On Stage: Women take center stage in area concerts

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Lowlight

The month of March is ending on a good note…especially with several concerts featuring highly talented women musicians – some of whom you should know and some of whom you might not but definitely should know.

The list includes the Pretenders with Chrissie Hynde, Lowlight featuring Renee Maskin, Erika Wennerstrom from Heartless Bastards and English minstrel Lucy Rose.

On March 31, the show at the Tower Theater (69th and Ludlow streets, Upper Darby, 215-922-1011, www.thetowerphilly.com) has the Pretenders as the headline act and Lowlight as the opener.

Lowlight, the New Jersey-based, female-fronted synth-pop collective described as the state’s “hardest working and most fiercely loyal outfits,” has been touring the East Coast tour in support of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Pretenders.

Although Renee Maskin (vocals) and Derril Sellers (guitar) were acquaintances and college classmates, their musical paths didn’t cross until years later when a mutual friend (rock photographer Mike Petzinger) brought Maskin to Sellers’ studio to record a solo album.

“The other guitarist and I met in college at Ramapo but we really didn’t know each other,” said Maskin, during a phone interview Thursday morning from her home in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

“Later, I was living in New York and he had a studio in New York. It was through a mutual friend that we got together. I told Mike that I wanted to make a record and he said – do you remember Derril?”

Those sessions, which included Colin Ryan on percussion and Dana Sellers (Derril’s wife) on keyboards, formed the basis of the musical collaboration that became Lowlight.

After the departure of original guitarist Tony Aichele, Sellers took over string duties, and with the addition of Rey Rivera on bass, Lowlight’s stability was established.

“The first time we put out a record was in 2016,” said Maskin. “It was a full album – ‘Where Do We Go from Here?’ We’ve had no releases between that one and our new record.”

The new EP “Born to Run” shows the evolution of Lowlight. Featuring four approachable, though somewhat dark songs, the upcoming EP also includes an epic instrumental studio creation that winds and bends as it progresses.

“Our first record had more of a country influence,” said Maskin, who grew up in Metuchen, New Jersey. “The new one is more synth and lush.

“We went into the studio with three songs we had worked out. The final track was an experiment and a jam. We’re very happy with the results.

“We recorded it at Derril and Dana’s house in South Bound Brook where they have a studio. The album is self-produced – and self-released on BNS Records.

“The new EP has a lot of textures. It’s very layered. We like to take our time. Describing our music is hard. I’d say indie rock for lack of a better term.

“We all come from different backgrounds. Our bassist Ray Rivera has a hip hop background. We also have a lot of country influence. Dana got really into synth sounds. At first, she was more into organ.

“We’re evolving and progressively getting better. We let things be natural.”

On this tour, Lowlight has a 45-minute set which will include songs from the new EP, some older songs and some not yet recorded.

“We’re going back into the studio soon to do another full-length,” said Maskin. “We have a bunch of new songs we’re really stoked about.”

Video link for Lowlight – https://youtu.be/gWSD2x7v6fQ.

Video link for the Pretenders — https://youtu.be/rjIP_aKI6eI.

The show at the Tower Theater, which features the Pretenders as headliners, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $39.50-$79.50.

Another upcoming show at the venue in Upper Darby is “Jacksepticeye: How Did We Get Here?” on April 2.

When a band has been together for a while and is comfortable with its situation, group members frequently make solo records – side projects that are an outlet for the individual rather than an indication that the band is breaking up.

Erika Wennerstrom

After 15 years as the lead singer for Heartless Bastards, Erika Wennerstrom decided to make her first solo record. It was a great decision that was lauded by the band’s fans – a decision that resulted in an impressive solo debut for the versatile singer.

Wennerstrom released her debut solo record, “Sweet Unknown,” on March 23 on Partisan Records. She now is out on tour to support the album – a tour that brings her to Philly on March 31 for a show at Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com).

While many musicians pursue a solo project as an avenue to expand musical directions, Wennerstrom did the solo album for that reason and to expand her life directions.

Feeling frustration with where her path in life had led her, Wennerstrom looked to find answers and a direction in a variety of ways – including Ayahuasca retreats.

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness, usually lasting between four to eight hours after ingestion. Ranging from mildly stimulating to extremely visionary, ayahuasca is used primarily as a medicine and as a shamanic means of communication, typically in a ceremonial session under the guidance of an experienced drinker.

“I’ve done three Ayahuasca sessions,” said Wennerstrom. “The first was in Peru in 2015 – right before the release of ‘Restless Ones’ (Heartless Bastards’ most recent album which was released in 2015).

“I was at a point in my life when I wasn’t happy and didn’t know what to do about it. It was a bit spontaneous. It was also somewhat frightening but I needed something to change within me. I had nothing to lose.

“I’m very happy with the results. It opened doors in my self-awareness. It put me on the path to many self-realizations. The last time I did an Ayahuasca retreat was in Ecuador last January.”

These journeys definitely informed the songs on “Sweet Unknown.”

“Whenever I write, it’s a cathartic experience,” said Wennerstrom. “I really do feel like I let go of things. I’ve been searching for a long time to be comfortable with myself.

“When Heartless Bastards decided to go on a break, it changed my perspective. I really worked a lot on trying to grow inward.”

“Sweet Unknown” developed gradually and was liberating for the veteran singer-songwriter.

According to Wennerstrom, “It was a really freeing experience. I found my strength in my vulnerability as an artist, and really, just as a person. It kind of forced me to allow myself to be a little more exposed and stand on my own two feet.”

The album was produced by Danny Reisch in Lockhart, Texas, and features contributions from My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan, Kelly Doyle, former Okkervill River member Lauren Gurgiolo, Heartless Bastards bassist Jesse Ebaugh and others.

“Making the album was spread out over time,” said Wennerstrom. “I had started making demos in summer 2016. Then, I did the main tracking for six songs in December 2015 at Public Hi-Fi Studio in Austin.

“Danny Reisch has a studio in Lockhart – Good Danny’s. That’s where I did pre-production, main tracking for three tracks and all the overdubbing.

“Once I got the first six tracks done, I’d just go in the studio for a few days at a time here and there. I just wanted to really take my time with it. I allowed myself to go down whatever rabbit hole I wanted. Actually, I’d call them tunnels rather than rabbit holes. I just wanted to explore every possible thing I could.

“Danny gave me really reasonable rates and that allowed me to put the time in without spending a fortune. I just gave it every bit of love I had.”

Video link for Erika Wennerstrom – https://youtu.be/8nNVy4QcTck.

The show at Union Transfer, which has Drive-By Truckers as the headline act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at Union Transfer are Wild Child on April 2, Cigarettes After Sex on April 3, and Superchunk on April 3.

Lucy Rose

Lucy Rose, a native of Surrey, England who now lives in London, is touring in support of her third studio album “Something’s Changing,” which was recently released on Arts & Crafts.

On March 25, Rose was named one of the New York Times “17 Acts That Stood Out” at SXSW 2108. On March 31, Rose will headline a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

Following the tour for her second album “Work It Out,” Rose noticed a steady stream of tweets from Latin America, and the unlikely statistic that geographically her music was most popular on Spotify in Mexico City.

Inspired by this news, Lucy offered her fans in Latin America a deal – “If you book me a gig, I’ll come and stay.”

For two months Rose toured Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico — playing free shows, staying with fans and “falling back in love with making music.”

Rose’s husband also filmed the experience along the way and produced a documentary of the trip. The documentary was inspired by the kindness and faith in music of those she met.

With the insight gained during her travels, Rose opted to make the third album on her own. She began to collaborate with Brighton producer Tim Bidwell, and, in the comfort of his home studio, created the new album in just 17 days.

According to Rose, “The songs just came more naturally after that trip, from feeling good and from learning so much about myself. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever felt in my life. So, there is a lot of searching as well as a lot of discovery on this record.”

Area fans will have the opportunity to share in the journey and the discovery when Rose unveils many of the new songs during her show at the Boot and Saddle Saturday night.

Video link for Lucy Rose — https://youtu.be/OvkANcJg8rQ?list=PLMxtVhKyqQfMA_jhtL3hXamcyjkmb6iGb.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Charlie Cunningham as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at Boot and Saddle are Brent Cobb & Them on April 3 and Superorganism on April 4.

Primitive Man

April 1 may be April Fool’s Day bit there will be no joking around when Primitive Man take the stage Sunday night at Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com).

Primitive Man’s music matches its name — a savage, sparse mix of death metal, blackened noise, and doom. The three-piece was formed in February of 2012 by Ethan Lee McCarthy and Jonathan Campos (all current and former members of Vermin Womb, Withered, Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire, Death Of Self, and Reproacher).

In October 2012, the band recorded its debut album “Scorn” at Flatline Audio with Dave Otero (Cephalic Carnage, Cobalt, Catheter, Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire).

The band released four splits between 2013 and 2015, and dropped another bombshell of nihility in 2015 with its Relapse EP “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”

Years of writing on tour and the addition of drummer Joe Linden sparked a black flame in Primitive Man. The result was the band’s second full-length album “Caustic,” which was released a few months ago via Relapse Records.

Music can hit listeners in many different ways.

Some singer-songwriters have a cerebral effect.  Reggae and world music focuses on getting hips and legs moving. EDM acts produce bass assaults that rumble rib cages.

The music of Primitive Man hits listeners with a full, multi-sensory assault. It is denser than you could ever imagine. It surrounds listeners with an almost-suffocating blanket of heavy metal and noise. It leaves no room for escape.

And, that’s just the sonic effects. The lyrics are just as brutal – venomous and dripping with anger.

“Caustic” is billed as “12 songs and 75-plus minutes of bloodcurdling howls, abysmal tones and dense, unsettling feedback spewing forth a cesspool of utter misery. With lyrical themes ranging from political corruption, personal struggle and the crumbling social climate facing the world today, ‘Caustic’ serves as 2017’s cataclysmic soundtrack for a world gone awry.”

“I always write pissed-off songs,” said McCarthy, during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from a tour stop in Portland, Maine.

“It will help me feel better but there are always things going on that require change.

“With our band, having sound without any way to escape is what we want. The things I’m writing are bad and the music has to reflect that. The noise adds to the atmosphere and is a natural extension of the extreme.”

A live show by Primitive Man is the polar opposite of easy listening.

“The anger definitely comes out when I’m playing,” said McCarthy. “It’s the most violent thing I can do without terrorizing another person and going to jail.”

The album developed over the course of last year.

“We cut the album at Frontline Audio in Denver,” said McCarthy. “We’ve recorded all Primitive Man’s albums there. We wrote half the album on tour and the other half at home.

“I’ll have an idea. Then, I’ll bring it to the band and they help me form it into a song. Other times, we’ll just jam at a rehearsal space. We record our rehearsals on an iPhone and then listen back later.

“We spent two weeks recording the new album. Our first album was recorded and mixed in three days.

“Some of the new songs are easy to perform live. Some are more difficult. The last noise track on the album is 10 minutes long so I couldn’t do that on stage.

“The response to the album has been great and we’re even getting mosh pits. Right now, we’re just playing songs from ‘Caustic’ because the songs from ‘Scorn’ were so much less heavy. The new stuff is sonically crushing.”

Video link for Primitive Man — https://youtu.be/9eKyf_LLsbk.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which has Black Urn as the opener, will start at 10 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at Kung Fu Necktie are The Carters on May 31, The Fever 333 on April 2, Withered on April 3 and Skeletal Family on April 4.

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