Enslaved/Irving Plaza/December 15, 2015
Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson (also known as Kjetil Grutle) formed extreme metal band Enslaved in 1991 in Haugesund, Norway, when they were 13 and 17 years old, respectively. The band name was inspired by an Immortal demo track, “Enslaved In Rot.” Bjørnson and Kjellson are the only remaining original members, but by 2004 the lineup solidified with guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold. They are currently based in Bergen, Norway. Enslaved’s 13th and most recent album, In Times, was released March 10, 2015.
Opening for Between The Buried And Me tonight at Irving Plaza, Enslaved performed only six lengthy songs from five albums. Enslaved’s performance was on the more gentle realm of the extreme metal spectrum. Chugging along in an almost shoe-gaze manner to odd chord sequences, shifting from loud to low and back to loud again, amid a few vocal screeches, Enslaved moved far from its death metal roots to a more epic progressive metal sound. The crashing drums and heavy guitar chords frequently contrasted the lighter keyboard fills, until they united for either harsh or mellow movements within the complex song structures. Much like Opeth, Enslaved bravely explored melody and noise and everything in between to create imaginative metal music.
Between The Buried And Me/Irving Plaza/December 15, 2015
After the 2000 demise of their metalcore band Prayer For Cleansing, vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers and guitarist Paul Waggoner formed a new band in Raleigh, North Carolina. Between The Buried And Me was named from a lyric in a Counting Crows song, “Ghost Train.” Stabilizing its lineup in 2005, Between The Buried And Me presently consists of Rogers, Waggoner, guitarist Dustie Waring, bassist Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson. The band’s seventh studio album, Coma Ecliptic, was released on July 10, 2015.
Headlining at Irving Plaza, Between The Buried And Me performed its brand of progressive metal, which took complex compositions from technical metal arcs and death metal grinds to jazz interludes. The band opened with “The Coma Machine” from the most current album, a science fiction opus which explores the dilemma of a man in a coma revisiting his past life and deliberating whether to stay or move on to a better life. If the concept alone was not mind-bending enough, the staggering tempos in the songs were prepared to complete the job. The band performed fan favorites from several albums, but the novices to this music may have been profoundly challenged to follow the jarring rhymes and reasons. That these diverse movements and musical styles could be performed together at all was very impressive.
Foals/Terminal 5/December 18, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist Yannis Philippakis and drummer Jack Bevan disbanded their math rock band The Edmund Fitzgerald so that they could play in a band that was more fun. With guitarist Jimmy Smith, keyboardist Edwin Congreave, and bassist Walter Gervers, they formed the indie rock band Foals in 2005 in Oxford, England. Foals immediately became very successful in the United Kingdom. The band’s fourth album, What Went Down, was released on August 28, 2015.
Headlining at Terminal 5, Foals put on an energetic rock set that drew from the band’s four albums and was as polished as it could be. Philippakis’ vocals were clear and soulful, motivating the audience to chant along with him on verses as well as choruses. The quintet accentuated pop melodies and shoegaze instrumentation—shoegaze in that they played extended instrumentals with no lead instruments. Some of these extensions were charged by heavy riffs, and some were buoyed by tranquil waves of mood-instilling softness. Foals ignited the audience with rallying vocals and repetitious chords rather than wowing the fans with the individual musicians’ virtuosity. As a live ensemble, Foals’ driving grooves electrified its audience, but the audience’s most memory might be how Philippakis leapt into the audience three times, twice from the stage and once from Terminal 5’s first balcony.
Todd Rundgren/Gramercy Theatre/December 19, 2015
Todd Rundgren started playing in bands almost 50 years ago in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first joined a blues rock band called Woody’s Struck Stop in 1966 and then formed his own garage rock band, The Nazz, in 1967. Rundgren left that band in 1969 and relocated to New York, where he formed Runt in 1970. Rundgren became a solo artist in 1972 and scored with a remake of The Nazz’s “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw The Light.” Rundgren’s “Bang The Drum All Day” was a minor chart hit in 1983, but became more prominent in subsequent years and is now considered one of Rundgren’s most popular songs. From 1974 to 1985, he led the progressive rock band Utopia, and later played in Ringo Starr’s All-Starrs and in the short-lived New Cars. Since the mid-1990s, Rundgren has been based in Kauai, Hawaii. He released his 25th solo album, Global, on April 7, 2015, and an experimental dance electronica collaboration, Runddans, on May 3, 2015.
“An Evening With Todd Rundgren” at the Gramercy Theatre was a retrospective concert of Rundgren’s more mainstream work. In recent years, Rundgren has recorded or performed backed by disc jockeys, orchestras and computers. This time, he assembled a band of former compatriots, keyboardist John Ferenzik, bassist Kasim Sulton, guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince, and contrasting some of his big productions of decades ago, this band played on a no-frills stage. Rundgren and band opened the show with “I Saw The Light” and moved through 24 songs, including two Nazz songs and five Utopia songs, and performed them more or less in original form. The earlier part of the two-hour concert majored in his more familiar 1970s-era catalogue, while the later part of the set explored the deeper cuts of some of his albums. The set balanced Philly-inspired blue-eyed soul, melodic power pop, and extended instrumental rock jams. The band was in full-on rocker mode for much of the set, but Rundgren made room for his rhythm and blues-styled ballads, including covers of The Impressions’ “I’m So Proud,” Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” Rundgren’s vocals were rough at the beginning of the set, but smoothed out after a few songs. Overall, this was the set that Todd Rundgren fans had been craving for decades.
Los Lobos/City Winery/December 21, 2015
Vocalist/guitarist/accordionist David Hidalgo and guitarist/drummer Louie Pérez started writing songs together while in high school in East Los Angeles, California. By 1973, they enlisted fellow students Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron). At first, Los Lobos (Spanish for “The Wolves”) played Top 40 rock and roll covers, but the band became a local favorite when the band members began experimenting with the traditional Mexican music they listened to as children. The band performed at hundreds of weddings and dances between 1974 and 1980. When Los Lobos added a rock sound, the band moved into the club circuit on the other side of the Los Angeles River. By this time the band also included saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin and drummer Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez. Los Lobos gained international notoriety in 1987 with a cover version of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” Los Lobos released its 24th album, Gates Of Gold, on September 25, 2015.
At City Winery, Los Lobos inventively combined rock and roll, Tex-Mex, country, folk, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional Latin music including cumbia, bolero and norteño. The attraction was not that the band did any one of these styles especially well; the mastery was in the mix. The versatile performance was a thick gumbo of rich Mexican and American roots and artistry. Cheers greeted Hidalgo halfway through the set when he strapped on his accordion for the first time, and the audience was transported south of the border. The band performed five songs from the current album and one song each from at least eight albums, and featured guest spots from vocalist Syd Straw and guitarist Marc Ribot. Los Lobos had won over the audience long before the closing cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.”