Matthew Angus was born in Kitchener, Canada, and formed the Mood, a locally popular pop band, in Calgary, Canada. The Mood split in 2008, and three original members recruited a new drummer and formed Fast Romantics. Fast Romantics won Pop Group of the Year at the SiriusXM Indies in 2014 for “Funeral Song.” Fast Romantics also won the 2016 SOCAN Songwriting Prize for the song “Julia,” which was voted the best song by emerging artists over the past year. Fast Romantics presently consists of Angus, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kirty, keyboardist Lisa Lorenz, guitarist Kevin Black, original bassist Jeffrey Lewis, and drummer Nick McKinlay. Fast Romantics’ third album, American Love, was released on April 28, 2017. The band currently is based in Toronto, Canada.
At Mercury Lounge, Fast Romantics’ music was built from a singer-songwriter base and then was injected with a Frank Turner-like explosiveness that generated stadium rock intensity. On each song, the build-up was expeditious and meteoric, with unmistakable choruses that often appeared to be significantly longer than the verses, these repetitious hook lines were sometimes just a few words seemingly on a loop. While the set did not yet have the gravity of Bruce Springsteen or the earthiness of Tom Petty, the newer songs in particular seemed to be moving in these directions, albeit within pop structures. As such, Fast Romantics may be on its way to courting and scoring an audience beyond its Canadian following.
Pissed Jeans/Mercury Lounge/June 23, 2017
In the early 2000s, several high school friends formed a ripping fastcore band called the Gate Crashers in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. By 2003, the Gate Crashers evolved into the Unrequited Hard-On, now based out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and in short time, the Unrequited Hard-On changed its name to Pissed Jeans. The band members maintained their day jobs and performed live only occasionally, invisibly building an under-the-radar reputation and a rabid hunger among hardcore enthusiasts. Pissed Jeans presently consists of vocalist Matt Korvette, guitarist Brad Fry, bassist Randy Huth, and drummer Sean McGuinness. Pissed Jeans’ fifth album, Why Love Now, was released on February 24, 2017.
In a rare live appearance, Pissed Jeans played an uncompromising set at Mercury Lounge that sounded like it could have been the flag waver for a return to the loud, noisy hardcore of the 1980s and a revolt against the pop punk of the 1990s and the Warped festival bands. The rhythm section anchored a rampaging energy as Fry fiercely played atonal guitar licks and riffs and Korvette thrashed his body left and right while shouting incomprehensible lyrics. Most songs were fast and searing, others were plodding and droning, but all were aggressive, messy and bludgeoning. Between songs, Korvette occasionally simmered the ferocious rage with absurd commentary, indicating that the songs were rooted in acerbic sarcasm rather than in ripping apart structural systems. Hence, the world can relax; the band may not be as dangerous as it sounds.
NRBQ/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/June 26, 2017
Pianist Terry Adams spent his early musical years playing in bands in and around Louisville, Kentucky. NRBQ (New Rhythm and Blues Quintet, later Quartet) took root in 1965 in his home in Shively, Kentucky, but after a few local gigs relocated in 1966 to Miami, Florida. The original band splintered, and in 1967 Adams joined the Miami-based The Seven of Us until he reformed NRBQ in 1968 and moved the band to the Northeast. Known over the years for its levity, the band hired professional wrestler “Captain” Lou Albano as its manager (for whom they penned a song in tribute), played sets while wearing pajamas, and exploded Cabbage Patch Dolls on stage. Adams developed stage four throat cancer in 2004, and NRBQ went on hiatus. As he recovered, Adams toured with Japanese rockabilly group the Hot Shots, the Louisville Sluggers and The Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet before reforming NRBQ in 2011. Its current members are Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough, and drummer John Perrin. NRBQ’s 21st and most recent album is 2014’s Brass Tacks.
More than 50 years after forming, NRBQ is still proving that serious musicians can enjoy playing not-so-serious music. At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Adams’ virtuosity at playing honky tonk-style piano was unblemished even as his animated band played silly pop songs alongside a wide-ranging musical repertoire of light-hearted rock, blues, country, jazz and Tin Pan Alley-inflected songs. The other musicians also sang lead and contributed ably to spontaneous jams. Shifting from Carl Perkins-styled rockabilly to Beatles-influenced pop to Thelonious Monk-inspired jazz, the thread that held it all together was a buoyant energy and a spirit of fun. Perhaps the charm of the performance was that despite all the changes in the music world over the past 50 years, this oddball bar band seems to exist outside of time and space.
Imelda May/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/June 27, 2017
Born Imelda Clabby in Dublin, Ireland, the woman who would later be known professionally as Imelda May was by age 16 singing in bands and was occasionally barred from her own shows for being underage. She formed her own band in 2002, and in 2003 released her debut album, initially under her maiden name. After the release, May relocated with her then-husband, guitarist Darrel Higham, to London, England. Best known for her rockabilly revival styled music, she won the Best Female Artist of the Year award at the 2009 Meteor Awards and Album of the Year at the 2010 RTÉ Radio 1 Awards. Her fifth and most recent studio album, Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, was released on April 7, 2017.
Forget most everything you have heard about Imelda May. At Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, she revealed her new identity. She not only divorced her husband in 2015, she also divorced her rockabilly sound and look. Long, dark bangs and shoulder length hair have replaced her signature bi-colored pompadour and ponytail, and a black hole-pocked modern outfit replaced her tight vintage dresses. Her band similarly rocked with a classic rock sound, with the two guitarists only occasionally retreating to rockabilly licks, and her bassist only briefly playing an acoustic double bass. The set comprised all 11 songs from her new album, one song each from two of her previous albums, and several cover songs. The only sacred area left untouched was May’s tremendous vocal ability, which soared on rock, blues and torch songs. With a powerful range that still occasionally channeled Patsy Cline and Billie Holliday, the bulk of her set was more akin to Pretenders or Fleetwood Mac. May may find a wider audience to wow with this material, but older fans will miss the old May.