Orphaned Land/The Gramercy Theatre/September 11, 2017
Kobi Farhi was born in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel, amidst a heterogeneous population of Jews, Christians and Muslims. As a youth, Farhi discovered oriental and world music through his family, and also a love for heavy metal music through his friends. With his high school friends in 1991, Farhi formed Resurrection, a band that injected metal into Israeli and Arabic sounds. In 1992, the band became Orphaned Land. The band has retained two of the founding members, Kobi Farhi (vocals) and Uri Zelcha (bass). They are joined by Matan Shmuely (drums), Chen Balbus (guitar/keyboard), and Idan Amsalem (guitars/bouzouki). Orphaned Land’s fifth and most recent album is 2013’s, All Is One; the band has scheduled its sixth album, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, for release on Jan. 26, 2018.
Can heavy metal be a vehicle through which peace is sought? Farhi’s lyrics promote a message of peace and unity, particularly between the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). At the Gramercy Theatre, Orphaned Land’s first New York concert in seven years, Farhi went as far as asking if there were any Arab Muslims in the audience and then asked them their country of origin, welcoming them into this vision for global peace on the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. With upbeat messages and up-tempo rhythms, the band tore into “Ocean Land,” “The Simple Man,” “All Is One” and other hard-edged songs led by Farhi’s alternating smooth and harsh vocals.
Halfway through the performance, Orphaned Land was joined by Shlomit Levi, an Israeli singer of Yemenite culture, who added wordless vocal melodies to several songs. This metal was a celebration of the good, as the band rocked with a celestial element of peace and hope.
Prophets of Rage/The Apollo/September 12, 2017
Rage Against The Machine split in 2000, when vocalist Zack de la Rocha went into reclusion, and the remaining three members, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk, formed Audioslave with Soundgarden‘s Chris Connell. Audioslave’s split coincided with Rage against the Machine reuniting for a festival tour in 2017. Since then, both Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave remained dormant. In 2015, RATM guitarist Tom Morello invited Commerford and Wilk to join him in forming a new rap/rock supergroup with two members of Public Enemy (rapper Chuck D and DJ Lord), and rapper B-Real of Cypress Hill. The band would be named Prophets of Rage after a Public Enemy song. In 2016, Prophets of Rage released an EP and dedicated six months to a Make America Rage Again Tour, which included performances at a pair of guerilla protest rallies near the Republican National Convention. This was followed by a 2017 Make the World Rage Again Tour and a self-titled debut album to be released on Sept. 15, 2017.
Headlining at the Apollo Theater three days before the new album release, Prophets of Rage performed several new songs, but the set was heavily loaded with the band members’ catalogues. All total, Prophets of Rage reinterpreted eight Rage Against The Machine songs, one Audioslave, two Public Enemy, and two Cypress Hill songs, and introduced four new collaborations. The rappers left the stage for the musicians’ tribute to the late Chris Connell, inviting the audience to provide the vocals to, “Like A Stone.” Morello walked off stage for a while as the rappers performed a medley of some of their greatest hits. Prophets of Rage revamped the familiar songs, with Chuck D rapping what Sen Dog rapped in Cypress Hill and B-Real rapping what Flavor Flav rapped in Public Enemy, for instance, and both Chuck D and B-Real covering what de la Rocha did in Rage Against The Machine. The unifying factors gluing the set were that all the players retained the propulsive intensity, boldness, integrity and urgency of their earlier associations. Morello’s furious guitar chops, the cutting rhythm section, and the scratching at the turntables became the perfect foil for Chuck D and B-Real switching lead and hype man duties. As Morello has said in interviews, these were “dangerous songs for dangerous times.”
Overkill/Irving Plaza/September 13, 2017
Overkill was among the first thrash metal bands, pre-dating Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer and most other thrash bands by at least one year. Formed in 1980 from the ashes of a New Jersey punk band called the Lubricunts, Overkill started playing punk and metal covers on the Jersey club circuit before writing original songs and playing L’Amours. Overkill has gone through at least 16 line-up changes, leaving bassist D. D. Verni and lead vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth as the only constant members. Overkill’s current lineup also includes lead guitarist Dave Linsk, rhythm guitarist Derek “The Skull” Tailer and drummer Jason Bittner. Overkill has sold over 625,000 albums in the U.S., and over 16 million records worldwide. The band’s 18th studio album, The Grinding Wheel, was released on Feb. 10, 2017.
Overkill is headlining the current Metal Alliance Tour, bringing thrash metal back to Irving Plaza. Ten of the band’s 15 songs dated back to the late 1980s, while a handful originated in this decade. Over the years, the band shifted its sound a bit to the left and the right and back to start, so fittingly the performance was focused on thrash metal, but with inclinations toward 1970s hardcore punk, class metal and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Even a casual listener could have detected easily the influences of the Ramones, Motorhead, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. The consistency was executed in that the concert’s fast and aggressive base locked into melodies while ripping into hard-driving riffs and rhythms. These diverse yet interlocking features made Overkill’s concert still interesting even after 37 years of thrash.
Patti Smith/Rumsey Playfield/September 14, 2017
Born in Chicago, Illinois, then raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and various towns across the river in New Jersey, a young Patti Smith fantasized about living in New York City and finding her true identity. At age 21 in 1967, she finally relocated to Manhattan, where she entered the world of the arts in part through her lover, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In 1969 she went to Paris with her sister and started busking and doing performance art. Upon Smith’s return to Manhattan, she joined the St. Mark’s Poetry Project and spent the early 1970s painting, writing, and performing in underground theater while frequented the new punk rock clubs. Smith also wrote rock journalism pieces, some of which were published in Rolling Stone and Creem. By 1974, Smith gravitated from poetry readings to rock music, initially with guitarist Lenny Kaye, and later with a full band. Though an influential component of the New York City punk rock movement, Smith married Fred Smith, former guitarist of the MC5, and spent most of the 1980s in semi-retirement from music, raising her family in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. Upon her husband’s death in 1994, she moved back to New York and its music scene. Smith’s 11th and most recent studio album, Banga, was released in 2012.
In recent years, Patti Smith has been performing frequently in the New York area, including this week’s appearances on a late night talk show and at Radio City Music Hall after a film premiere. Unlike those unpublicized performances, her concert at City Parks SummerStage in Central Park was a ticketed event that paid tribute to her late husband, who would have turned 69 that day. Backed by Kaye, bassist Tony Shanahan, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, guitarist Andy York, and Smith’s two children, guitarist Jackson Smith and keyboardist Jesse Paris Smith, Patti Smith performed many of the songs that she routinely performs, but also recited poetry and shared reflections of how these songs were influenced by her time with her late husband. “Most of these songs I wrote for Fred, with Fred or about Fred,” she told the audience. She also memorialized other late artists: “Dancing Barefoot” to Amy Winehouse, who would have turned 34 on Thursday; “Peaceable Kingdom” to Hüsker Dü‘s Grant Hart, who passed away earlier in the day; “Pissing in a River” to writer Sam Shepard, who died in July 2017. The set was almost entirely comprised of her slower and softer songs, although she concluded with blasting versions of Neil Young‘s “Rockin’ In The Free World” and her own “People Have the Power,” on which R.E.M.‘s Michael Stipe joined on backing vocals. The concert pivoted on the tame and somber side of Patti Smith, and it was moving.