Music Reviews

The Legendary Bob Dylan Performs for College Crowd [concert review]

Last night, The Mullins Center welcomed a long-awaited performance by folk-rock legend Bob Dylan. The venue was home to a mixed compilation of old and young, both of which were disappointed and enthralled at the experience of Dylan’s worn-out yet overwhelming presence.

First there was a performance by the Raconteurs, in which White Stripes front man Jack White lead the way with an all-out performance of energy and experimental rock. The audience seemed pleased, but because the crowd was composed of such a diverse age-range their outlandishly heavy performance wasn’t entirely embraced.

At around 8 p.m the lights lowered, and finally the legendary musician, followed by his band, stepped on stage. They started off with “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” The musicians were adorned in somewhat formal matching attire; two piece suits, broad rimmed top hats and black leather shoes. It was classy for classy at Wednesday’s show.

Dylan opened on the keyboard, and to the dismay of many, he stayed on it the whole time, never once picking up a guitar.This came as a disappointment. When one thinks of Dylan, a certain timeless image, mostly in the form of a poster, comes to mind — a young man, curly haired and handsome, stands with a guitar in his hands and a harmonica strapped to his torso. Even though his once charming voice has been blown and tattered in the wind, it’s a double blow to be denied his first-rate guitar playing.

The band behind him didn’t accomplish the feat it seemed determined to do — it didn’t drown out Dylan’s worn vocals. Although there’s no denying that the instrumentalists accompanying him know how to make good music, it’s obvious that they can’t replace what Dylan’s lost. Within the first moments of singing, there was an awkward shift of body weight throughout the venue. This adoring audience had prepared itself for something unsure (and in the realm of “bad”), but for many, what came from his lips was harsher than expected. A silent goodbye to what we yearned for was shared throughout the crowd exactly as Dylan’s second song made its greeting.

At least there was the harmonica — although it was secured to the skinny body of a microphone rather than that of Dylan. At times his harmonica playing seemed strained as the usual riffs fell short of what his older recordings have achieved. Still, it was a feature reminiscent of what he’s made familiar and distinct to his music, and so it was welcomed by the audience.

The set went on to include songs like, “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” “Cold Irons Bound,” old-time classic “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol,” and “John Brown.” After thirteen songs and before any acknowledgement of the crowd, Dylan stepped off-stage, followed by his band. As holds true with tradition, the crowd clamored with applause and eventually rhythmic stomping in the hopes of enticing the aged icon back to the spot-light. Like any well suited gentlemen, the request was promptly granted.

Dylan and his boys came back with the well-known “Lenny Bruce,” after which the overdue self-introduction was delivered, with little more than a “thank you friends” from Mr. Dylan. Luckily they went on to play two more encore songs, and finally ended with the enduring classic, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Unsettlingly, the song’s identity took a few moments before it sank-in; the once soft roughness of his voice was gone, taking with it any familiarity before reaching the ever-living lyrics, “…About having to be scrounging for your next meal/How does it feel.”

Granted, at this show he wasn’t what we remembered or wished to expect. But that doesn’t mean the value of his lifework is lost. For some, it’s easy to say, “Seeing him now would ruin it for me,” and others can’t help but ask, “Why is he still doing this if he can no longer do it well?”

In truth it seems a mystery why he keeps on keeping on. But if Dylan decides to put on a performance, fans who’ve savored his poetic songs over the years know it’s impossible not to make your presence known to the man who will forever be a rolling stone.

Bowker hosts Eastern Sounds with Niyaz [concert preview / artist interview]
Loga Ramin Torkian, Carmen Rizzo and Azam Ali

Tonight Bowker Auditorium will awaken with an ethereal performance that blends ancient Persia with modern music. Niyaz, an internationally acclaimed musical trio is set to deliver their unique “Sufi Fusion.”

The trio is renowned for their melodic art, which combines the traditional sounds and instruments of ancient Persia, Turkey and India intertwined with modern electronica. The group is composed of three distinct musical artists; Vas vocalist Azam Ali, Axiom of Choice’s Loga Ramin Torkian and two-time Grammy Award nominee Carmen Rizzo.

Niyaz vocalist, Ali, and multi-instrumentalist Torkian spoke with the Daily Collegian about the artistic intention behind their music and what inspired them to infuse ancient art with modern music.

“A reflection of the generation of Iranian Americans that essentially have little outlet otherwise,” said Torkian, who also feels that much Persian pop can be “cheesy” and mediocre. He said the reason they launched Niyaz was to represent their culture with substance and also reflect their time and generation.

“When people thought of international music they thought of very traditional music,” said Ali. “I think that’s really changing now because there are a lot of ethnic artists living in different parts of the world creating very different music.”

The group came together in the hopes of creating a sound that is accessible to an international community - particularly the Persian, Turkish and Indian communities both within the U.S and world wide. The native music of these countries is represented on their self titled album, “Niyaz” (2005).

The word “Niyaz” translates to “need” or “yearning” in both Farsi and Urdu. In choosing this name, the group aims to reflect the feeling of longing that many foreign born people experience when living away from their homeland.

Although their lyrics are in both Farsi and Urdu, the members of Niyaz never worried that a language barrier would be a problem. Although they include all of the lyrics’ English-translations in their album’s sleeve, the group still feels that their music is relatable even if one doesn’t understand the languages.

Iranian born (but Indian raised) Ali originally hails from Tehran, as does Torkian.

Torkian’s multi-instrumental skill is a tapestry on which Ali’s voice spills with hypnotic beauty. The lyrics she sings are the poems of traditional Persian and Indian mystics and poets. Their album is roughly half in Farsi and half in Urdu. Most of the Farsi poetry Niyaz sets to music is by the revered 13th-century poet Jalaluddin Rumi. The Urdu poetry comes from various other poetic mystics from the Indian subcontinent.

The group chose to set much of their music to Rumi’s poetry because he is so well respected not only in Iran, but in Turkey, Pakistan and India. Niyaz also considers Rumi a universal character that people relate to in Western culture, as well.

“He was very improvised and spontaneous. He captured the essence of the truth, as he saw it, so well. He’s really one true poet who belongs to the people,” said Torkian.

Vocalist Ali says she doesn’t have a preference when it comes to singing her own lyrics or singing traditional poetry because both serve a different purpose.

“There is something really beautiful about singing this timeless poetry. It’s a completely different experience using my own lyrics, or not using any lyrics - just using my voice as an instrument,” said Ali. “I don’t think I could just do one. I think the combination of doing all of it is really what’s so fulfilling to me as a singer.”

In their opinion, the lyrics are what provide the deeper nourishment in their music because of their spirituality. Even though their music has a beat ideal for dancing, their intent is a much more substantial one. The group says their music aims for fulfillment rather than simple entertainment.

“It’s a very personal individual growth. The individual search that, I think, we are all on -the lyrics really reflect that,” said Ali.

The group has yet to face any criticism about putting the venerated poetry in their music. Ali feels they’ve utilized the poems with so much reverence that they have no qualms about it.

Rizzo adds his distinctive electronic mixing to the music, and skillfully adapts modern electronics to Torkian’s traditional instrumentation. When combined with Ali’s mystical voice, their music truly represents a cultural blending of tonalities with new sounds. The result: a tasteful mingling of the textures of traditional acoustic music with new electronica.

Tonight will feature the talents of two other virtuoso musicians as guest performers, Tabla player, Satnam Ramgotra, and multi-instrumentalist Dimitris Mahlis - both were featured on their album.
Hasidic Reggae Phenomenon Graces U. Massachusetts-area Theater [concert review]


(U-WIRE) AMHERST, Mass. — On Tuesday night the Calvin Theater featured a show by reggae’s newest and Jewest phenomenon, Matisyahu. The Hasidic reggae superstar, as he is affectionately known, showed off his harmonious skills by fusing the art of rap, reggae and beat boxing, then topped it all of with an energy that electrified a mixed crowd of religious followers, college funk-a-holics, and music lovers of all ages.

One of the most enjoyable elements of Tuesday’s show was its upbeat and soulful essence, displayed through Matisyahu’s poignant connection with the audience.

Let’s not beat around the fact that looking at this long bearded, black garbed character causes one significant question to rear its ugly head. “Should I be here? I’m not Jewish...” Honestly, the occasional emergence of Yiddish lyrics and spiritual chanting lends to the feeling that you are attending a religious ceremony of some kind. However with an open heart, and mind, the connection to Matisyahu’s music quickly dissolves any feelings of displacement due to religious background.

With Matisyahu leading the way with vocals and beat-box, Jonah David hammered the drums while Aaron Dugan was on the guitar and Josh Werner played bass. The band started off on stage with no sign of the leading man.

After a few minutes of the band building up some instrumental feeling, Matisyahu appeared on stage and started the show off slow and easy, then livened it up with some buoyant reggae flavor with songs like “Youth,” “Fire of Heaven,” and other new and old songs. During the show the beat-boxing luminary enjoyed bopping around to the funky beats his band unleashed and even jumped from one step to the next with a lively fever of fresh sounds that could come only from his heart.

The Calvin wasn’t the ideal place for a show of this nature, which inspires dancing and free movement. However the restraints of ticketed seating assignments didn’t keep fans from jamming in the aisle when they could, or boogying right in front of their seats. The lucky others who enjoyed general admission were free to gallivant in front of the stage area right below Matisyahu’s exquisite vocal cadence which echoed into the smoky lights.

However any venue is better than none at all, and fans of all seating arrangements felt free to “toke up” at their discretion, regardless of the blatant religious affiliation surrounding them. Surely it was an interesting mix of Orthodoxy and marijuana — doubtful that the two are mixed in many other contexts.

It seems the fans of this new music fusion find delight in not only the messages Matisyahu gives in his lyrics; in fact many of his fans don’t share that religious common ground, but rather a unity through the feelings of peace and union delivered in each syllable of his sound. When the man chants, language is dissolved from English or Yiddish to a higher tongue of pure feeling and soul.

The band came to a close with an awakening performance of “King Without A Crown,” one of the more popularized tracks on Matisyahu’s 2005 album “Live at Stubbs.” Finally, to wrap up the evening the crowd grooved to “Jerusalem,” from his recent album “Youth,” which debuted on March 7th. Formerly known as Matthew Miller, the 26-year-old musician took on his Jewish Orthodox name, Matisyahu, after discovering a higher spirtitual devotion to the Jewish Orthodox religion.

Matisyahu’s upcoming tour dates include California for the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Ireland, Finland, and Tennessee in June for the much awaited Bonaroo Music festival. Check out a full listing of the upcoming tour dates at his music website You don’t want to miss an opportunity to experience his performance, which was surely a pleasure.

Tool Shakes The Stage: Tweeter Center Comes Alive with a Darker Art [concert review]

Their live performance is an emotional experience that channels our anger, excitement, inspiration and fear. And still, after a five year hiatus, Tool is still known for the exceptional quality of their live performance. On Friday the Tweeter Center in Mansfield welcomed Tool, along with thousands of their patient fans.

Most of the audience went wild with ferocity at the first instance of the band’s presence on stage. They started the show with “Stinkfist,” one of their comparatively better known songs from the album Aenima.”

The stage wasn’t embellished with decór, and neither was the band. Vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who has sported over the top costuming in past shows, replaced black body paint and leather briefs with an orange windbreaker and jeans. Regardless of the simple scenery, Tool still managed to engage the audience in an intense experience fueled by stellar music.

Shortly into “Aenima,” aesthetics found their way into the show. Although many venues offer large screens behind the stage, The Tweeter Center offers no such thing - so visual stimulation wasn’t too prevalent. But there were a few things to liven up the visual aspect of the show.

Thanks to two tiny screens on each side of the stage, the crowd watched the uniquely unsettling “claymation” film-art done by Tool’s guitarist, Adam Jones. Above the crowd tufts of smoke interrupted blue and green laser beams.

Although the band opened with one of their older songs, most of their set consisted of new songs from their album, “10,000 Days.”

After “Aenima,” they took it down a notch with “The Pot,” only to spike everyone’s adrenaline again by playing “Forty-Six & 2,” followed by “Jambi.”

The audience’s reaction showed a clear distinction between their old and new songs. Although their new songs were well enjoyed - their old ones were celebrated in the crowd. It was then that hair went flying in chaotic directions, and fists boxed the air.

The middle of their set consisted of the songs, “Schism,” “10000 Days,” “Rosetta Stone,” “Wings for Marie” and “Lost Keys.” But the highlight was yet to come.

A good performance knows how to simulate the ultimate performance - sex. Tool’s set had a deliberate arrangement designed to bring the audience higher and higher with excitement; but just before reaching the peak of satisfaction, they lowered us down to catch our breath. In between longer energetic songs the band soothed their crowd with their usual instrumental breaks, which are similar to what they do on their albums.

“Lateralus” delivered the climax. Anyone who is a fan of any solid musician or band knows what this means - complete satisfaction. A complete release shared by everyone within the radius of the performance.

Next, they played “Vicarious,” their first single from “10000 Days.” After that Keenan gave the words, “Peace the f*ck out.” But as confused fans waited in angst for something more than the band’s departure, the venue filled with the unmistakable grunting chants of “Ʈema.”

Tool has always done a good job of keeping their music as the center point, and separating themselves from the spotlight. This show was no different as the four band members maintained their exact places on stage

Their set lasted a mere two hours, which seemed short, but also understandable considering the Tweeter Centers’ 11 p.m. curfew.

After the show, like any other Tool performance, there is a feeling of relief and relaxation. Their musical delivery is an emotional and interactive release of many ferocious feelings.

While their music isn’t as aggressive as it used to be, it’s almost as stimulating. Their new songs are more political, whereas their earlier songs were more emotional, sexually aggressive and philosophical. Though still dark and heavy, their sound is not as hard or “thrashy.”

The band has often praised their fans for listening and respecting Tool as artists, and listening with their hearts. The fact that the band can take a lengthy break, and still have thousands waiting for them when they come back to the stage says a lot about their fan base’s dedication.

The band has withheld the test of time since their first release, “Opiate,” (EP) in 1992. Since then the band has released five more albums; “Undertow” (1993) “Aenima” (1996) “Salival” (2000) “Lateralus” (2001) and most recently “10000 Days” (2006).

All four members of the band gave remarkable performances; drummer Danny Carey produces hypnotic percussions, Adam Jones is mesmerizing on electric guitar, while Justin Chancellor delivers magnetic bass lines. And Maynard is a musical poet of exception. If you haven’t witnessed him stomping his leather bound boots in the dark corner of a morbidly lit stage, you should.

Some upcoming venues around MA are; Manchester, NH on Oct. 3, Hartford, CT on Oct. 5, East Rutherford, NJ on Oct. 6 and Uniondale, NY on Oct. 7. That will wrap up their U.S. tour, so do your best to check out Tool’s show in Hartford, CT this Thursday - only 45 minutes away.

Ryan Montbleau Band to Play Iron Horse  [ concert preview ]

Ryan Montbleau Band
An up-and-coming musical group, The Ryan Montbleau band, will be playing at the Iron Horse Music Hall this Friday. The band has proven to be one of the most promising live acts to emerge from the northeast in recent years.

Hailing from the Boston area, the Ryan Montbleau Band plays a variety of songs that are often compared to Stevie Wonder & Paul Simon. Friday’s Iron Horse show celebrates the release of their new album, the self-released CD “One Fine Color,” which was recorded at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, N.Y. and released this past Valentine’s Day.

The Ryan Montbleau band has been cultivating a grass-roots fan base with its unique blend of blues, Americana, folk, ragtime, 70’s and soul sound. It seems all too suitable that the band is hitting up Northampton - a place of sublime eclectic musical interest.

Montbleau’s band played a show in fall of 2005 at the Iron Horse. After attending the show, it seemed that the venue’s laid back, mahogany setting was a perfect site for this creative sub-mainstream ensemble. At the venue patrons can sit and relax with a drink at a table, or get up and dance to the buoyant beats Montbleau’s musical direction is known to take.

The front man for the band of course is Ryan, who started off doing small performances at coffee houses, and folk venues.

As an on-the-rise solo artist, fans began to take notice of the musician’s infectious, percussive, finger-picking guitar style that is reminiscent of guitar-based jazzy folk legends like Martin Sexton, David Gray and Ray Lamontagne.

As the leading man in front of the microphone, and not to mention guitarist extraordinaire, Montbleau is only one part of the eclectic ensemble that bears his name. In addition to Ryan with his voice, acoustic and electric guitars, the band is also home to Matt Giannaros, who plays acoustic upright bass, electric bass, and contributes to the vocals.

Giannaros bears an extra-special feature to those of us in the Five College area. The bassist earned a bachelors degree in jazz performance from UMass Amherst, where he was trained by the world renowned bassist Salvatore Maccia. Giannaros studied both jazz and classical music while at UMass. Since graduating from UMass, he has moved to the Boston area and has integrated himself with a variety of musical projects, ranging from big band, funk, rock, to contemporary jazz. Giannaro adds to the bands dynamic fusion by contributing the creative energy he puts into his modern musical sound.

To complete the quintet, there is Laurence Scudder on the viola, while Jason Cohen plays the piano, organ, clavinet, and Rhodes, and James Cohen works the drums.

The resulting sound that emerges shows a striking resemblance to that of Van Morrison or Jack Johnson, only with its own unique touch of upbeat “rootsy” energy. Ryan’s evocative lyrical ability and distinctive voice will deliver to the audience a positive response, while the instrumentals will surely get everyone out of their seats and grooving to beats.

Since the release of their album “One Fine Color,” Ryan Montbleau Band has continued its journey around the proverbial radar, without the assistance of label support, distribution or funding of any sort. The musicians are achieving success on the road that may well rival or exceed that of many of their signed, better financed and supported contemporaries.

It seems the record attributes this success to its classic album format which has a seamless flow and a consistent artistic vision that adamantly resists today’s emphasis on singles. Thanks to their growing and loyal fan base, “One Fine Color” sold nearly 1000 units within two weeks of its February 14 release.