The Black Dahlia Murder/Irving Plaza/October 9, 2014
Vocalist Trevor Strnad was looking for a fearsome name for a melodic death metal band in 2000 in Waterford, Michigan. He learned about the gruesome unsolved murder of an aspiring actress, Elizabeth Short, often referred to as Black Dahlia, who was bisected at the waist and left on display in a California parking lot in 1947. He named his band The Black Dahlia Murder. The performance at Irving Plaza was wrapped around high speeds, blast beats, growled vocals and barely-discernible macabre lyrics. The music was harsh, brutal, sledgehammer metal, softened occasionally and briefly by lyrical guitar licks. The band began with “In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me,” the only song to refer directly to Short’s murder, written from the point of view of her killer attending her funeral and admiring his trophy. Subsequent songs were equally grim, including “Everything Went Black,” which referred to the finality of death. The technical inventiveness of the band was more evident in the compositions, where the band mastered complex arrangements without sacrificing speed or thrust. For the less attentive members of the audience, however, there was more than enough raw intensity for moshing and crowd surfing.
Jeff The Brotherhood/Santos Party House/October 13, 2014
Brothers Jake Orrall (guitar) and Jamin Orrall (drums) are the sons of singer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall and have been playing music together since they were children growing up in Nashville, Tennessee. They became a duo called JEFF (later JEFF The Brotherhood) in 2001, while still in high school. JEFF The Brotherhood returned to Santos Party House tonight, this time as a quartet with an added bassist and guitarist, and Jake played a six-string rather than his usual three-string guitar. Alongside an overactive fog machine and constantly roving back lights, JEFF The Brotherhood played a loud, pounding, grungy, garage punk, with Jake focusing more on guitar than on vocals. When the music slowed for a moment, the fuzz and reverb on the guitar sounded like psychedelic stoner rock. Highlights included the raucous guitar jams propelled by extremely hard slamming beats on “You Got The Look,” “Heavy Krishna,” “Sixpack,” “Mellow Out,” and “Ripper” leading into a cover of Rush’s “Working Man.”
The Blues Magoos/The Bowery Electric/October 16, 2014
The band that would become known as Blues Magoos formed as the Trenchcoats in 1964 in the Bronx, New York. The Trenchcoats performed regularly in Greenwich Village coffee houses and by 1966 changed its name to fit in with the then-current psychedelic trend, first to the Bloos Magoos and soon afterwards to Blues Magoos. The band had a hit song in 1966 with “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet,” but for the most part disappeared a few years later. At a record release party at The Bowery Electric, vocalist Peppy Castro joked about how the band was back after taking a 47-year break. Although individually each member matured into other types of music over the years, on this occasion they were back to playing songs from the 1960s. Most of the songs were from their early albums (and many re-recorded for the new album). The set also included two 1960s covers, The Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard” and Them’s “Gloria.” Castro told 50-year-old anecdotes and sang well; keyboardist Ralph Scala did not sing as well, but played the familiar organ runs nicely. Did this bluesy garage rock stand the test of time? Probably not, but it was fun to revisit the days of black lights and lava lamps without actually having to get all that stuff.
Royal Blood/Webster Hall’s Marlin Room/October 16, 2014
Royal Blood began as a duo in Australia in 2012, with bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Matt Swan. Kerr returned to his native England in 2013 and reformed the concept with drummer Ben Thatcher. A self-titled debut album released in August 2014 became the fastest-selling British rock debut album in three years in the United Kingdom. Word of mouth from England helped sell out in advance Royal Blood’s headlining concert at Webster Hall’s Marlin Room. The two musicians came onto a mostly bare stage without any calculated music and lights fanfare and began its opening song, “Hole.” Immediately the duo became an enthralling curiosity. How was it that the bass sounded so much like a guitar? As Thatcher attacked his drums with steady, furious beats, Kerr launched each of the 12 songs of the night with a unique riff, sometimes leading to power chords and extended leads, all sounding like they came from a guitar. Forging Jack White-styled modern garage rock and classic blues rock, Royal Blood played its entire album plus two additional songs in an energetic 50 minutes. Kerr’s smooth singing contrasted engagingly with his crunching, guttural bass grooves. On the faster songs, he hopped to the rhythms and charged to Thatcher’s drum kit across the stage. He hardly spoke a few words or even looked out to the audience, focusing on what he was doing with his bass and microphone. Thatcher, ironically, came out from behind the drum kit to rally an audience cry. Waving as they walked offstage after the closing mid-tempo “Out Of The Black” (and no encore), the two members of Royal Blood summarily offered little showmanship in order to maximize its impressively innovative minimalistic music.
J Mascis/Bowery Ballroom/October 17, 2014
J Mascis (born Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr.) in 1984 formed an alternative rock trio Dinosaur, later renamed Dinosaur, Jr. The lineup changed several times, the band split and reunited, and Mascis recorded solo albums and played in other side bands over the years. At the Bowery Ballroom, Mascis performed solo, seated on a stool, singing in his trademark creaky voice, switching between acoustic guitars and stepping on an array of foot pedals for distortions, effects and loops. Contrasting the roaring, blasting rock guitarist of Dinosaur, Jr., this solo artist was a country-ish front-porch picking Mascis. Beginning with “Listen To Me,” a song from an earlier solo acoustic album, the evening’s catalogue continued in mixed order with five songs from Mascis’ new solo album, seven acoustic renderings of songs originally recorded by Dinosaur, Jr., one song originally recorded by one of Mascis’ side-projects, J Mascis + Fog, and two cover songs, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” The net result was the presentation of a less-than-celebrated facet of the renowned guitarist and songwriter. Indeed, he is a wizard at the six-string guitar, even a hollow body Martin. He is an expert at manipulating unimaginable sounds from these guitars through electronic gimmickry. His folksy approach revealed a more subtle interpretation of his lyrics. Even his somewhat rigid position on a stool brought more focus to his intentions. Talented? Extremely. Able to sustain audience interest? Questionable. Mascis did not command full audience attention through his hour-long set. The audience listened and applauded generously, but this was a bar, not a concert hall, and there was an enormous volume of conversations going on in the room. Mascis’ acoustic set was a commendable diversion for fans only. It is safe to guess that his audience would have roared if he had strapped on an electric guitar and brought out a band after the acoustic set.