Josh Ritter‘s Sermon on the Rocks is his most ebullient album to date. And, as implausibly as it sounds if you have seen him live, Ritter appears happier than ever while performing—so much so that his fans are becoming even more effusive. Rarely, if ever, have I seen the entire audience rise for an artist before his encore. But for Ritter’s homecoming (of sorts) show in New York they were up (but sat back down after) for “Getting Ready to Get Down”. Even as headlining the gorgeous Beacon Theatre was a triumphant achievement for Ritter, he calm his nerves, he told the audience he was pretending the show was in the tiny Mercury Lounge. But the deceit didn’t matter to the crowd. Many people sang along as Ritter and the Royal City Band performed a smattering of new tracks and old favorites over the 100-plus-minute set.
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At an American Songbook show, one should expect some backstory to the music. As Foreigner have been performing without co-founder Lou Gramm for over a decade now, the onus of sharing tidbits from the band’s history fell to Mick Jones. Jones described how the band recorded some of their songs nearby and their record label was a block or two over, above where Starbucks is now. On the other hand, Kelly Hansen, the vocalist/replacement for Gramm, shared more recent stories of the band, including an acoustic show in Europe, and ribbed Jones for forgetting to introduce him. Both were ecstatic to be playing in the Appel Room, with it’s huge windows overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park.
The Cactus Blossoms are two brothers from Minneapolis, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, whose rich harmonies and early country sound are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. Their voices blend into a pastiche of nostalgia but the band incorporates modern elements into their songs and stories. Just take a listen to the lyrics for “Stoplight Kisses”, the first song off their new album You’re Dreaming. People in the audience who had seen the duo before were pleased to see the addition of upright bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola (left-handed they noted) to the ensemble. The Cactus Blossoms’ set included a few classic covers as well as their own material. The Bowery Presents noted, “The Cactus Blossoms dipped expertly into Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart”), Waylon Jennings (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”) and others, but let many of their own tunes carry the night, from “A Sad Day to Be You” and “You’re Dreaming” to “Powder Blue” and “Stoplight Kisses”. But he standout may have been “Queen of Them All”, a swooning ballad that turned into a deeply felt romantic declaration with a happy ending.
One year ago, before the proper release of his biggest album yet Delilah, Anderson East played the Bowery Ballroom solo opening for Sturgill Simpson. One year and one day later, many of those passed by on the road including at least three other shows in New York City, East returned to the Bowery stage as the headliner with his full band in tow. The Nashville based artist has seen his star continue to rise and this show was sold out well in advance. And after seeing him several times before, East proved himself to be a capable and versatile headliner. Another Nashville based artist, Andrew Combs opened for East and his set was well-received by the Americana and country loving audience. Combs performed tracks off his two albums, Worried Man and All These Dreams, with the title track from the latter being a particular highlight of his set. Combs then went down to sign autographs for his newly minted fans.
“To outliving your enemies,” shouted Priests frontwoman, Katie Alice Greer, to a crowded Music Hall of Williamsburg. Whoever had ‘em, or at least those who were comfortable, raised their beers to the death of Antonin Scalia, which had been announced just hours prior. Celebrating anyone’s death isn’t really anyone’s idea of civilized, but if there’s ever a place to suspend social pleasantries, it’d be a Priests show. And after all, she did preface it somewhat fairly: “I’m not normally one to celebrate someone’s death, but anyone will do a better job than he did on the Supreme Court.”
They then whipped into another riot punk number, air-tight rhythm section grooving along while she posed, chanted, rumbled through her ironic lyrics. Priests are a band with conviction, making use of a noisy, Sonic Youth template as a platform for their unruly politics. Their closer, which they introduced as a new one, played big with melody and groove—perhaps their touring companions are rubbing off. Bodes well for a vibrant follow-up to their “Bodies and Control and Money and Power”, which itself topped Impose’s Best Albums of 2014.