Fishhead Stew/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/December 16, 2014

After the iconic New Orleans funk band The Radiators split in 2011 after 33 years together, vocalist/guitarist Dave Malone and guitarist Camile Baudoin formed Raw Oyster Cult and Fishead Stew to continue the tradition of The Radiators. A pre-Christmas jam at The Marlin Room At Webster Hall was billed as “A Dirty Ho Ho Ho Down.” Although the name of The Radiators was featured prominently in the advertising, the band consisted of Malone, Baudoin, keyboardist Mark Rechler, bassist Dave Pomerleau, and drummer Eric Bolivar. The sum of the parts resulted in lengthy New Orleans-styled funk jams that moved and grooved. At least seven songs were from the vast Radiators catalog. The show opened with an eight-minute version of Raw Oyster Cult’s “Work It,” followed by The Radiators’ “Confidential” and “Barnburner,” and a 10-minute Grateful Dead-styled version of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew.” Opening act Jen Durkin joined the band for a Janis Joplin-styled “Piece Of My Heart,” The Band’s “The Weight” and The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The second set opened with a nearly 11-minute version of The Radiators’ “Papaya.” Fronted by Malone’s rhythm & blues singing, punctuated by the sparkling twin guitar work of Malone and Baudoin and backed by the bouncy, rocking funk improvisations from the whole team, this was solid music that even smelled and tasted like the swamps and bayous of Louisiana.

Billy Joe Shaver/City Winery/December 17, 2014

From Corsicana, Texas, Billy Joe Shaver wrote songs recorded by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the Allman Brothers Band. At City Winery, the 75-year-old singer/songwriter performed for two hours, told numerous stories between songs and even danced a hoedown to his music. Admittedly, however, he looked older than his age and his voice was feebler than in his younger days, but his charming joie de vivre gave his songs a sparkle. Shaver’s panoramic lyrics conjured standard images of trains, trucks, Texas, bars and broken hearts. Highlights included “I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Some Day),” a song Johnny Cash recorded that Shaver wrote after he give up drugs and booze and turned to God for help, “Honky Tonk Heroes,” the song that launched Waylon Jennings’ outlaw image, “Wacko From Waco,” a song about the aforementioned shooting incident, “Georgia On A Fast Train,” “Tramp On Your Street,” “Try And Try Again,” “Ragged Old Truck” and “Live Forever,” a song that challenges death. The performance lacked pacing, and the lengthy stories and drum solo dragged the show at times, but Shaver will be remembered as a country classic and so was worth a live listen.

The J. Geils Band/Madison Square Garden/December 19, 2014

The J. Geils Blues Band was born in the 1960s, drew larger and large crowds to shows throughout the 1970s and hit commercially via MTV in the early 1980s with the humorous “Love Stinks,” “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame.” Wolf left the group in 1983 citing artistic differences and the group disbanded in 1985. The J. Geils Band began a series of reunions in 1999 and presently consists of original members Peter Wolf (vocals), Seth Justman (keyboards), Danny “Dr. Funk” Klein (standup bass) and Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz (harmonica), with hired musicians and backup vocalists; Geils himself is not in The J. Geils Band. Opening for Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band at Madison Square Garden, The J. Geils Band had a rushed 45 minutes to do what the band has always done—start the party hardy. Fronted by the animated, fast-talking Wolf, The J. Geils Band led a strong and rowdy 45-minute set, playing with explosive energy from start to finish. With no fills and no frills, the band plowed through 11 hard, sweaty rock and soul songs that included “Give It To Me,” “Centerfold,” “Detroit Breakdown,” “Must Of Got Lost,” “Love Stinks,” “Lookin’ For A Love,” “Whammer Jammer” and ended appropriately with “(Ain’t Nothin’ But A) House Party.” Although more than 30 years have passed since the songs were first recorded, The J. Geils Band put so much fresh gusto and drive into the set that it elicited several eruptions of cheers from enthusiastic Seger fans. Classic rock and roll songs never get old, and The J. Geils Band’s timeless performance brought back the blast from the past that made it fun.

Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band/Madison Square Garden/December 19, 2014

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, Bob Seger was headlining arenas in his home state of Michigan but was barely noticed anywhere else. The Night Moves album in 1976 made him a national headliner; Seger now has 13 platinum and seven multi-platinum albums. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band pulled into Madison Square Garden “a little bit older and a lot less bolder,” as his lyrics proclaim in “Rock And Roll Never Forgets.” Seger’s string of hits featured evocative lyrics reflecting on times gone by; in 2014 he and his audience have that much more nostalgia to ponder. For nearly two hours, Seger and his band relived the “Old Time Rock And Roll” with some fast rock (“Hollywood Nights,” “Rock And Roll Never Forgets”) and a whole lot of ballads (“Mainstreet,” “Like A Rock,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Turn The Page”) and mid-tempo songs (“Her Strut,” “Travelin’ Man,” “Beautiful Loser,” “Against The Wind,” “Night Moves”). He also introduced five new songs, including two covers: Steve Earle’s anti-gun violence statement in “The Devil’s Right Hand” and John Hiatt’s “Detroit Made,” an ode to Michigan’s automobiles. For several songs, Seger sat on a stool and strummed an acoustic guitar, for others he moved to a piano, but for most of the set he paced the stage, punching the air on the faster songs. Standing or sitting, Seger’s burly and forceful baritone, rich with tone and shading, soulfully nuanced every ache and joy of his lyrics. Whether he was rocking or crooning, Seger’s singing still retained “The Fire Down Below.” His 14-piece band majestically powered the backup to drive the songs to peak after peak. For lovers of classic rock, this may have been the concert of the year.

The Dickies/The Bowery Electric/December 20, 2014

The Dickies formed in 1977 in Los Angeles, California, and became the first L.A. punk band to score a major-label deal in 1978. At The Bowery Electric, the pop punk band played a wall of sound at blur-speed, while the cartoon-voiced lead singer, Leonard Graves Phillips, peppered the fast-paced show with silly cover song, goofy hand puppets and other humorous props. The 50-minute set was packed with mostly original blitz rockers. When the band played Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” at neck-snapping velocity, however, was Phillips really singing the lyrics or was he simply singing “fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa” to the melody? With the instruments booming, it was hard to tell. The band also covered The Who’s “See Me, Feel Me,” another transformation of an arena-rock anthem to pop culture camp. Maybe it is the ever-present, overarching spirit of lightweight fun that has kept the band and its audiences vibrant for 37 years. The Dickies may well retain the title as the clown princes of punk.

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