Good Old War/The Bowery Ballroom/Dec. 21, 2018
Vocalists/guitarists Keith Goodwin and Tim Arnold grew up in Bucks County, Pa., and recorded several EPs in a band called Days Away. Around 2005, the band dissolved and Arnold began playing with former Unlikely Cowboy drummer/accordionist Dan Schwartz from nearby Cheltenham. Goodwin eventually approached the pair about backing him on some solo dates. They performed covers at Philadelphia-area bars and backed Circa Survive‘s Anthony Green in the studio and on tour. Composing songs and developing three-part harmonies, Goodwin, Arnold, and Schwartz in 2008 became Good Old War, creating the band name from portions of the three musicians’ surnames. Arnold left the band in 2014 to move to Atlanta, Georgia, raise a family, and gain sobriety, and rejoined the band in 2016. After four albums and two EPS, Good Old War recorded a three-part series of EPs; the most recent entry, Part of Us, was released on Dec. 7, 2018.
Good Old War headlined at the Bowery Ballroom, effusively marrying folk and pop into a celebratory sound. Long on bubbly bounce and charismatic charm, the trio’s light Americana music reverberated joy-filled and worry-free states of being, even though the lyrics were not all celebratory. The natural setbacks of human life seemed to become the ushers of optimism in the world of Good Old War. Whimsical arrangements, light melodies and tight vocal harmonies provided the wavelengths that carried the positive sentiments. For the encore, the three vocalists harmonized from the center of the audience, backed by only Arnold’s acoustic guitar. Maybe Good Old War is the antidote needed during troubled times.
Barry Ryan/Parkside Lounge/Dec. 22, 2018
Rockabilly band Levi and the Rockats formed in 1977 in Essex, England, and soon relocated to New York City. Lead singer Levi Dexter left the band in 1979, and the remaining members became the Rockats. Guitarist Barry Ryan, who had played in a blues rock band called Tramp and a punk band called the Victims, joined the Rockats that same year. The Rockats charted on MTV and played on television’s American Bandstand, and split in 1984. In 1983, Ryan had formed Lucky 7 as a side project, playing a mix of rock ‘n’ roll and zydeco on the local circuit until 1992. Ryan then formed the Blue Diamonds, but shortly thereafter the Rockats reformed, so Ryan rejoined his former band. He later formed Rockabilly Express and released two albums. While the Rockats are in hiatus, Ryan plays with his own combo and periodically in Robert Gordon‘s band. Ryan released his sole solo album, And God Said Let There Be Rockabilly, in 2008.
Apfel/Krebs/Simone Presents book a monthly rock ‘n’ roll event called The Endless Party at the Parkside Lounge. The “Holiday Bash” included a rare performance by Barry Ryan and his band (bassist Jerry Scaringe and drummer Ira Kaye). The bulk of Ryan’s set consisted of covers of vintage rockabilly songs, including some obscurities, but also included at least three originals, “Rock and Roll Radio”, “Love You Anyway,” and “Bandito,” which was an instrumental. The band’s interpretations of the borrowed songs were not so much centered on rockabilly’s traditional wobble and twang, but on the intricacy and textures of the speedy, reverb-soaked guitar work within the genre. Ryan sang, but the bulk of each song pivoted on his guitar leads and the splendid interplay of his rhythm section. Despite the lack of a strong vocal presence leading the music, the musical arrangements left no doubt that this was a rockabilly show; Ryan proved to be a fine student of his craft, capturing the genre’s uniqueness and dynamics in an exciting live environment.
Sirsy/The Bitter End/Dec. 27, 2018
Sirsy started as a rock quartet in 2000 in Albany, N.Y. In short time, Sirsy’s ranks whittled to the duo of vocalist/drummer Melanie Krahmer and guitarist Rich Libutti, who would eventually marry. The name Sirsy came from a childhood nickname of Krahmer, whose younger sister had difficulty pronouncing “sister.” Sirsy has never had a major recording contract, yet the band records and tours relentlessly, in 2017 performing 218 times in 38 states and covering more than 62,000 miles. In April 2018, however, Krahmer was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine MRI — she was first diagnosed in 2010 — and had a bilateral mastectomy in June. She defeated cancer a second time and is back on the road.
Doctor’s orders demanded Sirsy stop touring for the first time in years, but the duo was back in full form at the Bitter End as the little band with the big sound. Krahmer stood center stage behind her drum kit, pounding the rhythms as she belted blues-inspired, groove-oriented modern rock songs. On her left, Libutti played cutting guitar licks through a pedal board loaded with vintage effects. The songs needed a thick bottom, so on some songs Krahmer played bass lines by hitting a drum stick on a keyboard mounted on her drums. On other songs, Libutti played bass pedals with his feet. On the surface, the songs were anthemic pop tunes, but underneath was a pair of imaginative and very talented musicians who accomplished far more than bands with many more feet, hands and fingers.
Phish/Madison Square Garden/Dec. 28, 2018
Phish formed as Blackwood Convention in 1983 by four college students in Burlington, Vt., but the band initially had a rocky start. After only a couple of shows, guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio was suspended from school following a prank he had pulled with a friend, putting the band on hiatus for about a year. During the suspension, Anastasio returned to his hometown of Princeton, N.J., and wrote songs. He returned to Burlington in late 1984 and resumed playing with Blackwood Convention, soon renamed Phish. The jam band’s regional quickly spread throughout New England, eventually going global, by word of mouth, the exchange of live recordings, and sales of over 8 million albums and DVDs. The current line-up — Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell — performed together for 15 years before going on hiatus in 2000. The band resumed touring in 2002, disbanded in 2004, and reunited in 2009. The band’s 16th and most recent studio album is 2016’s Big Boat.
Bigger than Phish’s return to Madison Square Garden tonight (the band’s 57th concert there, and the first in a series of four that concludes on New Year’s Eve) was the fan culture that absorbed more than listened to the music. Moments of improvisational greatness were often followed by extended shoegaze non-events, and yet the sea of swaying bodies throughout the arena never missed a beat. When the stage lights brightened, the cheering soared and glow sticks sailed through the air. The set consisted of mostly songs from the 1990s, allowing for fresh jams to fill the extensive spaces between lyrics. The first set was noticeably mellower than the second, which peaked several times on high-energy summits. The band played 21 songs over the course of three hours, and with a late start and an intermission, the happy audience left about midnight, many ready to return for more the following three nights.