Concert Review: Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Della Mae with special guests Dr. John & Noe Socha (7/26/2013)

The WGBH-sponsored Boston Summer Arts Weekend put together a nice three-day festival of free music along with a few paid ticketed concerts for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend the outdoor events. I was excited about the Friday lineup, but I wasn’t able to get there early enough for the outdoor show; instead, I picked up a ticket for the late-night “After Dark” event held in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont Copley Plaza. I’d never been to the Fairmont before, and I was a bit startled by the decor – I think the interior designer must have had a brother who owned a chandelier factory and a sister specializing in gilt application. I felt a bit out of place, especially arriving at the end of a very long day which included getting stuck outside in the rain for 40 minutes. The fancy venue made for a fairly staid concert setting, which is a shame, because the music was very lively and fun – in most music venues people would have been dancing the night away instead of sitting at tables with white tablecloths drinking $12 glasses of wine and feeling awkward. (Er, maybe that was just me.)

The first band on stage was Della Mae, an all-female Boston-based bluegrass band. They’re a relatively young band (their first album was released in 2011) but they are very talented and the performance was really tight and a lot of fun. They invited another local musician, Italian-born Berklee student Noe Socha, on stage for a song or two, including “Trouble in Mind” which I caught on my camera:

I had never heard of Mr. Socha before, and I was very impressed with his performance as well. He plays blues harmonica and guitar (as you can see in the above video). The whole first set was excellent from top to bottom, and my only criticism is that they should have been allowed to play longer instead of giving us such an unnecessarily long intermission. Della Mae will be touring quite a bit of the U.S. in the next few months; you can check out their tour dates by clicking here.

The headliner of the show was the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who I’ve seen twice before. (The last time I saw them was an absolutely epic show in a bowling alley attached to a (more…)

Concert Mini-Reviews: Tiger Lillies (7/15/2013), Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys (7/19/2013), Hot Club of Somerville (7/20/2013)

I had to work too much overtime this week to keep up with my concert reviews, so I’m giving you a quick three-fer of theatrical musical performances from the past week.

Last Monday I went to the always-lovely Oberon in Harvard Square to see the Tiger Lillies. I think of them as a real “love it or hate it” kind of band, although I may be the exception that proves the rule – I’m more in the “like” camp. They’re a lot of fun, and they know how to put on a good concert, but I can’t say their music really reaches me on any deeper level. That said, there’s definitely a place in my life for bands that are just fun!

They are a unique three-piece band featuring mostly-falsetto lead vocals and a variety of instruments including accordion, drums, upright bass, piano, and theremin. Their music recalls theatrical styles like cabaret and vaudeville, while their lyrics tend to be both filthy and macabre. Monday night’s show was a lot of fun, they received a very enthusiastic response from a fairly diverse audience. (I’ll be honest, the people sitting next to me were scaring me a little. But that’s a story for another day.) The band took some requests for the encore, which made a lot of their fans very happy.

This video will give you a good idea of their sound and style:

The other two concerts of the week were part of the Outside the Box Festival on Boston Common, at the Spiegeltent, which turned out to be a (more…)

Concert Review: Zorn@60 at Gent Jazz Festival (7/14/2013)

Today’s concert review was written by our esteemed Belgian music correspondent, Bjorn Weynants. I’m posting this video of excerpts from the show here at the top so you can listen while you read! – Sarah V.

When it was announced that John Zorn would do a world tour with his “Zorn@60″ celebration, it came as no surprise that a Belgian stop at the Gent Jazz festival was included. After all, John Zorn has been a popular guest at this festival and its sister-festival Jazz Middelheim (which has the same organisers). You may be familiar with the live album by the original Masada Quartet Live in Middelheim 1999. The (multi-day) Gent Jazz festival takes place at the Bijloke site in the city of Ghent, which is a former hospital/abbey that has been beautifully converted into a museum/music centre, with a tent in the gardens where the concerts take place.

Apart from the “classic” Zorn@60 line-up on the main stage, we did get some extra (Zorn-related) concerts at a second – much smaller – Garden Stage. The concept behind Zorn@60 was not to look back at Zorn’s career thus far (he is not the type of musician to look back at what he did in the past), but rather to give an idea of what he is doing right now musically, at the age of 60.

The opening act was the Song Project, a new project. The central idea behind it was to write lyrics to a selection of Zorn songs, lyrics written by the likes of Sean Lennon, Laurie Anderson, Mike Patton and others. Three singers were present: Mike Patton (of Moonchild and Faith No More fame), Sofia Rei (from Mycale) and Jesse Harris (songwriting collaborator of Norah Jones). The backing was done by a band (directed by Zorn) which was basically The Dreamers, but with John Medeski instead of Jamie Saft on piano. A wide selection out of Zorn’s oeuvre was played: from Naked City to The Concealed (The Road to Kafaristan) to the Book of Angels (Dalquiel).

It will come as no surprise that (more…)

Concert Review: Zorn@60 at the Barbican in London (7/12/2013)

Today’s concert review was contributed by William Sarginson, founder/moderator of the John Zorn/Tzadik/Merzbow forum at

Of course I was excited for this show ever since it was announced. I always try to see Zorn (in whatever incarnation) whenever he visits the UK, and this was my sixth time. At Barbican too, which is always a plus for me as I’m straight off the train and five minutes walk to the venue – no subway, no hassle. In the heat of this time of year, believe me that was a plus point! So, a few drinks sank and on to the show!

The Barbican hall is a great venue, acoustically and aesthetically. Seats are comfortable, staff are helpful and it’s a great place to see anything performed. Probably why Zorn favours it as his London venue of choice. Looking through the evening’s programme we were in for a varied night of great music, although the actual billing of the show was to be altered. As the players arrived onstage and were introduced by Zorn, he explained that his original intention was to have each act as advertised, in that order of billing. However, the venue “didn’t like that idea” apparently, and insisted on an interval. As a result JZ split the evening into two – vocal, followed by non vocal. Made sense I guess…

First up was The Song Project – Zorn tunes performed with added vocals and lyrics, courtesy of Jesse Harris, Mike Patton and Sofia Rei. Now, I kinda spoiled things for myself here and previously watched footage from the recent Moers Festival show so I knew what to expect. Each vocalist took it in turns to do a song which included Naked City, Filmworks and Book Of Angels pieces as well as Towards Kafiristan from The Concealed. Rather than break things down tune by tune, the overall effect of this set was lost on me. All the players performed very well as you’d expect, but I just think that the whole idea of putting lyrics to already established songs is a little futile. I believe all the singers contributed to the lyrics, but the absent Sean Lennon’s contribution had this reporter wincing at the entry-level lyricism! I can’t remember which song they were applied to, but they were all pretty poor in my opinion. I can’t help but think this spot could have been used to greater effect with the inclusion of a different part of Zorn’s oeuvre. (Nova Express? Cobra? Hell, why not aim really high and say Naked City? Painkiller? :) ) Highlights here as ever was watching the musicians interact with each other. I could watch Joey Baron and Mike Patton laugh to themselves all day. Zorn conducting is always great to observe too. Overall though, The Song Project was a mis-fire for me.

Next up was The Holy Visions – an a cappella piece for five female voices inspired by Hildegard von Bingen. This was mind-blowing. I’m out of my depth even beginning to decipher what goes into writing or performing this type of music, but it was awesome to watch. Bewildering and almost trance inducing at times! The good thing about having front row seats is that I could see all the interactions between the singers – intricate hand movements and their use of tuning forks – all very interesting. I look forward to hearing the full (30 minute) piece which is due for release sometime this year apparently. All misgivings about The Song Project fell by the wayside after this set! [Note: You can see the Holy Visions in NYC this week at Lincoln Center on July 18! Click here for details. – Sarah V.]

The final act in the “vocal” segment was Moonchild / Templars. For whatever reason, John Medeski was not in attendance so it was a Patton / Dunn / Baron trio, with Zorn (hood on and up!) conducting. I was fortunate enough to see the Moonchild premiere in 2006, so was quite disappointed at the added keyboards / organ not materialising tonight. This was a storming set, though. I was pleased to see Zorn conduct the trio as he didn’t do so for the premiere, and YouTube footage of the South American dates looked insanely energetic and enjoyable. Which this was! About 20 minutes of noise then out for an interval….

First up after stretching the legs was The Alchemist, a piece for string quartet. After introducing the players, Zorn told us the full title of the piece, which I’m afraid was (more…)

Concert Review: Rabbit Rabbit at Club Passim (7/10/2013)

I headed back to Club Passim in Harvard Square this week to see Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi, a duo calling themselves Rabbit Rabbit. Cambridge was the first date on their tour of the eastern U.S., which they are traversing in a rather fabulous retro tour bus (which you can apparently take a tour of with a special VIP package!). I’ve seen them a couple of times before and I’m a subscriber to their website, Rabbit Rabbit Radio, which is a very cool concept: every month you get a download of their latest song, a video, a collection of photographs, an inevitably-quirky top-ten list, lyrics, discussion, and access to all of their archives.

The two of them have an impressive and perplexing resume, having participated in bands anywhere from jazz to metal to rock and having collaborated with people like Tom Waits, Blixa Bargeld, Shahzad Ismaily, Fred Frith and Nels Cline. They are both excellent singers and musicians, and their shows are always full of wit and dry humor. Their songs run the gamut from charming and cute domestic affairs to some pretty dark and dramatic stuff. Perhaps because they record one song a month instead of going into the studio for a week to record a whole album at once, there is a lot of variety in the music they come up with.

Highlights of the show for me included “After the Storm,” inspired by family stories of Hurricane Carol – a beautifully haunting and lonely-sounding song. Another favorite was “Inside/Outside,” which Mr. Bossi described as “a self-portrait, in some ways, of what it’s like to be married.” You can see their studio version here:

Another one I really liked was “My Town,” described as “indirectly related to the [Whitey] Bulger saga.” (For my readers too far from Boston to have heard of him, Whitey Bulger is (more…)