Manhattan Beat: Pilfers, Dave Alvin, Lacuna Coil, Godsmack

Pilfers/The Gramercy Theatre/July 19, 2019

New York City hosted a thriving third wave ska scene in the nineteen-nineties. Vocalist Coolie Ranx left the Toasters in 1997 and started assembling a new band. The Pietasters’ vocalist, Steve Jackson, persuaded Ranx to team with trombonist Vinny Nobile of Bim Skala Bim. They then recruited guitarist Nick Bacon of the Erratics and bassist Anna Milat-Meyer and drummer James Blanck of Skinnerbox. The quintet became Pilfers, playing live, changing personnel occasionally, and releasing two albums until the band split in 2001. Ranx then launched a solo career and played the role of Little Jacob in Grand Theft Auto. Nobile played in Cenzo, and Bacon joined Lost City Angels and landed gigs in films, while Milat-Meyer was in a Latin music band, Los Mas Valientes. Various line-ups of Pilfers began making sporadic comebacks starting in 2005. Pilfers’ third and most recent album is 2015’s From Far.

Pilfers reunited after a five-year hiatus to headline Radicsfest at the Gramercy Theatre for a night dedicated to Roy Radics, the late vocalist of the Rudie Crew who died in 2016. This time, Pilfers consisted of Ranx, Nobile, Bacon, Milat-Meyer, keyboardist Ricky Tepperberg, and drummer Mike Fuchs.  Sharing the bill with five other ska bands, each of the performing artists added its own twist to the music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late nineteen-fifties. Blending ska with an awareness and affinity for rock ‘n’ roll, hardcore punk, and dub, Pilfers’ set was fast and raucous, alternating punctuation between Ranx’s toasting and Nobile’s trombone playing. With no new songs to introduce, Pilfers stuck to fan favorites including “Kawaii”, “Yakuza”, “Roller Coaster,” and “Climbing.” Mid-set, Bacon paused due to technical problems with his guitar amplifier, and the rest of the band improvised a bit, but otherwise the only surprise was the show’s abrupt end at midnight, eliminating songs on the printed set list on stage. Was it a curfew issue? The Pilfers Crew, as the band’s avid followers are called, was left to wonder if Pilfers would reunite in the future for another area concert.

Dave Alvin/City Winery/July 21, 2019

As teenagers, David Alvin and his older brother, Phil Alvin, attended rockabilly and country music concerts in and around their hometown of Downey, California. In 1979, the brothers formed the roots rock band The Blasters. Dave Alvin left the Blasters in 1986 for a solo career and also briefly played guitar in X, the Flesh Eaters, the Knitters, the Pleasure Barons, and other projects based in Los Angeles. David Alvin’s fourth solo album, the acoustic King of California in 1994, became the album that established him as a singer/songwriter. An album of traditional folk and blues classics in 2000, Public Domain: Songs From the Wild Land, earned him a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Alvin’s most recent project, Downey to Lubbock, a collaboration with country singer Jimmie Dale Gilmore, was released on June 1, 2018.

David Alvin celebrated the 25th anniversary of his biggest-selling album, King of California, with a reissue and a concert tour. At City Winery, Alvin performed the entire album in sequence, remarking that unlike other performers, he also would perform a bonus track (“Riverbed Rag”) from the reissued album. Light-hearted quips throughout the performance drew the audience deeper into the songs, which on their own were extraordinarily soft and hushed. On many songs, Alvin had the accompaniment of multi-instrumentalist Greg Liesz, who had produced the original album, and opening act Christy McWilson, but even so, the overall tone remained meditative. The anecdotes brought the songs to life, as when he shared that he wrote a country song that he intended for George Jones but was rejected. “If I have done anything in my life, I have written a song that was too country for George Jones,” Alvin concluded when introducing the country heartbreaker “Every Night About This Time.” After performing the last track from the album, the main set was over; Alvin performed four other tracks as encores. The purpose of the evening, to recreate and make vivid a vintage album, succeeded, but it sure would have been a “blast” to hear Alvin perform some white-hot rock ‘n’ roll songs as well.

Lacuna Coil/The Gramercy Theatre/July 22, 2019

Vocalist Andrea “Andy” Ferro, born in Arona, Italy, started playing music with multi-instrumentalist Marco “Maki” Coti-Zelati in Coti-Zelati’s house in the winter of 1994, when it was “too cold to skate.” Calling themselves Sleep of Right, they covered classic rock with just a guitar and vocals. Eventually they became more interested in music than skating. They met Cristina Scabbia, who had been singing professionally in other bands since 1991, in a music club in Milan, Italy. In 1996, Ferro and Zelati, then known as Ethereal, prepared to record a demo, and they enlisted Scabbia for background vocals. Ferro and Zelati liked the blending of male and female vocals so much they asked her to join their gothic metal band at the front line. Ethereal changed its name to Lacuna Coil (“empty spiral”) after learning that a Greek band already claimed the name Ethereal. Lacuna Coil presently consists of vocalists Ferro and Scabbia, bassist Coti-Zelati, guitarist Diego “Didi” Cavalotti, and drummer Richard Meiz. Lacuna Coil has sold more than two million albums worldwide; the band will release its ninth album, Black Anima, on October 11, 2019.

Revolver magazine presented Lacuna Coil’s The 119 Show at the Gramercy Theatre for two nights, where the band’s staging resembled a carnival tent. The look of the musicians, however, with their black cassocks and white and bloodied corpse paint, suggested macabre rather than wholesome family entertainment. Lacuna Coil came armed with a retrospective featuring songs from most of its albums. Scabbia’s light, floating, melodic voice climbed scales and soared into the stratosphere, helping to give the mid-tempo songs a symphonic metal touch. Ferro frequently contrasted Scabbia’s light approach with dark, growling vocals; when singing along with her, however, he used clean vocals. The compositions spotlighted this dual vocal interplay, with few opportunities for the instrumentalists to flex their chops. The heavy, down-tuned grooves focused on supporting and augmenting the dynamics of the vocalists. Towards the end of the performance, the band left Scabbia on stage, a crew brought an electric piano, and Scabbia introduced Pennsylvania-based singer/songwriter Melissa VanFleet. With Scabbia on vocals and VanFleet on electric piano, the duo reinterpreted Lacuna Coil songs. The rest of the band returned to the stage, and Lacuna Coil closed with a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and a 2014 track, “Nothing Stands in Our Way.”

Godsmack/The Beacon Theatre/July 23, 2019

Sully Erna’s father was a trumpet player and would rehearse in the basement, where the youth would watch and fall asleep in an empty guitar case. Born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Erna began playing drums at the age of three. Erna first recorded in 1993 with a band called Strip Mind. Switching to vocals and guitar, he formed the Scam in 1995. The band soon rebranded itself Godsmack and over time sold 20 million albums worldwide, with three consecutive number-one albums on the Billboard 200 and 25 Top Ten rock radio hits, including 18 songs in the top five. The band released its seventh and most recent studio album, When Legends Rise, its first album in four years, on April 27, 2018. Godsmack presently consists of Erna, guitarist Tony Rombola, bassist Robbie Merrill, and drummer Shannon Larkin.

In recent years, Godsmack expanded from its original post-grunge alternative metal foundation and moved increasingly into a mellower area, especially with Erna’s solo outings. Godsmack took time off to regroup its vision and mission and returned with an explosive sonic palette that recalls its signature sound. At the Beacon Theatre, the houselights dimmed, a massive black curtain, emblazoned with the Godsmack logo, dropped to the apron of the stage with a loud boom and bright flash of stage pyrotechnics, and the quartet launched into the title track of the band’s most recent album. The set featured seven songs from that album, plus one to three songs from earlier albums, nearly all full-throttle, heavy-riffing rock and roll songs. Erna’s vocals remained clear and upfront throughout the set, as the other musicians roared a stadium-sized muscular groove. Periodically, the songs were spiked with bursts of flames and flashing lights. A highlight was when a second drum set was rolled on stage and Erna and Larkin engaged in an extended and well-crafted drumming duel known as “Batalla de los Tambores,” showcasing Erna’s origin as a percussionist while the band teased riffs from AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” Rush’s “Tom Sawyer,” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” During the encore, Erna played piano briefly and encouraged the audience to support the band’s charity, the Scars Foundation, dedicated to help provide resources for people struggling with suicide and depression. The concert proved that Godsmack is back in a big way.