The Isley Brothers/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/January 14, 2017
Encouraged by their southern-raised parents, four young brothers, O’Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley, Ronald Isley, and Vernon Isley began singing gospel songs in church in 1954 in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Isley Brothers won a talent contest on a national television show and began an East Coast tour of churches. Then, the vocal quartet’s lead vocalist, 13-year-old Vernon, died after a car struck him as he rode his bicycle in his neighborhood; devastated, the remaining trio disbanded. In 1957, the brothers decided to regroup and record secular music, with Ronald taking the lead vocals. The Isley Brothers moved to New York City and hit in 1959 with “Shout” and in 1962 with “Twist and Shout.” The brothers then moved to New Jersey in 1964, during which time an as-yet-undiscovered Jimi Hendrix joined the band for a year. By the late 1960s, younger brothers Ernie Isley (guitar) and Marvin Isley (bass) began contributing to the music. Over the years, Rudolph left music to work in Christian ministry and O’Kelly and Marvin died. The two remaining Isley Brothers are Ronald and Ernie Isley. The Isley Brothers’ 21st and most recent studio album is 2006’s Baby Makin’ Music.
Tickets were a whopping $125, but B.B. King Blues Club & Grill was packed tighter than ever. The Isley Brothers is the only artist to have had songs chart in Billboard‘s Hot 100 (in fact, that chart’s top 50) during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, so even with no new album to promote, Ronald and Ernie had sufficient ground to cover. The 75-minute set opened with a rocking “Fight the Power” and “That Lady,” with Ronald singing in a nasal Al Green-type tenor and Ernie wailing like Carlos Santana on the guitar. Tempos then simmered for the most of the performance, highlighting mid-career “quiet storm” hits such as “Between the Sheets” and covers of “Summer Breeze” and “Hello, It’s Me.” The Grammy Award-winning “It’s Your Thing” sparked the set again and shortened versions of “Twist and Shout” and “Shout” were rousers. Ronald Isley demonstrated that he was still a smooth, classy vocalist, but the under-utilized Ernie Isley was the band’s not-so-secret weapon, rocking the house by injecting melodic guitar leads into some songs. Perhaps the 63-year-old music act is obligated to give the audience a familiar catalogue, but the concert might have been better balanced with more Ernie-rock and less Marvin ballads.
Cracker/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/January 15, 2017
Vocalist/guitarist David Lowery enjoyed alternative rock success with Camper Van Beethoven in the 1980s, but the group disbanded in 1990. He then connected with lead guitarist Johnny Hickman, whom he had befriended as teenagers in the music scene in Redlands, California. They relocated to Richmond, Virginia, and formed Cracker in 1991. Cracker rode the wave of guitar-driven alternative rock in the early 1990s; the band’s first two albums were hits and the band later had tracks on film and television soundtracks. Camper Van Beethoven re-formed in 1999, so Lowery now performs in both bands. Cracker is based currently in Athens, Georgia, and consists of Lowery, Hickman, pedal steel player Matt “Pistol” Stoessel, bassist Bryan Howard, and drummer Carlton “Coco” Owens. The band’s 10th and most recent studio album is 2014’s double Berkeley to Bakersfield.
Cracker followed Camper Van Beethoven’s set at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. The similarities in Lowery’s two bands was that the songs spun on his frequently wry, clever lyrics, and both sets hinted at alt-country-rock roots. The notable difference was that Cracker sparkled with Hickman’s brash, rocking guitar leads and Stoessel’s sliding pedal steel. Lowery’s folk-styled vocal delivery ranged from doleful to playful, and was core to each song, but the band’s brawny contributions lifted the songs with oomph and color. Jonathan Segel of Camper Van Beethoven also played fiddle on a few Cracker songs. It also helped that the whimsical lyrics of “Teen Angst” and “Euro-Trash Girl” were still amusing after 20 years. Cracker’s music ranged from grunge to Americana, but all of it uniformly light-hearted and sharp-witted, making Cracker a unique band still.
Streets Of Laredo/Rose Bar/January 17, 2017
Dave Gibson was the vocalist of New Zealand’s biggest rock band, Elemeno P, when in 2012 he started singing with his wife, Sarahjane Gibson, and his younger brother, Daniel Gibson, in Auckland. Daniel took to a guitar and lead vocals, Dave grabbed drumsticks, and Sarahjane reached for various percussion instruments, and after only one local performance, the Gibsons relocated to Brooklyn, New York. They took the band name, Streets Of Laredo, from an old cowboy song. Presently the band consists of the three Gibsons plus lead guitarist Cameron Deyell, bassist Sean McMahon and trumpeter/synthesizer player Andrew McGovern. Streets Of Laredo’s second album, Wild, was released on October 21, 2016.
Performing an invitation-only concert at the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Hotel, Streets Of Laredo showed what happens when folk songs adopt slick and poppy angles. The songs sounded like they started as simplistic, acoustic ditties written while the composers sat on the sofa by a fireplace. Through collaborations, the songs then matured with buttery vocal harmonies, stinging electric guitar leads, curious trumpet lines, and a soft rhythmic backbone. While sounding like the songs were rooted in Americana, maybe the fact that most of the band members are not American allowed for a more fluid introduction of other homespun flavors. Streets Of Laredo played honest music with clever hooks that should catch on with fans of The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers.
Bash & Pop/Mercury Lounge/January 18, 2017
Tommy Stinson learned the bass at the age of 11 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and soon played in a band that in 1980 would become The Replacements. The Replacements became one of the definitive American alternative rock groups in the 1980s before splitting in 1991. Stinson moved to vocals and guitar and formed Bash & Pop from 1992 to 1994 and Perfect from 1995 to 1998. He joined Guns N’ Roses (1998-2016) and Soul Asylum (2005-2012), and rejoined The Replacements for a reunion tour in 2015. Along the way, Stinson recorded solo albums in 2004 and 2011. Stinson, now a solo artist based in Hudson, New York, in recent years played with various musicians live and in the studio. Listeners said his recent studio work reminded them of Bash & Pop, so he rebranded the name and is releasing the second Bash & Pop album, Anything Could Happen, on January 20, 2017, 24 years after the debut album. Bash & Pop presently consists of Stinson on vocals and rhythm guitar, Steve Selvidge of The Hold Steady on lead guitar, Justin Perkins, formerly of Screeching Weasel, on bass, and Joe Sirois of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on drums.
The sold-out show at the Mercury Lounge was the first Bash & Pop concert in New York City since 1992. The band performed songs from both Bash & Pop albums as well as songs from Stinson’s solo albums and two covers, the Rolling Stones’ “Rip This Joint” and Big Star’s “Nighttime,” but no Replacements songs. Bash & Pop’s 1960s-style shiny red suits and black dress shirts aligned with their early pop musical arrangements. The songs were structured largely on a traditional verse-verse-chorus-bridge-guitar burst-verse-chorus, with gang harmonies on the choruses. The speedy tempos and the thrust dynamics were more 1970s punk than 1960s garage, however, leading to a small but unmistakably older-men mosh pit for a brief period. (Stinson jokingly admonished the moshers, saying “Hey, keep it down. We are a little too old for that!”) The band, which on this night included Stinson’s neighbor, keyboardist Tony Kieraldo, played 20 rocking pop songs in roughly 90 minutes, demonstrating that there is a lot more to Tommy Stinson than just The Replacements.