ZZ Top/Beacon Theatre/March 1, 2017
As a child in Houston, Texas, Billy Gibbons listened to classical and country music. His musical trajectory was re-carved when he saw Elvis Presley perform on television, however, and he became transfixed by rock and roll. At age 13, he received an electric guitar and amplifier as Christmas presents, and a year later formed his first band, The Saints. In the mid-1960s, Gibbons joined a psychedelic rock group called The Coachmen, who became The Moving Sidewalks and released an album in 1968. The Moving Sidewalks folded in 1969, and Gibbons formed a blues-rock and boogie trio, ZZ Top. His original bandmates left quickly, and Gibbons recruited bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard from a rival local band, American Blues. Over the past 48 years, this trio has recorded 15 studio albums, sold more than 50 million albums worldwide and gained induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. ZZ Top’s most recent album, Tonite at Midnight: Live Greatest Hits from Around the World, was released on September 9, 2016.
With no new songs to promote at the Beacon Theatre, ZZ Top played a solid set comprised of all of its best-known songs. “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas” was the same three guys playing the same three chords. Song after song, the band locked into a simple groove with Gibbons starting with boogie riffs and launching into sizzling blues-based leads. Barrelhouse rhythms and muscular guitar leads synced well, even when Gibbons leaned on distortion effects. Meanwhile, the extended mid-song jams were bookended by Gibbons and Hill singing humorous lyrics, many laced with double entendres and innuendo, which were still amusing even after all these years. Visually, there was never a dull moment, as the sharp dressed bearded men synchronized suits and occasional choreography, and even brought out their white faux-fur-covered instruments for one song. The music was propulsive classic rock at its finest, and the band’s visual gimmicks made the concert that much more fun.
The Split Squad/The Bowery Electric/March 5, 2017
Lead vocalist/bassist Michael Giblin (Cherry Twister, Parallax Project) and guitarist Eddie Muñoz (The Plimsouls, Magic Christian) worked together sporadically in the 1990s and rekindled their friendship in the mid-2000s during a SXSW Festival. In 2011, Giblin befriended drummer Clem Burke (Blondie, Magic Christian) and guitarist Keith Streng (The Fleshtones) when their bands played a few shows together, and Streng and Giblin started talking about forming a new band. Muñoz and Burke agreed to join. Giblin later recruited keyboardist Josh Kantor, who played with him in the Baseball Project and who is also the organist in Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. Many of the musicians were baseball fans, and so they took on the name The Split Squad, derived from Major League Baseball’s spring training practice of teams splitting into two squads so both can play a game against another team on the same day. The Split Squad’s sole album, Now Hear This…, was available for sale at the band’s concerts in 2013 and was officially released on January 21, 2014.
After a near-three year silence during which the musicians played in their other bands, and with a pending EP promised for the near future, The Split Squad reassembled for a brief tour that included The Bowery Electric. Each member came from a strong power pop band, and together they augmented each other’s strengths for a mature and professional performance. The Split Squad played hefty garage rock and roll with 1960s-styled pop vocals. While Giblin was the front man for most of the performance, the alternating guitar leads by Muñoz and Streng, along with Kantor’s subtle keyboard runs and Burke’s mighty powerful drumming, made for a fully-rounded straight-forward rock and roll band. The Split Squad performed most of its debut album and introduced at least two songs from its forthcoming EP, Giblin’s “Stop Me (If You’ve Heard This One Before)” and Streng’s “Showstopper.” The real showstopper, however, was The Split Squad’s encore cover of The Plimsouls’ “A Million Miles Away.” Although still a side band for some of the musicians, The Split Squad rivaled many concert performances by their original bands.
Mrs. Smith & The Rage/le Poisson Rouge/March 7, 2017
David Hanbury grew up in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and is a conservatory-trained actor. He first performed in theater with Ryan Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans in Boston and Provincetown. Landry put a gray wig on Hanbury and had Hanbury portray bizarre schoolmarms, nosy neighbors and other matronly characters in various stage comedies. Eventually, Hanbury developed the character of Mrs. Smith, a neurotic with a dysfunctional history and an ability to wail on electric guitar. Smith performed at the Guitar Gods Festival, and won the 2016 Shred for Your Life contest at Webster Hall. Hanbury now resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Mrs. Smith’s performance at le Poisson Rouge, entitled While My Guitar Gently Shrieks, was not female impersonation in the traditional sense, even though the shredder was a man in drag. While infused with elements of cabaret, character acting, and improvisational comedy, its axis spun on steaming guitar-based hard rock. Aided by several between-song videos that helped thread a loony story of Smith’s grief and trauma, Smith and her band, The Rage, blazed through raw interpretations of songs by Jimi Hendrix, Prince and other classic rockers. While many cover bands perform a similar catalogue, Smith’s solos were uniquely jaw-dropping, recalling the best of the guitar greats. Midway into the hour-long concert, Smith switched to acoustic guitar and similarly played with eye-rolling deftness. Throw in some outlandish tall tales of royalty, kidnappings and missing cats, and Mrs. Smith had an absurdly innovative vehicle to bring to audiences seeking the wild.
Amaranthe/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/March 8, 2017
Olof Mörck played guitar in several bands renowned in the metal scene in his native Gothenburg, Sweden. He was in Nightrage from 2006 to 2011, and has been in the power metal band Dragonland from 2000 to the present. Mörck co-founded Amaranthe, originally known as Avalanche, in 2008, and this band seems to be the one to reach international audiences. Amaranthe is a power metal band that features three vocalists, each presenting a different vocal style. After several personnel changes, the band presently consists of Mörck, vocalists Elize Ryd and Henrik Englund Wilhemsson, bassist Johan Andreassen and drummer Morten Løwe Sørensen. Amaranthe’s fourth album, Maximalism, was released on October 21, 2016.
In late 2015, vocalist/co-founder Joacim “Jake E” Lundberg did not tour with Amaranthe and Chris Adam Hedman Sörbye of Swedish rock band Smash into Pieces substituted. Lundberg permanently left Amaranthe last month as the band was launching a North American tour; as Smash Into Pieces was an opening act on the tour, Hedman Sörbye substituted again. At The Marlin Room At Webster Hall, Ryd provided the female vocals, Englund Wilhemsson covered the death metal growls and Hedman Sörbye pocketed the clean male vocals. The three vocalists sang alternately and simultaneously, and accompanied by searing guitar and lush, symphonic electronics, the eclectic mix made for a widest possible scope of power metal. Ryd’s angelic vocals particularly commanded attention as she climbed higher and higher ranges while melodic pop melodies rode above harsh screamo metal and techno-influenced hard rock. Unlike common death metal, however, the lyrics brimmed with positive outlooks even amidst the growls, heavy riffs and metalcore-like breakdowns. This sound is commercially viable, and may prove to be groundbreaking as modern metal gets shinier and shinier.