King’s X/The Gramercy Theatre/June 30, 2019

Vocalist/bassist Doug Pinnick and drummer Jerry Gaskill met in 1979 in Springfield, Missouri, when they were supposed to be the rhythm section for Greg X. Volz. That project folded before it started, and Pinnick and Gaskill quickly found a second team-up opportunity as the rhythm section for Phil Keaggy. Pinnick and Gaskill came to know local guitarist Ty Tabor, and in 1980 invited him to join the band they were forming called the Edge, performing classic rock and Top 40 covers on the local club circuit. By 1983, they became Sneak Preview. By 1985, Sneak Preview moved to Houston, and became part of Morgan Cryar’s band. Sneak Preview later changed its name to King’s X as the group transitioned from radio-friendly rock originals to a more experimental and complex songwriting style. Still together almost 40 years later, the band has a relatively small but fiercely diehard following. The band’s 12th and most recent studio album is 2008’s XV.

At the Gramercy Theatre, King’s X performed a retrospective of 16 songs spanning its 30 years of recordings. While not a flashy performance by any measure, the musical ability amassed by this trio was spectacular. Pinnick sang soulfully, Tabor played slick licks on his guitar, and Gaskill beat hard on the drums. Periodically, between songs, the highly supportive audience chanted the drummer’s first name, appreciating that Gaskill has remained in the band despite suffering heart attacks in 2012 and 2014. Imaginative and skillfully performed, King’s X music avoided all contemporary clichés, instead generating progressive rhythms and clean sounds on edgy hard rock songs. The lyrics inspired wonder and spirituality, and the instrumental jams were played with sparkling finesse. In the end, the King’s X concert was an ideal experience for mature hard rock fans who have graduated beyond pointy guitars and hair-spinning singers.

Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers/The Loft at City Winery/July 6, 2019

Born in Pittsburgh, vocalist/guitarist Joe Grushecky started the Brick Alley Band in 1976, which became the Iron City Houserockers in 1977. Similar in style to bands coming out of the scene born in Asbury Park, the Iron City Houserockers gained some traction, shortened its name to the Houserockers in 1983, but the band split in 1984 and Grushecky returned to teaching special education in Pittsburgh. He returned to music in 1989 with Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers, and Bruce Springsteen began offering songs, producing tracks, and performing live with the band. Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers released its ninth and most recent studio album, More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows, on March 30, 2018. The band presently consists of Grushecky, guitarists Danny Gochnour and Johnny Grushecky, keyboardist Joe Monroe, bassist Jeff “JD” Garrison, and drummer Joffo Simmons.

Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers’ performance at the Loft at City Winery celebrated the 40th anniversary of the release of the Iron City Houserockers’ debut album. The band performed only three songs from that album, however, plus one later Iron City Houserockers song, instead focusing more on more recent songs. Grushecky & the Houserockers release albums about every five years or so, however, so “recent songs” meant performing music from the past 20 years. Throughout the set, the band remained true to its signature blue-collar heartland rock ‘n’ roll. Like the Houserockers’ Jersey peers, the songs were passionate and rooted in America’s musical heritage, drawing on classic rhythm & blues on some songs and folk-rock ballads on other songs. Even the softer songs had a gritty, long-worn touch. This was not the type of music that makes it to the top of the pop charts anymore, but it was more than suitable for hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll fans.

Anberlin/Irving Plaza/July 7, 2019

Vocalist Stephen Christian was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and in his youth moved to Winter Haven, Florida. While in high school in 1998, Christian and two classmates, bassist Deon Rexroat and guitarist Joseph Milligan, formed the punk band SaGoh 24/7, and after two albums became the alternative rock band Anberlin in 2002. Drummer Nathan Young joined in 2002 and rhythm guitarist Christian McAlhaney joined in 2007. Anberlin sold over one million albums before disbanding in 2014 with a tour supporting the band’s seventh and final album, Lowborn. Anberlin reunited for two live performances in December 2018 and embarked on a 22-stop U.S. tour in 2019, with no revealed plans for more concerts or recordings.

Anberlin returned to Irving Plaza for two nights, closing the venue which soon will undergo an eight-month renovation. With no new music to promote, Anberlin’s set gravitated largely to its fan-favorite Never Take Friendship Personal (2005)and Cities (2007)albums, the two albums the band played in their entireties when the band last performed in New York City in 2014. The set also included a smattering of songs from Anberlin’s four later albums. Stephen Christian led the high-energy charge, singing well and hitting high notes while jumping and dashing relentlessly across the dimly-lit stage. Christian’s vocal melodies remained prominent, even though his lyrics for the most part were obscured by the band’s intense wall of sound. The thunderous power and volume of the music cranked the adrenaline in the room, but swallowed the subtleties found in the recorded versions of songs like “Paperthin Hymn.” Midway through the performance, the musicians left the stage and Christian led a reprieve by strapping on an amplified acoustic guitar. He encouraged the exuberant audience to sponsor a child via the Children International table in the lobby, and then sang a soft song, “Down.” Before long, the other musicians returned to the stage and resumed the band’s big booming sound. Anberlin gave its enthusiastic fans a hard-chugging rock show, but in the end the performance was chiefly a one-dimensional monochromatic that could have benefited from dark and light shades and variations.

Syd Straw/Mercury Lounge/July 10, 2019

Syd Straw, the daughter of actor Jack Straw (The Pajama Game), spent her youth in Los Angeles. Relocating after high school to New York City in 1978, she started singing in comedy clubs, and wound up singing harmonies for an up-and-coming Pat Benatar. Straw later joined the indie/alternative Golden Palominos’ ever-changing lineup (1985-1987), which also included Michael Stipe, Matthew Sweet, and Anton Fier. Straw launched a solo career in 1989. Straw also has an intermittent acting career, appearing on the television shows The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Tales of the City. She now lives in a small town in Vermont. Her fourth and most recent solo album is 2008’s Pink Velour.

Performing at Mercury Lounge as part of the venue’s 25th anniversary series, Syd Straw sang and played both acoustic and electric guitar and was accompanied by guitarist Don Piper and violinist David Mansfield. Straw’s take on folk music was a bit left of center, folding in slivers of country and blues while singing songs about her dysfunctional family, paralleled with an accompanying bleak worldview. The lyrics were articulate and occasionally witty, and her impromptu between-song chatter was peppered with equally clever and charming anecdotes. Her early background as the musician performing between comedy acts well-served her present act. Straw proved to be a rather unique entertainer, a coffeehouse folkie with a natural penchant for musical-comedy cabaret.

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