The Specials/Terminal 5/September 9
In the midst of a political and social upheaval in 1977 England, The Automatics began playing politically-charged reggae and punk music in Coventry; the band would soon be known as The Coventry Automatics. The band eventually switched to ska music and alternately became The Specials and The Special AKA. Beginning the early 1980s, the band split, reformed and formed splinter groups many times. The present band includes three early members, vocalist Terry Hall, rhythm guitarist Lynval Golding, and bassist Horace “Sir Horace Gentleman” Panter, along with new members, lead guitarist Steve Cradock, keyboardist Nikolaj Torp Larsen, drummer Gary Powell and a horn section comprised of Tim Smart (trombone), Drew Stansall (saxophone, flute) and Pablo Mandleson (trumpet). The Specials’ most recent studio album is 2001’s Conquering Ruler.
With each tour, The Specials seem to have a change in its core lineup. Since The Specials last performed in New York in 2013, vocalist/guitarist Roddy Radiation left and drummer John Bradbury died, replaced on this tour by the drummer of The Libertines. With no new songs, this meant the band played the same songs, but perhaps with a slight change in sound. Radiation’s rockabilly-styled guitar playing was missing this time, and perhaps this contributed to the slow, moody sense of the first half of the band’s set. The set opened with Hall and Golding trading vocals on “Ghost Town,” featuring lyrics that spoke of the state of unemployment in England when it was written about 1980. This was followed by several more down tempo songs; the set only started to pick up with “Rat Race.” The stronger part of the set was towards the end, when the band played six covers, including Rufus Thomas’ “Do the Dog,” Dandy Livingstone’s “A Message to You, Rudy” and Toots & The Maytals’ “Monkey Man.” For the encores, The Specials covered two songs by The Skatalites and one by Prince Buster, who had died the night before. In essence, this version of The Specials took a hearty nostalgic look back but did not necessarily try to improve upon its former self; the challenge was simply in keeping the band going without several of its key originators.
Hi Tiger/Le Petit Versailles/September 10, 2016
Formerly a New York-based theatrical art student, Derek Jackson is now a visual and performing artist based in Portland, Maine, where he leads the electro-art-punk ensemble Hi Tiger. Hi Tiger combines live vocals and choreography with electronic musical programming and lighting design. Hi Tiger more often performs in art spaces than in traditional music venues.
Visual AIDS, a New York-based not-for-profit group that utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue and supporting HIV+ artists, sponsored a performance by Hi Tiger at Le Petit Versailles, a vest pocket park that was birthed where a Lower East Side tenement was demolished. On a dirt-packed surface, Hi Tiger performed music and dance as theater. A bare-chested Jackson sang and twisted knobs on a console that modulated his vocals to flow with pre-recorded electronic washes of sound and beats produced by Jacob Pitcher, Chris Di Rocco and James Cooper. As he sang, dancers Nicole Antonette and Amandaconda performed interpretive and interactive movement. Given the bare lighting, staging and aesthetics, Hi Tiger succeeded in making a community garden that much more beautiful.
Echo & The Bunnymen/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/September 12, 2016
After brief stints in The Crucial Three and A Shallow Madness, vocalist Ian McCulloch formed Echo & The Bunnymen with guitarist Will Sergeant and bass player Les Pattinson in 1978 in Liverpool , England. The original trio was supplemented by a drum machine until Trinidad-born Pete de Freitas joined as the band’s drummer in 1980. Echo & The Bunnymen began to fracture when McCulloch left the band to pursue a solo career in 1988 and de Freitas died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Sergeant and Pattinson recruited other musicians but the band split in 1993. In 1994 McCulloch and Sergeant began working together again under the name Electrafixion; in 1997 Pattinson joined the duo, and the trio resurrected the Echo & The Bunnymen name. Pattinson left the group again to care for his mother in 1999, and McCulloch and Sergeant continued Echo & The Bunnymen. Echo & The Bunnymen’s most recent album, Meteorites, was released in 2014.
McCulloch and Sergeant are joined on the current tour by guitarist Gordy Goudie, keyboardist Jez Wing, bassist Stephen Brannan and drummer Nick Kilroe. Although the band has released 12 albums, the vast majority of the 17-song set came from the band’s first five albums, with hardly a reference to any music past 1987. With no new album to promote, Echo & The Bunnymen launched the set with “Going Up,” the first track from the band’s first album, and stayed in the retrospective mode until the final encore, “Lips Like Sugar.” Although the set included no new songs, it did include deep cuts seldom played live. McCulloch put on his best Jim Morrison, singing with a commanding and gruff passion and seldom letting go of the stationery microphone stand; at times the similarity in their voices was uncanny. Echo & The Bunnymen’s music was more new wave than classic rock, however, with loads of bright and bouncy melody lines and Sergeant’s searing guitar leads driving the band’s rockers. The only thing needed was a few new songs.
Peaches/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/September 13, 2016
Merrill Nisker, a music and drama teacher in her native Toronto, Canada, began moonlighting in the early 1990s as part of a folk trio, Mermaid Café. In 1995, she played in a rock band and released her first solo album. The band’s absurd, highly sexual rock music was a harbinger for what Nisker would become, as she adopted and developed her new larger-than-life persona as Peaches. She lived with fellow recording artist Feist; Feist worked the back of the stage at Peaches’ shows, using a sock puppet and calling herself “Bitch Lap Lap.” Peaches grew as an electronic musician and performance artist, creating compositions that reversed traditional gender politics, pivoted on sexually explicit lyrics, and employed increasingly controversial props in her stage show. Peaches produced her sixth and most recent studio album, Rub, in her garage in Los Angeles, California, and released it on September 25, 2015.
Peaches’ performance at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom featured no band. Peaches frequently retreated to the rear of the stage to twist knobs and program her music. Most of the time, however, she was front and center on a platform, singing her bawdy lyrics as her two costumed dancers slithered and kicked below her. Peaches first came on stage wearing a super-furry beast costume, but several costume changes later she was dancing topless; along the way, she humorously exploited sexual norms by wearing five fake breasts on her chest and having her dancers wear massive vagina costumes. At one point, a giant simulated condom was projected into the audience and Peaches attempted to walk through it on the audience’s shoulders. Meanwhile, raw, throbbing electronic music, hip-hop, and punk rock pumped out the soundtrack to Peaches’ performance art as she sang and rapped provocative statements that blurred sexual norms. Unlike much contemporary urban music, the presentation was never about suggestive sexual acts; Peaches was more about pushing a dialogue about sexual attractions to absurd limits. Peaches’ concert was visual theater for the most adventurous.