Tuesday, March 30, 2010

U.S. Christmas / Caltrop at The Nightlight - 1/22/2010

U.S. Christmas

with Caltrop
The Nightlight

Sometimes a band has to wander down out of the mist of the hills and perform for the fanciful folks of the city. Such was the case with U.S. Christmas, a band based out of Marion, a small town up near Asheville at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. I know this town well, as my mom lives there...the idea that any music of quality could come out of that hamlet of insular goofs should be a surprise to anyone who has ever been there. And I know the band well, or at least the singer/guitarist Nathan Hall - we grew up together and have remained fairly close since high school. I could now make some caveat about about being fair and balanced in my reporting on the band despite my personal connections, but fuck it...it's my stupid website and I can be as unbalanced as I'd like.

This was my first time seeing USX with their "new" line-up - the only holdovers from the old band is Nate and guitarist Matt. The group has now swollen to seven members, including two drummers and a violinist, and in my opinion they sound much, much better now. They were a good band before, but they seem so much tighter now, these new members much more accomplished musicians. And what the hell, I just love bands with two drummers.

There was a nice crowd on hand - not packed, but certainly full. Earlier in the week they received a big write-up in the Independent, which I'm sure helped the cause. It also didn't hurt that they were playing with local rock icons Caltrop. But the crowd gathered, Nate took off his shirt as per usual, and the rock began. There were songs from their full length on Neurot "Eat The Low Dogs", there were songs I didn't recognize...fast songs, slow songs, grind you up and spit on you songs. I've long struggled to describe this band, and the closest I've ever come Neil Young circa the "Dead Man Soundtrack" fronting Hawkwind and playing covers of early "Umma Gumma" era Pink Floyd songs. Yes, I know how preposterous that sounds, and I don't care. It was awesome, they were awesome, and if they ever decide to make it down to the Triangle again, go see them rock your cock out and subsequently off.

Between helping the lads load out their 18 metric tons of equipment, I caught the bulk of Caltrop's set. They had two drummers as well (for those keeping count at home, that is four drummers for two bands, drastically throwing off the drummer ratio), lending a very strong backline to some pretty stellar stoner/sludge metal. These local kids were much more "straight-forward" in their rocking than U.S. Christmas, but just as enjoyable in a slightly different way. This is music you can literally bang your head to, and then wake up the next morning wondering why your neck is so sore and then remembering that you're in your mid-thirties and too old to hesh out for an entire evening.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Veelee / Old Bricks at Slims - 1/21/2010


with Old Bricks

Decided to get out of the house on a rainy night and see some good newish local music at Slims. I'd never been to Slims before, at least not the Raleigh one...I've stared at those stupid poles at the Slims in SF about a thousand times though, so as long as there were no support beams directly in my line of sight of the band it would be an upgrade.

Old Bricks opened the night. They are two brosephs, a drum/guitar duo with the guitarist occasionally getting drummy himself. My first impression was that they reminded me of The Dodos, only a little less pop and a little more older Animal Collective weird. It was a short set, but pretty damn good...the drums playing off one another, weird loopy effects on the vocals and guitar, and a crowd full of cute girls having inane conversations and only occasionally paying attention to the music. I'm definitely going to make a point to see them play again in the near future.

This was my second time seeing Veelee, but the previous viewing was for only the last couple of songs of their set so I was glad to see a full offering. I believe my impression then was "Stereolab meets Sonic Youth", but upon seeing more of their show I'd add in a healthy dose of Blonde Redhead too. More than any one band though they reminded me of something that would have come out on K Records or Kill Rock Stars in the mid-nineties, and most likely been very popular. Not saying they won't be popular in these modern rogh-n-tumble days...I've recently come to realize I got no idea what the kids like anymore. I think this realization came when I found out a lot of young hipster bands are releasing limited edition cassettes. Yes, cassettes. But anyways, my second viewing confirmed that I definitely liked Veelee, and the crowd (whose average age was at least 10 years younger than me) seemed to be digging them too.

The Rosebuds / Megafaun / Lonnie Walker at the Pour House - 1/8/2010

The Rosebuds

with Megafaun and Lonnie Walker
The Pour House

This was a good way to start off the new year, with some of my very favorite local bands and people. I even got the old lady to join me, something that doesn't happen all that often.

It seems like I've seen Lonnie Walker at least a half dozen times in the last year and they continue to blow me away. I still haven't bought their record but I feel like I know all their songs by heart (including the Future Islands song they always cover). I'm at a loss of what to say about them after multiple reviews - how about THIS BAND IS FUCKING AWESOME AND EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE THEM PLAY. They get better every time I watch them perform, and they were outstanding the very first time I saw them. Reminder to self: buy their damn record next time I see them play, because then I can listen to them at home and not have to wait until the next time I see them live. Luckily, they play often and I usually don't have to wait too long.

Megafaun had the middle slot on the bill. Despite the stylistic differences, they often play with the Rosebuds since the bands are good friends, and we all know the old saying "bros before shows". Like a fine wine or a good stinky cheese, Megafaun has grown on me with age. Where I was once fairly lukewarm on their music and performances, I find myself enjoying them more and more with each successive listen. Yeah, there's a certain crunchy-jamband-hippy vibe to their music, but in the best possible way, like classic Grateful Dead crossed with the best Iron & Wine songs. What really stands out with the band is their vocal harmonizing...those boys really know how to sing together, it's as pretty as a butterfly and a faerie humping on a geranium. And I'm not going to top that comparison so let's just move on.

Local lad and lassie The Rosebuds closed out the evening, as they so often do around here. It's good to be the king, and they are clearly tops in the local market when it comes to catchy pop music. I've seen and reviewed this band countless times, and for good reason - they always deliver. They had one of the thoroughbreds from their stable of drummers, Matt McCaughan, on drums this evening, and it was good to see him as he seems to spend so much time on the road these days with Bon Iver.

The show was great, no surprise there...these kids always put on an energetic evening of damned catchy songs. Lots of crowd participation and sing-a-longs, even the chatty scenesters stopped talking long enough to have a good time. They seemed to draw a little more heavily from their third record "Night of the Furies" or "the dance record" as my brain remembers it, but they spread the love around all the records. Ivan even dedicated one of my favorite songs, "Border Guards", to me! I felt like the prettiest girl at the Winter Formal. The only bad thing - no "Blue Bird", despite my hounding Ivan constantly that they must play this song every show. Hell, if they played it five times per show I would be happy, that track never gets old. But minus that one minor transgression, a fine evening of amazing local music...to say we are spoiled in the Triangle would be an understatement.

Lonnie Walker / Schooner / Veelee at the Duke Coffee House - 11/7/2009

Lonnie Walker

with Schooner and Veelee (Troika Festival)
Duke Coffee House

My second night of Troika festivities, and this time with a compatriot. My homeslice from Wilmington was in town for the UNC-Duke football game (he's a Duke fan, but otherwise a good guy), and we decided to meet up for some dinner and a little rockin' out.

After a stopover at the Green Room pool hall where I handed him his ass, we trucked over to the Duke Coffee House to see a band called Veelee on the stage. I had no idea who this band was, but the really wowed me in the couple of songs I saw them play. One track had a Stereolab vibe and the other was shades of Sonic Youth...no idea if this is indicative of their entire catalog, but I sure hope so. They also reminded me of Bay Area power duo Moggs - most likely because Veelee is also a cute boy/girl duo who like to rock out. They are definitely on my radar now and hopefully I'll see them again very soon. (Side note: download their free three song EP at the above link, it's well worth a listen.)

I've know Reid, the front man for Schooner for quite a while; I've seen him play with the Rosebuds and other bands, I've even seen him solo; but up until now, I'd never seen him perform with his proper band. I'd listened to their recordings and knew the songs were great, but it was good to hear them played live and verify what I already knew. Outside of the keyboard not being loud enough in the mix, the band put on a fantastic display of clean pop songs in the vein of Versus, Starflyer 59, and even local favorites The Rosebuds. Schooner doesn't seem to play out all that often, but they are well worth checking out on those odd occasions they actually take the stage.

Lonnie Walker were the headliners...I've reviewed them a couple of times at this point and I'm running out of things to say. They have easily crept into my "top 5 favorite local bands" list that I'm continually revising in my head, and they still sound like the Talking Heads crossed with the Band (with occasional Pavement overtones). It struck me while they were performing what it is that sets them apart from most local acts - too often bands come up with a sound, and then all of their songs sound pretty much exactly the same, with various changes in tempo and key. But Lonnie Walker manage to have a big, diverse sound full of very different songs that remain tied together by the spastic guitar work and unique vocals of frontman Brian Corum. It's this fact that sets them apart and may take them to another level of fame. They certainly deserve it.

Gentleman Jesse & His Men / Dex Romweber Duo at the Trotter Building - 11/6/2009

Gentleman Jesse & His Men
with Dex Romweber Duo (Troika Festival)
Trotter Building

I was excited about the number of good shows being offered at this year's Troika Festival, but the down side of so many high quality entertainment options is you have to miss something. I had completely different plans scheduled this evening - Pipe at the Broad Street Cafe - until I noticed a late addition to the schedule, Atlanta's Gentleman Jesse & His Men. This band of pop savants recorded my favorite record of 2008; this combined with first-hand knowledge that they put on a fantastic performance and there was no way I was going to miss this gig.

Hammer No More the Fingers were finishing their set when I walked in - it was the typical scene for them, the room brimming with a bunch of kids going nuts over every note the band makes. They sound better every time I see them, but I'm not quite at that level of fanaticism. And no sooner than when Hammer finished their set, the entire place emptied outside of a couple dozen stragglers and two or three die-hard Gentleman Jesse fans (I'm including myself in these numbers). But they rocked it out regardless, not letting the lackluster attendance dampen their ability to deliver some of the catchiest pop music of the last few years. They performed the bulk of their Self-Titled album as well as a handful of new songs that I eagerly await being released in the (hopefully) near future. Be there five or five hundred fans, I'm always going to be front and center for a Gentleman Jesse show, and all those folks who left early really did themselves, especially their ears, a disservice.

Despite my drooping eyelids, I made myself stick around for part of the Dex Romweber Duo set. Of course I've known the man's work with Flat Duo Jets for about half of my life, though I never managed to see them live. Simple put, the man is a virtuoso, a real pleasure to watch perform. He has a strong voice and his sister does a fine job on the drums, but if you're like me you spend the entire time watching his hands move across that guitar. He was playing an old beat up Silvertone, making it sing like a bird; I point out the make of the guitar because I actually own a Silvertone and that thing goes out of tune if you just think about playing it. I'm not sure how or what he did to the thing, but Dex made the guitar sound like the finest instrument known to man in his hands. He's the kind of musician that even if you're not crazy about the way his songs sound, you'd still enjoy his live performance.

The King Khan & BBQ Show at the Local 506 - 11/3/2009

The King Khan & BBQ Show

Local 506

I've seen a lot of King Khan & BBQ Show performances over the years, and if you throw in their solo outings it probably doubles the number. They've never failed to entertain me, and this gig was no exception...only in a slightly different way than normal. Most of the times I've seen them, the music has been good but it has always taken a backseat to King Khan and his antics, be it as pedestrian as stripping naked on stage to dress like a woman, to more advanced topics like teabagging unsuspecting audience members. But tonight, they were all business. Sure, they still had on some relatively silly outfits - Khan in a fringy dress, BBQ in his trademark turban - but it was clear the music was taking center stage this evening...no goofing off, just song after song of catchy goodness.

As always, the doo wop-inspired songs like "Waddlin' Around" are my favorite songs by the band, and this show had plenty of them. BBQ's voice shined like a star this evening really belting out these tunes to a rapt audience. These songs were interspersed amongst the more upbeat garage tracks that general dominate their set lists, ass shaking music for the non-dancing set. It's probably indicative of my more recent listening tastes, but it had never occurred to me how much this band reminds me of Hasil Adkins. If only there had been a cover of "No More Hot Dogs", that would have really put things over the top. What they did play a cover of was the New York Doll's "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory", a cover that King Khan played last time I saw them as a between song lark, but was a tad more fleshed out this go around.

In an unprecedented move (at least at the shows I've been to), the band added a third member for their last couple of songs, a fella named Chip who played the organ while wearing a tuxedo and top hat. It added a little extra dimension to their songs, really rounded out the sound. What wasn't unprecedented was that like most King Khan & BBQ shows, there were some assholes in the crowd. In this case, it was some jack off standing at the front of the stage who decided it would be a good idea to throw a beer bottle over his head and into the folks behind him, hitting someone and setting off a scuffle that had the cops show up to sort shit out. It's just not a good night out if your entertaining rock show doesn't end with sirens.