Darlene Love/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/December 26, 2016
Darlene Love was born Darlene Wright in East Los Angeles, California, but moved with her family when her preacher father was offered his own church in San Antonio, Texas. She began singing in school glee clubs, and when the family moved in 1956 to Hawthorne, California, she sang in the church choir. She was a high school sophomore when she was invited to join a female vocal trio called the Blossoms. Beginning in the 1960s, Love had a few hits under her own name, but mostly sang on studio recordings by the Blossoms, the Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, and as background for Sam Cooke, Cher, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Rivers and other lead singers. Love also sang with Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Bobby Darin, Bill Medley, Nancy Sinatra, Dionne Warwick, the Beach Boys, and many others. By the 1980s, Love was working at a dry cleaner and as a maid in Beverly Hills when she decided to give music another try. Now working solely under her own name, she performed live in clubs, on television (notably on David Letterman’s Christmas shows from 1986 to 2014), and on Broadway (Grease, Carrie, Hairspray, Leader of the Pack). Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 and told much of her story in the Oscar-winning 20 Feet from Stardom in 2013. Her most recent album is 2015’s Introducing Darlene Love. Love lives in Spring Valley, New York.
Darlene Love returned to B.B. King Blues Club & Grill as part of her annual Christmas series there. Seemingly miraculous at age 75, Love sounded as youthful and energetic as when she recorded her best known songs more than 50 years ago. Backed by a full band that included horns and backup singers, Love reprised the hits of her youth and songs from her most recent albums, often with curious anecdotes as introductions. The older pop tunes sounded much like a listener would expect, but the newer songs showcased a broader range, particularly in the darker lyrics of “Forbidden Nights,” a song that Elvis Costello conceived for an unfinished Broadway musical. The holiday songs were both secular and religious, with the showstopper being the song she said was Letterman’s favorite Christmas song, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” where Love’s vocals were uncanny in enormity and richness. Despite the odds, Love’s annual concerts seem to grow stronger each year.
Kurt Vile & The Violators/Terminal 5/December 28, 2016
While living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old Kurt Vile was given a banjo by his father. The youth began writing songs on his banjo, later gravitating to guitar. While making lo-fi recordings of his songs at home, Vile worked as a forklift driver from 2000 to 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Vile moved back to Philadelphia in 2003 and sang and played guitar in the indie rock band The War On Drugs in 2005, but left after the first album to focus on his own music. Both in the studio and during live performances, Vile now is accompanied by his backing band, The Violators, currently consisting of Jesse Trbovich (bass, guitar, saxophone), Rob Laakso (guitar, bass) and Kyle Spence (drums). Vile’s sixth album, b’lieve i’m goin down…, was released on September 25, 2015.
Kurt Vile’s concerts have seemed to grow mellower in recent years, but his albums have always included soft and slow songs. At Terminal 5, Kurt Vile & The Violators continued a shift from guitar rocker to singer-songwriter with a guitar. Vile was a subtle personality, shying from the spotlight behind waves of long curly hair that covered his face while he played guitar. Vile’s talky vocals drawled and slurred, and the band played an almost shoegazey backup for a sometimes sluggish, smoky sound, like a sleepy Tom Petty or Neil Young. Between Vile’s nimble finger-picking and the sneaky, repeating hook lines, there was always something thoroughly engaging in the music. Nevertheless, despite Vile’s more prominent folkie direction, the interspersed uptempo rockers were the highlights, like the Jake Bugg and Lynyrd Skynyrd-sounding influences in “Pretty Pimpin.” Perhaps Kurt Vile & The Violators could consider performing in seated theaters more than ballrooms so that fans can gain a deeper appreciation for both sides of Vile’s music.
Particle/American Beauty/December 28, 2016
Pioneer jamtronica band Particle formed in 2000 in Los Angeles, California, and in its initial run played major US festivals, building a fan base called Particle People. The band personnel changed several times, in 2005 morphing into a new band called Hydra with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Through the years, keyboardist Steve Molitz has been Particle’s sole consistent member, although he has moonlighted with Phil Lesh & Friends, Rich Robinson and other artists. Presently, Particle consists of Molitz, guitarist Mike Daum, bassist Clay Parnell, and drummer Kito Bovenschulte. Particle is based currently in New York City.
Numerous jam bands this week flocked to New York City to perform pre- and post-sets to Phish’s four concerts at Madison Square Garden. Particle headlined a post-midnight set at American Beauty, New York’s primary music club catering to Deadheads, Phishheads and jam band fans. Particle opened with “Organ Chords,” and proceeded to flex muscular funk grooves and lush instrumental jams with only a few interjected spoken or sung words. Midway through the funktronic set, Particle changed course to interpret the late George Michaels’ “Freedom” with assistance from Jon Schmarak (vocals/brass) of the band Chopin Jovi, and Tara Lawton (vocals) of the band Cousin Earth. Molitz boogied behind an arsenal of synthesizers, concentrating largely on a clavinet sound. In pockets during several songs, Daum proved to be a dynamic soloist; perhaps Particle’s set would have sounded more balanced if Daum’s extended guitar leads had received equal time with Molitz’s keyboard jams. Overall, however, Particle more than satisfied the cravings of the dancing Phish revelers, who came to American Beauty for an ongoing soundtrack to a wee-hours party.
The Lone Bellow/The Bowery Ballroom/December 29, 2016
The Lone Bellow is lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Zach Williams from Woodstock, Georgia, along with singer-guitarist Brian Elmquist of Sandersville, Georgia, and singer and mandolin player Kanene Pipkin from Fredricksburg, Virginia. The Lone Bellow is from Brooklyn, New York, however. Williams began writing songs after his wife suffered temporary paralysis following a horseback riding accident and following her recovery, the couple moved to New York City where he began performing the folk circuit. He reconnected with an old friend, Elmquist, who had been writing and recording as a solo artist in New York, with three albums under his own name. Pipkin and her husband relocated to New York to attend culinary school after hosting open mic nights, playing at local clubs and teaching music lessons in Beijing, China. Williams, Elmquist and Pipkin bonded, and after hitting those first harmonies they abandoned all other pursuits. Initially known as Zach Williams & The Bellow, the band shortened its name to The Lone Bellow and gained traction at the Rockwood Music Hall. The Lone Bellow released its second album, Then Came the Morning, in 2015. In 2016, the band members relocated to Nashville, Tennessee.
The Lone Bellow headlined three nights at the Bowery Ballroom, ending on New Year’s Eve. For a group that initially spun its axis on lean three-part vocal harmonies in small folk clubs, the music has grown quite meaty and easily filled the ballroom. While the lyrics retained their charmingly honest and homespun integrity, the projection was now more driving and bombastic; subtleties were diminished for most of the set, yet the sincerity of the sensitive singer-songwriters was kept in focus. Now more rock than Americana, The Lone Bellow sounded like Crosby, Stills & Nash met Red Wanting Blue and Lake Street Dive. Twangy guitars and mandolin kept the country flavor fully alive, however. Williams’ husky lead vocals commanded attention with their near-gospel fervor, blending charmingly with the lighter, crisper harmonies contributed by Elmquist and Pipkin. The chemistry was genuine and infectious, such that much of the audience preferred to sing along rather than listen. Look for The Lone Bellow to headline much larger venues in 2017.