D Generation/Irving Plaza/July 30, 2016

D Generation (also known as DGen) evolved out of the hardcore punk scene in New York City in the 1980s. Vocalist Jesse Malin led Heart Attack as a teenager in the late 1980s, along with guitarist Danny Sage. They formed D Generation in 1991, a band that would blur the lines between punk rock, glam rock and garage rock. The band’s three albums in the 1990s became critics’ darlings, but after low sales, DGen splintered in 1999. The band reunited several times beginning in 2008, and presently consists of the classic lineup of Malin, Sage, guitarist Richard Bacchus, bassist Howie Pyro and drummer Michael Wildwood (Sage’s brother). D Generation released its fourth album, Nothing Is Anywhere, on July 29, 2016; it is D Generation’s first album in 17 years.

On the day of the new album’s release, D Generation signed copies and rocked an in-store set at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. A day later, the reunited band rocked its hometown at Irving Plaza. Performing 12 songs from the 1990s albums and five from the new album, the band performed ferocious rock and roll from beginning to end. As in his other bands, Malin never stopped moving, flinging his microphone stand and anything else in his path. Sage’s frenetic lead guitar work stung like an insect bite. Where the band might have missed a step was that the show was thoroughly bombastic, leaving no room for nuance or reprieve, except when Malin shared an anecdote to introduce a song. D Generation’s wall of sound boldly and unmistakably announced, “We’re back!”

 

NAF/Bowery Ballroom/August 1, 2016

In 2015, keyboardist/bassist Erika Forster (of Au Revoir Simone) and drummer Tennessee Thomas (formerly of the Like) played in a New York City band called Summer Moon. Vocalist Jenny Lewis (solo artist and formerly of Rilo Kiley and Jenny & Johnny) connected with the duo in 2016, and the three musicians quietly formed a band called NAF. The indie supergroup made its live debut at a Bernie Sanders benefit concert in New York in April 2016, and also opened a few concerts for M. Ward. NAF’s self-titled debut album was released on June 24, 2016.

Rather than use the Bowery Ballroom’s stage and lighting, NAF performed in a small space on the audience floor, lit only by a few light bulbs on a peace symbol behind Thomas. Performing without physical barriers, the three musicians could not have been closer to each other and to the audience. The music was raw, sometimes simply a voice over funky bass and primal drum lines, similar but lighter than punk funk band ESG in the 1970s. NAF’s set was so basic that it sounded like the songs were written experimentally last night and were not yet completed. This was perhaps the charm that rocked the party. The considerable deficit, however, was that NAF played its entire nine-track album in a skimpy 28 minutes; with a set that short, perhaps the band should have held off on headlining until it had a second album’s worth of material.

 

Amos Lee/John Varvatos/August 2, 2016

Ryan Massaro was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and at age 11 moved with his family to Cherry Hill, New Jersey. While attending college in South Carolina, he developed an interest in music and began playing guitar and bass in a band called Hot Lava Monster. Graduating with a degree in English and a minor in education, he returned to Philadelphia, where he taught second grade, worked as a bartender, and moonlighted as a singer/songwriter at open mics as Amos Lee. Lee’s sixth album, Spirit, will be released on August 19, 2016.

Prior to a headlining tour that will bring Lee to Radio City Music Hall on September 10, Lee performed a free invitation-only showcase at the John Varvatos clothing store. Lee performed four songs with his band, and concluded with a solo encore for the few dozen guests who sat or stood a few feet from the makeshift staging area. Lee seemed comfortable in his songs, but perhaps not as comfortable in performing live; while he sang his soulful folk-rooted songs with consuming passion, he often rested his chin on his chest and seldom opened his eyes, even when speaking to his guests between songs. His rich, smooth vocal tones were compellingly honeyed as he strummed his acoustic guitar to soft, supple pillow songs. When he stepped back from the microphone and grooved to his band’s accompaniment, the pause felt like the drizzle between two late night rainfalls. Tonight’s tasteful mini-performance previewed what may be a massive breakthrough tour for Amos Lee.

 

Lucinda Williams/Damrosch Park/August 4, 2016

Lucinda Williams was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the daughter of a poet and literature professor father and an amateur pianist mother. They divorced in the mid-1960s, and the dad took the children with him as he traveled as a visiting professor in Mexico and the United States. Lucinda began playing guitar at age 12, and her first live performance was in Mexico City at age 17. By her early 20s, Williams was performing a folk-rock-country blend in Austin and Houston, Texas. She moved to Jackson, Mississippi, then Los Angeles, California, before finally settling in Nashville, Tennessee. Williams received Grammy Awards for Best Country Song in 1994, Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1999, and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 2001. Her 12th studio album, The Ghosts of Highway 20, was released on February 5, 2016.

Lucinda Williams headlined a free concert sponsored by National Public Radio (NPR) as part of the Lincoln Center’s annual summer Out-of-Doors series. Ann Powers, an NPR host, introduced Williams and conducted a brief interview before walking off and leaving Williams to launch into a 40-minute set. Williams sang and played acoustic guitars accompanied solely by Stuart Mathis on electric guitars. Stripped down like this, the songs and voice were even more potent than usual, from the opening “When I Look at the World” to a cheer-inducing closer, “Foolishness” (“I don’t need no foolishness in my life …/I don’t need no racism in my life …/I don’t need no sexism in my life …/I don’t need Donald Trump in my life …/”). At age 63, Williams’ defiant spirit shone brightly, whether it challenged country music traditions or political disorder. Williams is a songwriter with a lot to say, but the curfew of the venue did not allow her ample time to express herself aptly.

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