Radkey/The Studio At Webster Hall/December 6, 2016
Three brothers were homeschooled in a modest pink house in St. Joseph, Missouri. Oldest brother Dee started playing bass in a local band; his younger brothers watched in awe and decided they wanted to play instruments as well. Garage punk rock trio Radkey was born in 2010, when the three brothers decided to sleep in the same bedroom so they could turn the other bedroom into a rehearsal space. Radkey is comprised of guitarist/vocalist Dee Radke, bassist Isaiah Radke and drummer Solomon Radke. After their hobby began to look like a career, their father quit his job as a loss-prevention officer at a big-box store to become Radkey’s full-time manager. Radkey’s debut album, Dark Black Makeup, was released in 2015 and will be reissued with bonus tracks as Delicious Rock Noise on November 11, 2016.
Radkey started when all the musicians were in their teens. They are not yet all of legal age to drink alcohol, but the band’s current tour consists of rock bars, including The Studio At Webster Hall. Maybe it is because of the freedom that comes with youth away from home, but the band’s music was fierce and rocked with abandon. Dee’s baritone vocals were deep and dark and his guitar leads were jam packed with energizing runs. The three’s stage dynamics were so enthusiastic that Isaiah cut his face while playing at floor level and wound up bleeding from above his left eyebrow. Subject matter in their songs still reflect youthful concerns, however, like horror and, well, the band concluded the show with a cover of the theme song to the Teen Titans animated television series. It may be a while before older audiences are willing to take Radkey seriously, but Radkey is a refreshing take on grungy punk ethos.
Red Gretchen/Sidewalk/December 7, 2016
Ronnie Wheeler was once a broken man living in New Mexico. Playing music provided cathartic healing. He took guitar lessons, practiced with diligence, and in 2000 settled into a new life in Brooklyn, New York. Wheeler now plays in many bands, including the stoner metal Mora Tau, the folkie Granny and the roots-based Ronnie Wheeler Acoustic Blues Band, but his main obsession is the psychedelic garage band Red Gretchen. Red Gretchen also includes bassist Anne Husick and drummer Shauna Westgate. Red Gretchen’s fourth and most recent EP, Illicit, was released on March 13, 2015.
Recently scaled down from a quartet to a trio, the slightly thinner sounding Red Gretchen found itself veering into a slightly new direction at its video release party for “Jumper” at Sidewalk. Without the second guitarist, Red Gretchen’s music more than ever augmented Wheeler’s studious exploration of alternate tuning, gritty improvisational distortion and bluesy bottle neck slide. Husick and Westgate complemented with heavy rhythms and delicate harmonies. Red Gretchen’s set was an innovative, mind-bending rock experiment filled with contradictions and possibilities, a uniquely creative and sometimes jarring mix of 1960s acid rock and 1990s grunge and shoegaze that culminated in futuristic trance.
John Legend/Angel Orensanz Foundation/December 8, 2016
Born to a seamstress and a factory worker in Springfield, Ohio, John Stephens at age four already performed with his church choir and at age seven was playing piano. In his college years, he was president and musical director of Counterparts, a co-ed jazz and pop a cappella group. He met Lauryn Hill, who hired him to play piano on a song on her debut solo album. This led to many other collaborations and eventually to a 10-time Grammy Award-winning solo career as John Legend. Now based in Los Angeles, California, Legend released his seventh album, Darkness and Light, on December 2, 2016.
In recent times, John Legend has been vocal about political and social causes, but performing a free intimate concert before Pandora listeners tonight, it was nearly all about serenading his fans with love songs and slow jams. The Angel Orensanz Center, a former synagogue built in 1849, was bathed in cool blue and purple lights while Legend and his 14-piece band opened with a few songs from his new album and then chronologically went through his hits. Alternating between crooning and dancing by the lip of the makeshift stage and sitting at the glistening black piano, Legend sang with butter smooth vocals as he and the band swayed and shimmied to the light pop songs. Between songs, he reminisced about the four apartments he lived in that were walking distance from the venue, and about how he and a young Kanye West both failed repeatedly at shopping Legend’s demo tapes to record companies. Legend closed the show with a plea for love to win over hate, over division, and over fear, and with his two biggest hits. Performing solo at the piano, he let the audience sing most of the choruses to “All of Me” and concluded with his Oscar-winning “Glory.” Legend’s performance was a class act, and his warm charm and his slickly-arranged set won the night.
Tom Rush/Schimmel Center/December 9, 2016
Tom Rush was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and in the early 1960s attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Rush hosted a weekly radio program on the college station on which featured his own performances and performances by guests he recruited from the local coffee houses circuit. Much of his early music consisted of his original songs, covers of contemporary folk songs and interpretations of Lowland Scots and Appalachian folk songs. He was already well established in the folk circuit when by the late 1960s the scene gravitated to the singer-songwriter genre. Ushering in that era, Rush included in his sets several songs by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor, helping them to gain recognition early in their careers. Rush’s career faded away to a New Hampshire farm in the mid-1970s, resurfacing in 2009 with his first album in 35 years. Based again in Massachusetts, his 25th and most recent album, 2013’s Tom Rush Celebrates 50 Years of Music, includes a DVD of his 50th anniversary concert in Boston.
Once a mainstay in the Greenwich Village music scene, Rush’s concerts in New York are now rare. He headlined the 672-seat Schimmel Center at Pace University, performing solo and with a small band (saxophonist Joe Nearny, bassist Paul Guzzone and percussionist Marshal Rosenberg), and introducing mini-sets by Seth Glier and Matt Nakoa. At age 75, Rush was in perky spirit, singing richly and expressively, playing folk and blues guitar, and sharing his endearing stories with wry humor. The set was lullaby-soft and gentle, with upbeat and melancholy ballads interspersed with witty story-songs that were uplifted with extended saxophone and piano riffs. The set was comprised of new songs and old favorites like “No Regrets” and ended with a Bo Diddley hoedown of “Who Do You Love” for an encore. Rush has matured tenderly and his performance offered ripened nostalgia for the folk scene of a half century ago.