Bush Tetras/le Poisson Rouge/February 21, 2020
Originally from Chicago, Pat Place relocated to New York City in 1975 to pursue a career as a visual artist. Falling in with the downtown music and art scene, she became the original guitarist and a founding member of the no-wave band the Contortions. She then formed Bush Tetras in 1979 with drummer Dimitri “Dee Pop” Papadopoulos. In short time, they replaced their original singer with another former art student, Cynthia Sley, who earlier that year moved to New York City from her native Cleveland. Within a year, Bush Tetras stormed the New York club scene and built an underground following. Lacking commercial success, however, Bush Tetras split in 1983, reformed in 1995, split again in 1998, and reunited in 2005. After three albums, Bush Tetras’ most recent product is the three-song EP There’s a Hum, released on July 26, 2019. Since 2016, Bush Tetras has consisted of Sley, Place, Papadopoulos, and bassist Val Opielski.
Bush Tetras’ concert at le Poisson Rouge was billed as a 40th anniversary concert, and so it was perhaps more festive than usual. The band performed three of its newer songs; the rest of the set consisted of the better-known early songs, including a few deep cuts. Sley sang the familiar melodies, as Place played slicing, jagged guitar riffs with plenty of reverb, Opielski played rubbery bass lines, and Pop controlled the percussion with utmost precision. A steady undercurrent of angular post-punk guitar leads intruded on funk strokes, and the audience swayed to the gripping rhythms. Guest vocalists included Angela Yeager, who sang on the first Bush Tetras recordings, Felice Rosser of the band Faith NYC, and a fair amount of the audience who joined Bush Tetras on stage for the encore of “Too Many Creeps.” Bush Tetras proved that at age 40 the band retains the vim and vigor of its early years.
Skull Practitioners/Berlin/February 18, 2020
After the Dream Syndicate split in 1989, Steve Wynn launched a solo career. Now a solo artist, Wynn moved to New York City in 1994 and became a customer at a record store where Jason Victor worked. Wynn first hired Victor as a roadie, but then moved him to lead guitarist in Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 in 2001. After several tours together, Wynn recruited Victor into a newly rebranded Dream Syndicate in 2012. By this time, Victor already had a local reputation from playing in several bands, including the Silos, DBCR, the Plastic Ones, the Puddles, Velvet Crush, and Matthew Sweet’s band. Beginning in 2008, Victor also jammed informally with bassist Kenneth Levine and drummer Alex Baker in Brooklyn, finally coming together as Skull Practitioners in 2013 and releasing a cassette in 2014. Skull Practitioners is now playing local venues, promoting a vinyl-only four-song EP, Death Buy, which was released on August 30, 2019.
At Berlin, Skull Practitioners’ set was an intense assault that was equal parts experimental noise-rock and futuristic post-rock. Heavy psych-twang met dark, reverb-soaked dissonance, mostly through Victor’s inventive guitar leads, with Levine’s thick, throbbing bass lines, and Baker’s driving percussive grooves providing propulsion. Several instrumentals showcased how far the power trio could sustain its saw-like gravitas. Victor and Levine sang on other songs, but while neither was a particularly memorable singer, these vocal parts created a skeleton of melodic conformity that regrouped the listeners. The contrast of fluid instrumentation and gritty, discordant arrangements was super impressive. Menacing, savage, and ominous, Skull Practitioners’ raw blasts shredded with cutting-edge innovation and explosive abandon. For fearless avant-garde music fans, this performance was next level.
British Lion/The Gramercy Theatre/February 20, 2020
Steve Harris is best known as the bassist, primary songwriter, and founder of the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden; he is the only original member in Iron Maiden since the band’s inception in 1975. In 2012, Harris released his first solo album, British Lion, the name taken from a band he managed and produced in the nineties. In recent years, this side project morphed into a real band and released an album, The Burning, on January 17, 2020. British Lion currently consists of Harris, vocalist Richard Taylor, guitarists Graham Leslie and David Hawkins, and drummer Simon Dawson.
Two months after the conclusion of Iron Maiden’s 2019 arena and stadium tour, Steve Harris was back on the road, playing a series of small clubs in the United Kingdom with British Lion. That road trip extended into 2020 with British Lion’s first tour of the United States, including a performance at the Gramercy Theatre. While Iron Maiden’s music has grown increasingly complex, British Lion became Harris’ opportunity to play his signature style to simpler hard rock music. The set list, drawn from the two British Lion albums, was a revisit of the hard rocking seventies, with clear, dynamic singing and double lead guitars. Richard Taylor’s compelling vocal style is huskier than that of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, but both climb scales for impact and crescendo. That is where the similarity between the two bands began and ended. British Lion’s songs basked in tuneful simplicity, latching to a riff or a groove and leading it to a chorus. Taylor was somewhat reserved in showmanship compared to Harris, who optimized his wireless connection and raced all over the edge of the stage while playing his hard and thick bass lines. British Lion played very much like the classic rockers of decades past, but with new songs and vibrancy. There should be a big audience out there for this retro-style of hard rock.
Skrizzly Adams/Mercury Lounge/February 21, 2020
Skrizzly Adams was born Daniel Zavaro and learned to play several musical instruments while growing up in New Jersey. At age 15, he was a guitarist in a band, but only sang when a song needed him. While attending college in 2009, he experimenting with digitally-produced beats in his studio in Jersey City. He submitted his first three tracks to rapper Chris Webby, who embraced two of them and had Zavaro produce his 2011 EP There Goes the Neighborhood. In 2014, Zavaro emerged as a singer/songwriter named Skrizzly Adams and self-released his first EP. In 2015, his song “Tipping Point” won the Grand Prize at the International Songwriting Competition. Tours opening for Elle King and Lissie gave him added exposure. Skrizzly Adams at last released his debut album, Young Man, on November 15, 2019.
At Mercury Lounge, Skrizzly Adams seemed to be of two worlds. Half of his songs seemed to originate from heartland rock and the other half leaned on hip-hop, trap, and urban pop influences. One would imagine that the dichotomy would be polarizing, yet for the most part, Adams’ arsenal of clever lyrics and his honest delivery were engaging enough to melt the walls of separation. Adams was an everyman, singing his thoughtful blue-collar lyrics with grit and passion, then occasionally breaking into a new rhythm with a rap. Adams often strummed a folk guitar, and then the band, comprised of guitarist Nick Tesoriero, bassist/keyboardist Jamie Pitrelli, and drummer Brandon Ingalls, joined to give a song a rocking workout. In the end, the standout was Adams’ songwriting craft and convincing delivery. Fortunately, the musical chemistry that supported his compositions also clicked smoothly and refreshingly. Although the wide span of old and new sounds might alienate some purists, there will be a larger audience willing to jump genres with Skrizzly Adams.