Peter Murphy/Le Poisson Rouge/April 21, 2016
Born near Northampton, England, and raised in nearby Wellingborough, Peter Murphy came to fame as the vocalist of the goth rock band Bauhaus from 1978 to 1983. Although the band gained a cult following and influenced many later musicians, Bauhaus did not achieve commercial success in its first life span; reunion tours in 1998 and again from 2005 to 2008 were more successful. As a solo artist, Murphy released nine studio albums between 1988 and 2014. In 2015 he released a remix album and a live album. Since 1992, Murphy has lived with his Turkish wife in Istanbul, Turkey.
Murphy brought his “Stripped” tour to le Poisson Rouge and, unlike the more flamboyant Bauhaus tours, for a fair part of the show he sat on a stool between bassist/violinist Emilio Zef China and guitarist John Andrews. Occasionally Murphy played an acoustic guitar as well. Drawing mostly from his solo albums with just a couple of Bauhaus covers, his baritone voice embodied a dark, mysterious tone. As promised, the songs were stripped of many musical layers and in certain cases were reworked thoroughly. The songs were no longer rock, in favor of acoustic interpretations where dynamics were nuanced and moods were paler. The jangly folk approach was mellow and melodic, enchanting die-hard fans, but perhaps not winning him new fans.
Amon Amarth/PlayStation Theater/April 22, 2016
Amon Amarth formed in 1992 as a melodic death metal band in Tumba, Sweden. The band took its name from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings, where Amon Amarth is Sindarin for Mount Doom, a volcano in Middle-earth. The band’s lyrics mostly tell tales of Norse mythology and the Viking era. Amon Amarth’s 10th and most recent studio album, Jomsviking, released March 25, 2016, is the band’s first concept album, a tragic story of love and revenge. The band is presently composed of vocalist Johan Hegg, guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg, and bassist Ted Lundström.
When the curtain opened at the PlayStation Theater, the audience saw Amon Amarth’s impressive new stage set. The set design was a massive Viking helmet, upon which sat the touring drummer, Joakim “Jocke” Wallgren. Curved staircases rose along the two sides of the helmet for band members and Viking actors to perch upon. Yes, the set intermittently included two helmeted Vikings, who dueled during one song. Opening with “The Pursuit of Vikings” from 2004’s Fate of Norns album, the melodic riffs were sweet but heavy as the long-haired band members engaged in copious hair spinning. Towards the end of the song, Hegg encouraged the fans to sing along, even if the fans did not know the lyrics because “it’s death metal; no one would know the difference!” Unexplainably, audience members tossed drinks onto the stage, and Hegg tumbled on the wet floor during the third song, recovering quickly and sending roadies to wipe the stage with towels. Outside of Hegg’s grizzly growl, however, the band sounded more like classic metal or thrash metal than death metal. Twin guitar leads, galloping mid-tempo rhythms and chant-worthy choruses made for a fluid 19-song set. The strong metal performance laced with spectacle made for a memorable concert.
Third Day with Steven Curtis Chapman/Beacon Theatre/April 24, 2016
Vocalist Mac Powell and guitarist Mark Lee were high school students when they formed Christian rock band Third Day in 1991 in Marietta, Georgia. Little did they know that the band would sell 8.5 million records, win 24 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, four Grammy Awards, and an American Music Award, and be inducted in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Third Day also presently consists of drummer David Carr and several touring musicians.
Steven Curtis Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky, and started his music career in the late 1980s as a songwriter and performer of Contemporary Christian Music. Chapman has sold more than 10 million albums and won five Grammy awards and a record-breaking 58 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.
Third Day together with Steven Curtis Chapman performed at the Beacon Theatre, singing jointly on each other’s songs for an evening that proved that rock music and worship is a combination made for heaven. Simply put, Third Day is a fine band, and Powell possesses one of the most dynamic and compelling voices in rock. Chapman is a compassionate lyricist. Bringing these talents in unison was a two-and-a-half-hour spark of brilliance. Due to the collaborative venture, the musicians had a tremendous wealth of songs from which to select, and having both artists share in each song gave them all a new sound. Perhaps a steady diet of this would be too much, but for one night it was pure genius.
Langhorne Slim/City Winery/April 25, 2016
When Sean Scolnick moved to New York City in hopes of a music career, he took on the name of the town in which he was raised, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Langhorne Slim, who as a child spent a lot of time in his father’s bar in New Jersey, began performing the local bar circuit at the Sidewalk Café. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players saw him perform a Monday night open mic at Sidewalk and invited him on a national tour. Tina Trachtenberg then introduced his to the avant garde performance art scene at the Bowery Poetry Club. By 2009, Langhorne Slim had recordings and began showcasing at folk and roots festivals. Langhorne Slim released his sixth album, The Spirit Moves, on August 7, 2015.
Although he often plays with his band, Langhorne Slim & the Law, the show at City Winery was a solo acoustic performance. Rather than rocking, this laid-back set highlighted his sensitive lyrics and his gospel-like vocals on songs like “I Love You But Goodbye,” along with some mean strumming on folk-based songs like “New Orleans” and “Changes,” which he dedicated to lawmakers in North Carolina. Throughout the set, Slim harkened back to heritage sounds by blending soulful singing with folk guitar somewhere between a church revival and Cat Stevens. Langhorne Slim proved to be an artist that could be enjoyed equally with or without a band.
The Residents/Gramercy Theatre/April 26, 2016
Very little is known about The Residents, the oddest concept band that rock music has ever not known. The identity of the band members have at best been identified as Randy, Chuck and Bob, but the musicians have never done an interview with the press to discuss either The Residents or the band’s music. According to legend, whether true or false, The Residents started in 1969 as an art experiment in Louisiana, relocated to San Mateo, California, and later moved to San Francisco. Since 1974, the band has released more than 60 albums without ever having a hit song. The band’s most recent albums include a studio version of Shadowland in 2014 and a similarly titled live album in 2015.
The opening act at the Gramercy Theatre was a 2015 documentary about The Residents called Theory of Obscurity, which was not intended to explain away the mysterious band but to recap the project’s bizarre and ambitious history. This was followed by a live performance of Shadowland, which collected much of The Residents’ songs about rebirth, reincarnation, and near-death experiences. Randy, the vocalist, explained that Chuck had left the band and was replaced by Chuck’s cousin Rico on keyboards, as Bob continued on guitar. Compared to earlier tours, this show was stripped down, with fewer costume changes and a more minimal stage set, but the concept included several video character monologues. While the visuals were stimulating, the odd and sometimes jarring music was challenging to bear for the uninitiated. More than weird for weirdness sake, the avant garde performance was designed for rarified tastes in theatrical art rock.