Hot Tuna/The Town Hall/November 29, 2019

No one would have expected that a side project of a major band would outlive its ancestor and last 50 years. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, who started playing in bands together in Washington DC in the early nineteen-sixties, enjoyed success with Jefferson Airplane, and formed Hot Tuna in 1969 during gaps in their primary band’s schedule. Jefferson Airplane split in 1972, but Hot Tuna is still rocking. Hot Tuna is presently a trio with drummer Justin Guip. The band’s 11th and most recent studio album is 2011’s Steady as She Goes.

In recent years, many of Hot Tuna’s New York concerts have been acoustic, but this two-night 50th anniversary engagement at the Town Hall was billed as electric. For the most part, the technical difference between an acoustic night and an electric night is in which guitars Kaukonen will play, because Casady always plays electric bass and Guip continues to be the band’s drummer. Even during the evening’s electric show, however, Kaukonen played a few songs on acoustic guitar. While Kaukonen is a master at Piedmont blues picking on his acoustic guitar, he is extraordinarily adept on the electric, as well. Guitarist Steve Kimock was announced as a special guest, and although he was listed on the set list as playing on only a few songs, he jammed with Hot Tuna for at least half of the three-hour concert. The set consisted of many Kaukonen compositions sandwiched between blues covers from Jelly Roll Morton, B.B. King, Reverend Gary Davis, and others, all given an earthy Hot Tuna twist. For Hot Tuna fans, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of “Easy Now,” a song the band has not performed live since 1975. All of the songs were extended to showcase Kaukonen’s broad range of finger-picking styles, and a few songs also spotlighted Casady’s bass improvisations. Hot Tuna’s roots-style blues-rock is rare in today’s music world, and this concert proved that no band does this music better.

Knower/The Bowery Ballroom/November 30, 2019

When the conventional corporations have no interest in your art, find your own path. That is what Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi did. Both studied jazz while attending separate universities in Los Angeles. They met in 2009 through a mutual musician friend and began experimenting in electronic funk and progressive art-rock. Both composed, recorded, and posted their songs onto their online channels, often collaborating on each other’s solo releases. Taking the name Knower for their collaborations, the duo established a presence on social media with their videos of odd original songs and twisted pop covers (Britney Spears, Daft Punk, Lady Gaga). Knower’s videos featured science fiction and eighties video game elements in both the sounds and the visuals. In 2010, the duo self-released a debut album, Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi. In 2016, Knower added musicians for live gigs, leading to tours around the world. The band’s fourth and most recent album is 2016’s Life. All of these achievements were made on Cole and Artadi’s own terms; Knower remains a DIY band.

Knower announced that its concert at the Bowery Ballroom would be a “power trio” show with drummer Nate Wood, and that the show would introduce newly-created visual accompaniment. Knower lived up to its promise, performing a set of avant-garde music that interacted with stunning animation on the screen behind the musicians. Although the projections were shown behind the players (and on the players), they were not meant to be in the background. Instead, they were swirling art pieces that were genius in their own right. Meanwhile, the band’s hard-hitting jazz-funk grooves throbbed and kicked as Artadi sang and danced. The soundscapes were often quirky yet explosive, brought back to Earth with modulating melodies and colorful harmonies that conflated funk with electronica. Knower is an art-rock experiment that will attract fans of early Talking Heads and Deerhoof.

Sean Kershaw & the New Jack Ramblers/Treehouse at 2A/December 1, 2019

Brooklyn has a country music scene, and one of its strongest revivalists is Sean Kershaw. Raised in a military family, he was born in Baltimore and lived throughout the United States and overseas. Deciding as a young adult to make a career of music, he busked his way from New Orleans to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then north to Seattle, east to Chicago, mid-country to St. Louis, and eventually further east, where he settled in New York City. From 1996 through 2003, Kershaw played rockabilly in the Blind Pharaohs. In 2001, he began leading his own side project, Sean Kershaw & the New Jack Ramblers, singing primarily cover songs. By 2007, this became Kershaw’s main project, playing his original songs along with some country covers. Befitting its Brooklyn roots, Sean Kershaw & the New Jack Ramblers released its first and so far only album, Coney Island Cowboy, in 2009; Kershaw also released an EP, 2013’s The Aussie Sessions.

The New Jack Ramblers can be a loose collective of musicians and at Tom Clark’s Sunday night series at the Treehouse at 2A, Kershaw’s band consisted of guitarist Seth Kessel, bassist Skip Ward, and drummer Dave Dawson. Kershaw sang his story-songs through sweet melodies in an unpolished baritone while his band provided honky tonk swagger and old-time rock ‘n’ roll with a taste of western swing, jump blues, and Americana. The band’s secret weapon was in Kessel’s slinky, slippery guitar leads that spiked Kershaw’s songs with flash and vigor. Brooklyn is a long way from all the traditional country music hubs, but Sean Kershaw & the New Jack Ramblers lead a movement that insures that this city is at least on the country music map.

Puma Perl & Friends/Lady Stardust/December 3, 2019

A poet leading an improvisational rock band is not a new concept, but it is rarely found. Born in Brooklyn, Puma Perl moved to the Lower East Side and was inspired by the work of the Nuyorican Poets Café and later by the Bowery Poetry Club. She also attended many performances by local bands, and before long, her rock ‘n’ roll buddies asked her to read her poems between sets. This ultimately led to a loose collective improvising music behind her as she read. Puma Perl & Friends became a constant on the Lower East Side club circuit. Since 2012, Perl has been the curator of Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, a monthly event at the Map Room at the Bowery Electric, where poets, spoken word, and performance artists share the stage with local rock bands. Perl also is a regular participant in the Great Weather for Media open mic series at the Parkside Lounge and is a prize-winning journalist for the Village Express newspaper. Perl authored two chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections; her fifth book, Birthdays Before and After, was released in December.

Puma Perl & Friends celebrated the publication of Perl’s new collection of poems with a performance at Rick Eckerle’s Tues Nite Live Undead series at Lady Stardust. Backed by guitarist Joff Wilson, violinist Walter Steding, saxophonist Danny Ray, bassist Joe Sztabnik, and drummer Dave Donen, Perl and the musicians flew like trapeze artists without a net. Perl’s poems read like prose, sometimes sardonic, sometimes melancholic, often peppered with panoramic reflections of neighborhood scenes and its residents’ choices. Unlike the slam poetry that inspired her initially, Perl’s emotions often were restrained, letting her words paint the passions. Meanwhile, the band locked into cutting grooves that gave Perl’s words a living pulse. Spontaneous events are risky by definition, but the performance by Puma Perl & Friends was sparkling and riveting.

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