Everynight Charley’s Manhattan Beat: Scarecrow, D.R.I., Brett Dennen and More

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult/Highline Ballroom/June 13, 2016

Frankie Nardiello and Marston Daley met in 1987 while touring together with the industrial rock band Ministry. Collaborating in Chicago, Illinois, Nardiello and Daley began to conceive a trashy B-movie to be called My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult—a headline taken from a British tabloid Nardiello recalled from when he lived in London. The film was never realized, but they released the completed songs as a three-track EP. Dubbing themselves Groovie Mann (Nardiello) and Buzz McCoy (Daley), they launched a project and then a band named My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult (often shortened to Thrill Kill Kult or TKK). The electronic industrial rock band grew controversial for its satirical take on sex, religion and the occult. The band relocated to Los Angeles, California, and has continued to record and tour with a rotating lineup in addition to core members Mann and McCoy. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult’s 12th and most album is 2014’s Spooky Tricks.

Headlining at the Highline Ballroom, Mann on vocals and McCoy on synthesizer were accompanied by a guitarist, bassist and two backing vocalists. TKK spun its humorous lyrics to heavy but danceable electro rhythms. The brew was a concoction of experimental, disco, and new wave, interlaced between songs with sampled dialogue. Man made for a colorful front person as he sang pumped up versions of “Sex on Wheelz” and other 1990s fan favorites. The weakness in the band was that the gothic industrial music scene has moved beyond this epoch, to music that is heavier and more complex, like KMFDM and Combichrist. TKK was still as much fun as ever, but to stay on top, the band must ramp up its creative output.


Brett Dennen/Bowery Ballroom/June 14, 2016

Count on Brett Dennen to do good things. The Northern Californian has worked at a residential summer camp as a counselor. He led numerous anti-smoking campaigns on his college campus and was instrumental in removing ash trays from building entrances. Dennen has been a part of a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit organization that works towards a peaceful future by uniting diverse children and empowering them to strive for peace. The boyish-looking 36-year-old is also a folk/pop singer/songwriter, and released his sixth album, Por Favor, on May 20, 2016.

At the Bowery Ballroom, Brett Dennen performed easy-flowing pop tunes that sometimes rode on waves of light Caribbean and African rhythms. The lyrics were airy vignettes with little drama, buoyed by melodies that owed a serious debt to Paul Simon’s Graceland era. Dennen performed six songs from his new album and one or two songs from each of his previous albums, all of which favored a simple arrangement. While the set was united by an uplifting, positive vibe, Dennen referenced the Orlando shooting in “Stand Up For It,” which featured the lyric, “Everyday people like you and me / We have to realize that we are not divided.” At least for this night, Dennen played cheerful, family-friendly songs that seemed like a light in a dark world.


John Doe & His Rock N’ Roll Band/City Winery/June 15, 2016

John Nommensen Duchac, known professionally as John Doe, was born in Decatur, Illinois. After college in Baltimore, Maryland, Doe worked as a roofer, aluminum siding mechanic, and ran a poetry reading series. He moved to Los Angeles, California, and in 1976, he met both poet Exene Cervenka at a poetry reading and guitarist Billy Zoom (born Tyson Kindell) through an ad in a local paper. Doe played bass and sang with Cervenka, and with Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake formed the punk band X in 1977. Doe also played and sang in a sporadic country punk band called the Knitters. Doe released his 10th solo album, The Westerner, on April 29, 2016. Doe is also an actor and currently resides in Fairfax, California.

Headlining at City Winery, John Doe & His Rock N’ Roll Band consisted of co-vocalist Cindy Wasserman, guitarist Jesse Dayton, bassist Chris Rhoades and X drummer D.J. Bonebrake. The 19-song set included four X songs (“Burning House of Love,” “The Have Nots,” “The New World” and “4th of July”), a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” and the traditional “This May Be the Last Time,” plus songs from Doe’s solo work. The set alternated between folk-based songs and more country-rocking fare, but when Doe and Wasserman sang in unison, it recaptured the magic of X. The highlight of the show, however, was how Dayton’s sizzling rockabilly-styled guitar leads tastefully fired up the repertoire. Without Dayton’s sparkling contributions, Doe’s set would have been pleasant but uneventful.


D.R.I./Gramercy Theatre/June 16, 2016

The Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (often shortened to D.R.I.) formed when guitarist Spike Cassidy replaced his roommate in the hardcore outfit Suburbanites in 1982 in Houston, Texas. D.R.I. morphed into a thrashcore band as the music began to crossover from hardcore punk to thrash metal’s longer, slower, and more complex arrangements. In 1983, D.R.I. relocated to San Francisco, where the musicians lived in their van and ate at soup kitchens between performances. The band went on semi-hiatus from 2006 to 2010, and presently consists of founding vocalist Kurt Brecht, Cassidy, bassist Harald Oimoen and drummer Walter “Monsta” Ryan. D.R.I.’s seventh and most recent album was 1995’s Full Speed Ahead, but the band today released an EP with new material, But Wait…There’s More!, on June 10, 2016.

The Gramercy Theatre was less than half-filled, and by the end of the evening one had to wonder why D.R.I. is not more popular. D.R.I.’s thrashcore was finely honed and integrated, a hard driving punk augmented by a crisp metal guitar edge. The band’s onstage energy quickly reached a high plateau, filled with crunching guitar chords and speedy licks that were as compelling as they were brutal. With barely a pause between songs, Brecht seldom stopped pacing the stage while shouting the lyrics dryly. The onslaught saw no reprieve until the show ended. Hardcore and thrash metal purists might have had issues on both sides of the camp, but if the two genres were ever looking for a perfect marriage, this was it.


Scarecrow/ Drom/June 17, 2016

In 2008, Slim Paul was playing blues guitar on the banks of the Garonne riverfront in Toulouse, France, when Antibiotik Daw strolled by, listened for a bit and then improvised raps to Paul’s rhythms. This was the start of a collaboration where American blues wedded French hip-hop. Scarecrow presently consists of Paul, Daw, bassist Jamo and drummer Le Pap’s. Scarecrow released its second album, The Last, on June 24, 2016.

Scarecrow visited America this week as part of the France Rocks SummerFest, which is being billed as the largest French music festival in the U.S. Headlining at Drom, the quartet accomplished what previously seemed impossible, coherently mixing Paul’s deep-rooted blues with Daw’s street hip-hop and the rhythm section’s funk. When Paul sang, he resonated richly from the gut, and sounded like an old time blues man from America’s 1930s. His nimble guitar picking furthered this authenticity. Literally on the other side of the table, Daw was scratching at his turntable, providing an additional yet far more modern percussive element. When Daw stepped from behind the table and smoothly rapped center stage in French, he sounded like he learned his technique in the Bronx. The two men melded sounds that were diametrically opposed, but shared a common source—the sounds of freedom from two different generations of African-Americans. It took a French band to teach us this.