The Undead/Tompkins Square Park/May 29, 2016
Horror punk rock is a small and easily unnoticed subgenre of music, led by the Misfits and some of the band’s offshoots. One of those fragments is The Undead, formed in 1980 in New Milford, New Jersey, when vocalist/guitarist Bobby Steele was fired from the Misfits. Steele moved to Manhattan and The Undead became the first band of the New York hardcore (NYHC) punk scene to sign a recording contract with a prominent label. The group went on hiatus in 2002 and Steele reformed it in 2006 with new members. During another hiatus, Steele released a solo album in 2009. He reformed The Undead again in late 2012 with yet another lineup. Over the past 36 years, The Undead released eight albums; the most recent, The Morgue… The Merrier, was released in October 2015. After many personnel changes, The Undead presently consists of Steele, keyboardist/vocalist Diana Steele, bassist Paul Mauled and singularly-named drummer Boris.
The Undead headlined the annual free concert at Tompkins Square Park hosted by Chris Flash, the anarchistic newspaper the Shadow, and Time Warp Zine. The Undead’s music was still too pop-melodic to be considered hardcore by later standards (more Ramones than Agnostic Front), but the sonic blast, speed and attitude remained firmly entrenched in original NYHC birth rites. The fury seemed to increase as the performance progressed. The show was a legitimate throwback to the origins of NYHC just a few yards away at the former A7 club.
Cro-Mags/Highline Ballroom/May 29, 2016
Soon after starting in 1982, Cro-Mags became one of the reigning stars of the New York hardcore punk scene. Internal disputes splintered and reformed the band several times, and hostilities remain incendiary when any of the principal members are interviewed. The violence peaked in 2012, when founder and former member Harley Flanagan was arrested for slashing two of the current members backstage at Webster Hall before the band was scheduled to perform. Cro-Mags recorded five albums, the most recent being 2000’s Revenge, and the current touring band features no original members. The touring band consists of vocalist John Joseph McGowan, guitarist A.J. Novello, bassist Craig Setari and drummer Maxwell “Mackie” Jayson.
The Cro-Mags controversy continues, but the performance at the Highline Ballroom was above that because it raised funds for a good cause. All proceeds went to assist a three-year-old boy suffering with neurofibramatosis, which causes painful tumors throughout the body. Nevertheless, there was still the problem that the Cro-Mags concept was designed by musicians no longer present, and much of the set was comprised of 1980s songs performed by another four musicians. McGowan has been the public face and voice of Cro-Mags for most of the band’s history, however. In the end, the fans came not to argue the validity of the band but to support the charitable cause, hear the old punk anthems and relive the experience of 1980s thrash punk. McGowan shouted the lyrics, and the band played the music hard and heavy. For now, there is no other Cro-Mags, and these guys performed the score well.
Whitney/Other Music/June 2, 2016
Drummer Julien Ehrlich left Unknown Mortal Orchestra to play in the Smith Westerns, where he met guitarist Max Kakacek. The short-lived Smith Westerns split in 2014, and Ehrlich and Kakacek became roommates and wrote songs together, and Ehrlich became the main vocalist. They formed Whitney in 2015 as an indie band in Chicago, Illinois. Whitney released its debut album, Light Upon The Lake, on June 3, 2016.
Whitney headlined what may be Other Music’s final in-store concert, as the record shop will close at the end of the month. Led by Ehrlich’s high vocals, Whitney performed folk-pop songs that were light in sound and heavy in emotions. The lyrics often originated from wounds of the heart, but the music’s slack grooves permeated the room with a soft and casual texture. Ehrlich’s soulful near-falsetto vocals hit first. The breezy sound of the music was then punctuated by a fluid trumpet riff or a brief spunky guitar lead. As contemporary music seems to moving to harder sounds, Whitney provides an option for indie fans to move in the opposite direction.
The Woggles/The Bowery Electric/June 3, 2016
Except for the names of various recordings, not much is known about The Woggles that has not been conjured for amusement. Formed in 1987, the quartet is based out of Athens, Georgia, and lost its original guitarist, George Montague Holton III, when he died in 2003. The vocalist, The Professor Mighty Manfred, has a radio show on Little Steven Van Zandt’s satellite radio station. Guitarist Flesh Hammer reportedly played in Guadalcanal Diary. Bassist Buzz Hagstrom and drummer Dan Eletxro also play in England’s Graham Day & The Gaolers. The Woggles’ ninth and most recent album is 2013’s The Big Beat.
A Woggles concert is designed to make the audience smile, and possibly laugh. The four musicians are at least in their 50s, and they dress in matching mod outfits as if they were rocking 50 years ago. Nevertheless, the band’s frenetic energy and vintage-sounding garage rock made for a raving rock and roll dance party at The Bowery Electric. It was a rock and roll revival with silly songs like “It’s Not About What I Want (It’s What You Got),” “Baby I’ll Trust You When You’re Dead” and “Karate Monkey.” A fairly unique band for our times, The Woggles steamed through sticky rock and roll with a playful sense of humor.
Jorma Kaukonen/City Winery/June 4, 2016
Jorma Kaukonen learned to play guitar as a teenager in Washington, D.C., and formed a band named The Triumphs with his guitarist friend Jack Casady. While Kaukonen was in college, a friend introduced him to the elaborate finger style guitar work of the Rev. Gary Davis. Kaukonen moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1962 and taught guitar lessons, played as a solo blues and bluegrass artist in coffee houses, and accompanied a young Janis Joplin on acoustic guitar. He and Casady were founding members of the psychedelic Jefferson Airplane in 1965, and in 1969 the duo launched a side project, Hot Tuna, as a vehicle for Kaukonen to play his Piedmont fingerpicking style acoustic blues. Since 1974, Kaukonen has recorded 12 solo albums, the most recent being Ain’t In No Hurry, released on February 17, 2015. He and his wife Vanessa currently operate Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp in Pomeroy, Ohio.
Headlining two nights at City Winery, Jorma Kaukonen performed solo, switching between two acoustic guitars. He started the set with two songs from his solo albums, “Too Many Years” from 1998’s Too Hot To Handle and the title track from 2015’s Ain’t In No Hurry. Beyond that, the set consisted of 22 covers, of which more than half were from his days in Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. The significance of the concert was not in the song selection, however, but in the tasteful guitar playing. For over two hours, the delicacy and precision of Kaukonen’s finger picking was unmatchable by anyone but the late Rev. Gary Davis. Kaukonen did not seem to be seeking the wow factor in his playing, however, but rather recreating and enriching one of Americana’s musical legacies. Nevertheless, he not only impressed but mastered at six-string acoustic music. At age 75, Kaukonen may be the world’s finest living acoustic blues guitarist.