The World of Captain Beefheart/City Winery/Jan. 22, 2018
Living in Syracuse, NY, a nine-year-old Gary Lucas was encouraged by his father to learn to play the guitar at the age of nine. This led to playing in bands during his teens in the 1960s. He then travelled on what he calls a “pilgrimage” to see childhood hero Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet. The two became friends, and Lucas eventually became Beefheart’s co-manager, occasionally performed on stage with Beefheart and played on Beefheart’s records. Beefheart retired in the 1980s, but Lucas continued collaborating with Beefheart’s musicians and in 2006 led a Beefheart tribute band, Fast ‘n’ Bulbous: the Captain Beefheart Project. Beefheart died in 2010. Lucas’ latest ensemble, The World of Captain Beefheart, consists of Lucas, vocalist Nona Hendryx (ex-Labelle), keyboardist Jordan Shapiro (ex-Gods and Monsters), bassist Jesse Krakow (ex-Fast ‘N’ Bulbous) and drummer Richard Dworkin (ex-Alex Chilton, ex-Fast ‘N’ Bulbous). The World of Captain Beefheart’s self-titled debut album was released on Nov. 10, 2017.
The World of Captain Beefheart’s performance at City Winery was more than a tribute band concert. The evening’s multi-media experience began with Lucas relating an unscripted memoir of his relationship with Beefheart, followed by rare video clips of Beefheart in concert, live readings of Beefheart’s poetry by Bob Holman and Tammy Faye Starlight, a slide show of Beefheart’s artwork and artifacts, and the band’s performance. In the 1970s, Beefheart’s coarse and abrasive music was groundbreaking but underappreciated or unknown to the general music community; his catalog was a raw and chaotic synthesis of rhythm and blues, free jazz, rock and blues. The World of Captain Beefheart polished many of the songs and made them more accessible, especially with Hendryx replacing Beefheart’s gravelly vocals with her smoother, soulful singing. While not as radical as the original versions, the set crackled with Beefheart’s artistic wizardry, maintaining an obtuse edge that might have made Beefheart proud. Lucas’ new venture succeeded in faithfully kept alive the legacy of Captain Beefheart, although it may not satisfy the purists.
Fred Hammond/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/Jan. 23, 2018
As a boy in Detroit, Mich., future gospel singer Fred Hammond played drums, bass and piano. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Hammond toured as bassist for the Winans from 1980 to 1982. Upon returning to Detroit, he co-founded the gospel group Commissioned in 1984 and simultaneously launched a solo career. For his solo work, he assembled a choir, Radical for Christ, which proved to be even more successful than Commissioned. In 2013, Hammond, Dave Hollister, Brian Courtney Wilson and Eric Roberson to create the vocal group United Tenors. Solo and with these various ensembles, Hammond has sold over 8 million albums, and won multiple Grammy, Dove, and Stellar awards as a performer, producer and writer. With these various enterprises, Hammond was among the architects of a new gospel music genre, Urban Praise & Worship. Hammond’s most recent album is 2016’s Worship Journal Live. He currently resides in Cedar Hill, Texas.
B.B. King Blues Club & Grill was a surrogate church at times during Hammond’s concert, with multiple members of the audience chanting worship choruses to Hammond’s lead vocals. Hammond’s husky vocals were rich and rousing, convincingly professing the power of God, and rallying his public through his stomping gospel refrains. The set consisted of songs he popularized but also a few common contemporary worship songs, adapted to his singularly muscular delivery. Between songs, Hammond spoke at great length, and occasionally deviated into seemingly spontaneous interludes, such as a brief cover of the Temptations‘ “My Girl.” When it came to his better-known songs, however, the sound was like thunder from heaven; Hammond was backed by two keyboardists and a rhythm section, but the sound was bigger than that, with prerecorded guitar fills and backing vocals augmenting for a fuller sound. In the end, Hammond’s singing was remarkably stellar, such that perhaps his set would have been more impactful if he had minimized his chattiness and sang more.
Thirty Seconds to Mars/Irving Plaza/Jan. 24, 2018
Jared Leto was born in Bossier City, La., but his family relocated frequently in accordance with his grandfather’s assignments in the military. Leto started playing music with his older brother, Shannon Leto, at an early age. As a young adult, he developed an interest in filmmaking and enrolled in an art school in New York City. In 1992, Leto moved to Los Angeles pursuing a career in directing and intending to accept acting roles on the side. He first achieved recognition as an actor in television in 1994 and in film in 1995. Leto then formed the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars in 1998 reunited with Shannon. Thirty Seconds to Mars has sold over 15 million albums worldwide. The band presently consists of Jared Leto (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards), Shannon Leto (drums, percussion) and Tomo Miličević (lead guitar, bass, violin, keyboards, other instruments). Thirty Seconds to Mars’ fourth and most recent studio album is 2013’s Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams, released shortly before Leto won an Oscar, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Thirty Seconds to Mars launched the Citi Sound Vault concert series at Irving Plaza in the week leading to the Grammy Awards. Leto explained that his brother Shannon was sick and would not perform, so he and Miličević performed mostly as a duo with the aid of several layers of pre-programmed music. The band’s touring bassist, Steve Aiello, stood in the sidelines, hardly visible as he assisted on a few songs. As such, this was a fundamentally variant concert for the group, lacking the live band interaction yet thoroughly showcasing that Leto was a very accomplished singer and front person. He encouraged the audience to jump to the techno-inspired opener and to sing the hooks on most of the subsequent songs. The set included surprises as well; the band’s most recent radio song, “Walk On Water,” was performed acoustically, for instance. Leto said, “We’re going to get a little sexy,” and sang Rihanna‘s “Stay.” He followed with a collage of song refrains from Prince‘s “Purple Rain,” John Lennon‘s “Imagine,” David Bowie‘s “Heroes,” SoundGarden‘s “Black Hole Sun,” and Linkin Park‘s “Crawling.” Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the band did not perform “Dangerous Night,” the single being released the next day. This might not have been Thirty Seconds to Mars’ most defining concert, but it was the band’s most curious.
The Dead Boys/The Bowery Electric/Jan. 29, 2018
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, the Dead Boys evolved out of the band Rocket from the Tombs and were originally called Frankenstein. When the band members relocated to New York City in 1976 at the encouragement of Joey Ramone, they adopted the Dead Boys moniker. The Dead Boys became one of the leaders of the first wave punk bands at CBGB’s but never achieved commercial success, causing the band to split in 1979 after two studio albums. The Dead Boys reformed for several gigs in the 1980s but these ended when lead singer Stiv Bators was hit by a taxi and died in 1990. In 2004, the remaining members of the band re-formed for a one-off gig in Cleveland. In 2005, they played a benefit show for CBGB’s and another reunion show on Halloween. In 2017, founding members Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz rebranded the Dead Boys with a new lineup to celebrate both the 40th anniversary of the band’s debut album and the Sept. 8 release of Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40, a re-recording of that original album. The Dead Boys presently consists of Chrome on guitar, Blitz on drums, Jake Hout on vocals, Jason Kottwitz on guitar and Ricky Rat on bass.
The new Dead Boys embarked on the brand’s first major tour in 38 years, which stopped for two nights at the Bowery Electric. The set consisted of the songs from the debut album (substituting “Calling on You” for the original “Hey Little Girl”) plus two encores (which like “Calling on You” originated from the band’s second album). The songs were performed 40 years ago, yet this set did not pick up where the original band left off. The first time around, the musicians did not really know their instruments like the current line-up did; the contemporary spin presented a much more polished performance than the original line-up ever performed. Nevertheless, there were some moments that recalled the original band’s youthfulness, including Hout rolling on the low stage or pretending to hang himself by his own tie (Bators used to do this with his mic cord) and Chrome accidentally tripping over a squatted Hout and then being unable to retune his guitar. In all, the live performance was significant in that it showed that many of the Dead Boys’ songs were strong rock and roll songs that have aged well and should have made the Dead Boys a success the first time around.