Category Archives: LIVE REVIEWS

Montreal International Jazz Festival, Part 1


It’s the 36th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

One Nation Under A Groove
The 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is officially in full swing. The fest is 10 days and nights, running from June 26 through July 5, and although jazz is the byword, the ambitious music programming also encompasses rock, blues, pop, flamenco, folk, hip hop and EDM for a well-rounded, populist experience. Big fun for serious music lovers with plenty of distractions for the whole family, the Montreal fest features hundreds of concerts, many of which are free on outdoor stages as well as a number ticketed gigs held within a range of indoor venues. Hosting recognizable mainstream artists like the Steve Miller Band, Erykah Badu and hometown favorites like the Barr Brothers, the Montreal fest has fought off some rainy weather and ultimately seems just too big to fail.

Hardcore jazzers have had their hands full with tons of quality options. Italian trumpeters like Enrico Rava and Paulo Fresu both attracted attention, as did American horn-man Christian Scott, the hip-hop-inflected Robert Glasper Trio, the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Joe Lovano-John Scofield Quartet. Veteran fusion stars Stanley Jordan, Al Di Melola and Stanley Clarke were all crowd pleasers, as was contemporary axe-man Kurt Rosenwinkle, who hosted three consecutive nights for his part of the vaunted Invitation Series. Jazz elders Gary Bartz, Al Foster, Buster Williams and Larry Willis brought the old-school back to life as the Heads Of State, progressive cornet player Ron Miles mixed it up nicely with guitar hero Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade at the Monument-National, and the amazing Wayne Shorter Quartet was once again a festival highlight.

Still, the Montreal crowd loves to move and groove, and nothing got them going like the Snarky Puppy show at the Metropolis dancehall. A swirling, funky big band with two drummers, two keyboardists and a thriving horn section, these guys have quietly grown from playing under the radar to recent Grammy nominations and nonstop touring. Playing original material as well as snatches of P-Funk and even the pounding melody of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” these guys brought all the different jazz generations together, as in, “one nation under a groove.”

That’s the Montreal Jazz Fest, pure and simple, which keeps on trucking through the holiday weekend—how about you?

—Mitch Myers

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Live Review: The Firefly Festival, 2015


Two years ago, when I mentioned that I was going to Firefly in the weeks preceding the festival, I got mostly blank stares. “Um, what’s Firefly?” Now, even the kindly old lady who rings me up every day at Wawa said, “Oh, I’ve heard about that! It’s in Delaware, right?” My co-worker told me that her teenage daughter has been wearing her Firefly wristband since she received it in the mail several weeks ago, and every major TV and radio station in the Philadelphia metro area ran coverage of the festival.

Four years after the inaugural event in The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway that drew about 30,000 attendees, the East Coast can now lay claim to a premier music festival—the kind that hippies and college kids will drive creaky, spray-painted Volkswagon buses to from across the country in droves.

If you are not a camper, or even a glamper, you needed to book 12 months in advance if you wanted to score a hotel room within a 50-mile radius of the festival this year. In 2015, all 90,000 four-day passes sold out a week prior, prompting giddy press conferences from local leaders about the millions of dollars in economic benefits it will generate, as well as grumblings from Dover residents who just wanted to grab toilet paper and cereal from Walmart that weekend.

The West Coast has Coachella and Sasquatch. The Midwest has Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. The South has, well, Austin, Texas. And now the East Coast has Firefly.

Like previous years, the main headliners (Paul McCartney, Kings Of Leon andtThe Killers) were yawn. You see the same 10 headliners at every festival. The real meat was in the second-and third-tier acts, which are fresher and more intriguing. Big Data, Vacationer and Walk The Moon came out of nowhere to dominate radio waves. Modest Mouse isn’t much of a touring band and has recently put out its first album in seven years. Matt And Kim and RJD2 always perform a lively show. And the rest of the bill has been popping up all over Soundcloud and iTunes playlists.

For those needing a break from the music, there was an arcade, a hammock hangout area, a secret woods rave and a coffee house that offered a full cafe experience and music performances throughout the day. Wine and craft beer bars also scattered the festival grounds. With stage names such as the Porch, the Lawn and the Backyard, Firefly gave festival-goers a carefree summer weekend vibe, despite uncooperative weather.

The day before festivities were scheduled to begin, 65,000 campers stared down a strong chance of thunderstorms Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and periodic drenching all four days. With the gloomy forecast, I was grateful for the hotel room I booked six months prior. Even though it was 40 minutes from Dover, I had premonitions of leaky tents and long lines for a cold rinse in a communal shower and opted for clean sheets and a continental breakfast. My broke college days are long gone, and I can’t tolerate wet sleeping bags and beer for breakfast like I used to.

After waiting in the muddy press area behind the Backyard Stage on Friday afternoon and straining to listen to garbled songs and muffled cheers from fans while anticipating several artist interviews, I was ready to hear some music.

Even with minimal touring experience and only one album under their belt, Durham, N.C.-based duo Sylvan Esso has been creating buzz. Watching them in the flesh, it’s easy to see why. Listening to a Sylvan Esso song live is a pretty transcendent event. Singer Amelia Meath’s striking voice makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into a hot shower after a long day on the ski slopes, simultaneously warm and tingly and content. Her down-to-earth lyrics filter through the membrane of your soul, while producer and keyboardist Nick Sanborn’s throbbing-yet-simple bass lines circulate through your body.

The diminutive Meath stomped onstage with studded four-inch platforms, no makeup, and a messy bun, commanding the crowd with a cheerful confidence. Those in the audience weren’t just there because they wandered by and wanted to check out a random band—they love Sylvan Esso. The way legions of glitter-covered festival-goers sang along with the lyrics and screamed excitedly every time the first chords of one of their less-popular songs were played, you would swear you were at a Taylor Swift concert. It’s only a matter of time before they are a household name.

Suddenly, ubiquitous AWOLNATION ripped through an energetic set early Friday evening as the sun singed its last couple faces and backs before sinking behind the tree line. Since first album Megalithic Symphony exploded in 2011, the Southern California product, fronted by singer/producer Aaron Bruno, has been heard everywhere from television shows to Red Bull commercials. The set started out with the intense title track from latest album Run and culminated in seductive hit “Sail.” In between, Bruno threw his body around the stage like a BMX rider at the X-Games, throttling the microphone during “Thiskidsnotalright” and the anthemic “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf).”

Modest Mouse drew a Paul McCartney-sized crowd for its set. The indie-rock legends released a long-awaited new album in March, but made sure to include a substantial dose of old favorites such as “Dashboard,” “Dramamine” and the banjo-heavy “Satin In A Coffin.” Singer/guitarist Issac Brock delighted the senior millennials in the crowd, who were reliving their best high school years that night as they listened to his distinct growling voice and deliberate guitar twangs.

While more wet weather had saturated the already sloppy grounds overnight, Saturday afternoon and early evening offered sunny-yet-sticky festival conditions. Thankfully, I was given a reprieve from the scorching rays when I was invited to an exclusive performance by 311-esque, reggae-tinged rap/rock group Dirty Heads at the Treehouse, a timber stage nestled in the woods. The “Treehouse Sessions,” hosted by Mixradio, gave select festival-goers access to multiple Firefly acts throughout the weekend. This afternoon, the small crowd enjoyed an intimate performance under a glorious canopy of trees, listening to unplugged versions of “My Sweet Summer” and “Dance All Night.”

Later in the day, Matt And Kim unleashed their characteristic frenzied routine of crowd incitement and Master P interludes, with a couple of actual Matt And Kim songs thrown in. Their uncanny ability to control the audience would make Oprah jealous. A rowdy intro injected Red Bull energy into the throng of sweaty festival-goers, priming them for what was next. To the chagrin of the security personnel, Matt shouted, “Who here has never crowd surfed?” Thousands of hands went up. “Well this is your time!” Dozens of people were hoisted in the air and rolled around atop a sea of hands as the duo banged out “Now.” The very next song, Matt instructed, “I want you to get up on the shoulders of the person next to you!” About 200 girls’ heads popped up above the crowd. For the finale, 75 percentof the audience members’ shirts came off, and they waved them above their heads like Terrible Towels.

Over the past two decades, Spoon has generated a body of work that includes such beloved and critically acclaimed albums as Girls Can Tell and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. On Saturday night, unfortunately, the band’s uninspiring set belied its talent. Spoon is at its best when it plays its simplest, catchiest songs such as “Don’t You Evah,” but the band chose to stick mostly with its fuzzier, less-refined tracks and succeeded in sounding like a lo-fi version of itself.

On the other side of the field, Vacationer started up immediately following Spoon. The band’s easygoing, tropical sound fit perfectly with the welcome breeze flowing over countless sunburned arms and legs as dusk fell. Unfortunately, the relief was short-lived. Around 9:30 p.m., reported nearby storms forced festival organizers to evacuate the grounds. Campers retreated to their tents and RVs while the rest of the crowd formed a long line of cars by the exit.

Fickle weather couldn’t dampen the vibe, or my excitement for next year. Firefly is no longer “under the radar.” For the fourth straight year, Firefly has continued to cement a reputation as one of the can’t-miss summer festivals. I plan to book my hotel today for 2016.

—Maureen Coulter

Another photo after the jump.

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Live Review: Nashville Pussy, Paris, France, May 21, 2015



There, I said it.

Gratuitous? Well, that’s kinda the point, for Nashville Pussy is provocation personified. In fact, the band has conjured an entire career out of little more than titillation and bravado. As for the actual music, any number of labels suffice: redneck rock, biker boogie, white-trash cowpunk, Southern-fried scum metal. Granted, a tag is nothing more than an invitation to take a whiff. Once you stick your nose in deep, you can determine if it really passes the smell test.

But in this case, the Pussy does indeed reek of all of the above.

In the late ’90s, the group’s raunchier-than-thou, AC/DC-meets-Skynyrd shtick, packaged in a live show suitable for softcore porn, garnered a rabid following and even a Grammy nomination. Then-bassist Corey Parks—a 6’3” former model who wore leopard-skin bras and sported an “Eat Me” tatt a hair north of the cooch—would tongue-kiss guitarist Ruyter Suys onstage then throat-fuck her with a beer bottle. The shows would end shortly after Parks jumped into the crowd and belched a mushroom cloud of fire at fleeing fans.

Not surprisingly, the spectacle tended to overshadow the music. Which, to be honest, was probably for the best: an actual pussy can fart better melodies.

A decade and a half after the group’s debut, the lineup has changed, but the music hasn’t. Gone are the pyrotechnics and lesbian peepshow, but the sentiment is still orgy-cum-bar fight.

Tonight, the grease and grime of the band’s studio work are faithfully reproduced in concert. The quartet runs through highlights from all six of its LPs (“Go Motherfucker Go,” “Struttin’ Cock,” “Keep On Fuckin’,” “Good Night For A Heart Attack,” “I’m So High,” “Rub It To Death” and a dozen more shit-kickers). In the closest that Nashville Pussy gets to “sensitive” (the slow-yet-muscular “Go To Hell”), the band tacks on a few verses from the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” The two songs dovetail seamlessly, which isn’t exactly a recommendation for either.

To be fair, such music should not be judged on its artistic merits but rather on its effect on the listener. Nashville Pussy speaks directly to our basest desires: taking drugs, getting laid, making noise and beating the hell out of those who done us wrong. The band preaches a hedonist gospel, and it’s hard not to testify.

“How many of you are high tonight?” asks lead singer Blaine Cartwright. “I heard this is a stoner club.” With that clever setup, the group launches into—wait for it—“High As Hell.”

Ah, out of the mouths of babes. And out of the lips of Pussy.

—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Mudhoney, Rouen, France, May 2, 2015


The drum break in set closer “In ‘N’ Out Of Grace” builds toward orgasm. The guitar sprays thick wah loads and then lets a power chord resonate like a delirious exhalation. Mudhoney singer Mark Arm steps to the mic and—with his trademark nasally snarl—screams, “Oh god, how I love to haaaaate,” through a wry smile.

It is the quintessential Mudhoney moment. Yes, the distorted frenzy following a slow build is textbook grunge formula, but the band’s dung-in-cheek animosity always set it apart from its Pacific Northwest brethren. Where Soundgarden wailed, Mudhoney sneered. Where Nirvana wrung hands, Mudhoney grabbed balls.

More than a quarter century into its career, and Mudhoney is still authentic, which may account for its lack of household name recognition. In fact, prior to tonight’s show in Rouen’s 106 club, Arm and guitarist Steve Turner conducted a radio interview, during which the local DJ cheekily commented that Mudhoney was witness to the grunge phenomenon, as it unfolded.

The insinuation wasn’t lost on Arm: “[The other bands] were on the playing field. We were in the front row.”

Indeed, despite recording multiple full-lengths for a major label in the ’90s, Mudhoney never left the garage. But for all its dust and dank, that garage produced a number of enduring anthems.

The performance tonight features a healthy dose of those classics: “If I Think,” “Broken Hands,” a cover of the Dicks’ “Hate The Police” and, of course, the incendiary “Touch Me I’m Sick” with the most irresistible riff since the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” Although they may lack some of the bite of the original recordings, “Suck You Dry” and “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” compensate by sounding so much heavier, which actually adds an interesting new color.

Even the newer tracks impress and excite: the celebratory bounce to “I Like It Small” and the hardcore hysteria of “Chardonnay” (both from 2013’s Vanishing Point) energize a crowd that is 5,000 miles removed from the group’s hometown Seattle and on average two decades younger than the band members. But great punk—and Mudhoney certainly fits that description—transcends geographical and generational barriers.

That rich, healthy hatred expressed in the final encore just may explain why Mudhoney is so genuine, so consistently refreshing. Punk is about revolution, and revolutionaries require a foil to piss them off.

An extensive backlog of punk masterpieces, an unfailingly snotty attitude, and a mastery of the form that has survived middle age. What’s not to hate?

—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Beauty Pill, Arlington, Va., May 2, 2015


Beauty Pill’s recent three-day residency at Artisphere functioned as a release party for its amazing album Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are (Butterscotch). But it was also a lot more than that.

The shows were billed as the final installment of Immersive Ideal—an experimental collaboration between the D.C.-based band and the unfortunately soon-to-close arts center in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. The first installment occurred in July 2011 when the group recorded the LP there in public. (We covered it in issue #81.) The following January, Beauty Pill unveiled a multimedia presentation of the sessions, including surround-sound mixes of the completed songs. After some delays and complications (see issue #113), the album was finally released a few weeks ago.

Oh, and these dates were Beauty Pill’s first shows since 2007. In the intervening time, frontman Chad Clark contacted a heart virus and almost died. Two heart surgeries saved his life.

Most bands would be content to simply play a regular gig following such an eventful recent past. But Beauty Pill—Clark, Basla Andolsun, Drew Doucette, Jean Cook and Devin Ocampo—is not like most groups. When Beauty Pill took over Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre (capacity: 125) for the third time, it made Immersive Ideal more literal than ever. The band stationed itself around the perimeter of the room; each member had his or her own stage and speaker. The audience was encouraged to walk around and observe the band from different angles as it played.

On the final night, the band members exchanged visual cues and knowing glances from across the room to each other. They had adjusted well to the innovative setting. It was almost as if it wasn’t all that different from playing together on one stage.

But at the same time, it was equally clear that they were energized here, especially when playing songs from the new album. Describes Things is a rare and unique work, filled with time-warped samples and loops interacting with dynamic band performances. Clark’s melodies are seductively hooky, and his lyrics are vivid, provocative and often profound.

The band delivered songs from the album like “Ann The Word” and “Afrikaner Barista” with aplomb. Cook (who’s played violin for Pulp, Jon Langford, Jenny Toomey and others) controlled and manipulated many of the samples with a Monome, a handheld, lighted controller. The sounds ping-ponged around the theater, interlocking with the daring rhythms of Andolsun (bass) and Ocampo (drums), and Clark and Doucette’s intertwining guitars. (Vocals are handled by Clark and Cook.) In these moments, Immersive Ideal had all the live conceptual heft and musical glory of Stop Making Sense.

Older songs like “The Idiot Heart,” “The Western Prayer” and, from Clark and Ocampo’s prior band Smart Went Crazy, “Tight Frame Loose Frame” also received revelatory performances. But arguably it was Clark himself who was the biggest revelation. Despite his long hiatus from the stage, he’s still an engaging frontman—dryly witty and indisputably committed to the music. Around his belt was a battery pack that connects to his heart and keeps him healthy and alive.

After the show, Clark expressed a wish to take Immersive Ideal on the road to other arts centers. The band has East Coast and Midwest shows scheduled for May and June. But these are at standard rock clubs. Galleries interested in an innovative, artful band would be wise to take note.

—Michael Pelusi

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Live Review: Acid King, Paris, France, April 28, 2015


The longer a hiatus is extended, the more unreasonably high expectations will soar.

Ten long years have been pissed away while metal fans waited for Acid King to release a new album. Touring regularly during that period, the Bay Area trio has not been thoroughly inactive, but one can forgive a hesitancy to record. The previous album, 2005’s III, set the standard for stoner sludge and established the band as a slow-mo Sabbath. But following up a classic is a tall order.

A decade after its masterpiece, the group has just released Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, and it feels like the logical next album. A cynic would criticize the minimal artistic growth in 10 years. But if this LP had found the band widely diverging or considerably evolving, fans would have justifiably complained of not having witnessed the interesting intermediate steps.

Instead, the release continues a clear trend in the band’s sound. On earlier recordings, Lori S.’s singing is presented up front, strident and wailing and aggressive. Over time, she has toned down the verbal posturing, mellowed and integrated her voice more snugly into the music. Set well behind thick layers of sonic gauze, her vocals now float, hover really. In parallel, the band’s sound on Middle has become more psychedelic, dreamier, spacier.

Acid King has become more “mood” than “dude.”

But the thrum of a Harley still runs through the band’s songs. Tonight, the trio plays a selection of the new tracks (“Red River,” “Silent Pictures,” and “Coming Down From Outer Space”), but the crowd pops its biggest boner for the epic “2 Wheel Nation” from the previous disc. Lori’s guitar playing is primarily single notes, but notes so heavily distorted that they carry the weight of mammoth chords.

For the encore, the group performs III’s “War Of The Mind”: the quintessential Acid King song, plodding, powerful and poignant. Expressing a scornful fatalism, the tune drags, which is clearly the whole point. It draws out the pain until the pain hypnotizes. Doom drapes a burial shroud over the listener with the deliberation of descending fog.

But like Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, it’s well worth the wait.

—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Metz, Paris, France, Mar. 5, 2015


Ever since Pete Townshend applied Gustav Metzger’s theory of auto-destructive art to the Who’s live shows, rock etiquette requires that a gig end with an explosion of sound—if not actual destruction of instruments then at least a ringing, feedback squawk that washes away everything that preceded it.

Tonight, Toronto trio Metz places this formula on its head.

While tuning his guitar before the set formally begins, Alex Edkins stomps on the looper pedal, wrenches out a tortured riff that heaves and ho’s under the weight of distortion, then places his instrument against the amp and walks off stage. For a full five minutes, the guitar, unaccompanied, wheezes out an aural palette cleansing.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

The band opens with the shrieking blitz of “Dirty Shirt.” The tone is immediately set: whatever restraint existed on record—performances tightly executed, with vocals relegated to the cheap seats—is thoroughly shot to shit in concert. Onstage, the group expands and explodes. “Wasted” elicits both euphoria and malevolence. “The Mule” is Unsane reimagining Sonic Youth.

At its best, the band burns with the light of a thousand suns. At its worst, a few hundred suns.

With 2012 self-titled debut, Metz drew favorable comparisons with late ’80s/early-’90s harDCore. The record is indeed Lungfish-ian in its arrow-straight riffing, and when it chooses to be “angular” (a key rock crit term of the period), it throws elbows like Bill Laimbeer playing in Fugazi. But the group’s sound is thicker than that of the Dischord legends: it revives the grating aggression of the Jesus Lizard, Big Black and AmRep’s finest noise-meisters.

Metz is the sound of two Transformers fucking: hard driving, unrelenting and as abrasive as metal scraping against metal.

To the delight of all, the group performs a number of songs from forthcoming sophomore album II (“Wait In Line,” “The Swimmer,” “Acetate,” “Spit You Out,” “Nervous System,” “Kicking A Can Of Worms”), all of which stack up admirably alongside those from the debut. Judging by tonight’s performance, the first record has a right to claim sincere flattery.

Despite the show’s hour-long assault on the ears, the trio is actually insufferably polite, even apologizing between songs for its poor mastery of French. When some joker yells out the lame witticism “Metz we can!” from the crowd, bassist Chris Slorach giggles, a little too generously. He then promises to adopt the quip as the title of the group’s next album.

“That or Black Sabbath Volume 4,” counters Edkins.

Once again, impeccable taste in influences.

—Eric Bensel

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SXSW 2015: Bushy Beards, Girl Bands And A Russian Invasion


MAGNET’s Hobart Rowland

 files a round of notes from SXSW

See if you can guess the last time I was at South By Southwest. Guided By Voices had recently made its first of two big-rawk statements for pseudo-major TVT. To celebrate, GBV’s drummer felt up my wife at Stubb’s while I was playing pool. (To this day, she says she didn’t mind—a fan to the end.) 

Outside at Stubb’s on the same night, wheezy Philly Americana quartet Marah—hailed by Steve Earle and a few others (me included) as the second coming of Springsteen—presided over a chilly, rain-soaked bacchanalia. Elsewhere that week, Convoy, an unknown band from the San Diego hills, blew a handful of minds at a day party hosted by … someone. Postscript: After an underwhelming experience with the Hybrid imprint (remember Hybrid?), Convoy inexplicably donned mascara and morphed into oversexed neo-glam act Louis XIV, also now defunct.

This may have been the same SXSW where Ryan Adams stormed off the stage after a minute or so of sitting at the piano with a confused look on his face. Like that was anything new.

 If you guessed 2000, you’d be correct. Where this is leading, I have no idea. But it feels good to get it out there. And I’m sure my wife appreciates the shout-out.

 Perhaps the point is that, 16 years later, I’m still chasing after great music—except now, most of the artists are less than half my age. Here were my 10 favorite shows:

1) Honeyblood
Everything they say about Scottish girls is true. This female duo rocks harder than most bands twice its size. And the songwriting is so solid you don’t miss the bass.

2) Fight Like Apes
Dublin’s answer to Siouxsie And The Banshees, co-fronted by a surly drunk dude with impeccable taste in sleeveless Christmas sweaters.

3) Israel Nash
“Hey, man. You sure you’re not Neil Young And Crazy Horse?” Such was the general sentiment at this showcase among the pews at a downtown Episcopal church. Derivative in the best sense, Nash is a minister’s son with an old soul and backbone honed from scratchy ’70s vinyl.

4) Dorothy
Throbbing Los Angeles neo-metal-sludge outfit. Think early Soundgarden, but exchange Chris Cornell for a wailing brunette with overt porn-star sex appeal.

An 18-year-old lesbian from Northern Ireland with a hushed, almost otherworldly delivery, whose songs about alienation and sea life kept a Sixth Street spillover crowd silent for a solid half hour.

6) Anthony D’Amato
He’d been up 24 hours straight when he made his way to the stage at the New West day party, but D’Amato still delivered a taut performance with a bunch of Austin pickup guys he’d just met. He’s more than just a Dylan clone with an Ivy League degree. Seriously.

7) Sun Club
This just in: Madly energetic Baltimore quintet gets tribal on the floor toms and xylophone. Five people loved what they saw.

8) Young Buffalo
The pride of Oxford, Miss., combined multi-part harmonies with a command of melody and arrangements beyond its years.

9) Bob Schneider
The unofficial mayor of Austin didn’t need no stinkin’ badges when he headlined an unsanctioned string of barnburners at Threadgill’s, just south of town.

10) Mumiy Troll
He’s already conquered Russia, so why was Mumiy Troll’s Ilya Lagutenko sucking up to 35 shit-faced college students on a shabby outdoor stage in the rainy wee hours of the morning? Because this is America, baby.

More photos after the jump.

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Live Review: Harsh Toke, Paris, France, Jan. 9, 2015


Religion is a terrorism of the mind.

Fundamentalist or not, it inspires fear of the invisible and the impossible, it discourages critical thinking, and it banishes the sceptic to an eternity of torture.

Yet religion has become so interwoven into society and so—pardon the imagery here—“bulletproof” to criticism that we ignore its illogic and immorality (as Robert Heinlein once put it, albeit in a different context) “just as fish ignore water.”

Tonight, in a city where just two hours earlier, police ended a pair of stand-offs with Islamic terrorists who killed 17 police officers, cartoonists and Jewish shoppers, the most powerful weapon against this mental scourge could very well be … weed.

The attacks on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo have been cast as a strike at the freedom of expression, a fundamental right in any civilized society. Among the art forms that are most unbridled in their expression—and appropriate “fuck you” antidotes to its suppression—is stoner rock.

Indeed, San Diego’s Harsh Toke embodies, above all else, freedom … specifically, the freedom to light up a doobie and fucking jam.

Released last year, the group’s debut album is a bracing sprint through psychedelia and metal, with just a soupçon of Southern rock. Less riff-reliant than Earthless, less doom-heavy than Sleep, the Tokers give free rein to their inner pothead. Like all hard-rock stoner bands, it owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Black Sabbath, but Harsh Toke focuses on the life-affirming ecstasy of the high rather than the snarling malice of the dark.

It is fitting that, on this night, in this town, the vicious guitar leads don’t express anger or despair or doom … but rather joy and exhilaration, the white-water thrill ride that life can be at its most wonderful, most invigorating moments. On several occasions throughout the show, guitarists Justin Figueroa and Gabe Messner look at each other, mid-jam, and smile. The munchies have clearly not made them grumpy.

The quartet ends its set with the album’s title track, “Light Up And Live.” The song builds from a slow, deliberate groove into an exuberant gangbang of notes awash in wah. Tonight, the band reminds us of the taste of freedom in one’s lungs. Sure, sometimes when you take a big gulp, it burns going down. A harsh toke, indeed. But you’re still the better for it.

No mention of the terrorist attacks is made from the stage or the crowd. The audience is grateful for the respite, relieved simply to ride the good vibes.

The death cult of religion devalues this life and tries to sell you on the unknown and unknowable prize “behind door number two.” So yeah, Light up and live. But most importantly: live.


—Eric Bensel

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Live Review: Winter Jazzfest NYC


It’s the 2015 Winter Jazzfest NYC. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the festival.

Now in its 11th year, the Winter Jazzfest in New York City has become an established fulcrum of offbeat musical activity, ideal for the consumer as well as industry insiders. It’s an impressive series of showcases—much akin to CMJ— crammed into 10 Greenwich Village venues and featuring more than 100 acts. With affordable day passes allowing attendees to wander from one club to another, the WJF encourages adventurous listening and discovery, highlighting avant-garde improvisation, amazing new compositions and high-concept projects.

Both the audience and the musicians ranged from younger neophytes to grizzled veterans, and Thursday night’s formal kickoff epitomized the generational diversity with just two shows. The Le Poisson Rouge venue highlighted a current crop of hipsters with Blue Note recording artists Robert Glasper, Kendrick Scott, Jose James and Derrick Hodge, while the nearby Disability Pride benefit concert showcased esteemed jazz elders including Benny Golson, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and George Coleman.

Friday night’s schedule was an embarrassment of riches, but I stuck to the action at the Minetta Lane Theater with established artists including reedist/composer David Murray. Murray has recorded more than 150 albums under his own name, and had three different showcase slots including a Clarinet Summit with Don Byron, David Krakauer and Hammiet Bluiett, and a trio gig featuring Geri Allen on piano and Terri Lynne Carrington on drums. Following Murray, there was Trio 3 with Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille along with special-guest pianist Vijay Iyer. Even without Iyer, Trio 3’s collective experience was well over 150 years, and they did not disappoint.

Longtime “Downtown” musicians were also on hand, with Mark Ribot & The Young Philadelphians With Strings playing instrumental versions of classic Philly soul. Ribot’s band killed it, especially with the amazing rhythm section of bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Calvin Weston. Other downtown legends included Strange And Beautiful, which is a Lounge Lizards tribute ensemble featuring Lizard alumni Ribot, pianist Evan Lurie, trumpeter Steven Bernstein, saxophonists Michael Blake and Erik Lawrence and many more.

Saturday night’s schedule was more of the same—both in quantity and quality—including Rudresh Mahanthappa interpreting Charlie Parker, the Campbell Brothers performing a sacred steel version of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and the SFJAZZ Collective playing the music of Michael Jackson. Overall, there was just too much for any one person to see, but that was a good thing.

—photo by Steve Sussman

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