Gov’t Mule/Rumsey Playfield/May 17, 2017
Warren Haynes began playing guitar at age 12 in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1980, at age 20, he joined David Allan Coe’s touring and recording band and remained with Coe’s band for four years. He then played in the Nighthawks in the mid 1980s and the Dickey Betts Band in the late 1980s. When the Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1989, Betts recruited Haynes. During a break from the Allman Brothers Band in 1994, Haynes formed a side project, Gov’t Mule (pronounced Government Mule). The Allman Brothers Band went on hiatus in 1997, so Haynes turned Gov’t Mule into his full time band. The Allman Brothers Band reformed again from 2000 to 2014, during which time Haynes played in both bands. Occasionally, Haynes also led his own Warren Haynes Band and played in Phil Lesh & Friends and other Grateful Dead spin-offs. Gov’t Mule presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Haynes, keyboardist/guitarist Danny Louis, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and drummer Matt Abts. The band will release its 10th studio album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, on June 9, 2017.
Gov’t Mule headlined the opening night of the City Parks SummerStage 2017 concert series, which brings more than 100 free outdoor concerts to parks in the five boroughs. The Gov’t Mule show in Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield was one of the select benefit shows which help finance the rest of the concerts. The performance also was the band’s 2,000th concert since forming in 1994. The band celebrated by performing for more than two hours and periodically bringing onstage guests including actor Bruce Willis on harmonica, guitarist Neal Casal of the opening act, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, saxophonist Steve Elson, percussionist Bobby Allende, and vocalists Jasmine Muhammad and Lauren Dawson. Haynes sang his throaty best and Gov’t Mule played its blistering Southern rock well. The gem of the evening was in its platform for extended improvisational jamming, however, and so many songs hovered at about 10 minutes in length, as Haynes’ guitar playing weaved intricately through the contributions of the keyboardist and the guest performers. Newer songs seemed as inspired as the older songs, and several cover tunes and teases became foils for reinterpretation with country, folk, blues and jazz inflections. Gov’t Mule’s entire set was a showcase of musical accomplishments.
Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors/Irving Plaza/May 18, 2017
Singer/songwriter Drew Holcomb began his musical career as a solo artist in his native Memphis, Tennessee. He met guitarist/keyboardist Nathan Dugger while in high school, and once Holcomb and his wife, Ellie Holcomb, relocated across the state to East Nashville, the trio recruited bassist Rich Brinsfield and later drummer Jonathan Womble. Since they all lived in the same zip code, they called the band Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Ellie Holcomb no longer tours with the band. The band’s seventh studio album, Souvenir, was released on March 24, 2017.
At Irving Plaza, Drew Holcomb led the Neighbors in folk-pop songs with a bit of Americana twang. Most of the set was soft and sparse, with Holcomb’s thick, emotive vocals backed by simple arrangements. Holcomb finger picked an acoustic guitar for much of the set, and the band punctuated the melodies with subtle flourishes. The beauty of the set was how it was so clearly focused on the songs. The lyrics were easily heard and digested, and Holcomb’s hearty vocals made them engagingly vivid. An honest wholesomeness permeated the fabric of the set with almost child-like innocence. Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors’ front-porch-styled concert was pleasingly refreshing.
The Black Cats NYC/Sidewalk/May 20, 2017
In the early 1990s, vocalist/bassist Andrew Giordano joined lead guitarist Don Sztabnik on the downtown New York City rock club circuit in the Dragons. Some 25 years later, the duo reunited to form the Black Cats NYC. While the band is hinged on Gordano and Sztabnik, the Black Cats NYC presently also includes guitarist Francesco D’Ambrosio, drummer Jason Reddish, and backing vocalists Deanna Lair and Julie M. Smith, also known as the Pussycats. The band is also frequently augmented onstage by pianist Alex Giordano, saxophonist Seaton “Raven” Hancock and vocalist Gass Wild. The Black Cats NYC released
a three-song EP entitled Gone on October 28, 2016.
At Sidewalk, the Black Cats NYC brought the roll back to the rock. The Black Cats NYC knew that to lead the party and electrify the spirit, the band had to avoid pensive confessional lyrics and complicated musical arrangements. Instead, the band played light-hearted rave-ups with stinging guitar leads and sax breaks separating the verses and big harmonies on the choruses. Throwback moments were inspired by the core of 1950s rock, 1960s pop and 1970s glam rock. Raucous songs like “Animal” and “She Got What I Need” charged with dirty grooves, with Giordano’s strong vocals raising the temperature of the room. This was several steps beyond garage rock, yet still a bit raw and dirty. It would be hard for a rock and roll fan not to enjoy the Black Cats NYC live.
Flogging Molly/Irving Plaza/May 23, 2017
Dave King was born in Dublin, Ireland, and first came to the international public light in the 1980s as the vocalist of the heavy metal band Fastway, a supergroup that included guitarist “Fast” Eddie Clarke of Motörhead and bassist Pete Way of UFO. He later fronted a hard rock band called Katmandu, featuring Mandy Meyer of Krokus on guitars. After relocating to Los Angles, California, King and violinist Bridget Regan in 1993 assembled a rock band with a Celtic feel, performing a mix of traditional Irish music and rock weekly at an Irish pub called Molly Malone’s. They named the band Flogging Molly after that bar, feeling that by playing there every Monday night they were “flogging it to death,” according to King. The band presently consists of King, Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion player Matt Hensley, mandolin player Bob Schmidt, bassist Nathen Maxwell and drummer Mike Alonso. Flogging Molly’s sixth studio album, Life Is Good, will be released on June 2, 2017.
Headlining the first of two nights at Irving Plaza, Flogging Molly lived up to its reputation as a boisterous Celtic punk septet. Irish-sounding melodies were embellished with a violin, an accordion, a tin whistle and a banjo, but the music was too crushing to be confused with Irish jigs. The lyrics touched on the good and bad of Irish history, politics, love, death and the culture of poverty and pubs. Even when singing about a negative subject, the songs were packaged in rousing hope and passion. The concert was a rollicking celebration of life as we know it, but with a Celtic lilt.