blessthefall/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/March 5, 2016
Metalcore band blessthefall began in 2003 with teenaged high school friends in Phoenix, Arizona. Initially a Christian-oriented screamo band with some hip-hop and nu metal influences, the band’s popularity grew partly due to exposure on Warped Tours. To Those Left Behind, blessthefall’s fifth album, was released on September 18, 2015. The band presently consists of vocalist Beau Bokan, guitarists Eric Lambert and Elliott Gruenberg, bassist and co-vocalist Jared Warth, and drummer Matt Traynor.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, blessthefall performed a blistering, dynamic set that while entertaining, showed how much metalcore bands tend to sound and perform alike. A heavily tattooed, messy-haired lead vocalist and another vocalist traded clean vocals and growls, prowled the stage and continuously exhorted the crowd surfers to slap a high five at the stage. The heavy-bottomed music regularly paused for breakdowns and other changes in rhythm, and crunching guitar chords were more generous than guitar solos. Even the staging was standard issue, with spotlights relinquished in place of back lights flashing constantly into the audience, dry ice fog further obscuring stage visibility and two risers for the front line to stand on to generate cheers. From the opening “Hollow Bodies” to the closing encore, “Open Water,” the band offered a fierce 14-song set that could have pulverized concrete blocks and smashed heads. The musicians in blessthefall did this very well, but in the end it sounded kind of samey.
Strange But Surf/Otto’s Shrunken Head/March 5, 2016
Guitarist Barry Simon and drummer Angelo “Marbles Mahoney” Liguori were riding with a scooter club on Long Island when they discovered they shared a desire to play surf music. They formed Strange But Surf in 2003 in Liguori’s garage in Levittown, New York. Staunch members of the North East Surf Music Association (NESMA), Strange But Surf annually invites bands to play Twangstock, a surf music festival in Levittown. Strange But Surf’s second and most recent album, Swimming In Reverb, was released in 2009. The band presently consists of Simon, Ligouri, guitarist Greg Timm and bassist/keyboardist Joel “Dr. J” Levine.
Unsteady Freddie hosts his Surf Rock Shindig on the first Saturday of every month at Otto’s Shrunken Head, and Strange But Surf have been recurring guests for over a decade. At Otto’s, the spine of Strange But Surf was indeed surf music, although the band also spun into instrumental themes from television shows from the 1960s, rockabilly and British Invasion, all soaked in reverb. The band’s few original songs were strictly surf, however. Unusual for a surf band, the set also featured singing, although even these songs were more instrumental than vocal. Strange But Surf provided an enjoyable, danceable rock and roll set for nostalgias.
Leon Bridges/Beacon Theatre/March 7, 2016
Todd Michael Bridges, better known by his stage name of Leon Bridges, can sound like a gospel singer, but he was too shy to audition for the church choir when he was a child in Fort Worth, Texas. Later, while attending community college, he studied dance, inspired as a kid by seeing his dad moonwalk, and learned to play simple chords on a guitar in order to accompany the songs he had begun composing. Living with his mother, Bridges worked as a busser and then as a dishwasher, but wore sharp vintage suits when he sang old-school-styled soul songs at local open-mic nights. Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block of White Denim happened to catch his show and subsequently launched his career by producing tracks that received local airplay. Bridges’ debut album, Coming Home, was released on June 23, 2015.
Headlining two nights at the Beacon Theatre, Bridges highlighted the retro in neo-soul. Although he is a mere 26 years old, his set was an authentic throwback to 1960, when Sam Cooke and similar crooners were finding a larger and whiter pop audience. Several vocalists recently have explored this rhythm and blues renaissance, but Bridges perhaps sounded the most genuine, thanks to the nuanced arrangements that deliberately accentuated both smooth vocals and a punctuating saxophone. It also helped that he dressed and moved like he was on American Bandstand. The 90-minute set included his entire debut album plus a few additional songs from the deluxe edition, and accompanied by six musicians and one background vocalist, the minimalistic arrangements were sweet and classy. Contrary to what some may view as gimmickry, the product was respectful of an African-American musical legacy and deliciously served for a nostalgic audience.
Cradle Of Filth/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/March 8, 2016
At the age of 18, Daniel Lloyd Davey worked in a Chinese restaurant in his native Hertford, England. He later chose a career in music over an internship at a newspaper, and began with bands called Carnival Fruitcake, the Lemon Grove Kids, PDA and Feast On Excrement before becoming Dani Filth and founding extreme metal band Cradle Of Filth in 1991 in Suffolk. Cradle Of Filth’s 11th and most recent studio album, Hammer Of The Witches, was released on July 10, 2015. The band has had more than 20 personnel changes, but presently consists of Filth on vocals, guitarists Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda, keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft, bassist Daniel Firth, and drummer Martin “Marthus” Skaroupka.
Cradle Of Filth’s refusal to blend into the metal scene continued with its headlining and tour-closing engagement at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom. The backdrop was adapted from the cover art from the current album, a black goat-like creature holding two naked and bloody women. Entering the stage in macabre face paint and black shredded-leather wardrobe, the band ripped into fast and furious chords, and Filth started his vocals with a lengthy shriek into a skeleton-clad microphone stand. The 14 songs, old and new, featured creepy novel-like lyrics, which barely could be deciphered in the live context. Amid the shrieks, growls and thunderous music, Filth’s dark and ominous stage presence was commanding. Most impressive, however, was how the band bridged extreme, progressive and symphonic metal, particularly when Schoolcraft sporadically upended the tone with her clear and melodic vocals. Beyond the theatrics of the band’s appearance and the shock value of the lyrics, Cradle Of Filth’s extreme metal was artistically masterful.