Jim Jones All Star Band/Berlin/December 22, 2019

British rocker Jim Jones has specialized in American roots rock and roll since his first band. He launched his Motor City-influenced garage rock with Thee Hypnotics, a band he co-founded in 1985 in High Wycombe, a town some 30 miles from London. The band split in 1999, after which Jones furthered that sound fronting Black Moses until he formed the Jim Jones Revue in 2007. Since 2015, Jones has been leading Jim Jones & the Righteous Mind.

At Berlin Under A, Jim Jones performed with seasoned musicians he assembled less than two weeks earlier: guitarist Gordon Lawrence of Beechwood, keyboardist Benny Harrison of Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals, saxophonist Paula Henderson of the Burnt Sugar Arkestra,  harmonica player Dennis Gruenling, bassist Cynthia Ross of the B-Girls, ElectraJets, and New York Junk, and drummer Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Bob Bert of Lyndia Lunch’s Retrovirus, Wolfmanhattan Project, and Jon Spencer & The Hitmakers sang several songs with Jones at the end of the set. The band had one rehearsal, only a few hours before show time. Nevertheless, the performance succeeded in all it was intended to be, which was a collection of musicians playing well and an audience enjoying a rock and roll party. The set consisted of vintage blues , rhythm and blues, and rock and roll songs by Slim Harpo, the Coasters, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Jimmy Castor, Norman Greenbaum, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Velvet Underground, the Cramps, and the Stooges. The songs averaged about 50 years of age, yet Jones’ integral commitment to keeping this roots music alive made them sound timeless. His gritty vocals gave the songs a raw and intense delivery. Jones is little known in America, but he sure knows how to punch up American music.

Gogol Bordello/Webster Hall/December 27, 2019

Eugene Hütz was born Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Nikolayev-Simonov in Boyarka,  Ukraine, where his father played guitar in one of Ukraine’s first rock bands, Meridian. At age 14, Hütz and his father constructed his first guitar of plywood, his first distortion pedals out of radio parts, and his first drum set from large metal fish cans, skinned with layers of adhesive tape. Hütz became a member of the band Uksusnik (Vinegar Tap). After the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, however, the family fled the Ukraine and traveled like their Romani descendents through Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy before gaining  refugee status in the United States and landing in Vermont in 1992. There, Hütz formed the punk band the Fags. He then relocated to New York City and began forming Hutz and the Bela Bartoks, which quickly evolved into Gogol Bordello. Gogol Bordello’s seventh and most recent album is 2017’s Seekers and Finders. The band presently consists of Hütz (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion), Sergey Ryabtsev (violin, backing vocals), Boris Pelekh (guitar, backing vocals), Thomas “Tommy T” Gobena (bass, backing vocals), Alfredo Ortiz (drums), Pedro Erazo (percussion, MC), and Ashley “TOBI” Tobias (backing vocals, percussion).

Gogol Bordello ended 2019 by bringing its Gangs of New York 20th Anniversary Tour to Webster Hall for two nights. With no new album to promote, the sets were a retrospective featuring songs spanning the band’s 20 years of recordings. The colorfully-dressed musicians ran, jumped and hopped all over the large stage, providing a most visually stimulating stage show to accompany its eclectic, heart-racing music. In the same manner that Hütz embraced his gypsy roots in the creation of music for Gogol Bordello, the other six musicians, hailing from four countries, likewise brought elements of their ethnicities to the mix. Latin American, North African and Euro-Asian rhythms were accelerated and given extra voltage. Hütz sang most of the vocals, and Ryabtsev’s violin played lead on most songs, but there was too much going on in each song to spotlight any one musician; soon after a song slipped into a dub, polka or hip hop groove, the song transitioned into something else. The concert ended with Hütz trading vocal licks with rapper Marty Baller, the concert’s support artist, as the band members walked through the audience greeting the fans. Gogol Bordello’s high-energy performance rocked in volcanic eruptions. Few bands are this dynamic live.

Gov’t Mule/The Beacon Theatre/December 30, 2019

After singing and playing guitar in David Allan Coe’s touring band and in the Nighthawks, vocalist/guitarist Warren Haynes joined the Dickey Betts Band for two years. Betts then recruited Haynes to join the reunited Allman Brothers Band in 1989. On a break from touring in the Allman Brothers Band in 1994, Haynes formed Gov’t Mule (pronounced Government Mule) as a side project. By 1997, with the Allman Brothers Band largely inactive again, Haynes opted to devote his full attention to Gov’t Mule. Haynes returned full-time to the Allman Brothers Band in 2001 and also played in Phil Lesh and Friends and other remnant Grateful Dead bands, all the while regularly performing and releasing albums with Gov’t Mule. Gov’t Mule’s 10th and most recent studio album, Revolution Come… Revolution Go, was released in 2017; the band also has issued numerous live recordings, the most recent being Bring on the Music: Live from the Capitol Theatre, released on June 20, 2019. Since 2008, the Gov’t Mule has consisted of Haynes, keyboardist Danny Louis, bassist Jorgen Carlsson, and drummer Matt Abts.

On the first of the two nights at the Beacon Theatre, Gov’t Mule featured guests throughout the evening. The Better Half Singers (Machan Taylor and Mini Carlsson), guitarists Connor Kennedy, Oz Noy, and Jimmy Vivino, saxophonist Aaron Heick, and drummer Carmine Appice all joined at various points in the set. These contributions helped lead the primarily southern rocking blues band into pop, jazz and even progressive inclinations. Prior to the concert, Gov’t Mule’s social media teased rumors of Beatles covers with images of mules crossing Abbey Road and playing on the rooftop of the Apple headquarters; indeed Gov’t Mule performed a mini-set of three Beatles’ songs plus references to Beatles riffs including “Daytripper.” The Beatles’ “Revolution” and the encore of Humble Pie’s “Live with Me” were concert debuts. In the end, however, Haynes’ bluesy vocals and his wailing guitar jams were the highlights of the concert. The songs ranged from hard-riffing rockers to sweeter, softer  tunes, but they all were showcases for Haynes’ gliding guitar work, expertly supported by the fine backup of his musicians. It mattered little what songs the band performed, because the thrill was in where Haynes’ guitar work would take the composition.

Reignwolf/Music Hall of Williamsburg/December 31, 2019

Raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, a two-year-old Jordan Cook began strumming his father’s Fender Stratocaster. His father responded by buying his son a size-appropriate guitar. By age five, the child prodigy played afternoon jam sessions at a local blues club. When the boy was nine years old, his father secured permits so his underage son could play in bars, then drove him and his band of elementary school friends to gigs throughout western Canada. At age 15, Cook formed a blues-rock trio that traveled to Switzerland to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He recorded an album, Seven Deadly Sins, released under his own name in 2010, and in 2011 moved to Seattle, Washington, where his Reignwolf persona was born. Reignwolf is both a power trio and Cook playing solo with an electric guitar and a bass drum. Either way, Reignwolf concerts caught a major buzz. Reignwolf was declared one of “10 New Artists You Need to Know” by Rolling Stone in 2014, allowing Reignwolf to open arena concerts without releasing an album. Reignwolf released its debut album, Hear Me Out, on March 1, 2019. The band currently consists of vocalist/guitarist Cook, bassist S.J. Kardash, and drummer Joseph Braley.

Reignwolf welcomed 2020 with a nearly two-hour New Year’s Eve performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Initially the trio hardly could be seen for all the billowing fog and minimal stage lighting, as Cook moved quickly across the stage while playing fast, fuzzy, and distorted guitar leads. Throughout the performance, the song structures were rooted in blues, infused with harsh and heavy arrangements. The sound was intentionally raw and unrefined, played at high volume with even higher energy. Cook shouted his lyrics while ripping through gritty sounding guitar licks and riffs. Cook’s rhythm section powered the momentum. Cook played to the audience, eventually moving the band and the musical instruments into the audience itself; he even asked for volunteers from the audience to move his amplifier to the back of the venue. The 19-song setlist introduced one new song, “Almost Midnight.” Perhaps because it was Reignwolf’s New Year’s Eve party, many of the songs were excessively jam-filled, to the point where a listener could ask where this was building. Otherwise, the raucous nature of the performance made for a wild, rocking entrance into 2020.

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