Kvelertak/Irving Plaza/April 13, 2016
Kvelertak was formed in 2007 in Stavanger, Norway. The band’s name is Norwegian for “stranglehold” or “chokehold.” Drawing inspiration from rock and roll, black metal and punk rock, the band wrote songs in its native language. The band’s self-titled debut album was certified gold in Norway for selling over 15,000 copies and won two Spellemann Awards—a prestigious Norwegian music award similar to the American Grammy Award—for Best Newcomer and Best Rock Band. Now based in Rogaland, Norway, Kvelertak presently consists of vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, guitarists Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad, bassist Marvin Nygaard and drummer Kjetil Gjermundrød. The band’s third album, Nattesferd, will be released on May 13, 2016.
Kvelertak is barely known outside its native country, but that could change soon. At Irving Plaza, long-haired, tattooed, sweaty, bare-chested Hjelvik came on stage covering his head with a mounted owl with outstretched wings. How is that for an opening? Too bad the stage lights were so dim that it was difficult to clearly see the oddity. Carrying forth, Hjelvik was an impressive shouter and animator as the musicians played riff-driven, hard-hitting, dirty rock and roll spiked by a three-guitar wail. The energetic music was basic and followed simple chord changes, roaring along at head-banging speed. The small country of Norway has produced yet another noteworthy band.
Napalm Death/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 15, 2016
Napalm Death is an extreme metal band formed in 1981 in Meriden, England, initially inspired by the anarcho-punk movement. Napalm Death became among the pioneers of the grindcore. The last original member of Napalm Death left in 1987, but vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera have comprised the band since 1981. Napalm Death released 16 studio albums, the most recent being Apex Predator – Easy Meat, released on January 26, 2015.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Napalm Death’s performance was akin to a series of explosions. Every song was abrasive, aggressive and volatile, furthering hardcore punk and extreme metal to produce a thick wall of noise. Between songs, Greenway offered commentary on social injustices, human rights and current politics, including a jab at Donald Trump, but once the songs began, the music’s intensity could not possibly be more in your face. This was brutal violence as Greenway howled, guitar chords blurred and the rhythm section pounded mercilessly. Occasionally the band offered a metal riff as an anchor, but more often the sound was like a tornado with a beat. Thirty five years in, Napalm Death is still a viable threat to humanity.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong/Gramercy Theatre/April 16, 2016
Vocalist/rhythm guitarist Greg Ormont was in musicals and plays while growing up in Port Washington, New York. He attended college in College Park, Maryland, where on the first day of school in 2006 he met and jammed with lead guitarist Jeremy Schon of Pikesville, Maryland. Schon introduced Ormont to Phish, the jam scene and funk. Ormont and Schon were still a duo when they named the band they did not yet have. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was a phrase in their psychology textbook, referring to an experiment by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. The band is presently based in Baltimore and consists of Ormont, Schon, bassist Ben Carrey and drummer Alex Petropulos. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has released one studio album, 2014’s Psychology.
Headlining at the Gramercy Theatre, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong combined electro funk grooves and extended psychedelic jams for a sound that would liven any party. Ormont’s soulful vocals offered authenticity to the funk grooves, while Schon’s fancy fretwork gave many songs a jazzy calling. Many of the songs featured complex arrangements, inclining towards progressive jazz, but once the jams got into high gear, the categories dissolved and all that was left was fine musical interplay with a hip-shaking rhythm. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is still an underdog in the jam band arena, but look for swiftly moving word of mouth and social media to increase the band’s visibility.
August Burns Red/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 17, 2016
Metalcore band August Burns Red was formed in 2003 when all the members were in high school in the farmlands of Manheim, Pennsylvania. The band rehearsed in an old egg house and began playing shows around Lancaster. The band presently consists of vocalist William Jacob “Jake” Luhrs, lead guitarist John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker, rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler, bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner. August Burns Red’s sixth and most recent album, Found in Far Away Places, was released on June 29, 2015.
Closing a tour at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, August Burns Red was solid but only marginally innovative. Bald and muscular Luhrs shouted and growled for the entire set, seldom mixing in clean vocals. Songs featured technical forays, with odd meter riffs, blast beats and breakdowns. Songs were built upon soaring guitar leads, sometimes highlighting twin guitars in harmony. The set consisted of five songs from its newest album and two songs from each of four earlier albums. While the fast and pounding set was performed well, August Burns Red could not help that the unique chemistry that defines and erupts into metalcore required commonly used elements.
Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons/Mercury Lounge/April 21, 2106
Jerry Joseph grew up in the area around San Diego, California, and started playing guitar professionally at age 15 while living in New Zealand. He later relocated to Arcata, California, where he formed the rock/reggae band Little Women in 1982. After the breakup of Little Women in 1993, Joseph began recording albums under his own name. In 1996, Joseph relocated to Utah and formed the band Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons. Joseph also began an intermittent side project called the Stockholm Syndrome in 2003. Joseph released By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars on April 15, 2016.
While Joseph has recorded acoustic albums in the past, his present band is playing all-out rockers. Performing at the Mercury Lounge, Joseph’s smoky vocals flavored the emotional core of the songwriter, igniting his thoughtful lyrics with passion. Bald-headed and white-bearded, Joseph’s integrity blossomed from the wisdom culled from his maturity. His bluesy lead guitar work was equally enflamed with a richness that came from the soul. Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons may be a treasure to be discovered by fans of classic rock.