Twin Fog/The Penthouse At The Standard Hotel, East Village/November 30, 2015
Sebastian Blanck was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1998 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Since 2002, he has shown his art in solo exhibitions and group shows. Blanck similarly captures his view of the world via songwriting. He released a folk-influenced solo album in 2010 entitled Alibi Coast. As Blanck was developing new songs to record for what he originally intended to be another solo album, he found his musical soul mates and instead formed the New York City-based Twin Fog in 2013. The band is comprised of Blanck on vocals and guitar, Chris Robertson on guitars, keyboards and vocals, Richard Baluyut on bass, and Joey Bouchard on drums. Twin Fog’s debut album, The 8th Year, will be released in 2016.
Twin Fog performed its second concert ever, and the first in New York, at The Penthouse At The Standard Hotel. Blanck retained his signature pop sound, but the input from the other musicians allowed for edgier song constructions, including augmented countermelodies and deeper grooves. The lyrics were canvases featuring portraits of people, capturing emotional relationships and animating them through driving pop rock music. The marriage of art sensibilities with musical rhythms charmed like a tender embrace, but the listener would have to be a fan of pop music to enjoy Twin Fog’s new art.
The Sword/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/December 1, 2015
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, John D. Cronise started playing guitar at the age of 13. He joined local rock and roll bands but then made a career move in 1999 to Austin, Texas. Cronise wrote and recorded music on his own for a few years until in 2003 he formed The Sword, first as a trio and shortly after as a quartet. The heavy metal band currently is composed of Cronise on vocals and guitar, guitarist Kyle Shutt, bassist Bryan Richie, and drummer Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III. Vela continues to live in Austin, but Richie moved 40 miles north to Tyler, Texas, Cronise moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and Shutt is relocating to Brooklyn with his fiancée in January 2016. The band’s fifth album, High Country, was released on August 21, 2015.
Headlining at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, The Sword performed a blues-based stoner metal that seemed to hearken back to the earliest days of hard rock, when it was still experimental and jam-based. The guitar chords and riffs came hard and heavy, backed by a low-tuned bass and crashing drums. Cronise’s vocals gave the songs a lighter melodic structure, but stepped back in favor of dark riffs and soaring guitar leads on every song. Although the band has slowly moved from its original metal sound to a more hard rock sound, the band remains a bit too rough-sounding for mainstream audiences. Nevertheless, a swelling core base should sustain the band.
Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear/City Winery/December 2, 2015
Madisen Ward grew up watching his folk-singing mother, Ruth Ward, play acoustic guitar and sing cover songs at coffee shops in Kansas City, Missouri. As Madisen matured, he gravitated from writing fiction to writing songs that blended old-world folk with a modern pop rock sound. Mother and son began performing these new songs together, with both singing and playing acoustic guitar. Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear’s debut album, Skeleton Crew, was released on May 18, 2015.
As the set opened at City Winery, Madisen and Ruth sat with only their acoustic guitars. They finger-picked and alternated lead vocals on the mid-tempo call-and-response of the opening song, “Down In Mississippi,” setting the tone for a homespun back-porch performance. They were joined by a bassist and a drummer by the second song. Madisen sang husky lead vocals on most of the verses, while Ruth sang with a much lighter touch. Madisen and Ruth also balanced each other by finger-picking solos when the other strummed. Perhaps because they have been at each other’s side since Madisen was born 26 years ago, there seemed to be intuitive chemistry between them as they supported each other in the music. Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear performed most of the debut album, but Ruth also sang a slow, sparse adaption of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The show ended with a rousing version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear’s soulful folk concert demonstrated a potential to reach far beyond the Americana circuit.
Corrosion Of Conformity/Gramercy Theatre/December 4, 2015
In 1982 in Raleigh, North Carolina, guitarist Woody Weatherman, vocalist/bassist Mike Dean, and drummer Reed Mullin formed Corrosion Of Conformity (also known as C.O.C.) as a hardcore punk band. Many musicians came and went (Weatherman has been the only consistent member), but perhaps the best-known lineup consisted of the three original member plus vocalist/guitarist Pepper Keenan, who served the band from 1989 to 2006. By this time, Corrosion Of Conformity had evolved into a heavy metal band. Corrosion Of Conformity went on hiatus from 2006 to 2010, while Pepper recorded and toured with his hometown band, Down. Dean returned in 1993, Mullin rejoined in 2010 when Weatherman began reforming the band, and Keenan reunited the classic personnel in 2014. Corrosion Of Conformity’s ninth and most recent studio album, IX, was released on July 1, 2014.
At the Gramercy Theatre, signs of Corrosion Of Conformity’s punk roots were nonexistent. To call Corrosion Of Conformity a metal band was also a bit of a stretch, although closer thanks to the music’s loud and powerful thrust. Tonight’s performance was more a kin to old school hard rock, with most songs being mid-tempo brooders, with only a sliver of thrash or speed metal sneaking in for spice. The 14 songs were all from the band’s most successful period, in which Keenan was a member, and introduced no new songs or even songs from recent albums. Keenan’s gritty vocals along with raging guitar leads from Keenan and Weatherman gave new life to the 10- to 25-year-old songs. The Deliverance Revival Tour marked the resurgence of vintage COC; now the public only needs new music.
Over The Rhine/Highline Ballroom/December 6, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist and pianist/guitarist Linford Detweiler met in 1989 while attending college in Canton, Ohio. Bergquist and Detweiler formed Over The Rhine as a folk quartet, but in time became a duo with support from various musicians. The band took its name from its home base neighborhood at the time, Over-The-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio. Karin and Linford married in 1996 and nearly a decade ago relocated to a pre-Civil War farm in Hillsboro, Ohio. Over The Rhine has released 13 studio albums, the most recent being the band’s third holiday album, 2014’s Blood Oranges In The Snow.
At the Highline Ballroom, Over The Rhine focused at last half of its set on Christmas or winter songs. These were not the cheerful songs one would hear at any holiday party, however. A cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” and many other covers and original lyrics featured dark observations of isolation, loneliness and loss. “My Father’s Body” directly acknowledged the empty seat at the holiday table, for instance. The songs sometimes came close to the religious root of Christmas but then detoured, as in “Bethlehem,” which explored the irony that the birthplace of Jesus became among the most conflict-filled areas of the world. The set also showcased non-holiday songs from albums such as 2013’s double Meet Me At The Edge Of The World. Bergquist sang with a lovely, aching inflection and her husband’s harmonies made the songs even more graceful. A refuge from the noise and clutter of the season, the charmingly sparse arrangements were so light and airy that one could hear oneself breathe. This was “reality Christmas” and a very unique holiday concert.