The Cynz/Sidewalk/Sept. 30, 2017
Born and raised in New Jersey, Cyndi Dawson sought a career in performance art in New York City. Over the next few years, she secured a few acting, dancing and bartending gigs, briefly played percussion in the short-lived Kamikaze Kitty & the Attack Kats, and read in poetry circles both in New York and New Jersey. Fellow Jersey native, Henry Seiz, who had played guitar in Louie Louie & the Lost Hombres in the 1980s, heard Dawson’s work and suggested she read spoken word or sing to his music.
Together they formed the Cynz in 2011. The band presently consists of Dawson, Seiz, bassist Anne Husick (formerly of Band of Susans) and drummer Robert Stockl (formerly of the Mad Daddies). The Cynz released a second full album, Lil Devil, on Jul. 12, 2017; It is available from the band in vinyl only.
Lil Devil had been available by mail order all summer, but the Cynz celebrated a record release concert at Sidewalk so that fans could purchase the album in person. As usual when the band has performed at the venue, the set was high-octane and high-caliber, rock and roll in its rawest and purist form. The band has grown in polish, yet retained a garage-band vibrancy that was honest and fun. Dawson’s melodies were pop-rooted, but she sang them with a gripping rock and roll spirit, then danced, shook and even crawled to Seiz’s speedy riffs and leads, as the rhythm section powered the songs. From start to end, the Cynz’s set was a rock and roll party.
Stiff Little Fingers/The Gramercy Theatre/Oct. 1, 2017
As a schoolboy in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jake Burns sang and played guitar in a cover band called Highway Star, named after the Deep Purple song. In 1977, at the height of the violent ethno-nationalist “Troubles” conflict in Northern Ireland, the band discovered punk and became Stiff Little Fingers, named after the Vibrators’ song. Upon achieving success on British radio, Stiff Little Fingers were at the forefront of the punk movement. Stiff Little Fingers relocated in 1979 to London, England, but then split in 1983. Burns reformed the band in 1987 with the idea of a short reunion, but although personnel changes continued, the band has continued touring and occasionally recording. Stiff Little Fingers presently consists of Burns, guitarist Ian McCallum, bassist Ali McMordie, and drummer Steve Grantley. Stiff Little Fingers’ tenth and most recent album is 2014’s No Going Back.
Stiff Little Fingers’ 40th anniversary tour brought the band to a headlining date at the Gramercy Theatre. The band’s music was spit-shined compared to its earliest and grittiest days, and a careful listen suggested that much of this music could no longer be classified as punk by today’s standards. The backbone of many of the songs were pop and quite a number of the melodies had what could be branded as an American country music slant. The band was tight, roaring with blazing energy, with clear vocals and rocking backup. The band opened with one of its earliest songs, “Wasted Life,” which was about youth not having anything to do during the Troubles era in Northern Ireland. “My Dark Places” chronicled Burns’ personal struggle with depression. “Guilty as Sin” was about sexual abuse. Many other songs featured political or social commentary. In the end, Stiff Little Fingers’ old songs preserved a vital kick and the band’s performance registered as solid and as strong as in the band’s heyday. One can only hope that the band will continue to write and record new material.
Paul Weller/Irving Plaza/Oct. 2, 2017
Paul Weller started playing guitar at age 11 in his native Woking, Surrey, England. After seeing Status Quo in concert in 1972, he formed his first incarnation of the Jam, playing bass on Beatles covers and original songs. The Jam came into its own during the punk rock revolution, but also appealed to the mods, such they branded Weller as the “Modfather.” The Jam became popular in England, but less so throughout the rest of the world. Seeking to explore a more soulful, melodic style of music with a broader instrumentation, Weller disbanded the Jam in 1982 and formed the Style Council in 1983. The Style Council initially scored a few hits, but did not remain popular, so Weller ended the band in 1989 and launched a solo career, first with the Paul Weller Movement in 1991 and then under his own name in 1992. Weller was now a singer-songwriter, ultimately earning four Brit Awards, including the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement award. His thirteenth and most recent solo album, A Kind Revolution, was released on May 12, 2017.
Paul Weller headlines arenas in his home country, but in New York he performed two nights at the 1,025-capacity Irving Plaza. While his previous associations were better known in this country, Weller performed only one Jam song and two Style Council songs on the first night. Performing 11 songs from his 1990s catalog and 12 songs from more recent albums, his audience witnessed the evolution of a troubadour who left behind his punk and mod epoch and now blended a rocking Britpop with jazz and rhythm and blues influences. Weller sang emotively and played electric and acoustic guitars as well as keyboards during his two-hour show. The musical arrangements by guitarist Steve Cradock, bassist Andy Crofts, drummer Steve Pilgrim, percussionist Ben Gordelier and keyboardist Tom Van Heel provided the flesh for Weller’s musical vision. The band assisted significantly in distinguishing the various approaches of each song so that perhaps the concert’s most engaging elements was that copious musical ground had been covered.
The Devil Wears Prada/The Gramercy Theatre/Oct. 5, 2017
The Devil Wears Prada formed as a metalcore band in 2005 in Dayton, Ohio. The musicians named the band after the novel because they believed the title made an anti-materialistic statement they liked; they had not read the book, however, and the popular movie based on the story had not been made yet. The band began by playing the midwestern Christian music circuit, ultimately gravitating to touring on secular bookings. The Devil Wears Prada currently consists of vocalist Mike Hranica, lead guitarist Kyle Sipress, rhythm guitarist Jeremy DePoyster, and bassist Andy Trick. The band currently is touring with two additional musicians, keyboardist Jonathan Gering and drummer Giuseppe Capolupo. The band’s sixth full-length studio album, Transit Blues, was released on Oct. 7, 2016.
Although the band introduced occasional soft melodies as a counterbalance, The Devil Wears Prada’s set at the Gramercy Theatre was total metal brutality, pulverizing mercilessly everything and everyone in its path. It seems that with each album and tour the band has reached its maximum violence, but in fact each album and tour seems to grow heavier and heavier. The set spanned the band’s 12-year repertoire, and the result was that songs that were hard before were made even harder this time around. Hranica growled and grunted his lyrics, the guitarists built tension through distorted, crunching riffs, and the rhythm section pounded hard. The band mastered the art of crafting complex pieces that escalated to fever pitch and then looked down at the decimated vulnerable below. You had to be strong to survive this atomic assault.