Manhattan Beat: Boy Named Banjo, Children of Bodom & More!

Boy Named Banjo/City Winery/Nov. 20, 2017

    Boy Named Banjo began in a classroom of a preparatory day school for boys in Nashville, Tenn. William ReamesWillard Logan, and Barton Davies started playing bluegrass together in 2011 and recorded an album later that year in a school closet. The trio performed locally, highlighted by a 2013 performance between periods at a Predators game. Boy Named Banjo released a sophomore album, Long Story Short (2014), and an EP, Lost on Main (2015), and won a statewide contest that landed the band on the Bonnaroo stage in 2015. The group presently consists of vocalist/banjo player Davies, vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player Reames, vocalist/guitarist/mandolin player Logan, drummer Sam McCullough, and bassist Ford Garrard.

At City Winery, Boy Named Banjo’s music could no longer be called bluegrass in the honest sense of the word. Rather, the band expanded beyond the genre to the more encompassing Americana tag. Boy Named Banjo stayed true to its acoustic-styled origins, but adapted its roots music to a palate that was closer to Eagles radio-friendly pop than it was to Snuffy Jenkins‘ mountain music. Still, the music was stripped down enough to feel more like a back porch hootenanny than an arena concert. Boy Named Banjo’s crafty banjo/mandolin/harmonica leads provided an alternative to common modern country-rock, however, and the crisp, multiple-part harmonies hint at a bigger future for these young men.


Children of Bodom/The PlayStation Theater/Nov. 24, 2017

    Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho (born Markku Uula Aleksi Laiho) is from Espoo, Finland, where as a child he began playing the violin. Influenced by the heavy metal his sister enjoyed, he switched to guitar at age 11. He took guitar and piano lessons at a conservatory, and first played in an experimental music band named T.O.L.K. with friends from there. In 1993 he founded the death metal band Inearthed with drummer Jaska Raatikainen; since childhood they had shared an interest in heavy metal, especially death metal groups. By the time Inearthed was to record its first album in 1997, the musicians changed the band’s name to Children of Bodom, derived from the mysterious 1960 murders by Lake Bodom in Laiho’s hometown. Laiho has been featured on the cover of Young Guitar Magazine several times, Guitar World magazine ranked him as one of the 50 fastest guitarists in the world, the readers of Metal Hammer voted him the world’s best guitarist in 2006, and the readers of Total Guitar voted him the greatest metal guitarist of all time. The band presently consists of vocalist/lead guitarist Laiho, drummer Raatikainen, rhythm guitarist Daniel Freyberg, keyboardist Janne Wirman, and bassist Henkka Seppälä. Children of Bodom’s ninth and most recent album is 2015’s, I Worship Chaos.

Children of Bodom’s first four albums recently were re-mastered, given bonus tracks, and re-released, and so the band’s 20 Years Down & Dirty North American Tour was designed to spotlight the band’s vintage catalogue. At the PlayStation Theater, Laiho reworked the old songs by injecting the maturity that two decades can bring, making the songs faster and more intense. Unlike the majority of 21st century metal bands who specialize in the growl or the crunch, Children of Bodom married a heavy dose of lightning guitar acrobatics to the band’s extreme metal and melodic metal sounds. Laiho’s sophisticated guitar leads were rooted in 1980s metal, but overall the music leaned to the coarser end of death metal. The band’s slam often was lightened by Wirman’s symphonic and neoclassical keyboard flourishes, but never really distanced the performance for long from the band’s zooming white-knuckle ride. At a time when most of the newer heavy metal bands sound pretty much the same, Children of Bodom rose above the dark cacophony by offer exhilarating guitar work over potent head-banging compositions.


Stephen Kellogg/The Bowery Ballroom/Nov. 25, 2017

    Stephen Kellogg was born in Westchester, Penn., and grew up in Connecticut, where he acquired a musical taste from his dad’s 1970s folk-rock record collection and his sister’s 1980s hair-metal rock albums. Kellogg began playing music in high school, singing in a hard rock band called Silent Treatment. Kellogg studied communication and theater in a university in Massachusetts, and began writing and recording solo acoustic demos and performing on weekends with friends. After college, he sold newspaper advertising during the day and at night interned at a music venue in Northampton, Mass., releasing demo albums as The Stephen Kellogg Band and Stephen Kellogg & the Root Cellar Band. He led Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers from 2004 until a final three-hour concert at Webster Hall in 2012. Kellogg then returned to recording under his own name and today released his newest collection, Tour De Forty: Greatest Hits (So Far) Live.

Kellogg has performed recurrently at the Bowery Ballroom since 2004, and this time he poured praise on the venue during his two-hour set. Over those years, Kellogg reinvented his musical direction several times, but now at age 40 he was reveling on being the composite of it all — a little bit each of Americana, country-rock, folk, indie, pop, and rock and roll, but summarily all communicative singer-songwriter and buoyant performer. Kellogg’s songs were often extensively wordy, yet bouncy narratives with no real chorus; he also hit the opposite extreme with songs that were almost all sing-along chorus with just a few brief verses for a transitional effect. The lyrics were mostly joyful celebrations of a life well lived, largely inspired by his relationship with the high school sweetheart he married and his role as husband and father to their four young daughters. The songs intimately immersed the listeners into Kellogg’s very person. Much like Jimmy Buffett, Kellogg laced his story-songs with passion and fun for a heartland sound that was very much from the heart. The fans cried for more, and again commending the fans and the venue staff, Kellogg responded by performing additional, unplanned encores.


Nvdes/Mercury Lounge/Nov. 26, 2017

    Josh Ocean is from Ocean Beach, New York, but moved to New York City in 2005 to pursue a career in music. He became half of the electronic duo Ghost Beach, which released one album in 2014. Since then, Ocean relocated to Los Angeles, Calif., where he formed the concept for the electronic dance project called Nvdes. Nvdes has been defined as an art collective, comprised of Ocean (vocalist), Madi Diaz (synthesizers) and Sam Van Vleet (electronic drums). The band’s name reportedly was inspired by a neon sign above a strip club. Nvdes’ third EP, the six-track Vol. 2, will be released on Dec. 8, 2017.

At Mercury Lounge, each song of Nvdes’ performance was accompanied by video images behind the musical trio; otherwise for most of the set the stage was totally dark, making it hard for the audience to see the musicians except in silhouettes. The band’s electro-pop set began with some hard beats, but then softened to a more radio-friendly collection of high-energy dance tunes. Many songs, like “I Want to Make Out at the Gay Club,” were little more than a few repetitive chants amid thumping, pulsing electronic swashes and thick percussive power. Between songs, Ocean mentioned several times that Nvdes’ music was intended to encourage listeners to be who they really are; by the show’s end, there was no gauge to measure the success or failure of that goal, but Nvdes successfully provided the soundtrack for a 45-minute dance party.