Manhattan Beat: The Plimsouls Re-Souled, Bush Tetras, The Wood Brothers, and more!

The Plimsouls Re-Souled/The Bowery Electric/February 3, 2017

After the power pop band the Nerves broke up in 1978, vocalist/guitarist Peter Case formed a rock trio called the Tone Dogs, which quickly became The Plimsouls, in Paramount, California. Guitarist Eddie Muñoz, originally from Austin, Texas, joined The Plimsouls shortly thereafter. The Plimsouls achieved national attention in 1983 when “A Million Miles Away” from the soundtrack of the film Valley Girl became a minor hit, but then Case left to launch a solo career and the band dissolved. The Plimsouls reunited several times, but never as the original lineup. Recently, Muñoz used the brand to form a new band, The Plimsouls Re-Souled, which plays the music of The Plimsouls. The Plimsouls Re-Souled presently consists of Muñoz, vocalist/guitarist Bryan Malone of the Forty-Fives, bassist Jeff Walls of the Woggles, and drummer Rick West of Bad Dude. The Plimsouls Re-Souled has not recorded any music.

There is very little chance that Peter Case can be persuaded to reform the original Plimsouls, so The Plimsouls Re-Souled at The Bowery Electric was the closest that 21st century New Yorkers were going to get. The original band did not have a strong New York following, but the retooled band proved that The Plimsouls was an underrated rock and roll band. Although the original band debuted during the punk era, tonight’s concert showed that the music hearkened back to a much earlier British Invasion garage sound. It was fast, it was raw, and it was gut-driven. Malone’s coarse and throaty vocals and Muñoz’s crisp guitar leads gave the old songs a heightened value. The Plimsouls Re-Souled honored the sturdiness and the timelessness of unhyphenated rock and roll.


Bush Tetras/The Bowery Electric/February 4, 2017

Women musicians were scarce in rock music until the punk movement of the late 1970s. New York City’s Bush Tetras in 1979 proved that women rockers were not only growing in visibility but also were innovative and groundbreaking. Today, hundreds of bands are copying Bush Tetras’ progressive funk noise, even if these bands do not know it. Cynthia Sley’s half talking, half scolding vocals, Pat Place’s searing, hypnotic guitar resonance, Laura Kennedy’s sturdy, funky bass grooves and Dee Pop’s pounding, thumping percussion together combined for a sound like no other band. Bush Tetras failed to grow out of the punk rock circuit and into the mainstream, however, and ultimately the band split in 1983. Bush Tetras reformed from 1995 to 1998, and then reformed again in 2005. Kennedy died in 2011; the band’s current bassist is Val Opielski. Bush Tetras’ third and most recent album, Happy, was recorded in 1998 and became available in 2012.

Bush Tetras celebrated its 37th anniversary as a live band at The Bowery Electric. Although the group is headlining the same kind of clubs it did decades ago, tonight’s performance proved that the band’s music was still as electrifying and invigorating as it was nearly four decades ago. Pop caught the beat, Opielski gave the backbone, Place slid into dissonant, distortion-filled riffs, and Sley snarled bold, deadpan vocals. Together, they released a primal, intense energy alongside an integral rock and funk swagger. The results were chilling. One can only speculate how Bush Tetras’ music would have grown if the band had remained together into the alt-rock 1990s.

Bush Tetras returns to the New York stage at The Delancey on April 27.


The Wood Brothers/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/February 10, 2017

As children in Boulder, Colorado, Oliver Wood and Chris Wood often sang along as their father played traditional folk, blues, country and bluegrass songs on his acoustic guitar. Approaching adulthood, Oliver moved to Atlanta, where he played guitar in rhythm & blues cover bands before joining Tinsley Ellis’ blues band for two years; Oliver later fronted the blues band King Johnson, which recorded five albums. Chris, meanwhile, studied jazz bass, moved to New York City and, in the early 1990s, formed jazz and jam band Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW). After pursuing separate musical careers for some 15 years, Oliver sat in with MMW following King Johnson’s opening set in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Oliver and Chris began recording original roots-sounding songs together as The Wood Brothers in 2005. In 2012, Oliver moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and Chris recently followed. The Wood Brothers is presently a trio with multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix. The Wood Brothers’ most recent album, Live at the Barn, was release on January 13, 2017.

Later in the night, Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom would host an evening of EDM, house and techno music, but for a short time earlier, The Wood Brothers turned the dance club into a front porch hootenanny. Armed with just a guitar, upright bass and drums, the country and blues band opened with a cover of “Stop That Train,” a song popularized by Bob Marley, and then proceeded to perform one song from each of The Wood Brothers’ five studio albums. Before long, Rix left his drum kit for the stage line and hand-slapped his shuitar, a modern guitar-shaped percussion instrument. The songs sounded like vintage standards, but they were originals with arrangements inspired by the Americana of long ago. Near the end of the set, the trio gathered around an old-fashioned microphone called Big Mike for quiet interpretations of “Muse” and “Sing about It”; the opening trio, the T Sisters, returned to the stage to harmonize on the latter song. The concert ended with a rousing version of The Band’s “Ophelia.” In all, The Wood Brothers successfully refined simple blues, folk, and bluegrass roots for a lively barnyard-styled hoedown.


Drive-By Truckers/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/February 11, 2017

Patterson Hood was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the son of David Hood, the bassist of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Patterson began writing songs at the age of eight, and by the time he was 14 he was playing guitar in a local rock band. John “Mike” Cooley is from Tuscumbia, Alabama, near Muscle Shoals, and received his first guitar at age eight. While attending college in 1985, Hood and Cooley formed the punk-influenced band Adam’s House Cat, then performed as a duo under the name Virgil Kane, and eventually started Horsepussy before splitting for a few years. Hood moved to Athens, Georgia, and began forming what would become Drive-By Truckers in 1996, luring Cooley to relocate and join. Drive-By Truckers has had many musicians come and go, and its sound has alternated between alternative country and southern rock over the course of 11 studio albums. Drive-By Truckers presently consists of Hood and Cooley on vocals and guitars, Jay Gonzalez on keyboards, guitar, and accordion, Matt Patton on bass and Brad “EZB” Morgan on drums. The band’s most recent album, the politically-charged American Band, was released on September 30, 2016. Hood is presently based in Portland, Oregon, while Cooley remains Alabama-based.

In a city that has hosted consciousness-raising demonstrations of political dissent over the past three months, Drive-By Truckers’ performance at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom offered additional fuel for the fire. For many in the audience, the concert might have been simply a concert of hip-swaying, southern-inspired rock, but for those who listened more closely, the concert was a canvas of social commentary. Opening with the rallying cries of “Surrender under Protest” and “Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn,” both songs inspired by the 2015 campaign to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse after the racist shooting massacre inside a Charleston church. Other songs denounced gun violence, including controversial police shootings, and other contemporary issues. The social justice message rang through to the band’s closing song, a cover of Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.” The performance was filled with angry vocals, raging guitar work and livid passion leaking into everything, with Hood repeatedly kneeling at the edge of the stage as if to appeal to the audience for bonding. The current political climate has manifested in many expressive musicians performing better than ever, and Drive-By Truckers has now joined this pack. Hood and Cooley may be southern men, but they stood defiantly against their redneck culture via outspoken rock and roll expression.