Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bull City 11th Anniversary Party at Ponysaurus Brewing - 8/6/2016

Bull City 11th Anniversary Partywith Superchunk, Pipe, Last Year's Men, and Daniel Bachman
Ponysaurus Brewing

Ponysaurus is located just a few blocks from the more "newly developed" parts of downtown Durham, but it's like a different world - boarded up buildings, blight, and the typical trappings of inner city poverty abound.  You can see the changes creeping that way though, that new money slowly overtaking block by block in the same fashion kudzu covers everything it encounters.  I suppose Ponysaurus itse;f would be one of those agents of change themselves.  I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if this a good or bad thing (or as is almost always the case in these situations, both), I'm just painting the scene...

I got there and Daniel Bachman was already well into his set.  Just him and his guitar performing really pretty, intricate instrumental music.  He also played this weirdly shaped lap guitar that I'm going to assume was a dobro until I'm told different.  He's really damn young!  Way younger than you'd probably expect given his talent level...his recordings make you would assume he's a much older cat, or at least that applied to me.  Maybe he just has an old soul, whatever that means.  These instrumental guitar dudes are really hot right now, right?  It feels like there are a lot of them.  Daniel is as good as any of them if not better. 

I was pretty excited Last Year's Men were playing this party, because I was pretty sure they had broken up.  Maybe it was just a "hiatus," but either way they sorta fizzled out and I believe it had been quite a while since they last performed live.  Does this gig signal that the band is back for real or was this just a one off, a favor for Bull City Records?  I guess time will tell.  They were as good as ever, playing a number of tracks from their great album "Sunny Down Snuff" as well as that second record they released only as MP3s that I must confess I haven't really heard.  I was into the jams anyways though.  One noteworthy change was Montgomery was back in band - before their previous hiatus (or whatever it was) he was no longer with the group, instead focusing all his attention on Flesh Wounds.  It was nice to see him back in the fold.  I hope I get to see them again, and soon, because they're one of my favorite local acts. 

Pipe!  PIPE PIPE PIPE PIPE PIPE.  That's really all the review of this band should be.  I've seen them dozens upon dozens of times and it's always the same...the band rocks out to pretty much the same songs they always play, holding shit down in a straight-forward but necessary fashion; singer Ron Liberti, Robert Pollard's long lost twin, puts on a performance that is somewhere between pantomime, modern dance and your favorite drunk uncle; the crowd throws beer cans at the band; I smile and laugh the entire time.  They played a lot of great hits, including two of their best "Biscuits" and "Yr Soaking in It" and a cover of Joe Jackson's "One More Time." At one point Ron caught one of the beers thrown at him, took a drink from it, and then threw it back at the crowd as if the whole thing was choreographed.  He also sang at least one song standing under a giant plastic tarp like he was wearing the world's most suffocating ghost costume.  Pipe is everything rock bands should aspire to be. 

In a lot of ways what I said about Pipe also holds for Superchunk, minus the difference in antics of the respective singers - about the most you get from Mac is a jump off of the drum riser and/or some windmill guitar work.  Like Pipe, I've seen Superchunk dozens upon dozens of times, they play a ton of songs I've seen them play a more times than I can count, and they're incredibly dependable.  Unlike Pipe, they've actually continued to write songs and release albums since the nineties, and their material is a lot more fun to sing along to (sorry Pipe, I still love you).  In the run-up to this show the band mentioned that this is the first time they've played locally since Merge 25 in the summer of 2014, which makes sense because I've been grousing about not getting to see them for a good two years.  There's not a whole lot I can say about these guys at this point, just know that other than Laura no longer playing with them live, they've not lost a step. 

Superchunk / Skylar Gudasz at Dorton Arena - 10/19/2016

With Skylar Gudasz
Dorton Arena

The folks that used to handle the music booking for the North Carolina State Fair made a great decision last year - instead of throwing a lot of money at washed-up and never-has-been rockers, country crooners, and family friendly fare, give a little money to a local agency who can book local musicians and actually support local North Carolinians, one of the main reasons to even have a state fair.  The hard work of local scribe Grayson Haver Currin probably helped them make this decision to change by digging up just how much money the Fair folks were losing on the crappy, mostly unwanted acts they used to book - it was going so wrong, why not try something else?  Long story short, a bunch of shit changed behind the scenes at the State Fair and now I get to see Superchunk in Dorton Arena for free after walking around eating junk food all day. 

First though was Skylar Gudasz, their opener for the night.  I got to the venue in time to see most of her set, getting slightly delayed because I stopped first to eat a cinnamon roll half the size of my head.  One of my better life decisions.  She was fronting a six-piece band featuring two keyboardists (one of which was sometimes Skylar) and the drummer from Flesh Wounds (I'm not sure what bands the other members are from, but they all looked familiar).  Most of Skylar's performance focused on her debut album "Oleander," but there was a couple of new songs as well - if those are a preview of her next release, I predict another gem.  Her voice was as strong as ever, and sounded damn good in Dorton - I've always heard folks say the sound in there was subpar, but it seemed pretty dialed in this night.  It should be noted that she doesn't sound quite as much like Karen Carpenter in person as she does on record...though it would be totally fine if she did. 

After not getting to see Superchunk for a couple of years, this would be my second time in three months.  That's great and all, but it's still not as often I'd like - once a month would be a lot better.  You could tell they were excited to play such a legendary venue - drummer Jon Wurster even posted a selfie on Instagram in the backstage shower where "Gene Simmons might've had 2-minute workmanlike sex in 1976."  For whatever reason they leaned heavily on their classic hits this night, putting together what might be the strongest set list I've ever seen by them.  The highlights included "For Tension," "Detroit Has a Skyline," "Skip Steps One & Three," "Driveway to Driveway," "The First Part," a very rare appearance of "Her Royal Fisticuffs," "Nu Bruises," "Cast Iron," a cover of the Magnetic Fields' "100,000 Fireflies," and they ended the night with "Throwing Things."  That's basically every single one of my favorite Superchunk songs minus "Animated Airplanes Over Germany" and "Why Do You Have To Put a Date on Everything."  Due to profanity rules from either Dorton Arena or the State Fair officials, for the first time in forever they didn't play "Slack Motherfucker" so as not to offend any old church ladies or small children or old church children or small ladies that might have wandered into the free show.  Fuck it though, they would have been a little better off in life to hear a little live Superchunk, curse words or not. 

Nada Surf / Amber Arcades at the Cat's Cradle - 10/3/2016

Nada Surf
with Amber Arcades
Cat's Cradle

The last time I saw Nada Surf live was back in my SF days (aka pre-2008) - much to my dismay, the band doesn't seem to have much love for shows in North Carolina.  This is especially surprising since Matthew Caws has family in the state, and some were even at this show, at least according to his stage banter.  Perhaps their reticence to play is the crowd, or lack thereof.  My (often poor) estimate is there were probably a couple hundred people there, but I was truly shocked that the place wasn't full, or close to it - sure it was a much more comfortable environment, but Nada Surf deserve better.  They're probably second best pure pop band working after Teenage Fanclub. 

They're a pro outfit - every song sounds impeccable, they had their own fancy light rig synced up to the music, and you can tell by the way they interact with the crowd that they're very comfortable on stage.  To my surprise Doug Gillard is now in the band - I guess this happened a few years ago, but like I said, I haven't had the chance to see Nada Surf live in quite a while.  This is at least the third band I've seen him with - Guided By Voices and Superdrag being the two others (for some reason I feel like there is one more, but my brain just can't recall).  They played for probably an hour and a half, hitting nearly everything you might want to hear - there were classics ("Always Love," "Blonde on Blonde"), new favorites ("Friend Hospital," "Rushing"), and they even played their nineties hit "Popular," which I don't think I've ever heard them perform before.  They closed out the night with a totally acoustic (as in no amplification at all) version of "Blizzard of 77," complete with a robust crowd sing-along.  There might not have been as many people at the gig as there should have been, but those that did show up were very enthusiastic. 

I caught about half of the set by openers Amber Arcades, who I knew not a single thing about.  They were a five piece with a female singer who reminded me of Mac DeMarco for some reason - visually, not musically.  I think it was the hat she was wearing, or maybe I'm just an idiot (or both).  Musically they made me think a lot of the Aislers Set, a clean shoegaze/jangle pop hybrid, and I quite liked it.  When I'm dictator more bands will sound like the Aislers Set, per official decree.  Oh, and then after the show I googled the band and it turns out they're Dutch, it's primarily the work of the singer Annelotte de Graaf, and she has two law degrees and works for the international war crimes tribunal.  I wonder if I play nothing but Amber Arcades around my daughter she will turn out that awesome?

Built to Spill / Hop Along at the Cat's Cradle - 9/22/2016

Built to Spill
with Hop Along
Cat's Cradle

It's a pretty simple - if Built to Spill comes to town, I go.  It doesn't even require any thought, the ticket just gets bought the second I see them available for sale.  God knows how many times I've seen them at this point, but I never leave one of their gigs disappointed.  I'm not sure if it's the first time I've seen the band as a trio, but it's definitely been a long time - since the early days when Scott Plouf and Brett Nelson first started playing with Doug Martsch, back when his plan was to have a different rhythm section every record (this didn't last long).  These days it's the pair of young dudes that have been touring with him the last few times Built to Spill came to town, and they do a fine job.  I did miss (occasional touring guitarist/Caustic Resin founder/all around rad dude) Brett Netson's added guitar playing though - luckily, if anyone can hold down all of the Built to Spill guitar parts by himself, it's Doug.  I mean, he did write them.   

The first third (or so) of Built to Spill's set was dominated by this couple standing next to me rubbing on each other constantly.  I don't mean off-and-on either - for the entire 30-45 minutes they were next to me, the movement and rubbing was constant, like a sack full of dry eels.  This would have been less of an issue had the Cradle not been so packed, and I wasn't pressed right up next to them, thereby encountering unwanted accidental rubbing myself.  Ick.  Eventually one or both of them likely climaxed and moved elsewhere, and things got a whole lot better, or at least more comfortable, from there on out.  Doug, personable as always, almost never spoke to the crowd even when he was tuning his guitar...the occasional "thanks" counted as a verbal outburst.  Tons of classics in their set: "The Plan," "Hurt a Fly," "Reasons," "Kicked It in the Sun," "Big Dipper," "Carry the Zero," "Car" plus one of the best songs from their newer material "Hindsight," and their cover this time (there's always at least one cover) was the Creedence Clearwater Revival track "Effigy" - a song that sounds so much like something Doug would write that I'm sure some of the younger folks in the crowd who might not have been familiar with the original probably didn't bat an eye, thinking it was just a new Built to Spill tune.    

Typically, the openers for Built to Spill shows are Boise/Idaho acts that are friends with the band.  Also typically, I never get to the show in time to see these openers, which bit me in the ass this time.  The band was called Hop Along, are apparently from Philly and putting out records on Saddle Creek, and like so many of the kids these days, are doing their damnedest to reinterpret the sounds of the nineties for a modern audience.  The crowd seemed way into it, so much so that it's possible a chunk of them might have been there primarily to see Hop Along, not Built to Spill.  I'm not sure what an apt comparison would be, maybe Dinosaur Jr meets Courtney Barnett, or at least something in that general ballpark.  If they come back again I'll try to see more than two songs.