The Red Wanting Blue & Alternate Routes Quartet/Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2/Dec. 20, 2017
The members of two Americana-rooted rock bands, Red Wanting Blue and the Alternate Routes, were mutual admirers of the other’s music. Red Wanting Blue, based in Columbus, Ohio, has released 10 studio albums; the Alternate Routes, from Bridgeport, Conn., has released five studio albums. The musicians repeatedly crossed paths and suggested that they should work together. The joint project finally materialized as the tentatively named Red Wanting Blue & Alternate Routes Quartet, featuring two core members of each band, Scott Terry (vocals, ukulele) and Eric Hall (guitar, lap steel guitar, mandolin, vocals) of Red Wanting Blue, and Tim Warren (vocals, guitars) and Eric Donnelly (guitars) of the Alternate Routes. This collaboration is on a seven-date tour, and the concerts are being recorded for CD and DVD.
The unique collaboration of two bands allowed for the musicians to perform songs from their own catalogues as well as the catalogues of the other band, sometimes alternating verses and singing harmony. Without the presence of a full band, the songs were centered largely around acoustic instruments. The evening also consisted of stories, as the musicians introduced their songs with anecdotes. The presentation was cool and casual, seemingly as leisurely as a back porch gathering. Lyrics could be heard clearly, and they painted vivid panoramas of the joys and struggles of working class Americans. The songs were riveting and passionate because of the inspired honesty of the four vocalists and musicians. Sensitive lyrics, beautiful melodies, moving vocals and sparkling musical arrangements together highlighted the hearts and the strengths of both Red Wanting Blue and the Alternate Routes. Hopefully the CD and DVD will capture the majesty of this brief but special collaboration.
Shadow of Intent/The Gramercy Theatre/Dec. 21, 2017
Vocalist Ben Duerr and guitarist Chris Wiseman formed Shadow of Intent in 2014 in Milford, Conn. The duo took its name from the Halo science fiction computer game, in which Shadow of Intent is a CAS-class assault carrier of the Sword of Sanghelios formerly assigned to the Covenant fleet. The duo’s music was as an internet-based project which evolved into a band. Shadow of Intent’s second and most recent album, Reclaimer, was released on April 27, 2017. The band currently consists of Duerr, Wiseman, bassist Keith Kohlhepp and drummer Matt Kohanowski.
The Slaughter Before Christmas, as tonight’s program at the Gramercy Theatre was called, featured seven bands, headlined by Shadow of Intent. Perhaps the length of the combined show was why Shadow of Intent performed for less than 40 minutes. Shadow of Intent merged death metal and metalcore into deathcore, punctuated by growls, breakdowns, progressive leads, melodic riffs and occasional pre-recorded symphonic introductions and codas. The strength that the band exhibited in juggling all these elements was that each of these facets was kept brief and sharp rather than excessive and plodding. This clever approach made the musical progressions fascinating and particularly unique in a field where so many bands are derivative. Shadow of Intent is a young band, but noting that maturity and refinement gradually will develop, the performance forecasted a very promising future for the band.
Robert Gordon/The Bowery Electric/Dec. 22, 1027
At the age of nine in Bethesda, Md., Robert Gordon was so inspired by the Elvis Presley song “Heartbreak Hotel” playing on the radio that he decided then to pursue a career as a rock and roll musician. Gordon debuted as a singer at age 15 at a summer camp singing Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops.” In his late teens he sang in several local bands, recording for the first time at age 17 with the Confidentials, which after several lineup changes became the Newports. Gordon married at age 19, and fathered two sons. In 1970, the family moved to New York City, where he opened a clothing store. In the mid-seventies Gordon became the lead singer of the Tuff Darts, which became a popular rock and roll band in the local punk rock circuit. Just as the band was about to break, Gordon went solo, recording rockabilly songs initially with Link Wray and then Chris Spedding. Bruce Springsteen wrote “Fire” for Gordon and played keyboards on it, but the Pointer Sisters quickly covered the song and that version eclipsed the Gordon version. Gordon eventually had a moderate hit with Marshall Crenshaw‘s “Someday Someway” in 1981. Gordon’s eleventh and most recent album is 2014’s I’m Coming Home.
Returning to the Bowery Electric, just one block north of CBGB’s, where Gordon got his New York start, Gordon brought his longtime bassist, Rob Stoner, plus guitarist Barry Ryan and drummer Phil Cimino, all veterans of the local music scene. Gordon laid on the floor a large sheet with titles of 26 songs, but was not planning on doing them in order; the first song, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” was oddly among the last on the list. Similarly, the entire set was played loosely, with Gordon occasionally responding to requests from the fans, and the band was a team of professionals capable of jumping into any song with a moment’s notice. Style-wise, Gordon drew his parameters, and so the band confidently confined itself within classic rock and roll margins. Gordon’s baritone was as smooth, muscular and masculine as it was in his early days, and he sang the bad boy boogie songs convincingly. This was fine roots rock ‘n’ roll all the way.
Rhett Miller/City Winery/Dec. 23, 2017
Rhett Miller is a seventh-generation Texan, born in Austin and raised in Highland Park, a suburb of Dallas. He started taking guitar lessons when he was 12 years old and started writing songs when he was 13. He attempted suicide at age 14, and as part of his recovery Miller turned to music and started to play in bands while still in high school. He became a folk artist, and played his first gig at age 15 in Dallas. In 1989, while still in high school, Miller self-released a limited-edition album called Mythologies. In Dallas in 1990, Miller formed a power-pop trio called Sleepy Heroes, who released one album before disbanding. Miller was the lead singer of various bands between 1990 and 1993: Rhett Miller’s Third Eye, Buzz, Rhett’s Exploding, and Retablo. In 1993, Miller formed Old 97’s initially as an acoustic trio, but soon added musicians and electrified the sound. In 1997, Miller moved from Dallas to Los Angeles. then in 2000 moved to New York City, three blocks south of the World Trade Center and was home on 9/11. Miller now lives in the Hudson Valley area of New York state. Miller remains the leader of Old 97’s, who have released 16 studio albums. Miller’s fifth and most recent solo studio album is 2015’s The Traveler.
Rhett Miller headlined his fifth annual Holiday Extravaganza at City Winery. This show featured Miller performing alone on acoustic guitar and introducing stand-up performances by Jen Kirkman, Todd Barry and Janeane Garofalo. Oddly, while the comedians kept the holidays somewhere in their scope, much of Miller’s set was comprised of uptempo songs that dwelled on discomfort. His performance was animated and this high-energy stage manner was thoroughly engaging, even on the darkest songs. Miller sang well, projecting his husky voice into the angst of his songs, particularly on a song about suicide. Although the show was billed to be holiday themed, Miller performed only three Christmas songs, two of which were self-penned and hardly about holy days. The show closer was the evening’s sole traditional song, “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” which Miller seemed to perform mockingly. Miller proved he was a talented lyricist and performer, but perhaps his unorthodox holiday spirit begged the question of what holiday he was celebrating. The show was a lively celebration of whatever.