Primal Scream/Irving Plaza/November 1, 2016
Vocalist Robert “Bobby” Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes started playing music in 1978 in a punk band called the Drains in Glasgow, Scotland; Innes was 15 years old at the time. The band split in short time and Gillespie stayed in Glasgow while Innes relocated to London, England. Gillespie went on to form Primal Scream in 1982, but then in 1984 also joined Jesus And Mary Chain as drummer, juggling the two bands as scheduling permitted. Upon leaving Jesus And Mary Chain in 1986, Primal Scream started gaining an increasing audience until the band broke into the mainstream in 1991. Primal Scream’s current lineup consists of Gillespie, Innes (guitar), Martin Duffy (keyboards), Simone Butler (bass) and Darrin Mooney (drums). Primal Scream’s 11th studio album, Chaosmosis, was released on March 18, 2016.
Over the decades, Primal Scream has experimented with many sounds, from jangly indie pop to psychedelic garage to dance, blues, funk and shoegaze. At Irving Plaza, the band performed especially well when it focused on what it played best, which was simple, uncluttered rock and roll. The finer moments were when Primal Scream displayed a knack for Keith Richards-style guitar rock, a flair for barroom boogie and a bluesy vocal panache. Perhaps due to injuries suffered in a stage fall this summer, Gillespie’s stage moves were moderate but keenly centered on the music rather than showmanship. Nevertheless, he commanded attention throughout the set, even as the musicians surrounding him furnished him with everything he needed to make the songs come alive. Primal Scream’s performance was more relaxed than on previous tours, but perhaps this is maturity at play.
MUNA/Hammerstein Ballroom/November 5, 2016
Vocalist Katie Gavin and guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson all had backgrounds in music when they met while attending university in Los Angeles, California. They discovered their musical chemistry at a party, when Maskin and McPherson started jamming on guitars; Gavin arrived later that night and added vocals. They committed to writing and recording in their bedrooms. Upon deciding on a band name, they exercised word associations and combined the words “luna” and “moon” to create MUNA. A remix of the band’s 2016 Loudspeaker EP will be released on November 15, 2016, and a debut album, About U, is scheduled to become available on February 3, 2017.
Opening for Grouplove at the Hammerstein Ballroom, MUNA expanded its arrangements by adding a rhythm section and utilizing electronic pre-programming. Tough lyrics contrasted easy melodies for a brooding pop. The songs were largely emo-rooted, but provided room for optimism and feel-good rhythms. Gavin, Maskin and McPherson toyed with punchy pop hooks, injecting into them both bounce and flag-waving fervor. Additional sharp kicks and plush flourishes made for a sound that was designed for listening and for swaying. MUNA is ripe for commercial radio play.
Grouplove/Hammerstein Ballroom/November 5, 2016
Vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper met vocalist/guitarist Christian Zucconi in 2009 in New York City, where she was a painter and he played in a hardcore band called Aloke. Hooper was leaving a week later for an artist residency in Crete, and she invited Zucconi to join her. There they met guitarist Andrew Wessen, bassist Sean Gadd and drummer Ryan Rabin, and together the five musicians became Grouplove. The band relocated to Wessen’s home base in Los Angeles, California. Daniel Gleason replaced Gadd on bass in 2014. Grouplove released its third studio album, Big Mess, on September 9, 2016.
Grouplove has performed in New York many times, including a recent surprise lunchtime concert in Washington Square Park, but headlining at the Hammerstein Ballroom presented the band with perhaps its largest local audience so far. The parallel trajectory is that the band has refined its pop sound from its earlier garage leanings to a far more polished sheen that brings to mind slick chart toppers like Imagine Dragons and Arcade Fire. Featuring songs built around cascading verses and escalating choruses, the band seemed to reach crescendos often. Although the other musicians did most of the heavy lifting as far as powering the rock, Grouplove was best when the red-haired Hooper and the blue-haired Zucconi teamed on euphoric gang vocals. The two front people seemed comfortable in their new role as pop stars; Zucconi noted the progression from his early New York years when he worked backstage at the same venue, and both Hooper and Zucconi took the liberty to crowd-surf over their fans towards the end of the set. The setlist included better known songs including “Itchin’ on a Photograph,” “Tongue Tied,” “Shark Attack” and “Colours,” as well as a rousing cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Grouplove is destined for greater heights.
Icon For Hire/The Studio At Webster Hall/November 7, 2016
Ariel Boomer was born in Sweden to an American father and a Swedish mother. When Boomer was six years old, the family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, then 10 years later to Decatur, Illinois. In her teenage years, Boomer asked every musician she met in Decatur about starting a band. She met guitarist Shawn Jump in 2007 and they began writing songs together. They became Icon For Hire, choosing their name as a satirical comment on the state of the music industry. Icon For Hire’s third album, You Can’t Kill Us, will be released independently on November 25, 2016.
Headlining at The Studio At Webster Hall, Icon For Hire was joined by both a drummer, Shane Wise, and rhythm tracks programmed by Jump. Crunching guitar chords and crashing percussion were balanced by light, pop vocals and synth waves for an adventurous sound that echoed the likes of Paramore, Garbage, and No Doubt, and yet was distinctly its own beast. The songs demonstrated a wealth of modern inspiration, including alternative metal raps and riffs, such that each composition was armed with its own anthemic hooks. There must be a larger, undiscovered audience waiting to hear this bombastic pop-metal music.