Mischief Brew/Le Poisson Rouge/July 27, 2014

After four years screaming in the Orphans, a punk band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Erik Petersen in June 2000 started performing locally, first as a solo acoustic artist and finally gathering a rhythm section. Mischief Brew began performing anarcho-punk rock which incorporated elements of American folk, swing and gypsy-influenced punk. Tonight at Le Poisson Rouge, Mischief Brew seemed to have brought its own following, including many fans who came up on stage to sing along before diving off the stage for some crowd surfing. Petersen projected a struggling working class solidarity, dressed like a laborer and shouted lyrics fit for Occupy Philadelphia. Musically, Mischief Brew often sounded like a street corner busking ensemble or a late night Irish pub jam. Some of the punch in the songs even hinted at the oompah of polka. Filtering these diverse influences through punk energy, Mischief Brew successfully generated a riveting, rousing revelry. Somewhere between The Clash and The Pogues, there is Mischief Brew.

Sheer Terror/Le Poisson Rouge/July 27, 2014

Sheer Terror was formed in New York in 1984 when former Fathead Suburbia vocalist Paul Bearer answered a classified ad for a hardcore punk singer. Sheer Terror introduced heavy metal guitar riffs to a hardcore punk base. The band went through many personnel lineups, temporarily split up and reunited several times, then formally broke up in 1998 and reunited in 2004. At Le Poisson Rouge, Sheer Terror performed 10 old songs and two new songs, closing with the band’s most familiar number, “Just Can’t Hate Enough.” The axis of the set was spun on blunt, metal-style power chords and manic punk attitude, but what kept it spinning was Bearer’s strong personality. Between almost every song, the musicians waited for Bearer to wind down his banter so they could forge into the next track. Relentlessly pacing the stage in circles between songs, Bearer was very much like an insult comic, ranting foul-mouthed decrees about seemingly anything that came to mind. He was as hard and heavy as his music.

Subhumans/Le Poisson Rouge/July 27, 2014

The British anarcho-hardcore punk band Subhumans enjoyed success as one of the more literate British punk bands between 1980 and 1985. The group challenged both governments and citizens to rage against the world and to improve it. Vocalist Dick Lucas’ lyrics articulated both outrage and defiance at a system that he felt had betrayed its people and also philosophical perspectives on conformity and the individual’s place in society. Subhumans reunited in 1991 and again in 1998. Headlining Le Poisson Rouge, the high-energy Subhumans plowed through more than 20 songs to a moshing and stage-diving audience. Although the politics of the current age are radically removed from when most of these songs were composed during the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher years, the band seemed to have retained its original political venom, intensity and grit. Lucas was all over the venue’s broad stage. His singing projected anger, rebellion and anarchistic sarcasm and he took a few breaks between songs to profess his social commentary. The despair and negativity reached its climax with the four encore songs, “Society,” “Work-Rest-Play-Die,” “No” and “Religious Wars.” Some 30 years after protest punk music began, Subhumans’ show kept the genre raw and bleeding.

Imelda May/Bowery Ballroom/July 29, 2014

By age nine, Imelda May was a fan of rockabilly and blues. She began singing in clubs when she was 16 years old and later formed her own band and married her guitarist, Darrel Higham. At the Bowery Ballroom, May gave a contemporary spin to yesteryear’s rockers and bluesy torch singers alike. Backed by Higham on guitar, Dave Priseman on guitar, trumpet and flugelhorn, Al Gare on bass and Steve Rushton on drums, May launched her set with full-throated sass on “Tribal.” With the second song, “Wild Woman,” the band accelerated the pace, as May’s vocals became even more exuberant. “Big Bad Handsome Man” then had a Latin lilt. “It’s Good To Be Alive” featured a rocking country groove. Later songs showcased May’s lush romantic side with smoky Billie Holiday-styled passion, especially in “Gypsy In Me” and the first encore, a low and slow cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming.” The Irish singer crooned impressively well through a grab bag of traditional American sounds which she threaded together with a rich rockabilly swagger.

Ursa Minor/The Bowery Electric/July 31, 2014

Michelle Casillas worked as a sound engineer in the late 1990s and early 2000s at Tonic, the now-defunct home of New York’s experimental music scene. These days, Casillas can be found on stage playing keyboards for Jesse Malin and other local artists, but her main outlet is singing and performing in her own band, Ursa Minor. At The Bowery Electric, Ursa Minor showed noteworthy imagination. The set was grounded in Casillas’ clever lyrics, soft melodies and fragile vocals. The songs often became suites, however, rock songs with subtle jazz dynamics that introduced surprising bridges and experimental arrangements. The songs featured odd time signatures and skittering interplay between the four improvisers. Ursa Minor intriguingly blended singer-songwriter folk and experimental jazz with haunting indie rock for a thoroughly buoyant mix.

AM2/Choga/July 31, 2014

AM2 is a clever name for a duo when both members share the same initials. Alan Merrill (nee Allan Sachs) is the son of jazz singer Helen Merrill and saxophonist/clarinetist Aaron Sachs of Earl “Fatha” Hines’ band. Relocating in the 1970s to London, England, Alan wrote and sang in Arrows, which had British hits with “Touch Too Much,” “My Last Night With You” and “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.” That last song became an international hit in 1982 when it was covered by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Songwriter and bassist Amy Madden, meanwhile, has played in New York bands since the 1980s. Performing to a small audience at Choga, Merrill sang and played acoustic guitar and Madden played electric bass. The set highlighted Merrill originals, particularly the songs he sang in Arrows, as well as classic covers (i.e. Beatles). Hearing these pop songs stripped down to basic arrangements was curious and engaging.

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