Manhattan Beat – O.A.R., Cake, & More!

O.A.R./SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield/August 13, 2018

    Vocalist/guitarist Marc Roberge, drummer Chris Culos, guitarist Richard On, and bassist Benj Gershman formed the nucleus of O.A.R. (abbreviated from “Of a Revolution”) in 1996 while attending high school in Rockville, Md. Upon graduating, the four enrolled in the same university in Columbus, Ohio, where they met saxophonist/guitarist Jerry DePizzo of Youngstown, Ohio; he joined the band in 2000. O.A.R. started as a jam band and encouraged their audiences to record and share the performances. Over the years, the band evolved into a more traditional pop rock band, although live many songs continue to feature extended instrumental breaks. O.A.R. has sold more than 1.2 million albums. The band’s eighth and most recent album is 2014’s The Rockville LP.

    WWE wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque and his wife, wrestling personality Stephanie McMahon, introduced O.A.R. at SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield tonight; the concert benefitted Connor’s Cure, a pediatric cancer research charity found by Levesque and McMahon. O.A.R. has not had a new studio album in four years, but thousands of New York fans have remained loyal, demonstrated by the nearly full venue. Joined by touring keyboardist Mikel Paris, a saxophonist and a trumpet player, O.A.R. performed a retrospective, with songs from each album. The band balanced pop with reggae, ska, and jam band influences, giving the horn section ample opportunity to re-dress the arrangements. The engine was the uplifting lyrics that united the diverse catalogue and the propeller was the good-time vibe with which the songs were executed. The surprise of the evening was the encore, when Roberge introduced rapper DMC and the band backed DMC on his version of Aerosmith‘s “Walk This Way”.


Cake/Forest Hills Stadium/August 17, 2018

    Vocalist John McCrea spent most of the 1980s performing solo or in bands including John McCrea & the Roughousers in his native Sacramento, Calif. In the late 1980s, McCrea moved to Los Angeles with a band, but the band disintegrated and McCrea played solo acoustic in coffeehouses for a few years before returning to Sacramento. There, in 1991, he formed the concept for Cake as an antithesis to the growing grunge movement. He recruited trumpet player Vince DiFiore and other musicians from Sacramento’s coffeehouse circuit and Cake became a fixture of the alternative music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cake presently consists of McCrea, DiFiore, lead guitarist Xan McCurdy, bassist Daniel McCallum, and drummer Todd Roper. On Aug. 3, 2018, Cake released “Sinking Ship”, the lead single from its upcoming, as-yet-untitled, seventh studio album.

    Cake built its career on creatively quirky music, and the band remained faithful to this mission at Forest Hills Stadium tonight. Performing original songs from four of its six album and covering a wide range, from Desi Arnaz’s 1948 hit, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps”, to Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, the band proved to be as eccentric as ever. These renditions were not necessarily performed well, but came stamped with the weirdness seal of approval. Throughout the performance, the band tapped into punk, funk, country waltz, lounge music, and hip hop, teamed with zany lyrics and airy, playful arrangements. McCrea’s flat vocals and frequent rattlesnake-sounding vibra-slaps countered by DiFiore’s brassy trumpet solos added to the oddity. McCrea’s error, however, was that though he noted midway through the set that he saw lightning in the distance and subsequently was informed that the performance would be cut short, he nevertheless blabbed extensively between songs and engaged the audience in tedious singalongs. The concert indeed was terminated early due to the threat of an approaching thunderstorm.


Michael McDonald/Pier 17 Rooftop/August 21, 2018

    While in high school in Ferguson, Miss., Michael McDonald played in several local bands. Hoping to further a career in music while in a band called Blue, he moved in 1970 to Los Angeles. In 1974, McDonald became a member of Steely Dan‘s touring and studio band, singing and playing keyboards. The Doobie Brothers recruited McDonald in 1975, initially as a temporary replacement when primary vocalist Tom Johnston became ill during a national tour. McDonald’s work with the Doobie Brothers proved so successful that the band retained him as a full-time member. From then on, McDonald sang the lead vocals on some of the Doobie Brothers’ best-known songs. The Doobie Brothers announced a farewell tour, and McDonald became a solo artist, recording his first solo album in 1982. For his work both with the Doobie Brothers and with James Ingram, McDonald has won five Grammy Awards. He released his ninth and most recent solo album, Wide Open, on Sept. 15, 2017. McDonald now resides in Santa Barbara, Calif.

    Promoting his first album of original songs in 17 years, Michael McDonald headlined at the new Rooftop at Pier 17. For nearly two hours McDonald sang and played piano and guitar, accompanied by vocalist Drea Rheneé, guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle, keyboardist Pat Coil, saxophonist Mark Douthit, bassist Jacob Lowery, and drummer Dan Needham. Although McDonald did not play all his hits, he played enough of them, and interspersed with newer songs, escorted the audience alternatingly between intentional listening and chanting along to familiar choruses. McDonald’s distinctively throaty voice charmed with a soulful ache, especially since many of his lyrics dwelled on bruised relationships, and his jazz-rooted band added muscular solos to the “quiet storm” mood of the rhythm and blues-based compositions. McDonald recorded a duet with the late Aretha Franklin in 1991, so fittingly, his set included a cover of her “Ain’t No Way”. The concert was a sophisticated and classy event from start to finish, even when rain started to fall during his three-song tribute to Motown Records during the encore.


King’s X/Sony Hall/August 22, 2018

    Bassist Doug (“dUg”) Pinnick and drummer Jerry Gaskill met in 1979 in Springfield, Miss., where they were supposed to take part in a musical project coordinated by Greg X. Volz of the rock band Petra. The project rapidly folded, and Pinnick and Gaskill soon became the rhythm section for guitarist Phil Keaggy‘s live band. Gaskill, Pinnick, and guitarist Ty Tabor later played together in a quartet called the Edge, but by 1983 the three became a trio named Sneak Preview and recorded an album. In 1985, Sneak Preview relocated to Houston, Texas, and became the backup band for Morgan Cryer. Afterwards, Sneak Preview transitioned from radio-friendly rock originals to a more experimental and complex songwriting style and adopted the name King’s X. In 2012, Gaskill suffered a major heart attack, temporarily stopping the band’s touring schedule. Upon his recovery, the band resumed touring until Gaskill suffered another heart attack in 2014, requiring him to undergo double-bypass surgery. In mid-2015, the band returned to the road. King’s X released its eleventh and most recent studio album, XV, in 2008.

Over the past 30 years, the New York audience for King’s X has remained about the same size, but this is a loyal lot that faithfully fawns over the band’s blend of bluesy vocals, heavy-bottomed bass riffs, bright guitar leads and bombastic drum patterns. At Sony Hall, King’s X provided countless justifications for the fans’ reverence of the band’s melodic cohesion brewed from tasty funk, metal and progressive rock ingredients. King’s X blended these core elements so cleanly that the band did not fit any of the above genres. Many of the lyrics dwelled on spiritual themes and higher meanings, but many others were simplistic hooks for complex musical arrangements. Together, the contributions of the three musicians was innovatively extraordinary. Even as the trio searches for the secrets of the skies, why on earth is this band not hugely known?