White Reaper/The Bowery Ballroom/November 5, 2019
Vocalist/guitarist Tony Esposito and a pair of brothers, bassist Sam Wilkerson and drummer Nick Wilkerson, bonded over their love for all things punk and power-pop while attending middle school in Louisville, Kentucky. Together, they attended a local DIY venue every week and ultimately formed a garage punk band. In time, White Reaper added keyboardist Ryan Hater and guitarist Hunter Thompson, and the music evolved into a more polished guitar-rocking sound with giant riffs, even bigger choruses, and eardrum-rattling energy. White Reaper’s first two albums, 2015’s White Reaper Does It Again and 2017’s The World’s Best American Band, captured the band’s wit. White Reaper released its third studio album, You Deserve Love, on October 18, 2019.
In just a couple of years, White Reaper has graduated from headlining a tiny New York club, Coney Island Baby, to the considerably larger Bowery Ballroom. White Reaper’s following has grown in direct parallel to the band’s trajectory towards a cleaner pop sound. The musicians are in their mid-twenties, and increasingly they are gravitating to an eighties pop genre that pre-dated their birth. Light lead vocals, crisp harmonies, rallying choruses, twin-guitar leads, and bouncy rhythms dominated the cheerful songs. Curiously, however, the band’s bubble-gum rock has been burnished so slickly that one would think the band’s potential audience is not old enough to get into an alcohol-serving establishment.
Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul/The Beacon Theatre/November 6, 2019
Steven Van Zandt was born in Boston, and at age seven, moved with his family to Middletown Township, New Jersey. He learned to play guitar at an early age and formed his first band, the short-lived Whirlwinds, around 1964. He later formed the Mates in 1965 and joined the Shadows in 1966. In the late sixties and early seventies, Van Zandt played in many Jersey Shore bands, including Steel Mill and the Bruce Springsteen Band. Van Zandt left the local club circuit in the early seventies and worked in road construction for two years, then returned to tour with the Dovells in 1973. Van Zandt co-founded Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes in 1975, about the same time he joined Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Van Zandt left the E Street Band in 1984 and returned in 1999, the same year he began a television career acting in The Sopranos. Since 2002, Van Zandt has hosted Little Steven’s Underground Garage, a weekly syndicated radio show, and is the program director for two satellite radio channels. Since 1981, however, Van Zandt has led a sporadic side project, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul; the band released its seventh studio album, Summer of Sorcery, on May 3, 2019.
From the onset, the stage was ablaze with color. The 15-member band, dressed in floral shirts and matching two-toned striped pants, assumed position and began playing; the three background singers danced with radiantly-feathered umbrellas, and Van Zandt entered wearing a cape along with his trademark head scarf. The party started at peak levels. Van Zandt’s soulful vocals framed the songs, while the arrangements allowed for numerous extended jams, as the solo focus alternated rapidly between the two guitarists, two keyboardists, two percussionists, and five horn players. The set featured the entire Summer of Sorcery album, songs from Van Zandt’s solo work and his catalogue with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and several cover songs, including Springsteen’s new “Tucson Train.” Peter Wolf, who opened the evening with his band, Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers, joined the Disciples of Soul for the encore to sing “Freeze Frame,” a song he originally sang while in the J. Geils Band. The audience was blessed to have experienced this show; according to a cryptic interview Van Zandt gave last month, this might be the last-ever concert by Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. The band scheduled an extensive fall tour, but then cancelled most of the dates due to Van Zandt’s bout with sinusitis; what became a two-city tour ended at the Beacon Theatre.
Dwight Yoakam/Terminal 5/November 9, 2019
Dwight Yoakam was born in Pikeville, Kentucky, but was raised in Columbus, Ohio. During his high school years, Yoakam sang and played guitar with local garage bands. Aiming for higher goals, he attempted to gain some traction in Nashville, but the lords of country music were more interested in the urban cowboy genre than his honky-tonk roots music. In 1977, intending to become a recording artist, he moved to Los Angeles. Eschewing the country circuit, he performed his pioneering style of neo-traditional music in rock and punk clubs, playing alongside roots-rock and punk acts. Ultimately reaching a diverse audience, Yoakam sold more than 25 million records. He has 12 gold albums and nine platinum albums, including the triple-platinum This Time. Yoakam was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on October 14, 2019. Yoakam’s flourishing acting career perhaps has diminished his recorded output, however; his 15th and most recent album is 2016’s Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars.
With no new album to promote, Yoakam’s performance at Terminal 5 could have possibly been inspired by his entrenchment in his 18-month-old satellite radio station, Dwight Yoakam and the Bakersfield Beat. His most recent studio album was a bluegrass album, but his concert hinted minimally to mountain music. Here, Yoakam was more than ever a country music revivalist, honing in on California’s country sounds of the early nineteen-sixities. While he frequently reinterprets cover songs, the set seemed to pivot on more covers than usual, including songs popularized by Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, Merle Haggard & the Strangers, Johnny Horton, Lefty Frizzell, and others. Yoakam sang well, reliving the lilts and twangs that made this music authentic, American homegrown. His three backing musicians supported him well. The diminishing factor was that there is more to Yoakam than the Bakersfield Beat, and this was not entirely evident at his concert.
The Devil Wears Prada/The Gramercy Theatre/November 13, 2019
The Devil Wears Prada formed as a melodic metalcore band in 2005 in Dayton, Ohio. The band took its name from the novel, although the members did not know the content of the story. Instead, the band members simply appropriated the title to fit their anti-materialistic Christian ethics. The band members insist they did not name the band after the movie of that name, which was released after the band formed. Initially marketed to a Christian audience, The Devil Wears Prada captured a secular audience by 2007. The Devil Wears Prada currently consists of vocalist Mike Hranica, vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jeremy DePoyster, lead guitarist Kyle Sipress, and bassist Andy Trick. The Devil Wears Prada released its seventh studio album, The Act, on October 11, 2019,
Since its birth and prominence in the early 2000s, metalcore has been rather static. It is a narrow genre that bands typically grow out of rather than stretch the boundaries. The Devil Wears Prada, on the other hand, has been pushing the edges gently but repeatedly, especially in more recent years. At the Gramercy Theatre, enhanced with the aid of touring musicians Jonathan Gering (keyboards, synthesizers) and Giuseppe Capolupo (drums), The Devil Wears Prada’s set still spotlighted the hallmarks of metalcore. The band featured the counterbalance of Hranica’s death growls with DePoyster’s clean vocals, and laced guitar-crunching breakdowns with synths and keyboards, but also introduced elements of post-rock and sludge within its metalcore. While this may not be a monumental shift in the fabric of metalcore, The Devil Wears Prada’s expansive sonics may be the only recent evolution in the genre.