Thursday, June 16, 2011

U.S. Christmas / Black Skies / Royal Thunder at Kings - 5/27/2011

U.S. Christmas  
with Black Skies and Royal Thunder

To paraphrase Dante from “Clerks”, I wasn't even supposed to be here! By the time U.S. Christmas (or USX as the kids call them) took the stage to open the night, I should have been getting ready to arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But thanks to a freak thunderstorm that nearly washed Chapel Hill away, my flights got screwed up and the trip got pushed to the next day. The downside was my (already short) vacation was now less a day but I still had to pay for a hotel room I'd booked. The upside...well, at least there's rock.

The live version of USX has been in a state of flux lately – you never know how many or what members you're going to get from show to show. Justin playing some very subdued drums. It was a very mellow show by their standards, with the violin playing a large role in their sound and Nate even playing acoustic guitar on a couple of songs. This wasn't “MTV Unplugged” metal, but then again USX ain't a typical metal band. Their songs actually lend rather well to the hushed treatment, coming off like hushed mountain ballads performed by Neil Young collaborating with Dirty Three. The crowd seemed to really dig it, and a decent size crowd it was considering they started their set before it was even 10 PM on a Friday night.

The second band was Black Skies, a local three-piece outfit featuring “that dude that works at the Cat's Cradle” on guitar and vox. They had a real heavy, straight-forward metal sound – chugga-chugga metal heavy, but not cheesy at all. The Cradle guy and the gal bassist both sang, but it didn't matter because you could barely hear them. And I usually don't like the vocals in metal anyways so...I ain't heartbroken. But the music sounds good...real heavy, loud and brutal.

I stuck around for a few songs of Royal Thunder before heading home – had to catch a somewhat early flight to get this vacation back on track. Nate from USX had played me a few songs of theirs just the weekend before (I actually talked him into going to the Archers of Loaf show with me, probably his first non-metal show in...forever), and I liked what I heard. The live show matched my first impression from hearing them previously – the sort of music you'd get if early Jefferson Airplane went metal. The music was heavy but not fast, and the singer's vocals had a bluesy Grace Slick flavor to them. Couple great music with them having their own light show and a giant gong, and I'm pretty sure you've got a winner with this one. Hopefully they come back through in the near future when I can take in their whole set.

Mount Moriah / Organos at Kings - 5/14/2011

Mount Moriah
 with Organos

Mount Moriah released their debut full-length album a few weeks ago, and I've been jonesin' to pick it up. I was going to go to Schoolkids and grab it on a few different occasions, but then this show got announced and I decided to wait and hand the money straight the band itself.

But first, a quick mention of openers Organos, an eclectic six piece pop band featuring Reid from Schooner and someone who recently became a dentist. I have no knowledge of the other bands and/or medical degrees that the other band members might have been involved with. They had enough toy and gimmick instruments on stage to arm two or three elementary school music classes. They sounded like a mix of Elephant 6 eclecticism, almost the entire mid-nineties Teenbeat roster, and the lead singer's voice had an uncanny resemblance to Kim Deal. I would not have been surprised to see these guys open for Unrest at the Cradle in 1993. I would have liked them then, and I liked them now.

This was the Wake County edition of the the CD release party for Mount Moriah. I'd been wanting to pick it up since it was released, but when they announced this show I figured I would just wait and buy it from the band itself, cut out the middleman. No vinyl sadly, but at this point I'd take any avenue to get their tunes into my ears.

It dawned on me that outside of Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller, every time I see this band the rest of the group is entirely different. Which makes it all the more impressive that they always sound so tight and together. They played the bulk of the new record along with at least one new song, all of which sounded great. Kings wasn't sold out but there was a very healthy crowd there, always great to see for the up-and-coming local acts, none more deserving than Mount Moriah. McEntire's voice was resplendent as always, and I had a comparison brought up for it that I had never considered before - Dolly Parton. McEntire's voice is a little deeper, but you could definitely argue they have a similar delivery (especially on the album). Whoever it reminds you of, it's delightful, and I can't get enough of it. If you've put off seeing Mount Moriah for any reason, stop being an idiot. Go to their shows. Buy the record. Make your life better.

Destroyer / The War on Drugs at Cat's Cradle - 4/7/2011

with The War on Drugs 
Cat's Cradle

The War on Drugs played Hopscotch last year, and despite all my friends being gaga over them, I had somewhere else to be during their show. So it was good to finally see what the fuss was about - and the verdict is they are very, very fussable. Even though I haven't listened to them very much, their songs were instantly likeable, making you feel as if you were well versed in their entire catalog. Not an easy feat to pull off. I heard a lot of (electrified) Neil Young and "New Morning" era Bob Dylan in their sound, and my friend Brian was claiming Tom Petty and Dire Straits (though I think the Dire Straits comparison was just for one particular song). Either way, they were highly entertaining, had a "classic rock" sound, and every one of their songs sounded like an old friend from first listen.

Destroyer completely kicked ass tonight, one of the best shows of the year, and they didn't play a single one of my favorite songs. Imagine how I'd feel if they had! Their set was pretty much the entire new(ish) record "Kaputt", plus a couple of older songs - I remember a slightly disco-ized version of "It's Gonna Take an Airplane", and I know "Painter in Your Pocket" got played as well. It was by far the largest version of Destroyer I'd ever seen, with eight band members including a couple of horners (I'm pretty sure that is what you call multiple hornists). It was also my first time seeing the "troubadour" version of Dan Bejar - no guitar, just the man and his microphone and the occasional tambourine shake. He didn't own the stage in a Morrissey-type way, but rather seemed reluctant to be the center of attention. A number of times, when the band was in a non-vocal portion of the song, he would stoop down behind the monitors and have a drink, waiting for his next part of the song. But Destroyer doesn't need flamboyance does it? The songs speak for themselves. Even with a subdued stage show, hearing the music live is such a grand experience, one I wish happened more often in my life.