Knowing that she had previously performed numerous times with my old pals Antigone Rising – and how they continued to sing her praises – I couldn’t pass up the chance to catch Hannah Thomas earlier this week at Atwood’s Tavern. Heading out for a nice leisurely Sunday evening happy hour, I ended up with more than I bargained for as soon as Hannah Thomas hit the stage; she rocked our Cambridge-visiting faces right the hell back out of town. She played for almost two hours straight, cranking out nearly twenty songs – three covers (Violent Femmes, Janis Joplin, Indigo Girls) and topping the set off with originals. Thomas, being one woman with a guitar, effortlessly and sufficiently blew the room away with the talent and tenacity of a full band – a very rare find these days. Being a very staunch advocate of not pigeonholing anyone into a genre, I will, however, say that if Amy Ray, Michelle Malone, Patty Griffin, and old school Jennifer Nettles (a la Jennifer Nettles Band/Eddie’s Attic days) had a baby….congratulations, it’d be a Hannah Thomas!
Thomas is amidst a Kickstarter campaign (with 6 days to go as of this writing) – ending on April 24, 3:11pm EDT, to be exact – to record her third original album with producer and bassist Don Dixon (R.E,M., Smithereens, etc). With at least seven songs slated to be delivered (including two personal favorites – “Lie to Me” and “Drinking Alone”), you know you’re in store for some sweet sweet aural pleasure. Pledgers of this campaign can get anything ranging from a signed CD to a house concert to being in the studio with the artist herself. But be sure to get yourself on over to Hannah’s Kickstarter page and pledge before it’s too late!
Having started performing at the age of sixteen, Thomas is touring relentlessly (she drove straight to Georgia right after this show) and shared the stage with artists such as Zac Brown, Indigo Girls, Bree Sharp, Antigone Rising, and Jen Foster – just to name a few; between her badass voice and guitar handling, it won’t be long before those roles will be reversed. Oh, and this proper southern girl has a penchant for whiskey and scotch, so when you get yourself to her next show make sure the bartender delivers some Maker’s or Johnnie Walker Black – before her shows sell out so quickly you’ll be left crying in the street, knowing what you’re missing out on. Thomas is a ridiculously fantastic and dazzling gem of an artist who rises insurmountably above the music world of mediocrity. Being able to experience a two hour Hannah Thomas solo set was quite possibly one of the most well-spent Sunday happy hours anyone could’ve encountered. It may have just been said above, but, the one word review of this gig: badass.
New York City based Antigone Rising have reinvented themselves and are now back for good to seal a permanent place in your music collection. After trudging though a couple of line-up bumps in the road over the years, they’ve finally found their concrete quartet of gelling perfection. The four with the goods are: Kristen Ellis-Henderson (founding member, guitarist, author, blogger, Time cover co-star), Cathy Henderson (founding member, lead guitarist, maker of the best guitar-face[s] you’ll ever see, Kristen’s sister), Dena Tauriello (drummer/beat-keeper/human chronometer, coach, professor, most difficult band member to photograph on stage – ever.), and Nini Camps (lead singer, Miami native, NYC solo artist extraordinaire, non-blogger since 2012, whiskey imbiber).
The band has been nominated for an Independent Music Award (vote for them here) whose voting panel is overflowing with the musically au fait – Ann and Nancy Wilson, Laurie Anderson, Anthony DeCurtis, Chris and Oliver Wood, Suzanne Vega, Arturo Sandoval, Terry McBride, Kevin Lyman, Shelby Lynne, Band of Skulls, and Jason Olaine, just to name a handful. The recognition comes as a result of their constant hard work – if they aren’t playing the 280+ shows per year they used to rack up performing on the Today Show, Tonight Show, Emeril Live, and opening for the Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, Aerosmith, Allman Brothers, or Rob Thomas, then they’re crowdsourcing funds (spin class! drum lessons! house concerts!) for their latest two-part album “Whiskey and Wine.” Also big supporters of GLAAD, it doesn’t hurt that Kristen’s wife is the newly-named GLAAD president Sarah Ellis-Henderson. If that isn’t enough, then add a week on the Olivia Travel’s Caribbean Equality and Leadership Cruise to the AR itinerary, rubbing elbows with Maya Angelou, Indigo Girls, Judy Gold, Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, Meredith Baxter, and Suzanne Westenhoefer. No big deal, right? Between that list and the band, half of my personal heroes were on that ship.
Oh, and that show at Church of Boston happened, too – Friday, March 7th. Antigone Rising opened the night with “Everything Changes,” threw in a good mix of old favorites and new tunes like “Everywhere is Home,” “Call Me Crazy,” “Weed and Wine,” and the super catchy “That Was the Whiskey” (but, really, when wasn’t it the whiskey?). Proving their new-found cohesiveness, the band treated the crowd to witty banter and stories aplenty throughout the night – heartily opening up about writing their music and the truth – or lack thereof – behind “That Was the Whiskey.” It’s obvious they are now officially a solid team, with their blissful camaraderie shining through as they actively criss-cross the stage, cracking each other up, with each member getting their turn to solo, showing us how overwhelmingly talented they continue to be, and that the whiskey and wine swilling virtuosas that are Antigone Rising have risen from the ashes and the sky’s the limit.
Check out their upcoming tour dates here.
Somerville’s own Gem Club sold out Remis Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts on January 31st, in celebration of their second album, In Roses, released that day via the label Hardly Art.
Dirty Projectors member Nat Baldwin, looking a bit like a younger Hugh Dancy, opened the show effortlessly playing the hell out of the upright bass. Having previously worked with Grizzly Bear and Vampire Weekend, Baldwin was the perfect choice to kick off the night and lead us into a mesmerizing performance art presentation by Brianna Olson. As Olson stayed back in the shadows, prominently featured was Michael Pope, award-winning underground filmmaker and multi-media artist (you may recognize them from his long history of video directing and her producing with Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls), bedecked in all white make-up and apparel, save the blood-red flower in his mouth. I don’t think I blinked once, for fear of missing one bit of artistic perfection.
Gem Club – Christopher Barnes, Kristen Drymala, and Ieva Berberian – took the stage to the eager applause of a full house. The trio played In Roses in its entirety, only taking a brief moment to tell a short story then thank everyone for coming. With the entire set accompanied by eagle-eyed projections of bold, beautiful tiger lilies (my personal favorite), roses, crystal-clear melting ice, sweeping plumes of smoke, and prismatic hues across a large screen, combined with the unique venue, it made for one of the most unique CD release events I’ve encountered. Perhaps my favorite backdrop motif of the night – two glitter-sodden hands aglow, grasping, reaching, yearning – occurred during their final song, “Polly” – the undulation of ghostly and divinely delectable music wrapping the evening up befittingly. The band is a refreshing break from all of the unnervingly cliche and similar-sounding artists you encounter on every corner and radio station – Gem Club is truly a diamond in the rough (pun kind of intended). Eleven delectable, heart-wrenching, ethereal songs later, the projections faded out and the house lights came up, encouraging us to be on our way, with those beautiful strokes of color filling our heads and hearts. I left feeling sanguine and overflowing with inspiration; Gem Club’s music will get under your skin, pull at your heartstrings, and send you off into the world anew – an atypical experience one mustn’t miss out on.
Wow. That’s what Sirsy does at every gig – they wow. Since their inception in 2000, these Upstate New York natives have delivered the same non-stop rock ‘n roll mastery – without exception – at each of their nearly 300 gigs performed annually (yes, really). One look at their website’s hefty list of upcoming tour dates shows you just how dedicated this band is.
Taking the stage at Johnny D’s, Melanie Krahmer and Rich Libutti’s energy is contagious – unmistakably they love what they do. Have I mentioned that Krahmer and Libutti are the band, yet sound like a group of six? That’s right – these two people make some gigantic sounds; if you close your eyes, you would swear it were a full-sized band. Krahmer plays a drum kit standing up, with a small keyboard to the side, while singing and also playing flute, meanwhile Libutti changes it up between bass and lead guitar. It’s enough to make Sirsy neophytes drop their drinks, do a double-take – and then immediately fall in love.
The band played a good selection from their recent release, “Coming Into Frame” – including fan favorites “Cannonball” (have you seen their uber-creative video?), “Lionheart” (which has another picturesque video), and oldie-but-goodie request “Dry.” On stage, the lively duo are chatty, amiable, and open – all the while staying focused and magnificent, with Krahmer’s voice sometimes hitting such tremendous growling depths it stops you in your tracks. The perfect compliment to Krahmer, Libutti makes his intricate guitar riffs seem effortless – at one point even walking out into the middle of the room to play amid a gaggle of fans, of course never breaking a sweat.
Over the years, Sirsy has opened for Maroon 5, Ra Ra Riot, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Cheap Trick, and a plethora of other well-known artists. Having played in 43 of the 50 states hasn’t exactly hurt their notoriety amongst these headliners, yet just seeing one of their performances should be enough to show that Sirsy is substantially too marvelous to not be selling out venues larger than Johnny D’s. Sirsy’s songs are incomparable – even after five original albums (not including multiple live recordings, plus a holiday collection) – and both Mel and Rich have talent for days; you’ll never find another band to compare them to.
It was hard to come down from the Sirsy high when the show was over, but knowing they toured roughly 62,000 miles across the United States in 2013, you know you haven’t seen, nor heard, the last of them and that this is just a few more miles on their journey to becoming a sought-after headliner in their own right.
Donning his vintage Mighty Mighty Bosstones t-shirt (in black, of course), Sam Black Church vocalist Jet Crandall burst onto the House of Blues stage with the reckless abandon you’d expect from a band 30 years his junior. To be honest, I’d never heard of SBC before they were to play this opening gig for Mighty Mighty Bosstones – but I’d sure heard rumblings. “Sam Black Church is going to be there – you’re seeing a piece of history!” “SBC?? They’re classic! Don’t miss them!” And then there was the sea of SBC logo-laden shirts and hoodies flooding the general admission pit, pressing towards the front of the stage.
They are so loved locally, in fact, that superartist Duncan Wilder Johnson began a Kickstarter to complete their documentary “Leave Behind a Groove in the Earth” and was there filming. Serving as the band’s 25th anniversary, this was their first live show in six years and they most certainly did not fall flat. Sam Black Church were unflinchingly hard-rocking, thundering, turned up to ten, and mesmerizing for every lasting moment of their booming 8-song set (including an ingenious version of “Disco Inferno”).
Jet was perpetually in motion – in the crowd, on the crowd, back on stage, from one side to the other, ad nauseam; he was so fast half of my pictures were blurry just trying to keep up. Without a doubt, this is one of the best shows I have ever seen – these hardcore heavyweight vets kept the room so engrossed and wrapped up in the SBC whirlwind that the minor typhoon occurring outside was nary a blip on the radar.
If you luck out with the chance to see Sam Black Church perform live, you, too, will have the honor of knowing that it is more than worth the two days of ringing in your ears – and 25 years later is never too late to make impeccable mind-blistering music.
Not long after “On How Life Is” was released I saw Macy Gray in Upstate New York and was blown away – Friday night at The Sinclair presented a second opportunity to see her and she undeniably did not disappoint on this 14th anniversary tour of her debut album. Gray hit the stage (after stellar opener Shea Rose) to a nearly sold-out room and most certainly brought her A-game – along with her bling. No, really – I mean bling – glitter eyeshadow; sequined dress; diamond mic stand; gigantic lustrous rings, necklace, earrings, and bracelets; and a massive, flowing black feather boa – Gray was a disco ball of musical magnificence. Even the band was designed to shine, with each of them wearing a tie lit up with white lights (think: white-lit Christmas tree meets necktie).
Right out of the gate she hit us with “Why Didn’t You Call Me” and covered a total of ten out of eleven tracks off of “On How Life Is” (including my personal favorite, the catchy “I’ve Committed Murder”) – she even threw in a couple of numbers from her other albums to fill out a perfect, robust set. Approximately a third of the way through the night, Gray disappeared for a few moments only to return in a bold red, white, and black dress (sadly, sans boa) to wrap up with her hit, “I Try,” a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” and finish with “The Letter.” Gray was just as dynamic as when I saw her fourteen years ago – commanding the stage from one side to the next, while chatting up the crowd (or “sexy people,” as was Macy’s choice of words), the whole time not missing a note. By the end of her set, the stage was scattered with feathers from the aforementioned boa, worked off in a night of nostalgia made to feel as fresh as the day it was made.
Friday night at The Sinclair, Boston-native Berklee-grad Shea Rose took the stage in front of a room with people loosely scattered about. Her amalgam of funk, hip-hop, jazz, and rock (to name a few) and accompaniment of her three-person band, Rose was the perfect choice to open for Macy Gray. She performed a handful of singles from her latest album, mixtape “Little Warrior,” with the best being her live rendition of “I’m the Sh*t” (which, she clarified, isnot about her). After leading the crowd in chants for Macy, she was on fire going into her last song – and by that time the front of the stage had gotten more crowded as ears perked up and people yearned to get closer to take in the welcome surprise that was Shea Rose.
To be honest, I had not heard of Rose before Friday, but after just a few songs I was sold; and to add a bit more sauce to this dish, Rose has taken home honors such as Boston Music Awards in 2012 and 2011 for Pop/R&B Artist of the Year and R&B/Soul/Urban Contemporary Artist of the year, respectively, along with praise from Queen Latifah calling her “America’s next female rapper.” I urge you to seek out recordings via her site, YouTube, or elsewhere – and brace yourself for the spectacular coolness that is Shea Rose.
On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Margaret Cho brought her “Mother” tour to The Wilbur Theatre in Boston. Ferociously honest. Blunt. Direct. No-nonsense. Margaret Cho has never been one to sugar-coat her feelings – or, well, anything. Unapologetically speaking about her penchant for sex, the company of gay men, and her yearning to become a mother in the near future, Cho bares her soul to the crowd, all the while ensuring to not omit slight interjections of imitations of her mother – a part of her stand-up that has remained a staple throughout the years.
Unflinchingly honest, intellectually stimulating, candid, and constantly evolving personally, I have seen Cho about seven times and each time a large part of the material was fresh and different from the previous tour; she will never bore by throwing recycled shtick at you. I have yet to tire of her, as previous comics seem to fizzle out over the years. Having started to foray into the music world and include a few originals into her shows, the night was closed out with an authentic Cho tune referencing a “fat” part of her…female anatomy. “Mother,” indeed – Margaret Cho is the mother of sass and sauce; somehow – I sense motherhood won’t slow her down in the least.
“Are we winning?” Michael Fitzpatrick – the “Fitz” in Fitz and the Tantrums, asks from the stage early on in their set at the House of Blues (October 28, 2013), referencing the Red Sox pursuit of a third win towards the 2013 World Series title.
Los Angeles-based Fitz and the Tantrums played a highly energetic set of their neo-soul best, including hits “Out of My League,” “Moneygrabber,” “Break the Walls,” along with an outstanding cover of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams.” They touched on a good mix of tracks from both their debut album, Picking Up the Pieces, and their latest, More Than Just a Dream.
This was my second time seeing FATT and once again the highlight of the show is seeing vocalist Noelle Scaggs not stop moving – EVER. Singing, dancing, tambourine-ing, interacting with the audience – she was in constant, contagious motion from the second she stepped on stage. Fitz himself is outstanding, but Scaggs just makes the show. In the end, the Sox won their game and Fitz and the Tantrums won over a full house. A word to the wise: a chance to see this band should never be passed up.