Gang Of Youths/Mercury Lounge/February 13, 2017
Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist David Le’aupepe and his sister grew up as cultural outsiders in Sydney, Australia. He and his sister were mixed race (their father is Samoan, their mother is Caucasian), and the family belonged to a Messianic Jewish congregation (a fringe community of both Jews who subscribe to evangelical Christianity and Christians who adopt Jesus’ Jewish identity). He bonded and banded with other church youth in 2012 to form a rock band, Gang Of Youths, with musicians who shared his outsider identity in Australia: guitarist Joji Malani is a black man from Fiji; keyboardist Jung Kim is an Asian from Chicago, Illinois; bassist Maxwell Dunn is a white man from New Zealand; drummer Donnie Borzestowski of Polish descent is a newer addition. Gang Of Youths in 2015 released its sole album to date, The Positions, which gained the band several awards nominations and sold-out tours in Australia. The band’s most recent recording is the Let Me Be Clear EP, released on July 29, 2016.
On the first of two consecutive Monday night gigs at the Mercury Lounge, Gang Of Youths may have found the stage too small. Throughout the show, Le’aupepe hastily paced back and forth across the stage but could only take a handful of steps before having to turn around and start again. For several songs, the audience was challenged to fix a gaze on him due to his unstoppable movement. Fortunately, he was able to push this energy through his music. Le’aupepe was a dynamic vocalist, singing muscularly a collection of soulful, melodic songs written from a place of pain, delivered with a mysterious Jim Morrison-like stage mystique. The band amplified Le’aupepe’s crooning and hollering with intriguing arrangements that cleverly cascaded from sparse to wall-of-sound. Although the ultimate product was a series of radio-friendly rockers, the songs were rooted in an intense, bare-naked integrity that made the songs far more vital than typical pop fare. Given the opportunity to reach a wider audience, Gang Of Youths may prove to become a fast-rising sensation.
I Prevail/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/February 15, 2017
The original members of I Prevail met on social media networks and formed a post-hardcore band in 2013 in Rochester Hills and Southfield, Michigan. The band gained attention after posting a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” on social media in 2014, then released its debut EP in 2015 and a debut album, Lifelines, on October 21, 2016. I Prevail presently consists of vocalists Brian Burkheiser and Richard “Eric” Vanlerberghe, guitarists Steve Menoian and Dylan Bowman, bassist Tony Camposeo, and drummer Lee Runestad.
I Prevail headlined The Marlin Room At Webster Hall and brought all the trademarked elements of post-hardcore, matching bombastic metal grooves with lighter vocal melodies. Burkheiser provided the clean vocals and Vanlerberghe provided the harsh vocals, and Menoian repeatedly pierced the thunder with sparkling lead guitar riffs. On the surface, the performance was solid yet perhaps a bit standard. I Prevail provided a glimmer of what will take the band from trademark to landmark, however, and that was impressively accomplished through positive lyrics and uplifting banter between songs. The band members addressed issues of abuse, depression and suicide, pausing to urge the afflicted to seek assistance. Hope-filled heavy metal is rare to come by, and I Prevail merited generous applause for its unabashed presentation.
Sinkane/Bowery Ballroom/February 17, 2017
Ahmed Gallab was born to college professors in London, England, but in short time the family relocated to Omdurman, Sudan, where his father became a politician in his native land. Ahmed was five years old in 1989 when his father took the family from Sudan to Provo, Utah. The move was supposed to be temporary, but a coup overthrew the Sudanese government, the elder Gallab lost his position, and political colleagues started “disappearing.” The Gallab family eventually settled in Ohio, but the teenagers visited Sudan every summer vacation. Ahmed started playing music in a band while in grade school in Utah, joined the Ohio punk scene in his teens, and by his early 20s was the touring drummer for indie bands Of Montreal, Caribou and Yeasayer. Sinkane, a name Gallab adapted from Joseph Cinqué, leader of the Amistad rebellion, is both his alter ego and the name of his touring band. Currently, Sinkane is based in Brooklyn, New York, and released a sixth album, Life & Livin’ It, on February 10, 2017.
At the Bowery Ballroom, members of opening act No BS! Brass Band did double duty as backing musicians for Sinkane. Gallab led the nine-piece band featuring vocalist Amanda Khiri, keyboardist Elenna Canlas, lead guitarist Jonny Lam, bassist Michael “Ish” Montgomery, drummer Jason “Jaytram” Trammell, and three members of No BS! Brass Band, Reggie Pace, Sam Koff, and Jason Arce. The selections including older songs (“Jeeper Creeper”, “Young Trouble”) and new songs (“U’huh”, “Passenger”, “Telephone”, “Deadweight”) first tested live at a residency at Union Pool in Brooklyn in 2016. Gallab led the smooth and soulful singing, amplified often by leads and harmonies from other band members. The set rocked, in large part propelled by Lam’s licks, but also grasped firmly onto the rhythm section’s fluid funk patterns and Canlas’ synth-heavy Afro-electro grooves. The extended musical breaks often aligned with free jazz, yet emphasized light and bouncy pop melodies. The total effect was a combination of world music and American jam band. Sinkane offered a very unique blend of music over the course of nearly two hours.
Mayhem/Gramercy Theatre/February 19, 2017
Black metal band Mayhem formed in 1984 in Oslo, Norway, adopting the band’s name from the Venom song “Mayhem with Mercy.” Mayhem is about as extreme as a band can get; the band suffered the 1991 suicide of vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (“Dead”) and the 1993 murder of guitarist Øystein Aarseth (“Euronymous”) by his band mate, bassist Varg Vikernes (“Count Grishnackh”), and band members have been accused of making white supremacist statements, using neo-Nazi imagery, and planning to bomb a cathedral. Mayhem has been credited as launching the black metal movement, but no musicians that have remained in the band consistently since its origin; 19 musicians have passed through the ranks. The band presently consists of vocalist Attila Csihar, guitarists Morten Iversen (“Teloch”) and Charles Hedger (“Ghul”), bassist Jørn Stubberud (“Necrobutcher”), and drummer Jan Axel Blomberg (“Hellhammer”). Mayhem self-released its sixth live album, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas Alive, on December 15, 2016.
Following a similar European tour that yielded the band’s most recent album, Mayhem performed its entire 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas on a month-long North American tour that ended at the Gramercy Theatre. Curiously, Mayhem had already split when the original album was released; a newer lineup interpreted the album. Nevertheless, the event was a rallying point for black metal fans, and Mayhem gave them an eerie and otherworldly ambience to fit the spine-tingling music. On the center of the stage, a small table was set with two tall candles at the ends and a skull in the center. Throughout the concert, the stage lights remained very dim and no one in the corpse-painted band spoke to the audience. Between songs, Csihar sometimes hovered around or knelt before the table. The songs were a monotony of cacophony, a droning wall of sound so thick that one had to really listen to pick out the lead parts. Atmospheric pieces separated some of the songs, but otherwise the band was propelled by Hellhammer’s blast beats and Csihar’s sinister screeches, ghastly growls and spooky spoken word. Mayhem performed the album’s eight songs and walked off the stage. Hell probably is not this entertaining.