The Raconteurs/The Hammerstein Ballroom/September 5, 2019
Two vocalists/guitarists, Jack White and Brendan Benson, were inspired by a song they wrote while jamming in Detroit. This led to them forming the Raconteurs in 2005 with bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler, both of a band called the Greenhornes. The Raconteurs recorded and toured in 2006 and 2008, but then, as all the members engaged in other projects, the band remained dormant for about 10 years. The Raconteurs released a third album, Help Us Stranger, on June 21, 2019. The band currently is based in Nashville.
Thanks in part to Jack White’s marquee name, the Raconteurs headlined two nights at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Fans may have been surprised to learn upon arrival that they had to lock their cell phones in pouches until the end of the concert. The Raconteurs demanded full attention and achieved it. With the addition of touring multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs performed a set featuring eight songs from the current album and five songs from each of the earlier two albums. White and Benson shared lead vocals fairly evenly, but many of the songs pivoted on bursts of coarse guitar leads and crunching riffs that sometimes were louder than the vocals. Guitars dominated, and vocal melodies followed closely behind, insuring that this was more than a headbanging experience. As such, the cohesion of the pounding music and the occasionally loose in-the-moment guitar jams made the show very alive. Maybe the cell phone embargo was a good idea, because the concert was far more exciting than anything on our cell phones.
CRX/Mercury Lounge/September 6, 2019
Nicholas Valensi was born in New York City, where at age five he began learning to play his father’s guitars. As a teenager he and a few schoolmates formed a band that in 1998 would become the arena-headlining sensation, The Strokes. Valensi also worked as a songwriter and session guitarist with SIA, Blondie, Regina Spektor, Kate Pierson, and others. In 2013 in Los Angeles Valensi founded a side-project, CRX, for which he is the singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, and rhythm guitarist. CRX also includes Richie Follin (guitar, keyboard, backing vocals), Darian Zahedi (guitar, backing vocals), Jon Safley (bass), and Ralph Alexander (drums). The band released its second and most recent album, Peek, on August 23, 2019.
Mercury Lounge can claim to have been the club that launched the Strokes to success, and Valensi tonight brought the program back to the start button by bringing his new band to that same stage as part of the venue’s 25th anniversary slate of artists. The performance started a little after midnight, prompting Valensi several times to thank the fans for staying out late and noting that many old friends and even some parents of the band members were in the audience. CRX performed a set that mostly debuted live the songs from the band’s new album. As Valensi sang, the Strokes’ familiar formula of raging garage rock surfaced on most of the songs, while other songs showcased a calmer singer-songwriter-with-a-smoking-guitar. Angular guitar leads and riffs kept the music very indie and even somewhat experimental. CRX may not turn out to be the band that will make Valensi a star in his own right, but it is going to draw a considerable audience because if its unique indie twist on garage rock.
Morrissey/Forest Hills Stadium/September 7, 2019
Steven Patrick Morrissey, better known by his singular stage name of Morrissey, was born in Davyhulme, England, and spent his childhood in nearby Manchester. He worked as a clerk for the civil service and then the tax collection agency, as a salesperson in a record store, and as a porter in a hospital. In the early nineteen-seventies, his passion for music led to him forming a British fan club for the New York Dolls. In 1977, he fronted the unsuccessful punk rock band the Nosebleeds, followed by Slaughter & the Dogs. In the early nineteen-eighties, he moved into music journalism and authored several books on music and film. He finally found economic security when he and Johnny Marr formed the Smiths in 1982. After four popular albums, mounting personal differences between Morrissey and Marr erupted and ultimately ended the Smiths in 1987. Morrissey launched a solo career in 1988, initially enjoying far more success in Great Britain than in America. Relocating to Los Angeles, he took a musical hiatus in 1998 and resumed recording and touring in 2003. Morrissey released his 12th and most recent album, a collection of cover songs called California Son, on May 24, 2019.
Morrissey often makes headlines with controversial and highly opinionated statements. Recent quotes that many interpreted as anti-immigrant caused waves on the internet, with rock fans campaigning for a boycott of his tour. Nevertheless, four months after his week-long concert series at a Broadway theater, Morrissey co-headlined with Interpol at Forest Hills Stadium to a substantial audience. Accompanied by guitarists Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias, keyboardist Gustavo Manzur, bassist Mando Lopez, and drummer Matt Walker, Morrissey performed 15 songs from his solo work, two Smiths songs, and five cover songs written decades ago. The set opened with “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side,” reportedly performed live for the first time since 2007. Rather than sing with a Manchester accent, Morrissey articulated so clearly that hardly a lyric was lost. He crooned and brooded with his rich baritone voice, singing lyrics that frequently were dark and bleak while searching for peace and clarity. The up-tempo and mid-tempo songs were fine, but his choice of covers was puzzling. Laura Nyro? Melanie? Gary Puckett & the Union Gap? Where was he going with these sappy sixties tunes? The music was fine when it rocked but too much of the show seemed to become a lounge act. Hopefully Morrissey will reinvent himself and forego these cabaret elements.
The Liza Colby Sound/Lola/September 12, 2019
Liza Colby hails from Avon, Connecticut, where her father, a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer and composer of television and film scores, and her mother, the only woman ever to sing in the a cappella group the Persuasions, performed in nightclubs as the Colbys. At age 19, Liza moved to New York City, began singing hooks on rap tracks, and finally in 2009 teamed with comic Denis Leary’s band, the Enablers. They became the Liza Colby Sound in 2009. The band quickly grew a following on the local club circuit, recorded three EPS over the years, and finally released its debut album, Object to Impossible Destination, on July 19, 2019. The Liza Colby Sound presently consists of vocalist Colby, guitarist Jay Shepard, bassist Alec Morton, and drummer Charly “C.P.” Roth.
On this third night of a four-Thursday residency at Lola, the Liza Colby Sound highlighted almost all the songs on the new album, plus a few more from the past. The band has evolved with the addition of Shepard, a lead guitar virtuoso who has recorded his own album, worked with the High and Mighty Brass Band, Angela McCluskey, Mark Hudson & Friends, and Rock of Ages, and was the musical director for the show Rebel Rebel: The Many Lives of David Bowie. In past years, the Liza Colby Sound might have been compared to the Who; the musicians now align closer to Van Halen or Guns N’ Roses. All this hard rocking chemistry was fronted by a seductive, smoky-sounding, mega-watt singer who wore very little on stage and shook, shimmied, and crawled to the swirl of her acid-rock and blues-rock accompaniment. Colby’s lyrics frequently expressed yearning, usually regarding unfulfilled or unhealthy user relationships, all while a stoner haze blasted behind her. The performance was loaded with classic rock swagger, built more for arenas than clubs.