The Foo Fighters/Madison Square Garden/July 16, 2018
Dave Grohl joined the grunge band Nirvana as its drummer in 1990. Following the dissolution of Nirvana after the 1994 suicide death of leader Kurt Cobain, Grohl formed Foo Fighters as a one-person project in Seattle, Washington. The name came from the UFOs and various aerial phenomena that were reported by Allied aircraft pilots in World War II, which were known collectively as “foo fighters.” Prior to the release of Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut album, which featured Grohl as the only official member, Grohl recruited musicians and Foo Fighters began performing as a band, with Grohl on vocals and guitar. Foo Fighters has sold more than 12 million units in the United States alone and four albums have won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album. The band released its ninth studio album, Concrete and Gold, on Sept. 15, 2017. Foo Fighters presently consists of Grohl on vocals and guitar, Chris Shiflett on lead guitar, Pat Smear on guitar, Rami Jaffee on keyboards, Nate Mendel on bass, and Taylor Hawkins on drums.
On the first of two headlining nights at Madison Square Garden, Foo Fighters started a few minutes late but played into overtime at the unionized venue. Performing for nearly three hours, the band played many of its hits but also included extended solos and cover songs. The opening song, “All My Life,” set a tone of levity for the evening by including the guitar riff from Ted Nugent‘s “Cat Scratch Fever.” Guitar wizardry ruled, and throughout the night, the band married hummable melodies with raucous hard rock arrangements to create high-energy anthems with a powerful sense of presence and immediacy. Guests included Grammy-winning smooth jazz saxophonist Dave Koz on two songs and a quartet of backing vocalists on several songs; these vocalists included Grohl’s 12-year-old daughter, Violet Krohl. Grohl’s gruff singing (and stage antics) were the centerpiece of each song, but his musicians also were given time to stretch. Hawkins’ drums rose 30 feet during his solo. Jaffee performed a complex, multi-layered solo on his synthesizer that Grohl afterwards joked sounded “pretty cool” but likely would not be included on the next Foo Fighters album. At one point, Grohl and Hawkins changed positions and Hawkins and the Struts‘ vocalist Luke Spiller sang a duet covering Queen and David Bowie‘s “Under Pressure.” The band performed a mashup of classic rock tunes, concluding with Smear leading the others in the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Compared to the bombastic renderings of more familiar material, the solos and cover songs were somewhat anti-climatic, but supported the relaxed structure of the evening.
Cut Worms/Mercury Lounge/July 18, 2018
Max Clarke taught himself to play and write music at about age 12, shortly after his mother bought him a guitar for $5 in a garage sale in his home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Leaving behind a promising career in baseball, Clarke studied illustration while attending college in Chicago, but then drifted from that trajectory as well to exploring the potential of a career in music. Clarke adopted the nom de plume of Cut Worms from the line, “The cut worm forgives the plough,” in William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell. Clarke relocated in 2015 to Brooklyn, NY, and under the name Cut Worms released an EP in 2017 and a debut album, Hollow Ground, on May 4, 2018.
Performing as a four-piece ensemble at Mercury Lounge, Cut Worms performed a quirky, indie folk set that resonated with low-fi resilience. Clarke strummed an acoustic guitar, and his musicians provided bounce and roundness, but the songs remained rather stark and under-arranged. There was something charming about this simplicity as it accompanied Clarke’s affinity for evocative storytelling. Clarke’s vocal delivery was almost plainspoken, lacking emotional drive, and the weighty reverb in his microphone further distanced the potential romanticism of his poetic lyrics. These lyrics captured gravity and darkness, but the overall breezy and whimsical delivery seemingly masked an obscured shadow side. Not quite a tug of war, Cut Worms is deeper than it sounds.
Beck/Madison Square Garden/July 19, 2018
Beck Hansen (born Bek Campbell, known professionally as Beck) began life in a rooming house near downtown Los Angeles. Beck obtained his first guitar at 16 and became a Los Angeles-area street musician. At age 17, Beck spent hours in his room trying to emulate country-blues finger picking techniques. By age 18, Beck was playing acoustic blues and folk music in coffeehouses and briefly explored the anti-folk movement in New York City before returning to Los Angeles in 1991. His initial hit, “Loser,” looked like it would make Beck a novelty one-hit wonder in 1994, but Beck sustained a string of hits and won five Grammy Awards. His 13th studio album, Colors, was released on Oct. 13, 2017.
Headlining at Madison Square Garden for the first time, Beck appeared to marvel at his ascent, particularly since he was largely homeless and playing for tips at small clubs like Sidewalk when he lived in New York City. Beck opened with well-known songs, “Devils Haircut” and “The New Pollution,” and over the course of his 19-song set, he touched upon nine of his albums. These songs often injected clever wit and polished pop-art collages of many contemporary musical genres. While Beck’s albums crossed many genres when they were first released, performed with a pumping band as a retrospective these once-eclectic songs were synchronized harmoniously in sound and feel. Beck’s often extended chatter between songs also helped mitigate any abrupt changes in musical style. Midway through the set, Beck invited on stage Spoon vocalist Britt Daniel for two songs, and then opener Jenny Lewis joined Beck first for the rarely-performed “Girl Dreams” and returned for the encore. Beck closed his show with a 21-minute encore that wrapped his 1996 hit “Where It’s At” around band introductions and snippets of classics mostly by New York artists. Beck’s light pop performance was a surprise-filled and pleasing synthesis for his long time fans.
Acid Dad/Mercury Lounge/July 19, 2018
Guitarist/vocalist Vaughn Hunt took piano lessons at age 13 before switching to guitar. Based in Brooklyn, NY, he started a band, at first called Twincest, in 2014. He met Sean Fahey, who started playing guitar at age three and wrote his first song at age four. Hunt recruited Fahey, initially to play bass, and changed the band name to Acid Dad in 2015. Fahey is now a guitarist again, JP Basileo is the bassist, and Trevor Mustoe is the band’s new drummer. Acid Dad released an 11-track self-titled debut album on March 9, 2018.
At Mercury Lounge, Acid Dad scored with a set of songs that through repetitious riffs or melodies turned shoegaze songs into rock ragers. The spine of each song sounded like it was born in the Television/Talking Heads/B-52’s era. Hunt’s affectless, nearly monotone vocals initiated a dirge-like foundation. Ringing guitar hooks leaned towards a psychedelic template, as their recurrence crafted an escalating intensity. The instrumental portions then soared with chugging guitar-driven dynamics, droning into a cold, hazy abyss. The relentless bass lines and percussive rhythms were so strong and the guitar chords so vibrant and vigorous that they produced an engulfing, hypnotic groove that demanded respect and response. Fair warning: Acid Dad has the potential to melt your brain.