Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mac McCaughan / Flesh Wounds at the Cat's Cradle Back Room - 5/23/2015

Mac McCaughan
with Flesh Wounds
Cat's Cradle Back Room
5/23/2015

I've not spent nearly enough time seeing Flesh Wounds live, for reasons that are entirely not clear to me.  They put on a great live show and I'm way into their brand of punk rock, and yet...this is only the second time I've seen them play.  To no surprise they were fantastic, burning through a dozen or so songs in probably not much longer than twenty minutes, barely stopping to catch their breath.  It's unclear how much the mostly middle-aged crowd was feeling their youthful exuberance, but I was certainly up front and way into it.  I've really gotta make an effort to see them more often. 

For the second time this year I would get to see Mac McCaughan play a solo set apart from my beloved Superchunk; for the first time this year, I would be able to see his set in it's entirety since I didn't show up late like a damn fool.  His performance was really three sub-sets, with Flesh Wounds (or as he referred to them "the Non-Believers") acting as his backing band at the beginning and the end, and Mac all by himself for a little while in the middle.  The full band portions were made up mostly of songs from his new solo album "Non Believers" and at least one Portastatic track - it was all quite enjoyable, but since I've not really digested this solo material yet I wasn't quite as invested as I usually am at a show by Mac or any of his bands.  But that middle portion where he was all by himself - yep, all Superchunk, and real goddamn exciting as always.  Some highlights included "Detroit Has a Skyline," "Driveway to Driveway," "Iron On," and "Watery Hands."   Of course he didn't play even close to everything I wanted to hear with such a small portion of his set dedicated to the Chunk, but it was a nice selection and a fun night. 

Lightning Bolt / Whatever Brains at Kings - 5/11/2015

Lightning Bolt
with Whatever Brains
Kings
5/11/2015

Lightning Bolt might have been the headliners, but make no mistake Whatever Brains were the main draw on this night.  Sure, I've seen them dozens of times, but word on the street (aka my friend John who is friends with the band) is this was going to be their final show.  Upon hearing this news a different friend asked me "what are you going to do for fun now?" - the only answer is there will be no more fun ever again.    Now, this word of the end of WB comes from a reliable source, but the band hasn't explicitly said anything about it themselves, and they are planning on recording a new record, so who knows what happens at this point.  I certainly wasn't going to take a chance of missing the gig if it did end up being their last performance, and worst case scenario is they keep playing but I just saw another show by them, something I've never had a problem with.  Anyways, yadda yadda yadda, it was a great show with lots of whistles and rototoms and dual drumming and Rich making crazy faces while he plays guitar, just as we've come to expect from these guys.  I think I was sorta expecting one of their more "weird" shows since it was supposed to be the last one, but it was a pretty straight-forward effort.  No complaints outta this guy though. 

I saw Lightning Bolt a few times back in my San Francisco days - they played all the time for a non-local band, or maybe they just never stopped touring so it felt that way.  They were always a fun show, even if every gig pretty much felt (and sounded) the same.  After a number of years out of the loop, I stuck around after Whatever Brains to see what has changed for them - apparently, the big difference now is they play on stage in stead of the floor.  But they're still a two piece, still play brutal barely melodic noise rock, still with the singing drummer wearing a creepy mask with the mic attached to it, and still attracting a mosh heavy crowd of bearded dudes.  And still fun too, to be fair, though after five or six songs I felt like I'd had enough of it all and headed home. 

USX / Generation of Vipers / Sinister Haze at the Cave - 4/29/2015

USX
with Generation of Vipers and Sinister Haze
The Cave
4/29/2015

I've probably mentioned it before, but I've been friends with Nate Hall, the front man of USX (aka US Christmas) since high school when he wore ridiculous vertical striped polo shirts and had a bowl haircut.  I saw him perform not too long ago but it had been quite some time since I had seen him with this particular outfit (he also has another band called Nate Hall and the Poison Snake, as well as releasing solo records) - USX was the first, and continues to be my favorite of all his different efforts.  The band has had many forms and different members, but the current line-up of Nate singing and playing guitar, Meg on violin, Josh on bass, and Billy on drums appears to be the most stable they've ever been, and their most enjoyable for my money.  Their set was a nice mix of songs from across their spectrum of albums, a concise and powerful 45ish minute set; it was a stoned, sludgy, slow metal dirge with occasional bursts of power and aggression.  As always, I dug it; nevertheless I still made fun of Nate after the show, as I've always done, as it shall always be.   

This was my first time seeing Knoxville's Generation of Vipers, even though I've known 2/3rds of the band for quite a while.  Josh and Billy of USX make up the guitar/vocals and drums along with a cat named Travis on the bass.  Unlike USX, GoV is much more straight-forward metal - heavier, faster, etc - but that's not to say it's generic or rote.  And maybe it's just me, but there is a heavy punk vibe infused into their songs, though I'd be hard pressed to give an adequate answer as to why I feel that way - just a feeling I guess.  I get a similar vibe from a band like Coliseum, and I think you could make a very light comparison between them and GoV. 

The first band I saw this evening was Sinister Haze, an almost totally instrumental trio out of Richmond (there was a touch of vocals on their last song).  Knowing very little about metal (I'm pretty sure you already realized that), I'd say they reminded me a stoner rock version of Russian Circles or someone of that ilk.  The drummer was absolutely ruthless and killed it the entire set.  I'd definitely see them again, and hopefully being only a few hours away will mean that happens sooner rather than later. 

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.