Pop Will Eat Itself/Santos Party House/September 19, 2015

The roots of Pop Will Eat Itself (also known as PWEI or The Poppies) originated in 1981 in Stourbridge, England. Graham Crabb played drums in From Eden, which later became Wild And Wandering, and by 1986 evolved into Pop Will Eat Itself. The band started as a punky guitar band but transitioned into indie pop, hip-hop and industrial music. Crabb eventually became a lead vocalist, but left the band in 1995. PWEI disbanded in 1996. PWEI reformed briefly in 2005, and again in 2010. Crabb is the only remaining original member; he is joined on vocals by Mary Byker (Gaye Bykers on Acid, Pigface) and various available musicians. Pop Will Eat Itself’s seventh album, Anti-Nasty League, was released on April 25, 2015.

New York’s top promoter of industrial artists, Xris SMack, celebrated the seventh anniversary of his Stimulate monthly music events by bringing Pop Will Eat Itself to Santos Party House, PWEI’s first New York appearance in 20 years. The high-energy duo of Crabb and Byker rapped, sang and bounced, leading a razor-edged electro rock set laced with thrash punk, hardcore dance, Goth industrial and sometimes noise-driven grooves by New Jersey’s hard-rocking End Of An Era. This could spark a comeback for Pop Will Eat Itself.


Ride/Irving Plaza/September 21, 2015

Guitarists Andy Bell and Mark Gardener formed Ride in 1988 while attending art college in Oxford, England. They recruited drummer Laurence Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt, and played Ride’s first gig at the college’s Christmas party. Releasing a debut album in 1990, Ride became a pioneer in England’s emerging “shoegazing” scene. After four albums, the band split in 1996, and Bell later became the bassist for Oasis. Ride briefly reunited for a television show in 2001, then reunited again in 2014 for a 2015 tour of Europe and the United States. The band’s most recent album is 1996’s Tarantula.

Ride’s current tour, the first in 20 years, brought the quartet to Irving Plaza for two consecutive sold-out nights. This year was also the 25th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album, Nowhere, and so the band’s set focused heavily on the album and its later bonus tracks. Ride’s sound was a Pink Floyd lush ethereal aesthetic, with early 1960s melodic pop vocals. Opening with an eight-minute version of “Leave Them All Behind,” Ride began a jangly psychedelic trance that lasted nearly two hours. The fault of the performance (and of shoegaze in general) was the expansive monotony of sound, relying on a pleasant easy-flowing groove and seldom building up to crescendos. When should a song end? Approaching no climax, it was usually impossible to calculate. Nevertheless, Ride filled out its power chords with enough lead guitar runs and swooning vocal harmonies to stimulate its audience. Ride might be the most imaginative band in a comparatively unimaginative genre of rock music.


Albert Hammond Jr./Bowery Ballroom/September 22, 2015

Albert Hammond Jr. was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of a pop singer and a model. While attending boarding school in Switzerland, Hammond met Julian Casablancas. In New York City in 1998, Hammond reconnected with Casablancas, who invited him to play guitar in the newly forming Strokes. The Strokes went on to sell five million records. Hammond’s third solo album, Momentary Masters, released on July 31, 2015, is his first solo album in seven years.

At the Bowery Ballroom for two consecutive sold-out nights, Hammond drew a clear line between his solo work and The Strokes. In The Strokes, Hammond plays rhythm guitar with an occasional lead. Here with his own band, he sang lead and often played no instruments at all, allowing the band to back him while he crooned two handedly into a microphone. Hammond’s solo material was rooted in singer-songwriter sensibilities, but backed by indie rocking drive, particularly in the newer compositions. Hammond sang pop melodies emotively, often at the verge of being strained, as jangling  guitars and throbbing basslines powered the songs. All songs were from his solo albums and the AHJ EP, even the unplanned “Blue Skies” that he broke into alone on his electric guitar as his crew attempted to resolve a problem with the bass amplifier. Hammond proved that he was capable of leading a performance independent of The Strokes, but so far it seems unlikely that his solo output will eclipse the quality teamwork he shares with The Strokes.


Of Monsters And Men/Beacon Theatre/September 23, 2015

Of Monsters And Men began in 2009 in Keflavík, Iceland, when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir sought to add to her solo project, Songbird. Of Monsters And Men entered 2010’s Músíktilraunir, an annual music competition held in Iceland, as a quartet with members Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Brynjar Leifsson (electric guitar), Ragnar “Raggi “Þórhallsson (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel), and Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (backing vocals, melodica, glockenspiel). The quartet won the Músíktilraunir, then added two more members, Árni Guðjónsson (accordion/keys, backing vocals) and Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bass, backing vocals); Guðjónsson later left the band. Of Monsters And Men’s second album, Beneath The Skin, was released on June 9, 2015.

Of Monsters And Men headlined two consecutive nights at the Beacon Theatre, bringing along four additional musicians to fill out the sound. Led primarily by the female/male vocal tag team of Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Þórhallsson, the band combined traditional folk and wall-of-sound technology for a booming take on European hinterland music. Of Monsters And Men performed a range from saccharine sweet to noisy distortion. The common denominator, however, was that lilting melodies and soft vocals played on acoustic instruments could rock thunderously when nine musicians played together. At its best, the band sounded similar to Fleetwood Mac; unfortunately, however, the great number of slow songs was lulling, despite its larger-than-life sound. Nevertheless, layered horn and percussion arrangements gained a moderate level of finesse on some of these songs. The band’s performance was well executed but was less than exciting for much of the concert.


The Arcs/Bowery Ballroom/September 26, 2015

Dan Auerbach was born in Akron, Ohio, where he played in the Barnburners, a local blues-based band that recorded one EP before disbanding. Forming the minimalist blues-rocking Black Keys in 2001 with drummer Patrick Carney led to Grammy awards and arena concerts. Auerbach now also leads The Arcs, with keyboardist/saxophonist Leon Michels, drummers Richard Swift (of The Shins) and Homer Steinweiss, bassist Nick Movshon, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, and Julie Justine Acosta, Mireya Ramos and Shae Fiol, the three-piece all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache. The Arcs released a debut album, Yours, Dreamily, on September 4, 2015.

The Arcs started as a solo project for Auerbach, and at the Bowery Ballroom the band orbited around him. The musicians contributed heartily and filled out the songs with solos, but front person Auerbach was the singer and spotlight on each song. Nevertheless, Auerbach embraced the new band’s potential and produced a sound distinct from The Black Keys. The Arcs opened with “Stay In My Corner,” a song inspired by the May 2015 boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and then continued to perform most of the band’s debut album. The songs were pop tunes with a soulful bent, but wrapped with a full band sound, never dominated by one instrument. Subtle backing vocals, double drums, occasional double keyboards and the mariachi trio added to a balanced diplomacy that curved away from anticipated arrangements for a fresh pop twist. Called back for an encore, The Arcs reprised “Outta My Mind,” which had been the second song of the set. In interviews, Auerbach has affirmed that The Arcs is not a side project but a second band for him, and the outlook is very promising.

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