Manhattan Beat: Scoping Out The Skins, KMFDM and More!

The Skins/The Bowery Electric/Oct. 6, 2017

Three teenaged siblings, all students at the School of Rock, began jamming in their basement in Brooklyn, N.Y. The oldest of the three, Bayli Mckeithan, was interested in guitar but wound up singing; Kaya Nico Mckeithan, took to the bass; and baby brother, Keef Cole Mckeithan, played the drums. Schoolmate Daisy Spencer, a guitarist, saw a video of the Mckeithans covering Wolfmother and the Rolling Stones, and asked if she could jam. She brought schoolmate and guitarist, Russell Chell. As the Skins in 2011, the School of Rock quintet played at school events and local gigs and released a three-song, self-titled EP in 2012. Over time, the Skins scored opening slots on festival dates and national tours. The Skins’ second EP, the five-song, Still Sleep, was released on Dec. 16, 2016.

The five musicians in the Skins are still quite young, ages 18 to 25, but they made a big, mature sound at the Bowery Electric as part of the festival. Perhaps due to the Skins’ recent collaborations with producer Rick Rudin and rapper D.R.A.M., the band showed that it is drifting beyond its classic blues rock origins and closing in on more urban sounds, indulging now in a stronger taste for rhythm and blues, funk, and hip hop. The musicians grafted these sounds well for an intoxicating blend hard rock and smooth soul. The Skins’ enthusiastic and effervescent spirit was very alive and enrapturing, as the audience chanted back lyric phrases to these newer songs. The combustion was hot; this ultramodern-sounding multi-genre quintet was on fire, and given the right window, the Skins will burst into the mainstream in a massive flame.


KMFDM/Irving Plaza/Oct. 7, 2017

    Sascha Konietzko, also known as Sascha K and Käpt’n K, was born in Hamburg, Germany, but conceived what would become the industrial band KMFDM in 1984 as a performance art project at the opening of an exhibition of young European artists in Paris, France. KMFDM initialized the nonsensical and grammatically incorrect German phrase, “Kein Mehrheit für die Mitleid,” which is typically given the loose translation of, “no pity for the majority,” a phrase Konietzko composed by cutting words from a German newspaper and randomly pulling them out of a hat. Konietzko soon returned to Germany, where various musicians moved in and out of KMFDM. In 1991, Konietzko moved to Chicago, and KMFDM became part of the city’s industrial music scene that included Ministry, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and Revolting Cocks, until 1994, when Konietzko relocated to Seattle. KMFDM split in 1999, but Konietzko resurrected the brand in 2002 with a new lineup. American singer Lucia Cifarelli joined the revamped KMFDM; Konietzko and Cifarelli married in 2005 and relocated together to Hamburg in 2007. KMFDM released its 20th studio album, Hell Yeah, on Aug. 18, 2017.

German band Lord of the Lost was to perform as an opening act for KMFDM’s American tour, and two Lord of the Lost musicians were to perform in KMFDM as well, but delayed visas forced a cancellation. At Irving Plaza, Konietzko and Cifarelli stood front and center at two podia, singing and playing electronic gear; they were backed ably by longtime drummer Andy Selway and a last-minute fill-in, Brooklyn-based guitarist, Andee Blacksugar. The set consisted of seven songs from the new album, as well as one or two songs from nine other albums and EPs. Several songs featured politically-charged anthems of resistance and defiance to the band’s trademark ultra-heavy beats. Konietzko and Cifarelli interlocked vocals, often leaving their podia to work their audience from the edge of the stage, to repetitive hard and heavy guitar and synthesizer riffs. Konietzko provided the grittier vocal style, counterbalanced by Cifarelli’s comparatively sweet range. KMFDM’s music was not as experimental as it was in the 1990s, but this newer mainstream version worked very well.


The Black Dahlia Murder/The Highline Ballroom/Oct. 10, 2017

    The Black Dahlia Murder formed as a death metal band in 2001 in Waterford, Mich. Absorbed with horror and gore, vocalist Trevor Strnad adapted the band’s name from the 1947 unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, often referred to as the Black Dahlia, who was bisected at the waist and left on display in a California parking lot in 1947. The Black Dahlia Murder currently consists of Strnad, guitarists Brian Eschbach and Brandon Ellis, drummer Alan Cassidy, and bassist Max Lavelle. The band’s eighth and most recent album, Nightbringers, was released on Oct. 6, 2017.

Sixteen years after first starting, the Black Dahlia Murder demonstrated tonight at the Highline Ballroom that the macabre may have no limits. A glance at the set list showed that the band was very much obsessed with grizzly tales of weird design. For those who followed the lyrics, they were uncompromisingly relentless in gruesome detail. A new song, “Matriarch,” for instance, told of a woman who was unsuccessful in having a child, so she stalked a pregnant woman and cut the baby out of her. The band’s hard and heavy music was equally merciless, overflowing with growled vocals, barely discernible lyrics, speedy guitar riffs and thrashing, crashing rhythms. No doubt, this was an extreme metal concert, and not meant for the faint of heart.


The California Honeydrops/The Bowery Ballroom/Oct. 12, 2017

    Lech Wierzynski was born in Warsaw, Poland, where he listened to contraband American records and imitated the vocal styles of Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong. Coming to the United States as a first-generation immigrant youth, where he was raised by Polish political refugees, he listened intensely to American rock and roll, soul, jazz and hip-hop recordings. During his teenage years, he studied trumpet and started playing blues and jazz at after-hours jam sessions in Washington D.C., and eventually launched a music career on the club circuit in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2007, he formed a blues and rhythm and blues band, which played on the sidewalks and in the subway stations of Oakland. With Wierzynski as the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist band leader, and co-founder Ben Malament as the percussionist, the busking California Honeydrops’ public party music quickly developed a passionate local following. The band’s fifth and most recent studio album is 2015’s, A Higher Degree.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom, the California Honeydrops’ sound was bound by their New Orleans-rooted style of bluesy vocals, barrelhouse piano, and punctuating brass riffs. With little guitarwork in the mix, the bubbling energy was sparked simply by the interplay of vocals, keyboards and four horn players. Crossing genres from Delta blues to southern soul with funk and a dash of Americana, the band’s shows featured extensive jamming, with many songs hovering around 10 minutes of length. Wierzynski made crowd interaction an integral element to the defining results, dissolving the boundaries between the band and the audience. In the end, this was more of a party than a concert, especially when Wierzynski surprised the audience by announcing that the band would take a brief break and return in a few minutes for a second set.