Watching Wagakki Band‘s New York City performance last week, one thing was certain. There are few shows like this and half the fun in attending was to see something totally unique. Even the security guards at Irving Plaza were transfixed by the band’s show. Wagakki Band fuse traditional Japanese instruments together with guitars and other “Western” elements to create a powerful show. Even the band’s costumes were a powerful vision. Some were in traditional garb while the drummer(s) appeared to be in plated armor straight out of a Final Fantasy game. Check out exclusive photos of the band’s performance and a video clip below.
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Over at New Music Matters, writer Jane Jansen Seymour noted that it was her first time catching the legendary New Order live (as it was mine). I’m not super familiar with their back catalog (outside their hits) but I do appreciate Get Ready and their newest album Music Complete, the two new millennium albums that Gillian Gilbert contributed to. As Seymore aptly noted, “it was clearly the older tunes that the crowd was waiting for to dance and sing along. “Temptation”, “Ceremony”, “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Age of Consent” were all rolled out, along with “You Silent Face,” the composition that Moby has remarked how it proved electronic music could be beautiful in its own right. The busy projections behind the musicians competed with the audience attention, but acoustically there could be no complaints—the sound was perfectly supplemented by plenty of prerecorded tracks.”
Beyond those New Order hits, the band included, in their encore, two Joy Division songs, “Atmosphere” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, before they ran into curfew and had to cut out before they could conclude with “Blue Monday” (the song was noted on the setlist). They’ve got a few more dates of their US tour still to come before they run the gamut of European festivals in the summer. Check out some photos of Bernard Sumner and the band below.
Watching Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn perform is to experience both the powerful interplay between their two different styles of banjo and to witness some hilarious banter between the married couple. Just a week or two before they were set to perform at the 92Y, Fleck and Washburn earned a Grammy award for Best Folk album for their record Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. But they didn’t let that award go to their heads (Fleck has already won over a dozen anyways). Instead, they expressed being humbled to be performing in a space where so many great intellectuals had spoken.
As Fleck explained at one point, he plays banjo in a traditional style, similar to Earl Scruggs, by up-picking with the fingers and down-picking with his thumb. On the other hand, Washburn performs utilizing the clawhammer style (mostly down-picking) that Doc Watson was best known for. But there is no obvious impediment to performing together as the two sounded brilliant on stage. Both brought material that has previously been performed before the two began their collaboration. Early in the set they performed a classic Flecktones song, “New South Africa”, one of my live favorites for the full band, stripped down which allowed the vibrant banjo to shine. Later on, Washburn singing in Mandarin, a language she studied in college and refined abroad, performed a song that had its roots in China’s Western Sìchuān Province.
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.
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.