Monday, June 6, 2016

Moogfest Day 1: Gary Numan / Zombi / Silver Apples at Motorco - 5/19/2016

Moogfest - Day 1
Featuring Gary Numan, Zombi, and Silver Apples

The first day of the first Durham edition of Moogfest...this is a way easier commute than the Asheville edition!  Despite it being the type of festival where you bounce around from venue to venue, tonight was going to be very easy for me - I was starting at Motorco and not leaving until it was time to walk to the car.  Not only that, this was my most anticipated line-up of the whole event. 

First up for me was Silver Apples, aka Simeon.  When a band is just one man do you refer to it as a he or a they?  Regardless, I saw him nearly twenty years ago (with a drummer that time) opening for Polvo at the Cat's Cradle, and he was already an old dude then...I mention this not to mock him, but purely out of adoration.  The man turns 78 this year and is just as lively, vibrant, and impressive as anyone else at Moogfest, of any age.  This man is nearly as old as my grandma, and here he is on stage tweaking the shit out of his homemade synth (called the Simeon, for the record), making music that formed the backbone of what krautrock and electronic music would come to be.  In my opinion, there aren't many artists as important as Silver Apples in this realm - this band should be the Wikipedia entry when you look up the phrase "ahead of their time."  Oh, did I mention his performance was un-fucking-believably good?  The kind of good where it might end up being my favorite show of the entire year, or at a minimum top three.  He played songs across his entire catalog as well as a few new ones, ending with an epic version of his classic "Oscillations."  As much gushing as I have done here, it still doesn't encapsulate how happy this show made me. 

Often, my excitement for bands that follow an epic performance are unfairly lowered, like a come down after some particularly potent drugs or a damn good milkshake.  It's not the band's fault, just human nature...or at least my personal human nature.  Coming into the festival, Zombi was probably the group I was most excited about - and the thing is, they were totally rad.  A duo from Pittsburgh, their recordings might have you believe they're just a laptop performance (a pretty common sight at Moogfest) - but it was a real, live band up on that stage.  One cat played bass and had a whole shitload of synths, sometimes played separately and occasionally at the same time; the other dude handled the drums, and also seemed to have some sort of synth action, electronic drums, and/or triggers he was working with.  They sounded good, and I enjoyed myself, but I'm pretty sure I would have liked it a lot more if it hadn't immediately followed something so mind-blowing.  I'd be stoked to go see Zombi again though. 

The final act I would see this evening was Gary Numan.  He was holding a three day residency, performing a different album each night  - tonight it was his solo debut, "Replicas."  Much to my dismay none of the nights were focusing on the Tubeway Army record...not that I thought they would, but a man has to have dreams.    I had already been standing in the same spot for three hours, sweaty and uncomfortable, and Numan had the temerity to take the stage at least forty minutes late.  When he did finally show up, at least he and the rest of the band sounded great.  I probably don't need to tell you anything about the set list - feel free to look up the track listing to "Replicas" if you're curious.  A long delay like this one would have been much easier to accept if it happened at one of his next two shows, which are at the seated venue Carolina Theater.  Good god, I'm getting old.  I only made it through about two-thirds of his set before my legs finally waved the white flag, and it was time to go.  Luckily, there would be more opportunities to see Numan the next two days...

Moogfest Day 2: Grimes / Denzel Curry / Gary Numan in Downtown Durham - 5/20/2016

Moogfest - Day 2
Featuring Grimes, Denzel Curry, and Gary Numan
Downtown Durham

My good man Brian came in from Wilmington for the next two nights of Moogfest.  I typically go to shows solo, so it was a nice change of pace to have one of my best friends there for the old man version of rocking and/or rolling. 

We decided to start our night with Grimes.  To be honest, neither one of us knew a thing about her (I actually wasn't even sure if it was a her or a them going into the show), and I mostly went in with an open mind...a mind that closed fairly fast, to be honest.  We lasted two songs, but I was over it halfway through the first.  All of the music appeared to be pre-recorded, and when I say all of the music I'm even including the vocals.  She might have sang along during parts of the song, but there were multiple times (just in the brief time we were there) that the mic was a good two feet from her face but the vocals were still perfect.  It was basically a dance & lip sync performance, which I suppose I might have come around to accepting if I actually liked how it sounded.  I was certainly in the minority in this opinion though - the place was packed and the crowd was eating it up.  I guess I can't always be hip to what the kids like...

We walked next door to Motorco to see what was happening there - I knew it would be hip hop, but I didn't know anything about the artist performing - Denzel Curry.  Turns out it was a young dude out of Miami with great dreads who bounced around the stage like he was on a cocktail of Red Bull and cocaine.  I've never been that great at describing rappers, but the dude had an aggressive, fast style - a style I greatly prefer compared to the stoned mushmouths that seem to get so much of the shine these days.  The music was often some sort of swirly, spacey electropop backed by heavy beats...that's probably a terrible description, but it's what my dumb brain heard.  We took in about a half-dozen tracks before moving on, he gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. 

We headed to the Carolina Theatre from there for Gary Numan, but got there early enough to see some of the "band" before him, Grouper.  And by "band" I mean a woman sitting on the stage, surrounded by electronics, playing music that sounded exactly like one of those CDs of rain forest noises some folks use to go to sleep.  It was, well...there it was. It was a thing.  I was mostly confused, and sleepy.

Finally though, Gary Numan. I liked being up front at Motorco the night before, but I think this theatre was a better setting for him. It certainly was more conducive to his crazy light show; it also didn't hurt he spent the night playing his classic album "The Pleasure Principle" in full. We were in the middle of the second deck, and the sound was much better than the night before, which is probably to be expected given both the better acoustics and a better location in the venue.  Let it also be stated that no matter how many times you've heard "Cars," seeing it performed live is one of life's great treats.  The night might have started off comically bad, but this more than made up for it.

Moogfest Day 3: Mac McCaughan / The Body / Quintron and Miss Pussycat / Sunn O)) in Downtown Durham - 5/21/2016

Moogfest - Day 3
Featuring Mac McCaughan, The Body, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, and Sunn O))
Downtown Durham

On the plus side, today's shows started early; the negative is there was no way in hell we were lasting until the end of the night.  We made our way to a small spot right next to the Carolina Theatre called the Durham Arts Council PSI Theatre just before 4 PM to see Mac McCaughan.  I've seen him somewhere in the range of five million times between all of his projects (Superchunk, Portastatic, solo, etc), but this was the first time I would witness a performance of this fashion - Mac tweaking a bank of synths and keyboards, a dude with a clipboard standing behind him in a judgemental manner, and some modern dancers doing their modern dance thing.  The music was all instrumental and started a little slow, but I was feeling it for the bulk of the set.  Like any other time I've ever seen anything of this nature, I didn't have a goddamn clue what was going on, but I suppose it was interesting enough to watch for a little while.  I'm still unclear if the clipboard guy was a part of the performance, or actually doing something. 

We walked over to the Pinhook from there, the first time the festival had led me to my favorite Durham venue.  Metal duo the Body were next up, a band I have wanted to see live for a little while but, you know, laziness.  I'd be lying if I said I was super familiar with their work, but I'd only heard good things about them from my "metal friends."  A quick scan of the crowd confirmed they were definitely the act to see this weekend if you had a neck tattoo - my bare throat firmly placed me in the minority, or so it felt.  It wasn't the most dynamic live performance I've seen, and I couldn't much tell one song from the next, but I still liked it.  I was expecting a more metal sound, but they were more sludgy and heavy, not that unlike Big Business to be honest.  They actually use guitar versus Jared's bass in Big Business, but it was an extremely low tuned guitar, perhaps even baritone.  I also found it interesting that the drummer didn't use a real bass drum, but rather a pedal that seemed to trigger a distorted, electronic bass drum; which seemed to have some complications, and might have led to them playing such a short set (probably in the range of 20 minutes).      

Next up at the Pinhook was Quintron and Miss Pussycat, yet another band I've meant to see forever but have always put off...I was really able to knock some things off my "to do list" this night!  There was a pack of really annoying Quintron superfans surrounding me, but after seeing the duo's performance it was easy to see how someone could end up like that - they were goddamn amazing, easily one of my favorite performances of the fest.  The show started with a ten minute puppet show, and really well done one at that - I'm no puppet aficionado and/or expert, but the puppets seemed be very well made and the short skit was quite entertaining.  After that was the music - I'm not sure a genre exists in which one could properly file I'm giving them their own genre called "swamp boogie."  Lots of organ and synths, a smattering of drums and cymbals, and a slide guitar, all of which Quintron plays at the same time like a demented one man band.  Some of the music was pre-recorded, but he was definitely doing the bulk of the work.  Miss Pussycat offered some flavor in the form of vocals and percussion (aka them gourd-like shaker things that probably have an actual name that I don't know), but Quintron is mostly running the show.  Although I didn't really know any of the songs, I was way into it from start to finish, and you can be sure I'll be purchasing some of his recordings in the very near future. 

After stuffing ourselves with amazing pizza from Pompieri and a little record shopping at Carolina Soul, we ended our night at the large stage next to Motorco.  Turns out they were holding a smoke machine demonstration...also, I think Sunn O))) was performing somewhere behind all that smoke and you could even occasionally see them.  On the one hand, I sorta get the concept of enjoying the music and not worrying about actually watching the band...on the other hand, if watching them wasn't important why are they all dressed in their fancy demonic monk robes?  Much like when I saw them at Hopscotch a couple of years ago, I'm not entirely sure what to say about the live Sunn O))) experience.  They weren't as loud as last time, I'm guessing largely due to being outdoors.  It was just as smoky as last time, but the machines had to work extra hard - there were probably three on each side of the stage, plus some blowing behind the band.  The audience was about half-ecstatic and half-bewildered at what they were seeing, which I suspect is the norm for their performances (at least at festivals where you get a lot randoms just there to see what the fuss is about).  I still don't understand what they are doing or why they are doing it, but I like it nonetheless...which further confuses me because I'm not even sure why I like it.  Even with earplugs and even with it outdoors, it was still goddamn loud - the vibrations are what you feel the most.  That was as good a note to end Moogfest on as any...not sure Sunn O))) is really followable, whether you liked them or not.

Moogfest Day 4: Weather Warlock and D-Town Brass at Geer Street Garden - 5/22/2016

Moogfest - Day 4
Featuring Weather Warlock and D-Town Brass
Geer Street Garden

But wait, there's more!  Moogfest was supposed to be over, but we got word that there would be a sunrise show featuring Weather Warlock and D-Town Brass.  Who is Weather Warlock?  It's Quintron of Quintron and Miss Pussycat playing his homemade synthesizer that changes it's sound based on the weather...sun versus overcast, rain versus shine, windy versus still...they all result in different sounds apparently due to the synth being wired to what is basically a weather station.  We got up at five in the morning and drove back over to Durham, because why the hell not?  How often do you get to see a musical performance at sunrise?  You can always take a nap later.  We got there right as the show started, Quintron and his crazy contraption on one side of the patio at Geer Street Garden, all of D-Town Brass on the other side, and a handful of bleary-eyed observers scattered around, coffee in hand.  To be perfectly honest I was prepared for a skronky free-form mess, but this shit was well organized - clearly some plans had been made beforehand.  It started out intentionally a little lol6ose, and then about a third of the way into the thirty minute set/single song, the drums kicked in and it turned into this unbelievably great blend of jazz and krautrock like I've never heard before.  I was mesmerized the entire time, and I really hope someone got a good audio recording and it sees the light of day in the near future.  I don't think it would be a stretch to say this was my second favorite performance of the whole event, and what a note to end on. 

Record Store Day 2016: Eric Bachmann / Skylar Gudasz / Charming Youngsters at Schoolkids Durham & Bull City Records - 4/16/2016

Record Store Day 2016
with Eric Bachmann, Skylar Gudasz, and the Charming Youngsters
Schoolkids Durham & Bull City Records

There wasn't a single record on the list of exclusive "Record Store Day" releases that I really gave a shit about...It's highly likely the day has jumped the proverbial shark.  I mean, I still went out to a few stores and bought some records, but nothing "special" to this day.  Despite a lack of interest in the physical component behind the "holiday," I was totally down for the parties that the various record stores were having to celebrate all of their extra sales. 

I started off at Schoolkids in Durham.  I hadn't been to the store since it became Schoolkids - it's a nice spot even if their used selection is a bit lacking.  I was primarily there to see Eric Bachmann, especially since I missed him the last time he was in town this past winter...having a new kid leads to a lot of sickness, which then leads to missed performances.  He was set up outside the store in the open patio area, a perfect setting on such a gorgeous day.  As you might expect for a gig happening in the middle of the day in a place as busy as Brightleaf Square, lots of randoms and families and random families wandering around, which always leads to kids standing directly in front of the band totally mesmerized.  Basically, a short version of me I guess.  Eric performed with two other musicians plus two female back-up singers, one of which was local Skylar Gudasz, who would be performing after him.  Outside of a couple of tracks it was all songs from his latest self-titled solo record, not the first under his own name but the the first since he officially retired the Crooked Fingers moniker.  It was great from start to finish, and the back-up singers really adding a great extra dimension you usually don't get with Bachmann's songs (the very same sentiment is true of that new self-titled record).

After Bachmann, Skylar Gudasz performed a few songs from her excellent new record "Oleander." My friend Yan, who has played with everyone from the Rosebuds to Mount Moriah to Bowerbirds to probably every other band in the Triangle, was performing with her and it was great to catch up with him.  I love her songs but the real draw is her voice - to say it is heavenly is an understatement.  She reminds me a lot of Karen Carpenter, and I mean that in the best way possible.  I only had time for a few tracks, but I left certain I would be seeing her perform again in the near future. 

I cruised across town to Bull City Records to briefly partake in their Record Store Day festivities as well.  Aside from buying more records, as one does, I was there to see a little bit from the Charming Youngsters - or rather, half of the Charming Youngsters, thy rhythm section were clearly otherwise engaged.  It had been a little bit since the last time I saw them play, but their ramshackle pop songs sounded as good as ever.  Unlike at Schoolkids, they were playing in the store, and it made for nice accompaniment while I dug around in the vinyl, or at least the vinyl I could get to as there were quite a few people piled into the tiny store.  It was a day well spent, and money well spent too.

Protomartyr / Spray Paint / Bodykit at Cat's Cradle Back Room - 2/16/2016

with Spray Paint and Bodykit
Cat's Cradle Back Room

I've been so goddamn lazy about going out to shows lately.  Yeah, I could blame it a little bit on having a new baby, and I'm certainly a little more tired than in the past, but let's be honest the wife does way more work than I do.  The main culprit is just pure laziness.  In fact, I skipped seeing Bodykit a couple of days before this performance because I knew I would be seeing them on this night. 

Anyways, Bodykit - if you don't know the name, just know it's the new band featuring Rich and Josh from the amazing Whatever Brains (R.I.P.).  Rich traded in his guitar for a bunch of knob-twiddling electronic gear, while Josh traded in his knob-twiddling electronic gear for...actually, he's still doing the same thing, minus the keyboards.  Rich still sings, if you can call his brand of shouting and growling singing.  Given the make-up of the band I expected it to be a lot more noisy and dissonant, but these were more or less pop songs draped in velvet curtains of noise and beats.  I'm not saying they sound like Liars, but they at least sound like they might shop at the same store or go to the same barber.  Also, I know so little about this particular of genre of music I have no idea who else to compare them with.  Regardless of compartmentalization, I will happily see them again.  

Spray Paint, a three piece from Austin, had the middle slot of the night.  After a quick soundcheck they lurched right into their set with little fanfare or small talk. I've seen them one other time  - with almost this same exact line-up, except it was Whatever Brains instead of Bodykit - and they were just as enjoyable live this time around.  They're just two guitars and drums, and musically I guess you'd say they're doing sort of a caveman protopunk thing, or whatever you want to call it.  A lot of the time (or at least at the best times) their sound makes me think of the Cramps covering Devo, or maybe Devo covering the Cramps...but with different vocals.  All three dudes sing, sometimes all at the same time, and they all roughly have the same monotone sound...I'm not sure it sounds good on paper but it works on stage.  

It's rare these days I suffer through two opening sets, but Protomartyr are totally worth it.  It also helps that the openers were great, and neither played for very long.  I'm not sure what I could say about this outing that would set it apart from the other times I've written about the band - they are wholly dependable in every sense of the word, from the set list to the outstanding musicianship to the slightly rowdy crowd (Rich from Bodykit is always in the middle of the rowdyness, and quite possibly the instigator).  As always, you can't take your eyes off of frontman Joe Casey, though I'd have an extremely hard time explaining why.  He looks like a recently fired private school teacher busted for drinking on the job, and sings like the love child of Mark E. Smith and a depressed bassett hound.  I'll be goddamned if they're not one of my very favorite live bands of the last half-decade.  I simultaneously have no idea how to sell anyone else on this band, or how anyone manages to get by without Protomartyr in their life. 

Low at the Cat's Cradle - 2/3/2015

The Cat's Cradle

I had been sick for a damn week, already missing Eric Bachmann at the Pinhook even though I already had a ticket - I wasn't doing that again, health be damned...this Low ticket was getting cashed in.  On top of that, outside of their appearance at Hopscotch in 2013, they haven't played in the Triangle since I moved back in 2008 - even more of a reason to make sure I was there.  That Hopscotch gig was a seated show in the sonically perfect Flether Opera Theater and will likely never be topped, but I knew I'd get a good show at the Cradle as well, because the Cradle never disappoints (even though the crowd often does).  

The band had no opener, instead opting to play two sets.  Apparently it was also being webcast live, though I question the quality of this webcast based on how crappy the camera was that the cameraman near me was using.  I would describe the club as "comfortably full," as there were a fair amount of fans but everyone had plenty of personal space.  The band sounded absolutely terrific  - Alan was wrecking shit on his guitar, Mimi's voice was perfection, and the young bass/keyboard dude who isn't Zak Sally held the whole thing together.  The set was a mix of old classics like "Monkey," "Murderer," "Especially Me," and "Pissing," and a lot of tracks from their newest record "Ones and Sixes."  I was so zoned out and happy most of the show I forgot about how shitty I felt, though about halfway through the second set I started feeling it again for sure.  

Side note: if you hate getting sick, let me suggest that you not have a newborn baby in daycare and also fly about ten times in the span of a month and a half during the Winter.  I've had more colds in the last two months than I usually have over a span of years. 

Birds of Avalon / Mac McCaughan at Motorco - 12/4/2015

Birds of Avalon
with Mac McCaughan

Thanks to ReverbNation throwing their holiday party at Motorco and making it open to the public, I got to see a show for free that I would have gladly paid real American dollars to witness.  Add to that stuffing my face with Pie Pushers before the show, and it was a good night.  As a side note, there was a BBQ food truck set up in front of the Pit, a BBQ restaurant that is right across the street from Motorco.  This both confused and delighted me. 

I've seen Mac McCaughan play four or five times this year, and none of those times was with his main band Superchunk.  A few of the occasions were with local punks Flesh Wounds acting as his backing band, but this performance was just Mac solo, with only his electric guitar to help him out.  The set had selections from every facet of his career - solo songs, Portastatic songs, and of course Superchunk songs.  He played a number of my favorites including "Detroit Has a Skyline," "Driveway to Driveway," and "Skip Steps 1 & 3," plus the excellent "Breaking Down" from Superchunk's latest record that I'm not sure I've ever heard them play live, or at least I can't remember it.  He put on a great performance, just like he did the other dozens of times I've seen him.  I keep coming back to his performances for a reason ya know!

It's possible I've seen Birds of Avalon just as many times this year as I've seen Mac.  It's been mentioned before but the new six-piece/two-drummer version of the band raised them into an entirely new stratosphere of awesomeness, and that very much continues to be true.  I've given up trying to compare them to anyone in particular, just think heavy kraut pop with tons of harmonized vocals (with as many as four people singing) and the occasional proggy moment.  The double drums, often performed in unison, power the whole affair - words can't express how important this addition has been to the band.  Actually, words probably can express it, I'm just too stupid/lazy to make it happen.