The Calling/The Gramercy Theatre/June 28, 2018

    Alex Band started playing music live with a band called Generation Gap in 1996 in Los Angeles, then performed briefly with Next Door. A demo gained Band a recording contract, and so he had to form a touring band, which he named the Calling, a moniker which reflected the band’s sense of purpose. The Calling’s “Wherever You Will Go,” which Band wrote as a teenager, topped Billboard‘s Adult Top 40 chart for 23 weeks, making it the second longest running number one in the chart’s history; Billboard later named it the number one song of the decade (2000-2010) on the Adult Pop chart. The song’s accompanying album, Camino Palmero, sold more than five million copies worldwide and was certified gold in the United States. The band’s second and most recent album, Two, was released in 2004 but did not sell as well; its lead single, “Our Lives,” was featured in the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics and was the opening song of the 78th Annual Academy Awards. The Calling disbanded in 2005. In 2013, Band reformed the Calling with new members. After only a few shows, the group broke up again. Band assembled a new line-up in 2016.

    Billboard also named the Calling among its one-hit wonders of the 2000s. At the Gramercy Theatre, Alex Band and his hired musicians proved that they were barely a band, as the musicians several times seemed mystified by Band’s impromptu leadership decisions. At one point, as the drummer was trying to sort out a technical difficulty, Band performed solo, but then Band walked off the stage as the band was about to start backing him. Moments like this proved that the Calling is Band and Band is the Calling, the one-hit wonder. Band sang with a smooth, distinctive voice, packed with hefty, brooding passion. The songs were built on commercial pop-rock melodies that seemed like they all could been cell-phone-waving anthems. A more collaborative group effort might have grounded the music and given the performance stronger legs to stand on.

 

Dan Baird & Homemade Sin/Hill Country Barbecue Market/June 29, 2018

    Dan Baird was born and raised in San Diego, Calif., and in his early teens moved to Atlanta, Georgia. There, in 1980, he formed the Georgia Satellites, in which he sang, played rhythm guitar and possibly pioneered cowpunk and alt-country music by combining elements of rock music, country music, outlaw country, and punk rock. Baird left the band in 1990 to pursue a solo career and released his first solo album in 1992. In 2005, Baird began touring with his band Homemade Sin, which currently features guitarist Warner E. Hodges of Jason & the Scorchers, bassist Micke Nilsson, and drummer Mauro Magellan, formerly of the Georgia Satellites. Dan Baird and Homemade Sin’s fifth and most recent studio album, Rollercoaster, was released on March 24, 2017.

    Dan Baird and Homemade Sin returned to Hill Country Barbecue Market and performed a two-hour set that included six fan favorites from Baird’s Georgia Satellites days in addition to his later work. The common thread was that all the songs were unabashed, blistering rock ‘n’ roll party tunes. The sizzling hot stompers often sported a thick southern boogie and sometimes featured country-styled vocal harmonies, but they remained lean on emotions or anything else that would diminish a foot-stomping response. The passions instead were felt mostly in the loud, wailing guitars, which occasionally swallowed Baird’s gritty vocals and wry lyrics. In the end, Dan Baird and Homemade Sin blazed a flaming trail of rock ‘n’ roll that was as authentic as it was timeless.

 

Peter Himmelman/The Loft at City Winery/July 2, 2018

    In third grade in St. Louis Park, Minn., Peter Himmelman wanted to be an oceanographer; in sixth grade, however, he refused to give up his role as lead guitarist in his elementary-school rock quartet. At age 16 he joined a black calypso band called Shangoya, and before his 21st birthday played indie-rock with Sussman Lawrence (1979 to 1985). He launched a solo career in New York City and then married Bob Dylan‘s daughter and raised a family in Santa Monica, California. In addition to recording his singer/songwriter albums and children’s music albums, Himmelman became a prolific music writer for films and television programs, both songs and instrumental background music. Himmelman is also the founder of a consulting company which guides individuals and organizations to unlock their creative potential and achieve better communication, innovative and leadership skills. His 13th solo album, There Is No Calamity, was released on April 21, 2017.

    Peter Himmelman performed at the Loft at City Winery accompanied by his acoustic guitar, Matt Thompson on upright bass, and David Morgan on upright piano and melodica. At first, the profound lyrics and sparse arrangements generated a mellow, meditative spirit throughout the intimate venue. Himmelman’s lyrics were the language of the heart, probing into the human condition with a prevailing sense of optimism, and his finger-picking mastery demonstrated his skill at adapting jazz and bluegrass styles to his troubadour approach. After a few songs, however, Himmelman began conversing off-the-cuff with the audience and introduced a facet that was not evident in the pensive, sobering songs that began the set. A music fan may have come to hear well-crafted songs, but before long, Himmelman’s quick wit and loose chatter between songs was equally entertaining. A fan in the front requested a song, for instance, and after Himmelman corrected the song’s title, he quickly improvised a new song about a guy with dreadlocks in the front row requesting a song by that incorrect title. Himmelman invited alto saxophone player Uri Gurvich from the audience to join him on stage for a few songs, but this musician became yet another foil for Himmelman’s light-hearted repartee. Yet, the songs were very serious, as with the encore “Woman with the Strength of 10,000 Men,” which he wrote about a severely disabled woman he met who communicated by eyeing the alphabet on a computer monitor. Amusing as he was between songs, the core of the concert was the depth of Himmelman’s song performance, which flowed poetically and even mystically at times.

 

Robert Gordon + His Original All-Star Band/Hill Country Barbecue Market/July 3, 2018

    At the age of nine in Bethesda, Md., Robert Gordon was inspired by the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel” to pursue a career as a rock and roll musician. At age 15, Gordon debuted as a singer at summer camp, when his brother asked him to sing for his pals. In his late teens he sang in several local bands, and made his recording debut at age 17 in 1964 with a group called the Confidentials, which after several lineup changes became the Newports. Gordon married at age 19 and fathered two sons, and in 1970 the family moved to New York City, where he opened a clothing store. The first couple of years’ business and family took up most of his time, but after a divorce in the mid-seventies Gordon became musically active again. In the mid-1970s he performed often at CBGBs in Tuff Darts, but just as the punk rock band seemed poised for success, Gordon launched a solo career singing rockabilly with guitar icon Link Wray, then Chris Spedding and later Danny Gatton. Gordon’s 10th and most studio album is 2014’s I’m Coming Home.

    Billed as “Robert Gordon + His Original All-Star Band featuring Chris Spedding, Anton Fig, and Rob Stoner,” Gordon’s band at Hill Country Barbecue Market actually was not his original band, but it consisted of some of his best known past collaborators. Spedding led the band through four songs before Gordon appeared during “The Way I Walk.” As usual, Gordon had a list of songs written on a large chart placed on the floor, but after a few songs paid it little mind, instead of taking requests from the audience and band members. Throughout the evening, Gordon’s rich baritone invigorated the decades-old songs. Spedding sprinkled seasoned flavorings but curiously highlighted very few extended guitar parts. With no new album to promote, the concert was very similar to Gordon’s performances of recent years, even with his reassembled “all-star” lineup. Gordon’s set consisted mostly of obscure vintage rockabilly songs, but ended with balmy interpretations of Bruce Springsteen‘s “Fire,” the Yardbirds‘ “Heart Full of Soul” and Iggy Pop‘s “Beside You.” Gordon jumped a ride on the rockabilly revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and although it has not gained him neither fame nor fortune, he is to be commended for remaining true to the music he loves most and performing it well.

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