The Living End/Terminal 5/August 21, 2017
Vocalist/guitarist Chris Cheney and upright bassist Scott Owen met in primary school in Melbourne, Australia, and by 1990, while in high school, they were making music together, busking the streets of Melbourne. Cheney was a fan of rockabilly group Stray Cats and this prompted Owen, who originally played piano, to switch to double bass. Recruiting various drummers, the pair formed the Runaway Boys, named after a Stray Cats song, and performed covers of songs by the Stray Cats and the Clash. By 1994 Cheney and Owen were writing their own songs, which started to incline towards punk and pub rock, and changed the band’s name to the Living End, a 1950s expression meaning “the greatest.” Since 2002 the Living End has consisted of Cheney, Owen, and drummer Andy Strachan. The Living End’s seventh studio album, Shift, was released on May 13, 2016.
Opening for fellow Australians Midnight Oil at Terminal 5, the Living End played a shorter set than it played at a headlining gig at the Gramercy Theatre last November. Once again, the band married its original punkabilly sound to raucous rock and roll and hard rock, fueling a blustering fire with gasoline. There were few quiet moments, as the band performed with unharnessed energy, with Cheney shouting lyrics and playing rollicking guitar leads and Owen playing his large bass all over the stage. Midway through the set, the one song that started as a softer reggae-inspired song evolved into a banging rocker coupled with gang vocals. With proper exposure, the Living End’s controlled rampage could win a strong American audience.
Midnight Oil/Terminal 5/August 21, 2017
Guitarist/keyboardist Jim Moginie and drummer Rob Hirst started rocking together as a cover band named Farm in 1972 while in school in Sydney, Australia. University student Peter Garrett answered their advertisement for a vocalist in 1975. Garrett relocated to Sydney in 1976, and Farm became a full-time band and changed its name to Midnight Oil, named after a Jimi Hendrix song. Guitarist Martin Rotsey joined in 1977 and Bones Hillman replaced earlier bassists in 1987. Known as outspoken and non-compromising, Midnight Oil gained a fierce following, winning 11 Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards during its career, including induction into the Hall of Fame in 2006. Garrett first entered politics in 1984, and essentially dissolved the band when he entered politics full-time in 2002. The band’s eleventh and final album was 2002’s Capricornia. Midnight Oil reformed for sporadic benefit concerts starting in 2005.
Midnight Oil embarked on its first world tour in 15 years in 2017, which included sets at Webster Hall earlier in the year and tonight’s performance at Terminal 5. The tour promotes several box sets of back catalog because the band has not written or recorded new music. As such, the setlist concentrated on the band’s best known songs from 1982 to 1993, with a few surprises, included the first ever performance of “Heart Is Nowhere,” the tour debut of “Is It Now?” and a rocking cover of the Clash’s “London Calling.” Accompanied by Jack Howard on trumpet, flugelhorn, keyboards, and percussion, Midnight Oil played its bristling rock music with new fever. Several times, Garret expressed his contempt for contemporary politics and tied it with songs that originated from earlier social commentary: “Short Memory” was a critique of imperialist repression; “Truganini” referenced multiple issues, including the treatment of indigenous artist Albert Namatjira, the Australian flag debate, and republicanism; “US Forces” was a denunciation of American military interference in foreign affairs; “The Dead Heart” told the story of colonization from an indigenous point of view; “Blue Sky Mine” described asbestos exposure in the Wittenoom mine tragedy. The music rocked as solidly as it ever did, with Garrett stalking the stage and dancing awkwardly while singing in strong voice, and the band providing driving aggressive, hard rock with sizzling guitar work and thunderous, primal rhythms. Hopefully the band will use this reignited firepower to write new songs.
Lucero/The Liberty Belle/August 24, 2017
Ben Nichols is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, where in high school he played bass in the folk-rocking Harbingers and, with the same personnel, in Victory Garden. His next band, the punky Red 40, did well locally, but Nichols increasingly felt drawn to what he saw as the epicenter of good rock and roll music about 135 miles away, in Memphis, Tennessee. He relocated there and, still in his hardcore punk phase, played in Lucky Old Sun and Pezz. Nichols started experimenting with “cowboy” music and formed the country-rocking Lucero in 1998. Lucero has remained fairly intact since the beginning, featuring Nichols on vocals and guitar, guitarist Brian Venable, bassist John Stubblefield and drummer Roy Berry; Rick Steff joined Lucero on piano, organ, and accordion in 2006. Lucero’s tenth and most recent studio album is 2015’s All a Man Should Do.
If you are going to ride a party boat, it makes sense to enjoy a party band. Lucero performed aboard the Liberty Belle as the boat cruised the New York City harbor. The alt-country band came on stage to the sound of Chuck Berry‘s “Memphis, Tennessee,” appropriately recalling Lucero’s hometown. Led by Nichols’ gruff yet vulnerable vocals and powered by the ensemble’s roots-informed jams, Lucero’s lyrics studied life on the road, the workweek versus the weekend, and loves that were lost. Nichols’ heart-on-sleeve vocals effectively managed two deliveries: either he sang rousing beer-toasting rockers, or he sang sad-soul songs that likewise might have led to increased bar activity. The set spanned Lucero’s career, touching upon almost every album, and also included new, unrecorded songs. With no special effects, lighting or gimmicks, this performance was about as honest as it could get.
Dale Watson/Hill Country Barbecue Market/August 30, 2017
Dale Watson was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and grew up in poverty outside of Pasadena, Texas. Watson began writing his own songs at age 12, making his first recording two years later. Soon after, Watson became an emancipated minor; by day he went to school and by night he played local Houston clubs and honky-tonks with his brother Jim in an aggregation called the Classic Country Band. In 1988, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and joined the house band at an alt-country venue. In 1992, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, writing songs for a publishing company. His career as a solo artist began when Watson relocated to Austin, Texas, where he formed a backing band called the Lone Stars and recorded his first album in 1995. Watson went on hiatus after his girlfriend died in 2004, relocating again to be near his daughters in Baltimore, Maryland. Watson returned to Austin in 2006 and resumed playing regular gigs. His twentififth and most recent album, Under the Influence, was released on Sept. 30, 2016.
Dale Watson brands his music Ameripolitan, and at Hill Country Barbecue Market, this music spoke for itself. Perhaps Ameripolitan is more of a statement than a genre, as the music sounded very much like outlaw country music, stripping away the Nashville glitz and honing onto roots country blues. With integrity uncompromised, Watson played authentic country music, even throwing subtle jabs at contemporary country stars who are not so country. While his baritone resonated well and the Lone Stars (Don Pawlak on pedal steel, Chris Creppson upright bass, and Mike Bernal on drums) backed him finely, his repertoire consisted of typical country fare: humorous plays on words; name drops on the outlaw pioneers; songs about drinking alcohol. For much of the show, Watson fielded requests from the fans and had the audience singing along to “I Lie When I Drink” and other signature songs. It was an enjoyable performance, but not a country music shape shifter.