Five Years Gone – Knock on Wood

NE Underground 5 year (pic)It’s been written before that five years is a long time. And after five years of Northeast Underground blog posts (over 200 articles and counting!), few could imagine just how much has been covered, discussed and critiqued on this little slice of the Internet.

So on the occasion of the Northeast Underground’s fifth birthday, as a friendly reminder, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

In 2011 Northeast Underground…

In 2012…

In 2013…

In 2014…

In 2015…

  • Summer music festivals in Western Massachusetts like Stephen Kellogg’s Fifth Annual Family Barbecue, the Green River Festival, and Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival were discussed in a feature article.
  • King of Nowhere, the latest project from local musician Jesse French, was covered in a short profile.
  • And still more records were reviewed, including releases from The Ambiguities, Iron & Wine and the Blue Jean Committee.

Hopefully there will be much more to come in 2016 and beyond. Stay tuned.

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Lindsey Stirling Entertainment Pick – The Reader – May 29, 2014

Lindsey Stirling Entertainment Pick – The Reader – May 29, 2014

Joanna Bolme gears up for tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – February 13, 2014

Joanna Bolme gears up for tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – February 13, 2014

Joanna Bolme Prepares for Tour with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Concert Preview - Hear Nebraska (double-size)


Kris Kristofferson Wows Calvin Crowd with Mother’s Day Show

Kris Kristofferson (horizontal)

Kris Kristofferson (Photo courtesy of Iron Horse Entertainment Group)

Though the title of his latest album is Feeling Mortal, Kris Kristofferson treated fans (and their moms) to a show filled with life during a special Mother’s Day concert in Northampton Sunday.

As the owner of a music career spanning nearly 50 years and a second occupation as an actor that dates back to 1971’s “The Last Movie,” Kristofferson can hardly be considered an underground artist. And the depth of the singer’s back catalogue was on fine display at the Calvin Theatre as he growled and guffawed his way through an astonishing 35 songs in a tight two-hour performance.

Opening with the “Road Warrior’s Lament” from the 1995 album A Moment of Forever, Kristofferson quickly set the template for the evening’s entertainment – poetic lyrics, off-the-cuff humor, and a wealth of charm to draw listeners into his own private world. Armed only with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, which frequently reflected the venue’s stage lighting, the former member of the Highwaymen sang of being both a “friend” and a “lover,” while also promising to stay with the crowd “right to the end, until it’s over.”

Several songs later, the playing of “Me and Bobby McGee” was greeted with enthusiastic whoops and hollers from the audience, while the tune itself featured a heartfelt nod to the late Janis Joplin, who took the song to the top of the charts in 1971.

“The Best of All Possible Worlds” also included a short aside from Kristofferson, who joked that honky-tonk artist’s Roger Miller’s version of the track featured scatting at its conclusion, but since he himself couldn’t scat he was “just going to quit,” bringing the number to a quick conclusion.

Also fitting the delicately beautiful “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and somber “Nobody Wins” into the first half of his set, Kristofferson, who quipped during the latter tune that it “Sounds like the evening news doesn’t it?” took a short intermission shortly before 9 p.m.

Returning to the stage a little more than 20 minutes later, the onetime lead of “A Star is Born” turned his focus to some lighter material. Though shortened to less than 30 seconds, “You Show Me Yours (And I’ll Show You Mine)” received a few laughs for its suggestive lyrics, but was soon overshadowed by the more obvious humor of “Sky King,” which was written during Kristofferson’s time in the army and was sung to the tune of the Jimmy Dean cut “Big Bad John.”

Kris Kristofferson (IHEG)Changing course, more ballad-like material followed, including “Jody and the Kid” along with the fan favorite “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” which each showcased Kristofferson’s incredible eye for detail. Whether referring to the “blue jeans rolled up to her knees” or “the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken,” the singer’s delivery stressed the human elements in his songs, lending both tunes an intimacy that earned fervent applause from those in attendance.

Finishing his main set just before 10 p.m. and leaving the stage with a short “God bless you for your spirit,” Kristofferson returned less than a minute later to perform a five song encore. Segueing smoothly from “I Hate Your Ugly Face” to “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends” to “Moment of Forever,” the singer seemed at times to revel in the emotive power of his own lyrics, earning laughs and applause with the way he added inflection to often just a single word. Then with many starting to turn to the exits, Kristofferson decided that the night was still not over.

“I’m going to do something now that I’ve never done before,” he said as some over-eager fans rushed hurriedly back to find their seats.

Bringing out the young singer Samantha Schultz, who Kristofferson met during the Berklee College of Music commencement concert held at Boston University two days prior, the silver-maned star proceeded to play two stirring duets – “Pancho and Lefty” and “Why Me Lord” – alongside the talented vocalist, who easily earned her own share of applause from the appreciative Calvin crowd.

“God bless. Thank you for your spirit,” Kristofferson then finally said to a standing ovation at the conclusion of his night. But for many, the spirit in the building Sunday was obvious. It was older maybe than many remembered, and maybe possessed a little more gravel in its voice. But it still had the power to stir a few souls. And as a fitting close to a cool Mother’s Day in Western Massachusetts, who could ask for anything more?

For more information on Kris Kristofferson or to see future tour dates please visit

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Amanda Palmer and Friends Take Over Calvin Theatre in Northampton

TED2013. Long Beach, CA. February 25 - March 1, 2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Amanda Palmer (Photo credit: James Duncan Davidson)

Shortly before the lights went down inside the Calvin Theatre in Northampton Friday, as the majority of audience members for the night’s Amanda Palmer show were still making the way to their seats, the strains of the song “No Surprises” by the English rock band Radiohead could be heard playing over the venue’s public address system.

A slow-paced cut from the band’s 1997 album OK Computer, “No Surprises” wasn’t the most unexpected track a listener could hope to hear serenading the waiting crowd. A cover of the song played entirely on ukulele by Palmer even appeared on the 2010 release Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele. But on this night, the title of the tune was soon to be proven as a bit of a misnomer.

Instead of abiding by the typical concert format where one performer is typically followed by another playing well-rehearsed and time conscious sets, Friday’s show by Palmer was more like a three hour free-form performance piece consisting of one surprise followed by another. While the Republican chose to focus its music coverage on Eric Clapton’s appearance at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., the real “event” Friday was in the Paradise City.

So, how best to report the experience of witnessing such an unusual gig? Read below to check out a time-stamped chronology of the show.

7:58 p.m. – the lights inside the Calvin go down and instead of the already announced opening act ACLU Benefit (more on him in a moment), Palmer herself takes the stage in what resembles an oversized robe. With glass of wine in hand, she tells the audience that she has “no idea what she’s doing in her life,” and that she’s “out of practice playing music.” Her solution? She’s decided to bring some friends with her to play this show, and before leaving the stage she quickly introduces the first act/ friend of the night – ACLU Benefit (aka Noah Britton).

8:03 p.m.Taking the stage with just an acoustic guitar, Britton, who is autistic and has been diagnosed with the disorder known as Asperger’s syndrome, begins his charming, too-short half-hour set with the song “Love Your Family” from his most recent record ACLU Benefit Awkwardly Performs with his Ex-Girlfriends, Live, May, 2010, at Silent Barn, Ridgewood, NY.

Filled with repeated variations of the question “How old do you have to get…,” the track is an off-beat delight that mixes comedy with overarching feelings of sadness and beauty, a combination of emotions that soon proves to be a Britton trademark, and he continues his set with several more numbers that walk a fine line between leaving members of the audience either rolling in the aisles or overcome with tears. One such highlight, “Duet,” even features a fight sequence that ends with a character in the song passing away due to the injuries he sustains from quarreling with another character.

Joined by Palmer for a cover of the Peter, Paul and Mary song “Puff the Magic Dragon,” Britton closed his set with the songs “I Love You So Much” (also sung with Palmer), which was played partially in complete darkness, and “Country Suicide,” which he dubbed the winner of a “Sad Song contest” once held between him and Palmer.

8:33 – 8:46 p.m. – Strangely, instead of leaving the stage at the end of his set, Britton is invited to sit and chat with Palmer. The two share stories, swap jokes, and even discuss how they each approach writing songs. Then, it’s Amanda’s turn to sing and she kicks off her own part of the show with the song “Astronaut” from her solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

Reaching back even further in time, Palmer soon continued by playing the track “Missed Me,” which was originally performed by her former band the Dresden Dolls, and followed the number’s madcap cabaret tone by diving into the rarity “Straight,” which was originally released as a b-side.

Amanda Palmer - kickstarter

Photo courtesy of Girlie Action

In between tracks, Palmer took time to interact repeatedly with her fans. One adoring soul even stood up during a quieter moment in the show, and presented Palmer with a present before prefacing a request for a hug by asking for the performer’s consent.

“Consent is important,” Palmer said before obliging. And with such crowd interaction in mind, the floor is soon opened up for requests.

9:26 p.m. – After a mesmerizing rendition of “The Bed Song” and another Dresden Dolls cut (“Mrs. O.”), Palmer steps away from her piano, and picks up her ukulele for the first time of the evening. Quipping, “I’ve written four songs for the ukulele that start exactly the same way, so if you’re excited by what you hear, you have a 25 percent chance of being right,” she then plunges into the audience-participation favorite “Map of Tasmania.”

Featuring a call-and-response section with the lyrics, “Oh my God” and “Fuck it,” the song is sung along to by many, men included, and is joked about by Palmer who mentions its slight resemblance to the early ‘90s hit “Baby Got Back” by rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot.

9:39 p.m. – After an extended ukulele tuning and a take on “In My Mind” from 2011’s Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, the show reaches another moment of audience participation when Palmer takes a vote to decide if there should be an intermission. Despite some fans strong wishes to make a run to the bathroom, the announcement that the Calvin is not allowing re-entry makes the outcome of the impromptu vote quickly lopsided, and Palmer segues the action by introducing her second special guest of the night – singer and songwriter Sarah Borello.

Though unknown to most in attendance, Borello no doubt gained many fans with the performance of her self-written track “Stranglehold.” Soon to be released on iTunes, the song featured attitude-filled vocals over pounding piano chords and when it was over several audience members honored it with standing ovations.

9:47 – 10:00 p.m. – Returning to the stage, Palmer sits down with Borello for a chat that finds the two sharing stories about their worst gigs. Hard to say who had it worse – Palmer’s tale of being hired to play music for a vampire ritual or Borello’s embarrassing story about her 15 year-old self performing at a gay bar, complete with a sloppy kiss from a vulgar lesbian comic.

After Borello leaves, Palmer tackles a cover of Bat For Lashes’ “Laura,” and earns cheers from the crowd for an energetic rendition of “Runs in the Family.” Then, it’s time for the final guest of the night.

10:11 p.m. – Joining Palmer on stage, singer and songwriter Cormac Bride left quite the impression on the Calvin crowd by playing his yet to be recorded song “Footsteps.” An acoustic number, the track featured soulful lyrics, and so moved one fan that underwear was thrown on the stage at the song’s end.

10:22 p.m. – Donning the freshly thrown undies as a hat, Bride sat down with Palmer for a wide-ranging discussion that included forays into the world of martial arts as well as songwriting. Taking time to pull the underwear off his head lest, “I say something smart and this ends up on YouTube,” Bride then dedicates the night’s next song (a duet with Palmer on her song “The Killing Type”) to Kurt Cobain, whose suicide he noted occurred 19 years ago to the day.

Watch video of Amanda Palmer and Cormac Bride performing “The Killing Type” live at the Calvin Theatre here:

Not quite ready to leave the stage, Bride stuck around to watch Palmer perform “Ampersand,” and then slipped off to the dressing room while she debuted a brand new song entitled “The Thing About Things.” Inspired by Palmer’s own borrowing of a bathing suit from a friend, the song employs a role reversal in which a friend is discussed as having borrowed an item from Palmer, but also goes on to include additional lyrics that meditate on the power possessions can have on people and the meaning individuals often attach to everyday items.

To close out her set, Palmer took to the front of the stage, ukulele in hand for a rousing version of the Radiohead song “Creep.” Perhaps as a result of a cold she’d been fighting, the singer wasn’t able to hit all the number’s high notes. But instead of admitting defeat, Palmer snatched victory from the clutches of failure by way of comedy, often laughing along with the audience during her attempts at mimicking Thom Yorke’s iconic vocals.

10:54-11:04 p.m. – Cresting the three hour mark, Palmer again picked up her ukulele for a one song encore. A b-side from her latest album Theatre Is Evil, “Ukulele Anthem” features repeated lines that encourage listeners to learn how to play the simple Hawaiian instrument, even going so far as to hypothesize that Sid Vicious would have led a far different life if only he had picked up a ukulele instead of another needle.

Even if the above idea is hard to fathom, the sheer imagining of such a possibility at least can put a smile on your face. And as those who were there when Amanda Palmer and company turned Northampton’s Calvin Theatre into their own personal playground can testify, there were more than enough smiles to go around. Now, surprises or no, couldn’t we all use more shows like that?

For more information on Amanda Palmer and to see future show dates please visit

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Guster practices acoustic group therapy at the Calvin Theatre

Guster Live AcousticBack when the Medford, Massachusetts-born band Guster first announced its plan to embark on an acoustic tour in 2012, not everyone (fans and media included) was sure what to expect. Sure the group was bringing along comedian Jeff Garlin (from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) to open each show, but with a pair of string players in tow and the intent to also include question-and-answer sessions and audience requests in every performance, the potential was there for upcoming concerts to be anything but a laughing matter.

That potential blossomed during Thursday’s performance at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton. True, there was no Garlin present for this concert or round of touring, but after delivering a nearly two-hour set filled with adventurous song choices, unexpected moments, and yes even laughs, Guster delivered on what a packed house will surely list as a concert-to-remember for some time to come.

Opening its set with “Backyard” from the 2003 album Keep It Together, the group – featuring multi-instrumentalists Ryan Miller, Adam Gardner, Brian Rosenworcel and Luke Reynolds along with string players April Guthrie (cello) and Charlene Huang (violin) – showed an instantly apparent skill at merging its material with more classical instrumentation.

“We’re going to delve into the deep, dark history of Guster tonight,” said Miller to some light crowd laughter. “We start out on the rails, then we go off, then back on.”

That risk-taking approach didn’t take long to manifest itself. After performing a pleasant version of “Rise & Shine,” the band decided to tackle “Ruby Falls” a little-played number from the 2006 record Ganging Up on the Sun, and a song the group had only started playing with its string players this week. Despite such little preparation time, the track played beautifully with Gardner even deploying a “secret weapon” (i.e. trumpet) during the songs dramatic rise and fall.

Another obvious highlight from the evening’s entertainment was the show’s request section. Though Miller urged the audience to be “aggressive, but not too aggressive” after he dismissed the string players for this portion of the show, it was a lucky concertgoer named Crystal Chausse who scored the night’s biggest coup by being invited up on stage to play with Guster on the track “Demons” after she held up a sign with her request and spoke of her ability to play the number on a ukulele.

The performance, which also featured Crystal sharing a microphone with Gardner as she tackled vocal duties as well, won a standing ovation from the Calvin crowd and left Miller feeling like the show had already reached its peak.

“We are so completely fucked now,” he said after Crystal left the stage and was greeted with hugs and high fives upon her return to the audience. “I really don’t know what to do right now. Should I go to a social media site and read some ones and zeros? That was organic.”

Watch Guster and Crystal Chausse perform “Demons” here:

But the band soldiered on, climaxing its request section with “I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today” sung by the vocally-challenged Rosenworcel after an audience request to, “Let Brian sing for God’s sake.”

Then the string players returned and quickly made their presence felt as Guthrie added some tastefully hand-plucked cello notes to the urgent “What You Call Love.” While some crowd members still felt the need to shout requests at the band, Miller soon brought the Calvin to a hushed silence for the achingly quiet song “Empire State” and even later apologized to a fan he jokingly called an asshole for interrupting the number’s delicate intro.

Finally, after culminating its main set with a breakneck interpretation of “This Could All Be Yours” featuring Guthrie and Huang on backing vocals, Guster’s base quartet returned to the front of the stage for a true unplugged encore of “Jesus on the Radio.”

Watch an up close video of Guster’s “Jesus on the Radio” performance in Northampton here.

Earlier in the evening opening act Yellowbirds played an almost 40 minute set that included a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun” as well as a preview of the Guster string players, who helped out group founder/ former Leverett resident Sam Cohen (previously of Apollo Sunshine) and Guster’s own Luke Reynolds play several tracks of alternative rock and pop as filtered through Cohen’s own unique songwriting lens.

For more information on Guster or to see future tour dates please visit

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The Wallflowers, Frank Black, Trapper Schoepp and the Shades ring in the New Year early at the Calvin Theatre

Wallflowers (Glad All Over)Friday’s concert at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton was a story of two bands. Sure, you say. There was of course one opening act (Trapper Schoepp and the Shades) and one headlining act (The Wallflowers), but the story of the night went much deeper than simple arithmetic.

For starters, as possessors of a 20-plus year music career, the Wallflowers – featuring members Jakob Dylan (vocals, guitar), Rami Jaffee (keyboards), Greg Richling (bass), Stuart Mathis (guitar) and Jack Irons (drums) – were the evening’s victors by sheer force of experience. Taking the stage shortly after 9 p.m. to the strains of the Dave Clark Five 1964 hit “Glad All Over,” which is also the name of the band’s new album, the group wasted little time in transitioning from new material like “The Devil’s Waltz” and “It’s a Dream” to ‘90s hits like “Three Marlenas” and “Sleepwalker.” The latter track was even preceded by some stage banter from Dylan, who greeted the crowd and joked jovially with audience members who shouted to him that he resembled late night television host Jimmy Fallon.

“Is that a hashtag?” the singer quipped. “Are you hashtagging me?”

Even keyboardist Jaffee got in on the fun. “Did someone say hash?” he said to a chorus of laughs.

For a take on the Wallflowers’ newest single “Reboot the Mission,” the band brought out violinist Gina Romantini, from the opening act Trapper Schoepp and the Shades. Clearly a crowd favorite from her earlier time on stage, Romantini added flourish to the song’s propulsive beat, and stuck around for a duel with keyboardist Jaffee on a solo-infused version of “6th Avenue Heartache”

After another foray into material from Glad All Over, the Wallflowers dug deep, going to their back catalogue for songs like “Baby Bird” and “How Far You’ve Come.” After these numbers, Dylan joked that the crowd at the Calvin was being too quiet in between songs.

“You’re making me nervous,” he said. “Are you reacting to my seriousness? I’m not trying to be serious.”

Then, after a small crowd was encouraged to stand up and move closer to the stage by one particularly excited concertgoer, the band responded to the increased enthusiasm by dusting off the little-played “How Good It Can Get,” a song whose performance Dylan prefaced by saying it would be “worth the wait” once the band finished tuning up.

Winding down their main set with “Love Is a Country” and the radio-staple “One Headlight,” the Wallflowers saved the biggest surprise of the night for last, as Dylan introduced special guest and Northampton resident Frank Black, who joined the band on their finale, a raucous cover of the Clash number “Brand New Cadillac,” itself a cover of an old 12-bar blues by Vince Taylor.

Watch the offical video for the song “One Headlight” here:

Then, after leaving the stage for only a few minutes, the Wallflowers, including a now flannel shirt-as-turban wearing Jaffee, returned to cheers and played a three song encore.

Kicking off the bonus set with the Bringing Down the Horse number “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls,” the band once again augmented its line-up with violinist Romantini, who helped close the night with “Nearly Beloved” and “The Difference.”

If experience and years of well-honed musical interplay was the story of the Wallflowers nearly two-hour performance, then youthful energy and jaw-dropping potential was the summation of the opening set by Trapper Schoepp and the Shades. Featuring the already mentioned violin skills of Romantini, as well as the take-charge vocals of Schoepp himself and his brother bassist Tanner, the Milwaukee-based five-piece turned out a tight 40-minute set.

“Run Engine Run” was a standout number about the simplest of subjects – a car. And “Pins and Needles,” though written about the young singer’s “messed up back,” saw an inspired performance aided by Wallflowers member Jaffee on organ.

Despite repeated requests from the audience to turn up the violin and guitar, the group was still able to win fans, eventually leaving the stage to many standing cheers, a sure sign Trapper and company would be welcome back in Northampton anytime.

For more information on The Wallflowers or Trapper Schoepp and the Shades please visit and

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