Muse/Rumsey Playfield/July 24, 2017
Matt Bellamy was born in Cambridge, England, and started playing the piano at age six and guitar at 11. His family had already moved to Teignmouth when the 12-year-old first performed publicly at school in 1991. As a teenager, he played in several bands, finally forming Rocket Baby Dolls in 1994, later renamed Muse. The trio has retained its original personnel of Matt Bellamy (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Chris Wolstenholme (bass guitar, backing vocals, keyboards) and Dominic Howard (drums). Muse has sold over 20 million albums worldwide and has won two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album, two Brit Awards, five MTV Europe Music Awards and eight NME Awards. Muse’s seventh and most recent album is 2015’s Drones, a concept album about the dehumanization of modern warfare. A new song, “Dig Down,” was released on May 18, 2017, preceding an album expected for release in 2018.
Muse has headlined Madison Square Garden in the past, but performed at the significantly smaller Rumsey Playfield in Central Park as part of CityPark’s SummerStage 2017 series. The concert was a benefit for Coalition for the Homeless. Assisted by longtime collaborator Morgan Nicholls on keyboards, bass and percussion, Muse opened with its most current song, “Dig Down,” and then took a mini-retrospective of its last six albums. The set also included a cover of the Cramps’ “New Kind of Kick” and an acoustic interpretation of “Undisclosed Desires.” The set was rooted in complex, progressive hard rock, with Bellamy’s clear, melancholic falsetto and charging, arpeggiated and pitch-shifting guitar riffs soaring above a thick wall of sound. Bellamy’s vocal techniques included vibrato, in which his slight and rapid variation in pitch produced a richer tone, and melisma, an ornamental phrase of several notes sung to one syllable of text. Meanwhile, Wolstenholme used fuzz tones and other distortions to give the music a heavy bottom, and Howard simply pummeled the drums in rhythm. These arrangements were ambitious, and they were expertly executed.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/July 25, 2017
Ska music originated in Jamaica in the 1960s, but it reached a new audience when British punk rock bands in the 1970s applied its off-beat walking bass line to punk rock to create the “2 Tone” movement. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, formed in 1983 in Boston, Massachusetts, was among the “third wave” of ska and became and one of the first bands to popularize the genre in the musical mainstream with the platinum-selling 1997 album, Let’s Face It, and its hit single “The Impression That I Get.” The band released seven studio albums, three EPs and a live album by the time it announced a hiatus in 2003. The band reunited in 2007. Lead vocalist Dicky Barrett, bassist Joe Gittleman, tenor saxophonist Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton and dancer Ben (“Bosstone”) Carr have remained constant members; the current lineup also includes guitarist Lawrence Katz, keyboardist John Goetchius, drummer Joe Sirois, saxophonist Leon Silva, and trombonist Chris Rhodes. The band’s ninth and most recent album is 2011’s The Magic of Youth.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, rather than wearing the band’s trademark plaid uniform, the musicians wore matching suits that made them look like airline attendants. The band celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Let’s Face It album by playing its 12 songs in order, but this was less than half the show. Barrett introduced the album closer, “1-2-8,” by announcing that the band had only performed it live three times before that night, “and the fourth time’s the charm!” The band followed by performing another 16 songs from the rest of its catalog, concentrating especially on 2000’s Pay Attention. The set was spirited and fun, with Barrett and Carr skanking along the front and the rest of the musicians behind them, all bouncing to the lively rhythms. Most of the set consisted of original tunes, except for the covers of the Wailers’ “Simmer Down” and the Slickers’ “Johnny Too Bad.” Barrett implored the audience several times “Don’t let live music die.” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the audience were very much alive.
Hellyeah/Gramercy Theatre/July 26, 2017
Mudvayne vocalist Chad Gray and Nothingface guitarist Tom Maxwell spoke about forming a new band together when their bands toured together in 2000. Due to scheduling conflicts, they were unable to build the project until 2006. Shortly after launching, they hounded ex-Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul to come out of hiatus and join the band. Now a certified supergroup, Hellyeah’s albums and tours received maximal attention. Over time, Hellyeah changed personnel several times, but the present band consists of Gray, Maxwell, Paul, guitarist Christian Brady and ex-Nothingface bassist Kyle Sanders. Hellyeah’s fifth and most recent studio album, Unden!able, with an exclamation point replacing the letter “i”, was released on June 3, 2016.
Hellyeah headlined at the Gramercy Theatre, and commanded the stage from the first moment. Gray came out with a head covered in fake blood, which beaded and mixed with perspiration and then sprayed onto the front row of fans as he headbanged to the band’s furious beat on “X” and “Demons in the Dirt.” (He used a towel to remove the remaining guck after the second song.) For a good while, the band sounded like an extreme metal band, with growled vocals, angular guitar riffs and intense percussion. About 50 minutes into the 90-minute performance, Hellyeah briefly featured a slower, tamer side with “Love Falls,” but sacrificing no intensity. A curious turn was the band’s cover of Phil Collins’ “I Don’t Care Anymore,” which on the album featured archived guitar shredding from Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell, recorded before his 2004 death. This was fierce groove metal, dark and brutal. The worst part of the concert was the unceasing lights behind the band that never stopped flashing into the eyes of the audience; they were absolutely annoying throughout the concert.
Nine Inch Nails/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/July 31, 2017
Trent Reznor was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Mercer, Pennsylvania. He began playing the piano at the age of 12 and later learned to play the tenor saxophone and tuba. At school, he was a member of both the jazz and marching band, and out of school played in a local rock band, Option 30. As a young adult, Reznor moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and played in several bands. In 1986, he worked as an assistant engineer and janitor at a recording studio, where he secured permission to record demos during unused studio time. Unable to find a band that could articulate his songs, he played all the instruments except drums. This became the first work under his pseudonym, Nine Inch Nails, in 1988. Nine Inch Nails has since won two Grammy awards and sold over 20 million units worldwide, with 10 million sales in the United States alone before going on hiatus from 2009 to 2013. In 2016, keyboardist Atticus Ross became Trent’s first permanent associate in Nine Inch Nails. Nine Inch Nails recorded eight albums and then released Add Violence, the second of a trilogy of EPs, on July 21, 2017.
The morning after headlining the third night of the Panorama Music Festival, Nine Inch Nails announced a concert at the 1,500-capacity Webster Hall. As the concert began, fog machines started and blue lights bathed the stage and audience. Keyboardist Atticus Ross and guitarist Robin Finck took their positions and began to play the opening chords to The Fragile‘s “Somewhat Damaged” for the first time on this tour. Thick clouds of fog partially obscured the stage, and Reznor suddenly appeared at his microphone, joined by keyboardist Alessandro Cortini and drummer Ilan Rubin. This song fed to The Slip‘s “1,000,000,” another first for the tour; the 19-song set later also would include another tour debut, “Sanctified,” and the first-ever performance of “She’s Gone Away,” but lacked the David Bowie cover, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” and “Hurt,” both of which were performed the night before. Fans heard songs from most of the albums, starting with the more propulsive songs and leading into the slow burn of the more atmospheric, soundtrack-style songs. Most of the set leaned on the heavier side, and Reznor sang with fire and rage, often amplified by Finck’s searing guitar leads. Hedging on controlled dynamics, altered tempos and widespread, looming sonic attacks, the band was tight and the arrangements were imaginative. This was New York’s best concert of 2017.