Guitarist Dean Cohen and bassist Skylar Keffer formed The Del Rios in 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio, and recruited drummer Austin Latare and guitarist/vocalist Will Robinson. At the monthly Unsteady Freddie’s Surf Rock Shindig at Otto’s Shrunken Head, the four musicians wore matching grey shirts, pants and vests, and played a lively set of surf rock instrumentals and garage rock vocal songs. Many of the songs were originals; others were covers of surf rock songs by The Sonics And The Shadows, as well as one-hit-wonders from the early 1960s, including Chris Montez’s “Let’s Dance.” The performance was grounded in retro roots, but delivered successfully with a contemporary sound.
Bill Popp & The Tapes/Otto’s Shrunken Head/July 6, 2014
After 35 years, Bill Popp is still working New York parks and clubs. (Working can mean playing music or fixing pipes, as he is a plumber for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.) Popp is Bill’s real last name, and the surname is fitting in that pop music is his passion. At Otto’s Shrunken Head, Bill Popp & The Tapes played original soft-rock weepers and party songs, as well as covers of 50-year-old songs including The Moody Blues’ “Knights In White Satin.” Popp’s tenor voice delivered warm and singable pop songs and poetic lyrics as his band sweetly combined tight harmony, bright melodic hooks and an occasional dance groove. Bill Popp & The Tapes perform next at the Bandshell in Central Park on Aug. 7.
Neon Trees/Rumsey Playfield/July 7, 2014
Vocalist Tyler Glenn and guitarist Christopher Allen shared their childhood as neighbors in Murrieta, California. They formed Neon Trees in 2005 in Provo, Utah, adding bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley in 2006. With its debut 2010 album, Neon Trees became massively popular. Despite the extreme heat in Central Park tonight, Glenn came on stage wearing a yellow suit and topcoat. Glenn announced that pop is the music that lasts, and the night’s performance was just that, pop music enhanced with a rock dance beat, amusing lyrics and a lead singer with seemingly unlimited energy and personality. Fans enjoyed tongue-in-cheek songs like “I Love You (But I Hate Your Friends),” “Teenager In Love,” “Text Me In The Morning,” “Sleeping With A Friend,” “Everybody Talks” and a remake of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” The longest applause of the night, however, came when the music stopped and Glenn articulated about how cathartic it was for him last year when he came out publicly as a gay man; this was followed by the night’s softest song, “Voices In The Halls.” Save for that serious moment, the rest of the evening was about having fun with bouncy, danceable radio rock.
Control Group/The Mercury Lunge/July 8, 2014
Jeremy Parker (also known as Jack Plug), Darren Korb and Evan Reynolds formed the indie pop band Control Group in 2011 in Brooklyn, New York. The band’s debut album, Hot Swap, will be released later this year. At the Mercury Lounge, all three members of the band wore white short-sleeved shirts and ties, with multiple pens clipped to their shirt pockets, blue jeans and sneakers. They sang and switched instruments, but Parker was primarily the guitarist, Reynolds the bassist and Korb the drummer. Rooted in 1960s simple garage pop, the band stretched enough into modern experimental sounds to be labeled indie rock. Songs were often lighthearted; while some lyrics sounded like they were jovial and jubilant reminiscences of youthful first loves, one song may have been about a love affair between a boy and an alien. Control Group perform next at Pianos on Aug. 21.
The Fray/Pier 97/July 9, 2014
Lead vocalist Isaac Slade and guitarist Joe King led a church’s worship band in Denver, Colorado, and in 2002 began forming a secular pop band, The Fray. They recruited drummer Ben Wysocki and lead guitarist David Welsh from another local worship band. The Fray’s debut album in 2005 was certified double platinum in the United States. Launching a summer concert series at the outdoor Pier 97, The Fray performed a set that was low on flashy stage moves and high on simple honesty and sincerity. The concert was built around songcraft. “Over My Head (Cable Car)” was inspired by Slade’s temporary estrangement from his brother. “How To Save A Life” was inspired by Slade’s experience as a mentor to a crack-addicted teen. Slade’s emotive yearning centered “You Found Me” and “Love Don’t Die.” The performances never extended far from the lyric and melody. One surprise was a down-home country-gospel rendition of the traditional song “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” bringing the band members back to their church roots. The group picked up the pace a few times, but overall the show consisted of mid-tempo piano-driven pop rock tracks and power ballads more suited for radio than live performance.
Jesse Malin/John Varvatos/July 10, 2014
Jesse Malin at age 12 became the frontman for a hardcore punk band, Heart Attack. In the early 1990s, Jesse joined the glam punk band D Generation and released three albums over eight years. Malin went solo in 2001 and his third album in 2007 featured a duet with Bruce Springsteen. Introduced tonight by Little Stevie Van Zandt, guitarist from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Malin returned to his element at the John Varvatos clothing store, the site of the former CBGB’s. Malin also returned to his musical roots, playing garage rock songs that included covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Heartbreaker” and the Ramones’ “Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?” While playing an amplified acoustic guitar on many original folk-centered songs brought out his emo side, Malin’s heart was poured into the energetic rockers that had him manhandling his microphone stand and seriously working both the stage and the audience. Jesse Malin will perform next at The Bowery Electric on Aug. 6.
Procol Harum/Manhattan Center/July 11, 2014
As a new band in 1967, Procol Harum scored internationally with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale.” Although Procol Harum never had a bigger hit, the development of the band’s progressive rock and symphonic rock attracted greater rock audiences through the early 1970s. As popularity later waned, however, the group broke up in 1977. The band has revived sporadically since 1991, with vocalist/pianist/composer Gary Brooker as the only original performing member. Long-faithful fans welcomed the latest incarnation of Procol Harum to Manhattan Center, as fans basked in the nostalgia of a once-exciting band now far from its prime. Brooker’s vocals were engaging but often sounded weak. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” “Conquistador” and a few other songs retained their muscle over the years, but most of the set sounded like filler—old men revisiting old songs with old arrangements. Old, not classic.