Everynight Charley’s Manhattan Beat: Bush, Swans, JJ Grey & Mofro and More

Marc Broussard/Terminal 5/February 21, 2015

Raised in Carencro and Lafayette, Louisiana, Marc Broussard is the son of Ted Broussard, a Louisiana Hall of Fame guitarist and former member of The Boogie Kings. Broussard became a solo artist in 2002. Opening for JJ Grey & Mofro at Terminal 5, Marc Broussard played a style of music sometimes described as “Bayou Soul,” a gumbo of Southern-style blues, rhythm & blues, rock, funk, and pop. These diverse resources made each song distinct and captivating. At heart, however, Broussard was a singer-songwriter sorting out the complications of life through his thoughtful lyrics. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar, eyes closed on every song, he concentrated on his soulful vocal delivery and his sensitive lyrics while his guitar/bass/drums band jammed powerfully as the backup. New Yorker Steve Conte played dazzling lead guitar fills on every song. Conte’s sparkling guitar licks were so prominent that it was hard to imagine the songs without this strong input.


JJ Grey & Mofro/Terminal 5/February 21, 2015

Born and raised in and around Jacksonville, Florida, John “JJ” Grey began his professional music career in the 1990s leading his initial Southern roots band, Mofro Magic, through Europe. He returned to northern Florida, assembled local musicians and adopted his nickname, Mofro, as his band’s name because it sounded Southern. After two albums, Grey expanded the band name in 2007 to JJ Grey & Mofro. Opening the set at Terminal 5 with a backyard-jam-sounding “Your Lady, She’s Shady,” JJ Grey & Mofro translated northern Florida’s sprawling farms and eddying swamps to sprawling, swampy rooted music. Expanding the Southern sound, Grey sang like a 1960s Memphis Stax singer and the band sounded like it was from the famous recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As a warm and engaging Grey powered through his soulful songs somewhere between Otis Redding and Delbert McClinton, the musicians backed Grey’s catchy choruses with a mix of Southern rock, soul, funk and blues. Grey led the band through blue-collar lyrics, then often slipped out of sight to let the band members stretch. Songs were filled out with numerous guitar licks, organ solos and horn fills; New York-based former Mofro member Adam Scone even joined the band on Hammond organ for an extended version of “Ho Cake.” JJ Grey & Mofro’s performance was a well-executed rhythm and blues rave-up.


Marian Hill/The Penthouse at the Standard, East Village/February 23, 2015

Jeremy Lloyd, the son of a conductor and an opera singer, first heard Samantha Gongol sing at a school talent show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Years later, Lloyd studied music theater and composition and Gongol studied music business. They reunited and started creating music together as Marian Hall, with Gongol on vocals and Lloyd on synthesizer. The electronic duo was joined by bassist and saxophonist Steve Davit at the Penthouse at the Standard Hotel, East Village. Marian Hill performed uncommon electronic music; most of the songs were slow and sparse rather than multi-layered dance floor anthems. Lloyd started many songs with a skeleton bassline and drum beat and gradually filled them with a wider backdrop of modern electronic sounds. Meanwhile, Gongol sang in a soft and sultry voice, recalling old-time after-hours speakeasy jazz influences. Together, the duo married the two disparate decades-apart generations of music into a smoky pop blend. Supported by the addition of Davit’s warm saxophone and subtle basslines, Marian Hill presented an imaginative approach to electronica.


Bush/Best Buy Theater/February 24, 2015

Born in London, England, Gavin Rossdale as a young adult sought rock stardom by moving to Los Angeles for six months, living where he could and taking whatever part-time jobs were available. After a brief time in New York City, he returned home and formed Future Primitive in 1992. The band changed its name to Bush in 1994, naming themselves after Shepherd’s Bush, London, where the band members used to reside. Bush became one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1990s. Bush’s early albums were strongly influenced by grunge, but for a time the band experimented with electronic dance music influences. At the Best Buy Theater, Bush returned to its rock roots, with coarse vocals clearly up front, and fuzzy, grungy guitars backing the melody and crunching the choruses. The set consisted of five songs from the first album, eight songs from the between period and six songs from the most recent album, plus a surprising cover of Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime.” The accent was on the rockers, but they were cleaned up for a more commercial and accessible sound. Toward the end of the show the band seemed to loosen the song arrangements a bit, first with a gritty-sounding “Insect Kin,” followed by a nearly seven-minute, Nirvana-sounding “Little Things.” During “Little Things,” Rossdale walked, sang and pogoed through the tightly-packed audience all the way to the back of the theater and back to the stage, and then bid farewell. The encores of “Machinehead,” “Once In A Lifetime,” Rossdale’s fuzz-laden solo rendition of “Glycerine,” and “Comedown” all inspired sing-alongs and the mass lifting of camera-phones. The fans left happy that Bush was once again a hard rocking band.


Swans/The Bowery Ballroom/February 26, 2015

Michael Gira was born in Los Angeles, California, but as a youth relocated to Europe with his father. He hitchhiked across the continent, and spent four and a half months in an adult jail in Israel for selling drugs. He turned 16 in jail. He then came back to California and worked at a bakery, and later supported himself through college by painting houses. He moved to New York City in 1979, where he played in Circus Mort before forming the experimental band Swans in 1982. Initially part of the no-wave movement, Swans recorded 10 albums before Gira retired the noise-rock band in 1997. In 1999, Gira formed another band, Angels Of Light, and years later, while playing in that band, he felt inspired to revamp Swans, although this desire materialized years later, in 2010. Swans’ style of noise rock went through many transitions over the decades, from loud and abrasive brutality to ominous and ethereal soundscapes to more conventional rock. At The Bowery Ballroom, the sonic thrust of earlier times often was replaced by more tranquil sounds. Hypnotic repetition was still the fabric of many compositions, even as the set started with an extended Chinese gong solo. Songs were lengthy and intentionally monotonous dirges. With a lack of direction, buildup or crescendo, it was difficult to determine when a song should or would end. This ironically became the downfall of the performance. While the audience had the sense of entry into the mind of a creative artist, ultimately these drawn-out compositions passed the saturation point and marched into headlong boredom. Listeners became spectators, and Gira and company could not always sustain the attention of the audience. Not that Gira’s artistry was suspect or incredulous, but a bit of dynamics would have brought his musical fruits to a more satisfying end.