Manhattan Beat: Duff McKagan, Tav Falco, Ian Hunter, Twenty One Pilots

Duff McKagan/Irving Plaza/June 3, 2019

Michael McKagan, better known as Duff McKagan, grew up in Seattle, where his brother taught him to play bass. In 1979, at age 15, McKagan formed the punk band the Vains, in which he played bass, and also played guitar in another punk band, the Living. In 1980, McKagan joined the pop-punk band the Fastbacks as their drummer. In 1982, McKagan became the drummer for the hardcore punk band the Fartz, which evolved into the post-punk band 10 Minute Warning, in which McKagan played guitar. In 1983, McKagan moved to Los Angeles, where he co-founded Road Crew with guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler. In 1985, McKagan joined Guns N’ Roses; Slash and Adler joined two months later. In 1987, Guns N’ Roses released its debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which sold more than 28 million copies worldwide, 18 million in the United States, making it the best-selling debut album of all time in the States. In 1995, with Guns N’ Roses largely inactive, McKagan formed the Neurotic Outsiders, which disbanded in 1997. Following his resignation from Guns N’ Roses in 1997, McKagan moved back to Seattle and reunited with 10 Minute Warning until 1998. In 1999, he formed the hard rocking Loaded, in which he sang and played bass and rhythm guitar. Between 2002 and 2008, he played bass in Velvet Revolver. He briefly joined Alice in Chains, Jane’s Addiction, the Rock N Roll All Stars, Kings of Chaos, and the Hollywood Vampires. After several guest appearances over the years, McKagan officially rejoined Guns N’ Roses in 2016. McKagan, now residing in Seattle, released his second solo album, Tenderness, on May 31, 2019.

Billed as Duff McKagan featuring Shooter Jennings meant that Shooter Jennings (keyboards) and his band (fiddler Aubrey Richmond, guitarist/pedal steel player John Schreffler, bassist Ted Russell Kamp, drummer Jamie Douglass) played an opening set, and after intermission they became McKagan’s backing band. Almost like a live listening party, McKagan performed all 11 tracks of his current album, plus three Guns N’ Roses deep cuts along with covers of songs by the Clash, Mad Season, and Mark Lanegan. (Mckagan brought his wife, Susan Holmes, onstage to sing Lanegan’s “Deepest Shade” to her.) While McKagan pushed the punk element in Guns N’ Roses, here he showed little evidence of this affinity; instead, he and the band hinged his music on mellow country roots. The pedal steel and the fiddle especially kept the music twangy. McKagan’s lyrics surveyed the new America, meanwhile, addressing the #MeToo movement, clickbait culture, school shootings, opioid abuse, mental health, and suicide. The set featured few rockers; even the Guns N’ Roses songs were channeled through a country music twist. McKagan’s project was an admiral stretch considering his musical past; one can only hope that in the future he will have a few hard-banging rockers in his live set.

Tav Falco’s Panther Burns/le Poisson Rouge/May 31, 2019

Gustavo Falco, known professionally as Tav Falco, was born in Philadelphia, but his family soon moved to rural Arkansas, where he grew up between Whelen Springs and Gurdon. In 1973, he moved to Memphis, where he co-founded the nonprofit Televista “art-action” video group to document local musicians and artists in the mid-seventies. Impressed by a 1978 performance of Falco’s in Memphis that culminated in the chainsawing of a guitar, Alex Chilton (Big Star, the Box Tops) teamed with him, and they developed the self-styled “art damage” band, Panther Burns, named after a plantation in Mississippi. They debuted the band in a Memphis cotton loft in 1979, and Chilton remained with the group until 1984. Falco continued the band, renamed Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, moved to Europe in the late nineties and settled in 1999 in Vienna, Austria. Falco is the only constant member of Panther Burns; his band presently consists of Falco, musical director/guitarist Mario Monterosso, bassist Giuseppe Sangirardi, and drummer Walter Brunetti. Panther Burns’ 11th and most current studio album, Cabaret of Daggers, was released on November 30, 2018.

In celebration of 40 years as a recording and touring artist, Tav Falco brought his Cabaret of Daggers: Panther Burns 40th Anniversary Howl! tour to le Poisson Rouge. The set combined elements of vintage garage rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, Memphis soul, hill country blues, Tex-Mex pop, big band jazz, swing, and even tango. Reworked songs from the Great American Songbook were given a smoky feel. Original songs leaned towards both Memphis’ Beale Street juke joints and Vienna’s old world cabaret culture. Switching from rockabilly to tango is not an easy feat. To say the least, it was an odd mix, a salad so mixed that at times it was difficult to digest smoothly. Falco’s innovative vision was curious, but his weak, flat singing voice was the music’s most troublesome element, often failing to transport the audience to the place where an unpleasant vocal delivery would not matter.

Ian Hunter & the Rant Band/City Winery/June 2, 2019

Ian Hunter Patterson, known as Ian Hunter, was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England. At the onset of World War II, his immediate family moved to Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, where Hunter was raised until age six. As a youth in the nineteen-fiftties, Hunter left his home in Shrewsbury, England, and relocated to Northampton to play rhythm guitar with his first real band, the Apex Group, in clubs and at military bases. In 1963, Hunter played bass in Hurricane Henry and the Shriekers until he moved to London in 1963 to play in several other bands while working as a journalist, staff songwriter, and road-digger. Finally he became the vocalist for the Silence, which in 1969 renamed itself after Willard Manus’ 1966 novel, Mott the Hoople. Just as Mott the Hoople was to disband in 1972, David Bowie offered the band “Suffragette City,” which the band refused in favor of his “All the Young Dudes.” Bowie’s involvement launched a successful rebirth for Mott the Hoople. Hunter left in 1974 for a solo career, frequently collaborating with Bowie’s guitarist, Mick Ronson, until Ronson’s death in 1993. In 2001, Hunter formed Ian Hunter & the Rant Band (Hunter on vocals, acoustic guitar and piano, with guitarists Mark Bosch and James Mastro, keyboardist Dennis Debrizzi, bassist Paul Page, and drummer Steve Holley). Hunter’s 20th and most recent solo studio album is 2016’s Fingers Crossed. He is based in Connecticut.

Riding on the success of the recent Mott the Hoople ’74 reunion tour, the Ian Hunter & the Rant Band shows at City Winery saw a boost in public anticipation, especially since they would celebrate Hunter’s 80th birthday and also draw on songs written for Mott the Hoople. This was perhaps an easy task for the Rant Band since Mott the Hoople ’74 consisted of three members of the final incarnation of Mott the Hoople accompanied by the Rant Band. As a greatest hits show, the performance including rousing takes on “Honaloochie Boogie,” “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “All The Way from Memphis,” “Sweet Jane,” “One of the Boys,” “Roll Away the Stone,” and “All The Young Dudes,” but much of the rest of the 21-song set was comprised of deep cuts. The Rant Band charged forcefully, owning the songs and injecting bright guitar and keyboard flourishes not found on the original recordings. Hunter, in spry voice and spirit, remained the focal point, but between vocals stepped back to allow the band to shine. The universe of aging rockers would wish to perform half this well at age 80.

Twenty One Pilots/Barclays Center, Brooklyn/June 4, 2019

In Columbus, Ohio, Tyler Joseph began playing music after finding an old keyboard in his closet, a Christmas gift from his mother, and started mimicking radio melodies. In 2007, Joseph recorded a solo album titled No Phun Intended in his basement. While attending university in 2009, Joseph formed Twenty One Pilots as a trio, and by 2011, the other two members were replaced by drummer Josh Dun. After years of regional success, the duo achieved international success in 2015 with Blurryface, which became the first album in history on which every track received at least a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. Twenty One Pilots released its fifth and most recent studio album, Trench, on October 5, 2018; all 14 tracks from the album charted in the top 25 of Billboard‘s Hot Rock Songs chart, where five tracks were in the top 10.

Eight months into Twenty One Pilots’ “The Bandito Tour,” the band pulled into Barclays Center in Brooklyn for a performance that was both visually and sonically stunning. The house lights dimmed, the stage lights came on, and Josh Dun came out wearing a bandana and hoodie such that only his eyes and forehead were exposed, with a torch in hand. The floor in the back of the stage opened, and Joseph, similarly obscuring his face with a ski mask, and with his bass in hand, squatted on the hood of a car rising to floor level. As the band began “Jumpsuit,” the car was set on fire. The fire was masterfully controlled, allowing Joseph to mount and dismount the burning car, until the end of the song when the platform with the car sunk into the bowels of the stage. The spectacles and wardrobe changes were only beginning. Later stunts included the lowering of a suspended catwalk so the musicians could walk above the audience to a stage in back of the arena (U2 had done this previously) and performing vertically on platforms held aloft by fans. The blend of light rock, electropop, reggae, emo, and hip-hop was solid as well, although much of it was pre-programmed and not live. Surprisingly, Twenty One Pilots performed the current album in its entirety, foregoing some of the band’s hits from previous albums. Joseph sang, crooned, and rapped, played ukulele, bass, and piano, and captivated the spotlight, while Dun kept the rhythms on his drums and did an occasional backflip. For two hours, the duo performed pleasant music that was given color by confetti canons, videos, creative lighting, hydraulic platforms, and other effects that made the concert unforgettable.