As Tall As Lions with Brazil, You In Series, Abandoned From the Wreckage and Rally Six
Thursday · The Mad Hatter
With its recently released self-titled sophomore album, the Long Island, N.Y., quartet As Tall As Lions references some pretty potent sonic touchstones. As also heard on their 2004 debut, Lafcadio, ATAL is the latest band to blend the verve and passion of Emo with the subtlety and melodicism of Pop to create a sound that is both viscerally powerful and emotionally delicate.
The foursome (vocalist/guitarist/pianist Daniel Nigro, guitarist Saen Fitzgerald, bassist/vocalist Julio Tavarez, drummer Cliff Sarcona) lists a ton of influences (or, as they note, "Bands/Artists You Should Listen To") on their MySpace page (myspace.com/astallaslions), and a good many of them bubble to the surface on their first recorded outing, from the Sunny-Day-Real-Estate-tributes-Radiohead thrash of "Be Here Now" and the Catherine-Wheel-channels-Talk-Talk blister Pop of "Stab City" to the insistent Coldplay-with-cojones jolt of "Ghosts of York" and the acoustic Jeff Buckley-fronts-Led-Zeppelin beauty of "Kickin' Myself."
Nigro's occasional flights of falsetto lend ATAL a romantic power and grace while his sinewy guitar interplay with Fitzgerald is a palpable texture that the pair uses to create whatever mood the songs require, from the melancholy sigh of "Milk and Honey" to the minor key joy of "Be Here Now." ATAL's whisper-to-a-scream range demands a versatile rhythm section, a role filled to perfection by Tavarez and Sarcona, who consistently build a foundation that effortlessly shifts modes to accentuate the band's dramatic ebb and flow. How this balance between power and delicacy plays out on stage for As Tall As Lions remains to be seen, but the band's faithful following in their home scene and throughout the Northeast is evidence that their live presence is every bit the equal of their studio prowess. (Brian Baker)
The Eastern Seaboard with Heavy Weather, The Times and Selecter
Friday · Southgate House
In the press materials for The Eastern Seaboard, an exploratory three-piece combo from New York, there are numerous references to the trio's "Punk" and "Indie" inspirations, from Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation through the wise worldview of Joe Strummer (to whom the band's CD, Nonfiction, is dedicated). While those touchstones seem genuine, they also seem like efforts to drag out different fans to their tours, which hit a large number of "Rock" venues.
But make no mistake — as progressive and adventurous as The Eastern Seaboard is, this is Free Jazz. And fans of that genre and its peak era and practitioners shouldn't be scared off by the Rock references; they will be knocked out by the young threesome's boundlessly creative take.
Likewise, Thurston Moore devotees and fans of more experimental, risk-taking Post Punk and Post Rock will also eat up the Seaboard's untethered, impulsive style, just as they'd be drawn to the cutting-edge work of old Ornette Coleman or Charles Mingus. When it comes to The Eastern Seaboard, the cross-cultural references reflect the natural, preconception-exploding approach of this exciting, artistic trio.
The fact is, despite the "Jazz" format (horns, bass, drums), it doesn't really matter what you call the group's distinctive style. Just sit back and let it engulf and provoke you.
Across The Eastern Seaboard's discography — which includes Nonfiction, released on esteemed progressive Jazz label, Black Saint, plus several efforts on their own imprint, Tigerasylum Records — the group has fiddled with the lines between composition and improv, ambient soundscapery and impetuous chaos, elegance and cacophony. Eschewing traditional roles, each member consistently takes turns guiding the ship and churning the oars. Bassist Jordon Schranz switches between finger-plucking and bowing on his upright, providing ominous scratches, expansive ambiance or supple runs depending on the atmosphere of the piece. Drummer Seth Nanaa similarly feeds the pulse of the songs, crafting whirls of skittish, volatile rhythms that are both musical and aura-building. Saxman Brent Bagwell (who also blows clarinet) milks rich, sublime tones from his instrument, but also combusts with sweltering, frenzied skronk when it's called for. All are stunning musicians, partly for their chops, but mostly for the expressive, emotion-laden sounds they produce with their tools. Based on that alone, Strummer would definitely approve. (Mike Breen)
Steely Dan with Michael McDonald
Tuesday · Riverbend Music Center
From the start, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker gave notice that they were unwilling to compromise their artistic ideals where the music of Steely Dan was concerned. The pair met at Bard College in 1967 and played in a succession of college bands (comedian Chevy Chase drummed at one point) before going pro in the early '70s as touring musicians for Jay and the Americans. In 1971, Becker and Fagen followed producer Gary Katz to Los Angeles as staff writers and with Katz they conceived of a band with a rotating cast of session musicians. Dubbed Steely Dan after the steam-driven dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, the band's 1972 debut, Can't Buy a Thrill, was unlike anything else in Rock at that point, utilizing distinctive Jazz structures within their already skewed vision of Pop/Rock, which featured offbeat time signatures and ironic, enigmatic and compelling lyrics. The album reached the Top 20 and yielded a pair of hit singles ("Do It Again," "Reeling in the Years") but Becker and Fagen were not aiming for chart success. In fact, their 1973 sophomore follow-up, Countdown to Ecstasy, spawned no hits and was even more complex musically than its predecessor. After that, Becker and Fagen plunged even deeper into their Jazz influences with their subsequent albums (1974's Pretzel Logic, 1975's Katy Lied and 1976's The Royal Scam).
In 1977, Steely Dan released Aja, which featured respected Jazz players (the Crusaders, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter) and ultimately earned the band their first platinum album. 1980's Gaucho, following the path of Aja, also cracked the Top 10, and featured the hit "Hey Nineteen," but it would prove to be the last Steely Dan album for two decades. Fagen put out a pair of solo albums and Becker released one, while both appeared with 1991's New York Rock and Soul Revue. In 1993, the pair assembled an 11-piece version of Steely Dan for their first U.S. tour since Pretzel Logic (resulting in the live album, Alive in America), and seven years later released Two Against Nature, their first studio album in 20 years. The album hit the Top 10 in its first week and scored Becker and Fagen three Grammys, including Album of the Year.
In 2001, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while 2003 saw the release of the surprisingly loose and ultimately electrifying Everything Must Go. This year, Fagen returned with his third solo album, the exquisite Morph the Cat. Through the various line-ups, genre blends, long gaps between later work, sonic perfectionism and internal/external strife, Steely Dan has remained one of the most unquestionably original bands of the last three decades. (BB)