Refused/Bowery Ballroom/June 3, 2015

When Dennis Lyxzén was a teenager in Umeå, Sweden, he listened to hardcore punk. Eventually he convinced a few metal heads to become a hardcore band. Refused formed in 1991 and released three albums before disbanding in 1998. The band reunited in 2012, then split later that year and reunited again for a 2015 album and tour. Refused released its fourth studio album (and the first in 17 years), Freedom, on June 30, 2015. The band presently is composed of Lyxzén, guitarist Kristofer Steen, bassist Magnus Flagge and original drummer David Sandström.

At the Bowery Ballroom, Refused professed that it was a living, active band by starting the concert with a song from the forthcoming album. Like the rest of the set, the song featured strong, coarse guitar lines and raging screamo vocals. The second song was the title track of the band’s best-known album, 1998’s The Shape Of Punk To Come; of the evening’s 15 songs, nine would come from that album. Angry, aggressive and intense, the volatile dynamic never softened, even with detours to off-kilter beats and ambient sounds. While  Lyxzén worked the audience visually, Steen work the sound aurally, with guitar progressions that frequently squealed louder than Lyxzén’s vocals. Refused did not come back to life for a nostalgia or throwback show; on the contrary, the band returned more dangerous than ever.


Modern Life Is War/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/June 6, 2015

Modern Life Is War formed in 2002 in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was applauded for taking hardcore punk music into a more progressive direction. MLIW often slowed down the music but maintained intensity while also avoiding standard song structures and including socio-political lyrics. The band released three albums in six years but after personnel changes split in 2008. The original band reunited in 2012 for a new album and tour. MLIW consists of vocalist Jeffrey Eaton, guitarists John Paul Eich and Matt Hoffman, bassist Chris Honeck and drummer Tyler Oleson. Modern Life is War released a remastered 10th anniversary version of its 2005 album, Witness, on June 2, 2015.

Fans gathered at The Marlin Room At Webster Hall to hear Modern Life Is War perform Witness in its entirety, and that is pretty much all they got. MLIW performed the nine tracks plus four additional tracks and called it a night. With screamo vocals and screaming instruments, MLIW captured the youthful rage, despair and ennui of small town life, in the end simply encouraging the fans to simply be themselves and rise. The fans responded to the soundtrack to this message with heavy moshing and stage diving. After the album’s nine tracks, the band performed two songs from the debut album and two songs from the later two albums, with a mention that the band is working on new music. Modern Life Is War gave new life to its watershed album, but with a set that lasted less than an hour and no encore, perhaps left its fans hungry for more.


Luigi & The Wise Guys/Otto’s Shrunken Head/June 7, 2015

Brooklyn native Luigi Scorcia formed Luigi & The Wise Guys as a punky rock and roll band in 1978, with Scorcia’s tough Italian-American attitude powering his lead guitar work. He recruited a Puerto Rican singer from the Bronx, Frankie Rage, who brought soul and even a taste of doo-wop to the mix. Luigi & The Wise Guys split in 1980. Scorcia then pursued an acting career, and Rage underwent treatment for cancer.

After 35 years apart, Luigi & The Wise Guys reformed with bassist Lewis Mazzio from Queens and drummer Niki Fuse from New Jersey to perform in the Max’s Kansas City 50th Anniversary shows at The Bowery Electric. The band then performed a second set a few nights later at Otto’s Shrunken Head. Performing the Heartbreakers-sounding “Johnny Ace,” the Ramones-sounding “Hot Piece Of Merchandize” and the mellower “Born Loser” among other vintage tracks, the quartet returned to straight-up rock and roll form. Scorcia propelled the set with stinging guitar leads and riffs, but more importantly Rage demonstrated vivid proof of his victory over a life-threatening disease with strong vocals and stage presence. We do not know if Luigi & The Wise Guys will return to the local stages, but these performances revisited a classic page from the history of New York club rock.


The Maccabees/Le Poisson Rouge/June 9, 2015               

Vocalist Orlando Weeks connected with left-handed guitarist Felix White while playing soccer together on their school’s common in London, England. They recruited Felix’s 16-year-old brother, Hugo White, also a guitarist. Rupert Jarvis was recruited on bass because he could play Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” on guitar. They became The Maccabees in 2004, selecting their name by browsing the Bible. Drummer Sam Doyle joined the band in 2008. The band’s fourth album, Marks To Prove It, will be released on July 31, 2015.

The Maccabees earned a large following in Great Britain, and success is promising on American shores. Currently on tour opening for Mumford & Sons, the band squeezed in a headlining engagement at Le Poisson Rouge, a much smaller venue than the tour allows. The Maccabees played a kinetic set of original songs whose key features were soft vocals backed by a vibrating wall of sound created by jangly indie guitars, wistful keyboards and often driving rhythms. Beginning with the title track from the second album, tonight’s set included 12 songs from the band’s first three albums as well as four new songs from the forthcoming album. Curiously forfeiting the dynamics of musical peaks and valleys, the music fell somewhere between Coldplay’s soft center and Arcade Fire’s thunderous delivery. It will be interesting to see if this blend of sounds will find an audience in the States.


Andra Day/The Penthouse At The Standard Hotel, East Village/June 10, 2015

Although trained in classical music in her hometown of San Diego, California, singer/songwriter Andra Day began working in some rhythm & blues, rock, jazz, doo-wop, and blues. Stevie Wonder’s wife stumbled across one of her performances and shared it with Wonder, who referred her to a producer. Day’s debut album will be released later this year.

Andra Day had the attention of the audience even before she sang a note at The Penthouse At The Standard Hotel. Her exaggerated mascara, bright lipstick, black sheer and velvet dress with silver chain accessories would catch double-takes anywhere. Once she began singing, however, nothing else mattered. The thin woman with a big sultry voice invoked Amy Winehouse, Rhiannon and Lauryn Hill, threw in some Nina Simone/Billie Holiday-styled jazz and even some reggae and hip-hop inflections, and the results were riveting. The soft musical backup and the finely-crafted melodic pop songs, mostly about the complexity of love, perfectly fit her rich, classy voice. Given the right break, Andra Day will become a superstar vocalist.

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