X/Irving Plaza/August 13, 2016
In 1976, bassist John Doe, born John Nommensen Duchac in Decatur, Illinois, and raised near Baltimore, Maryland, moved to Los Angeles, California. Guitarist Billy Zoom, born Tyson Kindell in Savanna, Illinois, moved to California in the 1960s. Doe and Zoom met after posting similar ads in a local newspaper seeking other musicians to form a punk rock band. Doe brought to the fold poet Exene Cervenka, born Christine Cervenka in Tallahassee, Florida, whom he met at a poetry reading in Venice, California. Doe also discovered drummer Donald “D.J.” Bonebrake of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley when Bonebrake was playing in a local band called the Eyes. Together, the foursome formed X in 1977 and became the leaders of the Los Angeles punk scene. X split in 1988, reunited in 1993, split again in 1995 and reunited again in 1998. The band tours but has not recorded an album since 1993’s Hey, Zeus!
X has retained a strong New York following, judging by the substantial turnout tonight at Irving Plaza. X played much the same set as the group has played for the past 30+ years. The set consisted of 24 rapid-fire songs, all from X albums dating back from 1980 to 1983. The set began with five songs from Wild Gift, and stayed close to that raw, energetic sound, hardly venturing into the more folk and country roots-oriented sound of Doe and Cervenka’s later solo albums. The staple of the band remained firm, which was the synchronous singing of Doe and Cervenka, with Zoom igniting the songs with blazing leads during their vocal pauses. X performed the old X very well, as energized as its in most primitive, exploratory phase, except that tweaking a song like “The Unheard Music” does not qualify as new material. The public awaits new adventures from X.
Living Colour/City Winery/August 17, 2016
English-born Vernon Reid had played guitar in New York in Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society before launching a series of bands he called Living Colour in 1984. Melding heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip-hop and alternative rock, Reid and his bands found a home at CBGB’s. The lineup stabilized by 1986, and turning to a more commercial bent, Living Colour hit with “Cult of Personality” on its debut album in 1988, winding up on MTV video rotations, opening for the Rolling Stones tour, and winning two Grammy Awards. Living Colour disbanded in 1995 and reformed in 2000. The band presently consists of Reid, vocalist Corey Glover, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun. Living Colour’s fifth and most recent studio album is 2009’s The Chair in the Doorway; the band hopes to release Shade in 2017.
Headlining at City Winery, Living Colour showed its CBGB’s roots with a cover of Talking Heads’ “Memories Can’t Wait.” From the first song, the band stamped out its abilities: Glover was a fine singer, and the musicians were talented and ingenuous. Glover sings with a husky, commanding presence, Reid’s guitar licks are fierce and daring, and the rhythm section was as creative as a progressive fusion band. Playing commercial music for common denominator tastes would have been too easy; instead, Living Colour rocked on instrumental jazz/funk workouts, riveting hard rockers, casual pop riffs and even Delta blues and hip-hop. The few cover tunes ranged from the Beatles’ psychedelic “Tomorrow Never Knows” to the Notorious B.I.G’s “Who Shot Ya?” The consistent factor throughout was that all the jams rocked.
Ghostland Observatory/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/August 18, 2016
Little is known about the duo called Ghostland Observatory from Austin, Texas. Born in San Saba, Texas, vocalist/guitarist Aaron Behrens was involved with local bands Dismount and Waking Helix. In the latter band, he performed with synthesizer player/percussionist Thomas Turner of Pecos, Texas. The two broke off in 2005 to work on a project which became Ghostland Observatory. The duo gained a following but went into hiatus after its fourth album, Codename: Rondo, in 2010.
It seems like every band that ever existed for a minute is back together, and performing in larger venues than in the band’s original period. Ghostland Observatory followed suit, headlining at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom. The performance demonstrated the uniqueness of the band: Behrens seemed to be the soulful classic rocker, while Turner seemed to be caught in synth pop. Rather than heaping layers of sound, the music was kept raw and somewhat primitive by modern production standards. The songs were based on simple riffs, like T. Rex embraced Iggy Pop, but with electro rhythms and lots of laser lights. Not fully a hard rock band and not quite a rave band, Ghostland Observatory’s music was an unblended experiment into electro blues-rock. Behrens shouted more than he sang, and his stinging guitar work was perhaps the best part of the performance. Ghostland Observatory was a curious act.
Disco Biscuits/Irving Plaza/August 19, 2016
Disco Biscuits started in 1995 on a college campus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where guitarist Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig and bassist Marc Brownstein were jamming. Aron Magner joined the college and then joined the band as its keyboardist. The three began playing fraternity parties and other social events, combining jazz jams with electronic dance music into what fans later would call “trance fusion.” They performed under various names including Party Tent. Since 2005, Disco Biscuits has consisted of Gutwillig, Brownstein, Magner and drummer Allen Aucoin. Disco Biscuits’ most recent album is 2011’s Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens.
With a three-night run in New York City (two nights at Irving Plaza, one night at the Ford Amphitheater), the band promised entirely different sets. Disco Biscuits started the middle performance with “Grass Is Green” and wove into several other songs, playing for more than three hours (with intermission) before concluding with an encore of “The City.” The set picked up “Spacebirdmatingcall” where it left off in a jam the previous night and performed a new song, “The Champions,” for the first time. Otherwise, it was typical Biscuits fare, largely instrumental dance jams led by psychedelic guitar work and chiming synthesizers. Throughout, there was a familiar over-arching sameness, and yet the interplay of cascading instruments kept the jams from ever getting too repetitious. Fresh and very much alive at every moment on stage, this was yet another brilliant set by Disco Biscuits that never was before and never will be again.