Black Lips/The Liberty Belle Riverboat/July 27, 2018
Guitarist Cole Alexander and bassist Jared Swilley were expelled during their senior year in high school in Dunwoody, Georgia; they had developed a reputation for crude antics and after the Columbine Massacre in 1999 the school authorities regarded the duo as a “subculture danger.” That same year, they left a local band, Renegades, to form the garage band they would call Black Lips. Now the duo found stages and audiences for their music and their antics. Performances included not only a rough musical pastiche of blues, rock, doo-wop, country, and punk, but also vomiting (Alexander’s medical condition), urination, nudity, electric radio-controlled car races, fireworks, a chicken, flaming guitars and other unpredictable events. Black Lips’ eighth and most recent album, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, was released on May 5, 2017. The band presently consists of Alexander, Swilley, saxophonist Zumi Rosow, drummer Oakley Munson and new guitarist Jeffrey Clarke.
Perhaps the most shocking event of the concert aboard a Rocks Off! cruise on the Liberty Belle Riverboat was that Black Lips provided no shocking events. Comparatively, it was only a year ago that New York fans saw same-sex kissing, nudity, masturbation and urination during a Black Lips concert. Alexander and Swilley nevertheless led and fostered a calamitous dynamic, playing raucous cowpunk-inflected garage music that rocked the boat more than the post-storm current of the Hudson River. The songs often were led by a vocal melody and then punctuated with guitar and sax lines that occasionally drifted into the atonal zone. Brash and boisterous, these were raw and rowdy rock ‘n’ roll tunes, stripped of all finesse so that musicians and audience were moved by gritty guitars and a primal pulse. The more toned-down songs at their core resembled 1960s pop tunes, but with little attempt to polish the uproarious boom of each musician’s contribution. The intensity and immediacy of this clattering sound was abrasive yet compellingly exciting. The Black Lips set was noisy, clamorous and thoroughly engaging.
Locos por Juana/Bryant Park/August 1, 2018
Locos por Juana formed as a bilingual Latin band in 2000 in Miami. Vocalist Itawe Correa and drummer Javier Delgado were born in Colombia, guitarist Mark Kondrat is a Miami native of Colombian descent and bassist David Pransky is from Cabot, Vermont. Since its origins, the band’s mission has been to compose and perform original music blending Latin music and reggae with rock, funk and hip-hop. Locos por Juana’s fifth and most recent album is 2016’s Caribe.
Locos por Juana performed a free outdoor after-work concert as part of the Carnegie Hall Citywide Series at Bryant Park. For 45 minutes, the trees surrounding the stage seemed to turn into palm, citrus and mango trees as the band conjured a tropical fiesta of music and dance. The hybrid of sounds grew out of an Afro-Caribbean spine, but covered a wide range of rhythms including salsa, cumbia, reggae and ska and peppered them with splashes of rock guitar and hip-hop raps. The additional percussionist, keyboardist and two trombone players boosted the flavors. Multicultural and cosmopolitan, this uncommon mix sparked participation from an ethnically diverse audience, as listeners increasingly drew closer to the stage and danced to Locos por Juana’s exuberant polyrhythmic swing.
Against Me!/House of Vans/August 3, 2018
Laura Jane Grace was born in Fort Benning, Ga., and moved frequently between military bases due to her father’s military career. Living in Italy when she was 8 years old, Grace bought her first guitar from a mail order catalog with money saved from mowing lawns. Grace initially took guitar lessons from an army officer’s wife, but ended up teaching herself how to play. When she was 12 years old, Grace’s parents divorced, and Grace moved with her mother and brother to Naples, Fla. Grace played in numerous bands throughout her adolescence. Moving at age 18 to Gainesville, Fla., she began performing as Against Me!, either alone on an acoustic guitar or with a friend drumming on pickle buckets. Within a few years, Against Me! officially became a punk quartet. Against Me! presently consists of Grace, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and drummer Atom Willard. In 2012, Grace publicly came out as a transgender woman, a transition that was explored on the band’s 2014 album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The band’s seventh and most recent album, Shape Shift with Me, was released in 2016. Since 2013, Grace has lived in Chicago.
With no new Against Me! album to promote at the House of Vans‘ House Parties series, the band performed a retrospective featuring two to five songs from each of its seven albums. Launching with “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and “White Crosses,” Against Me! immediately established its true colors as an angry, anarchistic punk band. The band’s high-momentum punk slammed hard with hardly a pause. Every high-octane song was a massive adrenaline rush, with only a very few songs played at a toe-tapping pace. Gripping vocals, thrashing guitars, and anthemic choruses were tempered by melodic phrasing that generated shout-alongs, fist-pumping, moshing and crowd surfing from the audience. If anyone was looking for a modern punk rock experience, this was it. Relic/Stimulate/August 3, 2018
Cyanotic/Stimulate/August 3, 2018
Sean Payne started the industrial rock concept he called Cyanotic in 2002 in Chicago, with the intention of fusing traditional industrial beats and vocals with drum ‘n’ bass, sampling and heavy metal. He describes Cyanotic as an angry robot outfit, and his lyrics contain many tongue-in-cheek references to transhumanism, the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase. Cyanotic’s fourth and most recent album, Tech Noir, was released on Sept. 27, 2017.
Event promoter Xris SMack! books Stimulate, the most cutting edge parties for the New York area’s goth, darkwave and industrial communities. This month’s Stimulate headlined Cyanotic, comprised of Payne on vocals with the two members of Relic, Jordan Davis on keyboards and synthesizers and Dan Dickerscheid on drums, plus Jenny Anne Payne on synthesizers and programming. The three musicians matched Payne’s dark, coarse vocals with layers of aggressive electronic waves and fierce, crushing beats. The sonic assault was all aggression, borrowing the bold intensity of heavy metal to a grating, danceable rhythm that sounded more machine-like than human. Humans danced at the front of the stage, but in the future it may be all robots grooving to Cyanotic’s live performances.