Black Lips/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/May 5, 2017
In Dunwoody, Georgia, guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley reportedly were expelled from high school during their senior year because they were regarded as a “subculture danger.” In 1999, they left a band called the Renegades and formed Black Lips. Alexander and Swilley were known for their crude antics in school and these pranks extended into their live shows. In the beginning, they tossed lit firecrackers into the audience; nowadays these pranks can include nudity, urination, fire, vomiting, and the destruction of musical instruments. Black Lips presently consists of Alexander, Swilley, guitarist Jack Hines, saxophonist Zumi Rosow and drummer Oakley Munson. The band released its eighth studio album, the first in three years, Satan’s graffiti or God’s art?, on May 5, 2017.
Many of the band’s reviews concentrate on the band’s onstage antics more than the music. It cannot be helped. At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, the Black Lips played riveting garage rock that pummeled much like a Diarrhea Planet concert. Black Lips has taken 1960s-style garage rock and made it louder, rougher, grittier and more pulverizing. The show was bigger than life, however, starting modestly with someone behind the band throwing rolls of unspooling toilet paper into the audience. Later, Alexander and Hines exchanged a prolonged kiss while playing a raucous rocker. Towards the end of the set, Alexander dropped his leather pants, fully exposing his privates, and spent a song alternating between playing his guitar and playing with his penis. After the song, he lifted his trousers but then a few minutes later he dropped them again and urinated, pointing the stream to his face with his mouth open. A maintenance worker came on stage with a mop, and Alexander took it from him, saying something to the audience about cleaning up his own mess. He then mooned the audience and left the stage. For the encore he smashed a guitar to pieces. The Black Lips’ music was exciting, but the antics were among the wildest theatrics ever exhibited on a rock stage.
Over The Rhine/City Winery/May 6, 2017
Pianist/guitarist/bassist Linford Detweiler and vocalist/guitarist Karin Bergquist met while attending college in Canton, Ohio. Detweiler was touring as a musician in the final incarnation of Servant in 1989 when he and Bergquist formed a folk music band called Over The Rhine, naming the quartet after their historic, bohemian Cincinnati neighborhood. In time, the quartet whittled to Detweiler and Bergquist. They married in 1996 and relocated to a pre-Civil War farm they call Nowhere Farm in Hillsboro, Ohio. The duo is accompanied by complementary musicians on albums and tours. Over The Rhine’s most recent album is 2014’s holiday album Blood Oranges in the Snow.
At City Winery tonight, Detweiler and Bergquist were accompanied on many songs by guitarist/mandolin player Brad Meinerding. Together they made uncomplicated music with just a stirring vocals and minimal accompaniment, and this starkness was all that was necessary to make the homespun songs splendid. Bergquist’s vocals in particular floated lightly and rode the easy-flowing melodies with a tender embrace. Adding a brief harmonica, piano, mandolin or guitar interlude, and in some cases two- and three-part harmony on the choruses, the musicians gave the songs a sophisticated character and polish. The set was more folk than Americana, but often borrowed a subtle country twang or bluesy croon. Like a fireside chat, the soft-spoken anecdotes told between songs enhanced the homey feel of the honey-sweet concert. Over The Rhine’s concert, unadorned yet buoyant, was simply gorgeous.
Timothy B. Schmit/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/May 7, 2017
Timothy B. Schmit was born in Oakland, California, and raised in Sacramento, where at age 15 he played folk music in Tim, Tom & Ron. That group evolved into a surf band called the Contenders, then had a British Invasion-inspired hit in 1965 as the New Breed and then became a rock band called Glad by 1968. In 1968, Schmit auditioned for country-rockers Poco but the position was filled by Randy Meisner; Meisner then quit the band in 1970, and Schmit replaced him on bass and vocals. Schmit then replaced Meisner again on bass and vocals in 1977 in the Eagles. Ironically, while the Eagles were often perceived as a California band, the late-joining Schmit was the only member of the group born in the Golden State. After the Eagles broke up in 1980, Schmit embarked on a solo career, releasing solo albums and expanding his role as a studio musician, and rejoined the Eagles when the band reunited in 1994. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Eagles. Schmit’s sixth and most recent studio album, Leap of Faith, was released on September 23, 2016. He is also performing with the reunited Eagles this summer.
Schmit’s concert at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill was advertised as a retrospective of his career, but the set included only a couple of Poco and Eagles songs. The set largely was comprised of songs from Schmit’s solo albums. He was in fine voice despite a recent bout with throat cancer, was affable and congenial is his between-songs talks, and performed well on guitar and bass. He gave his repertoire a “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” in more ways than one, and included his “I Can’t Tell You Why” from his Eagles catalogue. The problem was that the rest of his set did not match the perfection of these songs from the 1970s. The songs captured the California country rock sound, but none stood out as songs one would want to hear again and again. Schmit’s forays into rock, soul and bluegrass made the concert pleasant enough, but not especially notable.
Yngwie Malmsteen/Gramercy Theatre/May 10,2017
Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck, who at age 12 renamed himself Yngwie Malmsteen, was born into a musical family in Stockholm, Sweden. At age 10, the young guitarist formed a duo named Track on Earth with a schoolmate on drums. As a teenager, his musical influences included 19th century violinist composer Niccolò Paganini and rock guitarists Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth and Brian May. Malmsteen came to the United States at age 18 and briefly joined Steeler and Alcatrazz in 1983 before releasing his first solo album in 1984. Malmsteen’s 20th and most recent solo album, World on Fire, was released on June 1, 2016. Malmsteen now lives in Miami, Florida.
Headlining at the Gramercy Theatre, Malmsteen’s guitar techniques once again married classical influences to heavy metal. The back of the stage was a wall of amplifiers. Keyboardist/vocalist Nick Marino, vocalist/bassist Ralph Ciavolino, and drummer Mark Ellis held down the left side of the stage, and Malmsteen displayed enough showmanship for the rest of the stage, spinning the guitar, tossing it into the air, playing it with his teeth and producing feedback by perching it in various places. His technical wizardry included lightning fast harmonic minor scalar riffing and “sweep picking,” where he played single notes on consecutive strings with a sweeping pick motion while using the fretting hand to produce fast and fluid notes. Amidst the heavy metal thunder, Malmsteen’s neoclassical inclination drew from the influences of classical composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Niccolò Paganini, and Antonio Vivaldi. The indistinguishable songs themselves were basically the train that carried the merchandise, however. For all the feedback and distortion that often muddied Malmsteen’s playing, he nevertheless dazzled as one unmatchable musician.