Jake Clemons/The Bowery Electric/January 9, 2019
As the son of a Marine Corps band director, Jake Clemons grew up on military bases. He lived in a religious home, where modern music was not played. At age eight, he heard electric guitars and distortion for the first time when he visited his uncle at work; the late Clarence Clemons was on stage playing saxophone in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Years later, the youth studied jazz performance and began learning to play saxophone, flute, clarinet, piano, bass, drums, and guitar. He started playing in local bands, using the name Jake Christian so as not to live off his uncle’s fame. In 2011, the elder Clemons died from complications of a stroke. Springsteen then recruited the younger Clemons to join the 2012 Wrecking Ball tour. When not touring with Springsteen or other artists, Jake Clemons leads his own band. His released his second album, Eyes on the Horizon, on September 6, 2019.
Jake Clemons is coming into his own as a singer-songwriter. At the Bowery Electric, he showcased many original songs, sang and, for most of the two-hour set, he played acoustic guitar. The multi-instrumentalist also played saxophone and piano later in the set. Did the audience come expecting the sound of Asbury Park? Possibly, and Clemons provided a taste of that horn-driven rock and roll from time to time, but he also leaned towards folk, country and jazz on other songs. The songs were not driven by any particular sound but rather by passions; Clemons’ lyrics revealed the concerns of his heart, often anchored in the struggle for wholeness in a potentially soul-damaging society. Clemons’ songs brimmed with honesty and vulnerability. For this reason, his covers of the Beatles “With a Little Help from My Friends,” performed Joe Cocker-style, and Lemme B. Good’s “Good Lovin’,” done Young Rascals-style, were unnecessary. Performed with the help of a team of able musicians (guitarist Mark Rashotte, keyboardist Jeff Louch, bassist Marika Galea, and drummer Bucky Wheaton), Clemons’ original songs demonstrated that his potential is on its way to maturity.
Making Movies/Mercury Lounge/January 13, 2020
When Enrique Chi was six years old, his family immigrated from its native Santiago, Panama, to Lee’s Summit, Missouri, 20 minutes southeast of Kansas City. Throughout their childhood, Enrique and his brother Diego Chi navigated the not-always parallel words of Latin American culture at home and North American culture at school and in the wider community. The brothers merged these sometimes polarizing worlds in 2009 when they created Making Movies, a band whose music is rooted in rock, cumbia, psychedelia, Americana, son cubano, and spoken word. Making Movies presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Enrique Chi, keyboardist/percussionist Juan Carlos Chaurand, bassist Diego Chi, and drummer Duncan Burnett. The band is based out of Kansas City, Missouri. The band released its third album, Ameri’kana , on May 24, 2019.
At a time when American politicians continue speaking about building a wall, Making Movies is tearing down walls. At Mercury Lounge, the Latin pop quartet defied the boundaries surrounding several musical genres. These were legal crossings, if somewhat improbable. The band’s performance was captivating as intricate arrangements smoothly folded light pop melodies with afro-Latinx rhythms, and Latin American folk traditions segued into psychedelic rock instrumentation. The result was music that sounded rooted in ageless mysticism and festive energy. Most significantly, Spanish and English lyrics originated from the immigrant experience. There has never been a better time for these voices and the dynamic of this musical mix to be heard.
The Almost/The Gramercy Theatre/January 15, 2020
As a teenager, Aaron Gillespie practiced playing the drums at his church in his native Clearwater, Florida, but was told that he did not play well and that he played too loud. One day, a church leader prophesized that Gillespie would “travel the whole world playing drums.” Gillespie then received an invitation to play drums in the metalcore band Underoath. Gillespie joined Underoath in 1997, left the band in 2010, and rejoined in 2015. Gillespie also recorded solo albums under his name and served as touring drummer for Paramore from 2013 to 2016. As vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, Gillespie also formed the alternative rock band the Almost in 2005. The Almost presently consists of Gillespie, guitarist Jay Vilardi, bassist Jon Thompson, and drummer JJ Revell or Joe Musten. The Almost released its fourth studio album, Fear Caller, on October 18, 2019.
Touring for the first time since 2014, the Almost brought its If I Believed You 2020 concert to the Gramercy Theatre. With a thunderous burst of pop punk, the Almost opened with the title track from the band’s debut album, Southern Weather. Gillespie announced that the band would play the 2007 album, alternating with songs from the most recent album, Fear Caller. In total, the Almost interspersed seven of the 11 songs from the debut album with five songs from the newer album. The newer songs were performed much the same as the older compositions — loud, fast, and in-your-face, with very few gentle or subtle reprieves. The musicians blasted with an intensity that on verses frequently reduced Gillespie’s vocals to a melodic underlay. The relentless blast of the performance proved to be monochromatic, despite Gillespie’s soulful vocals and Vilardi’s high-octane guitar leads. For the encore, Gillespie softened the impact by performing solo acoustic versions of “Dirty and Left Out” and “Amazing Because It Is.” Perhaps the band could have impressed more by pacing this segment in the middle of the bombastic set.
The Adicts/The Gramercy Theatre/January 16, 2020
Vocalist Keith “Monkey” Warren, guitarist Pete “Pete Dee” Davison, bassist Mel Ellis, and drummer Michael “Kid Dee” Davison first formed as Afterbirth & the Pinz in 1975 in Ipswich, England. By 1979, the quartet became the Adicts. Contrary to the punk look that was so common then, the Adicts became distinctive for its resemblance to the “droogs” in the film A Clockwork Orange, complete with white shirts and trousers and black boots and bowler caps. Monkey went further by wearing joker makeup, wildly-patterned suits, and white gloves along with his black bowler hat. The band’s visual look was complemented by their stage shows, shooting into the audience a series of streamers, confetti, playing cards, beach balls, joker hats, toy instruments, bubbles, and glitter. This stage show, along with the band’s light-hearted lyrics, set the Adicts apart from other punk bands of that period. The Adicts had a few hit songs in Europe in the eighties and built an underground following in the United States. The Adicts’ 10th and most recent studio album is 2017’s And It Was So!
At the Gramercy Theatre, as the Adicts walked on stage, Monkey wore a white, randomly polka-dotted suit and an oversized, similarly-patterned cape, which he twirled to the band’s booming punk rock. By the second song, Monkey was flipping playing cards into the audience. As the show continued, Monkey opened and spun an umbrella rigged with lights and streamers, threw streamers and a stuffed animal into the audience, shot a water pistol into the audience, wore a “beer mug” hat and then poured two cups of beer into it and tossed it into the audience, and finally ripped his shirt into fragments and tossed those into the audience. The spectacle was like a childhood birthday party exploding into mayhem. The concert’s carnival-like elements involved and rallied the appreciative audience. The visual stunts clicked because the music was equally solid. With no new music for the Adicts to promote, the ferocious sonic assault consisted of all the best high-voltage anthems from nine of the band’s 10 albums. Cheeky lyrics and gang harmonies brought many of the songs to crescendos and generated mosh pits. Now 45 years old, the Adicts have managed to keep the fun alive at their concerts.