Savages/Irving Plaza/March 28, 2016
Growing up in Poitiers, France, Camille Berthomier tasted the entertainment world from touring with her father’s plays. In her late teens, she met Nicolas Congé, and in 2006 they relocated to London, England, adopting new names, Johnny Hostile and Jehnny Beth, to form the indie rocking John and Jehn. Gemma Thompson played guitar for them, but began forming the concept for a band called Savages. Hostile declined being in the new band, leaving Beth as the lone vocalist. With Ayse Hassan on bass and Fay Milton on drums, Savages became an all-female indie rock quartet in 2011. The band’s second album, Adore Life, was released on January 22, 2016.
The world might not know Camille Berthomier, but before long the world will know Jehnny Beth, the person that Berthomier becomes when she leads Savages. Headlining at Irving Plaza, Beth proved to be a fierce rocker, writer and reveler. Onstage, the four raven-haired members all wore black, accentuated as the staging utilized only white lights. Hassan thumped hard and steady bass riffs as Milton creatively played drums and cymbals and Thompson played sparse and clear collages on her guitar, never once relaxing into standard blues or rock power chord progressions. As the musicians relegated themselves to their areas of the stage, Beth roved a limitless path that included walking on the upraised hands and shoulders of her audience, singing chant-like manifestos about rebellion, justice and complicated, troublesome love. Comparisons could be made to the song-crafting of U2, but this was immensely more jagged and angular and far less anthemic or commercial. Beth sang most of the band’s two albums in a limited, almost talky range, but projected anger, resilience and mystery with every passionate breath. Wow!
Judah & The Lion/Gramercy Theatre/March 31, 2016
Vocalist/guitarist Judah Akers wrote some songs while in university in Nashville, Tennessee, and wondered what they would sound like with banjo and other traditional instruments. Fellow student Brian Macdonald of Illinois was transitioning from guitar to mandolin and learned that another student, Colorado native Nate Zuercher, played banjo. Coming together in 2011, the three students immediately sensed that they should continue playing together. They recruited drummer Spencer Cross and became Judah & The Lion. The band released its second album, Folk Hop ‘N Roll, on March 4, 2016.
Headlining at the Gramercy Theatre, Judah & The Lion merged Americana bluegrass, folk, blues and soul with modern pop and hip hop for a wild mix. While on several of the band’s recordings each of these sounds was refined and cultivated, on stage the lines were more blurred for an overall loud pop rock sound with only hints of the other genres. The marriage of southern twang with urban beats was promising until the banjo and mandolin began sounding exactly like electric guitars. When the songs were more linked to their roots, however, they boasted of integrity, particularly the acoustic songs that featured vocal harmonies. The brief hip hop segment was fun, and most of the set highlighted a joyous feel that kept more than a few hips swaying. Judah & The Lion is a creative genre-bending band which is very close to defining for itself how to combine its optimal strengths.
Wolf Alice/Irving Plaza/April 2, 2016
Attending grade school in London, England, Ellie Rowsell played recorder. At age 12, she gravitated to playing chords on her father’s acoustic guitar. She thought about being in a rock band, but most of the budding musicians in her all-girl school played classical piano or violin. In college, Rowsell enrolled in courses in writing, theater, and sound design, but change direction after her Practical Acting professor told her to pretend that she was an atom. She sang and played guitar publicly for the first time in a local songwriting competition, and learned that she preferred to be accompanied by a talented musician. Embarrassed to ask any of her friends, she logged on to an online guitar forum and discovered guitarist Joff Oddie, who had just moved to town and was eager to form a band. Taking its name from a short horror story in “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter, Wolf Alice started performing in 2010 as an acoustic folk-pop duo at local open-mic nights. Crowds were not responding, so the duo went electric, turned up the volume, added a bassist and a drummer, and began to rock. Wolf Alice presently consists of Rowsell, Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey. Wolf Alice’s one album, My Love Is Cool, was released on June 22, 2015.
Headlining tonight at Irving Plaza, Wolf Alice was cheered by a front line of a dozen or more young female fans with glitter on their cheekbones and in their hair, a cult gesture that imitated Rowsell’s earlier stage appearances. As with the Pretty Reckless and other alternative rock bands led by a young and attractive woman, these fans have found a safe role model—a plain-singing woman backed by a raucous alternative-rock band. The 16-song set was comprised of songs from the band’s album and earlier EPs. As the three male musicians hiked a buzzy, fuzzy grunge-styled mountain of sound, Rowsell seemed to be the one to bring them back to their purpose, backing her whimsical fairy voice. For hard rockers, Rowsell’s pop melodies may have been the weakest part of the performance, reigning in the band’s explosive chemical reaction by tossing a bucket of cold water; for others, it was exactly this contrast that made Wolf Alice interesting.
Disturbed/Irving Plaza/April 4, 2016
In 1996 in Chicago, Illinois, a two-year-old band called Brawl lost its lead singer and sought a replacement via a classified advertisement in a local music publication. David Draiman answered the advertisement after going to 20 other auditions that month, and both parties found their match. The band was renamed Disturbed and the alternative metal band went on to sell over 12 million records before going on hiatus in 2011. Over the next four years, Draiman, guitarist Dan Donegan, bassist John Moyer, and drummer Mike Wengren worked with other bands. Disturbed then secretly reunited in 2015 and released its sixth album, Immortalized, on August 21, 2015.
For a couple of minutes at Irving Plaza, fans watched a trailer collage of fast-changing video images of Disturbed in concert. The screen then rose and the live band launched into 2005’s “Ten Thousand Fists.” While many contemporary bands drown the vocalist with guitar riffs, Disturbed recognized that Draiman’s thick voice is the band’s strongest element and brought it out front and center. Throughout the set, the band empowered its classic-sounding hard rock tunes with crunching nu metal riffs, but Draiman’s husky, melodic vocal delivery were the center point of every song. The 17-song set reviewed the past 20 years of Disturbed, and also rallied the fans with a 10-minute medley of covers consisting of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name,” which featured guest vocals from Elias Soriano of opening act Nonpoint. The moshing paused as the band sat on stools for a haunting, acoustic version of “The Darkness” and the eerily dramatic cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” In all, Draiman’s contrasting deep and soaring vocals succeeded in accentuating penetrating depth and vivid dimension within Disturbed’s rocking set. The concert was a fine welcome back to a Disturbed world.