Manhattan Beat: Recapping Renaissance, Gwar, & More

Renaissance/The Town Hall/October 28, 2017

The original Renaissance was born in 1969 when two former members of the YardbirdsKeith Relf and Jim McCarty, moved away from the British blues rock of their previous band to form an experimental progressive rock band with classical influences. Personnel changes happened often and quickly, and less than two years later Renaissance featured none of its original members. Annie Haslam, who joined in 1971, became the face of Renaissance, which then had success in America through the 1970s. The band split in 1987, and Haslam began a solo career. Since 1998, Haslam has reformed Renaissance several times using various musicians. Renaissance’s thirteenth and most recent studio album was 2013’s Grandine il vento, reissued as Symphony of Light in 2014 with three bonus tracks; Renaissance also released a live album in 2015. The present band in American-based and consists of vocalist Haslam, pianist Rave Tesar, guitarist Mark Lambert, keyboardist Tom Brislin, bassist Leo Traversa and drummer Frank Pagano.

Renaissance’s headlining engagement at the Town Hall was designed for old time fans, as the band launched the set with several of their most familiar compositions, “Prologue,” “Trip to the Fair,” and “Carpet of the Sun.” Haslam’s acrobatic multi-octave vocals led the charge, and prominent piano leads and intriguingly complex band arrangements made for a versatile fusion of classical, folk, rock, and jazz influences. Beginning with the third song, Renaissance was joined on stage with 10 additional musicians whom Haslam introduced as the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra. These musicians augmented the rich and lush production of “Mother Russia,” “Carpet Of The Sun” and “A Song for All Seasons,” all of which included an orchestra on the original recordings. In total, all but two of the evening’s songs were from Renaissance’s 1970s catalogue; this then begs the question as to whether the current music world would readily accept new Renaissance music or if Renaissance will continue to revive a bygone era.


Gwar/Irving Plaza/October 31, 2017

In the early 1980s in Richmond, Virginia, Dave Brockie met two university students who were making costumes for a science fiction movie they never actually completed. Brockie borrowed the costumes and had Death Piggy open for itself as a barbaric band from Antarctica, staging mini-plays and using crude props while playing nonsense songs and sacrificing fake animals. People came to see the joke band, named Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh, and left immediately after the set, so Brockie transformed Death Piggy into a theatrical punk metal band called Gwar, an abbreviated version of the other band’s original name. As Gwar’s costumes grew more elaborate and grotesque over time, so did the band’s science fiction storyline, constructing new characters with each change in personnel. Brockie died of a heroin overdose in 2014; Gwar continues with no original members. Gwar presently consists of vocalist Michael Bishop (Blothar), lead guitarist Brent Purgason (Pustulus Maximus), rhythm guitarist Mike Derks (Bälsäc the Jaws ‘o Death), bassist Jamison Land (Beefcake the Mighty), drummer Brad Roberts (Jizmak Da Gusha), and backing vocalists Matt Maguire (Sawborg Destructo), Bob Gorman (Bonesnapper), and Don Drakulich (Sleazy P. Martini). Gwar’s fourteenth and most recent album, The Blood of Gods, was released on Oct. 20, 2017.

Real-life horror happened earlier in the day with a terrorist attack in lower Manhattan. It was Halloween night, and rock fans came to Irving Plaza for the controlled and simulated horror of Gwar. Indeed, minutes after Gwar opened the set with “War on Gwar,” two characters were decapitated, spewing copious fake blood deep into the audience. Blazing metal music screeched and wailed, and the set continued with more over-the-top costumed characters simulating violence and bloodshed. The massively costumed Blother the Berserker returned to Gwar as the new vocalist after an 18-year absence, and sprayed the audience through two mutant penises. Mutated versions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were slaughtered during “El Presidente.” Gwar ended the evening’s performance with a cover of AC/DC‘s “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got it),” perhaps the sole radio-friendly song in the set, during which a cannon looming above the crowd sprayed fans with blue liquid. Gwar’s concert showcased a well-choreographed integration of extreme music, comedy and visuals, and the Gwar audience wanted it no other way.


The Liza Colby Sound/The Bowery Electric/November 1, 2017

    Liza Colby grew up in a musical family in Avon, Conn. Her parents perform in New England nightclubs as the Colbys, her mother as vocalist and her father as keyboardist and musical director. Colby originally studied towards becoming a corporate event planner, but opted to try music. She relocated to New York City, began singing hooks on rap tracks, and finally in 2009 joined forces with comic Denis Leary‘s band, the Enablers. The Liza Colby Sound presently consists of vocalist Colby, guitarist Tom McCaffrey, bassist Alec Morton, and drummer Charly “C.P.” Roth. The Liza Colby Band’s third EP, Draw, will be released officially on Nov. 17, 2017, but already is available unofficially at her gigs.

The Liza Colby Sound concluded a residency at the Bowery Electric, where the quartet performed three nights over three months. The music had vicious bite, with Colby’s smoky, soulful and seductive mega-watt vocal delivery complemented by the musicians’ 1970s-influenced blues rock revival sound. While Colby was the main focal attention, slithering and sashaying across the small stage in a revealing mini-outfit, the power trio behind her was equally impactful, charging boldly with vintage-styled arena rock grooves packed with soaring guitar leads and a hard-bottomed rhythm section. Colby’s presentation was strongly feminine, alternately leaning from sweet to sinful and from vulnerable to dominant, but her male musicians were far more than backup; the trio was the powerhouse that magnified Colby’s thunderous rock-soul hybrid.


Barb Wire Dolls/The Bowery Electric/November 1, 2017

Former professional surfer and skatebaorder Tasos Taiganides in the 1990s left his native Crete, Greece, and landed in Charleston, SC. There, he played guitar in a band called Eurogression at night while teaching and coaching tennis by day. One day, he had a near-fatal accident, in which he died and was revived in an ambulance, and this triggered a return to his homeland to recuperate. While living in an artist commune in Crete in 2010, he met vocalist Isis Queen, formed with her the concept for what would become Barb Wire Dolls, and became Pyn Doll. In Greece, the options were limited for a punk rock band singing in English, so the band members relocated to the rock club circuit in Los Angeles, California, where they were embraced by Motörhead‘s Lemmy Kilmister and several veteran punk rockers. The band presently consists of Queen, Pyn Doll, rhythm guitarist Remmington Pearce, bassist Iriel Blaque, and drummer Krash Doll. Barb Wire Dolls’ fourth album, Rub My Mind, was released on July 7, 2017.

Barb Wire Dolls is more than a punk rock band these days. At the Bowery Electric, Isis Queen sang more and shouted less than on previous tours, and the band several times dipped into glam, thrash and classic rock waters. On virtually all songs, however, the music roared in a no-compromise manner while raging with punk attitude and metal aggression. Mickey Leigh, formerly of the Rattlers and brother of the Ramones‘ late vocalist, Joey Ramone, added more fuel by briefly rocking a guitar with the band on stage. Sometimes Queen smoothed out the band’s sound but other times she was more fiery than the musicians. Queen’s vocal flexibility and the band’s exploratory growth beyond punk into deeper and richer territory was stimulating. Where the band is heading is perhaps more intriguing than where it has been.