The Molochs/Berlin/March 27, 2017
Lucas Fitzsimons was born near Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was raised in Los Angeles, California. As a youth, he learned guitar chords on the internet, even though he had no guitar. He returned to Argentina at age 12 and found an old classical guitar in the basement of his family’s home. He played it constantly on that trip, and upon his return to Los Angeles immediately bought his own guitar. He played in various bands until in 2013 he formed the garage rock band he called The Molochs. The Molochs’ second album, America’s Velvet Glory, was released on January 13, 2017. The band presently consists of Fitzsimons on vocals, Ryan Foster on guitar and keyboards, Mateo Leonardo on rhythm guitar, Derek Cowart on bass and Cameron Gartung on drums.
At Berlin, The Molochs played garage rock that sounded like it knew nothing of anything past 1965. Fitzsimons sang and snarled tight mid-tempo pop songs backed by a crude and simple organ and guitar-led accompaniment. It sounded downright primitive, capturing the basic essence of jangly rock and roll melodies with a lazy, hazy thrust. Ten songs later, the listener was forced to return to the 21st century, still humming the catchy melodies that five minutes earlier felt like 50 years ago.
The Cactus Blossoms/Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse/March 28, 2017
Page Burkum and his younger brother Jack Torrey (Torrey adopted a stage name when he started performing professionally at age 19) publicly started playing guitar and singing together at campfires when they were youth. As young adults, the two went separate ways in their native Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Torrey played folk music and Burkum played drums in a blues band. They reunited as roommates in the late 2000s and found themselves singing along together to old folk and country music records. In 2010, they started playing those songs live and writing new songs as The Cactus Blossoms. The Cactus Blossoms’ second studio album, You’re Dreaming, was released on January 22, 2016.
The Cactus Blossoms headlined at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse as part of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. Backed by bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola, Burkum and Torrey recreated a vintage country sound that spotlighted two-man harmonies. The two vocalists occasionally alternated on singing the verses but nearly always rallied for at least the choruses, if not more. No review could neglect to compare their sound to that of similar sibling acts of the past like the Everly Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, or going even further back, the Delmore Brothers. Yes, these pristine harmonies were front and center, with the musicians adding just enough spark to ignite the drive. These vocals seemed particularly effective on sad country songs, and The Cactus Blossoms seemed to have an extensive catalogue of these. With few frills other than basic instrumentation and precise human voices, The Cactus Blossoms’ capture of such rarified simplicity was uncanny.
U.F.O./B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/March 29, 2017
UFO formed in 1969 in London, England, first as Hocus Pocus before taking the name of the local club that broke the band. UFO started as a space rock band but quickly became a hard rock band, and for almost a decade seemed to be the highly-regarded opening act on many bigger hard rock tours. UFO split and reformed repeatedly over the past 48 years, such that 38 musicians can claim that they were members of the band. The band’s current lineup consists of vocalist and sole constant member Phil Mogg, lead guitarist Vinnie Moore, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond, bassist Rob De Luca and drummer Andy Parker. UFO’s 20th and most recent album is 2015’s A Conspiracy of Stars.
Co-headlining a tour with Saxon, UFO headlined at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, and provided a strong retrospective on the first era of hard rock. The majority of the set consisted of songs from the band’s 1970s repertoire, although it also included a handful of songs from more recent albums. Saxon constructed another shade of AC/DC-style rock, but the fabric of UFO’s performance approximated the structure of Bad Company’s format. Mogg’s soulful vocals scaled rhythm and blues-inflected intonations to Moore’s dazzling and melodic guitar work. This chemistry powered each song. The songs initially balanced song content and instrumental solos, building gradually to more extended solos towards the end of the set on fan favorites “Rock Bottom” and “Doctor, Doctor.” As it was in the late 1970s, so it is in 2017.
Rodney Crowell/City Winery/March 30, 2017
Rodney Crowell was born into a musical family in Crosby, Texas. One grandfather led a church choir, the other grandfather was a bluegrass banjo player, his grandmother played guitar, and his father sang semi-professionally at bars and honky tonks. At age 11, Crowell began playing drums in his father’s band. In his teen years, Crowell played pop hits and country standards in garage rock bands in Houston. Searching for a musical career in 1972, Crowell moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he found work as a country music songwriter. After a few hits, Crowell played guitar and sang for three years with Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band before resuming his blossoming solo career. His honors include two Grammy awards, an ASCAP lifetime achievement award, and induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Music City Walk of Fame. Crowell has released 20 solo albums, his most recent being Close Ties, with a release date of March 31, 2017.
Headlining at City Winery, Crowell performed several of his better known songs, but also showcased his new album. His own vocals were unremarkable, so early into the show his focus was on the content of the songs than on his vocal delivery. Crowell poetically arranged clever words and phrases to form bouquets that dug into rich sensibilities while his two musicians provided the country twang. Towards the end of the concert, the energy shifted into high gear as Crowell introduced several guests, starting with John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars, who sang “The Once and Future Queen” solo and also joined Crowell on other songs. The second guest was Crowell’s ex-wife, Roseanne Cash, who now lives in New York. Crowell, White and Cash alternated leads and sang harmony on “It Ain’t Over Yet,” “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” and other songs. Lastly, Crowell invited on stage his frequent collaborator, guitarist Steuart Smith. These various collaborations made this Rodney Crowell concert especially memorable.