The Ruen Brothers/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 22, 2015
By the ages of 11 and 12, brothers Henry Stansall (lead vocals/acoustic guitar) and Rupert Stansall (lead guitar/harmonica/backing vocals) were on stage at pubs in their native Scunthorpe, England, performing songs by American music artists from the 1950s and 1960s. Following college, they relocated to London hoping to establish a music career. They conflated their first names to create a new name, The Ruen Brothers, and released a debut EP, Point Dume, on March 15, 2015.
Opening for George Ezra at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, The Ruen Brothers modernized an old sound and bridged eras. Looking like the Everly Brothers and sounding like early Glimmer Twins, the youthful Ruen Brothers mined early rock and roll and rockabilly but then added a robust dose of cuteness. The band balanced Elvis Presley-styled crooning and Buddy Holly-style rumbling but updated the music to the age of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. The Ruen Brothers may still be in the process of refining a sound, however; the cover of The Rolling Stones’ disco-era “Miss You” seemed out of sync. Nevertheless, the potential for growth was visible, audible and impressive.
George Ezra/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/April 22, 2015
Singer-songwriter George Ezra Barnett grew up in Hertford, England, where a youthful obsession with Bob Dylan’s music prompted him to seek out the American folk and blues artists that influenced Dylan. Steepened in this passion, Barnett moved to Bristol in 2011 to study and prepare for a music career. Shortening his name to George Ezra, he issued EPs in 2013 and 2014. Ezra’s debut studio album, Wanted On Voyage, was released on January 27, 2015.
Concluding a 55-city tour at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, George Ezra sang and played acoustic guitar and was backed by a three-piece band. Ezra’s 55-minute performance was a curiosity, in that it showed what happens when music rooted from a half century ago is adapted by a 22-year-old. “Blame It On Me” and “Did You Hear The Rain?” hinted at the blues. A solo acoustic “Leaving It Up To You” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” recalled old time folk tunes. On the bulk of his material, however, including the opening song, “Cassy’O,” and “Budapest,” Ezra’s compositions were built on light, easy-going pop melodies and breezy arrangements that seemed to have little in common with roots music. Ezra shared whimsical anecdotes to introduce several songs, while his bass-baritone vocal range injected a sense of gravitas. All this chemistry has worked for Ed Sheeran and it clicked for George Ezra as well.
Agnostic Front/The Bowery Electric/April 24, 2015
Guitarist Vincent Capuccio renamed himself Vinnie Stigma as he formed hardcore punk Agnostic Front in New York City in 1980. Agnostic Front went through several singers before settling in 1982 with Cuban-born Roger Miret. Agnostic Front’s debut EP in 1983 and debut album in 1984 put the band in the forefront of New York’s fledgling hardcore scene at CBGB’s hardcore matinee series. Miret was imprisoned on drug charges for 18 months, during which time the band’s popularity faded. Agnostic Front separated in 1992 with a final show at CBGB’s. Stigma and Miret did a few reunion shows in 1996 and officially reformed the brand in 1998. Agnostic Front released its 11th studio album, The American Dream Died, on April 4, 2015. 35 years after the band began, the present lineup consists of Miret, Stigma, guitarist Craig Silverman, bassist Mike Gallo and drummer Pokey Mo.
Agnostic Front returned one block north of where CBGB’s stood, performing Friday night and Saturday matinee concerts at The Bowery Electric. Consistent with its critical commentaries listing government corruptions, Agnostic Front opened with “The American Dream Died,” with Miret grunting scathing but barely-discernible lyrics about multinational corporations and American imperialism. The song opened with a slow doom metal introduction but quickly turned into a thrashing punk anthem. Throughout the set, the tempos fluctuated from fast to faster, but the sound was consistent; as Miret paced the small stage and spit lyrics, the band supported with punk in its crudest, most primal form—crashing drums, pummeling bass and crunching guitar chords. Halfway through the set, the band paused to shoot audience footage for a video for a new song, “Old New York.” Finally ending with “Gotta Go,” Agnostic Front squeezed 24 songs, old and new, into an hour-long set and proved that old-school New York City hardcore still has some life left.
The Fleshtones/The Bowery Electric/April 25, 2015
The Fleshtones began in 1976 in the basement of a house in Queens, New York, where a previous tenant had left behind some musical instruments. Several neighborhood would-be musicians joined the new residents there and formed a band. The Fleshtones debuted at CBGB’s, and quickly began headlining the local club circuit. The band’s lineup changed many times but has remained stable since 1990, with original members Keith Streng (guitar) and Peter Zaremba (harmonica, keyboards, vocals), along with Bill Milhizer (drums & vocals), and Ken Fox (bass, vocals). The Fleshtones’ 16th album, Wheel Of Talent, was released on February 11, 2014.
Returning tonight for what seems to be an annual performance at The Bowery Electric, The Fleshtones polished traditional garage rock with some slick antics and put on a pleasing performance. Often during the show, Zaremba announced, “Let the wheel of talent spin,” as he and the musicians twirled in place until Zaremba named the next song, pointing to the musician who would lead it. The band members remained playful throughout the set, with Zaremba leaning hard on his rhythm & blues call and response and the band members charging frequently into the audience. Opening with “Hitsburg, USA” and ending with “Remember The Ramones” and “My Kinda Lovin’,” The Fleshtones’ three-chord garage rock, rallied with pop melodies and harmonies and a lot of sweat, made for a rocking party.
Sixx A.M./Best Buy Theater/April 27, 2015
In 2007 in Los Angeles, California, Nikki Sixx, bassist of Mötley Crüe, wrote music as a soundtrack for his memoir, thinking his book might become a movie. He recruited guitarist DJ Ashba and vocalist James Michael for the project. Although originally not intending to become a band, they gave themselves a moniker using Sixx’s surname and the initials of the other two team members, Sixx:A.M. The hard rock band has now released three EPs and three albums. The most recent album, Modern Vintage, was released on October 7, 2014.
Fans hoping for a Mötley Crüe-styled band did not find that at Sixx:A.M.’s concert at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square. Sixx A.M. plays a completely different brand of classic rock. While Mötley Crüe was high-volume rock and roll revelry, Sixx:A.M. juggled Queen-style concept rock with Journey-esque melodies. As the houselights dimmed, the audience heard the spoken word “X-Mas In Hell” introduction from Sixx:A.M.’s debut album. Sixx:A.M., along with several touring members, took the stage as the audience cheered, and appropriately launched into “Let’s Go.” Michael sang with a soaring voice and Ashba ripped into melodic leads, but the music was rather saccharine from the start. Even through anthems like “This Is Gonna Hurt,” “Lies Of The Beautiful People” and the final encore, “Life Is Beautiful,” the technically perfect set sounded like a rock musical that could have been staged at a Broadway theater around the corner. The songs were well-crafted, many with positive, hopeful messages, the sound was crisp and penetrating, and three principal band members remained energetic and engaging throughout the show. Devoid of elements of defiance and danger, however, the concert was smooth, safe and bland.