k.d. lang/Beacon Theatre/March 26, 2018
Kathryn Dawn Lang was born in Edmonton, Alberta, but at age nine moved with her family to the Canadian prairie in Consort, Alberta. While attending college, she became fascinated with the life and music of Patsy Cline and decided to pursue a career as a professional singer. After her graduation in 1982 she took on the professional name k.d. lang, moved to Edmonton, formed a Patsy Cline tribute band called the Reclines in 1983, and began recording albums in 1984. Lang first earned international recognition in 1988 when she performed as “The Alberta Rose” at the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta. Lang was known for her country twang until her 1992 album, Ingénue, a set of adult-oriented pop songs that had little country influence and included her pop hit, “Constant Craving.” Since then, the four Grammy and eight Juno award-winning lang has been a pop crooner. Her most recent album, case/lang/veirs, a collaboration with Neko Case and Laura Veirs, was released in 2016. Lang presently lives in Portland, Oregon.
k.d. lang’s current tour celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Ingénue album, and so the performance at the Beacon Theatre featured lang singing the album in its entirety plus a few additional songs. Lang came on stage in a black suit and barefoot, backed by a seven-piece band. The mezzo-soprano immediately showcased an enormous range, singing clearly and loudly, unencumbered by the band’s subtle accompaniment. The charm was that her singing seemed honest and uncontrived; there were no gimmicks or calculated crescendos, just a naturally unadorned voice with perfect pitch, strong timbre and soft vibrato. After the third song, lang spoke to the audience, framing the intent of the concert, then stated that she would say no more until the completion of Ingenue, so as not to disturb the “hypnotic” nature of the album. That said, the music varied a bit with jazz, pop and Latin undertones. She concluded the main set with covers of her three favorite songwriters, which she pointed out all happened to be Canadian. Her encore included “Sing It Loud,” the title track of her 2011 album, and she dedicated the song to the young participants in the March for Our Lives the day before. For those who anticipated a country segment, lang moved away from that genre 25 years ago; her music now is middle-of-the-road adult contemporary and she did this extraordinarily well.
Lord Huron/Le Poisson Rouge/March 27, 2018
Growing up in Okemos, Mich., Ben Schneider and his family frequently visited Lake Huron, where they often sang by a campfire. When Schneider was 12 years old, he had his first four-track recorder and started taking music seriously. He played in the orchestra in middle school and high school, and moved towards contemporary bands in high school and college. Schneider studied visual art in Michigan and in France, then moved to New York City for about three months, where he worked for an artist. Schneider then “followed a girl” to Los Angeles, Calif., where he found work as a graphic designer in 2005. Unfulfilled in the commercial art world in 2010, Schneider formed a solo project he called Lord Huron, named after the lake. He recorded his first few EPs alone and then asked childhood friends to come to California to play live shows with him. The indie folk band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Schneider, guitarist Tom Renaud, bassist Miguel Briseño, and drummer Mark Barry. Lord Huron’s third album, Vide Noir, was released on April 20, 2018.
Lord Huron played a preview show at le Poisson Rouge before launching a national tour. For this tour, the band added to its personnel the two members of the Los Angeles-based My Name Is You, guitarist Brandon Walters and keyboardist Anne Williamson. Together, the musicians followed Schneider’s lead through a psychedelic pop spectrum of wordy songs and ebullient rhythms. The angular approach to folk, rockabilly and rock along with the unrefined veneer of the final hard-charging product suited the band well, even if the blaring garage approach obscured most of the lyrics. This might be a consideration for the band: let the lyrics be heard.
Squirrel Nut Zippers/City Winery/March 28, 2018
James Mathis, Jr. was born into a musical family in Oxford, Mississippi, and was proficient at mandolin by age eight. By 15, Mathus knew the rudiments of guitar, piano and harmony singing. The family’s repertoire consisted of hundreds of folk, bluegrass, and country blues songs. In high school he played rock ‘n’ roll in the End and later helped found Johnny Vomit & the Dry Heaves, one of the first punk rock/experimental noise bands in Mississippi. In the mid-1980s he recorded under the name Cafe des Moines. He later relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, took on the professional name Jimbo Mathus, and played drums in Metal Flake Mother. Mathus saw his greatest success after forming the swing revival band Squirrel Nut Zippers in 1993. The band’s second album was certified platinum, which led to performances at the 1996 Summer Olympics and at President Clinton’s second inaugural ball. Squirrel Nut Zippers disbanded in 2000 and Mathus returned to Mississippi, played the blues in Buddy Guy‘s band for a few years, and recorded albums under various names. Squirrel Nut Zippers reformed in 2007 and 2008 for concerts and recorded a live album. In 2016, Mathus assembled a new lineup with musicians from around New Orleans, Louisiana, and toured in support of the 20th anniversary of Squirrel Nut Zippers’ biggest selling album, Hot. Squirrel Nut Zippers released Beasts of Burgundy, its first studio album in 18 years, on March 23, 2018.
What does one call a revival of a revival? Squirrel Nut Zippers was among the bands that led the charge in swing revival in the 1990s and, at City Winery, Mathus and company were once again fusing 1930s–era swing, Delta blues, gypsy jazz, klezmer, New Orleans jazz, and even calypso. Once could hear the ghosts of Cab Calloway, Django Reinheardt and Fats Waller, but the performance was not music trapped in a bottle. This was not simply a crooner with a lively horn band. While the band drew from vintage genres, the definitive template for the music was a light-hearted blend that accentuated the fun facet. Hence, the construct of the concert was not built for hardcore swing enthusiasts as it was for casual revelers enjoying buoyant songs and merriment. Perhaps this revival of a revival was simply ageless music with a grin.
Panzie*/dröm/March 31, 2018
Guitarists DC Gonzalez and Jonnie Rockit have known each other since childhood on the Lower East Side of New York City. After playing in several underground rock bands together, they formed Panzie* in 2008. Panzie* released a debut EP in 2010 and an album in 2013, then went on hiatus in 2014 and returned in 2015 with a new lineup. The band presently consists of Gonzalez, Rockit, vocalist Jasin Cadic, and drummer John Servo Di Salvo. The band released its second EP, The Joke’s on You, on April 1, 2018.
Concert promoter/DJ and party impresario Xris SMack! regularly hosts Stimulate, a long-running series of gothic and industrial rock parties at various venues. Tonight SMack! and his following celebrated his birthday with his Stimulate series at dröm. Panzie* represented the best of New York music, performing a rapid-moving set of hard-hitting punk metal industrial songs. Wearing corpse paint on his face and tattoos covering his arms, Cadic was a commanding presence, screeching lyrics into the microphone and using props, costumes and wardrobe changes to color the lyrics. Behind him, a dual guitar attack lifted the songs higher, with razor-sharp leads that stung like bee-stings and brutal metal riffs that were heavier than an anvil. New bassist Russell Pzutto teamed well with the energetic drumming to keep the music pounding. This was rock ‘n’ roll, only a much darker, faster and heavier variety than the traditional, matched with low budget but entirely effective staging. Panzie* is at the ground floor of a sight and sound that, given proper exposure, ought to rocket to national prominence.