this show to please its hardcore fans.
G.E. Smith, Will Lee and Chad Smith/Irving Plaza/November 28, 2015
G.E. Smith was the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates, Bob Dylan and Roger Waters, as well as the musical director of Saturday Night Live. Chad Smith has drummed in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot and recorded with many artists. Will Lee played in several bands but is best known for his work on The Late Show with David Letterman. Hang around the New York music scene long enough and you will see all three of these musicians jam in various bands.
The trio came together to headline at Irving Plaza, simply billed as G.E. Smith, Chad Smith, Will Lee. The set mostly consisted of covers and instrumentals. The cover songs were hardly meant to emulate their popular versions, however, but rather became the skeletons for extended jams, with G.E.’s vocals simply as bookends. The three musicians demonstrated exceptional skill at their craft and, with no album to promote, played simply for the love of creating music. For the audience, the thrill of the experience was in watching expert musicians ripping masterfully and passionately on their instruments almost spontaneously. Local music lovers need to encourage them to a repeat performance.
Salt Cathedral/Ace Hotel/November 29, 2015
Vocalist/programmer Juliana Ronderos and guitarist Nicolas Losada are from Bogotá, Colombia, but are currently based in Brooklyn, New York. The duo used to play in a rock band called Il Abanico, but since 2011 are a dreamwave/chillwave band called Salt Cathedral, named after an underground church built in a salt mine in Zipaquirá, Colombia. Salt Cathedral’s second EP, Oom Velt, was released on September 9, 2014.
Concluding a month of Sundays at the Ace Hotel, Salt Cathedral performed an ethereal electro-pop set that was big on light, airy vocals along with synth and samples backdrops. Ronderos crooned into the microphone and spun dials on her electronic devices while her silent partner, Losada, strummed jazzy chords on an electric guitar. The flighty music featured layered arrangements and a few gripping hooks with gliding vocals for a trance-like effect. Presently, the indie music scene is glutted with electronica artists, but Salt Cathedral’s forward-thinking compositions should help the duo stand out among its peers.