During her childhood, raised between Washington, D.C. and a farm in Augusta, Georgia, Alice Smith was raised on a steady flow of gospel, pop, soul and a little go-go. She relocated to New York for college, became involved in the Black Rock Coalition and its Afropunk movement, and released her first album in 2006. Becoming a mother to a baby girl with recording artist Citizen Cope, Smith relocated to Los Angeles, California. Her second and most recent album is 2013’s She.
Alice Smith’s career has been hindered more than helped by recording contracts that held her music hostage. When she announced at City Winery that she has a new album coming out, the applause and cheers from her fans were thunderous. Smith’s set included older songs and newer songs, often delivered with her signature blend of bluesy, jazzy vocals and mid-tempo grooves. Accompanied only by a pianist and occasionally by a harmonizing backup vocalist, the sparse arrangements allowed her vocals to shine brightly. Many of her self-penned songs explored pensive reflections on the usual joys and tribulations of life, and her uncanny four-octave range subtly breathed vivid life into these lyrics. When she reinterpreted Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You” and the traditional folk blues song “House of the Rising Sun,” she patterned her re-stylings from familiar versions but then injected so much unique phrasing that the troubling story-songs became her own. Despite the trauma she has suffered from music industry puppetry, Smith’s talents are too large to stifle.
The Birthday Massacre/The Marlin Room At Webster Hall/June 19, 2017
Rhythm guitarist Rainbow and vocalist Chibi met at a college fine-arts program and began composing music together in 1999 in London, Canada. Rainbow recruited childhood friend Michael Falcore to join on lead guitar since they had already been recording music together in high school. None of the three had been in bands before, but together they became Imagica, a name inspired by the 1991 fantasy novel Imajica. In 2002, the band became The Birthday Massacre in order to avoid confusion with a California death metal band with the same name. The Birthday Massacre in 2001 relocated to Toronto, Canada. The Birthday Massacre’s seventh and most recent studio album, Under Your Spell, was released on June 9, 2017. The band’s current lineup consists of Chibi, Rainbow, Falcore, keyboardist Owen, bassist Nate Manor, and drummer Rhim.
At The Marlin Room At Webster Hall, The Birthday Massacre looked like a gothic rock band, but the high-energy performance actually encompassed many shades of hard rock and even pop. Chibi occasionally sounded like she was singing a Top 40 melody, but then would switch to a near death metal growl. Similarly, some of the accompaniment was rooted in synth melodies, but more often the band crunched nu-metal riffs. Dark wave chilled and industrial metal spiked several songs. A churning reworking of Tommy James & The Shondells’ pop song “I Think We’re Alone Now” was nearly unrecognizable for all its turbo speed and heaviness. The contrasts of light and dark, smooth and rough, airy and heavy were prevalent, and while this mix might not be to everyone’s tastes, the experimental blend was a credit to the band’s integrity.
Sebastian Bach/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/June 20, 2017
Sebastian Philip Bierk, known professionally as Sebastian Bach, was born in the Bahamas and was raised in Peterborough, Canada. Bach joined the Canadian rock band Kid Wikkid in 1983 when he was 14 years old and stayed until 1985. Bach then joined Madame X from 1987 to 1988. In 1988, Bach replaced the original singer in Skid Row. The band sold 20 million albums worldwide before Bach was reportedly fired in 1996. In 1996, Bach formed the short-lived Last Hard Men, and launched a solo career in 1999, began performing in Broadway musicals in 2000, and began worked television reality shows in 2002 and sitcoms in 2003. Bach currently resides in Los Angeles, California. His third and most recent album is 2014’s Give ‘Em Hell.
At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Sebastian Bach knew which side of the bread was buttered; nearly all of his repertoire was from Skid Row’s platinum years. Backed by guitarist Brent Woods, bassist Rob De Luca, and drummer Bobby Jarzombek, the set started with the softer songs, but in short time revved up the motors for classic fist-pumping rock. The vocals were halfway muddled in the mix, and early in the show Bach asked the sound engineer for more volume on his vocals, but the engineer responded that everything was fine. The only time the vocals were loud and clear was when he seemingly spontaneously ripped into a cappella snippets from his role in Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde. Even when he was not heard well, however, Bach and his larger-than-life personality and his swinging, sweaty hair could not help but be the focus of attention. The area in front of the stage was cleared of tables for the evening, allowing the audience to press up against the stage, and Bach used that advantage to connect with the fans by touching them and speaking with them. In the end, however, while Bach is no longer leading the hair-metal pack, he kept his show lively and enjoyable.
Mobley/Kola House/June 21, 2017
Based out of Austin, Texas, Anthony Watkins II says he was filling notebooks with melodic ideas and songs even before he knew how to play an instrument. Another account says he learned violin when he was six and trumpet when he was 13, giving him a solid foundation in music theory and structure. He matured beyond the sheet music upon getting a guitar at age 16. For a while, he fronted a band he named Mobley, but commitments are difficult on a low budget, and Watkins found himself without a team. Rather than play solo acoustic sets, Watkins took the name Mobley for himself and blossomed into a one-man band. Mobley has released three EPs; after scrapping two albums, his debut album, Fresh Lies, on which he sang and played all the instruments, is pending.
Mobley’s tour brought him to four New York venues this month, including a set at a fine new restaurant in the Meatpacking District, Kola House. Mobley’s vision for his presentation was grander than most newcomers to music: the stage was littered with Mobley’s musical instruments and lighting gear, and a large monitor across the room aligned short films with many of his songs. Mobley pressed a button and started the sound and lights. With the help of samples and other pre-programmed backing tracks, Mobley filled his pop-soul songs with cascading layers of grooves and imaginative flourishes, all while singing from the heart and moving from guitar to drums to keyboards. Even slight wardrobe changes (removal of sunglasses, switching of hats) seemed calculated for the young but consummate showman. None of this would be significant except that the songs mattered, with lyrics that examined the perplexity of human relations, both interpersonally and in the world at large. The performance was kinetic and electrifying for both the performer and the audience.