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Pop Gun takes aim with 'American Soul'

Posted by Scott McLennan May 29, 2013 03:48 PM

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Pop Gun, from left, is Jim Melanson, Harry Zarkades, Greg Walsh, and Harry Sabean (Photo by Melanie Carr)

In the early '90s, Boston had everything but the flannel when it came to the sort of back-to-basics guitar rock that put Seattle on the musical map at the time.

"Nirvana broke everything open, and a lot of copy cats followed," says Pop Gun bassist, singer, and songwriter Harry Zarkades. "I loved bands like the Neats. I was weaned on that, and that Boston sound never got the credit that I think it deserved."

But that hasn't stopped Pop Gun from championing such a sound. The band formed in the grunge era, collapsed before President Clinton was out of office, tried a reunion in 2006 that didn't last, then pulled together again in 2010 to play benefit shows for the family of Zippo Raid guitarist Joe Kelley following his death.

"I think that's when we realized life is short, and we decided to do this and not let differences get in the way," Zarkades says.

The band_ with Jim Melanson and Harry Sabean on guitars, Greg Walsh (formerly of Zippo Raid) on drums, and Zarkades_ now plays about once a month and is releasing its new album "American Soul" Friday, May 31, at the Middle East nightclub in Cambridge.

Pop Gun didn't mess with the formula it first came out with 20 years ago. Zarkades writes and sings with a serrated edge but layers on his love of '60s pop while making room for his bandmates' tastes for punk and glam. The music is simultaneously rough and melodic, keeping up the tradition of Boston club rock that kicked ass and still made you want to dance.

The band's press release for the album even jokes that while the members themselves have found harmony, "American Soul" is not a happy record.

"We're in our 40s, but we haven't forgotten that feeling from our teens and 20s. But with that feeling, I have greater perspective now too," Zarkades says.

The album kicks off with "Middle Class Badass," a great calling card for the guitar squall and general hoodlum attitude to follow in the subsequent 30 minutes of music on the disc.

Pop Gun mixes up the material to offer the out-there psych-punk-pop of "Zombie Man" and "No One Knows;" the biting social commentary of the title track; the weepier tracks "Bitter Heart" (written by Melanson) and "Angeline;" and freewheeling party anthem "The Lodge."

The album also has a pretty straightforward cover of New England's "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya."

"We used to play that live, doing it sarcastically, and really sloppy, like a Replacements' song," Zarkades says. "But the riff is really cool, and we kind of became fans of the song. We punked up the bass a little, and Jim sings it since it's a real guitar song. I guess it's our guilty pleasure. Hey, we listened to Kiss before we got into punk rock."

For the CD release show, original Pop Gun guitarist Bruce Allen, who moved to Colorado last year and was replaced by Sabean, will be back (as is his song "Love and Wine" on "American Soul"). Muck and the Mires, Classic Ruins, and A Terrible Beauty are also on the bill at the Middle East, 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Doors open at 8 p.m. Pop Gun also has shows July 9 with Charlie Farren at New Hampshire's Stone Church and Nov. 14 with the Smithereens at Salem Town Hall.

Here's a little of what you can expect from the resurrected Pop Gun:

That was fun, let's do it again

Posted by Scott McLennan May 26, 2013 08:24 PM

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The crowd at the main stage during Of Monsters and Men

Before wrapping up Sunday night, the Boston Calling Music Festival announced that it will be back on Boston's City Hall Plaza on Sept. 7 and 8 with Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, Kendrick Lamar, Gaslight Anthem, and several others.

Aaron Dessner of the National will once again curate the modern-rock fest, and the announcement came during his band's headlining set Sunday night.

Early bird tickets go on sale May 31.

Before the National's set, Of Monsters and Men whipped up sing-along after sing-along with its lavishly arranged folk pop.

Young the Giant played its first show in several months, emerging from the studio to pepper new tracks among the alt-rock staples from its self-titled debut. Singer Sameer Gadhia noted the band's first Boston show was two years ago at Great Scott in Allston, capacity 240. Yesterday, the band preceded the headliner with a crowd of 19,500 on hand.

Personal fave award on Sunday goes to Andrew Bird who was simply encyclopedic in scope but completely chill in attack.

And for MVP yesterday: the sun.

Look forward to September.

Of Monsters and Men: Big in Boston

Posted by Scott McLennan May 26, 2013 05:14 PM

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Of Monsters and Men hanging out at Boston Calling (Photo by Alex Pearlman)

Iceland's Of Monsters and Men has a habit of facing big crowds in Boston.

"Our first big show in this country was at the House of Blues," says Of Monsters and Men's Ragnar Thorhallsson of the Lansdowne Street concert hall. And that was about a year ago, when songs from the folk-pop troupe's "My Head is an Animal" were just catching on in this country.

After a whirlwind year that included appearances at last year's Newport Folk Festival and this season's "Saturday Night Live," Of Monsters and Men found itself at a sold-out Boston Calling Festival on Sunday.

"We have to play the more upbeat songs," Thorhallsson says of going from clubs to fests. "The album has some big (sounding) songs, even though they were written on acoustic guitar."

His singing partner Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir adds that it was an adjustment for her to learn how to connect with tens of thousands of people rather than with a more intimate
crowd.

"You have to learn to reach out," she says.

Caspian capitalizes on Boston Calling

Posted by Scott McLennan May 26, 2013 03:45 PM

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Phil Jamieson of Caspian (Photo by Alex Pearlman)

In choosing bands to represent the local music scene at the first Boston Calling Music Festival, organizers couldn't have made a more contrasting selection. The Bad Rabbits played Saturday, and the band's funky, high-energy set was a natural fit for a fest. Caspian had the local spotlight Sunday, and the band itself admits that Boston Calling took a risk in presenting an ambient, post-rock outfit.

Caspian is very good at what it does, but typically does it indoors and in the dark. But Caspian's moody, theatrical sound went over, due in part to the sheer physicality and sincerity of the performance.

If Boston Calling was going outside its comfort zone of indie pop, Caspian too was drifting from safe shores.

"Sunlight," was the uniform answer the band members gave when asked what was the biggest difference between a normal gig and the Boston Calling show.

Second came stage size. The Beverly sextet is used to working in tight spaces, which is fine as the members keep an eye on each other for visual cues that help them move through the intricacies of its instrumental catalog.

But they were not about to pass up a chance to perform in front of thousands of people, many of whom, the band knew, would be unfamiliar with Caspian's music.

"Some of our music can be pretty dense. We put together the set to open with something a little more accessible" Jamieson says of beginning with the older song "Some Are White Light" (which was also a nod to longtime fans who showed up to support Caspian's festival appearance).

Jamieson and fellow guitarists Calvin Joss and Jonny Ashburn, bassist Chris Friedrich, drummer Joe Vickers, and guitar player and keyboard player Erin Burke-Moran craftily built on the opening and grew more intricate as the set moved along, culminating with a multi-faceted finale laced with sound loops and a five-way drum circle.

Jamieson says he prefers to play with bands different from his, as too much post-rock can get overwhelming. Burke-Moran also chimes in that the diversity of the festival mirrors Boston itself.

"It's such a musical city, it needed a festival like this," Burke-Moran says.

And it was a good chance to catch Caspian as it probably won't be playing around Boston until late fall or early winter as it works on new material.

Sunday sermon Caspian style

Posted by Scott McLennan May 26, 2013 02:34 PM

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Caspian plays the opening set Sunday at Boston Calling

In the absence of a gospel choir, the music of Caspian is a pretty good way to ease into Sunday and get a lift for a long day ahead. The Beverly sextet opened Boston Calling Sunday, facing a much larger opening crowd than was on hand for the wet Saturday, stirring it into a slow frenzy.

Caspian played a largely instrumental set, layering all sorts of textures for doses of spacey audio bliss sliced through with tribal grooves; you could trance and dance.

Boston Calling rested and assessed

Posted by Scott McLennan May 26, 2013 12:05 PM

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Brian Appel of Crash Line Productions

Day 1 of the inaugural Boston Calling Music Festival is in the books, and organizers already tweaked the event for Day 2 happening today.

"The biggest change we made was looking at how people go from stage to stage," says Brian Appel of Crash Line Productions, one of the Boston Calling producers.

Artistically, the fest hit its bullseye, Appel says, and looks forward to doing more Boston Callings that emulate the new-music vibe of this first lineup.

Appel praises The National's Aaron Dessner as a Boston Calling curator, saying that the festival wanted to keep a tight focus on contemporary indie rock.

"Having Aaron involved, we knew we'd keep the focus on the here and now," says Appel, but adds the particular "here and nows" presented on Day 1 were instrumental in keeping the capacity crowd engaged despite the dreary weather conditions that blanketed the two-stage, outdoor event.

"The feedback we got on Matt and Kim was phenomenal. They took the festival to the next level. And when Fun. said it was the best show of their lives, people just went nuts," Appel says. (It's true, I saw that)

People arriving today will notice small adjustments to the way traffic is steered through the beer garden and between the stages.

Meh; You go to a festival of nearly 20,000 people, crowds are part of the game. It was better hearing him articulate the vision for Boston Calling.

"We try to catch lightning in a bottle," Appel says. (And that definitely happened yesterday with Portugal.The Man. My only gripe was that James Mercer either needs Red Bull infusions or the Shins should be presented on the smaller, more intimate stage. Just sayin'.)

Boston Calling continues Sunday with The National, Young the Giant, Of Monsters and Men, Andrew Bird, and others.

Flashy end to Boston Calling Day 1

Posted by Scott McLennan May 25, 2013 09:24 PM

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Marina and the Diamonds as seen from the vid screen

The one-two punch of Marina and the Diamonds and Fun. provided a frenetic finale to the first day of Boston Calling.

Marina and the Diamond's band members hit the stage wearing suits that made you wonder if they had come from a wedding, then Marina herself emerged wearing a bridal veil. Freaky sun glasses, beauty queen sash and way-skimpy outfit for this weather followed. But it was Marina's powerhouse voice and pure command of the stage that hooked ya.

Fun. closed the night on the main stage with a big colorful splash of feel-good pop (even when the songs are down, Fun. makes it all seem OK).

For a first shot, not too shabby Boston Calling. Not too shabby.

Popping back with P.TM and the Shins

Posted by Scott McLennan May 25, 2013 07:07 PM

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James Mercer of the Shins on the big screen

After a few sets of dance rock, Boston Calling swung into the indie-pop portion of Day 1. Portugal. The Man played a set on the side stage that left me feeling this band is going to be busting out once its new album "Evil Friends" is out in June. Just an energetic, engaging show all the way around, with a little Weezer tease tossed in for good measure.

Before the Shins held court on the main stage with its beautifully constructed melodies, Boston Mayor Tom Menino gave Boston Calling his blessings. Jeesh, dude's not even running and he shows up when more than 25 people gather in his city.
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Portugal.The Man bringing the killer indie pop

Balloons yes; guitars no

Posted by Scott McLennan May 25, 2013 05:11 PM

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Matt & Kim counted on fans to fill the fest with color

Nothing gets Matt & Kim down. The effervescent pop duo whipped Boston Calling into a geek dance frenzy and kept cheering on the crowd's grit, 'cuz it's cold and wet.

Matt & Kim handed out an untold number of balloons that needed blowing up, which the fans dutifully did and then launched them, creating a colorful spectacle against the grey skies.

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Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow of MS MR

MS MR heated up the side stage with its sinewy grooves and darker tones laced into arty dance rock. The band made a lot of noise, just like Matt &and Kim, and neither busted out a guitar. Rock fest without guitar (at least for a bit). What a concept.

Bad Rabbits invade press tent

Posted by Scott McLennan May 25, 2013 03:52 PM

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Fredua "Dua" Boakye

After playing its set, Bad Rabbits descended en masse upon the Boston Calling media camp. They answered questions ranging from their origins to their plans, usually mixing myth with fact. What I did learn is that frenetic front man Dua is sitting on a stash of heavy metal lyrics and melodies; improvements over the hardcore fare he pedaled as a teen in Weymouth ("We were a bad 25 ta Life.")

When told that it was actually metallers Scott Lee and Acacia Strain who turned me on to the Bad Rabbits deep groove and funk, Dua bellowed a deep, metally "Yessss."

Dude's got pipes. I'm waiting for the Bad Rabbits/Acacia Strain co-bill and joint project. Until then enjoy the vibes from Bad Rabbits' new album "American Love" and catch em on late night TV playing the Craig Ferguson show on May 31.

No more waiting for Boston Calling

Posted by Scott McLennan May 25, 2013 01:49 PM

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Bad Rabbits kick off Boston Calling with "We Can Roll"

Rain be damned. Bad Rabbits hit the stage to launch the inaugural Boston Calling music festival, and the drops stopped-if only temporarily.

Weather aside, the transformation of City Hall Plaza into a festival site is pretty impressive. Two stages, various vending areas, a sheltered VIP enclave are all part of the footprint.

Not sure if the drizzle is keeping elements of the the sell-out crowd at bay, as there is plenty of space to get up close to the bands during the early goings.

Waiting for St. Lucia to hit the second stage next, followed by Cults, MS MR, Matt and Kim, Portugal the Man, the Shins, Marina and the Diamonds, and Fun. Boston's heavy millennial fest is under way.

Getting Stronger all the time

Posted by Scott McLennan May 23, 2013 10:10 PM

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You've heard "Dirty Water" a million times, but never quite like this. Boston's formidable grit rockers Girls, Guns and Glory this week released its revamped ode to the city on the banks of the river Charles and gave the song a whole new tempo and groove. It also added a chorus of voices from Boston's rock community.

Proceeds from the sale of the single will benefit the One Fund Boston set up to aid victims of the Marathon bombing.

G,G, and G's Ward Hayden reached out to producers Sean McLaughlin and David DeLuca to helm what became known as ONEsession. In addition to all the voices putting a distinctly Boston accent on the song, Girls, Guns and Glory roped in Swinging Steaks keyboard man Jim Gambino to play on the cut.

Click the link above to buy the single for a buck (or more, if you're feeling generous). DeLuca says a video from the ONEsession is also due out shortly.

In other One Fund music news, Godsmack dropped out of the Boston Strong concert happening Thursday at TD Garden, and the Dropkick Murphys were added to the mammoth fund-raiser. The Dropkicks recently released the "Rose Tattoo" E.P. to benefit the One Fund, including a remake of the title song with Bruce Springsteen. You can find that on iTunes. Alas, the Boss is still scheduled to be touring in Europe next week, so it's unlikely he'll be able to join the Dropkicks, Aerosmith, J.Geils Band and the many others performing at Boston Stronger. And even though this concert is sold out, word is that promoter Live Nation is releasing blocks of tickets as show day approaches. When tickets become available, they will be sold via www.ticketmaster.com and www.livenation.com. Buying from other sources means the money is likely not going to the One Fund and you may not get into the show as you'll need a picture ID and the credit card used to originally purchase the ducat for entry.

Sam Cohen takes flight with Yellowbirds

Posted by Scott McLennan May 22, 2013 05:38 PM

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Sam Cohen brings Yellowbirds to Cambridge on Saturday (Photo by Bernie deChant)

Sam Cohen says 30 minutes of music is plenty to digest in one sitting. Which is true if you're making music as fulfilling as Cohen does on "Songs From the Vanished Frontier," his second outing with Yellowbirds.

"Songs from the Vanished Frontier" is due out May 28 on Royal Potato Family records, and Yellowbirds kick off a string of release shows on Saturday, May 25, at Lily Pad in Cambridge. It's a homecoming of sorts for Brooklynite Cohen, who attended Berklee College of Music and was part of the Boston indie-rock troupe Apollo Sunshine (and that band's Jesse Gallagher happens to book the Saturday night shows at Lily Pad).

Nina Violet and Aetherists are also performing with Yellowbirds at Lily Pad, 1353 Cambridge St., Cambridge.

By 2010, Apollo Sunshine had run its course and Cohen was living in New York City working on songs that he was not sure would find a home But bedroom demos shaped up into his Yellowbirds debut, "The Color," which came out in 2011.

"I was exploring on that first album," Cohen says of the outing that showed him veering off into an interesting blend of roots music, soul, and psychedelic pop. And while "The Color" drew its fair share of critical praise, Cohen kept on working, firming up the ideas that have come to distinguish Yellowbirds as a band that pays as much attention to song craft as to sonics. Cohen also established a firm Yellowbirds lineup with drummer Brian Kantor and the married couple of bassist Annie Nero and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman.

By the tail end of Apollo Sunshine's run, Cohen says he was taking a different approach to songwriting, one that sounds like it comes to fruition on "Songs From the Vanished Frontier."

"I work on the chords and melody first. I get the feeling of the music first and work on lyrics last," Cohen says. "I don't write about something I read in the paper. I just start singing syllables, then turn those into words. A song evolves like a puzzle."

The resulting songs here are neatly constructed but still wide open to interpretation ("the fork in the cul de sac" from "Love Stories" is a personal favorite image I keep trying to wrap my head around).

"Even I have three or four interpretations for any of these songs," Cohen says. "People have told me how uplifting they thought a song was when I thought it was dark and gloomy. I love that."

Cohen sings in a relaxed tone, and the music unfolds in careful measure, with a few squalls and gusts tossed in for texture. Whatever flourishes the band weaves into its music, it does so subtly.

"Production was so in the foreground of what was popular for a long time. I think that idea of how crazy could you get hit a ceiling. Now the performance is more pronounced, and the production more laid back," Cohen says.

Though you'd hardly call the slow surge of the album's title track or bellowing haunt of "The Ceiling" sparse. Despite its 34-minute running time, "Songs From the Vanished Frontier" has a cinematic sweep.

As for the succinctness of the disc, Cohen attributes that to both practical and artistic concerns.

"Thirty minutes is the optimal amount of music for a vinyl pressing. It just sounds better," Cohen says. "And all of those classic albums that inspired me, they were all about this long."

Ahh, but did those classic artists have videos? Well, Yellowbirds have a couple so far. Check 'em out:

The Interrobang drops into Radio

Posted by Scott McLennan May 21, 2013 12:54 PM

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The Interrobang, from left, Rjan Savary, Mick Greenwood, Johnny Malone, Stephen DeBenedictis, and James Hogg (Photo by EAS Photography)

The Interrobang isn't so much a new band as it is a band reboot, which explains the polish and craft present on the group's debut CD set for release Saturday when the Interrobang plays at Radio in Somerville.

"It was a weight off our backs," singer Johnny Malone says of shelving the old monicker Self-Proclaimed Rockstars and adopting the Interrobang (you know, that weird piece of punctuation that looks like an exclamation point and question mark smashed together) in April. "We're an alternative rock band, and the name we had just wasn't describing us correctly."

Malone and guitarist Mick Greenwood went through various incarnations of Self-Proclaimed Rockstars before arriving at the lineup with guitarist Rjan Savary, bassist James Hogg, and drummer Stephen DeBenedictis.

While the band was prepping its latest batch of songs, it changed its name to reflect a fresh start, one firmly grounded in guitar crunch and a careful balancing of moods and textures; the CD's most outwardly angry song, "American Debt Slave," also has the record's bounciest melody.

The six tracks_ five originals and a cover of Talking Heads "Life During War Time"_ are all restless in some way. "Zirconia" blasts a woman who proves to be no diamond in the rough; "Bombs Away" bemoans the lullaby of consumer culture. False smiles, doubt, and chaos are also among the lyrical touchstones worked into a musical tapestry that warps a surf-rock riff here, a reggae rhythm there into a harder rock package.

The band also avoids quick hits, layering each song with noise, solos, and other sonic detours. All five members chip in to and sign off on lyrics that take shape on a white board in the band's practice space, which leads to some pretty winding narratives.

So if you're looking for a band with some sardonic edge, you'll do well by the Interrobang. And catching these guys is pretty easy starting Saturday with the show at Radio, 381 Somerville Ave., in Somerville's Davis Square. When Particles Collide, the Susan Constant, and Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library are also playing. The Interrobang will be at Radio on the last Saturday of each month this summer (the June date of the residency is dedicated to Brit rock, with the Interrobang tackling Radiohead, the Deep North covering the Smiths, and Southern Lust Club working up some David Bowie).

The band will also be part of the Steve Katsos Show's fourth anniversary celebration happening at the Regent Theater in Arlington on June 23 (Greenwood is the TV show's music producer) and will be touring along the East Coast in August. To keep atop the band's schedule, following along at

http://www.theinterrobangband.com.

"We don't buy into the old idea about playing out too much and worrying about check marks at the door. We want to play," Greenwood says. "There are no bad gigs, only public rehearsals if no one shows up."

For a sample of what to expect Saturday, here's "Zirconia" off the new CD (beware of a little rough language in the song if tender ears are around):


Upper Crust brings the bar roque

Posted by Scott McLennan May 15, 2013 02:03 PM

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The Upper Crust, from left, Jackie Kickassis, Lord Bendover, Count Bassie, and the Duc d'Istortion (Photo by Jay Elliott)

Lord Bendover is not pleased as yet again his band the Upper Crust finds itself performing in an oh-so-working-class rock club.

A ballroom, he says, would provide the proper ambiance for his band of aristocrats. Alas, the Upper Crust will be playing the decidedly non-ballroom-ish Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain on Monday, May 20.

"We continue to mingle with the common folk," Lord Bendover sighs.

For nearly 20 years, the Upper Crust has done its best to rep the gentry in rock (or roque), going so far as to maintain the look and airs of 18th-century nobility. The group splits its time between New York City and Boston and is responsible for four studio albums, a live record, and a documentary.

Drummer Jackie Kickassis, bass player Count Bassie, and guitarist the Duc d'Istortion join Lord Bendover in the Upper Crust.

When asked how these famously foppish fellows have hung together so tightly through the years, Lord Bendover offers an explanation.

"We have a bond among us forged by the hardships of our youth," he says. "One day, we had to wait an hour for our afternoon tea. That gave us the right to sing the blues."

The Upper Crust is actually much better at warping those blues into AC/DC-style riff rock, and in true mega-star fashion most of the band's songs deal with how much better it is to be rich than to not be rich.

Asked how the band weathered the bad economy, Lord Bendover simply says, "We were unaware that there was an economy at all. " He assures that he and the other Crusties were never without enough cake an confections.

The good sir, though, has a beef with a certain pizza company that got into hot water for not paying its employees.

"It's a point of honor not to talk about money. We don't pay anybody anything. But we are dismayed that a pizza chain would steal our name and then put a blot on our name in Boston. We reserve that privilege to blot our own name," his lordship says.

So in light of those shenanigans and the utter absence of a decent ballroom for a band of this stature, Lord Bendover made a generous offer to the citizens of Boston in the wake of Mayor Tom Menino's retirement announcement: The Upper Crust would not mind if the city forgoes an election and simply defers all decisions to the band.

"Short of being responsible or having to work, we offer ourselves to the people of Boston should they want us as their undisputed leaders and commanders," Lord Bendover proclaims.

You can test such regal waters Monday when the Upper Crust plays at the Midway Cafe, 3496 Washington St., in Jamaica Plain. The Honeysuckles, Chris Colbourne, and Todd Thibaud are also on the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m.

The Upper Crust will also be joining a bunch of other bands on June 13 at TT the Bear's in Cambridge for a fund raiser to benefit Eva Lipton. Get details here https://www.facebook.com/events/359520370816342/
Here's the band performing its classic "Let Them Eat Rock"

Mount Peru reveals broad base

Posted by Scott McLennan May 14, 2013 10:10 AM

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Mount Peru covered so much ground with its five-song "Is This Thing On?" that the prospect of a full-length album leaves me thinking I better pack provisions before listening to something like that.

Mount Peru conjures an expansive sound, adding trumpet, keys, pedal steel guitar, and harmony vocals to the guitar-bass-drum basics. But it's the way that the band's songwriting takes advantage of this broad palette that makes "Is This Thing On?" a winner.

"All You Get," a blast of power pop, launches the E.P. Singer Thom Valicenti stays steady and unflappable, assuring "it doesn't matter at all" while the music bounces around him accentuating the rest of the tune's rough road.

"Wallflower Power" is another shot of indie pop, highlighting trumpet and keys in a breezy melody urging you to “throw discretion to the wind.”

Then there are the darker turns on “Is This Thing On?" "Old Mountain Home" is a heaving lament, full of haunted tones and creeping sorrow. "No Sweetheart Blues" is no less sorrowful, but gets its point across with a sparse country blues punctuated with the moan of pedal steel.

"Daggers Drawn" rounds out the sonic excursions with an undercurrent of steely rock ‘n’ soul led by Matt Bowker's trumpet lines. Here, the mood is more riled than retreating.

As broad as Mount Peru gets, singer Mary Flatley, drummer Tim Nylander, bassist Alan Durell, guitarist Curtis Wyant, Valicenti, and Bowker keep a basic earthiness to their sound. Yet that Americana accent on "Is This Thing On?" is unlike others that you’ve heard.

Mount Peru celebrates the release of “Is This Thing On?” (available in vinyl) with a show Thursday, May 16, at TT the Bear’s, 10 Brookline St., Cambridge. Aloud, Parks, and Nurse & Soldier are also on the bill. Doors open at 8:30 p.m.

Here’s a taste of what Mount Peru is offering:


Bad Rabbits deliver the goods; premiere "American Love"

Posted by Scott McLennan May 12, 2013 07:58 PM

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Bad Rabbits, l-r, Graham Masser, Sheel Davé, Fredua "Dua" Boakye, Salim Akram, Santi Araujo (Photo by Mike Dravis)

The first time I saw Bad Rabbits live was when the band played at the Warped Tour a few years back. In the hours before the Bad Rabbits played their allotted 30 minutes on a small stage set up in what is normally a parking lot at Mansfield's Comcast Center, two music buddies I ran into told me I had to catch the band's set. The weird thing is that the advice came from disparate sources: an impresario of the New England metal scene and a manager of indie-rock bands. And when the Bad Rabbits did hit the stage, the band served up a funky, R&B maelstrom _ something that sounded nothing like anything else going on at the Warped Tour that day nor remotely within the musical orbits of the guys who said, "Be there."

The Bad Rabbits caused a traffic jam at their stage site, as their blend of infectious energy and musical depth leaped over genre hurdles and grabbed listeners. In other words, a normal day at work for the band.

Tomorrow, Boston's Bad Rabbits release "American Love," an album that equals the power of its live show and will very likely boost the band's national profile.

"It's unnerving putting out an album, waiting to see what people think," says Bad Rabbits bassist Graham Masser. "We did take our time and put a lot of work into the songs. We were not just going to turn out songs, and I think our fan base understands we want to focus on quality rather than quantity."

Bad Rabbits struck a chord in 2009 when it released the E.P. "Stick Up Kids." While on tour in 2010, the band met famed producer Teddy Riley whom signed on to work on a Bad Rabbits album that came to be known as "American Dream." In 2011, Oakland producer B. Lewis had Bad Rabbits jam at a house party and that led to a collaboration resulting in "American Love."

"We just felt this was the better next step," Masser says of releasing "American Love" ahead of "American Dream."

"American Love" is a great summertime release, full of party vibes and thick with romantic escapades. The 10 songs move from "love ya" shout-outs to bump 'n' grind jams, to raw break ups. It's not a concept album, Masser says, but "American Love" certainly has the methodical flow of a Bad Rabbits live set.

"American Love" is also a huge step forward from "Stick Up Kids" in terms of being a more progressive sounding brand of rocking R&B while not giving up the band's connection to old-school funk and soul.

"Our influences are still P-Funk, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Morris Day, but we wanted a more contemporary sound," says Masser of the pronounced keys, filthy bass lines, and intricate vocal arrangements on "American Love."

To get the picture, Bad Rabbits is allowing Boston by Beat to exclusively stream "American Love" in its entirety one day ahead of the release date. Crank this for full effect, but be forewarned that there are explicit lyrics in a few spots:

The arrival of "American Love" is just the start of a busy season for Bad Rabbits. The band makes its national television debut Friday, performing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Bad Rabbits then participate in the inaugural Boston Calling Music Festival happening at Boston's City Hall Plaza on May 25 and 26. Then the band tours the country through July and August.

FULL ENTRY

Z*L, Ghost Box Orchestra get psyched

Posted by Scott McLennan May 8, 2013 02:27 PM

Ghost Box Orchestra and Z*L have record release-shows on Friday, and in their own individual ways, both bands will be offering a variation on psych rock. Ghost Box Orchestra is the more ostensibly psychedelic of the two, playing cinematic instrumentals that rely on lots of slow-build tensions and releases. Z*L is more garage-psych, offering a quicker pounce. Here's a look at both their albums.

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"Vanished" is the second full-length from Ghost Box Orchestra and reveals the band to be growing more adventurous. Most every move on the album is subtle, but effective, as dynamics shift in such ways as to create sweeping mood swings and wholesale changes in the project's overall atmosphere.

A lot of psych flounders on repetition mistaken as meditation. Ghost Box Orchestra avoids that problem altogether with tunes that keep the action moving. There's really no formula at play, just some inventive interplay among guitarists Chris Johnson and Jeremy Lassetter, keyboard player Nazli Green, drummer Martin Rex, and bassist Dennis Noble (who has since been replaced by Zac McGowan).

The songs stay compelling because something always seems to be moving. On the song "Vanished," for instance, a spectral wave of keyboard and fuzzed-out guitar washes over the central, loping riff then recedes in time for the song to drift off in light, airy tendrils.

Ghost Box Orchestra also pays attention to bigger themes. The sinister and chaotic "From Darkness" precedes the spry "Into the Light." And is it possible that the entire song "Vader" grew from the "heavy-breathing" beat laced int the song?

The album has a good balance between drone and fury, and Ghost Box Orchestra adds its own signature to the psych style by blending ostensibly tumbleweed Western and Middle Eastern motifs into its melodies.

Ghost Box Orchestra is playing Friday upstairs at the Middle East , 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Animal Hospital, Royal Wedding, and the Ocular Audio Experiment are also on the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m.

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The self-titled debut from Z*L is dark and edgy, but surprisingly tender (albeit in sad ways) in spots. But popping offbeat surprises and playing with a steady sense of exploration are at the heart of this band's work here.

The trio of guitarist Ian Adams, bassist Isabel Riley, and drummer Jack "Knife" Guilderson conjures a crackling and bruised tone across this 10-song set released by Midriiff Records that for the most part pokes around the dark alleys; what do you expect from a record with one song called "Black Luck" and another called "Black Meds"?

But amid the rip offs in "Mike Hill" and seedy situations in "Steev Millar," Z*L tucks in the sad demise of the drifter from "A Town Called Romeo" and strikes a mournful tone on "When I Was Dead."

Adams and Riley swap leads vocals and sometimes harmonize, so for a scrappy garage combo of this sort, that kind of of arrangement provides some sonic depth without having to tamper with the compact, prickly song structures that give the band its identity. It also highlights the richness of the abstract images woven into the caterwauling.

Z*L doesn't barrel through its songs in traditional punk fashion even though the trio is definitely playing against popular trends. Instead, it stakes its outsider turf with dirty, reverb-laced melodies and and loose-limbed rhythms that tease at being sloppy before you realize just how efficient they are. This is music that manages to be simultaneously dark and vivid.

Z*L is playing Friday at Radio, 379 Somerville Ave., Somerville. Thalia Zedek, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, and You People are also on the bill. Show time is 9 p.m.


Hardcore fundraising

Posted by Scott McLennan May 7, 2013 11:13 AM

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Keith Bennett performing with Wrecking Crew (Photo by Duncan Wilder Johnson)

I've been covering concerts since 1986 and never lost a notebook at a show. Until Monday at the This is Boston benefit for the One Fund set up to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Ten bands_ mostly hardcore, with a couple of extreme-metal acts thrown in for good measure_ performed at the South Shore Music Hall in Quincy, which is less a "hall" and more a basement with a low ceiling and sticky floors.

The club reached its 525-person capacity, which is no surprise given the bill: Converge, Slapshot, Wrecking Crew, Dropdead, New Lows, Doomriders, the Revilers, Insult, Sexcrement, and Alpha & Omega (who came on board last minute when For the Worse had to drop off the show). This was roughly 25 years of Boston hardcore punk history laid out over a six-hour show put together by Lykaion Cult Productions, Ammonia Booking, and PanzerBastard/Wrecking Crew bassist Keith Bennett.

Bennett is a fixture in the hardcore and metal scenes, and for this event reunited Wrecking Crew, a band that along with Slapshot reinvigorated Boston's punk scene in the mid-80s. The influence of those two bands rippled through the show which culminated with Converge, whose reach now extends well beyond its Boston home as it continues to push the boundaries of hardcore.

FULL ENTRY

Roger Miller echoes psychedelic age

Posted by Scott McLennan May 5, 2013 10:26 AM

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Roger Miller brings Trinary System to T.T. the Bear's on Wednesday (Photo by Bill Ellison)

Making a record every two years with Mission of Burma isn't enough to satisfy Roger Miller. And it appears that even his work with Alloy Orchestra, M2, and Sproton Layer weren't enough to contain him, as he readies the Trinary System for a show Wednesday, May 8, at T.T. the Bear's, 10 Brookline St., Cambridge.

Burma's post-punk architecture and Miller's emphasis on keys with Alloy Orchestra and M2 are not sufficient for every Miller idea, as evidenced by "Big Steam" and "Dream Interpretation," the single he released last year on Good Road records.

"Big Steam" is a spooky blues with Miller playing a guitar that has a fork laced through the strings, while "Dream Interpretation" finds him playing guitar and organ to conjure an homage to Pink Floyd's "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

"I wanted an excessive amount of reverb," says Miller. "In Mission of Burma songs, there's no reverb."

Drummer Larry Dersch collaborated with Miller on the recordings. The two have worked together before in the Binary System. To bring this guitar-driven music to life, they added bassist P. Andrew Willis and dubbed themselves the Trinary System.

While the band was created to draw attention to the single, Miller has already written new material for the project, pointing to "Bike," which he says is "an imagined alternate-take, revved-up psychedelic version of 'Walk Don't Run' by the Ventures."

The Trinary System also has arrangements of Morphine's "Like Swimming" and Miles Davis' "Black Satin" ready to deploy in its only area appearance of the year. The show begins at 10 p.m. with the band Eula.

Miller hopes to record more of this lava-lamp and black-light rock, though has a few other projects that he is juggling, including summer shows with Burma and Alloy Orchestra. He also has shows later this summer with Sproton Layer, the psychedelic band he formed with his two brothers in the late 1960s and has not performed live with in 43 years.

Miller says Brian Coleman of Good Road "ordered" him to make a video for the dream-derived "Big Steam." This is how Miller follows orders:

Drowning in sound with Kingsley Flood

Posted by Scott McLennan May 4, 2013 04:10 PM

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Kingsley Flood, left to right, Naseem Khuri, Chris Barrett, Travis Richter, Nick Balkin, George Hall, and Jenée Morgan

Imagine celebrating a birthday or anniversary three months after the fact. The party may not have quite the same pop.

A February snow storm forced Kingsley Fiood to move its CD-release show, which finally arrived Friday, May 3, to the Brighton Music Hall. And even absent of the hoopla and hype generated when Kingsley Flood's "Battles" first became available, the rescheduled show was sold out, and the mood inside the Brighton Music Hall was triumphant, both on the stage and in the crowd. In a way, the delay may have led to an even more honest appraisal of "Battles," since now that we've lived with it for a while, if there wasn't something magnetic to the folk-rock fusion, this bash would have been strictly fiends and family.

Kingsley Flood played almost all of the songs off of "Battles" in a show that nearly hit the two-hour mark. The band generously sampled its E.P. "Colder Still" and debut album "Dust Windows." And for good measure, Kingsley Flood tossed in covers of the Rollings Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" and the Clash's "Career Opportunities."

The rock 'n' roll covers were not all that surprising despite Kingsley Flood's roots in country and folk and invitation to play this year's Newport Folk Festival. This is a band that plays with a manic energy and is far more apt to snarl than to coo. Singer Naseem Khuri didn't just play acoustic guitar; he beat it into submission. He rendered two acoustic guitars unusable by the time the band hit its encore run (was Khuri surprised the openers didn't want to lend him an acoustic?).

Yet even within the torrent of energy Kingsley Flood puts out live, the band distinguishes itself with richly textured songs. Jenée Morgan and Chris Barrett are multi-instrumentalists who open up all sorts of sonic pathways for Khuri's musings. Drummer Travis Richter was more prominent in the live set compared to the record, giving Khuri the mad rhythms that kept the front man dancing through the show. Guitarist George Hall and bassist Nick Balkin likewise break from convention, providing as much atmospheric shading as support in the melody and rhythm departments.

The lengthy show was well paced, starting with more introspective songs such as "Habit" and "Wonderland." Then the band moved into big, anthemic rockers such as "Pick Your Battles" and "Cul de Sac."

Kingsley Flood swerved into a scrappy punk portion of the show with "Career Opportunities" and its own "Strongman." After the garage-noir of "Down," out came the marching band...really. Five members of the Beverly High School marching band augmented "King's Men" and "I Don't Wanna Go Home."

Amid the energy and frolic, there was no losing sight of just how sturdy the songs were; whether hearing the effervescent "Sun Gonna Lemme Shine" or rustic "Waiting on the River to Rise," it was easy to understand why Kinsley Flood's profile is rising above its Boston base.

Air Traffic Controller and Velah played opening sets that nicely set up the celebratory arrival of Kingsley Flood. Velah created moody, subtly alluring songs while Air Traffic Controller hammered out chiming anthems and singalongs. The contrast in styles worked well since both bands, like Kingsley Flood, had fundamentally solid songs before busting out the particular ear-catching extras.

Jensen's worthwhile change of course

Posted by Scott McLennan May 1, 2013 08:42 PM

Adam Jensen was getting ready to push the second single from his latest E.P. when the unthinkable happened at the Boston Marathon.

So instead of promoting the edgy video he made for "Dead Man Walking," Jensen returned to "You'll Never Walk Alone," a song he had written with Candlebox's Kevin Martin that seemed far more fitting for the time.

"Kevin and I wrote that in December. It was in the pool of songs for the last record, but was never finished," Jensen recalls. "Then when everything went down, I just wanted to do something. What could I do?"

What he did is retreat to the studio and finish the song that is both love letter to his city and anthem to forge ahead.

"There's not much I changed. It used to be 'sing loud and proud,' but I changed it to 'stand loud and proud,'" he says. "I wanted it to be a tribute to the city and a little bit of sticking-your-chest-out pride."

You can purchase the single by clicking http://adamjensenmusic.bandcamp.com/. All proceeds will benefit the One Fund established to help victims of the Marathon bombing.

Jensen released the 5-song "Head On a String" E.P. in January (hitting #7 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart). The disc was a nice step forward in pop-rock song craft for the man who built a following first with Mission Hill. "Monsters" arrived as the first single, a bouncy piano-driven track with a dark undercurrent. And the E.P.'s Americana-flavored "Redemption Man" was included in Allston Pudding's "Boston Marathon Relief Mixtape."

With Mission Hill, Jensen displayed the sort of bold strokes and vibrant arrangements fine tuned on "Head on a String." Jensen's style made Mission Hill an easy fit to share the stage with such national acts as Train, Bon Jovi, and Candlebox (which is how he met Martin; now the two are "whiskey buddies"). After parting ways with his former record label, Jensen began recording and performing under his own name. He has a second E.P in the works for a summer release and plans to be on tour through the Northeast.

"Dead Man Walking" is the mournful ballad from "Head on a String," and here's the video created for the single.

While the song is introspective, Jensen says he wanted to bypass any heaviness in the wake of the Marathon tragedy and focus on music as a unifying force.

"I don't have much to say politically," he says. "But I thought ("You'll Never Walk Alone") had a message people could rally around."

About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »

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