Scott Stapp/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/January 20, 2016
Vocalist Scott Stapp was born in Orlando, Florida, and befriended guitarist Mark Tremonti at school. They formed Naked Toddler in 1993 in Tallahassee, Florida; bouncing off the religious inclination of Stapp’s lyrics, the band was renamed Creed by 1995. Creed sold more than 50 million albums, but disagreements between Tremonti and Stapp ended Creed in 2004; the band reunited in 2009 for a fourth album and split again in 2013. Stapp released solo albums in 2005 and 2013.
Headlining at The Marlin Room At Webster Hall, Stapp was often in strong voice as he recalled the Creed catalogue that awarded him a career. The set was a spin-off of Creed’s last tour and Stapp’s 2014 tour, except that this time around Stapp was backed by lead guitarist Yiannis Papadopoulos, rhythm guitarist Ben Flanders, bassist Sammy Hudson, and drummer Dango Empire. Stapp hinted of his tumultuous past with mental health and substance abuse as he introduced “Slow Suicide” and “Justify.” Stapp later spoke about how his recovery to better health included getting outside of himself, manifested by his commitment to adopting a village in the Philippines; from the stage he distributed packages with information about sponsoring a child in that village. Throughout the concert, Stapp and his band’s performance was meticulous and nearly flawless, rocking hard with spiritually stimulating songs. The question remains, however, as to when Stapp will be able to live beyond the shadow of Creed’s catalogue and establish his own musical identity.
Epica/Irving Plaza/January 21, 2016
After seven years in Dutch progressive/symphonic metal After Forever, rhythm guitarist Mark Jansen in 2002 formed a similar band, originally called Sahara Dust. Both bands were led by a smooth female singer whom he contrasted by adding death-metal growls. Sahara Dust soon became Epica, inspired by Kamelot’s album of the same name. Epica presently consists of lead vocalist Simone Simons, guitarists Isaac Delahaye and Mark Jansen, keyboardist Coen Janssen, bassist Rob van der Loo and drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek. The band’s seventh and most recent album is 1994’s The Quantum Enigma.
Epica began a 2016 tour with a headlining show at Irving Plaza. Entering to a pre-recorded orchestral “Originem,” the musicians took their positions and opened with two live songs from the most recent album. While the males spun their long hair, Simons made sure hers did not get in her face as she soared into high operatic ranges. When Jansen came forth for his death growls, Simons retreated and joined in the hair spinning. Simons’ melodic singing matched the band’s power metal elements while her retreats signaled the musicians to move into their symphonic metal interludes. The songs were complex compositions, and the multiple crescendos in the orchestration aided the soft and hard transitions. Halfway through the set, Jansen invited fans to vote between “Storm the Sorrow” and “The Last Crusade,” then played both. Simons cautioned the stream of crowd surfers early on (“I’m a mother, so I worry about everybody”), and at the end of the set asked that they halt so that the fans in the front could enjoy the final song. Epica’s 100-minute performance demonstrated that progressive metal and melodic, symphonic power metal can breathe harmoniously.
Murder City Devils/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/January 22, 2016
Murder City Devils formed in 1996 as a garage rock band in Seattle, Washington. Vocalist Spencer Moody, guitarists Dann Gallucci and Nate Manny, bassist Derek Fudesco, and drummer Coady Willis came together out of the remains of local bands Area 51, The Death Wish Kids, and The Hookers. Murder City Devils split after three albums and one EP in 2001 but reformed in 2006 with its original lineup. The band’s fourth and most recent studio album is 2014’s eight-song The White Ghost Has Blood on Its Hands Again.
Headlining at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Murder City Devils proved its music was for special tastes. Moody appeared to be somewhere a spoken word artist and a slam poet. He barely sang. Mostly he coarsely shouted lyrics into his microphone while the band blasted fast, primal chords behind him. The pummeling set was raw, aggressive and harsh on the ears. It was as pleasant as listening to a jackhammer, and almost as abrasive. Call this music extreme wordcore. Presently the audience for this kind of assault is minimal. Caution: this music could scratch your face off.
Marshall Crenshaw & the Bottle Rockets/City Winery/January 25, 2016
Marshall Crenshaw was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in the suburb of Berkley, began playing guitar at age 10, and led a band through his high school years. He later played John Lennon in the musical Beatlemania, first as an understudy in New York in 1978, then in the West Coast company, and finally in a national touring company in 1980. Crenshaw began performing his original songs in New York City music clubs and in 1982 had a top 40 hit with the Buddy Holly-esque “Someday, Someway.” His most recent projects include working on Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s HBO series Vinyl. After 10 albums, Crenshaw now frequently releases EPS to his subscribers.
At City Winery, Crenshaw was backed by the opening act, the country rocking Bottle Rockets, and for the most part he remained girded to his rockabilly and pop roots. For much of the set, Crenshaw channeled Holly convincingly, but also offered more, between pop hooks featuring repetitive choruses and singer-songwriter ballads with folk roots or country spines. His compositions also often showed his wry wit, such as in “Cynical Girl” and “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.” Marshall sang well and his music was pleasant, but his most compelling charm was the unassuming honesty that permeated his rock and roll performance.
Lucius/Rose Bar/January 26, 2016
In 2005, while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig bonded over a love of old-school soul, David Bowie and The Beatles. Wolfe and Laessig started writing songs together, composing lyrics that explored their empathetic sense of otherness. The two supported each other by singing in unison, noting that they were drawn to doubled vocals on recordings. Wolfe and Laessig first performed their songs as Lucius in Boston area music clubs in 2007, accompanied by a cast of rotating musicians. After graduation, Wolfe and Laessig moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they attracted the other members of the current group, multi-instrumentalists Dan Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri, all of whom had attended Berklee years before. Lucius’ third album, Good Grief, will be released on March 11, 2016.
Performing at the Rose Bar in the Gramercy Park Hotel, Wolfe and Laessig dressed identically (even to the hairdos!) and sang synchronously, two voices as one, on original stories spun from the same perspective. Wolfe and Laessig accompanied themselves on synthesizers, keyboards and percussion, but the riveting feature of their performance was their harmonic vocal kinship, which often lilted and resonated classically as the two voices mirrored each other. Whether rooted in a vintage country music flavored crooner or a 1960s girl-group-styled pop ditty, the singers’ dual vocals were as mesmerizing as their retro smocks and their futuro leggings. Meanwhile, the three male musicians, dressed in matching suits, alternated between guitars and percussion and propelled the sound for a full and hearty band setting. Much of the set was powered by punchy dance beats, but it was the few country-flavored songs that were most impressive. Look for Lucius to generate a big buzz both in indie music and indie fashion.