Monday, November 30, 2009

Built to Spill at the Cat's Cradle - 10/18/2009

Built to Spill
The Cat's Cradle

I've really been firing on all cylinders lately when it comes to getting to the club right when the band I want to see starts playing. I walked in the door just as Built to Spill began their first song, and despite the packed house I was able to nook right in near the front by the side of the stage.

At this point in my life I've seen this band play probably close to twenty times (if not more), and I knew full well what this night had in store for me. As always, BtS played a fantastic mix of songs from across their entire catalog - off the top of my head I can recall "Virginia Reel Around the Fountain", "Carry the Zero", "Stop the Show", "Reasons", "You Were Right", and "The Weather". As always I would have killed to hear more songs from "Perfect from Now On", a statement I have made after every one of their shows...even the shows where they played a lot of those songs. Just can't get enough of that album, even 12 years later. Surprisingly, as Doug and company just released a new record called "There Is No Enemy", there were very few new songs, just fan favorite after fan favorite for the better part of two hours.

Sadly, another truism of any Built to Spill show also reared it's ugly head - the terrible, awful crowd. For reasons unclear to me for well over a decade, assholes and idiots love this band. This may be saying as much about me as it is about the rest of the crowd, but the personalities that infest any given Built to Spill show are the worst mix of drunks, frat boys and douchbags. And this isn't just a Chapel Hill thing - most of my live viewings of Built to Spill happened in San Francisco, and it was no different there. The constant yelling of inane things at the band. The bouncers having to break up a fight in what looked to be the strangest, most inappropriate "mosh pit" I've seen in ages. And then there was the gaggle of chatty women standing behind me, referring to themselves as "cougars" and sticking their garbage and beer bottles in the hood of my pullover. There really should be some sociological studies done on this strange gathering awkward, useless chaff, but I guess it says a lot about what a great live band Built to Spill is that anyone with any sense would suffer these fools.

Polvo at the Cat's Cradle - 10/17/2009

The Cat's Cradle

So I've seen this newly reformed Polvo a number of times now, and even in my super fanboy status, it's hard to deny they aren't getting more and more awesome with each and every gig. Yes, awesome, that is the technical word for their performance, I saw it in a technical handbook on show descriptions. They've certainly gotten a lot of tighter, what with the touring and the practicing and the recording a new album, tighter than they ever sounded pre-break-up.

Given that they did just record a new album, "In Prism", I was a little surprised that they didn't play more songs from it. It's got to be a tough balance for a band that has been around for a long time that has a large catalog to get the ratio of new songs and older fan favorites down on their set list. Obviously most of the crowd usually wants to hear their favorite song, while the band really wants to play these new tracks they are proud of. I'm almost always on the "play the old shit" side of the fence; but unlike most material that gets released by groups post-reunion, the new Polvo record is really damn good.

Anyways, yadda yadda yadda, the new record is great but they still played almost entirely old songs. Not that I'm complaining, but my faulty memory can only recall "Beggar's Bowl"; a couple more new ones would have been nice. What they did play was a super-extended version of "Bombs That Fall From Your Eyes" that sounded like Polvo crossed with "Umma Gumma" era Pink was one of the best things I've heard in months. Maybe through some magic of the internets someone out there reading this review bootlegged the show and can hook me up with a copy of that song, I would be forever grateful.

As a side note/complaint, I tried buying the vinyl of their new album on my way out of the club, and they were sold out! I had been putting off buying it for a while because I wanted to wait and get it when the money would be directly going to the band, but no such luck. And then a couple weeks later I stopped by Schoolkids in Raleigh to make the purchase...of course they were also sold out. It's almost comical that I've had such a tough time buying a record by a local band released on a local label, but on the bright side it means Polvo is moving units and that is definitely great for them. One of these days I'm going to finally find and buy that damn record...

Lonnie Walker at Golden Belt - 10/17/2009

Lonnie Walker
Golden Belt

So there was this "Rock and Shop" event going on during the day in Durham, and what the hell - I like to both rock and shop, so it seemed like a good idea to attend. It helped that two of my favorite local groups were playing - Mount Weather and Lonnie Walker, though when we were walking into the event we passed the Mount Weather guys loading their gear out...bummer on that, I was hoping to see them play again. But Lonnie Walker was still due to play, and after a bit of strolling around with the wife while she gawked and glad handed over a number of small craft tables, the band made with the music and I watched them rock out while the old lady continued to shop. I still struggle to figure out who it is Lonnie Walker remind me of - I know everyone else says Bob Dylan, and I can see where they are coming from, but there is a lot more to it than that. I previously mentioned the Talking Heads and I still get that vibe on some of their tracks, but there is a rootsy, almost Band-like feel to their music. All I know is their songs are instantly stuck in your head, and I wasn't the only one entranced - there were a couple of small kids standing next to me who were downright mesmerized by the live rock action. It's good to know I've got more in common with small children than just my overly picky diet...a mutual love of fantastic music too!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Annuals / Birds of Avalon / Hammer No More The Fingers at The Cat's Cradle - 8/29/2009

with Birds of Avalon and Hammer No More The Fingers
The Cat's Cradle

It has taken me around a year after moving back to the Triangle, but I've finally been getting into a lot of the "new" local bands lately...and by "new" I'm referring to bands that weren't around when I left for the left coast (and in most of their cases they've only been around a couple of years or so). I bring this up because this particular gig was in conjunction with a local benefit compilation that was just released called "Hear Here", so the bill was all local bands that are part of the CD.

This was my second time seeing Hammer No More The Fingers this summer, and their best of the two outings. I'm not sure if they actually put on a better show or it was just because the sound is so much better at the Cat's Cradle, but either way it was an enjoyable set. The gig further cemented my impression that HNMTF have a real strong lean towards catchy, anthemic songs that lend themselves to fan sing-a-longs. As I said in the last review you'd be hard pressed to pigeonhole this group with a strict comparison to another band, but individual songs will remind you of anyone from Weezer to Modest Mouse to even a little Dismemberment Plan. These guys are definitely growing, building an audience and have themselves poised as one of the next breakout local acts...time will tell how it works out for them.

God knows I love comparing bands to other's all I ever think of sometimes when I'm watching someone play, asking myself "who does this sound like" or "what does this remind me of" and completely distracting my tiny brain from the live music at hand. But for the life of me, I can't compare Birds of Avalon to anyone. God knows I've tried, making my head hurt on more than one occasion, but nothing comes up. It's just good ol' hard rock, a little seventies influenced with a double guitar attack and a smidge of spacey keyboards. And most importantly, it just sounds awesome. This is an important fact.

Towards the end of their set, the Birds welcomed a guest onto the stage - none other than Ivan Howard of The Rosebuds. The Birds plus Ivan then proceeded to play the Rosebud's contribution to the Hear Here compilation entitled "Brad Cook Is Not Your Man". The song is a true story about Ivan and Brad (from the band Megafaun) getting pulled over by the cops because there was a warrant out for a different man named Brad Cook...obviously, hijinks ensued. And by hijinks I mean the only thing that kept Brad from getting hauled off to the pokey was his lack of a chest tattoo. I've seen the Rosebuds perform about 8,000 times, and it was a refreshing change hearing one of their songs rocked out by Birds of Avalon, proving that just because they are rockers it doesn't mean they can't climb all over a pop song if they have to.

My laziness and tiredness were starting to catch up with me, but I made a point of catching at least a few songs by the last band, Annuals. With six band members and two drummers, they have a big, acoustic-guitar tinged pop sound that really fills a room. When their first song ended with four different people playing drums like an indie rock Blue Man Group, I knew this group were off on their own trip. I may not have loved every song I heard them play, but there was enough goodness there that I stuck around a little longer than I had originally intended. The crowd was absolutely loving it - I had no idea they had such a huge following, but there were a lot of young folks singing along and dancing up a storm (or as much of a storm as you can dance up at an indie rock show).

It was a damn fine night of music, which is a great thing to be able to say after seeing nothing but local acts. Not many towns can boast having a collection of talent like we have here in the Triangle, and we're all obviously better off for it.

Erectus Monotone / The Loners at Tir Na Nog - 8/13/2009

Erectus Monotone
with The Loners
Tir Na Nog

I was pretty excited to find out Erectus Monotone were going to be playing a free show at Tir Na Nog - I'd sadly missed their reunion at Merge Fest XX as it happened one of the nights I didn't have a ticket, and was afraid I would never get another chance. I never managed to catch one of their live shows the first time around - even though I was definitely a fan of their work and had a seven inch or two of theirs. Word on the street was they brought the heat at the Merge Fest gig, setting my hopes on high and ready to rock by the time they took the stage. The verdict: awesome! They definitely did not disappoint, sounding like a band that had been playing together for years instead of one that only recently got back together after a 15 year-ish hiatus. It was a nice concise set, with the band playing "every song we know", and the packed house of old folks like myself reliving the glory years of Chapel Hill indie rock. The flip side being that while the show made me feel young and wistful for my college years, it also reminded me of the fact that those days have been over for well over a decade.

A brief note about the openers, The Loners - a hard rock duo with a bit of a garage/punk/blues vibe. You could drop the usual references of the White Stripes and the Black Keys and maybe even the Cheater Slicks and be in the right ballpark, but all their best tracks reminded me the most of Eagles of Death Metal minus the shtick.

Kurt Vile at the Soapbox - 8/12/2009

Kurt Vile
The Soapbox

I just happened to be down at the beach and noticed that Kurt Vile was playing at one of Wilmington's clubs, the Soapbox. Honestly, I was rather nonplussed from what I had heard from him but nothing else was going on, so why not see a show?

After a completely terrible local high school band got done playing for a bunch of hot-but-way-too-young jail bait girls, making me feel really old in the process, Kurt Vile took the stage. And when I say Vile took the stage, it was him alone. Acoustic folk rock was not in line with the songs I had previously heard by the dude, but the start of his set was exactly that. He played a three or four songs, just the man and his steel-top was kinda mesmerizing actually, some sort of mellow blues-folk combination that might have gotten old for an entire set but was pretty entertaining for a few tracks.

And then the rest of the band joined him - another guitarist, a drummer...and a lady harpist. Yes, a lady harpist. I was plenty dumbfounded but it actually worked quite well with the songs, with the lady harpist able to carry leads with the high strings and add pseudo-bass lines with the low strings. As a whole they had a psychedelic/electrified folk thing going on, with their best songs sounding a little bit like Velvet Underground with Marc Bolan of T-Rex singing. After the highschoolers took off there was only a small crowd left, but everyone seemed to quite enjoy it. Oh, and there was a dog in the crowd too that some hippy had brought along, a cute dog that sorta wandered around getting attention from everyone. He seemed to like Kurt Vile as well, a ringing endorsement if there ever was one.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Merge Fest XX: Spoon / Pipe / Polvo / Lambchop at the Cat's Cradle - 7/24/2009

Merge Fest XX:
Pipe, Polvo and Lambchop
The Cat's Cradle

With the rumor mill swirling previous to this show, I knew this was a ticket I needed to get. Luckily my friend Ivan had an extra band pass he could let me borrow, so by the skin of my teeth I yet again manage to make it into another Merge Fest night.

I missed the first couple of bands, but this was somewhat intentional - I knew the rest of the night was one banger after another, and I wouldn't want to miss a single minute of any one of their sets.

I finally waddled in the club, full of taco truck burrito for the second night in a row, just moments before Lambchop was about to begin performing. This is a band I've loved since my freshmen year in college (1994, it hurts a little to think about how long ago that was) when I bought their record at Poindexter's in Wilmington just because it was on Merge. I've seen the band perform live a couple of times, with no two shows alike.

And none of those other gigs would come close to preparing me for the sheer onslaught of musical mastery that the 'Chop would put forth this night. I may not have seen all of the nights of Merge Fest XX, but I feel no hesitation in stating that this was the best performance of the entire festival...because it would not be humanly possible to top it. With at least eleven people on stage including a horn section, Kurt Wagner and company brought the heat from the first night. This wasn't a mellow Lambchop performance, this was more akin to an R&B/Soul revue from days gone by. This is a band I've always been terrible at remembering song titles, but I know they played one of my very favorites "Your Fucking Sunny Day" and that was good enough for me. Oh yeah, and they closed out the set with a cover of the Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime"...I thought the entire crowd was going to shit their pants. That would have been exceedingly disgusting though so let's be glad that didn't happen. I would be willing to be a large sum of money that when Lambchop returns to the Triangle later in the year, this performance will single-handedly double ticket sales. It was that good.

I did not envy anyone having to follow Lambchop...luckily it was local lads and longtime favorites Polvo, who can do no wrong in my eyes. I'm guessing it was largely because of the nostalgia factor inherent at a festival like this, but the band really rolled out the "hits" for this gig. Pretty much every fan-favorite track from their early Merge records made the set list...I specifically remember getting giddy like a little school girl when they performed "Vibracobra" and closed with "Can I Ride". It still hasn't quite sunk in that Polvo is back together, playing shows, and have a new album coming out...honestly, it's the sort of thing I daydreamed about for years but never thought it would happen. Now if we could only get the Archers of Loaf to follow suit...

PIPE!!! MOTHER FUCKIN' PIPE!!! I have seen this band at least 4000 times, but it had been at least 10 years since the last time. Outside of maybe Bandway, Pipe is the ultimate rock-n-roll party band. Singer Ron Liberti is the local king of front men, grinning like a shit-eating kid while he prances around the stage getting pelted with cans like a carnival sideshow. Think Robert Pollard from Guided by Voices fronting a punk band, and you are at least going in the right direction. And the best part of the show? The crowd was eating it up. I can't tell you the number of times I saw Pipe as the opener for more poppy, mainstream bands, and the fans of the headliner would vacate the club like a bomb threat was called in. But on this fine evening, everyone was soaking in the glory that is and was Pipe, probably one of the best bands of all time, even if you don't agree with me.

Spoon closed out the very impressive evening, and as much as I love the band my dancing shoes just didn't have the pep in them they did earlier in the night. I clearly wasn't alone because the crowd began to dwindle out slowly throughout their set. It wasn't an indictment on the set Spoon played, as they sounded fantastic as always, but the median age at these Merge Fest gigs has skewed quite a bit older than your typical show - folks had to get home and let the babysitter leave for the night! Or maybe they were just leaving because Spoon didn't play my favorite song, "Car Radio"! To their credit, they did play a bunch of awesome songs like "Lines in the Suit" and "The Ghost of You Lingers" and "Stay Don't Go" and even closed the night with my second favorite track, "Fitted Shirt".

It was a good show by Spoon, and certainly not their fault most of the crowd was about to collapse from exhaustion. Eventually I drug my ass to my car, schlepped back to the house around three in the morning, and passed out knowing I'd just seen one of the best nights of music I'll likely ever see.

Merge Fest XX: Superchunk / Versus / Richard Buckner at the Cat's Cradle - 7/23/2009

Merge Fest XX:
Versus & Richard Buckner
The Cat's Cradle

Going into the week of Merge Fest, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it to any of the shows. I was too broke for one of the five day passes, and the single day tickets sold out so fast that my slow ass didn't manage to score even one. But as I was hanging out at the Jackpot during the Rosebuds impromptu acoustic performance, the chance arose to purchase a ticket to the second night's festivities at the Cradle. Let's hear it for getting lucky!

One of the more frustrating/entertaining functions of Merge Fest this time around was the label's decision not to release the line-ups for any given night. This could be a problem when you're eager to see a specific band, but luckily for me I like most of their artists so I knew I was guaranteed a good show. And not to tell tales outside of school, but since I know a couple of folks in bands on the label, they gave me the inside track as best they could (and even they weren't 100% sure of who was playing which night, even the nights they were playing).

One of the more important inside tips I got was that not only was Richard Buckner playing this night, but he was playing quite early. This meant eating quickly from the taco truck outside instead of standing in the long Carburritos line, because I did not want to take the chance on missing Buckner. I've seen many different variations of "live" Buckner, from full band to straightforward acoustic. But it's this version. the solo version where he constructs and deconstructs his songs with a series of loops, that I like the best. The show is one long song basically, with parts of his well-known tracks from albums intertwined with free-form instrumental segments. There were at least a couple of my favorite songs in the mix - "Believer" from his best album "Since" and "Town" from the more recent record "Meadow". It was a mesmerizing performance as usual.

These anniversary shows always have a million bands each night, and I was in and out of the club. The next bands that sticks out in my hazy memory is Versus, a group I feel like I saw a ton of times when I lived in San Francisco (though I suspect that some of those memories also include their offshoot groups +/- and Whysall Lane). They were good as always, doing their loud-quiet-loud Pixies-lite thing like they have been since the nineties, when I probably saw them for the first time. I always enjoy most of their set and tell myself I'll check out some of their recordings, but that has yet to happen. Perhaps writing this review will serve as reminder for me.

Superchunk closed the night, and I know you might find this surprising, but they were absolutely amazing. Just like the last time I saw them, and the time before that, and every other time I've seen them over the last 15 years. Put it this way - the second and third songs were "Detroit Has A Skyline" and "Cast Iron", possibly my two all-time favorite songs by them. After that they could have farted into the microphone for the rest of the set and I would have gone home happy. Luckily, they laced up a whole bunch of other amazing songs - "The First Part", "Driveway to Driveway", "Punch Me Harder", "Watery Hands" all come to mind, as well as their newer singles "Learned to Surf" and "Crossed Wires". To top it all off, they finished the night with a Clean cover (with the help of The 3Ds, whose set I unfortunately missed by standing out back making small talk with some friends), "Slack Motherfucker" and "Precision Auto". It was a couple of minutes before 2 A.M. when they struck their final note, and I'd guess no more than a handful of folks had left early, it was that good of a set. When the music is that good, who needs sleep?

The Rosebuds at the Jackpot - 7/20/2009

The Rosebuds
The Jackpot

I'm not sure this was even a show, more of a gathering, but I decided to write it up anyways. As part of the festivities for Merge Fest XX, The Rosebuds sent out a text saying they would be at the Jackpot in a few hours playing some songs and filming it to be used later in a possible DVD commemorating the anniversary. So there was a small gathering of fans at the bar, waiting on the band, many wondering where the hell they were actually going to perform in the place. And then after a bit of standing around, here comes the acoustic two-piece version of the Rosebuds through the front door, already playing a song, with a camera crew tagging along behind them. Ivan & Kelly played a few songs there in the middle of the bar, the crowd gathered around and singing along at all the right parts - it felt like a campfire sing-a-long...minus the camp, and the fire, and the bears trying to get into your food. I know they played "Nice Fox" and "Bow To The Middle" and my memory falters after that...I probably asked for "Bluebird" and was rebuffed.

At some point the bartender noted this show was the first and most likely last rock show ever held at the Jackpot. That is if you can call a duo of pop musicians playing acoustically "rock". You can definitely call it awesome.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blag'ard / Mount Vicious at DIVEbar - 7/12/2009

with Mount Vicious


My friend Conan used to have a band in Oakland called Replicator. I saw them many, many times over my eight years in the Bay Area, and they always brought (a) the rock and (b) the fun. Like most bands, eventually Replicator broke up, but Mount Vicious soon rose from the ashes.

Soon thereafter Mount Vicious went on a tour across the country, and this tour included a stop at the DIVEbar in Raleigh. Since no one knows them out here, it was a Sunday night, and to be perfectly honest I had no idea there were even shows at this venue, expectations were low across the board.

But low expectations and even lower turnout didn't diminish the rock that Mount Vicious brought this evening. Where Replicator were almost as much about restraint as anything else, the Mounting ones were all about balls-to-the-wall seventies-style rock...loud, anthemic, the sort of songs you want to pump your fist in the air to. And to go with their originals, they included two tasty covers in their set - “Just What I Needed” by the Cars and “Action” by Sweet, the latter of which is going to be on a split seven inch with Big Business (who are also going to be covering a Sweet song, can't wait to hear that) that will be released in the future.

Closing the night was local band Blag'ard, a guitar/drums two-piece that are classic angular Chapel Hill rock through and through. Hey remind me of a stripped down version of an older local band I used to absolutely love, Capsize 7, and for good reason – they share a key band member. Capsize 7 was a criminally underrated band in my opinion, never getting the press and the crowds they deserved, and based on this one Blag'ard show...sadly, things haven't changed. But that didn't keep them for putting a short, blistering performance that I enjoyed quite a bit. There will definitely be more Blag'ard shows in my future.

On somewhat of a side note, I found out that there is a completely unreleased Capsize 7 record that may see the light of the day soon. This makes me so happy I could piss my pants where I sit. Wait...too late.

Lonnie Walker / Hammer No More The Fingers at Tir Na Nog - 7/17/2009

Lonnie Walker
with Hammer No More The Fingers
Tir Na Nog

Sometimes you just want to get out of the house. My man Ivan told me about a benefit show at Tir Na Nog - it was only five bucks, I was sitting around the house bored out of my mind, so why not see some local bands? Of course, I got a quick reminder on why it is better to keep your ass at home when I got caught in a speed trap and received my first ticket in over a decade. So my five dollar night out turned into a hundred seventy-five dollar night out. This is obviously more dollars than one should spend on a night out of local music, but what was done was done and might as well have a fun night out, moping don't make a ticket go away.

I think there might have been 463 bands playing that night, but I didn't really start paying attention until Hammer No More The Fingers took the stage. When I look at the music listings it seems like this band plays out eight nights a week, but somehow I'd never seen them before. And all that playing out has apparently worked for them, as they had a group of fans there who knew all the songs and were singly along in the most animated fashion. They had a decent sound - my favorite songs had a bit of a Modest Mouse-meets-Weezer vibe, which sounds odd but worked for the most part. There was one song in particular that sounded a whole lot like Weezer's "Say It Ain't So", but that was a good thing in my book, that is possibly Weezer's best song. My only criticism was a lack of guitar punch - I'm not sure if the live mix was off or the band needs a second axe man, but I got it stuck in my head that a little more guitar riffage would really beef up the sound. Then again, the band seems headed in the right direction so it's probably better just to ignore any advice I have on the matter.

As enjoyable as Hammer No More The Fingers was, the real treat of the night was Lonnie Walker. The name makes me think it would be an old grizzled honky-tonker playing some Hank Williams Sr. covers, but Lonnie Walker is a band and apparently contains no one actually named "Lonnie Walker". This band was a scorcher, fronted by a singer with a big personality and a voice that sounded similar to so many yet stood on it's own. The list of comparisons I could make to their music is long - Bob Dylan, Violent Femmes, Talking Heads, Pixies, and my friends kept mentioning The Proclaimers (though my personal knowledge of that band is limited at best). They don't sound like any of these bands and sound like all of them at the same time, all mashed together. And it works - they had a number of songs that had me instantly excited, no small task for a band I'd never heard a single note from before this night. They were almost good enough to make forget about that damn ticket, if only for a couple of minutes.

T-Model Ford/Shake It Like A Caveman at The Grey Eagle 7/3/09

T-Model Ford
with Shake It Like A Caveman
The Grey Eagle

I was making a fourth of July holiday weekend visit home, and decided to round up my good man Nate for a last minute show in Asheville. Blues legend T-Model Ford was playing, and how many times do you get a chance to see a true legend?

There was only one opener - a one man band going by the name of Shake It Like A Caveman. Despite that unfortunate choice in name, the guy played some pretty interesting music - he had a simple drum kit he played with his feet while he wailed on his guitar and sang. It had a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion feel to it - sloppy, bluesy, distorted vocals, good time party music what for booty shaking and such. Very enjoyable, all told, and a nice set-up for what was to follow.

T-Model Ford - the man is a national treasure, and that is putting it lightly. 89 years old, and the cat rocks harder than most folks a quarter of his age. This is raw, dirty, pull-no-punches juke-joint delta blues, played by one of the masters of the genre. A number of times throughout the night he would address the crowd with the following quote:

"T-Model Ford...from Greenville, Mississippi...and that's for goddamn sure!"

For a man who lived a rough life, spending a stint of time in jail for murder, and not even picking up the guitar until his late fifties, there is a measure of attitude when he delivers a phrase like that...the man MEANS it. And he meant it on this night, to the tune of more than two hours of gritty blues music, tracks like "Back Door Man" and "Chicken Head Man" and other gems,hilarious between song banter, and some scorchin' guitar work. After a couple of hours, his band left the stage giving the sense that the show is over, but that didn't stop Ford - he just kept playing music, some which seemed made up on the spot...but that didn't make it any less entertaining. Eventually, his bassist starting selling CDs at the side of the stage and not only did I buy one, but I had T-Model Ford sign his mark on it. I probably haven't asked for an autograph since I was a little kid, but my inner child wanted this great man's signature.

Summer Set at the Whiskey - 6/27/2009

Summer Set
The Whiskey

Full disclosure - the brains behind this band, Brian Weeks, has been one of my best friends for close to 15 years now. We even moved to California together after college. But none of that changes the fact that he makes some good music.

I spent most of my college years seing Brian play in a couple of now-defunct bands. And I'd heard some of his "new"
songs as he wrote them in his teal-carpeted bedroom, moping about how things were not going his way on the west coast. And it was this moping (plus a girl) that led him to move back to his college stomping grounds of Wilmington only a year after our move out to SF, formally signaling the beginning of Summer Set.

So anyways, this was my first time getting to see his "new" band Summer Set, and on their home turf of Wilmington. The nice part about going down to the port city for a show in the summer is you can combine a trip to the beach (and Britt's Doughnuts) with a little rockin' out. You also get to soak in the local culture, like the sketchy white trash strumpet who referred to the night club down the street from the Whiskey as "shitty as fuck" at the top of her lungs, after having just given a hot dog vendor crap for no apparent reason.

Anyways, the Summer Set show - I quite enjoyed it. The band has been coming off a bit of a hiatus while nearly every member had a baby, so they sounded pretty good considering they are still trying to round into shape. Most of the set were older songs like "Crackhead in My Car" and "Center of Attention", with a few new songs mixed in and a cover of "Magnet and Steel" by Walter Egan. Given that Polvo was playing the same night just up the street, there was a nice crowd at the gig, certainly full of enthusiastic home town fans glad to be seeing their local favorites back in the limelight.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Camera Obscura at the Cat's Cradle - 6/20/2009

Camera Obscura
The Cat's Cradle

Sometimes the best shows are the ones you have no intention of going to. I was hanging with some friends, a guest list spot was offered, and the idea of combining a visit to Carburitos with some sweet pop music seemed a good reason to get out of the house.

I've seen Camera Obscura a few times and they've always put on a good show, but this was by far the best I've seen them perform. Amongst other reasons, I think this show stood out because they kept it a very "upbeat" affair, not playing as many of their mellow tracks and instead focusing on their bouncy songs, which honestly are always my favorite songs of theirs. The band seemed extremely tight even though this was the first show with a new bassist (the regular guy had to fly back to Scotland to attend to some family matters). The band did a nice job of playing songs from all their albums, not just hitting the new release heavy (an act that generally annoys me...look, I know you're proud of the new record but your fans want to hear some old stuff too!).

And for the record - the Cradle was packed, super packed, and the crowd was really, really into it. I honestly had no idea Camera Obscura was so popular, but good for them. It was certainly a much different crowd from the last time I was at the club (Mastodon a month or two ago) - less black t-shirts, more colorful clothes, more cute girls, and a lot less devil horns being thrown. Not that there is anything wrong with rocking the horns at a pop show, I bet the band appreciates the enthusiasm...

Sunset Rubdown at the Local 506 - 6/15/2009

Sunset Rubdown
The Local 506

If you're going to go to a show at the Local 506 on a hot summer night, you better really love the band or really love sweating, cause if it is a popular, crowded show you're destined to lose a few pounds in that sweat lodge. I know I sweat a lot more than your average joe, but I certainly wasn't the only one in the place who was "glistening".

But enough about my body chemistry issues, I was there to see a rock show dammit. And a I saw a damn good one courtesy of Sunset Rubdown. Oh you Canadians, you like your hockey, you like your Molson, and you know how to write some damn fine indie pop. Spencer Krug and company did a fine job channeling their manic, anxious keyboard-heavy songs into a live setting, and the crowd seemed to really appreciate it. A lot of the set played heavily from their newest album "Dragonslayer", a fantastic record but one I haven't listened to very much yet. Luckily, the new record is so catchy and enjoyable that the songs were plenty fun even without being able to sing along. There were a few older tracks but sadly one of them wasn't "Winged/Wicked Things" from 2007's "Random Spirit Lover".

Really, that was about it...the band played, it was awesome, then it was over. A good rock show, just what the doctor ordered. Assuming this doctor was a fraud, because it you were sick prescribing rock as a cure seems like a terrible idea.

Oh, and the band was selling "acid washed" t-shirts. Acid-washed! I didn't buy one, but maybe I should have, cause who knows when I'll get another chance to buy an acid-washed indie rock shirt, and Canadian no less.

The Rosebuds at the Duke Gardens - 6/10/2009

The Rosebuds
Duke Gardens

One thing I've really been enjoying since I moved back to the Triangle are all of the different venues used for live shows - it's not just locked in to the nightclub-or-houseparty only line of thinking, which seemed to generally be the case with most shows I attended out in the Bay Area.

They held a couple of interesting shows in the Duke Gardens last summer but I never got my ass motivated enough to get out there, but local favorites The Rosebuds were the final straw that got me to actually put on pants and leave the house. Er, well shorts really, it's hot as shit out here these days. It didn't hurt that the show was at 7 PM either, allowing for a musical good time and still home early enough to watch Law & Order reruns.

I've reviewed a thousand Rosebuds shows at this point, it's well documented I love the band, and honestly I don't know what to say that I haven't said so many times already. For an outdoor show, the sound was quite good, the crowd was pretty lively (lots of babies and kids goofing around, as you might expect at an early show set in a bucolic garden), and the band seemed to be having a good time. I was pretty happy because the band seemed to play a lot of songs from my favorite record "Birds Make Good Neighbors", as well as some of their lesser known older tracks that have been featured on various local compilations (whose names I'm much too lazy to look up...this includes the names of the comps and the songs - I'm thorough that way). They also had a few guests join them from time to time - Wes Phillips, one of their many former drummers, played stand-up bass on a bunch of songs and really filled in the sound. There was also a brief appearance by some members of the Lost in the Trees collective, who added a bit of horns to the affair.

A nice summer evening full of good music, I can't imagine it gets any better than that. Well, there could have been ice cream vendors, but other than that...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mastodon at the Cat's Cradle - 5/13/2009

The Cat's Cradle

As per usual, I spent my early evening on this fine Wednesday playing a little basketball with the lads; and not unlike Ice Cube, I messed around and got a triple double (fouls, turnovers, missed shots). I always kinda dread going to shows after I've played ball because my legs are shot, but I assumed I would have a couple of hours to recover and get ready for the rock. The problem is, when I logged on to the Cat's Cradle website to check the start time, it was listed as doors at 6:30, show at 7:30!!! What in the holy hell is this, a Yanni concert?!? Who starts a metal show this early? I was completely confused and bewildered as to what was going on, but the bottom line I was going to have to get on my horse and get to getting if I wanted to see this show.

I finally got to the club around 9:15 or so, only to see a crew of surly types setting up the stage for Mastodon. I was hoping to see at least the end of Kylesa's set, but I've seen them before and I'm sure I'll get a chance to see them again. On the plus side, my tired, basketball-worn old man legs wouldn't be standing for very long tonight.

It wasn't the greatest show I've ever seen Mastodon play, but it was still very good. I'm guessing a big reason I was a little underwhelmed is because the entire first half of the show was from their newest record "Crack the Skye", and I have only listened to it a couple of times. With pretty much any band, knowing the music makes the live experience more enjoyable, but I find this to especially be the case with metal music for whatever reason.

after about 45 minutes of only new songs, the band left the stage...certainly, this wasn't the whole show was it? No it wasn't; they were running this thing Broadway-style, with an intermission between two sets...the first set being all new, and the second set being all older songs. I'm terrible with song names with this band in particular, but I know they played a bunch of tracks off of "Leviathan" to help fulfill by "metal songs about whales" needs. the crowd of almost entirely dudes in black t-shirts got noticeably more animated for these older, well-loved tracks, with no shortage of devil horns thrown in the air both before AND after the song. And we all know nothing is more metal than throwing the devil horns at a concert, saluting the band with a message of "I enjoy your songs to the extent that I will contort my fingers into a fanciful shape and raise them above my head, in unison with my fellow crowd members".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Superchunk at the Cat's Cradle - 4/15/2009

The Cat's Cradle

Like any other Superchunk show, I was standing there doing my ridiculous version of dancing, singing along quietly and gawking at Laura Balance, when it occurred to me that I have had a crush on her for around 18 years now. 18 years!!! That means I've spent more of my life fawning over her than I haven't. I'm getting old. Laura Balance is getting old. And Superchunk, yeah they are getting old too.

This Wednesday night gig was intended as a warm-up for their impending weekend outing to the enormous music festival Coachella. As per usual, the fans were very receptive and excitable getting to see the hometown heroes; though the Cradle was surprisingly not packed and sweaty as I'm used to for a Chunk show - it was crowded, but not uncomfortably so.

I was expecting some songs off of their new EP "Leaves in the Gutter", and there were a couple from that release (a really good EP, in case you were wondering...shows off the raucous, upbeat side of the band with obvious heavy pop leanings). But what I wasn't expecting was how many old songs they would be playing...outside of "The Popular Music" off of "Indoor Living" and the new tracks, there wasn't a single song released after 1995. Lots of crowd favorites - "Precision Auto", "Hyper Enough", "Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus", and "throwing Things". More importantly, they played three of my top-five all-time favorite Superchunk songs: "Driveway to Driveway", "Detroit Has a Skyline", and the rarely heard but amazing "Animated Airplanes Over Germany". The band was having such a good time they played not one but two encores, closing out the night with, you guessed it, "Slack Motherfucker".

Hopefully with them releasing their first new music since 2001 and playing a few shows, hopefully this outing marks the beginning of a Superchunk resurgence. God knows it would make my life more complete if there was a new Chunk record to listen to, some live shows to attend...and of course some more opportunities to stare at Laura Balance.

Morrissey at the House of Blues - 3/6/2009

House of Blues

This was by far the weirdest Morrissey show I have ever seen. I guess that is to be expected when you go see a man this sensitive in a town as ridiculous as Myrtle Beach, where we passed no less than two dozen miniature golf courses and about 400 "Wings" stores en route to the House of Blues.

The man from Manchester had canceled all of his shows in the tour previous to this one because he was "sick", and we were checking the website every day to see if this concert would be canceled as well. Luckily, the show went on as planned even though it was obvious that Morrissey's voice was not 100% healthy.

I'm guessing it was also due to this sickness that he only played for a little over an hour, a very short show by typical Morrissey concert standards (that aren't cut short by him wigging out over stage crashers or being able to smell meat cooking or god knows what else). It was still a good outing, fairly typical for the shows he has been putting on these last few years - lots of new songs from the last couple of records, virtually nothing from his early or middle solo era (I think "Sister, I'm a Poet" was the only song from this period), and a few classic Smiths songs ("This Charming Man", "How Soon is Now?", and "Ask" if I recall correctly). All perfectly fine songs, especially the smiths tracks, but what I wouldn't give to hear "Sing Your Life" or "I Don't Mind If You Forget Me" or "Speedway" or about a bazillion other overlooked classics.

I was going to ramble on about how strange the crowd was, an odd combination of hipsters, Myrtle Beach tourists, businessmen just off of work and tarted up middle age women, but I wouldn't even know where to begin. what I do know is the woman with the perm standing next to me looked like she had just stepped out of a time machine from 1983. In fact, she may have been one of my elementary school teachers...

(photo yanked from somewhere random online, that probably got it somewhere else...)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gentleman Jesse & His Men / The Black Lips at The Cat's Cradle - 3/4/09

Gentleman Jesse & His Men
with The Black Lips
The Cat's Cradle

Every once in a while a band comes along that plays pop music the way it is meant to be played...that band is Gentleman Jesse & His Men. This Atlanta group is fronted by a man named, get this, Jesse! Jesse Smith to be exact, a member of the Carbonas, a good punk band that may be broken up now but I'm too lazy to research it. I saw the Carbonas play a few years back in Oakland and they were quite good (even if I did like openers Beat Beat Beat better, the side-project band of another one of the members). I'm not qualified to report on Jesse's gentlemanlyness, but I certainly have no problem noting that he can write some amazing pop songs full of hooks.

They put on a fantastic live show - song after song that I had to restrain myself from singing along to like I do in the car. They played a lot of songs from their self-titled debut album, as well as some new tracks and a King Tuff cover. It was a very no nonsense affair, no goofy banter, no overlong tuning problems, just an onslaught of power pop that you'd think was straight out of a time machine from 1980. After a blistering set and a lot of bad dancing on my part, I promptly loaded up at the merch table and can now be seen tooling around suburbia in a Gentleman Jesse t-shirt that surely dumbfounds the soccer moms.

Despite my enthusiasm, Gentleman Jesse was not why most folks were at this show, but rather they were there to see the controversial Black Lips, they of the stage pissing and fighting and making out with each other on stage. It always felt a bit put on to me, but I'm no expert in relieving ones self while performing live so who knows?

I've tried and tried to listen to the Black Lips, and have many friends who swear by them, but something about them has always rubbed me the wrong way. I'd never seen them live though and decided to stick around for a few songs and see if my mind could be changed. The verdict? Eh, not really. While their music is definitely more enjoyable in a live setting, it's still nothing special in my book - typical garage rock with a slight psychedelic tinge (though their newest record is a step in a better, more original direction). I do give them bonus points for gratuitous and enthusiastic use of the smoke machine in combination with some 60's era psychedelic light show effects, but I still took off after about 30 minutes not won over by this band yet again.

(I actually took photos of Gentleman Jesse, these will obviously get posted on the main website whenever I get around to processing the film)

Polvo / Birds of Avalon at the Pour House - 2/7/2009

with Birds of Avalon
The Pour House

This Polvo reunion basically coincided with my moving back to the Triangle...coincidence? I doubt it. Clearly, they heard I was moving back and the area as a whole wanted to make a good impression to keep me around. An Archers of Loaf reunion would have been nice too, maybe even have Superchunk play out more often, but the real prize was Polvo reforming. So let me take this moment to thank the Triangle, it's peoples and the band Polvo for reforming solely for my behalf - it really means a lot.

This was my second time seeing them since their reformation (technically third time, but since the second time only consisted of a half a song, I'm not sure I'm going to count it). That first show, the official "reunion" I guess, was amazing just because I was getting to see them again, the nostalgia and adrenaline rushing through your body as if you had just reunited with your high school sweetheart. But I guess it wasn't just a lark - they're still playing together, and not only that - writing new songs. Really, really good new songs, as if they had never taken any time off at all.

Most of their set featured a lot of the same songs from the last time I saw them..."Feather of Forgiveness", "Fast Canoe", "Enemy Insects" and "Lazy Comet". On top of that, they played a "sorta" cover of Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" that started out legit, morphed into a Polvo song (whose name escapes me), and then finished the track up back with the Zep song. And then they closed the night out with one of the greatest songs of all time, "Every Holy Shroud". You can't really end a set better than that, unless maybe you are Oprah giving away free cars and cuisinarts.

Openers Birds of Avalon also deserve a mention - made up of a murderer's row of local talent (including former members of Cherry Valence and The Weather), these lads (and one lady) basically set the stage on fire playing 70's-era hard rock with a nod towards prog rock, but not so much that it became a noodily wankfest that generally plagues most prog rockers. And most importantly they were tight - as tight as a cheapskate's tipping hand, as my grandfather always said. Rumor on the street is they are recording a new album, most likely a leading factor in their setting the stage on fire and something to keep your eyes open for in the future.

(Photo found randomly online; baby did not perform with band when I saw them)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The King Khan & BBQ Show / The Jacuzzi Boys at The Grey Eagle - 11/25/2008

The King Khan & BBQ Show
with The Jacuzzi Boys
The Grey Eagle

I managed to go to two good shows in Asheville in the span of three days. I'm not sure this has ever happened in this town, ever, unless you consider good shows to involve a lot of noodly guitar or bad cover bands.

This was a double-bill of bands I wanted to see even...opening the events were the Jacuzzi Boys, a trio of kids from Florida who weren't playing shitty metal or hardcore (I was given the impression early in life that was the only sort of bands who came from Florida). They did the dirty garage-punk thing like the Black Lips have made popular recently, only I'm pretty non-plussed by the Black Lips but found the Jacuzzi Boys quite entertaining. They had a layer of pop to their sound that made their gruff rockers quite catchy, which is probably what held my ear so firmly and drove me to the merch table later to pick up a seven inch by them. And now the state of Florida is 1 for 4,376 in the "bands that don't make you want to leap head-first into a moving train" competition.

I've seen the King Khan & BBQ Show many times, both together and as separate entities, and this was by far the worst crowd I've ever experienced. Like most "bad crowds", it's really just a handful of assholes making everyone else look stupid, but this group were going at it like there was an award to be won for pissing off the greatest number of people. It was so awful even the band was calling them out for it, but they were either too dumb to understand what was going on, or too high to care. At one point these two girls from the ass pack (one of which looked to be in a heroin nod) got on stage, wherein BBQ let them know that they had a strict "no whores on stage" policy and they would have to leave. Eventually a handful of them got kicked out and things mellowed out a bit, but not before putting most of the audience in a bad mood.

But you know what? Despite that crew of douche nozzles and douche nozzlettes, it was still a fine outing the duo. King Khan was dressed in his Sunday best sequined dress and matching veil, complete with a trash can next to him in the event he needed to vomit (apparently he had a touch of food poisoning). They played nearly every song you'd want to hear from them - "Waddlin' Around", "Fish Fight", "Shake Real Low"...all your favorite doo-wop influenced garage rock jams. There was even a brief cover song, as King Khan performed Johnny Thunders' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" while BBQ fixed a broken drum pedal. As bad as much of the crowd was, the band made up for it with a raucous good time.

(Photo actually taken at a solo BBQ show in Oakland a few years back, everything I took on this evening was shitty; and yes, I realize I say this a's because I take a lot of bad photos.)

Flute Flies / Magic Babies at the Local 506 - 12/12/2008

Flute Flies
with Magic Babies
Local 506

Nothing quite like a free show, just as god intended. If god were a cheapskate.

This gig was a celebration of the launching of CyTunes, a local music download website used to raise money for the fight against cancer, dedicated to the memory of local man-about-town and friend to all, Cy Rawls, who recently died from the disease. Many local bands have released exclusive and long out-of-print songs on the site, and I'd encourage everyone truck on over there and do a bit of shopping.

Besides the website unveiling, there were some live bands as well...first up was the Magic Babies, featuring a bunch of former members of The Weather. they played a very Sloan-like piano/keyboard driven 70's power pop, lots of hooks and harmonizing and pleasant vocal melodies. Their best songs sounded like they could have been off a long lost Records or 20/20 album, a high compliment in my book.

The main reason I drove over the the Hill from suburbia though was the Flute Flies. A local "super group" of sorts, featuring members of the Rosebuds, the Sames, Schooner and Ashley Stove, these kids got together and wrote, recorded and released a few tracks to be sold exclusively on CyTunes. Their set consisted of these three songs, each one of them a fine composition, as well as songs by their respective original bands, only switched up a bit from their original form. Even though Ivan of the Rosebuds was in the group, when they chose to play a couple of his tracks ("Back to Boston" and "Drunkards"), he didn't sing either, instead letting others handle that duty. It gave songs that I knew inside-out some new life, a fun bit of diversion from the norm.

It was a great night, good times from start to finish, and for a good cause on top of that. I'm sure Cy would have loved it.