Fear Is Dead/The Studio At Webster Hall/July 1, 2017
Looking to shift from hip-hop to metal, grunge and hardcore punk, the singularly-named vocalist Skila formed Fear Is Dead in 2011 in Queens, New York. The band released EPs in 2011 and 2013 and then went on hiatus. Skila reformed the brand in 2015 with guitarist David English, bassist Matt Pompeii and drummer Carlos Crowcell and released Fear Is Dead’s third EP later that year. The band released its fourth and most recent EP, What Remains, in 2017.
Fear Is Dead’s concert at The Studio At Webster Hall was a release party for the What Remains EP. The band’s racing set highlighted the raw brutality of hardcore music, the coarse edge of nu-metal, and the fresh experimentation of a minimalistic band that sought to deconstruct rather than copy. Skila shouted manically as English’s abrasive djent-style guitar work crushed chords to the fierce grooves of the rhythm section. Dark and heavy, this music was not for the faint of heart.
Amy Helm/City Winery/July 6, 2017
Born to Levon Helm, drummer of The Band, and singer/songwriter Libby Titus, and raised in part by her stepfather, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Amy Helm may have inherited her earthy musical style. In her early teens, she began performing in Manhattan music venues. In her mid-20s, her dad recruited her to join his latter-day bands, the Midnight Ramble Band and the Dirt Farmer Band. Ten years of these experiences gave her the courage to write and sing for the New York-based folk music group Ollabelle, and finally, as the leader of Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers. Her debut solo album, Didn’t It Rain, was released in 2015.
Amy Helm continues to perform frequently in New York clubs, but her feet are firmly rooted in the organic, rootsy music that has been integral to Woodstock’s musical legacy. Bucking any current waves, Helm performed at City Winery a timeless set of bluesy heartland music that borrowed much from vintage rhythm and blues but with sharp, driving guitar leads and a thick undercurrent of deeply-inlayed grooves. Cindy Cashdollar’s slide work in particular animated and boosted the songs. Helm’s husky, smoldering vocals resembled the gospel strains of the likes of Mavis Staples, and this particularly served well in her gutsy reinterpretations of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” cover songs which complemented Helm’s original compositions. Reminiscent of the Midnight Ramble series upstate, several local musicians joined Helm on stage for several minimally-structured jams towards the end of her set, concluding with a finale of Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.” Helm’s performance was a lively set that breathed a timeless resonance.
Kasey Chambers/City Winery/July 7, 2017
Kasey Chambers was born in Mount Gambier, Australia, but not too long afterwards her parents decided to live off the land and moved the family into the desolate Nullarbor Plain, where for 10 years they lived off foxes, kangaroos and anything else her dad hunted. At night, the family would sit around a campfire and sing American country songs that her dad played on guitar. They later returned to civilization and toured as a family band, the Dead Ringer Band, which consisted of dad (Bill), mom (Di), Kasey, and her older brother Nash. Kasey launched a solo career in 1999, but the family continued to factor in the musicianship (Bill), the production (Nash) and the merchandising (Di). Kasey’s country music crossed over to pop radio, and she became a major music artist in Australia, with chart toppers, platinum records and ARIA awards. Her 11th studio album, Dragonfly, is a double album, and was released in America on June 2, 2017. Chambers currently lives in Copacabana, Australia.
At City Winery, Kasey Chambers’ entourage remained a family affair, with Bill Chambers on guitar and one of Kasey’s sons coming on stage to play percussion and harmonica on one song. While the backbone of the set was country music, there were occasional forays into soulful blues and bluegrass. Kasey mostly played acoustic guitar, but also played slide guitar and harmonica. Despite recent vocal surgery, Kasey’s vocals and melodies successfully spanned a broad vocal range, sometimes light and airy, but other times deeply blue. Throughout the set, the integrity of her delivery made the lyrics feel like personal and passionate revelations. Meanwhile, her band enriched the songs with twang, bite and lush as needed. These Australians did an impressive job with Americana.
The Yardbirds/Highline Ballroom/July 8, 2017
Guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page started their professional music careers in the 1960s in a British Invasion blues rock band called The Yardbirds. The band, briefly known as the Blue Sounds in 1963, formed in the suburbs of London, England, taking its name Yardbirds from an expression for hobos in rail yards or prisoners in a prison yard, but also revering jazz saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. Originally playing Chicago blues covers, The Yardbirds became known for its signature “rave-up” instrumental breaks. The quintet gained attention when it replaced the Rolling Stones as the house band at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. Joining the British Invasion, The Yardbirds went pop, causing the departure of Clapton. Beck replaced Clapton in 1965 and introduced fuzz tone, reverb, feedback, sustain, distortion and hammer-on soloing. Page joined on bass in 1966, but quickly switched to dual guitars with Beck. The Yardbirds split in 1968; Page tried to revamp the lineup as The New Yardbirds, but after a brief tour his band was rechristened Led Zeppelin. Original Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty reformed the brand in 1992, about the same time The Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Yardbirds’ fifth and most recent studio album is 2003’s Birdland. The Yardbirds presently consists of McCarty, vocalist/guitarist John Idan, lead guitarist Johnny “A.” Antonopoulos, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and percussionist/harmonica player Myke Scavone.
The Yardbirds’ current lineup headlined at the Highline Ballroom and captured both the spirit and the heritage of the late 1960s. Working through the vintage repertoire, the band sought not to replicate the classic arrangements but to bring the vitality of the present musicians to the past catalogue. Yet, although the earlier Yardbirds was an experimental band, adapting Indian raga sounds and Gregorian chants and pioneering psychedelic and hard rock, the new band was not breaking new ground or toying with left-field influences. Nevertheless, the instrumental prowess of the newer musicians shined throughout the performance. Perhaps this is the best way to preserve a hallmark: remain faithful and reverent towards the original, yet fully utilize the creative abilities offered by the new.