Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spiral Stairs / Mac McCaughan at the Cat's Cradle Back Room - 6/27/2017

Spiral Stairs
With Mac McCaughan
Cat's Cradle Back Room

Hey, I saw  Mac McCaughan play again!  For those keeping track at home, you're doing better than me - I've lost count at this point the number of times I've seen the Superchunk frontman in his various forms.  He played sitting down with an acoustic guitar, which seems normal but I feel like most of the times I've seen him solo he's played an electric.  There were a couple of new songs, some of his solo songs, and of course a few Superchunk songs - "Driveway to Driveway," "Sick to Move," "Digging for Something," the rarely heard but awesome "Rope Light," and "Nu Bruises," which Mac noted might be the first time he's ever played that one on an acoustic guitar.  Given that I've gone to see this man play dozens upon dozens of times, is it even necessary to point out that it was great?  Well, it was, as always. 

Back in my Bay Area days, I got to see Scott Kannberg's first post-Pavement band Preston School of Industry a few times since he was also living in the area at the time, and it was always delightful - more understated/less bombastic than the work Stephen Malkmus was putting out by himself, but just as catchy.  Soon after he started performing under the name Spiral Stairs (his nickname on the early Pavement records), but his sound remained the same.  And then after the release of "The Real Feel" in 2009...he disappeared.  Yadda yadda yadda, it's a few years and some random festival Pavement reunions later, he puts out a really good new platter called "Doris & the Daggers," goes on tour, and luckily I get to see him play again for the first time in at least a decade.  They kicked off their set with a cover of Roxy Music's "Flesh and Blood," which reminded me to listen to more Roxy Music (I have this same thought every time I hear Roxy Music).  After that, it was lots of tracks from the new record, and towards the end they even tossed in a couple of Preston School of Industry gems.  This was all great, don't get me wrong, but my inner fanboy ecstatic he was ending the show with a few Pavement jams.  Looking at his set lists from other gigs this is pretty common, but you know what's not common?  Pavement drummer Steve West was at the show as a spectator, and actually got behind the kit for a four-song pseudo-Pavement reunion: "Hit the Plane Down," "Date with IKEA," "Kennel District," and the one that unsurprisingly got the biggest sing-a-long, "Two States."  It was a little sloppy, as I don't think Steve had played these songs in ages, but that just added to the charm.  It was a great night all around, and hopefully it's not another decade before Spiral Stairs decide to do this again.  Also, a full reunion Pavement tour would be totally fine with me. 

Iron Maiden / Ghost at PNC Music Pavilion - 6/9/2017

Iron Maiden
With Ghost
PNC Music Pavilion

As you could easily guess from my show history, I don't go in for these types of huge concerts at arenas or amphitheaters or in this case, pavilions.  Sometimes though, you just decide you've never seen Iron Maiden and they aren't getting any younger, so why the hell not? 

The opener was Ghost from Sweden.  The singer dresses like a demented pope and the rest of the band is wearing masks.  I know this more from seeing photos of the band than what I saw on the stage, because we were so damn far could kinda make out the pope hat at best.  They sounded pretty good - much more melodic than I was expecting based on their look (you always expect a demented pope to shade more to the black metal descriptor, right?).  There were a lot of Ghost shirts in the crowd, so clearly this was a pretty popular opener - I give them the thumbs up as well.  Still, it's weird watching a metal band when it's still daylight outside.  Pretty sure they played the Lincoln Theatre not too long ago, I'd be down to see them again in that more intimate setting. 

While there was no shortage of the expected white trash and rednecks at the show, the percentage was much lower than expected.  And speaking of percentages, I figured the crowd would be at least 70% male, but in reality I'd put that number closer to 80-85%.  It was a real schlong city.  The guy behind us spent a long time giving dating tips to a seven year old, threatening to beat someone's ass over the phone, and referring to someone as "a sack of chicken wings sewn into human form."  The guy that was briefly in front of us took his shirt off, threw it into the crowd, and then walked away never to be seen again.  I would bet at least 50% of the crowd was wearing Maiden shirts - I gotta think that band makes more off of merch than they do music and concerts combined. 

Speaking of Maiden, eventually they took the stage just as it was getting dark.  It was everything I hoped it would be - huge "Indiana Jones" set, flash pots going off left and right, crazy lights and smoke, different Eddie banners for every song, and most importantly, the band sounded great.  Probably the most impressive part was how active and agile the band was, especially singer Bruce Dickinson - pacing the stage, jumping off of monitors, up and down from the multiple tiers of set - I bet he covered five miles easy, not bad for a man nearly sixty years old!  Long story short on the set, the highlights were "The Trooper" and "Number of the Beast," but they didn't play "Run to the Hills" much to my chagrin - something I would have known if I had looked at their set lists before the show, as they've been playing the same set for this entire tour.  The lack of that song was my only complaint from an otherwise stellar show.  Next time I'm splurging for better seats though. 

Oh, and then as we left, I saw more people so drunk they were walking leaned back at a 45 degree angle than I've ever seen in my entire life.  Which was especially impressive because all the beer was shit and it cost twelve bucks a can.  Some of those folks must have spent their whole paycheck to get to that state, that's dedication. 

(Photo found online, as far as I know Miley Cyrus was not at this concert.)

Redd Kross / Maple Stave at the Pinhook - 5/1/2017

Redd Kross
With Maple Stave
The Pinhook

Much to my delight, the Pinhook moved the start time of this show back one hour at some point between my leaving the house and it actually starting...I guess the upside is I got to catch up on all of those news articles I had saved on my phone as I stood around waiting for that hour.  The downside is...I had to stand around for that hour.  It's not watching paint dry that is the true measure of time moving slowly, it's waiting for a show to start. 

The lone opener was Maple Stave, a local band that's been around for a while, but that I had somehow never seen before.  This trio was some good, old fashioned late-nineties-style math rock - angular rhythms, no bass, aluminum baritone guitars, some vocals but mostly instrumental, small tinges of Jawbox, larger tinges of Hurl and Dianogah...they sounded like an act My Pal God would have released if Maple Stave had existed in 1997 (the band is old, but not that old).  I would have literally shit my britches to have local talent like this twenty years ago, but these days this type of music just doesn't get my juices flowing like it used to.  By no means am I saying Maple Stave was bad - they were actually impressively strong musicians - it's more that my tastes have shifted, as they often do when you age from 20 to 40.  I wasn't mad about seeing them though, and I'm glad bands like this still exist out in the music world.  

Let's move on to what motivated a lazy asshole like myself to drive over to Durham and walk a few blocks in the rain to get to the Pinhook...Redd Kross.  The most noteworthy difference this time around - the Melvin's Dale Crover was the guest drummer on this tour.  The songs still sounded pretty much the same, but the drums definitely felt heavier, or at least were being hit much harder.  Most of the set was a mix of old and new, including a few songs from the (somewhat) recent and (very) excellent "Researching The Blues" - specifically, they played my favorite song "Downtown," and the gig goes down in the book as a success for that track alone.  Somewhere around the middle of their performance they played their 1984 record "Teen Babes From Monsanto" in full from start to finish, to commemorate their recent re-release of the title.  What can you really say about vets like Redd Kross that haven't been said so many times before?  They deliver an arena-worthy performance no matter the size of the room, and the packed crowd ate it up.  Standing at the front of the stage to take photos, I could see their set list was nearly Guided By Voices in length - I lasted about three quarters of the way through before that extra hour of standing around waiting spoke up and told me enough was enough. 

Dinosaur Jr at the Cat's Cradle - 4/1/2017

Dinosaur Jr
Cat's Cradle

Dinosaur Jr has been doing their thing for over thirty years now, and even doing that thing with the original line-up for the past ten years, so there's not really a lot to report here that hasn't been said so many times before by people much more skilled in the art of word manipulation and adequate grammar.  The guys might be older, but the music is as vibrant to me as ever.  It's interesting to think that this band's most popular records are older than the music I considered "oldies" when I was a kid - despite that, there was definitely a ton of young people in the crowd, which mostly made my heart happy, and also slightly annoyed me because they had the gall to get to the Cradle way before me and then stand in front of me like a bunch of responsible attendees.

I suppose the big difference for me is that unlike the last time I saw Dinosaur Jr, they didn't play "Bug" in it's entirety.  Instead, it was a number of songs from their most recent release "Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not" mixed with classics like "Freak Scene," "Thumb," "Start Choppin," "Feel the Pain," and my person favorite on the night "The Wagon."  It sounded great, especially after I moved back near the soundboard when I finished taking photos.  If you've seen the band before, you can picture in your head what the stage looked like - J Mascis standing nearly still the whole time in front of a wall of Marshall amps, rarely talking, and shredding his guitars; Murph playing the drums like someone took the spirit of Animal from the Muppets and put it into the body of an accountant; and I'm not sure I saw Lou Barlow's face the entire time, just a frenzied nest of hair while he lurched back and forth on his bass. 

It might have all been predictable, this band that has been around so long, doing things I've seen them do a number of times before, but it was still plenty fun and I'll gladly do it again if and when Dinosaur Jr come back to town. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Paws / Dude York at the Pinhook - 3/22/2017

With Dude York
The Pinhook

I knew absolutely nothing about opener Dude York before they took the stage.  First impression: trio, bass playing gal who sings, guitar playing dude who also sings and was wearing a half shirt, and a young looking drummer who added a little bit of backing vocals.  They said they were from Seattle and were quite gregarious, lots of chatting among themselves and with the crowd - this band was very comfortable on stage, like a group of theater majors who decided to play music instead.  They talked at one point about what is punk and whether or not they are a punk band, and how that definition is so nebulous - which is certainly true.  For my money this is a pop band with a little bit of punk scruffiness, but not truly punk...but honestly, that might describe a ton of the "best" punk bands over the years like the Ramones or the Buzzcocks or a ton of others.  I wasn't totally blown away by Dude York, but they were entertaining enough live and I wouldn't mind hearing their record(s) and see if that increases my interest.  Perhaps noteworthy is that the dude singer winked at me while I was taking photos, marking the first time I've ever been winked at by a man in a half shirt...or a full shirt for that matter.  Now that I think about it, no one ever winks at me regardless of sex or shirtedness!  Speaking of firsts, on their last song the band took selfies as they were finishing their set, which I've never seen before.  Kids these days, yaknowwhatI'msayin'? 

Paws was the reason I actually left the house, and I'm glad to report it was well worth the effort.  This trio from Glasgow, Scotland do the whole melodic, buzzsaw punk thing as well as anybody...sort of like a British version of Terry Malts, if I'm being honest (and I super duper love Terry Malts so that's meant as a compliment).  They put out a fantastic record in 2014 called "Youth Culture Forever" that was one of my favorites of the year - they played a few songs off of that one on this night, but I think most of their set focused on their new album "No Grace" which I don't know nearly as well (but I loved what I heard).  There was a little bit of banter from the band while tuning, but mostly they just burned through their songs one after another in a very aggressive, immediate way that befits their sound.  They finished their set with the rhythm section playing in the crowd, though in a just world there would have been so many fans in the crowd that this would not have been physically possible.  Hopefully the light attendance doesn't prevent Paws from returning to our area, because I very much would love to see them again.

Side note number 1: This was my first time eating at the (somewhat) newly opened Pie Pushers just above the Pinhook.  Just as tasty as the truck, and an awesome option to eat when going to a show.  Now if they could only get Parlour to open a little scoop shop annex in there as well, I'd never have to leave that building. 

Side note number 2: They played Squeeze between the bands,  I always forget how good Squeeze was, criminally underrated.  Now "Goodbye Girl" is going to be stuck in my head forever.

Natural Causes / Bodykit / Patois Counselors at Local 506 - 3/4/2017

Natural Causes
With Bodykit and Patois Counselors
Local 506

This was a rare three band bill where not only did I see all three bands, I did so intentionally - not just because I was in town in time to eat at Carrburritos.  

The only act of the three I hadn't seen before were openers Patois Counselors.  Part of me hopes they originally wanted to call themselves Patio Counselors, but after finding there was a local landscaping company by that same name they went with something slightly different.  A six piece from Charlotte with the rarely seen lead singer, they had a nineties art punk vibe to them ala the Van Pelt or a number of other bands that put out records on Gern Blandsten back then (speaking of which, if someone would go ahead and do a repress of the Van Pelt's "Sultans Of Sentiment" that would be awesome).  I'm not sure what else to say about them, but I quite liked Patois Counselors and was mentally kicking myself for taking so long to finally see them.  Also, the bassist looked exactly like a young Joe Lally from Fugazi, even down to how he played the bass.  Why I fixated on this and couldn't stop thinking about it, I have no idea. 

I was quite happy that the middle band is our very own local version of Meat Beat Manifesto, Bodykit.  Actually, they don't sound that much alike, I just like any chance to say the name Meat Beat Manifesto.  The duo of Rich and Josh, formerly of Whatever Brains, is much noiser, a punk version of electronic music or something to that effect.  I don't know enough about this genre to have many comparisons, but they do occasionally remind me of Liars.  Like the last couple of times I saw them, they played on the floor with no lights, which means I got no photos that were worth a shit.  In my notes I wrote "Rich one shoe" and don't remember why, so let's just assume that Rich performed the whole set with a show balanced on his head. 

The reason this bill existed was to celebrate the release of the second record by Natural Causes.  Like their first one, it appears to be self-titled - that surely won't be confusing at all.  Apparently there was some delay in getting the sleeves for their new albums before the gig, so either the band or their label Sorry State (or both) silk screened a handful of "limited edition" covers so there would be copies available this night.  Extra bonus cool souvenirs for dumb nerds like me!  In case you aren't familiar, Natural Causes are three-quarters of the great Last Year's Men, with a couple of the guys playing different instruments and the results more in a synth punk direction, ala Jay Reatard's Lost Sounds or maybe Magazine on occasion.  There's no bass, but the synths / keyboards more than fill in that low end.  The set was short and to the point, just like most of their songs.  Local sax man about town Crowmeat Bob (of Enemy Waves and many other things) joined them on their last song to close out the night's proceedings.  I'm not against more horns in rock bands, if it's good enough for Huey Lewis it's good enough for me! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Guided By Voices at the Cat's Cradle - 11/12/2016

Guided By Voices
Cat's Cradle

It was nearly twenty years ago that I saw Guided By Voices for the first time in this same club, standing only a couple of feet to the left from where I stood on this night.  "Under the Bushes, Under the Stars" tour if I'm not mistaken - June of 44 opened.  It was a damn good time.  These days, Robert Pollard might do a few less high kicks and drink a few less beers during the performance, but not much else has changed.  The band has nearly always rotated members, and of course this time was no different  - frequent collaborator Doug Gillard made up one-half of the guitar corp, and the other half was a real treat - Bobby Bare Jr, an alt-country star with a long solo career who I guess decided it might be fun to learn 50 or 60 short pop songs.  GBV didn't play any of his songs or anything, but he was still a nice addition to the performance. 

The band had the set down to a science - play a couple of new songs, then a classic song, a couple more new ones, back to a classic or two, etc.  In this case "classic" means songs from what most people consider their golden era - tracks like "Motor Away," "Game of Pricks," "Teenage FBI," "Tractor Rape Chain," etc; and "new" songs are not only tracks from the more recent GBV releases from the last half-decade, but they also mixed in plenty from Pollard's various other bands - Boston Spaceships, ESP Ohio, Circus Devils, Ricked Wicky, etc.  I'm of course only speaking for myself here about new or classic - the more knowledgeable fans all around me seemed to know every track regardless of era or band.  Of particular note was the annoying middle aged man next to me, who spent the entire performance not only singing along to every song, but pointing at Robert Pollard aggressively from start to finish.  I was also entertained when he decided to put earplugs in around an hour and a half into the set.  I'm sure that will make everything better, fella.  Anyways, they played at least two hours with three encores; it's impossible to leave a Guided By Voices show and not feel you got your money's worth.