Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day 3 in Downtown Raleigh - 9/7/2019

Hopscotch Music Festival – Day 3
Featuring Little Brother, Man Forever, Boogarins, Mdou Moctar, and Cate Le Bon
Downtown Raleigh

The final night of Hopscotch is always a mixed bag of emotions – you’re sad it’s ending, but you’re also really goddamn tired and want to spend your foreseeable evenings on the couch watching TV and not at rock shows.  I know it makes zero sense logistically, but in an ideal world this (and all other) music festival would have a day off between each day of shows.  Won’t anyone think of the old and lazy among us?

I started off day three in City Plaza witnessing the reunion of local legends Little Brother, a hip hop group out of Durham.  The height of their popularity (2000 to 2010ish) almost identically mirrors the same span of time I moved away from Raleigh to northern California, so I missed them as the local cultural phenomenon they must have been for most of the crowd.  Even still, I’ve listened to them a little bit and knew what I was getting into...the only thing keeping me from being a superfan of Little Brother and their feel good hip hop is repeated listens.  Their performance was straight up – no props, no gimmicks, and no shenanigans outside of Phonte making like a fake preacher when hyping the crowd between tracks.  The crowd was WAY into it, and it was hard not vibe off of the enthusiasm in the air – I was there for the bulk of the set, and only part of that time was I stuffing my face with a chicken pita.  

And now for something completely different - Man Forever, aka Kid Millions, aka John Colpitts, the drummer for Oneida, was playing up the street at Kings.  His set was two parts – the first was a “This American Life”-like retelling of the time he was in a bad car accident in LA, with a little drumming interspersed.  It was interesting, but not exactly what I expected from this show.  That would quickly be remedied with the second part of his set, a fifteen minute track that really showcased why he is known as an elite talent – in particular, his work on the bass drum specifically this time.  It was a rapid, repetitive beat that sounded like a hovering helicopter, which he kept going perfectly for the entire track – it was incredibly impressive, and also the very idea of trying to pull something like that off makes my leg throb in pain.  I literally don’t understand how what he did was even possible.

I didn’t have to move at all for the next band on my list, because they were the next act at Kings – Boogarins.  There were already a lot of people there for Man Forever, but by the time this quartet of Brazilians took the stage it was all caps PACKED.  Let me say from the start: Boogarins are way, way, WAY too good looking and cool and hip and it angers up the blood of an old troll like can't be this good at music and super handsome on top of it!  I saw these guys a few years back opening for the Clean, enjoyed them quite a bit, and then despite my intentions, never really spent much time with their recordings.  Is it because the vocals are in Portuguese?  I’m sure that doesn’t help, but it’s not like I’m someone who cares much about lyrics…and god knows I’ve been phonetically singing along to French Stereolab songs for nearly three decades now.  I'll just go with “I dunno, sometimes I'm lazy and forgetful.”  Regardless, yet again they were fantastic live – swirly, psychedelic, occasionally heavy, and even a little bit funky.  The crowd was was way into it, and the singer/guitarist with the Jimi Hendrix hair pretty much never stopped smiling the entire set.  In an effort to repeat myself in the hopes it sticks this time, I really need to listen to their records because these kids are doing something right.

This night would prove to be an easy one in terms of transit, because yet again I stayed right in the same spot and finally got to witness Mdou Moctar in person.  There was a long technical delay at the beginning, but it was worth the wait because HOLY SHIT was that good.  For those out of the know, Moctar hails from Niger (as do 2/3rds of his backing band I assume...put probably not the white bassist) and plays an electrified version of Toureg folk music that...honestly, I have no idea how to describe what he plays, it truly has to be heard and seen to be believed.  Imagine Eddie Van Halen playing repetitive, mesmerizing north African folk music and, well, that still doesn't really come close.  Just watch this damn video and see for yourself.  I've never in my life seen someone play like he does, and what's even crazier is he's fingerpicking.  Maybe that's not crazy to folks that know what the fuck they're doing with a guitar, but to layman like myself it looks goddamn insane.  I absolutely loved everything about this. 

I decided to wrap up my 2019 Hopscotch experience at the best venue in town, Fletcher Opera Theater, with Welsh artist Cate Le Bon.  It didn't hurt at all that the room has comfy seats, plus the sound is always fantastic in there.  I'll say the same thing I say every year: I wish more shows were held here throughout the year, not just during Hopscotch.  You ever just assume some shit about a musician or celebrity out of the blue?  Based on zero evidence for some reason I thought Le Bon was from Minnesota.  I am a dumbass.  What wasn't a dumb assumption is how much she and her band would sound like a modern version Kate Bush or Laurie Anderson, so much so that it was all I could think about.  She would also frequently pose while she sang, looking like she's recreating David Bowie album covers.  If it's not clear, none of these are strikes against Cate, but rather compliments.  Her ethereal, esoteric pop music was the perfect finale for what turned out to be a pretty good festival, even if I did have low expectations going in. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day 2 in Downtown Raleigh - 9/6/2019

Hopscotch Music Festival – Day 2
Featuring Jenny Lewis, GG King, and Nest Egg
Downtown Raleigh

And now for the most highly anticipated performance of the entire festival: Jenny Lewis headlining City Plaza on the second night of the festival.  That feeling of excitement was somewhat bittersweet though – Purple Mountains were scheduled to open, and I was just as if not more excited to finally see David Berman live.  Unfortunately, that bastard called suicide reared its ugly head and Berman is now no longer of this Earth.  As they prepared the stage for Lewis, the (excellent) self-titled Purple Mountain’s album that came out a few months ago played over the sound system…possibly as tribute, or maybe just to remind everyone that he’s still here with us – if not physically, at least musically.  I hope Berman has now found his peace – the world is certainly better off for him having existed and sharing his art.

Back to Jenny – she came on stage rocking a gold, full-length glittery dress with fur cuffs, and gave a performance that shined even brighter than her outfit.  There was a seven-piece backing band, including a couple of folks on strings and the same Jonah Hill-looking guitarist as last time I saw her, one of the best I’ve ever seen.  Dude just sits back for most of the song until it’s time for the lead, and then plays the cleanest, most buttery lines you could ever want.  She played pretty much her entire new record “On The Line,” plus a smattering of classics and for some reason a lite reggae version of “The Voyager.”  Towards the end of the set she took a moment for some kind words directed at David Berman before dedicating the always fantastic “Born Secular” to him.  As if the show wasn’t spectacular already, she closed out the night by bringing former bandmates the Watson Twins on stage for the last three songs – they were also in town performing at Hopscotch.  A woman standing next to me exclaimed “Wow, they’re actually twins!,” which gave me a chuckle.  I’m not sure how often Jenny performs with the pair anymore, but it felt like a special treat and I was glad to witness it.  Nothing short of death or dismemberment will ever keep me from a Jenny Lewis show, and I’d suggest everyone adopt my same policy.

To be perfectly honest, I contemplated just going home after that performance.  Who the hell can follow that?  It’s almost like coming down off of a drug high, and nothing else is going to make you feel as good as that first hit.  I went to Kings anyways, and after a bit of a clusterfuck with the entrance lines I made it inside and watched a good chunk of GG King.  His music is pretty straight-forward, slightly aggro punk, exactly what you might expect from the former singer of Atlanta legends the Carbonas.  I’ve witnessed this formula many times before, and while it might not be particularly groundbreaking or noteworthy, I pretty much always enjoy a punk gig of this ilk.  It just wasn't necessarily what I wanted to hear right now.  

Hopscotch has been using Wicked Witch as a venue for a couple of years, but this was my first time attending a show there – it’s a nice room, but holy fuck is it a haul from the rest of the central downtown clubs.  If you're walking, you gotta really want to go there.  In theory Nest Egg would have been worth it, had their set proceeded in any sort of reasonable fashion.  It sounded fine when they were playing, but a litany of technical issues meant they weren’t playing much.  The singer/guitarist kept talking to the crowd (or maybe the sound person), but there was so much reverb on the vocals you couldn’t understand a damn thing he was saying.   This was my second time seeing the band, but this time there was only one drummer – so I’m not sure if they were short a drummer on this night, or had an extra one last time...I suppose I'll need to watch them a third time to get a tiebreaker.  I preferred their distorto-kraut rock sound more with two drummers, but who doesn't prefer two drummers over one?  It’s literally twice as much drumming!  You can’t argue with math.  For the icing on the cake, the band was only lit by a strobe light, and that got old really fast.  It certainly was terrible for photos, but more importantly it just made my head hurt.  I would still recommend Nest Egg, but not this particular performance.  After a couple of songs (and even more down time), I left the club and made the long walk back to my car, thoughts of Jenny Lewis dancing in my head. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day 2 Day Parties in Downtown Raleigh - 9/6/2019

Hopscotch Music Festival – Day 2 Day Parties
Featuring Midnite Snaxxx, Gross Ghost, Cold Cream, and Long Hots
Downtown Raleigh

The storm was gone and I made the executive decision to take a half day off from work and see a few bands at the Hopscotch day parties.  Rock music > staring at excel spread sheets any day. 

My intent was to get to Slims in time to see Gross Ghost, but I arrived early enough to catch a chunk of the set from Midnite Snaxxx.  I vaguely knew of them, but they had a couple of things in their favor: they were from my former home of Oakland, which makes me automatically like them; and they were as old as me, which temporarily made me feel less old since I wasn't older than the band for a change.  The music was pretty straight-forward garage punk, leaning more towards the hardcore end of the spectrum than the pop side most of the time, and they were really damn good.  Apparently there is a new record coming on Slovenly, I'll definitely be copping that.  Sometimes it pays to show up early.

It's been forever since I've seen Gross Ghost, and that's because it's been forever since they've played – singer Mike Dillon moved to New York City some time back.  I'm not sure if they were performing together again as a one-off because Mike was back in town for Hopscotch, or if he's back for good and the band is back in the “rotation” so to speak – either way, it was good to see them and hear their jangly, emo-tinged indie pop again.  I lasted for about half of their set because they were playing outside and fucking hell it was hot in the black camera felt like I was holding fire.  It'll be interesting to see where the band goes from here. 

Next up was Cold Cream down the street at Kings.  A hardcore punk band is a rather odd choice for the Three Lobed day party, which is typically the home to a lot of improvised noisy/spaced out shit.  Turns out (newish) Cold Cream singer Mara Thomas grew up with Three Lobed head honcho Cory, and it made a bit more sense.  Much to my embarrassment I never managed to see the band when Montgomery Morris (Flesh Wounds, Last Year's Men) was the singer, but Mara did a fine job with the songs from their excellent 2018 self-titled cassette (plus a couple of new ones to boot).  Even though I mentally was prepared for the composition of the band, it was still a mind fuck seeing Ron Liberti (Pipe) playing guitar and Laura King (Ex Hex, Flesh Wounds) playing bass – that's not what they're supposed to be doing on stage!

After a fun day so far, an unfortunate setback would strike next – I was not going to be able to see Loamlands, who were my main motivation for coming out for today's day parties in the first place.  I got to Ruby Deluxe right on time for what was supposed to be their set, only to discover the band that was meant to be playing before Loamlands were just now setting up their equipment rather than breaking it down.  I'm not sure if they were running behind schedule or Loamlands was unable to make it, but either  After coming to it late I've listened to their 2016 release “Sweet High Rise” as much or more than any other album this year.  Oh well...since they're a Durham band hopefully there will be a next time. 

My last (brief) stop was back at Slims for the Long Hots, who were playing on the back patio.  The line to get in the club was down the block, so instead I watched from the entrance to the parking deck – one of the benefits of an outdoor show at Slims.  I caught a few songs and my interest was immediately piqued...they were an all-female “primitive punk” trio with a singing drummer, and whose kit was only  a snare and a floor tom.  It was like a more robust, less weird version of Ed Schrader's Music Beat.  The long line was justified, and I would have stayed and watched more, but I had a kid to pick up. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day 1 in Downtown Raleigh - 9/5/2019

Hopscotch Music Festival – Day 1
Featuring Snail Mail, Kurt Vile, Sleater-Kinney, Lonnie Walker, and David Nance Group
Downtown Raleigh

Hurricane, schmurricane – I was going to some rock shows.  This wretched storm named Dorian might have worked the Bahamas over something fierce, and the North Carolina coast saw an unusual number of tornadoes, here in the Triangle we’ve had worse thunderstorms this summer.  Still, Hopscotch made the wise decision to move their Thursday night City Plaza concert to the Costco-adjacent tin box known as the Ritz a few miles from downtown.  Not ideal obviously, and I had managed  to avoid this place for the better part of the last two decades,but probably the best choice on such short notice and better than canceling the gigs altogether. 

I got to the club just before Snail Mail took the stage.  I’m not super keyed into what is “in” or “hot” these days, but I would have guessed, based on their recent buzz/popularity, that Snail Mail were “bigger” than a 6:30 time slot.  But hey – playing armchair festival organizer is certainly much easier than actually doing it in real life, so there must have been a reason.  These kids are doing the nineties indie rock thing that so many of their generation seem to be “discovering” now.  For my generation, it will always be funny to see folks “discover” the music that you grew up on and still dominates your listening.  I’m not mad about though – every generation has to take their own stab at “reinventing the wheel,” and I’ll take a new version of nineties slacker rock over most other things.  I already thought Snail Mail had a heavy Teenbeat vibe (god I bring that label up too often in comparisons these days, it’s almost like I’m bad at this writing thing) – and then I read they were actually from Baltimore and the god known as Mary Timony gave singer/guitarist Lindsay Jordan guitar lessons…I guess some comparisons are just meant to be.  It’s icing on the cake that their debut record last year was released on Matador, probably the biggest indie rock label of the mid-to-late nineties.  The performance was short but fine, exactly what you want from an act you don’t know that well, and what you expect from one playing so early.  The volume could have been louder, but that’s on the house and not the band.  In fitting in with the weather outside, the bassist played the entire set in a raincoat…I have no idea if this was being done for laughs or not. 

Next up was Kurt Vile, who I hadn’t seen in a little while (2011 apparently, opening for J Mascis at the Cat's Cradle).  Vile is one of those guys I love when I hear, but outside of the album “Constant Hitmaker” and a few other random tracks, I rarely seek him out.  I once described his sound as a cut-rate Neil Young, and that was meant as a compliment.  He was all business on stage for the duration of his set, and by business I mean a shitload of guitar solos.  It didn't matter if he was playing electric, acoustic, 12-string, or even a banjo – he was shredding that shit.  I can't blame him, cause he's damn good at it and I'd be doing the same thing if I had his talent.  I was happy to hear “Bassackwards,” and then they ended their night with “Pretty Pimpin'” and “Wild Imagination,” a perfect final tandem.  Note to self: spend more time with Vile's records you dummy, you like it every time you hear it. 

I vividly remember the only other time I've seen Sleater-Kinney live: it was a free benefit for the 20th anniversary of Food Not Bombs in Dolores Park, San Francisco.  They opening for Fugazi, a top five all-time favorite band, and there was probably a million people there (or at least a few thousand).  I had literally just moved to town just a few days before from Raleigh, and what a welcome to my new home.  This current version of Sleater-Kinney is very, very different – and while I might prefer the early punk era of the group, it's hard to begrudge them sounding different nearly two decades later.  Drummer Janet Weiss recently quit the trio, but the remaining duo of Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker had three additional touring members to round out their sound.  Does that mean they now had a bassist?  No it doesn't, and at this point the exclusion just seems mean and deliberate (bassists have feelings too!).  The new material is very slick, very pop...not bad, but almost shocking to hear coming from this band.  On the plus side, they're damn fine musicians that know what the hell they're doing, so at a minimum you at least got a good performance.  It was fine, but given the choice I'd definitely rather listen to “Dig Me Out” or “All Hands On The Bad One” over this new direction. 

The Ritz show was honestly plenty enough rock for me in my old age, and the shitty weather outside didn’t lend itself to the typical club hopping for which Hopscotch is known.  Despite those feelings, I still drove the couple of miles back into town to the Pour House and caught the last few songs of Lonnie Walker.  I would have wagered a large sum of money that this band was poised to be one of the next local acts to make some noise on the national stage, but that was nearly a decade ago and the only thing that has really changed with Lonnie Walker is the line-up.  I think singer Brian Corum is the only remaining original member...but to most folks his voice and delivery are the essence of the band, making him the only truly necessary piece.  Two things remain constant for this group: (1) they draw a great local crowd, and that primarily happens because (2) they’re always fantastic live.  I’ve never known how to describe them or what to compare them to – let’s just call it jittery pop.  They are what you get when the music of Two Gallants and Modest Mouse are combined, but the alchemist combining them drank too much coffee and things went off the rails.  I wish I'd caught more of the set, but I'll most likely get more opportunities in the near future.

I knew going in that the following act, the David Nance Group, was going to be my last of the evening – and it turned out to a be (mostly) a good one.  They fittingly kicked off the set with a cover of the Fred Neil song “A Little Bit Of Rain” - I'd never heard of Neil (turns out he is best known for writing the Harry Nilsson hit “Everybody's Talkin'”), but the song was fantastic and Neil is definitely now added to my list of artists to check out.  The band's energy and fervor would build from this country-esque slow burner until the end of the set which was a bit of a cacophonous mess, but for at least the first three-quarters of the performance it was a beautiful slice of dark, bluesy Americana.  Like the Kurt Vile performance I saw earlier, you could definitely compare this Nebraskan quartet to Neil Young – which probably makes it even more fitting that Vile was in attendance and seemed to be friends with Nance.  As noted before, things got a little loose and messy towards the end, but I'd still highly recommend this band and will definitely be seeing them again in the future hopefully. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Mrg30, Day 2 at the Cat’s Cradle & Cat’s Cradle Back Room - 7/25/2019

Mrg30 - Day 2
With Superchunk, Fucked Up, Sacred Paws, Lambchop, Fruit Bats, and Swearin’
Cat’s Cradle & Cat’s Cradle Back Room

I don’t always make it to every day’s festivities, but I’m always game for at least some of the anniversary party Merge records throws every five years.  The most important night for me is always the Superchunk night, and thankfully that night also coincided with Lambchop and Fruit Bats night!    

First up for me was Swearin’, who I last saw live before the band got back together* and signed with Merge.  I caught their first few songs, and just as I remembered from a few years ago they were full of energy and lots of fun.  I must confess I don’t love their Merge debut from last year “Fall Into The Sun” as much as their first two records (though I do appreciate how much better it sounds – it would be rad if those old albums got remastered & re-released), but this performance did prompt me to dig it back out and give it some more listens.  This wouldn’t be the first time this night I would have that reaction.

The only reason I cut my Swearin’ attendance short was to get next door to the Back Room in time to see as much of the Fruit Bats as possible.  It had been even longer since I had last seen Eric Johnson & company live – likely the mid-2000s, probably in support of the release of their first couple of Sub Pop records “Mouthfuls” and “Spelled In Bones.”  This band has always been Eric plus whoever he wrangles up to join him for any given record or tour, and this version of Fruit Bats was a six-piece that collectively had the appearance of a Little River Band tribute act** (honestly, that comparison probably popped into my head because musically they ain’t that far off from the Little River Band either…).  Their set consisted entirely of their newest record (and Merge debut) “Gold Past Life,” unless they threw in a classic for one of the last couple of tracks that I missed.  I’ve told anyone who will listen that this new record often sounds like the early folk version of the Bee Gees covering the songs of disco-era Bee Gees…and nothing about seeing them live dissuaded me from this comparison.  It’s a pretty great record, and definitely high in the running for one of my favorite releases of 2019.  They’re coming back through the area on tour later in the year and I’m pretty sure I’ll need to be at that.  

I had a very good reason for not seeing the entire Fruit Bats set – I needed to head back over to the main room of the Cradle to see Lambchop.  One of life’s unimpeachable rules is you never, ever miss Lambchop.  Even if you thought their most recent record was weird and too full of autotune, you still never, ever miss Lambchop.  Lambchop live is transcendent.  Performing along with Kurt Wagner and many of the Lambchop regulars (Tony Crow!) was a couple of Merge records all-stars on the drums / electronics / sax: Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver, Portastatic, the Rosebuds, Mac’s brother) and Andy Stack (Wye Oak, Joyero).  The nearly hour-long set consisted of only a few songs (four maybe?), and they only played material from their last two albums “FLOTUS” and “This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You).”  This band is known to really let songs breathe in a live setting, but this might have been a record low number of songs even for them.  Not that I’m complaining – Kurt is mesmerizing on stage, an especially impressive feat for a performer that moves so little.  They could play the proverbial phonebook*** and I would stand rapt for the duration of the show.

I knew very little about Sacred Paws before this night other than they were one of the newest bands on Merge.  What I learned: they’re from Scotland; technically a duo, they were performing as a four piece; and the singer/guitarist is probably the happiest person I’ve ever seen play live music in my life  I found it particularly noteworthy she was playing her Telecaster straight into the amp – no pedals, no effects, only a all my years seeing live music I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that with an electric guitar.  The music of Sacred Paws is a combination of surf rock, the guitar noodling of North/West African pop, and mid-nineties Teenbeat/Simple Machines indie rock.  I can’t say that I loved them, but they were fun enough to watch and made me want to give their recordings further consideration.

Fucked Up are probably at the top of my list of bands that are a damn delight to see live but who I almost never listen to otherwise.  They were a few minutes into their first song before singer/wrestling aficionado Damian Abraham came on stage in sweatpants and a gold fanny pack looking like he was ready for a Jazzercise class.  The group then did their melodic hardcore thing for the better part of 45 minutes, Abraham barking, stalking, and writhing around on the stage the entire time.  They ended their set with “Dying On The Inside,” the only song of theirs I can name…you know, I should listen to more Fucked Up probably.  Or at least learn the names of more of their songs. 

The internet needs another poorly-written Superchunk review from me about as much as it needs more brony porn.  The band was fantastically awesome as always, and despite being dead tired I managed to stick around for most of it.  A long night of this many bands at a typical festival is one kind of tired, but the walking around to different venues and/or stages actually helps.  But standing in roughly the same spot for an entire night is a different type of pain entirely.  There were a couple of things though about this set that are worth mentioning – first, the band played at least one song from every album they’ve released (including the singles compilations), and they played them in the order of was one of my favorite set lists they’ve put together in quite a while.  The second was all the guests – much like their most recent album “What A Time To Be Alive,” they enlisted the help of multiple labelmates towards the end of the night…Sabrina from A Giant Dog joined on “Break The Glass,” and then Allison from Swearin’ and Damian from Fucked Up jointly participated on a couple of the encore songs.

It was a real fun night, but holy hell was I feeling it the next day.  Who knows how I'll manage at the next one in five years, but I'll for damn sure give it a try. 

*I was never clear if they had actually broken up or were just on hiatus – either way, they took a break from being a band for a few years.
**According to my in-depth research (aka Wikipedia), the current version of the Little River Band is in and of itself basically a tribute act, in that not a single member of the band is original.
***Kids: a phonebook was literally a book of phone numbers that the phone company would send to everyone’s house – and if you needed to talk to a person or business, you looked them up in that book!  Wild times.

Mrg30, Day 4 (Day Party) at the Orange County Social Club - 7/27/2019

Mrg30 - Day 4 Day Party
With The Spinanes, Apex Manor, and Joyero
Orange County Social Club

The main reason I bought a ticket to the final night of Mrg30 was to see the Spinanes  - sure there were others I'd be happy to see, but this was the main motivation.  But then when the final schedule got released, the Spinanes had been moved to the free day party at Orange County Social Club (OCSC).  On top of that, Redd Kross had to cancel for some reason, so it became a pretty easy decision – I sold my ticket and prepared the family that I’d be AWOL for the better part of that Saturday afternoon.  

I annoyingly missed the first band, the Tip Tops – one of Greg Cartwright’s many projects – but I did get there in time for Joyero.  I was worried the day was going to be hot as balls, but thankfully there was a giant tent to stand under and a few large fans circulating the it was maybe only as hot as a single ball.  For those not in the loop, Joyero is the solo project of Wye Oak drummer Andy Stack.  This would be his third performance of the festival, with Wye Oak performing the night before and Lambchop the night before that.  This is truly a solo project, in that Andy does all the music himself – usually a combination of pre-programmed beats and/or synth instrumentation paired with some combination of guitar, keyboards, and/or vocals.  The set-up is actually incredibly similar to the solo project of the other half of Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner, called Flock Of Dimes – but where her music is more upbeat and poppy, Joyero is better lumped in with the low-key bedroom pop scene.  The first thing that comes to my mind for a comparison is Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (aka Owen Ashworth, now known as Advance Base), though they’re more alike in spirit than actual sound.  There is also a folky jazz vibe running throughout his songs - if his debut album wasn’t already out on Merge I’d say it sounds like something Thrill Jockey might put out.  It’s not the most exciting music from a live angle, but I do think it’s quite good and I'm eager to hear the new record. 

As this day neared my excitement to see Apex Manor had grown precipitously – I’ve really listened to their most recent album “Heartbreak City” a lot over the past couple of months, a release that doesn’t hit you initially but really rewards repeat visits.  The “band” is really just Ross Flournoy, but he had a couple of hired guns in local bass savant Casey Toll (Mount Moriah, Skylar Gudasz, and I’ve seen him playing at one time or another with approximately 4,548 other local bands) and a drummer who I don’t know but was also very good at his job.  They performed the bulk of that new record, further cementing my love of those songs – it's what I would call laid-back adult pop with enough hooks to keep you invested, but it never ventures into cute or twee.  Speaking of Skylar Gudasz – she joined the band in a duet towards the end of the set, and a better writer would let you know which song she helped on…but that ain’t me because I totally forgot to write it down.  Everyone already knows what a treasure Skylar is right?  Right.  Anyways, “Heartbreak City” has a chance of being one of my favorite records of the year, so this gig was a real joy.

Speaking of excitement…the Spinanes.  Or rather: THE SPINANES!!!!!!!!!!  My love of their first record, “Manos,” is nearly non-quantifiable – it’s easily one of my favorite albums of all time.  I still remember when and where I bought the CD (a now-defunct record store on the corner of Patton and Coxe in Asheville back in 1994), and thank god I did buy it on CD and not cassette (my preferred format during those years), because I listened to it so much I would have surely broken the tape.  One of my top 5 vinyl wishes became a reality when Merge reissued the record last year and I was able to finally own it in that format.  I had sadly never seen them live, and not only was it finally happening after 25 years of fandom...but their set ended up being exactly what I wanted to hear: pretty much the entire “Manos” album.  I was literally beside myself with happiness – yes, my consciousness left my body and stood next to me so I could enjoy the Spinanes live twice at once.  I was clearly not alone in this excitement – that tent got VERY crowded before they started their set, a pack of similarly aged (i.e. old) indie rockers as eager as I was.  The band for this gig was Rebecca Gates obviously, but in place of original drummer Scott Plouf (who according to Rebecca is now a pastry chef and seemingly retired from music) was Jerry Busher, who was behind the kit for their final full-length album “Arches And Aisles.”  Was the band a little rusty, not having performed in ages?  Yes.  Was there a soul within earshot that cared the slightest?  I highly doubt it.  They closed out the day with a cover of Mission Of Burma's “Fame And Fortune,” a track that was included with the digital portion of the “Manos” reissue. 

Honestly, it's probably a good thing I sold that ticket for the evenings festivities, because there is no way in hell I wanted to see another musical act after fulfilling this decades old dream. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Amyl And The Sniffers at Kings - 7/15/2019

Amyl And The Sniffers

I knew that every member of Amyl And The Sniffers had a mullet – I'd seen photos of the band, and it’s frequently mentioned anytime someone writes about the Australian quartet (I would obviously never do something like that though).  What I didn’t realize was how popular the hairstyle had become not just with Australian punks but with everyone – maybe a third of the crowd at this packed Monday night show were also sporting the Kentucky waterfall so popular in my youth.  And while men definitely dominated this style, there were plenty of women who also looked like they were creating a Runaways cover band.  This is also where I should probably point out how young the (all ages) crowd, man.  Everything old is new again, same as it always was.  If the youth want to relive my middle school years, more power to them - good luck replicating my extensive hair metal t-shirt collection though! 

I should probably talk about the actual performance of Amyl And The Sniffers, given this is at least nominally a live show review. The band might technically be a four-piece, but singer Amy Taylor dominates the stage to the point where you pretty much forget there are three other people also performing.  She paced, sneered, and spat the entire time, like an animal in a too-small cage at a shitty roadside zoo.  The crowd was WOUND UP from the first note they played – moshing almost non-stop, and there was no shortage of stage diving from men and women (there was a shitload of women at Kings tonight, a rare sight at a punk concert).  They must have played pretty much every song from their self-titled debut and a few others on top of that, but I’m still not sure they crossed the 40 minute mark.  Their pub punk vibe on record comes across much closer to hardcore punk in person, to no surprise – it was raw and a little sloppy, but no one is looking for precision in a group like this.  I felt real old being up front taking photos, but when I stepped to the back of the room for the last couple of songs I found the rest of my fellow “senior” attendees enjoying the performance without having other people’s sweat flung on them…the smarter choice, to be honest.  Still, I’d do it again, because this is a damn fun band.