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Concert Reviews

    Banquet of the Spirits: 6 November 2014

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    Live Act(s): Banquet of the Spirits (@)
    Event Date: 6 November 2014
    Type of Event: Small Club Concert
    Venue: The Stone
    Banquet of the Spirits played several sets at the Stone as part of Cyro Baptista's week-long residency. The core band is a quartet consisting of bandleader Cyro Baptista on percussion and vocals; Brian Marsella on keyboards, Tim Keiper on drums, and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass, oud, and gimbri. During the four sets they did during the residency, they were joined by several special guests including Nels Cline (guitar), John Lee (guitar) and Peter Apfelbaum (horns).

    Tuesday night's early set with Nels Cline was a loud, heavy powerhouse of a concert, and the small venue was about as crowded as I've ever seen it. It was actually such an intense musical experience that I decided to leave after one set because I didn't think I could handle another one!

    Thursday's sets with John Lee and Peter Apfelbaum were still intense but also lighter, more melodic, and more fun. The intensity came less from power and noise and more from the ecstatic live music experience that you get from a band that is 100% on point with a room full of people who can truly appreciate what they're doing. While some concerts wear you out, I found this night to be energizing and uplifting. So many different kinds of musical fun, between the homemade musical instruments (like some kind of percussive pipe organ made from PVC and plywood), the percussion back-and-forth between Tim and Cyro, the manic keyboard solos from Brian Marsella, Apfelbaum's fantastic melodic sax solos... and I think my favorite moment of the night was the interplay between John Lee and Shanir Blumenkranz (on guitar and bass, respectively) during the last piece before the encore during one of the sets.

    It seems like Banquet of the Spirits is a band on top of their game right now, and I hope they get more chances to play out very soon - I'll be first in line to see them again!

      Content Creators Coalition Benefit/Rally/Protest: 19 October 2014

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      Live Act(s): Content Creators Coalition Benefit/Rally/Protest (@)
      Event Date: 19 October 2014
      Type of Event: Open Air Event
      On October 18 & 19, 2014, the NYC chapter of the Content Creators Coalition held a benefit, rally, and protest march to raise money and awareness for their cause. They have three main points, which are that artists should have control of their own work; artists should receive fair pay for their work; and that artists should have the right of collective representation to protect their interests. (I think most music fans would have a hard time arguing with any of these points!)

      The first part of the two-day event was held at Roulette in Brooklyn, which is one of my favorite venues for new music in the NYC metro area. This event was a benefit concert as well as a bit of a rally, with a number of speeches from musicians and other interested parties about the problems artists are facing today, especially in regards to the way profits from digital music are (mostly) being distributed to everyone but the artist who actually created the work. It was very educational and I learned a lot about the state of the music industry.

      There were a number of performances throughout the night from too many musicians to list, but some of my favorites included a quartet of Steve Coleman, John Zorn, Ches Smith and Trevor Dunn; a solo clarinet performance by Doug Wieselman; and a quartet of Marc Ribot, Amir ElSaffar, Ches Smith and Henry Grimes (I hope this one in particular is a lineup that happens again in the future!).

      The next day, Sunday, there was a free concert/rally at Le Poisson Rouge, ending with a roughly three-quarter-mile march through Greenwich Village and finishing with a protest at the New York Google offices (since they are heavily involved in the sort of digital music distribution that the Coalition is concerned with).

      The concert was fairly similar to the benefit the night before, with similar speakers and the same short film, but with different musicians - again, too many people to list, but some highlights were Cibo Matto, Roseanne Cash with Wesley Stace, and Ava Mendoza (who I really loved - I'd never seen her perform before). In addition to the live music and speeches, we were encouraged to take some markers and make up some signs to hold during the protest march.

      At the end of the concert, the grand finale was Kenny Wollesen and his band, the Himalayas - they started up in the hallway and most of the people in the venue (musicians and fans alike) followed along, beginning the march. This was really my favorite part of the weekend - the CCC did a great job of making the march appealing to everyone. I was actually sorry we didn't have a longer walk, I would have loved to keep following the band around Manhattan! The music was just right, the crowd had a fun vibe, it was a beautiful day, and the unsuspecting crowds we passed (tourists and locals alike) seemed, on the whole, very supportive of artists' rights and they seemed to appreciate the music and the spectacle. We were constantly being filmed and photographed by interested bystanders. Hopefully this is a good sign for the Content Creators Coalition and their mission. I'll definitely keep an eye out for future CCC events, and I'd encourage other music fans to do the same.

        John Zorn: 19 March 2014

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        Live Act(s): John Zorn
        Event Date: 19 March 2014
        Type of Event: Big Stage Concert
        Venue: Town Hall
        Last week, renowned composer/musician John Zorn premiered a third series of his popular Masada compositions, entitled "The Book of Beriah." He announced that there would be a total of 92 pieces in the Book of Beriah, each one to be played by a different ensemble. The premiere concert, held at Town Hall in New York City, featured no less than twenty different bands playing twenty different pieces. Musical styles were - in typical Zorn fashion - all over the map, including jazz, metal, classical, klezmer, rock and a host of experimental sounds.

        It's impossible to fully review twenty different bands in a short review, but there were some notable highlights. Eyvind Kang's string-heavy octet was my personal favorite of the night, a very beautiful and melodic piece which featured Frank London on trumpet. Another highlight was vocalist Sofia Rei's duet with saz bass player Jean-Christophe Maillard, who brought us a lovely exotic piece with a sparse arrangement that perfectly framed her voice. The most fun band of the night was undoubtedly Zion80, Jon Madof's Afrobeat-influenced big band, who lightened the mood before the intermission.

        The Merkaba Quartet, comprised of a string trio plus Marc Ribot on electric guitar, was another one of my favorites - it reminded me a lot of Bar Kokhba, with a sort of slinky, laid-back-yet-energizing sound. Mephisto (which was the band Mephista, but with a substitute drummer) was one of the more experimental/avant groups of the night, with Ikue Mori's fascinating electronics and Sylvie Courvoisier's dramatic piano keeping me captivated throughout.

        Cleric, a Philadelphia-based band on Mimicry Records, were probably the most polarizing band that we heard; fans of heavier music absolutely loved them, while people less appreciative of that scene were rather taken aback by their aggressive sound. Secret Chiefs 3, one of their Mimicry labelmates, capped off the night with a fantastic and energetic finale, leaving us with our heads spinning and wondering about what the next installment of the Book of Beriah will hold. After a three-hour concert of almost unbelievable diversity, it's hard to imagine what could come next!

          Les Rhinoceros: 15 October 2013

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          Live Act(s): Les Rhinoceros (@)
          Event Date: 15 October 2013
          Type of Event: Small Club Concert
          Venue: Lilypad (@)
          Les Rhinoceros, a young band originally from the Washington DC area, kicked off their 6-week, 20+ state U.S. tour on Tuesday night with a short set at the Lilypad in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA. I've been a fan of theirs for a couple of years since picking up their debut self-titled album (released on Tzadik) after a friend recommended it - both of their studio albums are excellent, and I was eager to see what they would do with their latest release in a live setting.

          Their web page lists their genre as 'Noise/Ambient/World/Experimental/Other' and that is pretty accurate, except they are probably a lot easier to listen to than you might guess from that description. They have some catchy tunes and a good groove on most tracks, and they are creative with their use of samples, pedals and effects.

          The concert on Tuesday was pretty sparsely attended, but the audience that did turn up thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be an excellent set by the Rhinos. They came with a different lineup than the last time I saw them, a little over a year ago ' they had a violin and saxophone that time, but for this show the lineup was a more traditional electric guitar/bass/drums rock trio. The two shows weren't as different as you might imagine from the instrumentation, especially since they used a lot of their samples and electronics to fill out the sound. They played pieces from both of their studio albums during their set, mostly selecting pieces that were more upbeat and melodic and less ambient.

          I really recommend checking them out on their current tour ' it's the first time they've visited many of these places, and they're coming to some smaller cities that don't tend to get that many great bands coming through. Their full tour schedule is listed here:

            Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: 5 October 2013

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            Live Act(s): Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog
            Event Date: 5 October 2013
            Type of Event: Small Club Concert
            Venue: Boot & Saddle
            Ceramic Dog (Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: drums; Shahzad Ismaily: bass, moog) has been performing together for six or seven years now, and they've grown to be one of my favorite live bands. The show we saw at the Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia Saturday night was a perfect example of why I like them so much: in a packed, sweaty little rock club, they were able to play an absolutely slamming set that just about knocked us off our feet. And while they are undoubtedly a rock band - they rock HARD! - they've also got experimental tendencies and they do a lot of improvisation, so it's a lot more interesting than just a plain old rock show. Ribot's solos are anything but straightforward, and between Ismaily's Moog and Smith's electronics, there are a lot of noise elements as well.

            Highlights of the set were mostly from their excellent new record, "Your Turn" (released in 2013 on Northern Spy), including "Lies My Body Told Me," the title track "Your Turn," and the wildest cover of "Take Five" you will ever hear. Another one I loved was the first song in the encore; they came out and started playing something slow and pretty - for about a minute, when Ribot suddenly said "F*** THAT!" and abruptly switched to a different, much louder and more raucous song ("Pinch" from their 2008 debut album "Party Intellectuals"). I couldn't quite tell if they'd planned that beforehand or if the band was as surprised as the audience, but it was a lot of fun, and the crowd loved it.

            Ceramic Dog is an unusual rock trio in that it isn't just a singer with a guitar who has a rhythm section behind him to fill out the sound. They really feel like an all-parts-equal trio, with everyone contributing musical ideas and extended solos. It's more like a jazz band in that way. I always enjoy watching and listening to the interplay between the three of them - Ismaily and Smith especially seem to feed off each other's energy during their live sets. Energy was particularly high at this show, with the audience often having a hard time finding enough space in the music to applaud and shout their appreciation. The band reacted with equal fervor, playing with a lot of power and really pushing the boundaries - especially Ches Smith, who played a phenomenal set (the guy standing next to me couldn't stop himself from joyfully air-drumming along for a good part of the show). At one point Smith managed to play so hard he put a stick through his drum and had to go find a new one to borrow for the rest of their set.

            Ceramic Dog doesn't play all that often, and if you're not in NYC or Europe you'll have a hard time finding one of their shows - but if you do get a chance to see them, I recommend that you take it!