Elbow/Terminal 5/Nov. 2, 2017
In 1990 in Bury, England, a teenaged guitarist, Mark Potter, invited 16-year-old schoolmate, Guy Garvey, to sing in Mr. Soft — a band he was in with bassist Pete Turner and drummer Richard Jupp. Mark’s brother, keyboardist Craig Potter, soon turned the band into a quintet. They shortened the band name to Soft, then changed it a third time in 1997 to Elbow, inspired by a line in the BBC TV drama, The Singing Detective, in which a character described the word “elbow” as the loveliest word in the English language. Elbow has won esteemed accolades in the United Kingdom while struggling to gain comparable recognition in the United States. Elbow’s fourth studio album, The Seldom Seen Kid, sold over a million copies and won the Mercury Music Prize in 2008. In 2009 the band won the Brit Award for Best British Group, a Meteor Award for Best International Band, an NME Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music, and two Ivor Novello Awards. After 25 years in Elbow, Jupp left in 2016. Now a quartet, Elbow’s seventh and most recent studio album, Little Fictions, was released on Feb. 3, 2017.
Elbow headlined Terminal 5, supplemented by a touring drummer and two violinists/backing singers, and appropriately opened with “New York Morning,” a song of admiration of the dreamers who built the city. Elbow’s rather soft-rocking and word-heavy set highlighted an inherent bruised optimism that equally penetrated both the lyrics and the melancholy tone of the concert. The songs became prisms that fragmentally reflected the human condition of a lifetime of struggles. The violinists enriched this element with their subtle but lush orchestration. Elbow closed its set with its best-known anthem, “One Day Like This,” milked for all it could contain with an extended audience sing-along, then returned for an encore performance with “Lippy Kids” and “Grounds for Divorce.” The future continues to look bright for the band that finds inspiration in angst.
Ariel Pink/Le Poisson Rouge/Nov. 4, 2017
Ariel Rosenberg was born and raised in Los Angeles, and began writing, singing, and playing original compositions at around 10 years of age. As a young adult, he worked in a record store, gaining an encyclopedic knowledge of contemporary music and an avid appreciation for underground artists. Rosenberg released his first album in 1999 under his given name, but then beginning in 2000 his albums were credited to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. His first album, as simply Ariel Pink, was released in 2014. His eleventh and most recent studio album, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, was released on Sept. 15, 2017.
In some circles, Ariel Pink has been revered as a songwriter, but at le Poisson Rouge this claim was challenging to confirm. Pink’s band drowned out his lyrics throughout the entire performance. Pink’s smooth pop and sometimes quirky vocal melodies defined the foreground and the texture of the overall production. This would have been more effective if the musicians had provided their up-tempo lo-fi grooves and riffs, which were repeated incessantly, further in the background. What traditionally would have been a backdrop was very much front and center. Pink interspersed nine of the new album’s 13 tracks between older songs, but what were the words? Online videos of recent tour stops verify that this matter was consistent in other cities.
Dhani Harrison/The Knitting Factory/Nov. 6, 2017
Dhani Harrison, son of the Beatles‘ late George Harrison, was named after the sixth and seventh notes of the Indian music scale, dha and ni and is pronounced “Danny.” He grew up with his parents in Henley-on-Thames, England, but attended university in Providence, Rhode Island, where he studied industrial design and physics. He first ventured into music on his father’s final album in 2001 — which earned him a Grammy Award in 2004 — then in 2002 formed his own band, thenewno2. In 2010, Harrison, Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur joined together to form the short-lived supergroup, Fistful of Mercy. Over the years, Harrison has participated in several big-marquee tributes to his father. He also has collaborated on projects with Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Wu-Tang Clan and Pearl Jam, and has scored several films and television series. Harrison released his debut solo album, In///Parallel, on Oct. 6, 2017.
Harrison performed his first-ever solo concert at the Panorama Festival this past summer and returned to New York to headline at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Those who came hoping to hear Beatles redux must have been disappointed; backed by a small rock band, Harrison’s music was far more experimental and far less commercial than the familiar Beatles catalog. Harrison sang in a distinct voice and blared on electric guitar, which boomed loudly in part to his reliance on pedals and distortion effects. There was no distinctive genre to give his music a label; the sounds were multi-layered, and the arrangements were eclectic and adventurous. All of this creativity made the performance intriguing and gripping for those in the audience open to new music that was clever and uncommon.
The Band Called Prayers/The Bowery Ballroom/Nov. 9, 2017
Author, artist and musician Rafael Reyes was born in Cotija, Mexico, and was raised in San Diego. While still a teenager in San Diego, he joined a street gang in order to save his father’s life after a skirmish at a local market. Upon graduating high school, he opened San Diego’s first vegan/vegetarian Mexican restaurant with his father and operated the restaurant for 18 years. In 2011, he wrote and published Living Dangerously, a roman à clef about his life as a gang member. He also began showing his artwork in San Diego and Los Angeles. In 2011, Reyes formed his first band, Baptism of Thieves, followed by the pop-goth Vampire. In 2013, he reinvented himself under an alter ego, Leafar Seyer, which is his full name spelled backwards, and created Prayers with Tijuana-born synthesizer player Dave Parley, formerly of Latin Lovers. Seyer and Parley began recording immediately upon meeting, and completed the first Prayers CD in three days. Prayers won Best Alternative Band in the 2015 San Diego Music Awards. Prayers will release its third album, Baptism of Thieves, on Nov. 24, 2017.
Prayers brought to the Gramercy Theatre the music that its originators have defined as Cholo goth. Seyer’s presentation was very much like slam poetry, closer to rapping than singing, couching poetic phrases and dark images with emotionally-charged dynamics. Seyer’s lyrics explored harsh gang life and gothic themes over throbbing beats and swirling synthesizers. Parley, on the left side of the stage, framed Seyer’s expressive deliveries with stark, uncluttered electronic rhythms that circled around the perimeter of industrial music. Together, the duo created an innovative sensory experience that should work itself out of the gothic underground and into the wider alternative music scene.