Death From Above 1979/Terminal 5/November 8, 2016
Bassist Jesse Keeler and vocalist/drummer Sebastien Grainger reportedly met at a Sonic Youth concert and later became roommates. Keeler played in several pop punk bands in Toronto, Canada, including Black Cat #13 and Femme Fatale. In 2001, he recorded three bass and drum instrumental demo tapes. He played these for Grainger, who then wanted to sing over the tracks. Not finding a suitable drummer, Grainger tried singing and drumming at the same time, and Death From Above was born. The duo changed the band name to Death From Above 1979 after a legal dispute with DFA Records; the “1979” originated from Grainger’s birth year, which he has tattooed on his forearm. The duo released a debut album in 2004, but split in 2005. Grainger then founded Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains and Bad Tits, and Keeler formed MSTRKRFT. Death From Above 1979 reunited in 2011, toured, and released a second album in 2014 and a live album, Live at Third Man Records, on April 22, 2016.
Opening for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Terminal 5, Death From Above 1979 played in almost complete darkness, such that the audience could make out two moving silhouettes rather than clearly seeing two performers on that stage. The two musicians faced each other rather than the audience, seemingly immersed in their instruments and their interplay. Keeler riffed his bass like it was a heavy metal guitar and Grainger pounded on his drums with raging fury, simultaneously generating some piercing vocals that floated above the din. The approximately hour-long set included six songs from the debut album and eight songs from the follow-up 10 years later, all of it becoming one wall of sound. This was hard, aggressive, unpolished, minimalistic music. The music felt wild and chaotic, and was sometimes even grating. They made big noise for just two musicians. For some in the audience, this was innovative music, for others it was an occasion to push those earplugs deeper.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club/Terminal 5/November 8, 2016
Guitarist Peter Hayes grew up in Minnesota, where his mother taught him to play guitar during his teenage years. While in high school in Lafayette, California, he met bassist Robert Levon Been, son of The Call’s Michael Been, of Santa Cruz, California, and Hayes moved into Been household. Hayes joined the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 1997 but left in 1998, when the two former schoolmates reunited to form a band called The Elements in 1998. Upon discovering that another band had the same name, the members changed the name to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (often abbreviated as BRMC), after Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang in the 1953 film The Wild One. The band presently consists of Hayes, Been, and former Raveonettes drummer Leah Shapiro. The band’s seventh and most recent album is 2013’s Specter at the Feast.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club headlined at Terminal 5 on the night of the presidential election. As the race results were being tallied, the road crew propped near the drum kit a head mask of Donald Trump with a vulgar word across its face; the band members later tossed it into the audience during “US Government,” a song with lyrics critical of the state of domestic government. With no new album to market, BRMC played a loud, driving set of rock and roll songs from its catalogue, plus a song in progress seemingly titled “Bandung Hum.” BRMC cultivated classic rock sounds from Tom Petty vocals to ZZ Top buzz saw guitars, but also amalgamated shoegaze, drone and grunge. For a slightly softer touch, Hayes briefly rocked an acoustic guitar like an old folkie; otherwise the set was straightforward pedal-to-the-metal rock. While the music resourced many sounds, it all melted into a groove as dark as the dim stage lighting.
Sting/Irving Plaza/November 9, 2016
Gordon Sumner was born in Wallsend, England, the eldest of four children born to a hairdresser and a milkman and engineer. As a youth, he was inspired by Queen Elizabeth II waving at him from a Rolls-Royce to seek a more glamorous life than working in the nearby shipyard. By age 10, he was “obsessed” with an old Spanish guitar left by an emigrating friend of his father. As a young man, Sumner worked by day as a bus conductor, building laborer, tax officer, and school teacher, but in the evenings, weekends and during breaks from college and teaching, Sumner became a jazz musician nicknamed Sting. Moving to London, he sang and played bass in the Police from 1977 until 1984, by which time the group was one of the biggest pop-rock bands in the world. In 2003, Sting received a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for services to music, and was made a Kennedy Center Honoree at the White House in 2014. Sting’s 12th solo album, 57th & 9th, will be released November 11, 2016.
On short advance notice, Sting headlined two intimate shows at the 1,000-capacity Irving Plaza. An early show was billed as an album release party and the later show was billed as an exclusive show for Sting fan club members, although tickets were on sale to the general public at show time. At both performances, Sting and band opened with The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and then launched into eight of the 10 songs from his new album, then closing with more familiar tunes. Early in the set, Sting acknowledged yesterday’s presidential election and asked the audience to repeat several times a British adage, “Keep calm and carry on.” Then he rocked a set that sounded closer to The Police than anything he has done in decades, highlighting songs which were written with no lutes or flutes or other medieval instruments in mind. As he often does, Sting revealed the inspirations for the new songs. For instance, “One Fine Day” was about climate change; “50,000” was inspired by the recent deaths of David Bowie and Prince; “Pretty Young Soldier” was about a 19th century woman who cross-dressed in order to join the military. The set concluded with “Englishman in New York” and “Desert Rose” from earlier solo albums and the Police’s “Next to You” and “Every Breath You Take.” For the late show, he encored with “The Empty Chair,” an acoustic song form the new album. In all, the band was tight, Sting was in excellent voice and spirit, the lyrics were captivating and the songs were refreshingly Sting as he is best remembered.
The Long Ryders/Bowery Ballroom/November 10, 2016
In 1981 in Los Angeles, California, Kentucky-born guitarist Sid Griffin left The Unclaimed, a 1960s-styled punk band, after jamming with former Boxboys drummer Greg Sowders. Intent on forming a band, they advertised for musicians in a local newspaper and connected with Stephen McCarthy, a country music lover from Virginia who was new to L.A. Several bassists later, they settled with Tom Stevens, an Indiana native who was a former candidate in the NASA “Right Stuff” space program in Houston, Texas. The Long Ryders, named after the Walter Hill film, The Long Riders, recorded three punky Americana and alt-country albums, then split in 1987. The Long Ryders periodically regrouped for brief reunions (2004, 2009, 2016) but have released only reissues and live albums since the 1980s.
The Long Ryders’ headlining gig at the Bowery Ballroom was the band’s first New York appearance in 29 years. Although the Bowery Ballroom is largely a stand-up venue, several older fans pulled chairs onto the dance floor. Armed with a front line featuring three harmonizing vocalists, the songs swept from jangly pop-country (primarily led by McCarthy) to rustic roots rockers (led by Griffin), much of it with a twist of garage psychedelia. Beginning with “Tell It to the Judge on Sunday” and ending with “Looking for Lewis and Clark,” the set included the band’s best known songs but also included deep cuts from their catalog. The set also included covers of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” Buffalo Springfield’s “On the Way Home” and Mel Tillis’ “Mental Revenge.” McCarthy played twangy lead guitar riffs and searing slides on his steel guitar, and at one point Griffin played an uncommon 12-string Rickenbacker. Rather than simply mining an old sound, the band instead indulged their pop songs with an appreciation of American roots music. Pop songs sound so much better this way.