Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock/Gramercy Theatre/April 15, 2015

In Sarstedt, West Germany, a nine-year-old Michael Schenker discovered a guitar that belonged to his older brother, Rudolf Schenker. Michael at age 11 jammed on stage with his brother’s band, The Scorpions. By age 15, he joined The Scorpions and at 17 he joined UFO. Beginning in the late 1970s, he formed the Michael Schenker Group (MSG), which evolved into Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock in 2011 with vocalist Doogie White, guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and two former members of The Scorpions, bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell. Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock released the Spirit On A Mission album on March 24, 2015.

At the Gramercy Theatre, Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock opened with UFO’s “Doctor Doctor” and ended with The Scorpions’ “Blackout.” The set consisted of six UFO songs, six Scorpions songs, two MSG songs and five Temple Of Rock songs. The performances were not carbon copies of the original versions, however; instead, they were given new life with White’s strong vocals and the band’s energizing arrangements. Schenker’s extended guitar leads made the magic, however. As the band rocked hard behind him, Schenker’s squeaky clean, lyrical, speedy and tasteful licks were impressively executed. The band performed the classic rock standards “Lovedrive,” “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Rock Bottom,” but it was Schenker’s intriguing fretwork that powered the songs beyond the familiar radio versions. Schenker’s playing was so dazzling that everything else on stage hardly mattered.

 

James McMurtry/Bowery Ballroom/April 18, 2015

Alt-country singer-songwriter James McMurtry was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and lived in Houston until at age seven he moved with his family to a farm in Waterford, Virginia. His father, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry, gave him a guitar, and the boy’s mother taught him to play it. The young McMurtry started writing songs and later began playing live during his college years in Tucson, Arizona. McMurtry now lives in Austin, Texas, and released his 10th studio album, Complicated Game, on February 24, 2015.

At the Bowery Ballroom, James McMurtry’s panoramic view of America was overshadowed by his country-rocking rhythms and sometimes muffled vocals. Normally, a listen to McMurtry’s lyrics of small town life and common human struggles is an immersion into the craft of poetic songwriting. Tonight, however, if a listener was not familiar with McMurtry’s lyrics, the rocking music on most of the songs likely prevented the listener from following the many curves in his cleverly-composed short-story songs. This turned out to be forgivable, as the music was solidly rooted in waves of engaging American sounds. The eloquent lyrics were more decipherable when the accompaniment was stripped down later in the two-hour set, as on the quieter “Long Island Sound” and on solo acoustic songs like “Lights Of Cheyenne.” McMurtry played the bulk of the instrumental leads and proved to be a talented guitarist. “No More Buffalo,” “Too Long In The Wasteland” and “Choctaw Bingo” were opportunities for McMurtry to stretch both his guitar playing and his lyrics into six- to 12-minute jams. To understand many of McMurtry’s lyrics, however, one had to read the lips of the fans singing along near the edge of the stage.

 

Kate Pierson/Union Square/April 19, 2015

Kate Pierson was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, and raised in Rutherford. She later relocated to Athens, Georgia, where she helped form the iconic new-wave band The B-52s in 1976. After 39 years in The B-52s, Pierson recorded her first solo album, Guitars And Microphones, released on February 17, 2015.

At an Earth Day event at Union Square, Kate Pierson introduced “Bring Your Arms” as a song about rescuing sea turtles. Singing behind her acoustic guitar for most of the set, Pierson’s powerful voice rallied around high notes on new songs “Time Wave Zero” and “Throwing Roses.” The approach of her new songs were stronger when they recalled the girl-group harmonies and minimal-guitar-led arrangements of The B-52s, but were not as unique-sounding when she leaned toward singer-songwriter pop. The 60-minute set closed with a rousing version of The B-52s “Roam.”

 

Cavalera Conspiracy/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/April 19, 2015

While still in their teens in 1984, two brothers formed a thrash metal band in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Guitarist Max Cavalera and drummer Igor Cavalera chose the band name Sepultura, the Portuguese word for “grave.” Max left Sepultura acrimoniously in 1996, formed Soulfly, and did not speak to his brother for 10 years. Igor left Sepultura in 2006, reached out via telephone to Max, and ended their 10-year feud. They formed a new band in 2007, initially called Inflikted, but quickly renamed the Cavalera Conspiracy. The band’s third album, Pandemonium, was released on November 4, 2014.

At The Marlin Room At Webster Hall, the Cavalera brothers, Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo and bassist Johnny Chow seemed at times to mimic a Sepultura reunion. The Cavalera Conspiracy mixed newer songs with older Sepultura songs, including “Territory,” “Attitude,” “Refuse/Resist,” “Roots Bloody Roots” and a back-to-back triple header of “Beneath The Remains,” “Desperate Cry” and “Troops Of Doom.” The set also included a cover of Motörhead’s “Orgasmatron,” which Sepultura also covered. The Cavalera Conspiracy’s own songs, including “Cramunhão,” “Inflikted” and “Torture,” fit comfortably with songs 20 and 30 years their junior. Throughout the set, the Cavalera Conspiracy combined primal vocals and speed-metal riffs with coarse grooves and savage beats. Resourcing hardcore punk and extreme metal roots, the Cavalera Conspiracy refined and upgraded a vintage thrash metal concept but played it raw. The Cavalera Conspiracy proved to be a very worthy side project for Max Cavalera.

 

John Mellencamp/Carnegie Hall/April 20, 2015

John Mellencamp formed his first band in Seymour, Indiana, at the age of 14. Upon graduating from college in 1974, Mellencamp traveled often to New York City hoping to land a career in music. David Bowie’s manager signed Mellencamp, renamed him Johnny Cougar and released a debut album in 1976. Over time, the artist changed his name to John Cougar, then John Cougar Mellencamp and eventually to John Mellencamp. Mellencamp sold over 40 million records was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008. Mellencamp’s 22nd studio album, Plain Spoken, was released on September 23, 2014. Mellencamp lives on the shores of Lake Monroe in Indiana.

At Carnegie Hall, Mellencamp opened with two songs from his most recent album, with vocals far raspier than in earlier times, giving these songs a gruff, scrappy texture. After performing “Small Town,” Mellencamp announced that he was going to perform “songs you know, songs you don’t know and songs you can dance to,” and followed with a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stones In My Passway.” The set frequently favored deep cuts over many of his hits; he did not even perform his first major success, “Hurts So Good.” Other surprises included Mellencamp performing “Jack And Diane” solo and acoustic and harmonizing two songs from his Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County musical with opening act Carlene Carter, Mellencamp stepping off stage during a violin and accordion instrumental medley of songs that included his very first single, “I Need A Lover,” and the insertion of a rousing cover version of Cannibal & The Headhunters’ 1965 song “Land Of 1,000 Dances” within Mellencamp’s “The Authority Song”—yes, the song he promised the audience would dance to. Mellencamp’s performance brimmed with earnestness and integrity, and was worthy of the prestigious Carnegie Hall stage.

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