Born in New York City and raised in Libertyville, Ill., a 13-year-old Tom Morello sang in his first band, a Led Zeppelin cover band, and purchased his first guitar. Around 1984, Morello started studying the guitar seriously and formed a band called the Electric Sheep, featuring future Tool guitarist Adam Jones on bass. After high school, Morello moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a stripper named Tom “Meat Swinger” Morello, and played in a band called Lock Up. In 1991, Morello met vocalist Zack de la Rocha, and the two founded Rage against the Machine. In 2000, after four albums, de la Rocha quit the band. The remaining members formed Audioslave with then-former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and released three albums. Rage against the Machine reunited in 2007 and 2011. In the meantime, Morello developed his solo folk project, the Nightwatchman, and briefly led a hip-hop collaboration called the Street Sweeper Social Club. Most recently, he formed Prophets of Rage in 2016 with members of Rage against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. Morello released a solo album, The Atlas Underground, on Oct. 12, 2018.
Perhaps many anticipated a concert when Tom Morello brought The Atlas Underground Experience to le Poisson Rouge. Instead, Morello promoted his forthcoming album with a nearly three-hour program that had no band and very little live music. The evening began with an animated and eloquent Morello passionately sharing his journey chronologically in an interview setting with the help of vintage photographs and demonstrations of how he developed his riffs. Afterwards, Morello introduced the audience to the first-ever listening of his new album, as he introduced each song with commentary on its origin. Finally, Morello strapped on a guitar to play three songs. The night ended with much of the audience on stage with him, providing the vocals as he shred on Rage against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name.” Morello fashioned a career introspective into a unique and immersive experience, a personalized, inside look at one of rock’s most exciting rock guitarists. The presentation was thoroughly interesting and engaging, leading the listeners to crave more deeply a full concert by Morello.
Willie Nile/City Winery/Oct. 3, 2018
Willie Nile (born Robert Noonan in Buffalo, NY) came from a musical family — his grandfather led a local orchestra and was a vaudeville pianist, his uncles played boogie woogie, and two older brothers played piano. The youth learned to play the piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he wrote his first rock and roll song. While in college, he wrote poetry and started to take guitar playing seriously, and during the summers he frequented New York City’s hootenanny clubs. After college, Nile took an apartment in Greenwich Village in order to immerse himself in New York City’s singer-songwriter circuit, but he also gravitated to the emerging punk rock scene on the east side of town. Inspired by both folk and rock streams, his early albums yielded comparisons to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Nile’s career soon was abruptly curtailed when contractual complications prevented him from releasing new music for the next nine years. Nile’s recordings have become more frequent in recent years, and he released his 12th studio album, Children of Paradise, on July 27, 2018.
Willie Nile is confident about the value of his new album. In a daring move, he started his set at City Winery by performing all 12 tracks, then followed with seven older songs and three covers. Indeed, the risk paid off. Backed by lead guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, and drummer Jon Webber, Nile performed a blistering set that was perhaps his finest New York gig in several years. The new lyrics struggled with a complicated new world: some of the lyrics clearly rattled with unrest, others were more obtuse, but they fueled with a raging fire and guts deluxe. The older songs drew out the essence of Nile’s New York-based character, and the Velvet Underground and Ramones covers at the end accentuated that dynamic. Throughout, the band played a muscular and energetic backing, driving the rocking songs to their summit. Willie, come back and do it again.
Aligns/The Map Room at the Bowery Electric/Oct. 4, 2018
Vocalist/guitarist Jacques Barbot formed Aligns in 2010 from a studio project he began in 2009 as part of his sound engineering studies. In order to perform his music live, Barbot recruited bassist SoshiUchida and drummer Mark Bell. The band, based in Brooklyn, New York, played local rock clubs and at Union Square. Uchida returned home to Japan in 2014, and the trio became a duo. Forging forward, Aligns was among the winners of Afropunk’s “Battle of the Bands” in 2015. Aligns’ fifth and most recent album, Brooklyn, was released on April 29, 2017.
Performing at the Map Room at the Bowery Electric, Aligns was more than simply vocals, guitar and drums. Aligns performed raw, aggressive music that sourced metal, classic rock, grunge, shoe gaze, funk and more. Barbot erupted with wild energy, raucously playing dirty riffs and gritty leads replete with fuzz, reverb and other effects, and to his right Bell pounded relentlessly, viciously and explosively. Together, they locked into muddy grooves that were abrasive yet magnetic. This music may never make it to the mainstream, but there is quite likely a larger audience eager to embrace this innovative duo.
Jorma Kaukonen/City Winery/Oct. 5, 2018
During his childhood in Washington D.C., Jorma Kaukonen and his family also lived in Pakistan, the Philippines and other locales following his father’s career in the State Department. The young Kaukonen was devoted to rock-and-roll in late 1950s and early 1960s, but soon afterwards developed a love for the blues and bluegrass. He learned to play roots music on guitar and with his guitarist friend, Jack Casady, formed a band called The Triumphs. Kaukonen then learned to play fingerstyle on his guitar in the style of Reverend Gary Davis. Kaukonen relocated to New York City, then traveled overseas, settling in 1962 in San Francisco, where he performed in coffeehouses until he joined the new band Jefferson Airplane in 1965. When the band’s original bass player was fired, Kaukonen recommended his friend, who still lived in Washington D.C., and Jack Casady joined Jefferson Airplane. In 1969, Kaukonen and Casady formed a side band, Hot Tuna, which outlasted Jefferson Airplane’s demise in 1972. He also led a hard rock band called Vital Parts from 1979 to 1982. All along the way, Kaukonen also performed solo, and began recording solo albums in 1974. His 12th and most recent solo album, Ain’t in No Hurry, was released in 2015.
At City Winery, Jorma Kaukonen played acoustic guitar like few can. Accompanying himself only with six strings for two full sets, he finger-picked his axe like the old-time blues players prior to the age of electric rock ‘n’ roll. On every song, most of which were cover songs at least a half century old, he played lick after impressive lick, not in an attempt to discover something new but to explore more deeply something vintage and classic. Hardly looking up, seated on a chair for the entire performance, there was no flash or posturing, just a collection of the best obscure roots songs and some mighty fine guitar picking. To appreciate the great young guitar players of today, one might investigate the road going back to the origin, and there is not better study of old times blues than watching Jorma Kaukonen song and play acoustic guitar.