The Sweet/The Gramercy Theatre/April 26, 2018 Vocalist Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker had played together in the mid 1960s in a British soul band called Wainwright’s Gentlemen. In 1968 they formed a new band called the Sweetshop. They recruited bassist/vocalist Steve Priest, and called the band’s name to the Sweet. Over time, they merged the band’s early bubble gum pop with harmony vocals and hard rock, prefiguring what would become glam rock in the 1970s. After many personnel changes, the classic line-up of Connolly, Tucker, Priest and guitarist Andy Scott until 1978 enjoyed a series of international hits including “Little Willy”, “The Ballroom Blitz”, “Fox on the Run” and “Love Is Like Oxygen.” Popularity waned and the band split in 1981. Beginning in 1984, Scott, Connolly and Priest each formed their own version of the Sweet, such that there were as many as three versions of the Sweet co-existing simultaneously. The two surviving members are still active in their respective versions; Scott’s is based in the UK and Priest’s in the US.
The Sweet celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018. Steve Priest’s version of the Sweet headlined at the Gramercy Theatre, and Priest, along with Brooklyn-born vocalist Paulie Z, guitarist Mitch Perry, keyboardist Stevie Stewart and drummer Richie Onori reprised the band’s hits from the 1970s and extended them with hard rock flourishes. Glam was still present: Priest, now 70 years old, sitting in a chair for the entire performance, wore a cape and two-color eye make-up; Stewart wore a leather top hat and a kilt; Z changed wardrobe twice, ending in a gold lamé suit. The performance felt similarly dated; while the original recordings of “Fox on the Run” and “The Ballroom Blitz” have been revived in recent film soundtracks, the band’s performance of these songs and others were now better suited as toe-tappers than as fist-pumpers. Perry’s stinging guitar work, leaning a bit on the heavy metal side, was the most gripping aspect of the performance. Otherwise, the concert was meant only for rockers nostalgic for the 1970s.
Jon Foreman/City Winery/April 27, 2018 Jon Foreman was born in San Bernardino County, Calif. but his family moved to Massachusetts and Virginia during his childhood. By his early teens, Foreman’s family moved back to Southern California, this time settling in San Diego. There in 1996 he formed Chin Up, which quickly became the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning alternative rock band Switchfoot, named after a surfing term. Contracted at first to a Christian record company, Switchfoot had limited exposure until several of the band’s songs were featured in the 2002 film A Walk to Remember. The band’s next album sold 2.6 million copies. Alongside his Switchfoot albums, Foreman released a set of four solo EPS in 2008 and another set of four EPs in 2015, and also recorded two albums under the name Fiction Family with Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek. Foreman currently resides in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, where he continues to surf.
One October morning in 2015, Jon Foreman and his friends embarked on a music journey throughout San Diego aiming to play 25 shows in 24 hours at venues including a children’s hospital, a wedding, a Mexican restaurant and his old high school. That adventure was chronicled in a documentary called 25 in 24. At City Winery, the movie was screened, and then Foreman performed live, accompanied by a cellist and a drummer. After a few songs, he instructed the audience to create the rest of his set list by writing notes and leaving them by his feet on the stage. The songs chosen by the audience featured some of his most stirring lyrics. Without the more bombastic approach of Switchfoot, the trio performed the songs in a new and softer package that was intimate and engaging. In the end, the informality of the presentation was personable and charming, and while the audience might have preferred the Switchfoot versions, this gentler adaption was uniquely warm and cozy.
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul/The PlayStation Theater/May 2, 2018 Steven Lento was born in Winthrop, Mass. and as a youth lived in nearby Watertown. His mother remarried, the seven-year-old boy became Steven Van Zandt, and the family relocated to Middletown Township, New Jersey. In his teenage years, he played guitar locally in the Whirlwinds, the Mates and the Shadows. Van Zandt grew up in the Jersey Shore music scene, and performed with Bruce Springsteen in Steel Mill in 1969-1970 and the Bruce Springsteen Band in 1971. Van Zandt also co-founded and played in Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes in 1974. Van Zandt then played in Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band from 1975 to 1984, returning briefly in 1995 and permanently since 1999. In 1981, Van Zandt began fronting an on-and-off group he calls Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. Turning to acting, Van Zandt took one of the core roles in The Sopranos from 1999 to 2007 and in Lilyhammer from 2011 to 2015. Since 2002, Van Zandt has hosted Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a weekly syndicated radio show; he is also the program director for two radio channels for the SiriusXM Satellite Radio network. His most recent solo album, SoulFire Live!, was released on April 27, 2018.
The Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul concert at the PlayStation Theater raised funds and awareness for the TeachRock curriculum, and teachers were offered free tickets to the concert if they attended a workshop on the project prior to the concert. For about two and a half hours, Van Zandt and his 14 accompanists provided a big and full blast, balancing heartland rock, 1960s style soul and Phil Spector-influenced ballads. The concert began with a lively cover of Arthur Conley’s 1967 hit “Sweet Soul Music” and segued into an energetic set of songs Van Zandt recorded or wrote for other artists, along with quite a few other covers. Sporadically throughout the evening, Van Zandt ripped into electrifying solos, but he did not allow them to dominate the performance; he invited many of his musicians break into jams as well. The five horn players and three backup vocalists helped make the choruses the summits of his songs, and all the movement on stage made the show visually stimulating. Overall, Van Zandt and his allies performed an upbeat and entertaining show, fit for a rock and roll party.
Anvil/Le Poisson Rouge/May 3, 2018 Guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner were high school friends when they began playing music together in 1973 in Toronto, Canada. By 1978, they had a band called Lips; in 1981, the band became Anvil. The band recorded and toured, but as detailed in the 2008 documentary film, Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the band suffered an ongoing streak of bad fortune and never achieved wide popularity. The band presently consists of Lips, Reiner and bassist Chris Robertson. Anvil’s 17th album, Pounding the Pavement, was released on January 19, 2018.
Anvil headlined le Poisson Rouge tonight, and despite the band’s nearly 40-year longevity, the small venue had a light attendance. Anvil nevertheless pummeled through with hard metal, fast guitar licks and light-hearted lyrics. Anvil performed as a power trio, which required each member to excel in his playing, and the three musicians accomplished the goal set before them. There was no career-defining song to anchor the set, but instead the band performed a career-spanning set of hard rocking songs that incited head banging and fist pumping responses. Classic metal fans might not necessarily name Anvil as their favorite band, but the Anvil concert demonstrated that the genre still breathes.