The Upper Crust/The Bowery Electric/October 14, 2016
Since forming in 1994 in Boston, Massachusetts, the musicians known collectively as The Upper Crust have adopted the personae of 18th century European aristocrats while playing hard-edged “rocque” and roll. The look includes white powdered faces and wigs and period costumes, and the attitude is that of snobbish noblemen performing before a rabble of plebeians. Since 1996, the quartet has consisted of the Lord Bendover (Nat Freedberg) and the Duc d’Istortion (Dave Fredette) on guitars, Count Bassie (Chris Cote) on bass and Jackie Kickassis (Jim Janota) on drums. The Upper Crust’s fourth and most recent studio album is 2009’s Revenge for Imagined Slights.
Headlining at The Bowery Electric, The Upper Crust sounded like a band from the 1970s but looked like a band from the 1770s. There was no chamber music here, however. Equal parts rock and mock, the witty lyrics presented the supposed perspective of the Ancien Regime, but seriously headbanged along the lines of rock royalty like early AC/DC and Kiss. Keeping in character, the foppish dandies in big-buckled shoes, velvet knee breeches and ruffled shirts lightened with levity as they raised their pinkies and spoke down to the hoi polloi in fake British accents between songs. All this would have been an overplayed joke if the music had not been solid, but this privileged chaste of musicians rocqued well and proved to be most entertaining.
Doyle Bramhall II/Bowery Ballroom/October 16, 2016
Guitarist/vocalist Doyle Bramhall II was born in Austin, Texas, and lived half of his life in Northern California. His father, Doyle Bramhall, Sr., played drums for bluesmen Lightnin’ Hopkins and Freddie King and was a lifelong collaborator with his childhood friends Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan. When the younger Bramhall was 18, he toured with Jimmie Vaughan’s band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Two years later he co-founded the short-lived blues-rock band Arc Angels with Charlie Sexton and members from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon. Bramhall began releasing solo albums in 1996, gaining the attention of future collaborators Eric Clapton and Roger Waters; Bramhall wound up recording and touring with both. He has collaborated with many other artists, including the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Bramhall released his fourth studio album, Rich Man, on September 30, 2016.
Doyle Bramhall II has performed in New York many times, but usually in someone else’s band. At the Bowery Ballroom, Bramhall played guitar, while also showcasing his songs and singing them as he led a band. Bramhall’s set list stayed close to his new album, playing 10 of its 13 tracks, including for an encore his interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train a Comin.'” Bramhall also performed a cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Lovin’ You” and his own “So You Want It to Rain” from a 2001 album. The performance was grounded in swampy southern blues, and Bramhall sang soulfully and rocked his guitar, notably towards the end of the set. Bramhall played left-handed, but with his guitar strung upside-down with the high E on the top, leading him to bend the strings by pulling them downwards rather than upwards. Generally speaking, however, there was very little dynamic radiating from the stage, rendering the music perhaps too laid back. Bramhall is an accomplished singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, but is still working on becoming a front person that would energize or excite an audience.
Switchfoot/PlayStation Theater/October 17, 2016
While still in high school in 1996, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jon Foreman, his bassist brother Tim Foreman and drummer Chad Butler founded an indie rock band called Chin Up in a garage in San Diego, California. After playing only a few shows, the band became Switchfoot, taking the name from a surfing term. The band grew to include keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas in 2001 and lead guitarist Drew Shirley in 2005. After early successes in the Christian rock scene, Switchfoot gained mainstream recognition with the inclusion of four songs in the 2002 movie A Walk to Remember and became a million-selling band. The band’s seventh album, Hello Hurricane, won a Grammy Award in 2011. The band’s 10th studio album, Where the Light Shines Through, was released on July 8, 2016.
Switchfoot usually invites a charitable agency to its concerts; at the PlayStation Theater, the not-for-profit was Cure International, which helps children with treatable disabilities in 29 countries. Having a charity present at its concerts is part of the character of what it is to be Switchfoot. Many of the band’s songs presented the world view that life presents difficult challenges but the response must be hope. These songs included perennial inclusions such as “Meant to Live” and “Dare You to Move” along with newer songs “Where the Light Shines Through” and “If the House Burns Down Tonight,” all of which wrapped around uplifting themes. Similarly, an acoustic all-around-one-microphone version of “Hello Hurricane,” a song inspired by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, professed “you can’t stop my love.” Several times in the concert, Jon Foreman connected with his listeners by reaching over barricades to them, walking through the audience and, during the new song “Float,” body-surfing over the fans. Foreman sang with an earthy appeal, and the band rocked smoothly over anthem-driven melodic pop songs, but the most pleasant part of the performance was the positive spin that permeated everything for an hour and a half.
Sshh/The Django/October 18, 2016
Sharna Liguz, also known as Sshh Liguz, sang in bands in her native Bondi, Australia. At an Oasis show in Australia, she befriended the band’s drummer, Zak Starkey, son of the Beatles’ Ringo Starr. Later, while in Mexico, Starkey telephoned a guitar riff to Liguz in Australia; she added vocals, leading to their first song together being recorded over a long-distance telephone call. They started releasing material in 2006 under the name Pengu!ns Rising, with Shane Devany on guitar, and Tatia Starkey on bass. The group began playing live together in 2008, but by 2011, the touring Pengu!ns Rising lineup consisted solely of Sshh and Starkey as a duo. The duo became SSHH, a band that started as a raw, primal electro-punk ensemble but soon evolved into a guitar-punk band. SSHH will release Issues, a debut album of 11 cover songs, on November 11, 2016. All proceeds from the album will benefit Teenage Cancer Trust.
When SSHH first performed in New York in 2015, the band was a trio with Liguz on vocals, Starkey on guitar and a drummer. This time around, SSHH was a quartet, with Liguz, Starkey, bassist Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols and drummer Clem Burke of Blondie. In 2015, the band was very guitar-driven, sounding more like the White Stripes or T. Rex; this time, not so much. At The Django, SSHH was more of a power pop band backing Liguz’ punkish, snarling and sometimes pouting vocals. The seven-song set was comprised of covers, including Blondie’s “One Way or Another” and the Sex Pistols’ “Problems.” This was not a karaoke band, however; the band gave the songs unique interpretations, from haunting to poppy. Liguz’s vocals were interesting but Starkey’s guitar sounds were remarkably adventurous, and perhaps should have been accentuated more. SSHH demonstrated a promising future.