Manhattan Beat: The Nuclears, Kris Kristofferson, Snow Patrol, World/Inferno Friendship Society

The Nuclears/Coney Island Baby/April 26, 2019

Two guitarist-vocalist brothers, Brian Dudolevitch and Mike Dudolevitch, formed the Nuclears in 2003 in Washington D.C. In 2004, the band won the local semi-finals in Little Steven’s Underground Garage Battle of the Bands but was quickly disqualified when the promoter learned that Mike Dudolevitch was a minor, making the band ineligible to compete. Had the promoter not learned of this, the Nuclears would have received $6,000 worth of musical equipment and an opportunity to compete at New York’s Irving Plaza against finalists from eight other cities. In 2007, the Nuclears came to New York City anyway, relocating to Brooklyn and recruiting new musicians over time. The band presently consists of the brothers Dudolevitch, vocalist Briana Layon, bassist Bobby Sproles, and drummer Kevin Blatchford. The Nuclears released a third album, Barrage Rock, on April 26, 2019.

The Nuclears celebrated the release of the new album with a performance at Coney Island Baby. The band was perhaps more inclined to a power punk sound in years past, but over time has closed in on a more refined classic rock ‘n’ roll bent, rife with big power chords and loud guitar solos. Rooted in vintage hard rock, only dirtier and grittier, the band found its way past standard clichés to blast its way to fresh punk and blues-inspired movers and shakers. Rotating between three vocalists, the band grounded its songs on lyrics and melody, but then stepping back from the microphones midway through the songs, the musicians charged into rough and tumbled ragers, ultimately finding their way back to closing choruses. Versatility? The Nuclears sealed the performance with a closing tongue-in-cheek country mocker, “New York City Blows.” Start to finish, this was good time rock ‘n’ roll party music.

Kris Kristofferson & the Strangers/City Winery/April 27, 2019

Born in Brownsville, Texas, Kris Kristofferson moved frequently as a child, following his father’s military assignments, finally settling in San Mateo, California. There he first experienced fame when he appeared in Sports Illustrated‘s “Faces in the Crowd” for his achievements in collegiate rugby, football, and track and field. Earning a Rhodes Scholarship, Kristofferson studied at Oxford, where he unsuccessfully launched a music career. Under pressure from his family, Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army and became a helicopter pilot. In 1965, Kristofferson was assigned to teach English literature at West Point, but he decided to leave the military and pursue songwriting in Nashville; his family disowned him because of his career decision. While working as a janitor at a recording studio, he met June Carter and asked her to give his demo tape to her husband, Johnny Cash, to little avail. Kristofferson soon gained Cash’s attention by landing a helicopter on Cash’s front yard. Cash recorded Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” leading to Kristofferson winning Songwriter of the Year at the Country Music Awards, the first of many industry awards. Kristofferson’s peak music years in the nineteen-seventies helped redefine country songwriting and led to a flourishing career as an actor in more than 70 films. Starting in 1985, Kristofferson had a brief resurgence when he joined Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash in the country music supergroup The Highwaymen, firmly establishing the outlaw country music movement. Although Kristofferson gained more fame as an actor than as a recording artist, his songs have been recorded by other artists an estimated 450 times. The three-time Grammy winner has recorded 29 albums; his most recent studio album is 2016’s The Cedar Creek Sessions. He lives in Malibu, California, with a residence in Maui, Hawaii.

Almost 50 years after the release of his debut album, Kristofferson performed many of his earliest songs at City Winery, including 10 of the 12 songs on his first album. In recent years, Kristofferson has performed many of his concerts solo and acoustic. This time he brought for backup the late Merle Haggard’s band, the Strangers (Merle’s guitarist sons Ben Haggard and Noel Haggard, keyboardist Doug Colosio, fiddler Scott Joss, and drummer Jim Christie), and he and his musicians took turns singing six Haggard songs. For two sets over two hours, Kristofferson sang, played guitar and harmonics on 30 songs, hardly speaking or even moving. At 82 years of age, Kristofferson’s songs took on a different perspective from when he was country music’s outlaw rebel; the keen narratives about heartaches, hard living, and hangovers now took on a sage’s wisdom. His once husky and forceful vocals were softer and yet still as passionate as ever. The band did a fine job bringing spark and body to the songs. One of his few newer songs of the evening, “Feeling Mortal,” acknowledged that he is in the latter stages of his life. Nevertheless, his presentation of his body of work was as tasteful and classy as ever.

Snow Patrol/Terminal 5/April 30, 2019

Vocalist/guitarist Gary Lightbody co-founded the band Shrug in 1994 in Dundee, Scotland. In 1996, after releasing an EP, the band changed its name to Polar Bear (or Polarbear) to avoid issues with American bands that were also named Shrug. Polarbear also released an EP, but for the same legal reasons changed its name again to Snow Patrol in 1997, and relocated to Glasgow, Scotland, and then Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1999, Irish music magazine Hot Press awarded Snow Patrol the Phil Lynott Award for Best New Band, but early album sales were minimal. Initially an indie rock band, the band rose to prominence in the early to mid-aughts as part of the post-Britpop movement. The band has sold more than 16 million records worldwide. Snow Patrol released its seventh and most recent album, Wildness, on May 25, 2018. The band presently consists of Lightbody, guitarist Nathan Connolly, keyboardist/guitarist Johnny McDaid, bassist Paul Wilson, and drummer Jonny Quinn.

Snow Patrol headlined Terminal 5 realizing that most of the local fans did not see the tour preview at Irving Plaza a year ago or the abbreviated summer stadium shows where the band opened for Ed Sheeran. The house lights extinguished, a huge snowflake graphic appeared behind the musical equipment, and the musicians marched on to perform “Take Back the City,” a fine ode to urban life which rallied the audience with lines like “I love this city.” This led to a retrospective of the Snow Patrol catalog, including sing-alongs on some of the most popular songs and an unplanned fan request, “You Could Be Happy.” The tone was mellow, peaceful, and pensive. Lightbody’s engaging vocals smoothly introduced convincing sensitivity and vulnerability, and the well-rehearsed musicians embraced the intrinsic beauty of each lyric and melody. If anything, the music was perhaps a bit too clean and safe. Harmonies added pop dynamics amidst an almost total avoidance of the guitar solos which would have rocked the songs. The set was middle-of-the-road pop fare but loaded with authentic passion and integrity.

World/Inferno Friendship Society/Mercury Lounge/April 30, 2019

As a teenager, Peter Ventantonio sold newspaper subscriptions in his hometown of Bridgewater, New Jersey, and spent the money at the all-ages punk shows at a nearby university. A few years later, he was involved in the budding New Brunswick music scene, playing in the bands Sticks and Stones and P.E.D. He then reinvented himself as Jack Terricloth and relocated to Brooklyn, New York, and chauffeured Sly Stone in the early 1990s while developing the concept that in 1996 would become the World/Inferno Friendship Society. Terricloth, the band’s sole on-going member, leads the World/Inferno Friendship Society (also referred to as “World Inferno” or “Inferno”) as a collective of interchanging musicians. The World/Inferno Friendship Society’s seventh and most recent album is 2014’s This Packed Funeral; a forthcoming album, All Borders Are Porous to Cats, has been delayed for more than a year and is expected to be released in 2019.

Featuring nine musicians, the World/Inferno Friendship Society headlined at Mercury Lounge as part of the venue’s 25th anniversary celebration. On the surface, Terricloth’s colorful and jovial character led both the band and the audience in a night of party revelry and theatrical-like pageantry. Under the surface, the horns, accordion, violin, keyboard, and guitar weaved raw yet complex anything-goes arrangements that rocked and bounced with sounds borrowed from punk, funk, big band, Dixieland, klezmer, polka, and circus music. It was as if Frank Zappa had joined Gogol Bordello. The good-time spirit was big, fat, and fast, frequently propelling audience members to slam dance and crowd surf. More than likely, you will not hear wild music quite like this until the next time this collective performs in your town.