Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Sea & Cake at the Local 506 11/11/2011

The Sea & Cake
Local 506

I celebrated the meaningless adulation of the date 11/11/11 by going to see The Sea & Cake in Chapel Hill.  I saw them for the the first time in this same town (no big surprise there), only at the Cat's Cradle with Trans Am and Tractor Hips opening on May 4th, 1997.  No, I'm not some sort of date savant, I've still got a poster I bought at the show on my wall (a poster by Casey Burns, no less).  I've seen them maybe one or two other times since then, and a couple of Sam Prekop solo shows, but you just don't get that many opportunities to see the great band live. 

Given the age and style of this band, is it sexist to mention how surprised I was that there were so many young attractive women at the gig?  Probably.  But I was expecting a bunch of middle aged men with beards to dominate the audience, and certainly there were plenty of "us" there, but the ratio was actually decent.  Of course, you really only notice this kind of crap between bands, and once the Sea & Cake started playing it's almost like I'm transported into a world where they are playing a private concert just for me.  Some bands are like this - they always have been.  And of course, they put on a stellar performance as you would expect from this group of seasoned professionals, playing a lot of their newer material with a few classics sprinkled in.  I'm terrible with song names with this band, but I know they played some of my favorites like "The Argument" off of "The Fawn" and "Leeora" plus something else off "The Biz" and thankfully about halfway through they played "Jacking the Ball" from their self-titled album so that asshole who screamed out for between every single song finally shut the fuck up.  Have I mentioned how much I hate these sorts of people?  If I were in a band I'd refuse to play whatever song was being yelled out purely out of spite. 

Anyways, good show.  Hopefully they don't wait so many years to come back again.  The word needs more bands like this. 

M83 / Active Child at Kings 10/29/11

with Active Child

The only show I've anticipated more than this one all year was the "secret" Archers of Loaf show way back in January.  When they announced M83 was going to be playing Moogfest up in Asheville, I would have definitely gone whatever day they played despite not giving a shit about much of the other music and the tickets being damn expensive.  Then when they announced a stop at Kings, that not only I'd get to see them in town but in a very small venue...well, musical nirvana washed over me. 

Active Child opened the show.  I'd seen them play for free a few months ago at Deja Mi Fest in front of the Lincoln Theatre, and was really neither here nor there on them - some interesting moments but overall not really my style of music.  I felt only slightly better about them this go around.  It certainly helped that the sound in Kings was much better than that outdoor show, as this group has a certain subtlety to their music.  I think the big draw of the group is part of what keeps me away - Pat Grossi's voice.  While undeniably remarkable, his operatic style of singing doesn't exactly ruffle my feathers.  I did like the music for the most part though...maybe not the harp so much, which makes them sound like Antony & the Johnsons crossed with Joanna Newsom.  But the rest of the time, probably two-thirds of the set, had a nice Hot Chip feel to it.  Certainly, they were a fitting opener for M83, and the crowd seemed to dig it, or at least dig it as much as they could given how amped up everyone was for the headliner. 

M83 brought an arena rock show to a 250 person venue, complete with extravagant light show and sizable crew of surly roadies who yelled at me because there were some empty beer cans on the edge of the stage.  Beer cans that weren't mine, for the record, not that that kept them from being assholes.  But none of that mattered once the intro started, which led into the first single "Midnight City" from their new album "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" and it was on from there.  Anthony Gonzalez might be a (mostly) one man operation in the studio, but live he leads a four piece band...a band with more pedals than a Guitar Center, multiple keyboard stations, and even an awesome modular synthesizer.  Oh an lasers.  And light boards.  And a smoke machine.  They played a nice, long set, made up mostly of the new record but with just enough older tracks (Teen Angst, Kim & Jessie, Guitar & a Heart, etc) thrown in to keep us longtime fans happy.  Of course I was beyond happy from the first note from all the way to the last note.  Easily one of the best shows of the year...I'll be talking about this one for a while. 

Spider Bags / Wesley Wolfe / T0W3RS at Tir Na Nog 10/20/2011

Spider Bags
with Wesley Wolfe and T0W3RS
Tir Na Nog

This was a pretty exciting version of "Local Beers, Local Bands" - two great groups in Spider Bags and my new crush T0W3RS, plus Wesley Wolfe who I've been meaning to see for quite some time now.  I was there early and excited, staking out a good spot so I could snap some of my mediocre photos...only to discover that the old lady had removed the memory card from my camera and not returned it.  So not only was I not able to take photos, I now had this heavy albatross hanging around my neck, as useless as a tuxedo on casual Friday.  But once the music started, things got better. 

T0W3RS opened the night.  I'd just seen them for the first time a few weeks prior, and instantly became smitten with their larger-than-life shambolic pop.  I keep comparing them to early pre-disco Of Montreal, but there is a ton more going on, from the weird cultiness of Danielson Famile to the chamber pop of Polyphonic Spree to the...well, I feel like I should make some more "current" comparisons but I'm old and out of touch.  And truly, none of those comparisons really sum up their sound, but are rather just a touchstone to give you a general idea of what you are getting into - a shambolic, BIG pop sound, instantly catchy, with band members that are too cute, like woodland creatures morphed into humans that formed a band.  And something tells me of all the crap I wrote here, being compared to woodland creatures is the one they would most agree with.  Oh and they are really, really fun.  Did I forget to mention that?  Obviously, that is the most important, and best part of T0W3RS.

Wesley Wolfe - I honestly didn't know what to expect.  One of my friends mentioned they were good, but our conversation got side-tracked and I never got around to asking what they sound like.  And I'm not sure what the short pigeonholing phrase would be to somewhat sum up their sound, but you remember in the mid-to-late nineties when there were a bunch of catchy bands that were almost "emo" like Get Up Kids or Promise Ring but a lot poppier, more akin to Knapsack or Hey Mercedes?  That's what the bulk of their songs reminded me of.  The rest reminded me of Superchunk or maybe Jawbreaker circa their "Dear You" album after Blake Schwarzenbach had his throat surgery (an unfairly maligned album, and an all-time favorite of mine).  So, you know, it was fun, catchy music with a rock edge, tunes you could bounce to but not really mosh.  I definitely need to hear this band's recorded output, as my interest was piqued.  And as a side note, apparently Wolfe makes his own vinyl records?  I don't mean records the songs and pays for the vinyl himself, but actually creates the albums?  Pretty cool.  That's gotta be an expensive hobby though.

The final band of the night was the always mesmerizing and dumbfounding Spider Bags.  Like Whatever Brains, they are nominally a "punk rock" group, but they are so much more than that in ways that are tough to express.  Really, they're probably closer to early, drunken Replacements...and I'm not saying "drunker than" the Replacements, as that is probably not humanly possible based on the stories I've read, but in the ballpark.  You could probably throw some Velvet Underground comparisons in there as well, based mostly around the singer's Lou Reed-like sing-speak style, but that might be a stretch.  What I do know is they are completely mesmerizing to watch live.  Not only do they take advantage of every inch of the stage, they are almost definitely going to end up in the middle of the crowd at some point, and quite possibly on the floor.  I've seen bands do this for years, so it's nothing new, yet every time it delights me to no end.  Simple pleasures for simple minds I suppose, and I'm okay with that.  Viva la Spider Bags. 

OCSC 10th Anniversary Party at the Cat's Cradle 10/15/2011

OCSC 10th Anniversary Party
with Crooked Fingers, Kerbloki, and Seven Brides for the Meatwagon
Cat's Cradle

Just because I've never actually been to the OCSC, doesn't mean I don't want to celebrate their success.  Especially when it involves a bunch of great bands.

Due to some family in town and a late dinner stuffing myself silly with Mexican food, I got to the Cradle just after Crooked Fingers had started their set.  I've seen them a thousand times so it wasn't end of the world that I was late, but there is also a reason I've seen them so many times - Eric Bachmann always delivers a fantastic show, time and time again.  His sound might slightly morph between different styles, but that booming deep voice of his always ties the music together, much like The Dude's rug really tied the room together.  And like most Crooked Fingers shows, the band was almost completely different from every other time I've seen them, working as a standard four piece this go around.  The material was mostly from their great new album "Breaks in the Armor", but there were a few oldies thrown in there for us long-time fans like "Broken Man", "New Drink for the Old Drunk", and "You Can Never Leave".  There was quite a bit of singing along to "New Drink", and I'm not just talking about myself.  I'd would say I hope they come back around soon, but we all know they will...and I'll be there, and it will be a great show, as always. 

Despite having known JB forever, I'd never seen his band Kerbloki perform live before.  I know at one point they were just a fairly straight-forward hip hop group featuring middle aged white men, but at some point they added the rhythm section of Caltrop and it really gives them that extra...ummph.  Anytime you've got multiple ridiculous outfit changes from multiple band members, you're probably dealing with a good time.  The songs are only mildly funny, with titles like "No Drinks on the Dance Floor", and live you can barely understand what is being said anyways, but the group really brings them to life and jumps around on the stage like kids half their age wish they could.  The crowd was bumping and dancing and laughing the whole set - sure, JB and the rest of the band members probably knew at least three-quarters of the attendees, but who cares...a good time is a good time. 

I'm not sure it's possible to adequately describe the final band of the night, Seven Brides for the Meatwagon.  I first became aware of these guys years and years ago when they would play the Mammoth Records christmas parties in the late nineties.  Basically, it's a cover band featuring local musicians (most noteworthy Jim Wilbur and John Wurster of Superchunk), playing sloppy covers of a wide range of songs.  One minute you'll be getting a Pavement or Dinosaur Jr or Archers of Loaf track, and then that will be followed by Smashmouth or Barenaked Ladies or Ke$ha.  It's a delightful, fun mess that written down or even told as an anecdote to friends doesn't sound nearly as enjoyable as it actually is.  But there is something about a bunch of middle aged white guys playing a drunken, disheveled version of Ceelo's "Fuck You" that really pleases me to no end.  And it wouldn't work if they played all the time of course, but seeing them every 5 or 10 years?  The joke never gets a chance to get old.