John Mark McMillan/Le Poisson Rouge/February 20, 2017
John Mark McMillan taught himself to play guitar as a teenager, sitting on the loading docks behind his father’s storefront church in Pineville, North Carolina. In short time, he began writing songs that were very personal and asked very hard questions about life and faith. In 2001 and 2002, he found himself buried in a sense of loss after the breakup of a relationship, the loss of his day job and the death of one of his closest childhood friends, and his music expresses the vulnerability and the hope for a better future. This optimistic view through the lens of pain has marked his music consistently. McMillan’s sixth album, Mercury & Lightning, is available for pre-order, but a release date has not yet been revealed.
Throughout his performance at le Poisson Rouge, John Mark McMillan’s music insinuated that his Christian faith was all that was left at the bottom of the rubble of life. His lyrics frequently struggled to comprehend the uncomfortable nature and events of life, and yet celebrated the joy of victory over the darkness. The porch light was on and one can always return to the safety of home, he seemed to say in his songs. McMillan accomplished this with a strong, masculine voice, a confessional style of singing, and a rocking band. This music deserves to cross over beyond the Christian music market.
Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return To Roots/Gramercy Theatre/February 21, 2017
In 1981, Massimiliano “Max” Cavalera and his younger brother Igor (who since 2006 spells his name Iggor Cavalera) saw Queen live when they were growing up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and this concert inspired them to become musicians. As teenagers in 1984, the brothers formed Sepultura, a pioneer thrash metal band that sold more than 20 million records worldwide. Max left Sepultura in 1996 and Igor left 10 years later, making Igor the last original member to leave the band. The brothers regrouped briefly in Max’s band, Soulfly, and in 2007 as the Cavalera Conspiracy, but are touring currently as Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return To Roots. Max now lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and Iggor lives in London, England.
Max & Iggor Cavalera: Return To Roots revisited Sepultura’s sixth album, Roots, originally released in 1996 and the last to feature Max Cavalera. At the Gramercy Theatre, the brothers, joined by guitarist Marc Rizzo (of the Cavalera Conspiracy) and bassist Tony Campos (of Soulfly), performed the album track for track. Towards the end of the main set, members of the opening acts, Immolation‘s Steve Shalaty and Full Of Hell’s Dave Bland, joined the band onstage for a heavy-on-the-percussion jam. To begin the encore, Max and Iggor walked on stage alone, jamming on older Sepultura riffs like “Desperate Cry,” before the rest of the band joined them for covers of Venom’s “Black Metal” and Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades,” closing with a reprise of Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots.” While the band engraved the legacy of Sepultura through the song catalogue, the band simultaneously proved that the Cavaleras have a life after Sepultura. Max was a forceful singer and guitarist, and Iggor was a master at the drums, incorporating tribal rhythms with the hard-hitting thrash style. Although the band did not perform “Canyon Jam,” the final hidden song on the album, the original recording was played over the speakers as the audience was leaving.
Adam Ant/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/February 22, 2017
Born in London, England, Stuart Goddard was born an only child, and his parents divorced when he was seven years old. His mother, formerly an embroiderer for a leading fashion designer, then supported her son by working as a domestic cleaner, briefly working for Paul McCartney. Goddard’s first band was Bazooka Joe, in which he played bass; the pub-rock band lasted from 1970 to 1977, and was best known as the headliner at the first-ever Sex Pistols performance in 1975. Watching the Sex Pistols perform led Goddard to re-think his musical direction. Goddard changed his name to Adam Ant in 1977 and formed a band initially known as The Ants and then Adam & The Ants. Ant became a star of the British new wave and new romantic movements in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After three albums with Adam & The Ants, he became a solo artist in 1982. By 1985, Ant focused increasingly on an acting career, appearing in British plays and in over two dozen Hollywood films and television episodes from 1985 until 2003. After 16 years of recording silence, Ant’s sixth and most recent album is 2013’s Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter.
Two dates into Adam Ant’s 17-city Kings of the Wild Frontier tour in January 2017, Tom Edwards, the band’s guitarist and musical director, suddenly died. Ant postponed his New York City and Philadelphia performances and recruited guitarist Will Crewdson as a quick replacement. The concert at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom was a make-up date and the final show of the slightly extended tour. As the house lights dimmed, the musicians took their places and the audience heard the thick Burundi beats from the dual drummers, Andy Woodard and Jola, already defining Ant’s distinctive sound. Joe Holweger provided the bass line and the band launched into “Dog Eat Dog,” the opening song of Adam & The Ants’ second album, 1980’s Kings of the Wild Frontier album. A goateed Ant sauntered on stage wearing his Hussar cavalry-styled jacket and oversized hat and scowled into the microphone while bouncing to the tribal rhythms. With hardly a moment for breathing, Ant performed the entire album, took a brief break, and returned for a greatest hits revue. His vocals were stronger and crisper than when he performed at Irving Plaza two years ago, and his energy was unequivocal. For about two hours, the spry 62-year-old Ant deftly commanded the stage much like he did in his youth. After 26 songs, the only missing repertoire seemed to be “Young Parisians,” “Apollo 9” and his BBC-banned “Strip.”
Crazy World Of Arthur Brown/le Poisson Rouge/February 23, 2017
Arthur Brown was born in 1942 as the family home was being bombed by the Germans in a World War II air raid. He and his family were reported among the dead by the local newspaper in Whitby, a seaside town in northern England that happened to be Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula. Perhaps this path explains why, after studying law and philosophy at university, Brown turned into hard rock’s first shock rocker. He formed his first band, Blues & Brown, while at university, then led bands in London and developed his theatrical skills and led the Arthur Brown Set in Paris, France. Returning to London in 1966-67, Brown was briefly a member of a soul/ska group called the Ramong Sound before the band found Top 40 success as The Foundations. In 1967, Brown formed the hard rocking Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, in which he earned a reputation for outrageous theatrics, including elaborate face make-up and the use of a flaming metal helmet. The band had one million-selling single, “Fire,” but split in 1969. Brown allegedly denied an opportunity to be the vocalist for Jimi Hendrix, then played in several bands including Kingdom Come in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he worked as a carpenter, painter and counselor while living in Austin, Texas. He never again achieved commercial success in music. The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s sixth and most recent album, 2013’s Zim Zam Zim, was made possible through a pledge campaign.
Arthur Brown was dubbed the God of Hellfire from the intro line of his one-hit wonder, “Fire,” but he performed at le Poisson Rouge without his signature flaming helmet. Brown wore colorful face paint and changed stage wardrobe several times, and a female dancer joined him on stage a few times, but overall his performance was about music, not staging. Brown’s soulful vocals ranged from bluesy baritone to blistering banshee, and the band jammed tightly; ironically, the arrangements did not seem as tight during an updated version of “Fire.” Much like on his albums, many of the less-impactful songs seemed like filler. Nevertheless, the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s concert was enjoyable, but somewhat like musical theater lost in time. Brown indisputably owns a piece of real estate in early rock history that inspired the likes of Alice Cooper, Kiss, King Diamond and many other shock rockers, and the “fire” will not burn out for Brown as long as the embers flicker.