Ruban Nielson grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. His father, a horn player, exposed his two sons to jazz, helped Ruban gain entrance to a prestigious art school, and bought Ruban his first guitar. Nielson played guitar in the Mint Chicks, a punk band he founded with his brother in 2001. Upon relocating near Portland, Oregon, however, Ruban found work as an illustrator. In his free time, he began to record odd psych-rock. He pseudonymously posted his songs online in 2010 and they caught fire. He formed a live band with friends from Portland and hit the road. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, also known as UMO, presently consists of Nielson, keyboardist Quincy McCrary, bassist Jake Portrait, and drummer Riley Geare. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third studio album, Multi-Love, was released on May 26, 2015.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra ended a winter tour with two sold-out shows at Irving Plaza. The band started with what sounded like a jazz jam on “Like Acid Rain,” with spiraling guitar and keyboard leads even before the vocals began. The rest of the set seemed similarly experimental, with rhythm and blues lead vocals, pop harmonies, and extended instrumental jams. The overall sound harmonized the indie, the psychedelia, and the pop grooves of Umo’s three albums. More than half of the set was comprised of songs from the most recent album, a study of Neilson’s recent polyamorous relationship, but live the center of gravity was on the jams, not the lyrics. Neilson seldom spoke to the audience and even less frequently looked at his fans below, consumed instead by his guitar leads and the band’s propulsive rhythms. A trumpet player and saxophonist joined the core quartet for the encores of “Necessary Evil” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” as if to bring the set full circle to the beginning jazz jam. While some tunes were more engaging than others, UMO’s performance could be applauded for its adventurousness.
Dan Baird & Homemade Sin/Hill Country Barbecue + Market/February 20, 2016
Dan Baird was born and raised in San Diego, California, but in his early teens moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Baird formed the cowpunk/alt-country Georgia Satellites in 1980, recorded three studio albums and enjoyed a few hit songs, but left the band in 1990 to pursue a solo career. He also recorded two albums with the Yayhoos and three with the Bluefields, and for brief interludes along the way also joined Will Hoge, Trent Summar & the New Row Mob and the late Bobby Keys’ band, the Suffering Bastards. Baird now leads Dan Baird & Homemade Sin, whose third album, Get Loud, was released on September 25, 2015.
Baird’s new band features guitarist Warner E. Hodges of Jason & the Scorchers, bassist Micke Nilsson, and drummer Mauro Magellan, formerly of the Georgia Satellites. These fine core elements made for a raucous combustion at Hill Country Barbecue + Market, performing both Baird’s solo material plus fan favorites from the Georgia Satellites. Sounding somewhere between the Rolling Stones and ZZ Top, Baird and the band captured the spirit of rock and roll boogey, fueled by lots of lead guitar work from Hodges; the rocking novelty song “I Love You, Period” lasted more than 10 minutes due to Hodges’ three solos. Perhaps too loud and bristly to be considered alt-country, Baird’s energetic set was simply a driving, footstomping rock and roll with Americana roots. The performance tonight by Dan Baird & Homemade Sin was more than vintage; it was timeless.
Bullet For My Valentine/PlayStation Theater/February 23, 2016
Matt Tuck was 14 years old and living in his native Bridgend, Wales, when he discovered Metallica’s video for “Enter Sandman” and decided to learn to play guitar. While working in a record chain four years later in 1998, he and three college friends formed a band, Jeff Killed John, and covered songs by Metallica and Nirvana in the Cardiff music scene. Over time, Jeff Killed John recorded and circulated several original nu metal songs. After a personnel change in 2003, the remaining musicians changed the band name to Bullet For My Valentine and reworked their musical strategy; the musicians decided to play heavy metal songs with harmony guitars and big choruses. Bullet For My Valentine’s four albums together have sold over one million albums in the United States and over five million albums worldwide. Bullet For My Valentine’s fifth album, Venom, was released on February 8, 2016. The band presently is composed of original members Tuck (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Michael Paget (lead guitar, backing vocals), and Michael “Moose” Thomas (drums), plus a recent addition, Jamie Mathias (bass guitar), formerly of metal band Revoker.
At the PlayStation Theater, drummer Jason Bowld of AxeWound, Tuck’s side band, sat in for Michael Thomas, whose wife was expecting a baby. Amid strobing white lights, the front line took its positions along the wide stage, spread its legs widely, leaned back at the knees, and ripped through the thrashing opening to “No Way Out” from the most recent album. Right from the start, Bullet For My Valentine mastered the best in new and old metal—thrash metal’s clean, guitar-shredding leads, speed metal’s aggressive and propulsive energy, metalcore’s crunching sonic intensity, nu metal’s dynamic blast beats, and classic rock’s melodic verses and choruses. Tuck alternated smooth and gritty vocals, then escalated to a crescendo with strategically-placed death metal growls. The momentum barely took a breather until Tuck began “The Last Fight” alone on guitar and vocals, with only the audience assisting on the first verse and chorus. The band then picked up the speed again for another series of fierce crowd boilers. Bullet For My Valentine had something impressive for every stream of metal fan.
Ninet/The Penthouse At The Standard Hotel, East Village/February 25, 2016
Ninet Tayeb, aka Ninet, is perhaps the most famous person in the Israeli entertainment business so far in the 21st century. Born and raised in Kiryat Gat, Israel, now a resident of Tel Aviv, Ninet first came to public attention as the first place winner in the 2003 Israeli Idol (Kokhav Nolad). Alongside her musical career, Ninet starred in films, in the theater and on television. She released four albums in Israel (one of them in English), and twice won Israel’s Favorite Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Going international, Ninet is presently a featured guest vocalist on select dates of Steven Wilson’s tour, but is also performing club dates with her band. In preparation for her tour, Ninet released two singles, “Paper Parachute” and “Child,” from her forthcoming as-yet-untitled American debut album.
Ninet is starting over from scratch in the United States. In the past year, she has performed live in nearly a dozen small clubs in New York, and also taped performances here for Paste and City Winery’s video series. She is still waiting for that breakout performance that will make her name as common here as in her native Israel. Performing at the Penthouse, she and her band performed a free show before less than 100 people-in-the-know, as the show was not advertised. Her showcase demonstrated that she has a powerful, somewhat husky voice that was equally home with both ballads and shakers. Ninet was as comfortable with a bold, haunting, Adele-like rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and an original rocker, “Superstar.” Her soulful delivery and her band’s moving accompaniment made her compositions edgier than standard singer-songwriter fare. She mined a classic sound; the only thing typically indie was that she perhaps too frequently tossed her hair in front of her face. Get her on a late night television show and her name will be trending throughout the internet the next morning.