Bloc Party/Irving Plaza/March 16, 2016
Rowland Kelechukwu Okereke, also known by the mononym Kele, was born to Nigerian parents in Liverpool, England, and grew up in London. In 1998, he became friends with Russell Lissack. A year later, while studying English Literature at college in London, Okereke met Lissack again at the Reading Festival. They formed an indie-rocking quartet first called the Angel Range, then Diet and for a short time Union. In 2003, the band changed its name to Bloc Party. Bloc Party got its first break after Okereke went to a Franz Ferdinand concert in 2003 and gave a demo copy of “She’s Hearing Voices” to both lead singer Alex Kapranos and BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, who played the song on his radio show. Bloc Party has sold over 3 million albums worldwide. The band’s fifth studio album, Hymns, was released on January 29, 2016. Bloc Party is currently comprises vocalist/guitarist Okereke, guitarist Lissack, bassist Justin Harris and drummer Louise Bartle.
Most bands start a concert with a blazing rocker; Bloc Party launched the set at Irving Plaza with a mid-tempo flicker. “Only He Can Heal Me” offered a spiritual message backed by a throbbing synthesizer and drum beat. The second song, “Octopus,” increased the tempo, but continued the minimalistic arrangement behind Okereke’s strong vocals. Throughout the evening, Bloc Party played guitar rock that was informed by the mesmerizing impact of electronica and the out-front rhythmic repetition of house music. This repetition allowed the sometimes unorthodox chord progressions to sound embraceable, yet thoroughly indie. The band drew five songs from its newest album and 10 songs from earlier collections, plus a surprise cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the first of four encores. The return of Bloc Party was ultimately a renaissance; the concert was not so much a visit to the past, but a sign that despite recent personnel changes, the band is moving forward.
Megadeth/Terminal 5/March 17, 2016
Guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine was born in La Mesa, California, where his first band was called Panic. That venture ended quickly when the drummer and the sound man were killed in a car crash after the band’s second show. Mustaine joined Metallica as it was forming in 1981, but was fired in 1983 after several drug and alcohol-fueled incidents. Back in Los Angeles, Mustaine formed the short-lived Fallen Angels while working as a telemarketer. He started Megadeth in 1983, a pioneer band in the American thrash metal scene, becoming one of the genre’s “big four” with Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax. Megadeth has sold 50 million records worldwide, earning platinum certification in the United States for five of its 15 studio albums. Megadeth’s 15th album, Dystopia, was released on January 22, 2016. After many personnel changes, the band presently consists of vocalist/lead guitarist Mustaine, bassist David Ellefson, guitarist Kiko Loureiro and drummer Chris Adler.
Headlining the second of two consecutive nights at Terminal 5, Megadeth proved that thrash metal is far more than thrust, crunch and speed. Mustaine and company played in a rich technical style, featuring both fast and complex arrangements. These arrangements were imaginative, and in an odd way for thrash, lush, in the sense that they were dense with layers of meticulous progressions. The set consisted of five songs from the current album, but the remaining 12 songs were all from the band’s earliest collections. From the opening tune, “Hanger 18,” to closer, “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due,” Mustaine sang menacing vocals and played tornado guitar riffs. Frequent strobe lights and video shorts behind that band were unnecessary and perhaps distracting, yet fed into the stadium-quality magnitude of the concert. Headbangers and fist-pumpers in the audience got what they came for, but those who also listened carefully heard the depth and creativity of a well-executed metal concert from a veteran band.
Jake Bugg/Bowery Ballroom/March 21, 2016
Jake Bugg was born in Clifton, a suburb of Nottingham, England, to musical parents who separated when he was young. His father was a nurse and his mother worked in sales, although both previously had recorded music. An uncle introduced the guitar to a 12-year-old Bugg, and a few years later the teen was enrolled in a music technology course, but by the age of 16 he dropped out and was writing and performing his own songs. Now 22, his third album, On My One, is scheduled for release on June 17, 2016.
There seemed to be two Jake Buggs at the Bowery Ballroom. One Jake Bugg was a young musician who mined old time rock and roll for inspiration on songs like his first single, “Lightning Bolt.” The other Jake Bugg was playing more contemporary pop music that seemed devoid of roots. The first Jake Bugg was exceptional; the other Bugg was pleasant but uneventful. Bugg’s snarling vocals and fluid guitar leads held it all together. Backed by four musicians, Bugg started his 75-minute set with the forthcoming album’s title track. In all, he performed 20 songs: eight songs from his forthcoming album and six songs from each of his first two albums. Bugg’s blistering rock and roll on “Gimme the Love” and retro folk leanings on “Me and You” and his solo acoustic version of “Country Love” were infused with honest integrity and authenticity; mopey songs like “Never Wanna Dance” and “Love, Hope and Misery” were pop fare for the more commercially minded youth in the audience. Bugg is a promising artist, depending on which direction he takes.
Mutemath/Terminal 5/March 23, 2016
Based out of New Orleans, Louisiana, keyboardist/vocalist Paul Meany was a member of a short-lived Christian rock band called Earthsuit in the mid-1990s. After Earthsuit, Meany stayed in communication with drummer Darren King in Springfield, Missouri, and the two began a long distance working relationship on some of Meany’s songs. King moved back to Louisiana in 2002 to work more closely with Meany on this project, originally called Math. The band eventually changed its name to Mutemath, and presently consists of Meany, King, bassist Roy Mitchell-Cárdenas and guitarist Todd Gummerman; all are multi-instrumentalists. The band’s fourth album, Vitals, was released on November 13, 2015.
Headlining at Terminal 5, Mutemath’s music was challenging to categorize. At its root, the set originated in experimental synthesizer work, but which developed into pop/soul indie-tronica, particularly through Meany’s rhythm and blues-styled vocals. The quartet opened with the atmospheric “Stratosphere” from the most recent album, then jumped back 10 years to the debut album with “Chaos.” Not much separated the two songs, nor most of the rest of the set. Songs were loaded with waves of electronic sound, peppered with a few rallying choruses and King’s strong percussion. Meany was an energetic front person, sitting by, standing at or standing on his keyboards or working the front of the stage with a fiery presence. Much of the layered music behind him was cold and lacked bite, however, and despite occasionally cascading dynamics, was bland enough to dissolve in a swirling wash of sound. Nevertheless, a couple of thousand fans found a groove and moved with the music for 22 songs.