Category Archives: Pop and Rock

The best time for Speed the Plough is ‘Now’

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Mark your calendar now: Speed the Plough is ready to party.

The North Jersey chamber rockers have been playing the songs from their splendid new album, aptly titled “Now,” for awhile. But now they’re ready to make it official with a record release party.

STP will jam the tiny stage of The HiFi Bar (formerly Brownie’s) in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday night, Feb. 25, to celebrate its release.

nowcover “Now” is Speed the Plough’s eighth album, and is notable for its fresh-but-familiar sound and the fact that it’s the first release by the newly revived Coyote Records.

Coyote was responsible for some of the early releases by Yo La Tengo, The Feelies, Beat Rodeo, Chris Stamey,and other leading lights of the Hoboken indie rock scene that centered on Maxwell’s. It was co-founded by Steve Fallon, who also ran Maxwell’s before giving it all up and moving to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he opened a collectibles shop called Gidget’s Gadgets.

It’s fitting in so many ways that “Now” is Coyote’s first release in years. Speed the Plough  started playing in 1984, during the golden age of the Hoboken scene, and has persevered — with an evolving membership always anchored by stalwarts Toni and John Baumgartner — through so many changes.

“Now” is a perfect example of Speed the Plough’s ability to ability to adapt.

The album preserves the feel of the band’s earlier work without  sounding dated. This disc embraces the talents of the new members — vocalist/guitaristsEd Seifert and Michael Baumgartner, bassist Cindi Merklee, and drummer John Demeski.

Seven of the album’s 12 tracks are John Baumgartner compositions featuring vocals by him or Toni, along with Toni’s traditional wind instruments. They’re every bit as good as anything they’ve done before. The haunting “Midnight in the World” — with its refrain of “Calling you ’cause I don’t know what to do” — is a particular earworm.

Their son, Michael, comes on strong with three contributions: “Garden,” a rocker that is probably the first of the gravel-voiced songwriter’s that I ever heard live, “Hey, Blue,” a gentle love song, and a brief (1:47), driving, Hüsker Dü-ish rocker, “Ed’s Song.”  that closes the disc.

Seifert contributes “Be With You,” a delightful, loping folk-rocker with spare, repeated lyrics.

Merklee steps forward in a way that I’ve been waiting to hear, offering a beautiful, plaintive homage to novelist Carson McCullers wiht “Miss Amelia.”

IF YOU GO

What: Speed the Plough record release party

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25

Where: The HiFi Bar, 169 Avenue A, Manhattan

Tickets: Free, donations accepted, with all proceeds going to the artists. Shows in this small venue tend to fill up, but if you arrive early, you’ll likely have no problem getting in. Making a donation in advance online guarantees entry.

 

Wilco brings ‘Star Wars’ to Port Chester’s Capitol Theatre

 

The Capitol Theatre marquee (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Capitol Theatre marquee (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

I’ve seen Wilco more than just about any other band. I’m not sure why, it just happened. It seems I can’t get enough of them. Thankfully, every tour seems fresh, because this band is tighter and more spectacular every time it blasts out of the gate.

The "Star Wars" cat — or, rather, a reasonable facsimile — awaits the band's arrival onstage Tuesday night at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The “Star Wars” cat — or, rather, a reasonable facsimile — awaits the band’s arrival onstage Tuesday night at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

This tour — which returns to the Capitol Theatre for another sold out show Wednesday, before hitting the far less intimate Kings Theatre in Brooklyn for two more sold-out gigs on Friday and Saturday — rolls out the new “Star Wars” material, like “More,” “Taste the Ceiling,””Random Name Generator,” and the heartbreaking “Where Do I Begin.”

Even so, Wilco’s never a play-the-album band, so there were plenty of favorites from the back catalogue in the show, too.

Photos and setlist on the jump.

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The Smithereens do it ‘Especially for You’

The Smithereens at B.B. King Blues Club (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Smithereens at B.B. King Blues Club (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

The Smithereens unleashed their debut album, “Especially for You,” on the world 30 years ago, and the band played it — and much more at B.B. King Blues Club in Manhattan on Saturday night.

The Times Square feels like an odd place to see the band, which formed in Carteret, New Jersey, in 1980. The band seems far more at home in the grungy basement music room of New Brunswick’s Court Tavern. But B.B. King was the place the band booked — it’s become the band’s Manhattan go-to for a number of January shows — so there I went.

The show was superb, despite the questionable venue: great performances, great sound.

Yes, singer Pat DiNizio has been through some tough times and isn’t in the best physical shape. He’s unable to play guitar because of recent Tommy John surgery as well as other procedures to correct carpal tunnel problems.

But the man can still sing. His voice, while a little less flexible than it was 30 years ago, still has that distinctive quality that instantly identifies a Smithereens song, and remains superbly expressive.

Without DiNizio’s guitar, the band brought in keyboard player Andy Burton of John Mayer’s band to fill out the  sound — keys are a surprisingly nice addition, actually. And  guitarist Jim Babjak worked harder than ever to make up for the lack of a second guitar, with a rock-solid beat established by Dennis Diken, the world’s hardest-working drummer and bassist Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion.

See more photos and info on upcoming shows after the jump.

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‘Surface Noise’: A self-effacing title for Jennifer O’Connor’s brilliant new album

The cover of Jennifer O'Connor's album "Surface Noise" (March 4, 2016, Kiam Records) features an ambitious abstract painting, "There 48," by Brooklyn artist Joan LeMay.

The cover of Jennifer O’Connor’s album “Surface Noise” (March 4, 2016, Kiam Records) features an ambitious abstract painting, “There 48,” by Brooklyn artist Joan LeMay.

I’ve never been one to make best-of lists when it comes to music. I enjoy so much of what I hear that it’s difficult to pick favorites.

So I won’t say that Jennifer O’Connor‘s forthcoming album, “Surface Noise,” out March 4, 2016, on Kiam Records, is a sure-fire pick for my best of 2016 list, since I’m not likely to compile one.

I can say it’s the best new album I’ve heard so far in this still-young year — and I fully expect to feel that way about it when this year is winding down.

“Surface Noise” is packed with 12 songs that explore love, loss, and the challenges of life with a casual brilliance about this album that makes it the best work this talented artist has produced so far.

ORDER JENNIFER O’CONNOR’S “SURFACE NOISE” VIA KIAM RECORDS NOW — GO HERE

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Stew and Heidi celebrate Baldwin in the shadow of Bowie

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One of the numerous humorous videos projected during “Notes of a Native Song” at Joe’s Pub labels a silent clip of James Baldwin smoking a cigarette with: “Don’t blame any of this on me. These are Stew’s words not mine.”

How does any rock musician play a show — especially in New York City — on the day the world learned that David Bowie died?

With heart and soul.

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe's Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Heidi Rodewald and Stew at Joe’s Pub on Jan. 11, 2016. (Photo © 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew and Heidi Rodewald played their “Notes of a Native Song” show at for a mixed crowd of friends, fans, and arts presenters (it was an APAP showcase gig) Joe’s Pub on Monday night as if it was the most important show they’d ever done.

It wasn’t until after taking the final bow that the pair returned to the cramped stage to sing a reverent rendition of Bowie’s “Be My Wife.” The song — never explained by Bowie but often perceived as Bowie’s  musical effort to save his marriage to Angela Bowie — was a beautiful and touching tribute to the chameleonic icon by a pair of artists who once were a couple themselves.

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Stew (© 2016, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It has been just seven months since they premiered their James Baldwin-centric show at Harlem Stage as part of the 90th anniversary of the late literary icon’s birth.

It’s the same show I saw in Harlem, but it felt very different. I can’t — and wouldn’t even if I had kept detailed notes — do a song-by-song comparison of the two productions. But the show I saw Monday night felt like it had evolved and grown. Some of the songs seemed tweaked and rewritten.

Was there a new song or two in the mix?  Maybe. But it could simply be my memory playing tricks on me. If it matters, I’m sure Stew will explain.

I’m fairly sure that my sense that the show felt much tighter and even more energized than it was in Harlem is not based on a faulty memory. Freed from the confines of Theater-with-a-capital-T in Harlem, Stew, Heidi (wearing clericals), and their seasoned crew of Mike McGinnis (in a tux and a rather large yarmulke) on winds, Marty Beller (in a bright orange plaid shirt) on drums, and Art Terry (in a choir robe open to his breastbone) on keyboards really rocked.

"The Good Swimmer," with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

“The Good Swimmer,” with music by Heidi Rodewald, libretto/lyrics by Donna Di Novelli, music co-direction by Marc Doten and Rodewald, direction by Kevin Newbury, is part of the 2016 Prototype festival through Jan. 17.

Stew made a point to mention from time to time that they were doing a New York version of the show — pointing out the parts that weren’t really in the show that they were peddling to the APAP crowd. But with a show like this — warm, personal, and loosely structured — there’s room for variations to accommodate location and other temporal factors. I expect it’ll be slightly different everywhere it’s performed.

Who knows when this show will reappear in New York?

But if you have a craving for more of this team’s creative output, check out Heidi’s show “The Good Swimmer,” which runs through Jan. 17 as part of the Prototype Festival at HERE arts center, 145 Sixth Avenue. Order tickets online by tapping or clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stew plays ‘Singing MC’ for Church of Betty, Eszter Balint, Carol Lipnik at The Living Room

Stew and Eszter Balint are on the bill at The Living Room in Brooklyn on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015.

Stew and Eszter Balint are on the bill at The Living Room in Brooklyn on Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. (Photos by Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

It’ll be a weird and wonderful night on Friday, Dec. 11 at The Living Room in Brooklyn.

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(Chris Rael/Facebook)

Stew, the main main in the band The Negro Problem and the Tony Award-winning creator of “Passing Strange,” will be playing a role of “Singing MC” at The Living Room.

It’ll be Stew’s second appearance in recent months at the newish Brooklyn home of the longtime Lower East Side music venue.

He’ll be hosting an evening of music featuring a spending lineup of quirky performers, including a favorite of mine: quirky singer/songwriter/actress Eszter Balint. If you don’t know her music — no shame in that because her albums have been few and far between — be sure to check out her newest collection, Airless Midnight, released earlier this year. It’s in my regular listening rotation.

Chris Rael’s Church of Betty is headlining the bill, which also features an appearance by singer Carol Lipnik.

The Living Room is at 134 Metropolitan Ave. in Brooklyn. The show’s posted start time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and available by clicking here.

Read Stew’s Facebook announcement of the below:

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(Stew & The Negro Problem/Facebook)

hey people!
Come see moi in the guise of “The Singing MC” on Friday Dec. 11th at The Living Room where I’ll be hosting,…

Posted by Stew & The Negro Problem on Saturday, November 7, 2015

Jackson Browne enthralls at The Capitol Theatre

Jackson Browne and his band at The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Jackson Browne and his band at The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, New York. (© 2015, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Jackson Browne’s music has been in my life since high school. While I’ve been to thousands of rock concerts since then, I never even considered checking out Browne in live performance.

I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe it’s because his music was so pervasive — especially during my young adulthood — that I felt sufficiently sated by what I heard every day on the radio. (Remember radio?)

That changed on Thursday night, when I got the chance to see Browne on his second night at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York.

Browne, who’s less than a month shy of his 67th birthday, put on an incredible show for a wildly appreciative sold-out crowd for a full 2½ hours — with only two brief encore breaks.

He never stinted, lovingly spinning the songs at times into extended jams.

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