The Rural Alberta Advantage/The Bowery Ballroom/November 14, 2014
Indie rock trio The Rural Alberta Advantage (also known as The RAA) came together in 2005 at an open stage in Toronto, Canada. Headlining two nights at the Bowery Ballroom, The RAA proved that a Canadian trio perhaps could widen the Americana genre. Led by Nils Edenloff’s earnest, unpolished vocals and hard strums on the acoustic guitar, the band often sounded like a folk rock band. His heartfelt, plaintive lyrics pondered universal themes like love and loss, but with a backdrop noting the conditions and concerns of plain folk who experience long, cold winters. In many songs, the words were plentiful, but the easygoing melodies saved them from seeming excessive. Amy Cole’s keyboards charmingly magnified the melodies with an indie pop gloss, and Paul Banwatt’s energetic drummer gave the songs a driving rock flavor. The collaboration yielded cleverly-arranged music that was delivered with gritty integrity and plain-folk honesty. The band concluded the final encore, a bare bones acoustic “Good Night,” by singing in the midst of the audience. By the end of the night a listener could have been convinced that indeed there are advantages to being a rural Albertan.
Butch Walker/Carnegie Hall/November 15, 2014
Bradley “Butch” Walker grew up in Cartersville, Georgia, and in the 1980s and 1990s played guitar in Southgang, Floyd’s Funk Revival, The Floyds, Marvelous 3 and other rock bands. Walker then launched a solo career in 2002, while singing in 1969 and Butch Walker & The Black Widows. Walker has performed on New York stages many times over the years, including shows at the Highline Ballroom and Joe’s Pub, but tonight was special in that he was the opening act for Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall. Performing solo on acoustic guitar, he sang only five songs, but the brief performance was impressive. The opener, “21+,” from his forthcoming album, articulated the frustrations of wanting to grow out of a small town life. He closed with “Father’s Day,” exploring misunderstandings with his father, who passed away last year. Walker sang songs of angst from a wounded place deep within himself, but between songs he was light, personable and humorous. Tonight’s singer-songwriter approach served as a revealing insight into a performer who usually rocks a band.
Ryan Adams/Carnegie Hall/November 15, 2014
David Ryan Adams, known professionally as Ryan Adams, was born in 1974 in Jacksonville, North Carolina. He played in local bands in north Florida and finally started a professional music career recording three albums with the alternative country rock band Whiskeytown. Adams left Whiskeytown in 2000 to release his first solo album. The prolific musicians also released five successful albums with the rock band Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and under various pseudonyms recorded punk rock, hip-hop, black metal and hard rock. The two performances at Carnegie Hall this year were solo acoustic shows, however. Opening night consisted of a 22-song set of hits, rarities and surprises. The selections were an eclectic collection, in that the young and prolific songwriter has amassed a catalogue of a few hundred songs over the past dozen years or so and, performing solo, he was not limited to the songs he rehearsed with a band. Adams opened with his first single in three years, “Gimme Something Good,” with dark lyrics pondering the possibility of a new beginning. He followed on acoustic guitar and harmonica with “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” his longing-filled ode to his home state. The set included one song, “Avenues,” from his Whiskeytown days and three songs from his Cardinals days. Among his better-known songs, he performed his “New York, New York,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, followed by “Let It Ride.” Between songs, the audience laughed as he bantered free-form about whatever came to mind. He rambled amusingly about the Terminator movies, listening to R.E.M. while tripping, “Ryan time” being impacted by potential overtime charges at Carnegie Hall, and how he felt like “the scuff on a clean shoe” at the prestigious venue. At one point he moved to the piano, improvising a tune about Billy Ocean in a faux Michael McDonald voice before singing “Sylvia Plath.” For a newcomer, a two-hour acoustic set might have been too much; this set was designed for fans to hear more nuanced versions of his songs.
Ian Mellencamp/The Bowery Electric/November 16, 2014
Indie rock rookie Ian Mellencamp grew up in a musical family in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio. Ian’s father, Joe Mellencamp, is a musician who began bringing Ian on stage when Ian was just five years old; Ian’s cousin Eric Mellencamp owns a small record company; and Ian’s uncle is a Hall of Fame rocker, John Mellencamp. While working a full-time day job in his father’s company, Ian by night wrote songs in his bedroom and soon began playing in local bands. Eventually Ian moved to New York, became a top fashion model and began performing in small clubs like Pianos, first with a band called Isadora. At The Bowery Electric, Ian Mellencamp’s music was a far cry from his more famous uncle. Rather than John’s earthy connection to America’s heartland, Ian, playing guitar left-handed and backed by a keyboardist and drummer, played indie music that swayed from near-pop to experimental. Sometimes his vocals were jarring. Precisely because creativity was more important to him than adopting commercial or traditional sounds, Ian’s performance was captivating.
Dina Regine/The Bowery Electric/November 18, 2014
Native New Yorker Dina Regine auditioned as a backup singer for Bruce Springsteen and he suggested that she should front her own band. She took his advice. After leading three bands (The Dina Regine Band, Naked Grape and Swamp Honey), Regine went solo. Gene Cornish of The Rascals introduced Dina Regine at The Bowery Electric. Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Jesse Malin were in the audience. Regine proudly wore her classic rock roots. She is a singer-songwriter, but her arrangements showed that she knows more than a little about blues chord progressions, country harmonies and rock and roll rhythms. Regine’s chilling vocal and delivery punctuated her original songs, many of which were about troubled relationships. For most of the set, she played a four-string tenor guitar, rarely seen in contemporary music. The highlight of the evening was when she brought out two of the Uptown Horns for the last two songs of her set, resituating her into what sounded like a mid-1970s Rolling Stones concert. Rock and roll will never die.