Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Big Business / Birds of Avalon at Neptunes - 4/6/2015

Big Business
with Birds of Avalon
Neptunes
4/6/2015

I was a little surprised they booked this show at Neptunes and not up at Kings, especially since there wasn't anything happening at Kings on this night, but the bookers here have been putting on gigs for a while so I'll defer to their expertise.  I do know Neptunes was fairly packed and hot and overwhelmingly populated by dudes with beards...there's probably a bear joke in there somewhere. 

I got there just a few minutes before Birds of Avalon started their set, once again proving my natural instinct for knowing when a show will actually start is amazing, and why can't I be this talented at any actual useful skills.  When I saw them play a few months ago with Ex Hex, their regular drummer wasn't available so they had the drummer from Valient Thorr filling in - who did a fine job.  With their regular drummer now back, but the Thorr cat still available, what do you do?  Two drummers of course!  They played together like they were mentally and physically linked, and it sounded awesome.  Other than that, it was the typical fantastic Birds of Avalon outing - heavy kraut rock jams with hints of prog and pop mixed into the fold, all while a light show enveloped the performance.  They're easily one of my favorite local live acts, and not to be missed if you have any goddamn sense. 

I saw Big Business a ton of times back in my California days, which seems like yesterday...only I moved back to North Carolina seven years ago so it has definitely been way too long since I last witnessed their pummeling brand of sludgy punk metal.  From Karp to the Whip to now Big Business, Jared Warren keeps his sound in the same lane regardless of band, but the results are always excellent, so no complaints here.  Drummer Coady Willis beats the drums so hard during every single song that it's amazing he doesn't spend a fortune in replacement drum heads; he's such a badass that you totally forgive him for wearing a headset mic.    I don't know shit about Big Business when it comes to song names or any of that nonsense, but they put on a helluva good performance - unrelenting really - and the low ceilings and tight confines of Neptunes made it feel even more intense.  hopefully I won't be so stupid as to wait this long before seeing them again. 

Sylvan Esso / Flock of Dimes / Ivan Howard at Carrboro Commons - 4/3/2015

Sylvan Esso
with Flock of Dimes & Ivan Howard
Carrboro Commons
4/3/2015

Sometimes a good show just falls right into your lap.  Rosebuds singer Ivan Howard got added as an opener for this gig at the last minute, and our mutual friend (and touring Rosebuds member) Brian decided to drive up from Wilmington to check it out.  Brian and I got over to Carrboro early, met up with Rob (who also plays with the Rosebuds occasionally), and dicked around town at some record stores and the OCSC until it was show time.  Carrboro Commons, the location of the evening's entertainment, isn't actually a venue but rather a city park, and apparently all 4500 tickets had been sold.  It was going to be a wild (and crowded) night. 

By the time Ivan Howard took the stage around 6 PM, there were already a ton of people there - I suppose if even a quarter of the expected crowd was there when he began playing, that's over a thousand people...kinda nuts.  It was just Ivan and his electric guitar, and he played songs from across his career as a musician - Rosebuds songs, Gayngs songs, Howard Ivans songs (the solo moniker he used on a seven inch he recorded with Matthew White's Spacebomb crew a couple of years back), and even some new solo work that hasn't been assigned to any of his other monikers, and might just come out under his own name finally.  I couldn't tell you much about the new material as it was my first time hearing it, but one of the songs was about the hairdresser from the show "227," so I eagerly anticipate that one getting fully fleshed out and recorded.  Even though it was mostly a very young crowd there to see the headliners, they were supportive and seemed to be into what Ivan was cooking up. 

I was most excited for the middle act Flock of Dimes.  Why?  Because it is the solo act of Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, a person I have a crush on in every possible way you could have a crush on a person: shreds the guitar, great voice, writes awesome songs, and as if that wasn't enough, she is very pleasant to look at.  I had never listened to this solo work of hers before, but given how much I've listened to Wye Oak it would be almost impossible for it to not sound very familiar to me.  Lots of prerecorded music to go with multiple keyboards and synths made up the bulk of the performance, along with a small amount of guitar and her terrific vocals.  The best comparison would be the most recent Wye Oak album "Shriek," minus the real drums.  I was mesmerized for the entire set - I don't have the vocabulary to state just how fantastic it was.  She is perfect.  My wife is likely filing divorce papers on me now after reading this review...who am I kidding, she doesn't read any of my nonsense! 

It's pretty nuts how big Sylvan Esso have gotten - just a couple of years ago I saw them opening for the Rosebuds at Hopscotch in front of a decent-but-not-large crowd and there was a little blog buzz about them.  Now, after one album and a shitload more buzz, they've gotta be the most popular band to ever come out of the area.  Even Superchunk or the Archers of Loaf in their heyday could not have sold out this park and filled it with so many young people in various states of undress and druggedness.  I'm not even sure their set has really changed in that couple of years - it's still mostly the same songs, and there aren't many of them (their set couldn't have been much more than 45 minutes long), but that didn't seem to bother the crowd that was aggressively singing along to hits like "Hey Mami" and "Coffee."  And same songs or not, they put on a damn entertaining show for a pair of people singing and dancing around on stage to a pre-recorded track...I'm still coming around to the idea that bands can perform even though no instruments are being played live, but the kids today definitely don't give a shit - live music is live music no matter how it is delivered it seems.  All that really matters is you have a good time right? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Twerps / Ultimate Painting at the Pinhook 3/16/2015

Twerps
with Ultimate Painting
The Pinhook
3/16/2015

It's that time of the year, the time when touring acts on their way either to or from SXSW make a stop in the Triangle to entertain our country bumpkin ears.  First up on this evening was Ultimate Painting from the UK...I'd heard of these cats for a little while, and they released a record on the great Trouble in Mind, but this was my first time actually hearing them.  The verdict on this four-piece of fancy British lads: a damn fine pop band.  The biggest, most immediate influence you hear is the Velvet Underground, especially in the first and last songs of their sets, which were long, stretched out rockers in the vein of VU's "Sister Ray."  I also heard dabs of the Zombies, early Teenage Fanclub, and even the Clientele.  The sound was very clean, driven mostly by the hollowbody guitar one of the guitarists played, and I was way into it. 

All of that was a bonus - I was actually at the gig to see one of the newest Merge signees, Twerps, out of Australia.  They also play pretty straight-forward pop music, sounding more like the Kiwi pop of the eighties (the Clean, the Bats, the 3Ds, etc) and occasionally a little bit like Yo La Tengo.  With both male and female lead vocals, the set can take on different vibes from song to song, but I dig what both singers are offering.  I felt like the dude singer occasionally sounded like Ben Lee, but I'm not sure if he actually sounded like him or my brain was just making the link because both are Australian.  The room was decently full (though not packed) for their set, and it seemed pretty well received.  I know I was into it - hopefully their being on Merge means they come back and play often, or at least as often as a band from the other side of the world can. 

Outer Spaces / Lace Curtains at Nice Price Books and Records - 3/6/2015

Outer Spaces
with Lace Curtains
Nice Price Books and Records
3/6/2015

I hadn't been all that excited for a show in a few weeks, so of course when two good gigs finally rolled around both were on the same night.  I bypassed two of my very favorite locals that I've seen a million times, Whatever Brains and Pipe, in lieu of checking out a couple of bands I'd never seen before.  It also didn't hurt that this show was in Raleigh and the other in Chapel Hill...my code of laziness is the one I take the most seriously. 

I was there mainly to see opener Lace Curtains.  The singer is from the excellent Austin band Harlem, which is the whole reason I knew of them in the first place.  Harlem ruled, for the record.  The first Lace Curtain's record "The Garden of Joy and the Well of Loneliness" was really damn good and even though I hadn't heard their more recent output, I was sure the show was going to be a keeper.  They started their set off with a couple of songs from that older record before getting on to newer tracks, so that made me quite happy.  The six-piece band was pretty damn tight, which made for a nice juxtaposition with the singer who was a bit sloppy off of too much wine, but in an endearing & entertaining sort of way.  They're a tough band to describe musically, sort of an indie-soul-pop with occasional garage rock tendencies...like a mellower/less schticky Make-Up perhaps.  It was a grand time and I was already pleased with my decision to attend this gig. 

I knew nothing of the next act, Outer Spaces, but decided to stick around for a couple of songs to see what they were all about.  Good decision by me - I ended up watching the entire set and loving every second of it!  The trio hails from Baltimore, a couple of dudes manning the drums and keys and a gal with an amazingly beautiful voice in charge of guitar and vocals.  They reminded me a lot of our very own Mount Moriah, though a little less twangy; perhaps another comparison would be Young People, a criminally underrated band in my opinion.  I rushed right over to the merch after their set to buy their record, and will be making every effort to see them again if they come back to town. 

WKNC Benefit - Spider Bags / Lonnie Walker / Mac McCaughan at the Lincoln Theatre - 2/7/2015

WKNC Benefit
with Spider Bags, Lonnie Walker, and Mac McCaughan
Lincoln Theatre
2/7/2015

Every year WKNC puts together a couple of shows full of great local talent that help raise funds for the NC State radio station.  This year they were holding one here in Raleigh (this one), and another over at the Cradle in Carrboro a week later, giving at least two-thirds of the Triangle access to a great event.  Sorry Durham, you gotta drive. 

My most anticipated act of the night's bill was Mac McCaughan (of Superchunk) playing solo.  Of course, as is my way I got there way too late and only caught hi;s last three songs...what's worse is I was late because I got sucked into watching an episode of "Cops"...seriously.  Sometimes I'm stupid on a level others can't touch.  Anyways, I walked in to Mac saying "I wrote this song when 'Powerslave' was still on the charts" and then he banged out the great "Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus."  That one and the next track "Skip Steps One & Three" were both probably older than 3/4ths of the audience.  He closed the night with the Portastatic song "Noisy Night" - I suppose if you're going to be stupid enough to arrive late, at least the three songs I did get were good ones. 

I suspect most of the crowd was here for Lonnie Walker, though I didn't conduct a survey or anything - just the vibe I got.  It was my first time seeing them with the new line-up aka my friend Mike (formerly of the Annuals) now playing bass for them.  I'm not entirely sure how long this has been going on - I do vaguely recall Mike mentioning it in the past but that could have been six months or two years ago with the way my memory works.  They haven't lost a beat with his addition and are still a fantastic live act, even if they are still playing (mostly) the same songs they have been playing for the past half decade.  Don't get me wrong, those are some good songs, but I think we're all ready for a new record!  There were a couple of songs I didn't know that I assume are new tracks, and they sounded great, so hopefully something new is on the horizon. 

The final band was Spider Bags, which makes sense because you can't possibly expect anyone else to follow their live performances.  The club turned every red light in the house on, making the stage look like Kramer's apartment when they opened that Kenny Rogers Roasters.  The band then scorched through a huge swath of their set, and I was happy to see so many of the young kids stick around for what is the best (or at least second best after Whatever Brains) live band in the area.  I often have a lack of words for them, because how much can be said about a straight-forward rock and roll band like this?  It must be witnessed and felt, not just read about.  Que viva Spider Bags. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Parquet Courts / Priests / Whatever Brains at Kings - 1/26/2015

Parquet Courts
with Priests and Whatever Brains
Kings
1/26/2015

To be perfectly honest, I was mainly at this show for openers Whatever Brains.  Sure, I've seen them probably two dozen times at least, but any chance I get to soak in their insanity I try my best to jump on it.  And luckily I jumped on this one early, because this show sold out a while ago.  What can I say about a WB show that I haven't said so many times before?  It was awesome, as always.  There was multiple uses of whistles from multiple band members.   LOTS of roto tom drum action.  Even though they just had a release party a couple of months ago for their new record, they've already released a cd-r of nearly 80 minutes of new material - from a sheer quantity standpoint, they're turning into the Guided by Voices of noisy punk or whatever the hell category you might try to put them in (they don't seem to fit anywhere, so you probably shouldn't bother). 

I had gotten the value of my ticket from that performance, so anything else good from tonight was gravy.  I knew absolutely nothing about Priests other than a couple of friends had spoken highly of them, so I was going in completely blind.  This is my very rudimentary take on the band - a four piece from DC; all women except for the guitar player; music is bass heavy, almost verging on funky, but still more-or-less punk; guitar was as likely to be adding texture and noise to the songs as playing chords or rhythm; the singer was very engaging, partially for her performance (lots of stalking around the stage and dramatic flair), and partially for her outfit (tight dress that you'd expect to see at a nightclub rather than on a stage, plus giant stiletto heels).  If I had to make a comparison, I'd go with Sonic Youth meets the Slits, but would to hear some of their recordings to further flesh out this vibe I got.  I quite enjoyed their set, and would definitely see them again.  Luckily, they seem to play down here fairly often. 

The headliners were Parquet Courts, but I was already waning to be honest.  I don't have the youthful exuberance that most of the crowd seemed to have, but I stuck out at least half of their set.  They're one of those bands that I enjoy when I randomly hear them, but I never actively seek their material out.  Their records are pretty straight forward garage pop, or at least what I've heard, but their live show had an injection of, I don't know, Pavement-style slack or something of that nature.  I think I actually enjoyed the live renditions more than their recordings to be honest, there was an extra bit of life to them.  I'd see these guys again, though probably not after standing around at the club for three hours.  The slow down in live music attendance on my part in the winter really takes the life out of my show legs!

Ex Hex / Birds of Avalon at Kings - 1/3/2015

Ex Hex
with Birds of Avalon
Kings
1/3/2015

Almost two months after seeing them for the first time, here I was at Kings to watch Ex Hex again.  The first time I saw them was so great, it wasn't particularly hard to talk myself into making the effort to show up at Kings.  Since they only have one album, the set list this time was pretty damn similar to what I saw at the Pinhook, the band as tight as ever while performing their upbeat, snarling garage-ish pop.  The only real difference was the cover songs - last time we only got the Kids' "All Kindsa Girls," while this time not only did we get that gem, but also Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" and Sweet's "Fox on the Run."  The last one especially got me (and clearly much of the crowd) excited.  It was a great time, and if they come back in another two months chances are I'll be there again.

As great as Ex Hex was, I was possibly more excited for openers Birds of Avalon.  Despite being local (so local a couple of the band members are actually part-owners of Kings), they don't play a ton - but every time I see them, I love them more than the previous gig.  They were playing with the drummer of Valient Thorr as a fill-in, but the band sounded as stellar as ever.  Where you might have once made classic rock references to their performances, these days they are fully ensconced in the Can/Neu! bubble of sound. Most of what they played this night was from their new EP out on Third Uncle records, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes their ears full of goodness.