Jesse Malin/Berlin/March 11, 2017
Jesse Malin has devoted nearly three-quarters of his life to rock and roll. Raised in Whitestone, New York, Malin first entered the East Village music scene at age 12, attending the all-ages hardcore punk shows at CBGB’s and becoming the vocalist for a hardcore band, Heart Attack. After the band split in 1984, Malin sang with a string of projects while working as a gas station attendant, a health food store clerk and a “man with a van.” From 1991 to 1999, Malin tasted nominal success with the glam-punk band D Generation. Malin then sang in several short-lived bands, then went solo in 2001. Malin’s most recent albums, New York Before the War and Outsiders, both were released in 2015. Committed to the community where he found his musical calling, Malin is a partner in the Bowery Electric music venue and the Niagara bar in the East Village.
Jesse Malin headlined two nights at Berlin, a rock club he helped launch in 2015. Normally a high-energy performer that makes full use of larger stages, Malin was unable to restrain himself to the venue’s small stage and super-bright, super-red lighting; he ventured through the crowded floor space to the other side of the room and stood on top of the bar for a couple of songs. Between songs, Malin spoke about matters close to his heart, and his songs were equally confessional. The music was all about what happens when gut feelings are empowered by rock and roll and vice versa. Malin’s performance was a driving expression of the meaning he has found in life, and it was honest and pure. It was no wonder why he sang virtually the entire set with his eyes closed, hugging the microphone stand as if it was his most loyal friend.
Beth Hart/The Town Hall/March 13, 2017
Born in Pasadena, California, Beth Hart started performing her music in Hollywood clubs at age 15, until she discovered the South Central chitlin circuit, where the clubs held performance competitions for cash prizes. By age 19, she held a steady job at a club where she was the only white singer in the club’s history. In 1993, Hart had her first national exposure as she rose to win the Female Vocalist competition on television’s Star Search. Subsequently, she teamed with Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash, and sang the lead role in Love, Janis, an off-Broadway musical based on Janis Joplin’s letters home to her sister. Her greatest exposure, however, came when former president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle gave Hart a standing ovation when she sang Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” at a 2012 tribute to Buddy Guy at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Hart released her ninth and most recent studio album, Fire on the Floor, on February 3, 2017.
Originally scheduled for mid-February but postponed for medical reasons, Beth Hart once again rose triumphant at The Town Hall. Like the old cliché that says that “you have to suffer if you want to sing the blues,” this blues singer spoke to her audience between songs about how she has dealt with bipolarity, substance abuse, eating disorders and several stints in rehabs and psych wards. Backed by guitarist Jon Nichols, bassist Bob Marinelli, drummer Bill Ransom, Hart sang sultry, burnt-honey blues vocals and played jazzy piano melodies when she was not dancing to her more rocking songs or playing acoustic guitar to more sensitive songs. Armed with many originals and a few covers, Hart’s passionate vocals brought the blues to rock ‘n’ roll, torch songs and singer-songwriter fare, and also touched lightly on jazz, gospel, and soul. Hart cultivated these ageless music traditions that typically appeal to older audiences, spun them on a new axis, and produced a tasteful performance.
Art Garfunkel/City Winery/March 15, 2017
In Forest Hills, Queens, Art Garfunkel discovered his love for singing in the first grade, enjoying the echo from the stairwell tiles as he sang “Unchained Melody” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” a cappella. Later, his father bought him a wire recorder and the young Garfunkel spent his afternoons singing, recording, and playing back his vocals so he could listen for flaws and improve. Garfunkel met his future singing partner, Paul Simon, in the sixth grade, when they were both cast in a school play. Between 1956 and 1962, the two performed together as Tom & Jerry, occasionally performing at school dances, but achieved initial success as Simon & Garfunkel when “The Sounds of Silence” went to number one on the Billboard pop charts. The duo split and reunited many times, won Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Garfunkel’s solo career has been intermittent as he has struggled with depression and vocal cord paresis, rendering him unable to sing. He also acted in eight films from 1970’s Catch-22 to 2010’s The Rebound. His 12th and most recent solo album is 2007’s Some Enchanted Evening.
Art Garfunkel headlined two nights at City Winery, and he used the small venue to get candid with his audience. He sang Simon & Garfunkel hits and deep cuts from his solo albums, read prose from his memoirs and spoke about his personal and musical journeys. Accompanied by acoustic guitarist Tab Laven and keyboardist Dave Mackay, Garfunkel’s restored tenor and countertenor were crisp, clear and resonant. In Simon & Garfunkel’s harmonies, Garfunkel normally sang the higher parts, and that is where he stayed most of the evening, softly singing light and airy melodies that were soothing and safe, very much like lullabies. He sang many of the duo’s gentler hits from the 1960s, most of which were written by his former co-vocalist. Garfunkel sang solemn one-man versions of “The Sounds of Silence”, “Homeward Bound”, “The Boxer”, “Scarborough Fair”, and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” The evening was sweet, but probably could have engaged the audience deeper had it been balanced with a harder-edged interlude of “Mrs. Robinson” and “I Am a Rock.”
Wilco/Beacon Theatre/March 19, 2017
Jeff Tweedy began playing guitar when he was 12, after a bicycle accident caused him to recover at home in Belleville, Illinois. Two years later, he befriended schoolmate Jay Farrar. In the early 1980s, they played together in a rockabilly band called the Plebes, which became the Primitives in 1984, and evolved into the alternative country band Uncle Tupelo in 1986. Conflicts peaked between Tweedy and Farrar after Uncle Tupelo’s fourth studio album, and so in 1994 Ferrar left to form Son Volt and Tweedy gathered the remaining band members and formed Wilco, named after the military and commercial aviation radio voice abbreviation for “will comply.” Wilco changed personnel several times, but since 2004 has consisted of original members Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt, along with guitarist Nels Cline, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, keyboard player Mikael Jorgensen, and drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco released its 10th studio album, Schmilco, on September 9, 2016.
Wilco announced four concerts at the Beacon Theatre, and each show was assigned a distinct set list. Amidst forest scenery onstage, the stage lighting often reflected the mood of the song, from very dark and shadowy to a lighter, tentatively hopeful view. Opening the set with “Normal American Kids” and “If I Ever Was a Child,” Wilco exhibited its proficiency in folk country roots, but the center of the show seemed to dwell in pop tunes and the end leaned more towards a driving rock that was radically different from where the set began. The final encore, “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” even started with a random cacophony and featured several grungy guitar leads. It takes a fairly open rocker to absorb and appreciate Wilco’s eccentricity, such that even the biggest fans may find the entire set challenging, but Wilco performed these diverse sounds well, and Tweedy’s vocals proved to be the thread that held it all together.