HIM/ Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/December 9, 2014
Several high school friends formed a heavy rock band called His Infernal Majesty in 1991 in Helsinki, Finland. The band abbreviated its name to HIM and sold over eight million records. 23 years later, HIM opened an eight-concert U.S. tour at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom and performed a 22-song career retrospective. Opening with the dance beat and guitar riffs of 2003’s “The Sacrament” and 1999’s “Razorblade Kiss,” HIM explored metal’s romantic potential, even as the vulnerable lyrics sometimes tasted the dark side. The band performed its anticipated better-known songs, including the foreboding “Rip Out The Wings Of A Butterfly” and “Killing Loneliness,” but surprisingly included “Love’s Requiem,” which never before had been performed live. “This Fortress Of Tears” and “Heartache Every Moment” had not been performed live since 2005, and “Bleed Well” and “Killing Loneliness” had not been performed live since 2010. Vocalist Ville Valo was a rather ordinary baritone and front person, but seemed authentically cut from a melancholic, suffering-soul composition. When Valo backed off, the band charged through heavy riffs and melodic leads. As if to show that the band was not all about heart-tugging sensitivity, the set closed with an encore cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” with guitarist Mikko “Linde” Lindström throwing his guitar to the fans at the end of the song. This kind of metal is not for everyone, but it did seem to be for a lot of people.
Pop Evil/Gramercy Theatre/December 10, 2014
Vocalist Leigh Kakaty was born in Kingston, Ontario, but grew up in North Muskegon, Michigan. In 2001, he set out to sing in TenFive, a band that would embrace radio pop and hard rock. That band evolved into Pop Evil, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the Gramercy Theatre, grinding guitars played in the darkness, followed by the mid-tempo pounding of drums, before the lights came on and the five musicians appeared on stage, all dressed in black. Kakaty began singing “Flawed” from the band’s most recent album, a song addressing the feeling of not being enough. Harmony vocals filled the choruses. The sound was big, yet tame enough for mainstream rock radio. Theatrics were minimal beyond a few risers at the edge of the stage, helping the performance emphasize the nature of the songs and the identity of the band, that of positive-minded blue collar Americans surviving the odds. The set specialized in arena-style classic rock, but softened somberly for the slower power ballads “100 In A 55,” “Monster You Made” and Kakaty performing solo on acoustic guitar for a stirring take on “Beautiful.” Other slower tempo songs featured full thrust rock, including “Hero.” For 15 songs and 75 minutes, Pop Evil did an excellent job marrying sweet melodies, bad boy swagger and fist-pumping rock.
The Thurston Moore Band/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/December 11, 2014
Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida, and was raised in Bethel, Connecticut. As a young adult, he moved to New York City to join the burgeoning post-punk/no wave music scenes. In New York, Moore sang and played guitar in many bands, the most successful being Sonic Youth. The Thurston Moore Band made its New York debut at a Norton- and Pandora-sponsored concert at The Marlin Room At Webster Hall. The 56-year-old godfather of grunge and his musicians tuned until it became their first song, an 11-minute “Forevermore,” most of which seemed to be one droning chord being strum. Okay, well at least it was not feedback and dissonance; that would come later. The second song, an eight and a half minute “Speak To The Wild,” similarly toyed with simplicity, fed into a more freeform arrangement, and then returned to the core skeleton of the song. The main set consisted of six of the eight songs from Moore’s most recent solo album and the 30-minute encores of “Pretty Bad” and “Ono Soul” were from his first album, Psychic Hearts. Moore, a master of artistic freedom and aural distortion, often sang atonally and utilized unusual guitar tunings for discomforting timbres and drones. The band’s performance was as driving and experimental as one would have expected from Sonic Youth or any of Moore’s other bands, but we could have done well with shorter songs and less feedback and distortion.
The Figgs/The Bowery Electric/December 12, 2014
High school friends Mike Gent (guitar), Pete Donnelly (bass), and Guy Lyons (drums) formed the garage pop Figgs (originally the Sonic Undertones) in 1987 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Lyons temporarily left the band in 1989 and was replaced by Pete Hayes. The Figgs recorded nine albums over the past 27 years. At The Bowery Electric, The Figgs performed 29 songs in two sets. In case anyone missed The Figgs’ fondness for 1960s British Invasion songs, the band wore its influences well, covering The Kinks’ “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” and The Who’s “Christmas.” A specialty in lighthearted lyrics also became obvious with “Who’s Your Mother Out With Tonight?,” “Low Fi At Society High,” “Favorite Shirt” and “Cherry Blow Pop.” The soft melodies and sweet harmonies were backed by a rocking, stomping energy, but the set was less a display of amazing musicianship than it was a tribute to early pop sounds. Maybe it is this cheerful, upbeat center that has kept The Figgs endearing and enduring all these years.
Hot Tuna/Beacon Theatre/December 13, 2014
Formed in 1969 as a spin-off from Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna is led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Cassady. The Beacon Theatre concert was billed as Cassady’s 70th birthday bash. The cast included Kaukonen and Cassady, vocalists Marty Balin and Teresa Williams, Williams’ husband, fiddler/guitarist Larry Campbell, guitarist G.E. Smith, mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, and drummer Justin Guip. The evening started with Cassady alone, improvising on the bass. Kaukonen came on stage with an acoustic guitar and the duo segued into “Hesitation Blues.” Mitterhoff, Campbell, Smith, and Guip joined for the second song, the folk-rocking “I See The Light.” Williams lent a gospel bent with the third song, “Children Of Zion.” Balin came on stage and started an Airplane revival, leading on “3/5 Of A Mile In 10 Seconds” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover.” Later, Williams sang lead on the Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit.” After intermission, Balin and his two musicians, guitarist Chuck Morrongiello and bassist Lloyd Goldstein, performed three low-key songs, then they were joined by the rest of the ensemble for a tribute song to the deceased Hot Tuna violinist “Papa” John Creach. The music stopped when what looked like Cassady’s signature bass guitar was wheeled out; it was a birthday cake. Appropriately, Williams sang the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree.” Mitterhoff, Campbell and Smith sang lead on a few other songs as well. The concert ended four hours after it began with two encores, Balin leading a rocking version of the Airplane’s “Volunteers” and everyone singing on “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning.” The 27-song concert was packed with delightful surprises, so it was not a traditional Hot Tuna concert, but more like Jorma & Jack with friends. For the longtime fans in attendance, it was a joyous and unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime event.