Monday, September 28, 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 bands...it'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.
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.
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 guitar...it 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 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
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?
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.