Beth Hart/Town Hall/February 26, 2016
Beth Hart won the Female Vocalist competition on Ed McMahon’s Star Search for the 1993 season, but that alone did not solidify a music career for the singer/songwriter/guitarist from Los Angeles, California. She claimed her first Top 5 Adult Contemporary hit in 1999 with “LA Song (Out of This Town).” At the same time, Hart was singing the lead role in Love, Janis, an off-Broadway musical based on letters that Janis Joplin wrote to her mother. Hart later collaborated with Slash, Joe Bonamassa and Jeff Beck, but Americans took notice when President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle gave Hart a standing ovation after she sang Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” at a 2012 tribute to Buddy Guy at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Hart’s eighth and most recent album, Better Than Home, was released on April 14, 2015, but she and Jeff Beck released the collaborative single “Tell Her You Belong to Me” on January 7, 2016.
Beth Hart’s concert at the Town Hall was intimate, and she confessed nervousness early in the two-hour, 18-song set. Drawing from a 20-year catalogue, Hart opened with the Lloyd Glenn/Lowell Fulson-penned “Sinners Prayer,” one of her collaborative works with Joe Bonamassa. Depending on the songs, she shifted between singer-songwriter songs, the blues, and, in the case of songs like Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” down and dirty rock and roll. Guitarists Jon Nichols and P.J. Barth, bassist Bob Marinelli, and drummer Bill Ransom supported her energy and offered some of their own. Hart played guitar and piano, and spoke often between songs, offering back stories to her songs and candidly alluding to her past struggles with drugs, alcohol and bi-polar disorder. Hart introduced a touching rendition of “St. Teresa” by explaining how the film Dead Man Walking inspired the lyrics. The sensitive “Take It Easy On Me” put her healing on full display. Hart’s alto came equipped with the vulnerability to make it all credible. Hart has received accolades for her blues singing, but this concert showed there is more to the package.
Twiddle/Irving Plaza/February 27, 2016
Twiddle was founded in 2004 after a jam session by college students in Castleton, Vermont. By their second semester, these students were more interested in developing bridges between rock, jazz, funk, reggae and bluegrass than in their academic studies. The musicians had a catalogue of original compositions and were performing regularly through the Northeast before becoming upperclassmen. In addition to many live releases, Twiddle’s third and most recent studio album, PLUMP Chapter One, was released on December 11, 2015. The band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, keyboardist Ryan Dempsey, bassist Zdenek Gubb and drummer Brook Jordan.
Twiddle performed two sets separated by a brief intermission at Irving Plaza. Influenced by bands like Phish and the String Cheese Incident, Twiddle played with danceable rhythms in various genres and extended grooves with lengthy, improvised jams. Twelve-year-old guitarist Brandon “Taz” Niederauer of Broadway’s School of Rock, who has been making the rounds of local jam concerts, joined Twiddle intermittently, as did the Frendly Horns. Twiddle opened with “Amydst the Myst” featuring the Frendly Horns, and both Niederauer and the horn duo returned later in the show for “Lost In The Cold.” Twiddle’s musical fluency and textures were dynamic, but the brass interludes enriched the songs, and Niederauer ‘s guitar shredding was spine-chilling. Even after some three hours, the fans demanded more, and Twiddle ended the night by debuting an original country-flavored song, “Collective Pulse,” as an encore. Grateful Dead heads have yet another band to follow.
Roger Creager/Hill Country Barbecue + Market/February 27, 2016
Roger Creager aspired to become a country music singer since he was a six-year-old pianist living outside Corpus Christi, Texas. At 14 years of age he learned to play guitar while in a van on a four-hour church trip; a fellow passenger taught him to play gospel songs, and eventually they performed them together in church. Later, Creager earned degrees in business and agriculture, but outlaw music was his calling. Creager currently lives in Katy, Texas. His seventh and most recent album is 2014’s Road Show.
Creager brought a little bit of Texas to Hill Country Barbecue + Market. Creager sang with a strong, thoroughly masculine voice, and the songs rocked energetically. The band filled out the songs with organ runs and guitar leads, and occasionally an accordion or fiddle gave the songs a country flourish. Given that reoccurring Texas twist, the overall set leaned towards the sounds of Jerry Jeff Walker and the Tex Mex blend of Doug Sahm. Otherwise, the songs could have easily fallen into a classic Billy Joel/Jimmy Buffett/Van Morrison groove. Creager satisfied with an authentic Americana set, and his music deserves a wider listen.
Ty Segall & The Muggers/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/February 28, 2016
Ty Segall sang and played guitar part-time in several underground bands in Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area of California before beginning a solo career in 2008. Since then, he has recorded eight solo albums, plus at least eight albums with a half dozen bands he fronts. Presently, Segall is leading a new project, Ty Segall & The Muggers, consisting of Segall with Kyle “King Tuff” Thomas (guitar), Emmett Kelly (guitar), long-time colleague Mikal Cronin (bass, sax), and Wand’s Cory Hanson (keyboards, guitar) and Evan Burrows (drums). During live performances with this band, Segall adopts the name of Sloppo while wearing a baby mask. Ty Segall & The Muggers’ debut Emotional Mugger album was released on January 22, 2016.
At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, Ty Segall & The Muggers played almost the entirety of its debut album, complete with Segall frequently donning the oversized baby head while he sang. For those able to listen between the lines, Segall seemed to be politicking a social commentary, something about populations getting hooked on instant gratification. The baby head he embodied appeared to be symbolic of urgent demand. While the audience was struggling to sort out the story line, the Muggers delivered Segall’s trademark raucous, loose, abrasive and sometimes odd music, almost without taking a breath between songs. Barely playing guitar with this band, Segall was all over the stage, contorting to the band’s off-kilter and thunderous music. Once the new album was performed, Segall and company raided his catalogue for a more familiar series of songs that began with “Thank God for Sinners” and ended with an extended version of “The Singer.” With inspirations ranging from lo-fi garage rock to indie psychedelic rock and raging alt rock, the attraction sometimes seemed to be how bizarre and experimental Segall and his loud and rocking music could get. In that regard, Segall never fails to succeed.