Owl/Lucille’s Grill/July 17, 2015
Bassist Chris Wyse was born in Queens, New York, and soon relocated to the Albany area, where as a teenager he played in a local band with drummer Dan Dinsmore. Wyse later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career, and in 2006 joined The Cult. Wyse also started a side project with Dinsmore and recruited guitarist Jason Mezilis in 2007 to form a hard rock power trio called Owl. Wyse maintained his position in both The Cult and Owl, and also played bass for Ozzy Osbourne and Ace Frehley. Owl released its third album, Things You Can’t See, on July 28, 2015.
At Lucille’s Grill, Owl showed a healthy appetite for the irregular and unusual. With years of experience in popular bands, Wyse could have chosen to perform safe hard rock songs for a sure-fire audience. Instead, Owl performed an adventurous hard rock set, where imaginatively-composed songs had enough traditional structure to make them sound familiar, but always included some bold and ambitious left-of-center detours. These lush and lavish detours showcased instrumental intricacy with Mezilis playing dazzling extended guitar leads and Dinsmore hammering his drums ferociously. Wyse sang passionately, and commanded visual attention when he played a thin stand-up bass with a bow, often using delays and sound effects to further enrich the band’s ambitious sound. As the musicians moved between mellower singer-songwriter songs to heavier, noisier pieces, this was unbridled and ambitious rock for musically mature fans.
Tuxedo/Le Poisson Rouge/July 20, 2015
Funk-disco band Tuxedo is a side project for both vocalist Mayer Hawthorne (nee Andrew Cohen) and keyboardist/producer Jake One (nee Jacob Dutton). Hawthorne was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and in 2006 relocated to Los Angeles, California. He has recorded three solo albums. One is from Seattle, Washington, where he started playing keyboard in 1992. Like Hawthorne, One also relocated to Los Angeles, issuing his first album in 2008. Tuxedo released its self-titled debut album on March 3, 2015.
Headlining tonight at le Poisson Rouge, the members of Tuxedo indeed wore tuxedos; the backing musicians wore white outfits, but Hawthorne and One wore a more garish powder blue suit with tails. Tuxedo looked like a band you might expect in a casino lounge, and the music was not far from that. Tuxedo specialized in light funk with smooth grooves, the kind that gets the disco ball spinning from the ceiling and the dancers on the floor. The slower songs were bedroom songs. Hawthorne sang softly and soulfully, and while One’s synthesizer-heavy leadership seemed to be the glue that held the rhythms together, the guitarist occasionally broke into a stinging solo. Tuxedo recreated this retro sound respectfully well, but did not spark new enterprise with it. For further success, Tuxedo will have to do more than embrace this post-disco sound; the band will have to update it to the 21st century.
Milky Chance/Rumsey Playfield/July 22, 2015
Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch met in a music course in high school in Kassel, Germany. Until their graduation in 2012, they performed in a jazz quartet. When the drummer left and the band disbanded, Rehbein and Dausch continued to collaborate, combining electronic production with acoustic guitar and their own vocals and lyrics. After performing only two live shows as Milky Chance in 2013, the duo recorded songs in a simple homemade studio in Rehbein’s childhood home. Before finishing and releasing the record, the group posted songs on SoundCloud and YouTube. A video for “Stolen Dance” became an immediate viral hit, attracting millions of views. Released as a single, the song hit number one throughout Europe. The debut album, Sadnecessary, was released in the United States on October 14, 2014, a year after its release in Germany.
At Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield, Rehbein (vocals, guitar) and Dausch (electronics, bass) were joined by Antonio Greger (harmonica, guitar). Breezes flourished in the outdoor venue, matching the easy-flowing summery sound of Milky Chance. Rehbein’s soft but coarse vocals accompanied his nimble strides on the guitar, with Dausch and Greger providing gently supportive soundscapes. Rehbein’s folk-style compositions, frequently reggae-infused, and compelling melancholy vocals were the main ingredients; everything else was spice. Never overpowering or overwhelming, the set balanced poetic musings with subtly lilting grooves. Milky Chance harnessed a unique, majestic sound ironically lush in its very simplicity.
Neon Trees/Irving Plaza/July 22, 2015
Vocalist Tyler Glenn and guitarist Christopher Allen grew up in Murrieta, California, but in 2005 formed Neon Trees after both had relocated to Provo, Utah. Several personnel changes later, the band stabilized as a quartet in 2006 with bassist Branden Campbell and drummer Elaine Bradley. Glenn took the band name from the lighted trees on a sign at a burger restaurant. Neon Trees hit with its debut album in 2010, and maintained a thriving career as a pop radio staple. The band’s third studio album, Pop Psychology, was released on April 22, 2014.
Neon Trees headlined at Irving Plaza; part of a two-month fan-centered “An Intimate Night with Neon Trees” tour in which the band is playing smaller venues than usual. Neon Trees opened with its recently-released non-album single, “Songs I Can’t Listen To,” and then followed with 14 catalogue songs in near chronological order plus two cover songs. Glenn was a charismatic and commanding front person, dancing in place, pacing the stage and talking to the audience between many of the songs. Aided by touring guitarist David Charles, Neon Trees performed a series of fan favorites, highlighted by Glen and Bradley singing duet on “Mad Love.” Neon Trees also performed an Amy Winehouse cover, “Love Is A Losing Game,” and the 90-minute set ended with a not-so-faithful cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.” The high-octane show presented big pop in all its pageantry, with rich vocals, catchy sing-along choruses and an energetic band performance. The performance was classy and rocking enough to appeal beyond Neon Trees’ base audience of screaming teenage girls.
Shinedown/Beacon Theatre/July 24, 2015
In the 1990s, vocalist Brent Smith fronted several local bands in his native Knoxville, Tennessee, and his last band there seemed poised for the big time. In the end, the record company retained Smith but dropped the band. Smith then formed Shinedown in 2001, based in Jacksonville, Florida. Shinedown has sold over 10 million records worldwide. The band’s as-yet-untitled fifth album is due in September 2015. Shinedown presently consists of Smith, guitarist Zach Myers, bassist Eric Bass and original drummer Barry Kerch.
Shinedown opened its concert at the Beacon Theatre with its most daring move—the melodic hard rocking quartet introduced “Asking For It,” a mid-tempo banger from its forthcoming album. From there on, the 19-song set was loaded with radio staples. Smith recently recovered from three nodules on his left vocal cord and a fungus infection in his esophagus, but his vocal thrust was as powerful as ever, crystal clear and up front, leading the band through a series of chart-topping songs. Midway through the set, the band mellowed its stampede with a mini-acoustic set, featuring “I Dare You,” “In Memory” and “Through The Ghost”; later in the show, Smith and Myers would return to acoustic music for their duo rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.” On the other end of the spectrum, a second new song, “Cut The Cord,” might have been the evening’s hardest mid-tempo rocker. Shinedown’s performance was ripe for fans of commercial radio rock; rock fans seeking something more adventurous or radical would have to seek elsewhere.