Of Clocks and Clouds/Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2/Dec. 28, 2018
Born and bred in Brooklyn, Joe Salgo began teaching himself to play guitar at age 12. During his high school years, he played in his first band, the punk rocking Wastebaskets. While playing in bands after college, he began exploring with electronic sounds and began writing songs for what would become Of Clocks and Clouds with drummer Ross Procaccio in 2013. The band presently also includes bassist Max Devlin and keyboardist Dylan DeFeo. The band’s second and most recent album is 2016’s Better Off.
As a psychedelic electronic jam band, Of Clocks and Clouds is an adept name for this quartet. Performing a late-night Phish post-party at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2, Of Clocks and Clouds’ steady grooves ticked with precision, yet the jazzy improvisations were atmospheric jams. Salgo sang lyrics to frame several of the compositions, but large portions of each song were devoted to guitar-wailing and jamtronica-sailing interludes. Some songs were more melodic, other strived for a more high-tech sound, and a lot of it sounded like jazz fusion with a hook. The musicians were very present to the moment, giving the impression that no two Of Clocks and Clouds performances would ever be exactly the same. Of Clocks and Clouds has gained a jam band audience, but the music is far more than that.
Gov’t Mule/The Beacon Theatre/Dec. 29, 2018
Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, Warren Haynes began playing guitar at age 12. In 1980, at age 20, he joined David Allan Coe‘s band for four years. Shortly after, Haynes worked with the Nighthawks, and began working with Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band in 1987. In 1989, The Allman Brothers Band reunited, and Betts recruited Haynes to join the band. In 1994, Haynes formed Gov’t Mule (pronounced Government Mule) as a side project during breaks from the Allman Brothers Band. Haynes left the Allman Brothers Band in 1997 to focus solely on the side project, but in 1999 joined Phil Lesh and Friends for three years and also rejoined the Allman Brothers Band from 2000 to the band’s breakup in 2014. Gov’t Mule presently consists of Haynes, keyboardist Danny Louis, bassist Jorgen Carlsson, and drummer Matt Abts. The band released its 10th and most recent studio album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, on June 9, 2017, although since then nearly every concert that Gov’t Mule has played was recorded and sold online.
Gov’t Mule brought its 20th anniversary tour to the Beacon Theatre for two nights, where the band typically plays on and before New Year’s Eve. The band performed old and new songs and a few covers, but it hardly mattered what song was being performed. Haynes sang sharply with bluesy gusto, but these brief lyrical structures largely proved to be simply launching pads for Haynes to wail on extended guitar solos and for the band to flesh out the jams. The sets largely pivoted on numerous hard riffing songs, but occasionally a sweeter, softer jam would land the plane, a fleeting reprieve while preparing for another high flying takeoff. Improvisational virtuosity fueled the performance, and local musicians Danny Draher, Oz Noy, Jimmy Vivino, and Paul Ill added to the fire by jamming with Gov’t Mule at different times during the night. The second set included the band’s recent single, “Stone Cold Rage,” inspired by the current political climate. Gov’t Mule followed that song on a lighter note with “Thorazine Shuffle,” featuring the Thorazine Shuffle Dancers, women from the audience who were invited to dance at stage right. Showing the band’s influences, the night ended with a cover of Derek & the Dominos‘ “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad.” Had Derek & the Dominos not split in 1971, the band might have come to sound like Gov’t Mule today.
Little Lesley & the Bloodshots/Otto’s Shrunken Head/Dec. 29, 2018
Lesley Swift is a farmer’s daughter from upstate New York who began playing piano and singing old-time country songs in backwoods bars at age eight. She moved on to guitar, wrote songs and played in traditional bands until she met her guitar-playing future husband, Brian Swift, in Nevada. He turned her on to rockabilly, she moved to upright bass, they relocated to New York City, and together formed a roots-rockabilly trio called the Bloodshots in 2012. Over the past two years, the Swifts relocated to Greenville, South Carolina, and the band personnel has been reworked without the hubby, who is pursuing other projects. Lesley reverted back to guitar, and the band has become a quartet renamed Little Lesley & the Bloodshots. The band’s second and most recent album, Heartbeat, was released Feb. 9, 2018.
Little Lesley & the Bloodshots returned to Otto’s Shrunken Head to perform at Phantom Creep Radio’s monthly Midnite Monster Hop. This time, the band featured Swift on vocals and acoustic guitar, Long-Island guitarist Johnny Cola, New Jersey bassist Jeff Feinberg, and New England drummer Jeremy Kroger. The new line-up maintained the Bloodshots tradition of smart and sassy rockabilly with a high-energy show. Whether or not it was intentional, the lighting was particularly bright on Swift and dark on the rest of the band, which emphasized Swift’s role as an accomplished singer/songwriter with a gift for twangy rock compositions. Though never in the spotlight, Cola in the background ripped brilliantly on reverb-soaked rockabilly licks. Concluding a fine set, Little Lesley had a treat for the band’s followers; Brian Swift was in the audience and so she invited him to come on stage and rock the guitar with his wild playing for the final songs. Welcome home, Little Lesley & the Bloodshots!
Handsome Dick Manitoba & the Wanderers/The Bowery Electric/Dec. 30, 2018
Is a comeback possible for a rocker whose history has gone so wrong so many times? Bronx-born Richard Blum, better known as Handsome Dick Manitoba, started a music career in 1973 as a roadie for the Dictators, a seminal punk rock band inspired by the Detroit rock style of the MC5 and the Stooges. He became the band’s lead singer in 1975, but in 1981, after three albums, the main songwriters left. In 1986, Manitoba along with some former Dictators formed Wild Kingdom, released a 1990 album as Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom, and then reformed as the Dictators in 1991. From 2004 to 2018, Manitoba hosted The Handsome Dick Manitoba Radio Program, and sporadically from 2005 to 2012, Manitoba fronted the reformed MC5. In 2012, he led a new band, Manitoba, which in 2013 became the Dictators NYC. In 2017, the band name reverted to Manitoba due to legal threats by ex-Dictators. In 2018, Manitoba was imprisoned on domestic violence charges, he was fired from his radio post for insensitive and politically incorrect rants, a rift developed between him and his most recent Dictators line-up, and his stake in Manitoba’s, the East Village bar he co-owns, has an uncertain future. Handsome Dick Manitoba‘s first solo album, Born in the Bronx, is pending release and he is hoping to launch a podcast series. Is there a road to success when so many bridges have been burned?
If anything, Handsome Dick Manitoba has proven to be a survivor. At the Bowery Electric, Manitoba performed with solid band of pickup musicians whose names he did not remember: guitarists Matt Langone (the Hipps Pipps, Gotham Rockets) and Mike Dudolevitch (the Nuclears), bassist Mike Dee (the Carvels NYC, the Thrill Sergeants), and drummer Joe Vincent (Gotham Rockets). Together, they played songs from throughout Manitoba’s catalog plus songs from his projected release. Known for his larger than life personality and lengthy off-the-cuff rambling between songs, the new band held back the reigns by starting a song if Manitoba spoke too long. Between songs, Manitoba perhaps over-shared some of his recent personal struggles, but interestingly framed them in an amusing or victorious light, and he sang with bursting energy while the band rocked. It may take a while for many of the locals to forgive Manitoba for some of his massive errors of late, but he has solid new songs and is a thoroughly enthralling entertainer, so in time a comeback very well may be possible.