Crowder/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/March 5, 2018

  David Crowder was born and raised in Texarkana, Texas, then moved 222 miles to Waco for college in the mid-1990s. Learning that half of the 14,000 students were not attending church, he helped found a college-friendly church in 1996 and began writing songs that he hoped would appeal to the students; performing these songs slowly led to the formation of a worship band. The David Crowder Band‘s adventurous worship music attracted listeners beyond the church, and the band’s recordings and tours grew increasingly successful. After six studio albums, the David Crowder Band split in 2012. Crowder relocated to Atlanta, Ga., and began recording and performing until his mononymous stage name, CrowderAmerican Prodigal, Crowder’s second and most recent solo album, was released in 2016.

  Crowder’s band, seemingly named appropriately tonight, indeed crowded onto the stage at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and ripped into a set of lively, uplifting songs that praised God while exploring an intricate mix of bluegrass, folk, and alternative music. Crowder’s yearning vocal delivery projected solemnity and joyfulness, and the band’s arrangements locked into a balance that both supported the vocalist and rallied the audience. Lyrics projected onto side screens invited participation from the audience. Crowder’s concert was not your mom’s gospel music; its dynamic rocking sound had strong appeal for both the religious and secular.

Gangstagrass/Hill Country Barbecue Market/March 9, 2018

  The Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Rench produced country and hip-hop recordings by other artists before conceiving Gangstagrass, a concept that combined bluegrass and rap, in 2006. Rench made a recording, posted it online as a free download, and the public response was positive. The rappers and bluegrass personnel have changed over time, with only Rench remaining as the ongoing coordinator, producer and main contributor. Presently, Gangstagrass consists of two emcees, RSon the Voice of Reason and Dolio the Sleuth, along with Dan Whitener on banjo, Landry McMeans on resonator guitar, Dave Grosson mandolin, DJ Leecy T on the turntable, and Rench on guitar. Gangstagrass’ fourth and most recent album, American Music, was released in 2015; a live album is planned for release later this year.

  Gangstagrass’s performance at Hill Country Barbecue Market tonight demonstrated that “hick-hop” has a new Brooklyn-based face, fresh with authentic bluegrass instrumentalists, frequent three-part harmonies, hard beats and dominant raps. Together, the emcees and pickers perform original compositions as well as traditional folk anthems that pay tribute to Americana veterans. Often the two rappers trade verses and the others sing the choruses. The band’s hybrid of genres may not be for purists, but presumably there must be a wider audience that would appreciate the Rappalachian fusion.

Michael Schenker Fest/Irving Plaza/March 10, 2018

  Perhaps Michael Schenker was a rock star child prodigy. Born in Sarstedt, Germany, he started playing guitar in 1964 at the age of nine, after his older brother Rudolf Schenker received a guitar for his birthday. At age 11, Michael played his first gig with Rudolf’s band, the Scorpions, in a nightclub. When he was 14, Michael teamed with singer Klaus Meine and started a band named Copernicus. In 1970, when Michael was 15 and Klaus was 21, they joined the Scorpions. In 1972, at age 17, Michael left the Scorpions and joined the British psychedelic band UFO, and turned UFO into a hard rock band. At the same time Michael was approached to audition for the Rolling Stones; reportedly that made him nervous and he never returned the call. Michael left UFO in 1978 and played on the Scorpions’ breakthrough Lovedrive album. Michael was invited to jam with Aerosmith in 1979 when Joe Perry left, Ozzy Osbourne asked Michael to join his band after Randy Rhoads died in an airplane crash in 1982, Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople approached him in 1984, Lemmy Kilmister asked him to join Motorhead, and Whitesnake and Deep Purple approached him as well. He declined all of them. Instead, Michael has been in UFO four separate times and starting in 1979 led numerous versions of the Michael Schenker Group (MSG), the McAuleySchenker Group, and Michael Schenker Temple of Rock, among other outfits, plus he has recorded solo acoustic material. His current project is Michael Schenker Fest, which reunites him with four of his previous singers — Gary BardenGraham BonnetRobin McAuleyDoogie White — along with guitarist/keyboardist Steve Mann, bassist Chris Glen, and drummer Ted McKenna. Michael Schenker Fest’s debut studio album,Resurrection, was released on March 2, 2018.

  Headlining at Irving Plaza tonight, the Michael Schenker Fest was a retrospective that played up to Schenker’s best moments so far. Although structured as a spectacular, with each of the vocalists singing a handful of songs and some songs featuring more than one singer, it really hardly mattered which vocalist was on stage or even how many were on stage. All four vocalists sounded pretty similar, and realistically, the star of the show was Schenker and his dazzling guitar work. Schenker was all smiles throughout the performance, and often played directly to the fans at the edge of the stage, several times reaching out to slap outreached hands. For two hours and 40 minutes, the “Blond Bombshell” relentlessly played clean, fluid, lyrical guitar leads with a bit of distortion, utilizing nimble fingers to get the most out of his guitars. The mostly uptempo songs showcased Schenker’s technical guitar wizardry, mixing various modes on major and minor pentatonic scale runs with both picking and legato, wide vibrato, deep bends and general rock phrasing. The only way to adequately describe Schenker’s superb performance was, “Wow!”

A Day to Remember/Hammerstein Ballroom/March 12, 2018

  In 2003, guitarist Tom Denney and drummer Bobby Scruggs founded A Day to Remember (often abbreviated ADTR) in Ocala, Fla., drafting vocalist Jeremy McKinnon, rhythm guitarist Neil Westfall, and bassist Joshua Woodard from different bands in the local music scene. Over time, Denny and Scruggs left the band, leaving the remaining members to recruit percussion and drummer Alex Shelnutt in 2006 and lead guitarist Kevin Skaff in 2009. A Day to Remember’s mix of emo, metalcore and pop punk music has sold more than a million units, with two albums achieving gold status. The band’s sixth and most current album, Bad Vibrations, was released on Sept. 2, 2016.

            A Day to Remember’s “15 Years In The Making Tour” included Papa RoachFalling in Reverse, and The Devil Wears Prada as support acts. ADTR’s set was dominated by the band’s middle period, with no songs from the debut album and only one song, “Paranoia,” from the most recent album. The band opened with “I’m Made Of Wax Larry, What Are You Made Of?,” which featured a guest vocal from Mike Hranica of The Devil Wears Prada. Pop punk and emo dominated the band’s reference points, leading to endless angst-filled singalongs from the audience, but the skeletons of the songs were often rooted in riff-based metalcore with few extended guitar leads. The convergence of generally soft vocals (although there were a few death growls) and deep and dark grooves made for a lighter shade of metal. A Day to Remember seems to be forging a new path for younger emo bands to follow.

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