Kevin Morby/Bowery Ballroom/May 24, 2017
Kevin Morby learned to play guitar at age 10 and formed his first band, Creepy Aliens, while in his teens in his native Kansas City, Kansas. In the mid-2000s, at age 18, he took a train to New York City, where he supported himself by working bike delivery and café jobs and joined the noise-folk group Woods on bass. While living in Brooklyn, he became close friends and roommates with Cassie Ramone of the punk trio Vivian Girls, and the two formed an indie-rock side project together called The Babies, releasing albums in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, Morby relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he played in the Complete Last Waltz, a tribute group playing the music of The Band. Morby began a solo career in 2013. Morby’s fourth album, City Music, will be released on June 16, 2017.
At the Bowery Ballroom, Kevin Morby recalled when he performed at the venue as an opening act 10 years earlier, vowing to return as a headliner. For this occasion, Morby wore a flashy Nudie-styled white suit emblazoned with large black musical notes and with his initials studded on the lapels and the words City Music studded on the tail of the jacket. Accompanied by guitarist Meg Duffy, bassist Cyrus Gengras, and drummer Nick Kinsey, Morby sang a series of love songs to the city, beginning with “City Music.” Together, they tethered sparse arrangements for an enchanting, almost hypnotic indie-folk sound. Opener John Andrews joined on a saw on the song “Singing Saw.” Midway through the set, Morby performed a few songs solo, including the non-LP single “Beautiful Strangers,” which he dedicated to Manchester, England. The set was soft in tone and poignant in depth, with Morby singing in talky Bob Dylan phrasings and a Lou Reed attitude. It was no wonder that he concluded his set with covers of both artists, the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” and Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.” For that last song, coincidentally sung on Dylan’s birthday, Morby welcomed Sam Cohen of the Brooklyn band Apollo Sunshine on guitar.
The Undead/Tompkins Square Park/May 27, 2017
Bobby Steele was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, spent part of his youth in New Milford, New Jersey, and was the guitarist for Parrotox, Slash & the Whorelords, and the Skabs before joining the horror-punk Misfits from 1978 to 1980. In 1980, parting from the Misfits and living in New York City, Steele reformed the Skabs, which quickly became The Undead. The Undead’s eighth and most recent studio album is 2015’s The Morgue… The Merrier; the band is working on a new EP, Having an Undead Summer. The Undead presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Bobby Steele, keyboardist/guitarist Diana Steele, bassist Jason Fresta and drummer Joe Stoker.
The Shadow, a local underground newspaper, hosted its annual Memorial Day weekend concert in Tompkins Square Park, and The Undead was the headliner once again. While a touch of horror was intrinsic to the band’s look and Steele’s songwriting, what the public witnessed in the park today was largely old-fashioned guitar-driven rock and roll performed with faster, rougher power. Performed at frenetic speed, the energetic set compromised nothing. It was as pure and basic as three-chord punk rock can be. While countless musicians can claim membership in The Undead at some time, the band’s original sound remained as integral as ever with the new lineup. This music was not only what The Undead do best, it is the only thing the band has ever done or ever been. There was an admirable and blatant honesty in The Undead’s set that could not be challenged.
Imminent Sonic Destruction/Drom/May 28, 2017
Vocalist/guitarist Tony Piccoli formed a progressive metal band called Mellotrön in 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. Due to legal matters, the band was renamed Imminent Sonic Destruction in 2011. Imminent Sonic Destruction released a debut album in 2012 and toured North America opening for Pain of Salvation and Fates Warning, and later with Circus Maximus in 2016. Imminent Sonic Destruction’s second and most recent CD, Triumphia, is a concept album featuring over 69 minutes of music. Triumphia was released on September 2, 2016. Imminent Sonic Destruction consists of Piccoli, guitarist Scott Thompson, keyboardist Pete Hopersberger, bassist Bryan Paxton, and drummer Pat DeLeon.
Closing a tour with Edensong at Dröm, Imminent Sonic Destruction performed songs that utilized both complex progressive rock structures and the hard, crushing riffs of a metal band. It was a thinker’s band, with imagery provided through Piccoli’s pensive words and angst-driven delivery. The music moved from peaceful to churning, and from steady four/four to odd syncopations, fearlessly balancing the songs with soothing and brutal extremes. Vocal harmonies led to epic-sounding yet melodic grooves. Imminent Sonic Destruction is a band to watch on the progressive metal horizon.
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers/City Winery/May 29, 2017
Bruce Hornsby was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and in 1974 first performed in his older brother’s band, Bobby Hi-Test & the Octane Kids, playing covers of jam band songs. In 1980, Bruce and his younger brother, John Hornsby, moved to Los Angeles, California, where they spent three years writing songs; while there, Bruce was a session musician and performed in Sheena Easton’s band. Back in Virginia in 1984, he formed Bruce Hornsby & the Range and, largely due to the multi-platinum hit “The Way It Is,” won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1987. In 1990, Hornsby began collaborating with the Grateful Dead and later with many of its offshoots. His own music became more improvisational, leading to the demise of his pop band in 1991. Beginning in 1993, Hornsby’s solo work became more diversified, as he recorded bluegrass, classical and jazz albums. In 1998, a new band, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, incorporated all of those sounds. The Noisemakers presently consist of keyboardist/organist John “JT” Thomas, bassist J.V. Collier, drummer Sonny Emory, fiddle/mandolin player Ross Holmes, and guitarist Gibb Droll. Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers’ sixth and most recent album, Rehab Reunion, was released on June 17, 2016.
At City Winery, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers played songs loosely and freely jammed in a wide spectrum, including elements of classical, jazz, bluegrass, folk, rock, blues, and jam band musical traditions. Hornsby proved to be a hefty player on the piano and other instruments, but he was also a grand bandleader, encouraging his musicians to showcase their skills. The show even began with a drum solo before segueing into the opening song, “Barren Ground.” From there, Hornsby and his band solidly cascaded into medleys that featured spacious musical arrangements and freewheeling musical exchanges. About midpoint in the concert, Hornsby moved away from his piano and play a dulcimer in an acoustic four-song mini-set with the band, and Hornsby played accordion on another song later in the performance. Hornsby’s vocals were under par this evening, however, carrying the words and melodies but cracking often. Nevertheless, the strength of the performance was in Hornsby’s ability to capture lively pop with bits from classical compositions, jazz standards, and traditional bluegrass.