Halestorm/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 27, 2016
Halestorm started as a family band in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Siblings Arejay Hale and Elizabeth “Lzzy” Hale took piano lessons at the age of five and began writing and performing original music in 1997 when they were 10 and 13 years old, respectively. Lzzy later progressed to a keytar and began guitar lessons at age 16, Arejay learned to play drums, and their father, Roger Hale, played bass. The teenagers released a debut EP in 1999. Lead guitarist Joe Hottinger joined in 2003 and Josh Smith replaced dad on bass in 2004. With “Love Bites (So Do I),” Halestorm won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2013, the first female-fronted band to win in that category. Halestorm’s third full studio album, Into The Wild Life, was released on April 10, 2015.
Headlining a bill with Lita Ford and Dorothy at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, the concert was all about rocking women. During Ford’s set, Lzzy Hale and Dorothy Martin came on stage for a cover of The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” and frequently throughout the night Hale exalted Ford as a pioneer woman rocker with The Runaways. Halestorm later began its set with Lzzy solo on electric piano tenderly singing “God Bless The Beast.” The band came on and the rocking started with “Mz. Hyde.” The set drew heavily from the band’s two most recent albums, adding a shortened cover of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” and Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You” with Martin returning to the stage. During an extended drum solo, Arejay Hale was joined by Ford’s drummer, Bobby Rock, and Dorothy’s drummer Zac Morris. Halestorm fared well overall, playing an updated form of classic rock highlighting Lzzy’s bluesy vocals and all-around rocking support from the band.
Bob Mould/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 28, 2016
Born near Canada in Malone, New York, Bob Mould moved to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for college. There in 1979, he formed Hüsker Dü, a highly-regarded punk rock trio that fared only modest commercial success. Hüsker Dü split in 1988, but the band later was cited often as a key influence on 1990s alternative rock, including Nirvana and the Pixies. After Hüsker Dü, Mould sequestered himself in a remote farmhouse in Pine City, Minnesota, having quit drugs and alcohol, and began writing the songs that would generate his solo albums. From 1992 to 1995, Mould led a pop trio, Sugar, with whom he recorded two albums. Mould returned to solo albums in 1996, including an electronics-dominated dance album under the pseudonym LoudBomb (an anagram of his name) while living in New York City. His 13th solo album, Patch The Sky, was released on March 25, 2016.
Mould began his set at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom with two Sugar songs, “A Good Idea” and “Changes” and ended with five Hüsker Dü songs. Although the set represented some 35 years of his music, it leaned on newer compositions. The performance was not a historical picture book, however, as the songs were reinterpreted to reflect his current wavelength. The songs were played as fast, energetic power pop tunes augmented by a jagged guitar edge, with hardly a breath between numbers. Mould barely spoke to or looked at the audience; in the spare seconds between songs, he turned to his guitar or musicians. Any breaks would have diminished the intensity of the performance. To start the encores, drummer Jon Wurster approached the microphone stand to sing lead on a cover of the Ramones’ “Beat On The Brat” while opening act Ted Leo played the drums. The set ended with a cover of the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Love Is All Around,” which Hüsker Dü covered in 1985, followed by the other side of that single, “Makes No Sense At All.” Only after the musicians walked off the stage were audience members allowed to catch their breath.
Willie Nile/City Winery/April 30, 2016
Robert Noonan was raised in a musical family in Buffalo, New York. His grandfather was a vaudeville pianist who played with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Eddie Cantor, and his uncles played boogie-woogie. The youth began playing piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he taught himself his first rock and roll song. After college, he reinvented himself as Willie Nile, moved to New York City and began playing the folk circuit in Greenwich Village while also catching the burgeoning punk rock scene across town. His own music then captured the best elements of both worlds, and the folk-rocking storyteller was touted by Bruce Springsteen, The Who’s Pete Townshend and many other artists. It seemed like Nile would become the “next big thing,” but that never happened. Some 40 years later, Nile released his 10th studio album, World War Willie, on April 1, 2016.
Willie Nile launched his music career as a folk singer, but he was very much a rocker at City Winery. Nile sang stories and strummed an electric guitar or sometimes just wielded a microphone while the three-piece band behind him played a driving wall of sound. The set featured six new songs, a smattering of somewhat older songs (the oldest being 1991’s “Heaven Help The Lonely”), and covers of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” concluding the encores with The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” Towards the end of the set, Nile invited onstage several local musicians, including James Maddock and Patricia Vonne. What united the set was a sense of integrity and maturity that pervaded every performance; the 67-year-old singer-songwriter was equal parts music fan and musician, and so he approached every song with reverence. What was missing, however, was the more nuanced, reflective songs of his earlier days. Perhaps the set would have been just a bit better if Nile had performed a few solo acoustic songs mid-set.
The Darkness/Irving Plaza/May 2, 2016
Vocalist Justin Hawkins was born in Chertsey, England, and studied music technology at college, wrote advert jingles, and fronted a heavy metal band called The Commander before forming The Darkness with his guitarist brother Dan Hawkins in 1999 in Lowestoft, England. The Darkness’ debut album in 2003 won three Brit awards and sold over three million copies. Two years later, Justin completed drug and alcohol recovery and then quit the band in 2006. As a result, the remaining members formed Stone Gods in 2007, and Justin Hawkins in 2008 started another band, Hot Leg. In 2011, the four original band members of The Darkness reunited. The band presently consists of the Hawkins brothers, original bassist Frankie Poullain and new drummer Rufus Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger Taylor. The Darkness’ fourth album, Last Of Our Kind, was released on June 2, 2015.
At Irving Plaza, The Darkness dressed like a 1970s tribute band and sounded much like a glam rock band from that era. The concert would have seemed like a Steel Panther parody except that the songs and the musicianship successfully recreated the best elements of that time for a fresh and lively rock and roll show. Unlike most bands who feature their most album prominently in concert, The Darkness instead played most of its landmark debut album, Permission To Land, plus just two or three songs from the other three albums. The 16-song, 75-minute set was chock full of strong riffs, anthemic choruses and Justin Hawkins’ unique high voice. More than the music, however, Hawkins was entertaining in an over-the-top way. Between songs, his humor was always in “on” mode, and he colored his performance with leaps from the drum riser, splits, stage diving and crowd surfing. The music was rocking but the showmanship was even more entertaining.