The Tsunamibots/Otto’s Shrunken Head/June 4, 2016
As legend has it, The Tsunamibots are three robots created in a top-secret military base in Nevada. Each was programmed to do menial tasks for their human masters. On January 1, 2003, while cleaning out an old warehouse, the robots uncovered an ancient military computer called the CPU60. This computer taught the robots about surfing and rock music. On that day, the robots became aware and rebelled against their creators. They decided that the human race did not deserve saving but were much more worthy of enslaving. With an allegiance to the Mother-Board and a pledge of “De-Humanization,” the three Tsunamibots made it their mission to surf, rock and crush humans. The CPU60 assigned them the following names and musical weapons: Tomadore64 on guitar, The Mainframe on bass, and The Master Circuit on drums. The Tsunamibots, now based in Vermont, released two EPs and a split mini-album.
The evil, human-crushing robots returned to Otto’s Shrunken Head for two nights to snarl at their human slaves, cool their transistors with beer and perform the soundtrack for their robot uprising. Amidst a unique stage set that looked like it was stolen from the lowest-budget 1950s sci-fi movie, The Tsunamibots played mostly instrumental surf-punk that brilliantly married the Ventures to the Ramones. Robotic voices, pummeling rhythms, crunching guitar riffs and plenty of reverb gave a clever twist to the trio’s surf-rock base. This was not retro music, however, but a peek into the future, presumably a future where humans are decimated or converted into cyborgs and robots are surf-rocking on tsunamis. The future looks good for these robots.
Susto/Mercury Lounge/June 7, 2016
Justin Osborne grew dissatisfied with the music industry while playing in a band in Charleston, South Carolina, so he relocated to Havana, Cuba, and studied anthropology. There, he formed a concept for a musical project he called Susto, named after a Latin American folk illness and roughly translates as “panic attack.” He began playing music with Cuban musicians. Upon returning to Charleston, he met guitarist Johnny Delaware and they began collaborating on Osborne’s songs in 2013. They recruited local musicians, recorded an album entitled Susto in 2014, and then formed a more permanent band around it. A second album, entitled And I’m Fine Today, is tentatively set for release later in 2016.
Headlining at the Mercury Lounge, Susto played alt-country with lyric-driven melodies and down-to-earth integrity. With songs that capsulated many rites of passage of self-discovery, Osborne sang with youthfulness, not so much in its playfulness but more with an honest sense of fathomless wonder and self-empowerment. The band supplemented well, with dashes of Americana peppering the arrangements. While most of the set easily could find a home in country music, some of the more vibrant songs were more outright rockers. A subtle charm wove together a beautiful knit in Susto.
Gary Clark Jr./Bowery Ballroom/June 7, 2016
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Gary Clark Jr. began playing guitar while in the sixth grade. Clark played small gigs throughout his teens, jamming with adult musicians in local venues. Jimmie Vaughan and others in the Austin music community helped Clark along his musical path, facilitating his ascent in the Texas rock circuit. This ascent mushroomed globally, and included performances at many festivals, including the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, where he played guitar with Eric Clapton. Clark released his second album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, on September 11, 2015.
When Clark’s concert at this summer’s Governor’s Ball was literally washed out, he was booked into the Bowery Ballroom. Opening the set with his breakthrough “Bright Lights, Big City,” Clark and his trio (impressive guitarist King Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, drummer Johnny Radelat) charged into 2.5 hours of blues and blues-inspired songs and guitar licks. Songs were filled with lengthy and sometimes lightning licks, most of the time with just a little wah-wah and fuzz at times, but mostly the actions were in the fingers, not the foot pedals. Clark sang the slow burning “Cold Blooded” in a near falsetto and slow jammed on “You Saved Me,” while escalating the tempo with “Ain’t Messin’ Around” and “Don’t Owe You a Thang.” Some songs were more rhythm & blues, others were funky, while other were downright rockers with plenty of distortion. Clark demonstrated the many facets of music that have been kissed by the blues.
Mudcrutch/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/June 10, 2016
In its first incarnation, born in 1970, Mudcrutch was a southern and country rock band that served as the house band at a popular topless club in Gainesville, Florida. In 1974, Mudcrutch relocated to Los Angeles, California, then broke up in 1975. From these ashes, bassist Tom Petty and two bandmates, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, went on to form Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 1976 and struck platinum. In 2007, Petty invited drummer Randall Marsh and guitarist Tom Leadon, original members of Mudcrutch, to reunite with Tench and Campbell to reform Mudcrutch. Guitarist Herb Pedersen also joins the band for this tour. Mudcrutch’s second full-length album, 2, was released on May 20, 2016.
Mudcrutch, back together for a first-ever U.S. tour, played a two-hour set featuring songs from its two albums and several covers at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom. From the beginning, it was clear that this was not a typical Petty concert. Mudcrutch opened with a traditional bluegrass song, “Shady Grove,” and Petty was playing bass instead of guitar. Two songs later, Mudcrutch was covering Dave Dudley’s 1963 truck-driving country song, “Six Days on the Road.” There was only one Heartbreakers song, a little-known outtake called “Trailer,” which was later recorded by Mudcrutch. Following a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Mudcrutch added another member, Roger McGuinn. (McGuinn, whose former band The Byrds mined a similar sound in the 1960s and 1970s, inducted Petty into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame last night.) Together, they performed three songs from The Byrds’ catalogue, “Lover of the Bayou,” “Bugler” and Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” The musicians all jammed as an ensemble, and they jammed well, with each member singing lead on one song, dismantling the myth that this was Petty and his “other” band. Mudcrutch was more than Heartbreakers redux; Mudcrutch was a viable band with a promising potential. There was no need for Heartbreakers hits to fill out the evening’s solid country-rocking performance.