Category Archives: Live Reviews



Radio Woodstock 100.1 : Donna The Buffalo (

Donna The Buffalo / Lion’s Den/ Jan. 18, 2004


Upper New York sextet Donna The Buffalo navigated through an expansive range of roots-y Americana at this narrow, crowded, friendly West Village pub. Much like seasoned jam bands Phish and the Grateful Dead (but with a more pronounced Country & Western bent), they ask for no quarter delivering an exhaustive two and a half hour set.

But while several songs stretched well into the seven-minute mark, they never meandered into excessive, long-winded solo excursions. Instead, the tight, democratic ensemble benefited from an intuitive approach, stretching out over wide-open spaces within each penetrating arrangement, but never once becoming unhinged. Though their fine, recent full length, Positive Friction, represents the band well, Donna The Buffalo’s whimsical spontaneity and natural rural inclinations shine brightest in a live setting.

Loose multi-harmonies and the firm rhythmic foundation of bassist Jeb Greenberg and drummer Tom Gilbert secure many of their jams. And the murky, slightly undersized sound system of the Lion’s Den added rustic authenticity to Donna The Buffalo’s Dust Bowl-styled folk-blues, misty mountain hops, sedate heartland meditations, and one neat skiffle shuffle. Dixie-fried standard, “Bravest Cowboy,” became a beat-driven prairie-bound showdown in their hands.

Singer/ accordionist/ rubboard player Tara Nevins fiddled on a few two-step boogies, back porch country bops, a positive-minded bass-thumped reggae calypso, and a party-spirited Cajun-clipped honky tonk ditty. Ritchie Stearns’ organ and synthesizer drenched a kitschy ska-tinged number and otherwise provided backup for Jeb Puryear and Jim Miller’s clanging guitar chatter. After closing with the “Bo Diddley” beat-stricken “Learning Curve,” the dancing and swaying audience begged for an encore of the bands’ concert staple, “In Another World.” Then, the generous musicians tagged on a few more selections for great measure. Anyone ready to experience a red hot hootenanny should attend a Donna The Buffalo shindig ASAP.



Victoria Williams / The Bottom Line / February 5, 1999

Dressed hippie-chick casual for this special Bottom Line industry showcase, fragile-voiced pianist-guitarist-banjoist Victoria Williams assembled an adaptable Classical-folk ensemble (with a vibraphonist to boot) to complement her sweet childlike sentiments and sublime imagery.

Williams’ idiosyncratic singing caresses choice covers and several serene gems off her recently released Musings Of A Creekdipper. Although outwardly appearing ditzy and naïve, she assuredly orchestrated the on-off band through affectionate and earthy compositions without losing composure over such an ambitious undertaking.

Despite the informal presentation and some of the instrumentalists’ lack of preparation, each member seemed totally ‘in synch’ with Williams’ oeuvre. For posterity, thankfully, the show was videotaped in its entirety.

Perched at the pinao, she led off with the heartfelt “periwinkle Sky,” then switched to acoustic guitar to succinctly deliver the compelling ballad, “Kashmir’s Corn.” She entrusted the expansive arrangement of the rustic “Train Song” and the mellow “Nature Boy” (written by deceased eccentric lounge Jazz vagabond Eden Ahbez) to the very competent troupe and came out a winner.

“Hummingbird” adventurously crossed acoustic bluegrass picking with Classical violin, as gentle harmonica and atmospheric flute filled the softer spots splendidly.

Throughout, Williams combined genuine warmth with angelic innocence, bearing her soul while retaining a sincere ‘aw shucks’ giddiness. Between songs, her whimsical wit and playful teasing (with band and audience) comforted everybody. She left us with a spare piano-accompanied version of Louis Armstrong’s uplifting “What A Wonderful World.”

Though Williams’ delicately fractured high-pitched singing could be an acquired taste, she easily won over the audience with earnest, good-natured charm, sharing homespun stories ‘bout relatives, friends, and acquaintances. In a world full of underachieving complainers and slack loiterers, and despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (currently in remission), Williams’ endearingly and courageously follow her muse, living a peaceful life in the California desert with her husband, ex-Jayhawks leader, Mark Olsen.


Polvo / Trans Am / Tramps / January 10, 1998


This enjoyable sold-out show placed prog-rock in a semi-thematic multigenerational metamorphosis. Tickets went fast as word spread that Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Polvo may be playing their final New York date as a band. Even ex-Cop Shoot Cop Firewater leader Tod A, in search of a ticket, didn’t attempt to get inside the packed 23rd Street club.

In support of the recent album, Shapes, Polvo started their enthralling, if sometimes problematic, set with a few skewed inside-out Blues riffs stylistically described in song as “Rock Post-Rock.” Throughout, a one-hour-plus gig, guitarists Dave Brylawski and Ashley Bowie struggled to keep their sporadic, nearly inconsequential vocals above the impressive instrumentation.

Perhaps one early epic-length eruption temporarily lost focus, but beyond that, Polvo gained composure with each distended piece. An inverted version of “Purple Haze” rampaged into The Who’s Tommy underture, “Sparks,” tempting a sinister Brylawski to comment ‘classic rock will be all over the radio in two years. I’m sure.’

On the implosive “Enemy Insects,” guitars surged while Steve Popson’s rattling bass shook the foundation, giving this evening its high watermark. For an encore, Polvo came full circle with a medley of commingled classic Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Jimi Hendrix riffs. Sure, everything didn’t go Polvo’s way, but they took chances and proved their appreciation for Baby Boomer album-oriented rock matched their assertive, gutsy approach to original post-Gen X progressions.

Exceptional DC trio, Trans Am, proved to be perfect openers, deconstructing rock-Jazz excursions that seemingly broke down the sophisticated, kaleidoscopic experimentations of Soft Machine and king Crimson. Multi-instrumentalists Nathan Means and Phil Manley curried wiry, syncopated electrodes from stacked keyboards, cranked out dual buzzsaw bass clusters, and scattered a few guitar textures atop web-like instrumental passages.

Climaxing in a shuttered noise-rock rumbler, Trans Am splashed resourceful feedback and syncopated rhythms into a tense convulsion. At the closing, guest Chapel Hill guitarist Grant Tennille came onstage with the boys to shake up a sly quasi-blues Zeppelin medley centered around “The Song Remains The Same.”


Jon Spencer Blues Explosion / Delta 72 / CBGB/ September 28, 1996

The line of fans stretched around the block to see jon Spencer Blues Explosion on this pleasant Sunday evening in New York. Those lucky enough to get inside had to fight their way through the pit area for close-up glimpses. One girl fought dehydration brought on by intense heat while others waited for the charitable two-hour Blues Explosion set to end in order to get to the downstairs bathrooms.

Perched above a two-foot platform fronting the main right speaker behind three lovely women, I sweat through Delta 72’s white soul confections anxiously awaiting the Blues Explosion. Guitarist-singer Jon Spencer thrilled the packed crowd with his friendly demeanor, playful kitsch, and assertive axe wielding. His lips pressed against the mike as he leaned back to sing crusty metallic blues-rockers, swampy rockabilly raveups, offbeat R & B, and countrified soul.

A dozen testosterone-fueled motherfuckers in front of the stage proved to be somewhat hazardous during slamming jams such as the scorching Skunk,” the hook-crazed “Bellbottoms,” and the Rufus Thomas shuffler “Chicken Dog.” But the bassless trio kept piling on dramatic intensity, pausing only to take a short break before an extended encore enveloped by “The Blues Explosion Theme.”

Second guitarist Russell Simins and drummer Judah Bauer never wavered, providing the GQ-looking Spencer with solid support throughout. Impressive! Fans should also check out their latest recording, Now I Got Worry.

Led by steely-eyed, acrobatic guitar slinger, Gregg Foreman, DC quartet Delta 72 ground out a tenacious soul-drenched groove with fine results. Foreman’s raw-throated assertions were colored by Sarah Stolfa’s persistent Farfisa beat, drummer Jason Kourkounis’ busy stick work, and Kim Thompson’s Replacements-ripped bass thump. By mixing ruptured instrumental frenzies with zombie-like meditations, Delta 72 did a wonderful job supporting Spencer’s headliners.


Elliott Smith / Irving Plaza / May 18, 2000


Experiencing Elliott Smith live with an electric band is very different than watching him perform solo acoustic or hearing his early 8-track recordings. Though the difference isn’t as dramatic as night and day, the polarities are worth investigating. Gone are most of the Beatlesque harmonies and gently melodic vocal inflections saturating the marvelous trio of albums, Either/Or, X/L, and the brand new, Figure 8, that provided the judicious material for this sold-out Irving Plaza date.

In a solo setting, Smith’s tangled-up-in-blue lyrics are more emotionally riveting, digging deeper into affairs of the heart, while offering medication for the soul. Although his innate sense of melodramatic brooding is all but lost in an electric environment, each original song was sparked by harder rock-edged (instead of pop) arrangements this warm spring evening.

Instead of getting mired in gloomy solitude, desperation, and alienation, the mood was melodically upbeat and the textural embellishments more varied.

Asking for no quarter, and wasting nary a second for between-song patter, Smith rushed through the one-hour set without interruption. Perhaps he was trying to squeeze in as many songs as he could in the allotted time frame.

Smith plucked and strummed a large Rickenbacker throughout, layering heavy guitar resonation over his expressive baritone. The t-shirt clad tandem of keyboardist/ second guitarist Asaron Embry, drummer Scott McPherson, and bassist Sam Coomes (from the band Quasi) elevated the urgency of every three-minute number.

No one in the crowd seemed to mind the fact that Smith’s folksy confessional intimacy was forfeited for a louder, more pungent approach to his songs. And after a resounding, well-deserved applause, Smith and company came back for a carefree two-song encore.


Cornershop / Thievery Corp. / Irving Plaza / November 19, 1997

Offering a wonderful evening of multinational, multiethnic musical escapism at the spacious Irving Plaza were Britains’ Cornershop and Washington DC’s Thievery Corp. Startlingly original and uncompromising, Cornershop’s cut-and-paste material kept up a positive vibe that completely captivated fans.

Playing only tracks from the superb recent release, When I was Born For The Seventh Time, Cornershop delivered each little melodic caper in a slightly simmered down,less mystical way, sacrificing the swirly veneer and flowery effervescence of the stuio versions for refined, slightly more folk-rooted interpretations. Though singer-guitarist Tjinder Singh has a shy, unassuming persona, his brilliant blend of Punjabi folk, bhangra, and indie rock styles showed off his distinct musical awareness.

The comfy “Sleep On The Left Side” was delivered less obtusely then the recorded version. The soothingly and spiritually awakened, “Brimful Of Asha,” seeped into the night air like jasmine and the sitar-laced carnival, “Butter The Soul,” sputtered and splintered through its skewed hip-hop groove with ease. The Indian raga, “We’re In Yr Corner,” respectfully approximated the mood and feel of George Harrison’s Within You Without You.”

A bright pinwheel backdrop enhanced the extended Punjabi jam that closed this joyous set, leaving their adoring minions begging for more. Cornershop’s songs take on many shapes and colors, remaining truly original while staying totally en vogue with underground pundits.

Warming upthe Irving Plaza crowd (loaded with an unusual amount of publicity hounds), hip-hop/ dub reggae outfit, Thievery Corp. delivered what seemed like a half-hour narcotic jam. Connecting songs within the confines of an anthemic “Thievery Corp. Theme,” two dreadlocked rastafarian rappers and a bongo-sitar player surrounded tape manipulating programmers Eric Holton and Rob Garza (both dressed in conservative suits and sitting on kitchen chairs mid-stage), captivated the swelling audience with sociopolitical messages and freedom songs, interweaving sampled flutes and brass to thicken the foundation of their cultural surrealism.

Projected film clips and still photography enhanced Thievery Corp’s condensed set. They enthralled open-minded listeners, but may’ve left commercial-minded patrons disillusioned in a futile search for an easy concrete riff or playful melody to hold on to somewhere inside the distended grooves.


Pavement / Roseland Ballroom / May 11, 1997


Historic Roseland Ballroom may be the most sterile sounding New York venue due to its monstrously high ceilings and under-whelming sound system. Happily, Pavement and their sound crew did enough solid preparation to overcome any venue limitations. Mixing in tunes from ‘97s Brighten The Corners alongside several fan faves, the critically raved Pavement proved to be at the top of their game on the way to glorious alt-rock heaven.

Dressed in collared shirts, the frontline of literary-bound singer-songwriter (and indie rock idol) Stephen Malkmus, guitarist-singer Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannburg, and bassist Mark Ibold provided sharp riffs, wry humor, and a relaxed atmosphere for the attentive crowd. Behind them, Moog playing percussionist Bob Nastanovich’s electronic textures and drummer Steve West’s sturdy beat kept the rhythm strong. And the sparkling tinsel backdrop gave Pavement’s moody reflections and climactic stanzas an abstract aura.

In a roundabout way, Malkmus’ cranky, whining vocal tendencies recall the naïve plaintiveness of cracked folk-rock waif Joanthan Richman. But unlike Richman’s twerpy, defeatist anthems, Malkmus mirrors his anxieties with sarcasm and alluring provocations (not all of which are meant to be clearly understood). He screams excitedly of initially hearing his song on the “Stereo,” then casually lifts Richman’s famous “Roadrunner’ hook line (“I got the radio on” conveniently shifted into “got the radio active”) for the down ‘n dirty “Best Friends Arm.”

Heads in the crowd were bobbing to the intense “Conduit For Sale” (loosely dedicated at this hometown show to the Knicks’ John Starks), as Nastanovich stepped up from behind his kit and forcefully screeched the nervous refrain over a sizzling beat. The refreshing “Shady Lane” was a power pop blast that gave West a chance to sport a spooky skeleton mask from behind his drum kit. With breezy harmonies and cool summer night imagery, “Starlings Of The Slipstream” retained a pleasant acoustic atmosphere.

After a three-minute break, Pavement returned for a generous encore. It began with the delicate, cracked sentiments of “Stop Breathing” and concluded with the endearing “Grounded.” Despite a few slightly extended guitar excursions (which could have been sliced to allow for a few more vintage tracks) and unintentionally muted harmonica passages, Pavement’s courageously open-ended songs pleased the underground enthusiasts and smart pop fans on hand this Sunday evening.


Skeleton Key / Ambulance / Mercury Lounge / December 4, 2002


Prior to delivering a startling, long-forgotten ’96 six-song EP, I had missed the menacing Skeleton Key set at now-defunct Manhattan club, Tramps, but was tipped off by dearly departed Billboard editor, Timothy White, as to how ‘fucking great’ these dissonantly detached Soho dissidents were.

Antecedents of arty boho minimalists (Liars/ Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and no wave freaks (Ex-Models/ Seconds) now overtaking New York City post-Strokes exposure, vocalist-bassist Erick Sanko’s revolving troupe startled awestruck underground dwellers with rhythmically abstruse concoctions. Moving beyond the quaint seclusion of Tribeca’s tucked away Knitting Factory confines with ‘97s under-recognized Fantastic Spike Through Balloon, Skeleton Key’s delectably dysfunctional deconstructed dysphoria began to inconspicuously slither past the periphery of our great metropolis.

Dressed in color-coordinated coveralls, tall blonde frontman Sanko, guitarist/ backup vocalist Craig Le Blang, standing ‘junk’ percussionist Tim Keiper, and seated conventional drummer Matthias Bossi kept the medium-sized Mercury Lounge crowd awestruck with faves from excellent new release, Obtanium. Clanging percussion punched up the alarming “One Way, My Way,” a cacophonous corruption evoking the slanted swamp Blues of Captain Beefheart. Just as intensely immediate, “Kerosene” went ablaze with scree guitars and rumpled bass riffs. When they pulled out the explosively eruptive live staple, “The World’s Most Famous Undertaker,” its punchy volatility reverberated through our collective skulls, creating a wickedly disturbing sense of unease like everything’s gonna fall apart.

Beforehand, transplanted New York quintet, Ambulance, offered intricately multi-layerd Jazz-informed post-rock confections. Swerved echo-drenched keyboard swells underscored the lucid vibrancy consuming each moderately daring piece. Oft times eloquently understated dual guitar melodies and subtly complex bass-drum rhythms built up from sparse dirge-y auspices before swarthy lyrical gloom unfurled exhilarating cinematic emotional release. (Editors note: Ambulance is now Ambulance LTD.)


Lagwagon/ Transplants / Irving Plaza / May 5, 2002

A few stalwart Cali-punk veterans trekked East for Manhattan’s Irving Plaza to unleash highly energetic sets of post-hardcore aggression this warm spring night. East Bay guitarist-singer Tim Armstrong (ex-Operation Ivy punk-ska progenitor and present Rancid frontman) hooked up with former AFI roadie Rob Ashton for transitional quartet, the Transplants, a stylish working class outfit inspired by punk hellraisers G.B.H. and The Sham. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara’s decade-old Lagwagon relied on the amusing, easily digested pop-punk NOFX helped make semi-popular in the ‘90s to headline the show.

Though Armstrong received MTV exposure and sundry accolades fronting Rancid during the ‘90s, tour mates Lagwagon had only developed a cult fan base despite the fact that Blink 182 (whose drummer, Travis Barker, ironically anchors the Transplants) and their glossy ilk seemed to adapt their self-deprecating humor to invariable success. Vocalist Joey Cape’s sly wry wit and derelict attitude give a serrated edge to Lagwagon’s loud, catchy melodicism, avoiding the watered down, shallow-minded indifference of their compromising candy-coated copycats.

On-stage, Lagwagon’s precise stop ‘n’ go arrangements, twin turbo guitar fervor, and rubbery bass boom powered gleefully celebratory chants. Cape’s savage lyrical bite, crowd-baiting banter, and prancing stage prowl kept the crushed front-stage fans alert and the massive moshpit buzzing. Though ‘98s fiery Let’s Talk About Feelings may still be their pinnacle achievement, the newly waxed Blaze is no slouch, as this resounding one-hour set certainly proved.

As for Armstrong, after Rancid’s formative self-titled ’93 debut fully exploited his notable Clash fixation, ex-UK Subs guitarist Lars Frederiksen joined the fold for ‘94s economical Let’s Go (which reached exalted underground status with the rousing “Salvation”). ‘95s even better And Out Come The Wolves continued Rancid’s ceaseless entourage of quirky 2-minute rants, highlighted by the hooky ska anthem “Time Bomb” and the climactic Clash knockoff, “Ruby Soho.” While ‘98s horn-doused Life Won’t Wait held its ground, ‘00s vehement self-titled follow-up contained the cocky quartet’s strongest political messages and most pungently efficient playing.

Teamed with bald-headed vocalist Rob Ashton, guitarist Craig Fairbaugh (of the Forgotten), and the aforementioned Barker, Armstrong’s Transplants retain a more sophisticated, controlled restraint in the studio, incorporating hip-hop breakdowns, punctual piano, and electronic affects.

But live, they concentrated on tearing the house down. Tempestuous sing-a-long fuck-offs like “We Trusted You” re-created late ‘70s punk action with pinpoint accuracy and authoritative verve. They saluted like-minded bands Agnostic Front, the Ramones, H20, and Sick Of It All mid-set, then dedicated “Hard Luck Street” to respected deceased rockers. The ska-driven guttersnipe “Rude Boys” and the kitsch-y bluebeat catwalk “Johnny 2 Bad” may have lacked the vibrancy of the Transplants studio versions, but both burst forth with frenetic determination. And the snubbing Beastie Boys-derived closer, “Tall Cans In the Air,” despite drowned out vocals, crackled with undeterred resolve as Ashton got fevered fans to wave middle fingers at unspecified squares.


Johnny Dowd / Knitting Factory / November 17, 1999

A weathered musical chameleon with a deep southern drawl and charmingly self-effacing wit, gray-haired troubadour, Johnny Dowd, captivated a polite Knitting Factory audience this cold November night. His dark, brooding dirges feel like black storm clouds stretched across barren plains while his cracked swamp Blues recall avant-garde enigma, Captain Beefheart.

He may forever linger in obscurity, but Dowd’s a true talent with great musical sense. His version of Hank Williams’ “A Picture From Life’s Other Side” had a smoke-filled barroom atmosphere reminiscent of Tom Waits. The stark “Hell Or High Water” (from a promised future album) got stricken by cowbell percussionist Kim Sherwood-Caso’s paling bellowed voice, perfectly capturing the desolate mood of Dowd’s late-night scree guitar and Justin Asher’s creepy organ. After some humorous down home asides, Dowd broke into the ominously destitute “Cradle To The Grave,” which dealt with lost hope and a severed relationship.

The absolute highlight, “Worried Mind,” got lost in Asher’s toxic organ groove and Bob Hoffnar’s darting pedal steel screech before bewitched Caso coos through the Cajun standard, “Jambalaya,” midway through the song. Facetiously introduced as a love song, Dowd’s scraggly muttering and flatulent guitar buzz inundate the chain-like rhythm of “Greasy Hands.” As an aside, Dowd read his own cryptic poems after “Four Gray Walls,” a warm folk-based duet with Caso.

Unrestricted by musical boundaries and more than daring to make his songs as obtuse and twisted as possible, Dowd proves old dogs can still learn new tricks.


Dropkick Murphys / Teaneck American Legion Hall / March 20, 1999

After a solid performance at Coney Island high to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the Dropkick Murphys decided to give something back to suburban dwellers, playing a small town American Legion Hall for the kids who couldn’t make the New York venue.

Feeling out of place next to teens clad in studded leather, strange spiked mohawks, and some of the most unusual attire I’ve ever encountered, these well-behaved misfits were crammed tightly into the sweaty, tiny Legion Hall backroom. Despite the over-capacity crowd, kids body surfed and gleefully cheered on their Irish-bred Boston punk heroes.

Even though two rude, inconsiderate Legion members treated their strange-looking guests like absolute shit, calling the police to break up the mob, I praise the Teaneck cops not only for letting the one-hour set run its coarse, but for restraint, patience, and professionalism handling a tough situation.

Early on, the Dropkick Murphys got the kids raising fists in the air, covering Sham 69’s timeless youth brigade, “If The Kids Are United.” Though the sound system sucked, and it was difficult to comprehend lyrics, the resilient quartet overcame these problems by rampaging through supercharged, highly spirited tracks from 1998’s exhilarating Do Or Die album and the newly waxed Gang’s All Here.

Without a doubt, the Dropkick Murphys understand the youthful yearning and rebellious spirit of the fans, unifying them through positive anthems concerning freedom and righteousness.

However difficult it is to comprehend the reasoning behind booking this band at such an ill-suited non-club, the merchandise table seemed to do bang-up business afterward. I was impressed with the displays, t-shirts, records, CD’s and colorful paraphernalia. And yes, kudos to the Dropkick Murphys for keeping their fans positively enthralled.


Hedwig And The Angry Inch / Jane Street Theatre / March 13, 1999

Located at the historic Hotel Riverview (which lodged Titanic survivors in 1912), NYC’s Jane Street Theatre currently hosts John Cameron Mitchell’s provocative Hedwig And The Angry Inch. Charismatic actor Michael Cerveris takes on the role of botched sex change victim, Hedwig, an East German immigrant confused by his father’s sexual advances and scorned by his overbearing mother. A cheesy glimmer rock wannabe, Hedwig’s musical career suffers a setback after a blow job-induced car accident.

Cerveris brilliantly conveys the sadness and remorse of the crackled lead character; a wig-crazed androgyne with Alladin Sane-era makeup. By humoring the attentive audience with improvised dialogue, sly innuendoes, hilarious rants, and funny theatrical maneuvers, he gets everybody to empathize with Hedwig’s woeful tales of shattered dreams and dour relationships. A devout listener of US Armed Forces Radio, Hedwig took to heart the glam-pop affectations of Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” Though he yearned for acceptance, his painful, bizarre past and grief-stricken transvestite lifestyle were difficult to reconcile.

Hedwig’s sneering husband, Yitzak, played by clear-throated soprano and backup harmonizer, Miriam Shor, boosts the power of several musical numbers. Guitarist Werner F and drummer Jon Weber, both from fabulous punk combo, Vaporhead, lead a viable band through the eclectic “Origin Of Love,” the glitzy “Sugar Daddy,” and the venomous “Angry Inch” (an ode to Hedwig’s mutilated penile remnant).

Hedwig’s kooky odyssey towards self-knowledge brims with insightful psychoanalysis and humility. In retrospect, he mirrors society’s decay, standing alone at the end, if not triumphant, at least alive.