Mat Kearney/Best Buy Theater/March 24, 2015

Mathew “Mat” Kearney was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon, but began playing music while attending university in Chico, California. Kearney performed at local coffee houses, fusing his simple guitar playing with spoken word or rap. He then accompanied a friend’s move to Nashville, Tennessee, not foreseeing that he also would relocate there and launch a professional music career. Kearney’s fifth album, Just Kids, was released on February 24, 2015.

At the Best Buy Theater, Kearney used a variety of sounds to highlight his insightful, poetic lyrics. On many songs, he played acoustic guitar for a sensitive singer-songwriter approach. On other songs, he put down his guitar so that he and his soft-rocking band could propel a more dynamic force. Often his vocal delivery was talky, on many occasions even straight-out hip-hop. His rather unique style as a soft-rocking folkie rapper clicked well, maintaining a mellow mood with a bright pop sound. His set introduced six new songs and a dozen older songs. A little past the halfway point of the 90-minute set, Kearney invited opening act Judah & The Lion to join in a banjo and mandolin-infused bluegrass and hip-hop take on Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” This was followed by a clever interlinking medley of Kearney’s “Runaway” with U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Overall, Kearney proved himself to be a credible performer with a pleasant collection of tunes.

 

Kid Creole & The Coconuts/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/March 25, 2015

Bronx-born Thomas August Darnell Browder left his older brother’s successful band, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and formed Kid Creole & The Coconuts in 1981. Choosing to go by his two middle names, August Darnell adapted the moniker of Kid Creole for the new band. Kid Creole & The Coconuts’ 14th and most recent studio album, I Wake Up Screaming, was released in 2011. Darnell is now based in Sweden.

Returning to New York after a 14-year absence, Kid Creole & The Coconuts reprised many of its signature songs and rhythms at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. 14 vocalists and musicians squeezed onto the stage to present a colorful and genre-defying cavalcade of sights and sounds. Wearing a grey fedora, two-toned shoes and a purple zoot suit, Darnell and his Coconuts began the set with “Caroline Was A Dropout,” featuring a solo by original tenor saxophonist Charlie Lagond. The versatile multi-national ensemble was at times a funk/soul revue band, and at other times a tropical band playing Latin, calypso or reggae-inspired songs. The band also revisited disco when featuring guest vocalists Stephanie Fuller, Cory Daye and Fonda Rae for one song each. Kid Creole & The Coconuts presented a pleasing concert with spectacular flair, brilliant showmanship and ace musicianship.

 

Coal Chamber/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/March 29, 2015

Vocalist Bradley “Dez” Fafara and guitarist Miguel “Meegs” Rascón formed the band She’s In Pain in 1992 in Los Angeles, California. Within two years, the duo moved into a more nu metal direction and formed Coal Chamber. Internal disputes fractured the band in 2003 after three albums, and Fafara recorded six albums with Devildriver. Fafara and Rascón began reforming Coal Chamber in 2011. Coal Chamber presently features its 2002-2003 lineup, with Fafara, Rascón, bassist Nadja Peulen and drummer Mike Cox. Rivals, Coal Chamber’s first album in 13 years, will be released on May 19, 2015.

Coal Chamber rediscovered its mojo at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom. The 15-song set pivoted on older work, introducing only two new songs: the first single, “I.O.U. Nothing,” and the title track of the forthcoming album. The set included deep cuts and a few surprising omissions (no “Shock The Monkey”). Coming on stage to emergency-like flashing red lights, backed by three large video projection screens, Coal Chamber launched into the band’s first two singles, 1997’s “Loco” and 1998’s “Big Truck.” Fafara sang, rapped and screamed into a vintage-styled radio microphone, as Rascón and Peulen paced back and forth across the stage, alternately standing on risers or spinning around. Rascón tuned down his guitar and used flanger, phaser and delay effects for a gritty, hard and heavy sound; sometimes it crunched, and other times it leaned toward an industrial resonance. Overall, Coal Chamber successfully recaptured its crass and crude metal sound for a new generation of fans.

 

Alt-J/Madison Square Garden/March 30, 2015

Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Thom Green (drums) met in 2007 at their university in Leeds, England. After graduating, the four musicians moved to Cambridge, where they dedicated two years to composing, rehearsing and performing local gigs. Sainsbury left alt-J in 2014, and the band became a trio. A second album, This Is All Yours, was released on September 22, 2014.

With a repertoire limited to two albums, alt-J’s set at Madison Square Garden produced no surprises. Engulfed in frequently recurring fog and made miniscule by a huge back screen projecting moving geometric shapes, colors and images, the mostly obscured band opened with “Hunger Of The Pine.” It would be several songs before the musicians could be clearly seen. Supported by Cameron Knight on guitar, bass and samples, alt-J played a dreamy and complex music that drew from folk melodies and harmonies but was injected with angular guitar breaks and atmospheric synthesizer fills. The intrigue was built in how all this weaved in and out of odd time signatures, off-kilter syncopations and contrapuntal arrangements. Comparisons could be made to Radiohead and mid-period Pink Floyd, yet alt-J’s music was perhaps even more eccentric. Yet while the music and the video projection seemed composed of many moving parts, this could not be said for the static musicians, who barely moved; were it not for the drummer’s arms flying around the drum kit, the front of the stage looked like a still photograph for the entire 80-minute show. The bright back lights made it hard for most of the audience to see the performers anyway. There was no rock star posing here, just inventive music.

 

Houndmouth/Bowery Ballroom/April 1, 2015

Based in New Albany, Indiana, a small suburban city across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, guitarist/vocalist Matt Myers crafted some songs in his bedroom using automated beats as backdrops. Houndmouth started coming together in 2011 when Myers recruited three collaborators in bassist Zak Appleby, keyboardist/vocalist Katie Toupin, and drummer Shane Cody. The band’s second album, Little Neon Limelight, was released on March 17, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom, Houndmouth kept the show loose and natural. The four singer-songwriters harmonized their vocal and musical styles into something that fell somewhere between The Band, Dr. Dog, Lucero and Drive-by Truckers. Starting with “Black Gold,” the music originated in the heartland, telling melancholy hard luck stories to sturdy, bouncy rhythms rooted in soft, unpolished garage-rock musical arrangements and very polished vocal harmonies. A highlight was when Toupin switched to guitar and sang “Gasoline,” a woeful country song that started softly and ended with a bang. The final encore ended with Houndmouth being joined on stage by opening artist Parker Millsap and his band for a rousing cover version of Dion & The Belmonts’ “Runaround Sue.” A fair amount of the audience sang along to most of the songs, hinting that this lyric-driven alt-country music may find a larger, loyal following in short time.

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