Nile/Gramercy Theatre/January 14, 2016
When a 10-year-old thrash metal band named Morriah fired its lead vocalist in 1993, the remaining musicians formed Nile, a technical death metal band based out of Greenville, South Carolina. The new band’s music and lyrics were inspired by ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern mythology, mysticism, history, and ancient art, as well as H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novels. After frequent lineup upheavals, the present Nile consists of original member Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade on vocals and guitars, Brad Parris on vocals and bass, and George Kollias on drums. Nile’s eighth and most recent album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, was released on August 28, 2015.
Nile appeared onstage at the Gramercy Theatre as a pre-recorded “Ushabti Reanimator” played through the speakers, introducing a symphonic sound that would have suited a film about ancient Egypt. Once the musicians positioned themselves, however, Nile ripped into speedy, crunching, growling metal. With Kollias playing double bass drums, a hair-spinning Parris hitting the bass strings both on down and up strokes, and the two guitarists alternating hyper-driven licks, NIle’s approach was strictly brutal and merciless. Complex cadences varied within songs, such that identifying a melody was often challenging, and the musical assault often was too fast and furious for a human brain to follow. Hard-to-decipher growls and howls seemed to call out to ancient deities. To enhance the Egyptian motif, pre-recorded Middle Eastern-styled singing and gongs played between and during some of the songs. This was extreme metal with an ancient twist.
Ozomatli/Highline Ballroom/January 15, 2016
In 1995, the members of what would become Ozomatli met while attempting to form a workers union in Los Angeles, California. Though they were not able to win recognition, they were given an abandoned building for one month. The building became a cultural arts center, and within it Ozomatli was born. The band originally was called Todos Somos Marcos, but soon became Ozomatli, named after a character on the Aztec calendar. Ozomatli won three Latin Grammy awards and released its seventh album, Place in the Sun, in 2014. The current musicians in Ozomatli are guitarist Raúl Pacheco, trumpeter Asdrubal Sierra, saxophonist Ulises Bella, bassist Wil-Dog Abers, drummer Wally Valdez, and percussionists Jiro Yamaguchi and Justin ‘El Niño’ Porée. Ozomatli’s next album, featuring tributes to Latin music greats, will be released in 2016.
At the Highline Ballroom, Ozomatli symbolized a multicultural Los Angeles, featuring white, Latino, and Asian members. Ozomatli jammed a dynamic party mix of rock, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, funk, and reggae, and on this night also incorporated video footage and dancers into the performance. The richness of the set was not only its diversity, but also its rather unique emphasis on Latin rhythms including salsa and cumbia, entities rarely found in rock music. As the set progressed, the accent of the lively music alternated between horns, percussion and vocals, as grooves locked in and flowed fluidly. The concert ended with the musicians and dancers walking into the center of the audience playing percussion and horns. The musicians and dancers then started a conga line that weaved through the dance floor. The show was as visually stimulating as it was aurally pleasing.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones/Bowery Ballroom/January 16, 2016
As a boy, Paul Janeway, a native of the small town of Chelsea, Alabama, was immersed in his local church. He played guitar and sang background vocals in the church while planning on becoming a preacher. His ambition deviated in his early 20s when he began attending open mic nights in music clubs in Birmingham, Alabama. He briefly joined a band that played Led Zeppelin covers, and in the mid-2000s sang in the alternative soul outfit The Secret Dangers. In 2012, Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips attempted one last project before quitting music and focusing on other careers. As the two began working around Janeway’s voice, they realized they were forming a soul outfit and assembled local musicians to support that. After two EPs, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ debut album, Half the City, was released in 2014. The band is comprised of Janeway, Phillips, guitarist Browan Lollar, drummer Andrew Lee, keyboardist Al Gamble, trumpeter Allen Branstetter and trombonist Ben Griner.
At the Bowery Ballroom, St. Paul & The Broken Bones opened with an instrumental jam that showcased the rhythm and blues direction that the concert would take. Janeway then appeared from the wings, looking unlike a rock star in black-framed glasses, business suit, open-collared shirt—and stacked-heel multi-color shoes! Upon reaching for the microphone, however, the showman was revealed and he immediately dominated the stage. Janeway approached his vocals with the passionate fire of a dynamic gospel singer. Reviving the 1960s soul sounds of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, Janeway and the musicians sparkled with electrifying power. The set consisted of 11 original songs and four covers: Van Morrison’s “I’ve Been Working,” David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” Tom Waits’ “Make It Rain” and the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Some of the songs rocked hard, but Janeway’s vocals remained faithful to his heartfelt, soul-filled delivery. This kind of performance has a broad potential appeal; given the platform, St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ performance could never go unnoticed.
Moon Hooch/Mercury Lounge/January 17, 2016
Saxophonist Mike Wilbur was raised in Massachusetts, drummer James Muschler in Ohio and saxophonist Wenzl McGowen grew up in several European countries. The three musicians met while attending the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. There, the Brooklyn-based trio became Moon Hooch and began playing dance-oriented percussion- and saxophone-based music on subway platforms. The frequent impromptu raves grew so wild that the local police precinct ultimately banned the band from playing underground in hipster Williamsburg. Moon Hooch’s second album, This Is Cave Music, was released in 2014.
The Mercury Lounge offered a proper stage and sound system, and so Moon Hooch went legit. Between songs, the musicians played brief free-jazz interludes, but for most of the concert they played uptempo party music. Like a fine jazz band, the three musicians weaved a tapestry of minimalistic music that was lively and energetic. Muschler played muscular, complex rhythms, McGowen often anchored a thick bass line on baritone sax or contrabass clarinet, and Wilbur jammed trance-inducing melodies on tenor sax. The majority of the set was instrumental, but Wilbur sporadically sang and rapped. The horn players also manipulated distortion occasionally by synthesizing the saxes or by adding found objects to the bells of their instruments. The performance was as fascinating to watch as to hear.
Asleep At The Wheel/City Winery/January 18, 2016
Ray Benson, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, formed western swing band Asleep At The Wheel in 1970 in Paw Paw, West Virginia. The band soon moved to East Oakland, California, then to Austin, Texas, which has been the band’s home base since 1973. With an ever-changing roster, Asleep At The Wheel has more than 80 alumni. Asleep At The Wheel has recorded more than 20 studio albums, the most recent being Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, released on March 3, 2015.
At City Winery, Asleep At The Wheel performed a Western swing set that resounded eerily from another era. Benson and company continued striving to revive music that is perhaps too roots-based for the general country music market and too country for the mainstream market. When the music leaned towards big band swing, a fiddle or pedal steel replaced the traditional sound of the clarinet to countrify the sound, and when the band rocked, the musical chops harbored a latent skeleton of honky-tonk. Benson crooned especially well on the softer, jazzier songs, but his deep voice also gave a wave to the bouncy boogie woogie songs. Toe-tappers from start to finish, the songs reveled in a celebration of the richness of Americana music.