Monday, May 6, 2019

Spiral Stairs / Spider Bags at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room - 3/30/2019

Spiral StairsWith Spider Bags
Cat’s Cradle Back Room

I was supposed to be seeing Hamish Kilgour (of the Clean) in the opening slot of this Spiral Stairs gig, but at some point between when I bought the ticket and show time he had been swapped out with Spider Bags for reasons that would never be given (though the obvious culprit is likely travel from New Zealand).  I’ve seen Spider Bags a shit ton lately, but they’re still a damn fine back-up plan that I’ll never complain about.  This isn’t the first time I’ve said this, but their sets seem to be getting shorter by number of songs, but the songs are getting longer and jammier in that great seventies butt-rock way.  I keep waiting for a James Gang or Joe Walsh cover to make their way into the set list.  They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear except for “Keys To The City,” so stop not playing that please, Mr. Bags.  

This Spiral Stairs outing was very similar to the last time I saw him – new record to promote, guest appearance from Pavement drummer Steve West (who lives somewhere in Virginia), a little sloppy, but for sure a lot of fun.  They kicked things off with the opening track “Hyp-No-Tized” from the new album “We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized,” and Scott Kannberg spent the entire time roaming the stage and adjusting the volume of the entire band’s amps like that mad man Mark E. Smith (RIP).  I finally figured out where at least a couple of his backing band members come from: the Posies and Snowglobe; maybe by the next time they come around I will have figured out the entire band.  The set was mostly from the two most recent records, plus a Preston School Of Industry track and a Nick Lowe cover (“Truth Drug” maybe?).  And, of course, we can’t forget the Pavement portion of the evening with West on drums: they played an all-time favorite “Kennel District,” plus “Date With Ikea,” “Passat Dream,” and “Painted Soldiers.”  I really, truly do like the Spiral Stairs records, I think Scott’s recent production is just as good as that of his former counterpart Stephen Malkmus…but hearing Scott & Steve play Pavement songs is never not going to be the highlight of the evening. 

Teenage Fanclub / Eric Bachmann / The Love Language at the Haw River Ballroom - 3/18/2019

Teenage FanclubWith Eric Bachmann & The Love Language
Haw River Ballroom

There is no tool to accurately measure just how excited I was to see Teenage Fanclub again.  Last time was five years ago at Merge25, in the middle of the day in the blisteringly hot parking lot of the Cradle, and despite all that it was still a blast.  This time around, with a better venue, a reasonable temperature, and me planted right at the front trying to get a good picture or two?  It quite literally doesn’t get any better than that.  One major bummer is founding member Gerard Love is no longer with the band – his harmonies were definitely missed.  That said, I doubt it’s tough for a band of this stature to find adequate fill-ins for their touring ensemble – in this case, bassist Dave McGowan (Belle & Sebastian) and Euros Childs (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) signed on to join Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and long-time drummer Francis Macdonald in a fantastic performance of tracks from across the band’s entire 30 year catalog.  They played one or two songs from all nine of their full-length releases; the exception was my favorite Fanlub record, “Songs From Northern Britain,” which got four(!!!) selections.  Highlights included “The Cabbage,” “I Don’t Want Control Of You,” “The Concept,” “Alcoholiday,” “Baby Lee,” ...and also every other song they played, to be completely honest.  The harmonies between Blake & McGinley were still spot on after all these years – it’s absolutely impossible not to sing along when Teenage Fanclub is playing, people standing around me be damned.

While this gig was a few months earlier than the proper Merge30 festival in July, it was still considered part of the 30th anniversary festivities - and consequently the label filled both opener slots with fellow Merge artists.  The Love Language started the night, a group I hadn’t seen in ages though I’m not entirely sure why.  Outside of front man Stu McLamb, I’m pretty sure the membership of this band is different every time I see them – this version was a five piece, for those keeping track at home.  Eddie from Fin Fang Foom/Solar Halos was playing bass, which was a bit of a surprise because I don’t think of him as a pop guy, but of course he did a fine job.  I must confess I only really know Love Language's first two records, but I know them quite well – and luckily they threw in just enough of those older tracks to hold my attention, including two all-time favorites “Providence” and “Lalita.”  The middle-aged guy standing near me might have been more into this performance than any person I’ve ever seen at any show ever.  I wish I knew that level of joy in my life.

The middle act was Eric Bachmann…hey, I’ve seen this guy before!  His band was the same three dudes he had with him at the Merge Hopscotch day party last year, and they played many of the same songs (though the set was slightly longer).  There was a smattering of old Crooked Fingers material (“Crowned In Chrome,” etc) but it was mostly tracks from his last two solo records – “Murmuration” and “Dreaming” standing out as highlights.  Much like last time, I was hoping Skylar Gudasz would show up to add backing vocals, but it wasn’t to be.  One of these days I’ll hopefully get a repeat of that Hopscotch performance from a couple of years ago, but until then I’ll still enjoy basically any show I can get out of the man, no matter the format, line-up, or songs played.   

The Cowboys / Personality Cult at the Nightlight - 2/26/2018

The Cowboyswith Personality Cult
The Nightlight

I’ve been trying to see Personality Cult for ages now, and by “trying” I mean not leaving the house but silently cursing myself for being suck a lazy pile of shit.  This bill was strong enough to motivate me though – that and the fact I hadn’t seen live music in nearly two months.  The band is fronted by Ben Carr, who you may also know from Last Year’s Men and Natural Causes and probably a bunch of other things (I feel like maybe I saw him in Paint Fumes at one point too?), plus a couple of other dudes I didn’t know who may or may not have been twins.  What’s great about Carr is all of his bands go in a different direction – Last Year’s Men did a twangy garage thing ala the Reigning Sound, Natural Causes went down an angry Gary Numan synth punk path, and this latest act is just straight-up first gen catchy-as-fuck punk ala the Buzzcocks.  They bashed out pretty much their entire self-titled record from last year in around 20 minutes – outside of having to borrow a guitar from the Cowboys after breaking two strings on the very first song, the band was no muss, no frills, no banter, just rock.  I’m good with that.  More acts would be smart to follow that same pattern.

The Cowboys are a quirky power pop four-piece out of Bloomington, Indiana that single-handedly defy the stereotype that nothing good ever came out of that state other than “Hoosiers.”  The band has a lead singer!  For some reason that will never not be odd to me at any music venue outside of a large amphitheater or arena.  I always wonder – are they still required to help carry gear in and out of the club?  I hope they at least help the drummer out, he’s got so much damn shit to haul.  I’m not even sure where to begin with the bassist – it was like a spaghetti western extra collided with a Madchester-era raver, but goddamn he did a fine job on those four strings.  The guitarist saw how high Ian Williams plays his instrument with Don Caballero/Battles, and decided to literally take it up a notch (he was also super talented, for the record).  Drummers are always weird so need to dwell there.    Their songs are catchy and enjoyable as they are, but given the genre the hooks could use just a touch of work – maybe Robert Pollard needs to offer weekend workshops to up-and-coming bands to help write a chorus that turns into an ear worm.  They were still a damn fine group though, and I would definitely see them again – and not just because I would want to see what the bassist was wearing. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bandway / Enemy Waves at Kings - 1/5/2019

With Enemy Waves

I can blame it on the winter or maybe even my rapidly advancing age, but the end result is I’ve barely gone to any shows these past few months.  One thing I never, ever miss though – Bandway.  They’ve only played 3-4 times over the past decade, what with the duo busy being psychiatrists and cabinet makers and such, so it’s always a goddamn joyous occasion when they take the stage for a night of sing-alongs and drunken revelry.  Anyone showing up to a Bandway show in 2019 is almost always already as big a fan as I am, and likely just as old - I’m sure a number of babysitters got paid this evening.  Their set sampled their entire career, but possibly the most noteworthy item is they actually had a new song called “Sprinkles” that included lines such as “I love my pussy with wrinkles” and “my hang down has the drippies.”  Brooks commented after that they actually have a new record coming out…as soon as they write the rest of the songs for the album.  The sing-along highlights of the night were two obvious ones – “King Kong” and “Four Day Weekend” – wherein the crowd was possibly even louder than the band.  Shockingly not included was “Balls Out,” a minor grievance on an otherwise stellar night.  I’m super excited to see them again in two or three more years, and to hear that new album in 2030.

Finding an opener for Bandway is no easy task – few can measure up to their particular brand of nonsense.  Given that, Kings honcho Paul Siler just threw himself on the bill with one of his bands Enemy Waves, because why not.  I hadn’t seen them in a while, but I really liked the direction of their new tunes – particularly the last one of the first part of their set, which had this strong Mdou Moctar/Tuareg-style guitar line all the way through it that had me mesmerized.  After that, just for shits and giggles apparently, the entire band put on fake beards and then proceeded to play three ZZ Top songs – including the two chart toppers “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’.”  Something you rarely see addressed with your more prominent ZZ Top cover bands: how do you play guitar solos when your fake beard is draped all over the neck and strings?  It’s a real conundrum in this day and age, one hopefully the nation’s leading scientists can tackle in the coming decades.

It should also be noted, for reasons unclear to everyone (including the people involved): between the two bands local man-about-town Trent Bowles took the stage, dressed in a Super Dave-type outfit, and proceeded to ride an electric scooter (stolen off the street) off of a terrible make-shift ramp directly into the far wall.  The result was as expected – he collapsed into the ground, cursed a lot, and then freaked out and start throwing things all over the stage (the ramp went through the drywall more than once).  Like most pranks of this ilk it was 2/3rds funny and 1/3rd went on for too long. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Don’t Be Mean To People (Day 2) at Ponysaurus Brewing - 10/20/2018

Don’t Be Mean To People
Day 2
Ponysaurus Brewing

Mini rock festival!  This is the third year they’ve done this sort of all-day rock thing at Ponysaurus involving local bands both big and small, and at least the second year where they used the event to raise money for the ACLU (the first year was the 11th anniversary celebration for Bull City Records, but I’m not entirely sure what the fiscal motivations were one way or another).  This year was actually a two day event, but I only caught the back half of Saturday - and it was a COOKER.  Best of all, they had two stages set up, so as soon as one act finished the next would be starting within just a few minutes.  There was a healthy crowd but it never felt crowded, the weather was pristine, and tons of food trucks – it’s damn near a perfect event.   

I caught the last couple of songs from Tooth, a local metal act that has been around for what seems like forever but who play only rarely.  Or maybe they’ve been broken up for ages and this was a reunion? I dunno, but either way I wish I’d gotten there to see more of it – I dig the type of metal they’re serving up, heavy and aggressive and a little stoner-ish…to make the laziest comparison possible, since both are North Carolina products, if you like Weedeater you’d probably like Tooth.  I’m really shit at describing metal bands – what I do know is I’m picky with the bands I actually like in this genre, but these guys definitely pass the test.  As required by law, all five members of the band had beards; no facial hair citations were issued.

I always ask myself “do I need to take more photos of Spider Bags?”, and then I usually proceed to take more photos of Spider Bags.  In this case, this was my first time taking outdoor photos of the band during the golden hour, which gave some decent results.  Something I’ve never asked myself is “do I need to see Spider Bags play again?”, because the only possible answer to that question is yes.  Scratch that: FUCK YES.  The band is still a three piece like the last time I saw them - no idea where the other guitarist went.  I wouldn’t say he’s necessary to enjoy the music of Spider Bags, but I did enjoy that extra layer of guitar at their live shows.   It was otherwise a typical, great performance by them, with the added bonus of revealing their definitely completely original Halloween song called “Have Love, Jack-O-Lantern” that was in no way a slightly modified cover of “Have Love, Will Travel,” made famous by the Sonics. 

Work Clothes were up next – I guess they were a thing a decade or so ago, which totally escaped me at the time, and this was a rare reunion.  The group is a duo, guy and gal, who are seemingly a couple of some sort (there was some talk of kids and babysitters).  Both played guitar and sang, it was very low key and ethereal.  There were a couple of moments that reminded me a bit of Low, and a couple of others that made me think of Julee Cruse/Twin Peaks.  It was fine but after a couple of songs I used the rest of their set as a chance to rest at one of the many outdoor picnic tables at Ponysaurus.

The entire band dressed completely in white, Skylar Gudasz was up next with her goddamn golden voice that is so melodious and heavenly it almost makes me angry.  I’ve been stuck trying to think of what to write about her, and getting nowhere – much like watching Skylar live, your mind goes blank while she performs her hypnotic Carpenters-esque soft pop.  It’s all held together by her incredible, professional-grade backing band that included Casey Toll and Joe Westerlund.  Her album “Oleander” from 2016 is a good listen, but live she achieves another level – any chance you get to see her perform make every effort to do it.   

From past experience, I assumed the acoustic version of Superchunk would be Mac and Jim and a pair of acoustic guitars, and I was correct.  I saw this same configuration ten years ago in the middle of the day at some sort of election rally at UNC (also featuring Billy Bragg, Bowerbirds, and others); it’s only fitting we’re seeing this version of the band in another important election year, and no one talked more about the importance of voting this night more than Mac.  Other than the voting angle, it was a pretty typical set – some new songs from their most recent record “What A Time To Be Alive,” coupled with plenty of their classics like “Detroit Has a Skyline” and “Learned To Surf” and “Water Wings” and…you get the point.  They actually didn’t play end-of-set staple “Slack Motherfucker,” which I suspect was because there were a number of kids running around the grounds and Mac, being a parent himself, decided to keep things PG.

The big finale of the night was Wye Oak, fresh off a long tour and as tight as an overinflated balloon.  They were surprisingly performing as a three piece, with local musician Will Hackney (Loamlands, Midtown Dickens, Mount Moriah, probably every other band from Durham) helping on bass.  I have no idea as to the temporary or permanent nature of this particular line-up, but it worked well and anything that keeps Jenn Wasner on guitar as much as possible is a keeper (not that she isn’t also an amazing bassist…hell, she’s amazing at everything).  It appears the trade where we sent Future Islands to Baltimore a few years ago was finally completed, as drummer Andy Stack has now also moved to the Triangle, following Jenn who made her way down here a few years ago.  Will this result in more frequent local Wye Oak shows?  Jenn living here hasn’t resulted in an increase in the Flock of Dimes performance I had hoped for, so I’m not holding my breath…but at least we can call them “ours” now.  I’ve seen Wye Oak live a number of times and it’s always fantastic, but this might have been the best I’ve ever seen them – and I say that even though they didn’t play my favorite song, “Holy Holy.”  There were lots of tracks from “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs,” a smattering of classics, and one of the best Kate Bush covers (“Deeper Understanding”) this side of Maxwell.  This band is flawless and at the height of their powers, and I’m already excited about the next time I get to see them, whenever that might be. 

The Rock*A*Teens / Spider Bags at Kings - 9/21/2018

The Rock*A*Teens
With Spider Bags

I was truly shocked at the low turnout at this show…Hopscotch hangover maybe?  Both bands just released excellent new albums on local label Merge, and based on the many times I’ve seen each in the past, both are well liked.  Hell, I’ve seen both of these acts so many times (particularly Spider Bags) that I didn’t even bother to bring my camera, I’ve already got so many photos of each.

Spider Bags were performing as a three piece without that extra guitarist who doesn’t appear to really be in the band but plays with them sometimes.  They knocked out all of their hits – “Keys To The City,” “Que Viva Elrocanrol,” etc. – plus a ton of tracks from their latest “Someday Everything Will Be Fine.”  Most notably, “Oxcart Blues” from the new one is now a part of their “hits” in my book, moving forward, as decreed by me.  That track burns.

The Rock*A*Teens followed more or less the same formula as Spider Bags – plenty (if not nearly all) of their latest album “Sixth House,” plus a smattering of older songs from before their most recent reunion.  Say what you will about old bands reforming as a nostalgic cash grab, but this most recent work by Chris Lopez & company might be my favorite music they’ve ever recorded - and it translates nicely to the stage.  Speaking of tracks that burn – “Go Tell Everybody” is one of the best songs of the year, and was definitely my highlight of their set.  Just the mention of that song gets it stuck in my head for days.  Not a bad problem to have…

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three around downtown Raleigh - 9/6/2018

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Three
Downtown Raleigh

We've hit the home stretch - the final night of Hopscotch.  I kicked my evening off with MC50, which was a supergroup comprised of the only suriving member of MC5, Wayne Kramer, and a rotating cast of well-known musicians assisting him.  On this night he had Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on drums, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) on guitar, Billy Gould (Faith No More) on bass, and Rob Tyner doppelganger Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) doing most of the vocals.  They performed the classic MC5 album "Kick Out The Jams" in it's entirety (plus maybe more in the encore that I missed).  Like the Revolution the night before, did it feel like I was watching a cover band?  It did, as I honestly expected it to.  Was it still goddamn enjoyable?  It sure was.  Clearly, the musicianship was off the charts with this group, and how can you not be happy hearing "Kick Out The Jams" played live?

After a while I moved up to Slims to see some of Karaoke, out of Atlanta.  Have fun trying to google that band name.  A five piece with a female singer that reminded me of Sloane from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," I'm pretty sure I fell in love with her and I'm quite certain I wasn't alone.  They too were on that swirly 90s indie pop vibe that so many of the young kids seem into these days, which I'm totally fine with for the record.  To bring up a reference I seem to make at least once a year (if not more these days), if this band existed in 1995 they would have definitely been signed to Teenbeat.  I was definitely intrigued and would like to hear their recordings, and are worth checking out if you get a chance.

From there I moved down to the Pour House and ended up catching the last couple of songs by Nicolay And The Hot At Nights.  I know the Hot At Nights (though the one dude who is also in the Mountain Goats is on tour with them and not able to be in two places at once), and apparently Nicolay works with local rapper Phonte, but I wasn't sure what to expect from the collaboration.  The overall vibe was a little too...jazz fusion for my tastes, but at the same time everyone on the stage was so goddamn talented it was still interesting to watch them practice their craft.

I was on the fence about going to the Yonatan Gat show at all.  Praise be to whatever god or flying spaghetti monster it was convinced me to stay at the Pour House to see the former Monotonix frontman, because it was probably my favorite performance of the entire festival.  It's days later and I still can't stop thinking about it.  Yonatan was backed by a bassist and drummer, and the music was (mostly) an instrumental swirl of jazz, surf, garage and a little Middle Eastern flair that words will never, ever do justice.  It was heavy but not metal, and repetitively hypnotizing without going fully into krautrock territory.  Monotonix were always known for their insane performances, not the musicianship, so I was doubly impressed to see how goddamn amazing Gat was on guitar - a double-necked 12+6 string white Epiphone SG for the record, that was completely bad ass.  I was nonplussed by his latest full-length, because it sure as shit didn't sound like this, but this show has me wanting to revisit anyways just to experience even a small amount of this amazing show again.

I trucked down to the Lincoln Theatre, my final venue of this year's festival, to see the last few from Sarah Shook And The Disarmers.  This gal has been getting a lot of buzz this past year, and that showed from how packed the venue was.  I assumed at least some of that crowd was people there early for the Jayhawks, but the amount that left after she finished proved she was clearly the draw (also, those people who left early are idiots).  Sarah plays straight-forward, ass kickin', old fashioned honky tonk country - no preening, no hipster bullshit, just songs like "The Bottle Never Lets Me Down" and "Nothin' Feels Right But Doin' Wrong."  Hell, she wears a knife on her hip during the concert, this is a woman who is not here for any bullshit.  Side note: the locally famous John Howie is in her band - he's probably best known for being in Two Dollar Pistols, but to me he'll always be from the still underrated Finger. 

Finally, the Jayhawks, the last band of Hopscotch.  They were also one of my most anticipated bands of the festival, being the only act that I was already a big fan of that I had never seen live.  How I've never seen them I have no idea, it's just one of those weird things like the fact I've never seen a James Bond movie - it doesn't have to make sense to be true.  I was shocked to learn that band frontman Gary Louris had recently moved to Gibsonville, which is in the middle of nowhere in the vicinity of Greensboro - who even knew moving there was something anyone would ever want to do!  Key member Mark Olson might be gone, but they sounded as good as ever - the long set list was packed with basically every "hit" song you might ever want from them..."Blue," "Tailspin," "Save It For a Rainy Day," etc.  Unlike the other "nostalgia" acts they might get lumped with at Hopscotch, the Jayhawks are still an active, working band, and also played plenty of their most recent excellent release "Back Roads And Abandoned Motels." After (shockingly) lasting the entire duration of their very late set, it was time to put this event and myself to bed. 

Until next year!  Man, I'm already tired thinking about it.