Mary Gauthier/City Vineyard/Feb. 7, 2018

    Mary Gauthier was born to a mother she never knew in New Orleans, and adopted when she was a year old by a couple from Thibodaux, La. At age 15, she ran away from home, and spent the next several years in drug rehabilitation, halfway houses, and living with friends; she spent her 18th birthday in a jail cell. Eventually she opened a Cajun restaurant in Boston, but was arrested for drunk driving on opening night. Achieving sobriety, she dedicated herself to full-time songwriting, performing and recording. She wrote her first song at age 35, and sold her share in the restaurant to finance her second album in 1998. In 2001, she relocated to Nashville, and since then her songs have been recorded by Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, Bobby Bare, Bill Chambers, Mike Farris & Candi Staton, Amy Helm and Bettye Lavette. Her eighth studio album, Rifles & Rosary Beads, was released on Jan. 26, 2018.

    Mary Gauthier’s two-night engagement at City Vineyard was a bit different from previous area performances in that her current album is a departure from form. Rifles & Rosary Beads is a collection of songs that were written on retreats with veterans, in which Gauthier set to music and rhythm the struggles that the veterans relayed to her. Accompanied by a violinist, Michele Gazich, Gauthier opened and closed her set with some of her older songs; these were panoramic and pastoral perspectives on the hardships of life, sung in a melancholy voice that oozed hopefulness and thankfulness more than despair or yearning. The newer songs were equally emotional, but in these cases were the emotions of others who had touched her life. Gauthier introduced each song in a sense by introducing the audience to the veteran and his post traumatic disorder symptoms. The songs were tragic narratives of open wounds redressed as therapeutic healing. While these songs demonstrated the width of Gauthier’s dauntless songwriting ability, they were also disturbing and not designed for easy listening. Gauthier merited her applause, but her audience may want her to move on from this episode quickly.

Quicksilver Daydream/Mercury Lounge/Feb. 8, 2018

    Born in Pontiac, Mich., and raised on a farm in Maineville, Ohio, Adam Lytle took piano lessons as a youth and played guitar in bands while in high school. About 10 years ago, he pursued his musical vision by relocating to Brooklyn, New York. There, he recorded two EPs and one album with Wild Leaves, but when that band went on hiatus, Lytle reinvented himself in 2016 under the alias Quicksilver Daydream, using an analog tape recorder purchased from a dead man’s estate. A DIY debut album, Echoing Halls, was released on June 16, 2017. Almost immediately after that release, Lytle began reworking some of his older songs for what would become a five-song EP called A Thousand Shadows, A Single Flame, which was released on Feb. 9, 2018.

    At Mercury Lounge, Lytle on vocals and guitar was backed by lead guitarist Joey Deady, guitarist and Mellotron player Glenn Forsythe, bassist Brett Banks, and drummer Cole Emoff. Quicksilver Daydream’s sound owed a serious debt to 1960s psychedelia, with Lytle’s cloudy vocals and the band’s trippy guitar lines and shimmering ambient backdrops. Lytle performed like a singer-songwriter, but not the standard folkie or confessional model; his lyrical flow was rooted in an avant garde movement from an earlier era and his adept band provided intriguing musical accompaniment that gave electric flesh to the skeleton. Quicksilver Daydream’s strength was in wrapping this imaginative initiative around a vintage genre. More experimental than commercial, the songs were vehicles for Lytle’s creativity, which paired light melodies with somewhat darker and more complex arrangements. The captivating allure of Quicksilver Daydream’s set was that a listener could not predict where the compositions would venture next.

Machine Head/The PlayStation Theater/Feb. 9, 2018

    Vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn, born as Lawrence Cardine in Oakland, Calif., joined the Bay Area thrash metal band Forbidden (originally Forbidden Evil), as a senior in high school and played in this band from 1985 to 1987. He wrote four songs which appeared on Forbidden’s debut album, but left before the album was released in order to join guitarist Phil Demmel in local thrash metal rivals Vio-lence. In 1991, Flynn formed Machine Head; Demmel reunited with Flynn in Machine Head in 2002 at a time when Machine Head almost disbanded. Machine Head presently consists of Flynn, Demmel, bassist Jared MacEachern and drummer Dave McClain. Machine Head’s ninth studio album, Catharsis, was released on Jan. 26, 2018.

    Machine Head performed for two hours and 45 minutes at the PlayStation Theater, with no support act or intermission. This was far longer and stronger than metal bands traditionally play. Coming on stage to the recorded sound of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Diary of a Madman,” Machine Head ripped into the longest set list of the tour so far, including “Blood for Blood,” which the band had not played since performing at the Limelight in 1994, and “Desire to Fire,” not played in America since 2001. The set featured at least two songs from each of Machine Head’s albums, and summarized all the band’s movements, from groove metal, thrash, nu metal, and punk to its newer, more melodic sound. Flynn noted that this variety alienated some of the band’s former fans, thanking those that remained faithful. In reality, however, Machine Head’s versatility within metal proved to be the band’s asset during this lengthy performance. Flynn screamed, growled, rapped and sang cleanly, guitars wailed and shredded, as the band uncompromisingly adhered to its integrity. The band performed plenty of hair spinning and moshable songs, but competently proved that metal was an expansive genre. Few metal bands could achieve this goal as adeptly as Machine Head did.

John 5 & the Creatures/The Highline Ballroom/Feb. 12, 2018

    Born in Grosse Pointe, Mich., John Lowery started playing guitar at age seven after watching Buck Owens and Roy Clark‘s television show Hee Haw with his dad. Lowery was a student when his first band, Dirty Tricks, won a battle of the bands contest, and started experimenting with corpse makeup as a teenager while in another band, Vampirella. At age 17, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began a career as a session guitarist and played in the short-lived bands Alligator Soup, Sun King, Bone Angels, Red Square Black and 2wo. He also played guitar for Lita Ford, k.d. lang and others. In 1997, Lowery approached David Lee Roth and was hired to play is Roth’s DLR Band. In 1998, Lowery joined Marilyn Manson, who renamed him John 5, the moniker he still uses; 5 played in Manson’s band until 2004. In 2005, Lowery formed the radio-rock band Loser, but soon also began playing in Rob Zombie‘s band, which led to the demise of Loser. After eight solo studio albums, John 5 released a live album, It’s Alive, on Jan. 25, 2018.

    John 5 & the Creatures (bassist Ian Ross and drummer Logan Miles Nix) brought an extravagant stage show considering the size of the rather intimate Highline Ballroom. The stage featured three video screens showing clips of monster, horror and gore films, several larger than life inflated monsters, and lots of other trimmings. 5 himself came on stage wearing corpse-like face make-up and tattered corpse-like clothing. Once he started playing guitar, however, the audience saw that the show was not all about gimmicks. 5 ripped on a series of instrumentals backed only by a rhythm section, and the captivating wizardry he exhibited on his many guitars was jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring. Most of his set was a showcase of his heavy metal shredding specializing in his trademark Drop-D tuning, but he also borrowed elements of jazz fusion and country, even playing banjo instead of guitar for one song. With no one else playing lead and no one singing, 5 made every one of his speedy notes count. As he remarked, “that is a lot of notes.” Never mind all the visual stimuli, the spectacle of the evening was 5’s 10 fingers.

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