At age 12, Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz moved with his large family from a secluded rural culture in western Massachusetts to a vibrant urban community in Oakland, Calif. Shortly after experiencing street life, he bounced between foster homes and began selling drugs. Inspired to teach himself to play music, he snuck into music classrooms at a nearby university despite not being a student there. By age 20, he had taught himself to play every instrument he could get his hands on. A near-death encounter with masked gunmen propelled him to relocate to Los Angeles, carrying a demo of his original music. In 1996, he released a rhythm and blues album under the mononym Xavier to little success. In 1999, he was in a near-fatal car crash, which left him in a coma for three weeks. He endured months of grueling physical therapy to regain use of his legs, but a mutilated playing hand seemingly signaled the end of his musical goals. He eventually returned to Oakland, planted vegetables, raised his own chickens, and generated an income by growing and selling marijuana. In 2014, at age 45, he returned to music and reinvented himself as Fantastic Negrito, playing his interpretation of black roots music on street corners and subway stations. He won NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2015 and the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2017. Fantastic Negrito released his third and most recent album, Please Don’t Be Dead, on June 15, 2018.
Fantastic Negrito has grown more comfortable and confident as a performer, as demonstrated at S.O.B.’s. His roots-based music has become less definable in genre and he has taken more liberties spicing his songs with curious story-like introductions and mid-song narratives. Backed by guitarist Tomas Salcedo, keyboardist Bryan C. Simmons, and drummer Darian P. Gray (the bassist was missing from this performance), Negrito’s set recalled old-time blues, but it broke out of the cage like a raging lion on nearly every song. Negrito sang with a big voice and narrated with an equally big personality. Although raised as a Muslim, he showed all the swagger of a Pentecostal preacher in high gear, moving in cadence with the music all over the small stage and driving the hip-shaking songs to maximum energy. Many of the lyrics wrapped around insightful social commentary about living out hard times, and the urgent impact of his rocking ensemble made the potent message feel desperate and even explosive. The arrangements borrowed from funk, folk, rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop, anything to build more dynamics into the songs. If this edgy mix of music was the blues, then it ranged from sky blue to midnight blue and many shades in between.
Fever High/The Bowery Electric/August 23, 2018
Brooklyn-based vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Anna Nordeen and Reni Lane separately released albums under their own names in the past few years. Adam Schlesinger of power-pop quartet Fountains of Wayne invited Nordeen to sing on demos for songs he was writing for other artists. He then played “That’s So Typical” for her and invited her if she wanted to start a “Bananarama/Tom Tom Club-type” band with him. They recruited Lane and percussionist Brad Wentworth, and Fever High was born. Fever High released an EP in 2015 and a debut album, FHNY, on Nov. 10, 2017.
On the surface, Fever High’s performance at the Bowery Electric seemed to pivot on Nordeen and Lane’s unison vocals. Singing lyrics that humorously articulated teenage-like obsessions with boys, social media and identity, Nordeen and Lane fanned the girly experience with vocals reminiscent of the Waitresses, the Go-Go’s and other 1980s female-led pop groups. The free-spirited heart of the songs, however, was Schlesinger and Wentworth’s sparse synthesizer and drums accompaniment, which wrapped and amped retro new-wave electro-pop melodies. The show was playfully perky and colorfully campy, and might click well both with pop and cabaret audiences.
The Dead Daisies/The Highline Ballroom/August 28, 2018
David Lowy played rhythm guitar in pub bands in his native Sydney, Australia, but spent most of his adult life as a successful business investor. In 2013, he co-founded the first line-up of the Dead Daisies, a collective of rotating musicians, to play classic rock-sounding original songs. Lowy has been the Dead Daisies’ sole consistent and perhaps least known member, but solidly and successfully has maintained his vision of replacing departing members with seasoned rockers. The present personnel consist of Lowy, vocalist John Corabi (Mötley Crüe/The Scream), lead guitarist Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake/Dio), bassist Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy/Whitesnake), and drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey, Bad English). The Dead Daisies’ fourth studio album, Burn It Down, was released on April 6, 2018.
The Dead Daisies did not exist until decades after the classic hard rock era of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but at the Highline Ballroom, the band impressively mastered that epic vintage sound. Hard rocking songs, powered by sharp vocals, clear melodies, bluesy riffs, sizzling guitar work, and big choruses, the music had a familiar and even nostalgic sound, and yet the band’s high-energy performance made it very present. Along with original songs from the Dead Daisies albums, the band sprinkled cover songs over the nearly two-hour set because, as Corabi explained to the audience, the musicians are fans of classic rock as well. These songs included Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Fortunate Son”, the Rolling Stones‘ “Bitch” and the Beatles‘ “Helter Skelter”. Each band member demonstrated matured skills from years of playing hard rock music, and so the individual musicianship was dazzling and the unified ensemble playing folded flawlessly together. For the encore, the band membership temporarily expanded to include the opener, keyboardist Dizzy Reed of Guns N Roses, who had been a member of the Dead Daisies from 2013 to 2016. “Once a Daisy, always a Daisy”, commented Corabi.
The Plimsouls/The Bowery Electric/August 29, 2018
After leaving the Nerves, whose 1976 single “Hangin’ on the Telephone” was later popularized by Blondie, vocalist/guitarist Peter Case formed the Tone Dogs, which became the Plimsouls. The Plimsouls started as a power pop trio in 1978 in Paramount, California, and shortly before recording an EP in 1980 the band added lead guitarist Eddie Munoz of the Skunks, a band from Austin, Texas. The Plimsouls achieved regional popularity first, then national popularity in 1983 when the song “A Million Miles Away” was included on ValleyGirl‘s motion picture soundtrack. Case then left the band to pursue a solo career, effectively ending the Plimsouls until a variation of the band recorded a little-noticed album in 1996. Munoz periodically assembles a touring band to play the Plimsouls’ music. The current band consists of Munoz, vocalist/guitarist Richard Dev Greene (Pale Moon Gang, Palmyra Delran), bassist Cait O’Riordan (The Pogues, Bitchface), and drummer Florent Barbier (The Road Runners, Ivan Julian). The Plimsouls’ most recent album, Beach Town Confidential, recorded live in 1983, was released in 2012.
The Plimsouls returned to the Bowery Electric, and did right by the brand’s legacy. Deriving the set principally from the Plimsouls’ first two albums, the band brought life to the 35-year-old songs. Slicker than the initial versions, the songs were now more polished guitar-led pop than the original garage rockers. Greene was an animated front person, keeping the visual element lively, and Munoz offered exuberant guitar blasts to electrify the old catalogue. The encore was different, however, with O’Riordan first singing the Pogues’ “Haunted” and then the band covering Iggy Pop‘s “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Thirty-five years later, the music of the Plimsouls is still all about rock ‘n’ roll.