Originally from San Jose, California, and raised in San Diego, a six-year-old Ashlyn Willson took piano lessons and studied classical music. She began writing songs toward the end of high school and became known by the mononym Ashe, adding an “e” to her nickname to pay homage to Carole King. After a brief stint at a community college, her passion for music led her to decide that “it was Berklee or bust” and she enrolled in the Berklee College of Music, majoring in Contemporary Writing and Production. As graduation approached in 2015, she chose to ground her music career in Nashville, Tenn. Ashe wrote a song for Demi Lovato (“You Don’t Do It For Me Any More”) and collaborated with EDM artists including Louis the Child and Whethan. Ashe released her seven-track debut EP The Rabbit Hole today.
Taking a quick step away from a tour opening for Lewis Capaldi, Ashe performed a music industry showcase at the Loft at City Winery to celebrate the release of her debut EP. Singing and playing an electric piano, accompanied solely by an electric guitarist, Justin Gammella, Ashe was less the electro-pop singer than a singer/songwriter with a powerhouse voice. Her vocal styling incorporated vintage jazz inflections, light, airy and soothing as her melodies scaled octaves. Her lyrics, clear as a bell, articulated her insights into the human condition. Even songs about disillusionment and disappointment, like “Sometimes People Suck” and “Used to It”, were sung with a sunny disposition. Ashe offered more mind and soul than the typical EDM artist; this singer-songwriter route seemed like a better fit.
Ciaran Lavery/Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2/June 22, 2018
Ciaran Lavery was born in Lurgen in County Armagh, Ireland, and attended university in Belfast, but in recent years bought a house in the tiny village (population: 824) of Aghagallon in County Antrim. Lavery started playing guitar and singing at age 15 and was part of a local country folk band called Captain Kennedy for seven years. He started working solo in 2013, and won a Northern Ireland Music Prize in 2016 for his second album, Let Bad In. His third studio album, Sweet Decay, was released on April 13, 2018.
Ciaran Lavery returned to Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2, presented by Communion Music. Lavery accompanied himself only on acoustic guitar and piano to an audience so attentively quiet that listeners could hear ice shift when they lifted their drinks. Lavery similarly sang his hush-toned and lilting songs with pillow-talk whispers. Strumming his guitar softly, Lavery gave his compositions an earthy yet atmospheric ambience while maintaining a subtle rhythmic pulse. The simple arrangement of the songs sounded more American than Irish, as deeply poetic and candid lyrics provided an insightful profundity to common and mundane references. The dichotomy of freedom and isolation that comes with living in a small village seemed to permeate his colorful images of love, loss and loneliness. Lavery finely related universal truths in a manner so entrancing that he apprehended his audience in a virtual group hug. Lavery’s performance was distinctive; few singer/songwriters can create a communal bond this intimate.
U2/Madison Square Garden/June 25, 2018
At age 14, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. sought musicians to form a band and posted a note on his school’s notice board in Dublin, Ireland. Little did Mullen know in 1976 that he and the teenaged musicians that met in his kitchen for a rehearsal would become one of the biggest-selling bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. Vocalist Bono (Paul Hewson), guitarist the Edge (David Evans), bassist Adam Clayton, and Mullen initially called themselves Feedback because it was one of the few technical terms they knew and played their first public performance in 1977. They changed the band name to the Hype but it was not until they became U2 in 1978 that the band won a talent contest in Limerick, earning £500 and studio time to record a demo. U2 has sold more than 170 million records worldwide and has won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band. U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, the band’s first year of eligibility. U2’s 14th and most recent studio album, Songs of Experience, was released on Dec. 1, 2017.
A little more than 40 years after the band’s first public concert, U2 is touring the world with one of the most extravagant stage shows ever conceived. The 2018 eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE tour is perhaps the companion to the similarly-staged iNNOCENCE & eXPERIENCE tour in 2015, as if the story the band began to unravel was reaching a conclusion now. The band’s performance space spanned the length of the venue floor, from a traditional rectangular main stage to a smaller, circular stage, and two connecting walkways, a runway on the ground and a catwalk in the sky, the latter sandwiched between 96-foot-long double-sided video screens that allowed the musicians to interplay with the video projections. The set list on the first of three nights at Madison Square Garden excluded most of the band’s hits and focused on the new album and deep cuts from more recent albums, again to tell the autobiographical story of the band members’ turbulent survival from innocence to experience. Videos and props gave flesh to the songs. Bono sang powerfully and clearly throughout the night, and the Edge played searing guitar leads, but more than anything, the audience responded to a breath-taking multimedia spectacular. Fans familiar with the newer material followed the story arc, but those who came hoping for familiar songs simply enjoyed U2’s rock ‘n’ roll thrill ride.
Low Cut Connie/Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2/June 26, 2018
Pianist/vocalist Adam Weiner, a native of Cherry Hill, NJ, found early work in New York City playing in gay bars, karaoke bars, restaurants and ballet classes, often under the name Ladyfingers. In 2010, he started working a project that would become Low Cut Connie, the name inspired by a waitress who often wore low-cut tops at a restaurant near where Weiner grew up. In 2015, Weiner was considering ending Low Cut Connie when the band’s song “Boozophilia” was chosen by then-President Barack Obama as one of the songs on his Spotify summer playlist; Weiner later met the president and was encouraged to continue Low Cut Connie. The band, based in Philadelphia, presently consists of Weiner, guitarists James Everhart and Will Donnelley, bassist Lucas Rinz, drummer Larry Scotton, and backing vocalist Saundra Williams. Low Cut Connie’s fifth and most current album, Dirty Pictures (Part 2), was released on May 18, 2018.
At Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2, Low Cut Connie performed an early evening concert for later broadcast on WFUV Public Radio. Unfortunately, the radio listeners will be unable to witness the wild antics that the live audience enjoyed. Playing Elton John-styled rock ‘n’ roll party music, the flamboyant Weiner borrowed from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis by standing on his piano bench, stepping on the piano keys, crawling under the piano while playing, as Weiner excelled in over-the-top theatrics. The radio audience will nonetheless pick up on the indefatigable Weiner singing soulfully and joyfully to pop songs infused with vaudeville, barrelhouse, honky tonk, and New Orleans-style piano playing. In person or on the radio, this was a high-energy rock show.