Thursday, December 20, 2018

Don’t Be Mean To People (Day 2) at Ponysaurus Brewing - 10/20/2018

Don’t Be Mean To People
Day 2
Ponysaurus Brewing

Mini rock festival!  This is the third year they’ve done this sort of all-day rock thing at Ponysaurus involving local bands both big and small, and at least the second year where they used the event to raise money for the ACLU (the first year was the 11th anniversary celebration for Bull City Records, but I’m not entirely sure what the fiscal motivations were one way or another).  This year was actually a two day event, but I only caught the back half of Saturday - and it was a COOKER.  Best of all, they had two stages set up, so as soon as one act finished the next would be starting within just a few minutes.  There was a healthy crowd but it never felt crowded, the weather was pristine, and tons of food trucks – it’s damn near a perfect event.   

I caught the last couple of songs from Tooth, a local metal act that has been around for what seems like forever but who play only rarely.  Or maybe they’ve been broken up for ages and this was a reunion? I dunno, but either way I wish I’d gotten there to see more of it – I dig the type of metal they’re serving up, heavy and aggressive and a little stoner-ish…to make the laziest comparison possible, since both are North Carolina products, if you like Weedeater you’d probably like Tooth.  I’m really shit at describing metal bands – what I do know is I’m picky with the bands I actually like in this genre, but these guys definitely pass the test.  As required by law, all five members of the band had beards; no facial hair citations were issued.

I always ask myself “do I need to take more photos of Spider Bags?”, and then I usually proceed to take more photos of Spider Bags.  In this case, this was my first time taking outdoor photos of the band during the golden hour, which gave some decent results.  Something I’ve never asked myself is “do I need to see Spider Bags play again?”, because the only possible answer to that question is yes.  Scratch that: FUCK YES.  The band is still a three piece like the last time I saw them - no idea where the other guitarist went.  I wouldn’t say he’s necessary to enjoy the music of Spider Bags, but I did enjoy that extra layer of guitar at their live shows.   It was otherwise a typical, great performance by them, with the added bonus of revealing their definitely completely original Halloween song called “Have Love, Jack-O-Lantern” that was in no way a slightly modified cover of “Have Love, Will Travel,” made famous by the Sonics. 

Work Clothes were up next – I guess they were a thing a decade or so ago, which totally escaped me at the time, and this was a rare reunion.  The group is a duo, guy and gal, who are seemingly a couple of some sort (there was some talk of kids and babysitters).  Both played guitar and sang, it was very low key and ethereal.  There were a couple of moments that reminded me a bit of Low, and a couple of others that made me think of Julee Cruse/Twin Peaks.  It was fine but after a couple of songs I used the rest of their set as a chance to rest at one of the many outdoor picnic tables at Ponysaurus.

The entire band dressed completely in white, Skylar Gudasz was up next with her goddamn golden voice that is so melodious and heavenly it almost makes me angry.  I’ve been stuck trying to think of what to write about her, and getting nowhere – much like watching Skylar live, your mind goes blank while she performs her hypnotic Carpenters-esque soft pop.  It’s all held together by her incredible, professional-grade backing band that included Casey Toll and Joe Westerlund.  Her album “Oleander” from 2016 is a good listen, but live she achieves another level – any chance you get to see her perform make every effort to do it.   

From past experience, I assumed the acoustic version of Superchunk would be Mac and Jim and a pair of acoustic guitars, and I was correct.  I saw this same configuration ten years ago in the middle of the day at some sort of election rally at UNC (also featuring Billy Bragg, Bowerbirds, and others); it’s only fitting we’re seeing this version of the band in another important election year, and no one talked more about the importance of voting this night more than Mac.  Other than the voting angle, it was a pretty typical set – some new songs from their most recent record “What A Time To Be Alive,” coupled with plenty of their classics like “Detroit Has a Skyline” and “Learned To Surf” and “Water Wings” and…you get the point.  They actually didn’t play end-of-set staple “Slack Motherfucker,” which I suspect was because there were a number of kids running around the grounds and Mac, being a parent himself, decided to keep things PG.

The big finale of the night was Wye Oak, fresh off a long tour and as tight as an overinflated balloon.  They were surprisingly performing as a three piece, with local musician Will Hackney (Loamlands, Midtown Dickens, Mount Moriah, probably every other band from Durham) helping on bass.  I have no idea as to the temporary or permanent nature of this particular line-up, but it worked well and anything that keeps Jenn Wasner on guitar as much as possible is a keeper (not that she isn’t also an amazing bassist…hell, she’s amazing at everything).  It appears the trade where we sent Future Islands to Baltimore a few years ago was finally completed, as drummer Andy Stack has now also moved to the Triangle, following Jenn who made her way down here a few years ago.  Will this result in more frequent local Wye Oak shows?  Jenn living here hasn’t resulted in an increase in the Flock of Dimes performance I had hoped for, so I’m not holding my breath…but at least we can call them “ours” now.  I’ve seen Wye Oak live a number of times and it’s always fantastic, but this might have been the best I’ve ever seen them – and I say that even though they didn’t play my favorite song, “Holy Holy.”  There were lots of tracks from “The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs,” a smattering of classics, and one of the best Kate Bush covers (“Deeper Understanding”) this side of Maxwell.  This band is flawless and at the height of their powers, and I’m already excited about the next time I get to see them, whenever that might be. 

The Rock*A*Teens / Spider Bags at Kings - 9/21/2018

The Rock*A*Teens
With Spider Bags

I was truly shocked at the low turnout at this show…Hopscotch hangover maybe?  Both bands just released excellent new albums on local label Merge, and based on the many times I’ve seen each in the past, both are well liked.  Hell, I’ve seen both of these acts so many times (particularly Spider Bags) that I didn’t even bother to bring my camera, I’ve already got so many photos of each.

Spider Bags were performing as a three piece without that extra guitarist who doesn’t appear to really be in the band but plays with them sometimes.  They knocked out all of their hits – “Keys To The City,” “Que Viva Elrocanrol,” etc. – plus a ton of tracks from their latest “Someday Everything Will Be Fine.”  Most notably, “Oxcart Blues” from the new one is now a part of their “hits” in my book, moving forward, as decreed by me.  That track burns.

The Rock*A*Teens followed more or less the same formula as Spider Bags – plenty (if not nearly all) of their latest album “Sixth House,” plus a smattering of older songs from before their most recent reunion.  Say what you will about old bands reforming as a nostalgic cash grab, but this most recent work by Chris Lopez & company might be my favorite music they’ve ever recorded - and it translates nicely to the stage.  Speaking of tracks that burn – “Go Tell Everybody” is one of the best songs of the year, and was definitely my highlight of their set.  Just the mention of that song gets it stuck in my head for days.  Not a bad problem to have…

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three around downtown Raleigh - 9/6/2018

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Three
Downtown Raleigh

We've hit the home stretch - the final night of Hopscotch.  I kicked my evening off with MC50, which was a supergroup comprised of the only suriving member of MC5, Wayne Kramer, and a rotating cast of well-known musicians assisting him.  On this night he had Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on drums, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) on guitar, Billy Gould (Faith No More) on bass, and Rob Tyner doppelganger Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) doing most of the vocals.  They performed the classic MC5 album "Kick Out The Jams" in it's entirety (plus maybe more in the encore that I missed).  Like the Revolution the night before, did it feel like I was watching a cover band?  It did, as I honestly expected it to.  Was it still goddamn enjoyable?  It sure was.  Clearly, the musicianship was off the charts with this group, and how can you not be happy hearing "Kick Out The Jams" played live?

After a while I moved up to Slims to see some of Karaoke, out of Atlanta.  Have fun trying to google that band name.  A five piece with a female singer that reminded me of Sloane from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," I'm pretty sure I fell in love with her and I'm quite certain I wasn't alone.  They too were on that swirly 90s indie pop vibe that so many of the young kids seem into these days, which I'm totally fine with for the record.  To bring up a reference I seem to make at least once a year (if not more these days), if this band existed in 1995 they would have definitely been signed to Teenbeat.  I was definitely intrigued and would like to hear their recordings, and are worth checking out if you get a chance.

From there I moved down to the Pour House and ended up catching the last couple of songs by Nicolay And The Hot At Nights.  I know the Hot At Nights (though the one dude who is also in the Mountain Goats is on tour with them and not able to be in two places at once), and apparently Nicolay works with local rapper Phonte, but I wasn't sure what to expect from the collaboration.  The overall vibe was a little too...jazz fusion for my tastes, but at the same time everyone on the stage was so goddamn talented it was still interesting to watch them practice their craft.

I was on the fence about going to the Yonatan Gat show at all.  Praise be to whatever god or flying spaghetti monster it was convinced me to stay at the Pour House to see the former Monotonix frontman, because it was probably my favorite performance of the entire festival.  It's days later and I still can't stop thinking about it.  Yonatan was backed by a bassist and drummer, and the music was (mostly) an instrumental swirl of jazz, surf, garage and a little Middle Eastern flair that words will never, ever do justice.  It was heavy but not metal, and repetitively hypnotizing without going fully into krautrock territory.  Monotonix were always known for their insane performances, not the musicianship, so I was doubly impressed to see how goddamn amazing Gat was on guitar - a double-necked 12+6 string white Epiphone SG for the record, that was completely bad ass.  I was nonplussed by his latest full-length, because it sure as shit didn't sound like this, but this show has me wanting to revisit anyways just to experience even a small amount of this amazing show again.

I trucked down to the Lincoln Theatre, my final venue of this year's festival, to see the last few from Sarah Shook And The Disarmers.  This gal has been getting a lot of buzz this past year, and that showed from how packed the venue was.  I assumed at least some of that crowd was people there early for the Jayhawks, but the amount that left after she finished proved she was clearly the draw (also, those people who left early are idiots).  Sarah plays straight-forward, ass kickin', old fashioned honky tonk country - no preening, no hipster bullshit, just songs like "The Bottle Never Lets Me Down" and "Nothin' Feels Right But Doin' Wrong."  Hell, she wears a knife on her hip during the concert, this is a woman who is not here for any bullshit.  Side note: the locally famous John Howie is in her band - he's probably best known for being in Two Dollar Pistols, but to me he'll always be from the still underrated Finger. 

Finally, the Jayhawks, the last band of Hopscotch.  They were also one of my most anticipated bands of the festival, being the only act that I was already a big fan of that I had never seen live.  How I've never seen them I have no idea, it's just one of those weird things like the fact I've never seen a James Bond movie - it doesn't have to make sense to be true.  I was shocked to learn that band frontman Gary Louris had recently moved to Gibsonville, which is in the middle of nowhere in the vicinity of Greensboro - who even knew moving there was something anyone would ever want to do!  Key member Mark Olson might be gone, but they sounded as good as ever - the long set list was packed with basically every "hit" song you might ever want from them..."Blue," "Tailspin," "Save It For a Rainy Day," etc.  Unlike the other "nostalgia" acts they might get lumped with at Hopscotch, the Jayhawks are still an active, working band, and also played plenty of their most recent excellent release "Back Roads And Abandoned Motels." After (shockingly) lasting the entire duration of their very late set, it was time to put this event and myself to bed. 

Until next year!  Man, I'm already tired thinking about it.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Three (Day Parties) at Kings - 9/6/2018

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Three (Day Parties)
Downtown Raleigh

Every year, I have no real plans to go to any Hopscotch day parties - I have a hard enough time keeping up my stamina just for the evening festivities.  And then pretty much every year, there's some reason why I actually need to go to at least one of them.  This year, that reason was Eric Bachmann, who wasn't playing the main festival but was playing the Merge party at Kings.  Considering my level of fandom for everything the man has ever released, my attendance was guaranteed.  He was touring to support his new record "No Recover," bringing along a small backing band (electric guitar, stand up bass, three piece drums), and as expected he played a few songs off of that excellent new album (an album that will surely be one of my favorites on the year).  He also threw in the classic "Crowned In Chrome" and a couple of tracks from his previous self-titled release, "Mercy" and "Dreaming."  I was kinda hoping Skylar Gudasz would show up to handle the female portions of those last two songs like has happened in the past, but that did not come to fruition.  My only complaint is the set was way, way, WAY too short...such is the nature of these day parties.   

Eric wasn't the only thing I saw this afternoon, might as well catch a couple of other bands while I was out of the house.  I also saw Joyero, who played just before Bachmann; it's the name that Wye Oak drummer Andy Stack performs under.  Despite being one of the best drummers I've ever seen, there is zero drumming in Joyero, or at least zero live drumming.  The music was a mix of computer tracks, keys/synths, random other electronics, and sometimes he played guitar - all paired with his very Doug Martsch-like vocals.  I got a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone vibe from many of the songs (or Advance Base if you want me to be more current with my comparisons) - well-crafted, downer electro-pop that's still enjoyable.  I found it interesting & humorous that he played a HeCTA cover; I realized it was a Merge artist's side project covering another Merge artist's side project (HeCTA is Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and a couple of friends).  The crowd was way too fucking loud and could have taken all that talking outside, but that's just the nature of a day party.  Plus, to be fair, it was fucking hot outside and the beer was cold inside.

I caught one last act after Bachmann before heading back home for a dinner break - Speed Stick.  All I knew coming in was Speed Stick involved Laura King from Bat Fangs / Flesh Wounds, and that was enough for me to stick around and see what it was all about.  Turns out it was her and Love Language drummer Tom Simpson both playing a mega-drum kit, face-to-face, sharing a mutual bass drum with pedals on either side.  Add to that a couple of guitarists coloring the proceedings, and you got a performance that was one long improv jam that was very drum heavy, obviously.  Should I mention that one of the guitarists was ASH FUCKING BOWIE?!?!?  I didn't fan out on the Polvo godhead, but part of me really wanted to.  I have no idea if Speed Stick is a real band or just a thing friends do on a lark every once in a while, but I liked it either way.  And anything that gets more Ash Bowie on stage is a good thing, even if he's standing in the background noodling on his guitar with his back to the crowd.      

Monday, September 10, 2018

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day Two around downtown Raleigh - 9/7/2018

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day Two
Downtown Raleigh

I was so disinterested in the big stage acts this second night of Hopscotch I didn't even bother showing up until the club shows were up and running.  First stop: Kings for Patois Counselors.  It's been a little while since the last time I saw them, but they're now up to seven members apparently.  At least Kings has a large stage, I have no idea how they pull off a show at venues the size of Slims.  The crowd was surprisingly large from the start, and they were treated to a terrific performance of jittery, paranoid punk - like if the Fall had come from the New York No Wave scene instead of the UK.  The drummer never seems to be playing a 4/4 beat; despite having two guitarists, their addition is often sparse and almost never used as rhythm; the Joe Lally-cloned bassist seems to be the load-bearing beam of the group, holding the whole thing together and allowing the singer to glare and growl and occasionally ring tiny bells and blow whistles.  A great start to the night - I really need to get off my lazy ass and go see them more often. 

I stayed at Kings to check out the next band, Empath.  A four piece from Philly, they had two keyboardists, no bass, and at least one member wearing a neon orange mesh tank top.  It was a noisy synth pop sort of thing, like the Cocteau Twins gone punk maybe.  I think the Cocteau Twins might be my go-to for any band that has a female singer and somewhere in the neighborhood of the noisy/shoegaze/C86 sound, I've just listened to them too damn much in my life and it colors everything.  They had their moments, but I wasn't totally feeling it so I peaced out after a few tracks.  I think the ingredients are there for this to become something I would like, but only time will tell.  At a minimum I wouldn't be surprised to hear more from the singer, I think she might have "it" though I'm not entirely sure what "it" is at this moment.  

It was down to the Basement to check out Breathers next.  A trio from Atlanta with a singer that was dressed like a WWII soldier on leave and performed like he might be the little brother of Har Mar Superstar, the band was all synth and keys, all the time (with occasional stripped-down drums during some of their songs).  Since I didn't recognize any of the songs we can safely assume they aren't an Erasure cover band, but it would be an easy mistake to make based on the earnest, VERY eighties synth pop they played.  Occasionally it actually felt too earnest, veering into musical theater territory, but the music was pretty rad throughout.  I just love some damn keyboard pop, is that so wrong?

I had such a good spot from Breathers, front and center, that I decided to stay put in the Basement for the Revolution because...well, why the hell not.  Like most living, breathing humans, I loved Prince, but I had no idea what to make of his former band touring and performing his songs.  The group went five deep, and were all original Revolution members from their first run: the well known Wendy & Lisa, the keyboardist that plays in scrubs and is probably named "Doctor Funkhaus" or something, and, uh, the other two dudes - one of which (the bassist) did most of the singing.  Truthfully - it felt like watching a cover band...but a really, really good cover band that full of incredible musicians that knew this music inside-out.  Everyone knows what a good guitarist Prince was, but the secret weapon of that band was always Wendy Melvoin - it was truly a treat to watch her play live.  I just recently learned she is the daughter of one of the musicians in the legendary session band the Wrecking Crew; all of the sudden it makes sense why she was so good at such a young age, I'm sure she was practically born with an instrument in her hand.  They played almost nothing but the hits, and I stuck around for a few of them - "Erotic City," "Computer Blue," and "Raspberry Beret," off the top of my head.  I missed some other bands I'd planned on seeing to enjoy this nostalgia act, but they were damn fun.

The final piece of the night's puzzle would be Red Fang at the Lincoln Theatre.  I had to miss them entirely at Carolina Rebellion earlier this year because they played at exactly the same time as Baroness, so I was making a point to make sure I saw at least a few songs by them this time.  What do you even call the kind of metal these guys play?  It's loud and heavy but not growly and scowly (those are scientific terms) "happy metal" a genre?  The band members actually smile and look like they're having fun.  Just because it's heavy doesn't mean it has to be serious, people.  They did a cover of Tubeway Army's "Listen To The Sirens," which might have been my single favorite moment of the entire festival.  It seems like they might exist in a weird space where they don't take metal seriously enough for the purists, but are too heavy for the non-metalheads, but what the hell do I know.  What I do know is they are very good, they are fun, and you should give them a listen if you haven't already.  You never know, you might like them so much you try to dry hump half the audience like that one gal who was roaming the crowd (I suspect she may have done somewhere between some and all of the drugs this evening).  

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hopscotch Music Festival, Day One around downtown Raleigh - 9/6/2018

Hopscotch Music Festival
Day One
Downtown Raleigh

It's that time of year again - Hopscotch!  Also: the meticulous planning of your schedule that you will never stick to, the bemoaning of multiple bands you want to see all playing at the same time, and the bellyaching about how tired Hopscotch is going to make you.  It's one of the best parts of the entire year...I just wish it wasn't so damn hot.  I wouldn't get mad if they moved it back a month to the first of October.

I kicked off my festival with the Flaming Lips at City Plaza.  They played this festival at this same location in 2011, and in a lot of ways not much had changed.  They actually played more old songs this time - I don't think they played more than two or three tracks that were released after "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots."  Give the crowd what they want and all that - I ain't complaining.  If you are all familiar with the band and their live shenanigans, it goes without saying that the spectacle of it all almost outpaced the actual musical performance - balloons, confetti, giant props, lasers, huge video screens, an actual inflatable giant pink robot, people dancing inside of inflated get the drill.  Front man Wayne Coyne took not one but two trips into the audience: he rode his see-through hamster ball on top of the crowd, which he's been doing for years - this time while performing a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."  There was also a new (or at least new-to-me) addition of a giant plastic light-up horse on wheels Wayne rides on top of that the roadies roll through the crowd (during this bit of art he performed one of the newer songs whose name I've already forgotten).  The man really had a bee in his bonnet about the crowd not singing along enough, and lectured them multiple times...I'm not saying shut up and sing, but once was enough to get the point across, and at some point the "lessons" on how to be an audience become detrimental.  Despite that, I enjoyed myself because I think you'd have to be in some kind of funk not to have a smile on your face for most of a Flaming Lips set.

With the large outdoor portion of the evening over, I strolled up to it's polar opposite, Slims, to catch Das Drip.  I had honestly just intended to see part of their set en route to somewhere else, but they only played 15 minutes  - they were done before I was!  Most would probably just call them hardcore, but there's a strange/off-kilter angle to Das Drip that sets them just slightly apart.  Given that three-fourths of the band were once in my beloved Whatever Brains, their new band being a weird version of a known genre shouldn't be surprising.  The one non-WB member is the singer, a young gal with a lot of energy who paced around like a caged animal the entire time.  It was a packed house and a good performance, even if half the crowd was confused why it ended so quickly. 

I thought I was getting to the Basement of the Convention Center early enough to catch part of Skeletonwitch's set, but a last-minute thirty minute shift in the schedule meant I missed them entirely, but luckily I got there just moments before Sleep took the stage.  I like this space as a Hopscotch venue but I kinda hate the way it is set up - the huge gulf between the stage and the crowd due to a shit ton of giant speakers on the ground surrounded by stupid barriers wreaked havoc on my desire to get some good photos of the band.  But shit, at least they sounded great, which is why we're here anyways!  Matt Pike had a literal wall of Orange amps behind him, which you could not only see and hear but also feel.  Should I also point out he was shirtless?  Who am I kidding, of course he was.  I'm not sure what to say about Sleep from a review angle at this point - the stoner metal godfathers sounded as good as ever, heavy and deliberate and the dude-heavy crowd was FEELING IT.  Watching Al Cisneros play bass in person is one of life's true joys.  The man is a wizard.  

Since Sleep was over earlier than expected, I took an audible from my prepared schedule and went up to Kings to see Lee Ranaldo for my final performer of the night.  Why Lee Ranaldo?  In the event you don't know, he was one of the founding members of a little group called Sonic Youth, you should check them out sometime if you enjoy music!  Snark aside, I've now seen half of Sonic Youth at Kings (Thurston Moore also played there as part of Chelsea Light Moving a few years ago), which is kinda mind blowing given the size of the club.  Ranaldo had a drummer backing him, and he kicked his set off with some improv where Lee used drumsticks and violin bows and whatever else he had handy to make a racket, but after 10-15 minutes the noise slowly morphed into more straight-forward indie rock jams that would have felt right in place on most any Sonic Youth album (note to self: check out his solo records, I hear they sound very Sonic Youth).  It was quite good, but all good things must come to an end and I drug my tired carcass to my car, knowing I had two more nights to go. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Oneida / Nest Egg / Demon Eye at Kings - 8/3/2018

With Nest Egg and Demon Eye

Despite a general aversion to three bands in one night these days, I made a point to get to Kings in time to catch some of Demon Eye.  I’m at a total loss as to why they were on a bill with a couple of kraut-esque indie bands, but if bookers want to start throwing metal and indie rock together in one show that’s fine by me.  Demon Eye are particularly special in my book, because almost no one is playing this type of metal anymore – the early eighties/New Wave of British Heavy Metal kind.  Heavy but not sludgy or stony or speedy, plenty of flair and shredding but not so much it distracts, and most importantly (to me), no Cookie Monster vocals - think Iron Maiden, Accept, early Wasp, etc.  You could probably throw an AC/DC comparison in there too.  Also, they seem like they’re having a damn good time – metal is way too serious, and these guys seem to know it.

Nest Egg might be pseudo-local (in this case, Asheville), but this was my first time actually seeing them live.  They play down here a few times a year, and folks I trust raved about them after the last Hopscotch, but it took my listening to their most recent record “Nothingness Is Not A Curse” to finally get motivated enough to see them live.  Well, that and getting paired with Oneida, who I almost never miss – but I was genuinely looking forward to Nest Egg.  They do the whole krautrock-psyche-repetitive thing, and even if they weren’t playing with Oneida I might compare the two of them…Moon Duo/Wooden Shjips fans would also probably dig what they’re laying down.  Live, there was an extra layer of something there you don’t hear on the album…darkness, menacing, I dunno.  I’m sure them turning out the lights and running their own strobes helped that vibe.  For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about Suicide (the band, not the action), and I suppose that might be a reasonable act to throw into the comparison blender.  Worth noting: they’re only a four-piece, but they have two drummers!  I’ve seen two drummers a fair number of times, but the bands are always larger.  And the guitarist plays a tiny 12-string guitar the entire time, which might have be even stranger!  These facts are neither here nor there, I just found them odd/interesting.  Much like Nest Egg themselves.   

Like an amoeba, Oneida seems to take a different shape every time I see them.  Tonight they were a four piece, with drums, guitar, and a double dose of synths/keys.  Well, if we’re being honest a quadruple dose since both dudes were playing two key-based instruments each, plus scads of other electronics.  They took the stage, made some jokes, and then launched into a brain-burning “Sheets Of Easter” that went on for damn near 20 minutes.  It was pummeling, mesmerizing, and glorious.  That was definitely the highlight, but the set continued in the same fashion – jokes then rock until they closed out their night with a cover of the Flipper song “Way Of The World.”  As always they combined the repetitive/hypnotic vibe of krautrock with heavy psyche and noise rock – it was, as always, completely engrossing.  I’m already excited for the next time they come back to town. 

Spider Bags / Drag Sounds at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room - 8/2/2018

Spider Bags
With Drag Sounds
Cat’s Cradle Back Room

It’s only been four years since the last Spider Bags record “Frozen Letter,” but it feels like an eternity.  That has been coupled with them also not been playing live as often the past couple of years, which certainly amplified my feelings of abandonment – there for a while it felt like I saw them at least once every month or two…a good problem to have!  Thankfully, they’ve birthed into the world a great new album called “Someday Everything Will Be Fine,” and this evening was the release party to celebrate it’s existence.  For most bands that would mean focusing their set heavily on the new release, but Spider Bags have never been one for convention and instead made the bulk of their set old material with a few new ones sprinkled in – and I don’t mean old as in the last record, I’m talking very early material, some of which they hadn’t played live in ages or never at all.  They played for nearly an hour and a half, and the crowd was rambunctious the entire time (rambunctious these days means three or four people were dancing instead of the typical none).  They are easily one of my favorite local bands to see live, so a long set was a-ok in my book.  I also picked up the new album before leaving – it probably goes without saying that it’s great.

Drag Sounds opened the show, a local band that is the runaway leader in the category of “number of times I meant to see them live” versus “number of times I actually went to see them live.”  They’re damn good, they play a lot, and I’ve caught them a couple of times, but not nearly as often as I’ve planned to if I wasn’t a massive lazyass.  At some point they lost their bass player, and subsequently I had a tough time not thinking of Spray Paint...Drag Sounds are a little less sardonic than those weirdo Texas punks, but certainly in the same general ballpark musically.  Also: the short-haired guitarist/singer looks like he could be the son of Eric Clapton – once I saw it I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I’ve probably even said this before in other reviews, but it really is uncanny.

Father John Misty / Jenny Lewis at the North Carolina Museum of Art - 8/1/2018

Father John Misty
With Jenny Lewis
North Carolina Museum of Art

For the second month in a row, I got free tickets to a show I was interested in but for which I was never going to actually shell out the money.  Let’s hear it for freeloading!

Not one to pass up freebies, my man Brian drove up from Wilmington to join me in the festivities.  We were both on the same page – opener Jenny Lewis was what really mattered here.  After rushing through dinner we got to the museum just as she started her set, crisis averted.  It had been ages since I last saw her perform, but I was certain it would be a great show.  Even with these fairly high expectations, she far surpassed them – that was easily one of the best performances I’ve seen this year (if not longer).  Every song she played felt like a hit…if the year was 1981 and country-tinged soft rock was still dominating the airwaves.  Lewis is basically a modern version of Linda Ronstadt and Juice Newton, and if you think that is anything but a compliment you need to reexamine your life choices.  Additionally: her band was “holy shit” good, especially the lead guitarist that was a Jonah Hill doppelganger (skinny version) – who went full Prince guitar solo at the end of their set.  Hopefully she’s been in the studio, because it’s been four years since “The Voyager” and this shit ass world needs new Jenny Lewis songs now more than ever.

Father John Misty was totally and completely…fine.  A milquetoast descriptor, sure, but that’s basically how I’ve always felt about him outside of a couple of songs.  I was expecting his performance to be a letdown after Jenny Lewis, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would really struggled to keep my attention on the stage.  Jenny would blow most artists off the stage so it’s not entirely his fault, but a downer nonetheless.  He started his set with “Nancy From Now On,” aka his best song by a wide margin, aka the only song of his I can name without looking it up.  I was definitely stoked that he played it - but it also meant I didn’t have a ton to look forward to for the rest of his performance.  Misty & band also played “Mr. Tillman” from his most recent album “God’s Favorite Customer,” another strong track I quite enjoy, but the rest of it was just totally and completely…fine.  I will note the rest of the crowd seemed to really be enjoying themselves, and I’m guessing they would rate this performance much higher than my middle-of-the-road take. 

Feather at the Tiki Bar - 7/15/2018

Tiki Bar

Due to some bad weather and good fortune, I managed to catch the band Feather while vacationing on the North Carolina coast.  It was quite possibly the most perfect setting for seeing a group like this - at the end of a pier, about an hour before sunset, the weather was great, and there were leathery beach people as far as the eye could see (and let it be known that Carolina Beach probably has the best collection of “human handbags” in the state).  The only place better would be inside of Leland Sklar’s cocaine-drenched mustache, but that’s less an actual location and more a state of mind.  One might ask: why is this prestigious, award-winning website writing up a cover band?  I suppose the biggest reason is one of my best friends (Brian Weeks of Summer Set, De La Noche, and touring guitarist for the Rosebuds and Howard Ivans) is the lead guitarist.  Another would be because I love soft rock, and these guys are a damn good time with a nice set list of classic jams (I could personally use less America, but I’m probably in the minority on that one).  It was also my almost three-year-old daughter’s first show ever, and she was mesmerized…and likely confused on what the hell “Uncle Brian” was doing.  Finally, it’s not every day you get to hear Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” while seagulls squawk incessantly along with the guest saxophonist.  It was damn near a perfect night. 

Arcade Fire / Hamilton Leithauser at the Red Hat Amphitheater - 7/12/2018

Arcade Fire
With Hamilton Leithauser
Red Hat Amphitheater

It’s honestly been a long time since I paid much attention to Arcade Fire, and hadn’t even considered going to this show until a free ticket fell in my lap.  The tickets came via the age-old scenario we’ve all been through multiple times – the lead singer of a popular band, through a never-ending list of intermediaries, contacts your basketball group and wants to play pick-up.  Afterward, he gives the group a bunch of tickets to their show the next day.  You then attend the show with a bunch of those basketball friends, and some of them get drunk off of expensive beers.  Pretty boiler plate stuff.

On its own, I was on the fence at even attending the gig until I saw Hamilton Leithauser was opening – that immediately put me fully in.  You may or may not know Hamilton was the singer of the Walkmen, who were goddamn great and everyone should listen to their album “Bows + Arrows” if it’s not already a part of your regular music rotation.  Despite my love of his previous band I had been totally unaware of Hamilton’s solo career, but I wasn’t particularly worried about how I might feel about it – no matter the music, as long as his voice is front and center, it’s going to be no worse than pretty good.  And that is precisely what was witnessed – the guitars weren’t as driving as the Walkmen, the songs a little more subdued…but basically it felt like I was hearing Walkmen songs I’d never heard before.  It was mostly acoustic and a little (intentionally) ramshackle, and might have been a small step back from the Walkmen, but this material certainly was worth a listen and had me wanting to hear more of it.  I immediately went home and set to downloading this solo material, because even Walkmen-lite is worth a listening.

I saw Arcade Fire in the relatively small Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco back in 2004 just after “Funeral” came out – things have certainly changed since then.  I was surprised when I saw two giant HD video screens above the stage, wondering when Red Hat installed them - until it dawned on me the band was actually travelling with them!  If you need a tractor trailer to haul all of your stage props to each performance, you’re on the next level from the sort of shit I typically enjoy.  Then again, when the live performance is also a huge spectacle, it can be pretty entertaining even if you’re indifferent to many of the songs they’re actually playing.  They actually did a good job with their set list – not leaning too heavily on their most recent album “Everything Now,” playing songs from across their entire career.  I was pleased to get to hear material from their first couple of records, since I’ve actually listened to “Funeral” and “Neon Bible” a fair amount.  As for newer tracks, they’ve apparently leaned heavily into dance pop/disco lately – not really my bag, but I guess the rest of the crowd was feeling it.  They closed out the affair with a huge crowd sing-a-long version of “Wake Up” – that might be as much crowd participation as I’ve ever seen and/or heard.  It was quite impressive actually.

Bat Fangs at Kings - 6/29/2018

Bat Fangs

At this point all Bat Fangs shows are sorta the same – they play pretty much all of their excellent self-titled record, maybe a new song or two they’re trying to work out, and close with the glam pop masterpiece that is Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me.”  Despite this, I make every attempt to see them anytime they come through town, because good power pop (or at least occasional power pop) is in short supplies these days, and these gals are goddamn excellent at it.  Betsy was killing it as always in a carnival-style airbrushed Bat Fangs shirt that I wish I had a replica of in my size.  It might be worth the price of admission alone just stare at her gleaming white Gibson SG, never mind how well she shreds it - goddamn that’s a good looking guitar, and I’m not someone that usually even cares about such nonsense.  Laura was a monster behind the kit as always.  If you ever hear one of those misogynistic jack legs talking about girls being subpar drummers, first tell them to go fuck themselves, and then point them to literally anything Laura has ever drummed on…and then maybe tell them to go fuck themselves one more time just in case the original message . Hopefully Bat Fangs come back again soon.  Even if it’s the exact same performance yet again, I’ll still buy a ticket and be there, front and center.  Never look a gift horse in the mouth, especially if that horse writes super catchy songs.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks / Lithics at the Cat’s Cradle - 6/19/2018

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
With Lithics
Cat’s Cradle

After more than 20 years of going to shows, it’s rare that I’m late.  Hey, It’s not my fault Carrburritos was that crowded!  But it might have been my fault I left the house much later than I should have.  Anyways, despite knowing that I would like Lithics after listening to their latest “Mating Surfaces” leading up to this gig, I sadly only got there in time for a song and a half from them.  It was exactly what I was hoping for – a female-fronted, slightly more subdued version of Ex-Models.  If that doesn’t mean anything to you (it should, Ex-Models were fantastic), think a modern, punkier Devo.  They seem young, so hopefully that means they tour a lot and I can manage to show up on time should they appear here again.

It had been quite a while since I had seen Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks live (or any Malkmus configuration, for that matter), but I have been enjoying their latest record “Sparkle Hard,” so it seemed worth the effort.  Pavement were always notoriously hit or miss live - I think my personal tally was two good shows and one that was thoroughly lifeless & mediocre – but other than possibly being drunk, Malkmus delivered this evening.  He was very talkative and funny between nearly every song – amongst all the rambling there were multiple mentions of Skunk Baxter (specifically the amount of drugs in his mustache), and at one point after someone yelled out “Charlottesville” he responded “Thomas Jefferson…he’s in the musical ‘Hamilton,’ so he’s legit.”  Stephen also doesn’t look like he’s aged in 20 years, which is particularly infuriating to this fat and bald slob.  You can also forget what a good guitarist he is until you see him play live – none of the music Malkmus has recorded over the years really stands out for its technical wizardry when you listen to it, but there is often a lot high-level guitar playing going on in those songs.  As for the actual set of music performed on this night, it was a lot of the new record plus a few older jams like “Jenny And The Ess-Dog” scattered throughout – looking at set lists from rest of the tour, this appears to be fairly typical.  The real highlight was the encore – just like when Spiral Stairs played last year, Pavement drummer Steve West made his way down from Virginia and joined Malkmus for a pseudo-Pavement reunion.  They played two songs, “Shady Lane” and “In The Mouth A Desert”…the crowd was obviously way into it.  If I could make one suggestion to other bands out there – include a near reunion of Pavement as part of your encore, it goes over like gangbusters.

Tracyanne & Danny at Motorco - 6/15/2018

Tracyanne & Danny

Apparently every club in Durham and Chapel Hill have been reading my mind, because this Tracyanne & Danny show was yet another in recent months that had me arriving at the club before it was even dark outside, and back home before the late news.  Feel free to jump on this bandwagon as well, Raleigh music venues.  It had been a long time since I last saw Camera Obscura (apparently 2010, which is even longer than I would have guessed), but based on their popularity then I was a little surprised at the low turnout for what was clearly the best weapon of that band – namely, Tracyanne Campbell and her mellifluous voice.  Regardless of attendance, they put on a lovely performance – in addition to Tracyanne and Danny Coughlan, there was also a bassist, drummer, and most notably a keyboardist who also played saxophone.  It honestly hadn’t dawned on me how sax is in the songs of their self-titled record until this night.  Predictably, the set was the entirety of their only record, plus a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” – twee pop is a terrific medium for this classic song.  There was also plenty of banter and stories throughout the gig - as Danny noted, “If we didn’t tell stories we’d be out of here in a half hour.”  As has happened every time I’ve seen her perform, I was totally in love with Tracyanne by the end of the night, and I’m quite certain I wasn’t alone.  I’m pretty sure the woman could start a cult if she so desired, assuming anyone would ever actually want an army of middle-aged dorky dudes as their congregation.

The Sea And Cake / James Elkington at the Pinhook - 5/20/2018

The Sea And Cake
With James Elkington
The Pinhook

Between the way the Cat’s Cradle has been running their performances and the schedule-based festivals I've attended lately, I’ve gotten used to everything starting on time…which makes it extra excruciating that this show started a full hour late. Apparently this was the result of miscommunication rather than intentional fuckery, but that didn’t make that hour of standing around any more palatable. Plus I was tired as shit from a long weekend of Moogfest. Complaining complainer complains!

Eventually James Elkington took the stage – he’s been in a bunch of bands (most notably Brokeback with Doug McCombs, who was playing bass with the Sea And Cake on this tour), but this was just the man and his acoustic guitar. He was a very personable fella with quality banter…clearly a man very comfortable on stage. His music was in the same vein as Nick Drake (but not on par obviously), wispy and delicate on top of some excellent finger-picked guitar work. Given that description, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that the crowd was way too loud and almost completely overpowered him, even at the very front of the stage. It wasn’t the most exciting performance I’ve ever seen, but the music was nice and it was pretty mesmerizing watching James play guitar.

Holy shit it was hot in the Pinhook by the time the Sea and Cake took the stage. Not just from the body heat of the crowd, which had grown much larger and more tightly packed, but the stage lights were absolutely cranked. This was great for photos – I’ve never had it so easy at this club in my life – but terrible for not being drenched in sweat. I was apparently so sweaty that even from the stage, Sam Prekop pointed at me and said “this guy is definitely hot” – and I think we all know he wasn’t referring to my physical attractiveness. Despite that, 3/4ths of the band was dressed in Canadian tuxedos...their balls must have been boiling. Doug McCombs and his giant David Letterman beard was the only person not towing the fashion line. Despite the heat, they sounded fantastic, almost as if they're a collection of highly respected musicians that have been a band for a quarter of a century. I love their new record “Any Day,” and to no surprise that album make up the bulk of the set. Of course I would have loved more classics, but they perform so rarely you take whatever you can get. They did finally hit on a couple of their early jams during the encore with “the Argument” and “Parasol”...honestly, getting to see “Parasol” performed live was worth the price of admission alone.

When it was all over, I couldn't walk fast enough to my car and crank up the AC. Thank god for modern conveniences.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Moogfest (Day 3) in downtown Durham - 5/19/2018

Moogfest (Day 3)
Downtown Durham

My second day of Moogfest (the actual third day of the festival) included more artists and much less rain, just how I like it.  Also, I ate a giant burrito from a taco truck so it was a damn good day.

After I picked up my daily press passes at the American Tobacco Campus, I had enough time to pop into “The Cage” (aka the covered, outdoor basketball court) to catch some of the DJ action happening there.  And I stopped for good reason – the legendary
Pete Rock was spinning classic nineties jams.  Did CL Smooth show up and they performed the all-time great “Mecca And The Soul Brother” album in its entirety, and everyone collectively lost their shit?  No, it was just a DJ set, but it was still pretty cool and obviously he was playing nothing but that good good that was a huge part of my formative years.  There were lots of folks there, from little kids to those even older than me, all having themselves a good time.  The best part were the little kids in the back of The Cage dancing, not a care in the world.  Also, can we talk about how Pete Rock is nearly 50 but looks 20 years younger?  Dude must sleep in a hyperbaric chamber, making me feel all bad and gross about myself – it’s equal parts impressive and anger-inducing.

The first act I was scheduled to shoot this night was
Psychic TV at the Carolina Theatre.  I honestly knew more about the band historically and conceptually (godfathers of the industrial genre, early pioneers in the techno world, and of course the identity politics) than I actually knew their music, but given their “legend” status it would have been stupid to miss them.  I have no idea about the membership of the group outside of Genesis P-Orridge, but on this night they were a five piece in matching white denim, and trippy, super-colorful collage backdrop visuals that were such a big part of the performance it was like a sixth band member.  Perhaps my biggest shock of the entire festival was what I heard during their set – fairly straight-forward heavy rock music.  I was expecting shit to be super weird!  Instead, they kicked things off with a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire,” and from there it was a series of noisy, dark dirges not that different from the Birthday Party or someone of that ilk.  They really seem to enjoy stretching their songs out and letting them breathe in a krautrock-like fashion.  I was honestly way into it – after taking photos up front for the first few songs, I went to the back of the theatre, sat down, and let the sounds wash over me.  It might have been my favorite moment of this entire Moogfest.

Next up on my dance card was the highly-regarded Norwegian artist
Jenny Hval, just across the street at the Armory.  At this point I can’t claim a lot of new firsts when seeing live music, but this was definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a pregnant woman eat a banana in an inflatable clam as a part of a musical performance (this is obviously a very common sight in a non-musical setting).  The pregnant woman was one of band members, and I’m honestly not sure if it was intended to be part of the performance, or she was just tired and hungry.  Later on Hval would sing a song after sticking a half-inflated ball down her shirt and then performing (half-assed) synchronized stretching with the pregnant woman (this was post-banana, obviously).  Basically, I didn’t understand a single goddamn thing that was happening onstage other than the music – and the music was pretty decent.  It landed somewhere on the spectrum between ambient, atmospheric electronic music and straight-forward electro-pop.  I’m not entirely sure I’d go our of my way to see it all again, but I was glad to experience it at least once.

Back across the road again at the Carolina Theatre (if you haven’t guessed, I spent all night just going back and forth between here and the Armory), I caught the last few minutes of
J Rocc, best known for his work with the legendary turntable crew the Beat Junkies.  If you’ve ever seen those YouTube videos of a one or a few dudes on multiple record players cutting, chopping and scratching their way through a shitload of records and in the process creating new music – well, this guy is one of the OGs of that sort of thing.  As far as DJs go you’re not going to get much more entertaining than J Rocc, though as I’ve noted on past occasions when it comes to watching DJs perform live, there should be an overhead camera so you can really see what is going on.   

Instead of ending his set, J Rocc just handed over the equipment to the DJ for
KRS-One, and the party kept flowing.  KRS-One was a large part of Boogie Down Productions, the group responsible for one of the top five greatest hip hop albums of all time, “Criminal Minded.”  Getting to hear “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over” live after three decades of listening to those songs was serious bucket list material.  I would have preferred more songs and less freestyle from the man, but at this point I guess he has earned the right to do whatever the fuck he wants when on the mic.  This show was  real who's who:  the legendary Freddy Fox was with him, Pete Rock was hanging out on the side stage, and even Michael Stipe was there (you might remember KRS-One appeared on the REM track “Radio Song” that got a little bit of airplay back in the day).  He seemed super concerned with “real hip hop,” though I’m not sure anyone has ever settled on a real definition of what exactly that is.  On the downside – so much feedback coming from the monitors; a distracting, annoying amount…but as bad as it was, it was the only technical issue I experience all weekend which feels like a small miracle given how many electronics have been involved with all of these acts.

My final show of Moogfest would be 
Mouse On Mars back at the Armory, performing with Spank Rock (the rapper) and Sonic Robots (robotically automated percussion that was scattered around the stage).  Also, they did all of this in near darkness, with only a small amount of backlighting and some computer screens to guide the way.  Photographically, it was a pretty frustrating note to go out on – I had my speed cranked up to 6400 and my aperture all the way to 1.4, and I still only got a handful of non-blurry, sorta lit photos out of about 100.  Given the billing more Spank Rock would have been nice, as he was my main motivation for being there; he came out and rapped with his back to the crowd for one song, and did a little more work sitting in the back, but that was about it for the 45 or so minutes I was there.  Despite all of that, it was still a decent showing – the live version of their music was much more dynamic and organic than I would have imagined, with real drums and guitar getting incorporated into the expected electronic sound.  They’re not someone whose recorded output I’ve paid a ton of attention to, but this set piqued my interest in what their latest album for Thrill Jockey has to offer.  Will have to put that one on the “to do” list…

For a festival that I had minimal interest in before it kicked off, I ended up having a damn good time for the bulk of it.  It’s a reminder to myself to sample the unknown fare more often at these type of events - who knows what unknown or overlooked band might become a future favorite.  

Moogfest (Day 2) in downtown Durham - 5/18/2018

Moogfest (Day 2)
Downtown Durham

I wasn’t all that enthused with this year’s Moogfest line-up when it was released, but I was given the opportunity to take photos for the festival, so I was going to be there regardless.  The flip side of not having a ton of shows you feel like you have to see -it leads to a lot more exploration and investigation of the acts you don’t know, instead of just seeing performers that you already know you like.

Case in point – my favorite artist this Friday night was
Annie Hart at the First Presbyterian Church.  Her name didn’t mean anything to me at first, but after a little digging I discovered she was one-third of Au Revoir Simone.  Spacy electro pop in a dark church?  I’m there.  I’m not sure when they started using this venue, but it was my first time seeing anyone perform here – it’s a great spot.  I’m always game for a church performance though – the setting lends itself to a quiet, respectful crowd; though the flipside is you feel very self-conscious while taking photos because many times it was so quiet you could hear the camera shutter over the music.  It was definitely a great setting for Annie, adding to the atmospheric vibe of her whole endeavor.  Roughly half of the set was just her, and for the rest she had one and/or two other women adding backing vocals, bass, and just a smattering of drums (or rather drum, since there was only one).  Sound wise, other than a couple of more upbeat songs, I’m not sure it was really all that different from an Au Revoir Simone performance (outside of the band members involved obviously), or at least I’m not smart enough to spot the differences.  It was great regardless, and now I really need to hear that record she released last year called “Impossible Accomplice” (note: apparently it was only released on cassette and since I don’t have a cassette player anymore I’ll need the digital files instead, but the point stands).

I’d planned to do a bit of bouncing around to different venues, as one does at these festivals, but the weather had different ideas.  Intermittent downpours meant I waited until the rain was at least somewhat manageable, and then hot stepped it to the Armory to spend the rest of my night.  I was planning on only catching a few minutes of
Yves Tumor, but I ended up with a full set out of a necessity to keep dry.  Yves is just one person for the record – a dude who was dressed like an extra from Blade Runner in futuristic clothes, a white cowboy hat, and what looked like a surgical mask?  I’m not sure I have the slightest idea on what was happening on the stage – heavy, industrial noise with a tinge of techno and vocals so distorted I’m not sure he was even trying to form words – and if he was, you’d never know what they were.  The only lighting was erratic strobes scattered around the venue (until Yves told them to kill the strobes, and then it was dark as shit).  The whole affair was disorienting, ominous, maybe a little creepy…I’m not sure I would call it enjoyable though.  My snarky side would say it wasn’t even music, but eye of the beholder and all that, who am I to decide what is music?  It just wasn’t for me.

After all of that, whatever that was and whatever you decide to call it,
Shabazz Palaces closed down this night at the Armory.  The duo was positioned behind a bank of electronics and a wide assortment of percussion for pretty much the entire show, but it still felt like a pretty dynamic performance.  The music may be quite different, but it’s hard not to hear Digable Planets whenever Palaceer Lazaro (nee Butterfly) raps, his voice is so distinctive – plus I listened to the fuck out of those two albums Digable Planets released in the mid-nineties.  The tweaked out, electrified & fried percussion laid down by Baba Maraire was just as excellent as you would expect from a dude who grew up under an African music master, Dumisani Maraire.  The entire time the backdrop was filled with projections that ran the spectrum of anime to clips from the movie “Malcolm X,” which added to the trippy vibe of the performance.  It definitely inspired me to spend some more time with some of the Shabazz Palaces recorded output, weird ass space alien lyrics be damned.  If Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips can make a career of writing songs about this nonsense, there’s no reason we can’t have a hip hop version of roughly the same content. 

Carolina Rebellion at Charlotte Motor Speedway - 5/6/2018

Carolina Rebellion (Day 3)
Charlotte Motor Speedway

There’s typically never enough happening at Carolina Rebellion to garner more than a passing glance from me – usually no more than two or three bands in any given year that I would actually get excited to see.  But for some reason this not only where there quite a few more groups I liked in the mix this year, but all the ones I wanted to see had been scheduled for the same day!  A festival of this nature would require more than my typical solo attendance, so a couple of longtime friends from Wilmington and Asheville were called into action for a day of rock, rednecks, overpriced concessions, sunburn, inhaling at least a pound of dust, and a shitload of fun.

I hadn’t initially planned on starting my music festival day as early as we did, but one of my dudes insisted on seeing
Quicksand – and why the hell not, the tickets were paid for, might as well get our money’s worth!  I had not thought about these guys since the mid-nineties, which is understandable since they hadn’t released any records since 1995 up until last year.  One friend insisted we saw them in Wilmington at the Mad Monk back in 1994 or 1995 with Sensefield…this seems entirely plausible, but all I remember from that night was Sensefield and our friend that was punch-dancing in the middle of a non-existent pit.  Anyways, Quicksand were definitely worth getting there early for – played a few of their older songs that I was surprised to remember, and the new songs were decent – melodic hard rock/punk, not that different from the old shit really, at least live.  It was a good enough set that it made me want to check out their most recent album “Interiors.”  It’s still weird to me that the singer, Walter Schreifels, is the same dude from Gorilla Biscuits.

Next up was one of the bands I was most excited about –
Mutoid Man.  I saw them randomly on a whim at Hopscotch in 2016 and was blown away.  The three-piece came on stage this day wearing matching sleeveless tuxedo t-shirts, so it was scientifically impossible this wasn’t going to be a fun gig.  My best description of Mutoid Man is they’re a modern take on old-school eighties speed/power metal, somehow in on the joke but completely sincere at the same time.  Singer Steve Brodsky might be the happiest metal musician on the planet – he never stops smiling.  Yeah, their banter and song intros are a little canned and predictable, but they’re so damn good at what they do who the fuck cares.  Around the middle of their set they threw some shade at fellow festival band Great Van Fleet, dedicating their performance of part of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” to them.  I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence they played a song called “Bridgeburner” soon thereafter – this band doesn’t seem to give a shit about hurt feelings.  They ended their set with a bang, maybe the single best thing I saw all day – a cover of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” with new Baroness guitarist Gina Gleason taking on the Eddie Van Halen solos.  They even included all the mid-song banter, with some slight modifications.  If you like heavy music and don’t feel the need to take all this shit so seriously, never miss Mutoid Man if they’re ever playing near you.

So, speaking of
Greta Van Fleet…most of the time I’m a “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” person, but I can’t help myself here.  They were playing one of the two big stages, and a shitload of people there to see what might be the biggest buzz band at the whole festival.  I had heard they sounded like Led Zeppelin, but had never actually heard them – I love Robert Plant & co as much as the next guy raised on seventies classic rock, so that’s gotta be a good thing right?  Holy shit, they were DREADFUL.  Well, comically dreadful, as we had a good laugh for as long as we could stand it.  It felt like seeing a really terrible Led Zeppelin cover band that never got around to playing any actual Led Zeppelin songs – instead, we got nothing but shitty, mid-tempo originals that sounded like Zep minus the hooks and the talent.  They were even dressed like seventies rock rejects for fuck’s sake.  To be fair: the tiny singer could actually hit all those Robert Plant notes, which was probably the only impressive thing about them… even if he was mostly just saying “mama” over and over and over.  Unfortunately, the rest of the band couldn’t come within a 1000 yards of Page, Jones, and Bonham.  My friends and I most of the time looking at each other with “can you believe this shit?” eyes while laughing our ass off.  Somehow though we were in the minority as the crowd was, much to our amazement, really into it.  These people are going to be blown away if they ever get a chance to hear a copy of “Led Zeppelin II” or “Houses Of The Holy” at some point in their lives.   

GVF were the first in a long line of mid-day bands I had little interest in, but I knew that was going to be the case going in and just rolled with it.  We watched a few songs from
Code Orange, a band I’d never heard of that did that really screamy, aggro energy drink metal that I associate with shirtless bros and Juggalo types.  This performance had the first really serious pit I saw all day.  They had the rare combination of a drummer that was also the lead singer, but unfortunately they didn’t sound at all like the Romantics.  There was a lot of lurching from multiple band members everywhere on the stage, which was quite disorienting…and that’s gotta be hell on the back.  After that we watched a good amount of Clutch on one of the big stages.  They’re one of those bands that have been around forever and I have no particular opinion about them…just straight-forward heavy rock from some no-frills middle-aged dudes who have been doing this forever.  It was better than a lot we saw in the middle of the day, but not good enough to actually get excited about.  We then walked all the way back over to the other big stage to see some of the Struts, who I referred to as a modern day version of the London Quireboys, a comparison no one else seemed to get.  They did that typical bluesy/glam hard rock thing, with a singer that was basically a Mick Jagger impersonator - definitely not my bag but I’ve heard worse.   They would have probably been huge if this was 1986.

The day finally got interesting again with
the Sword…it’s not often you get to combine metal with Moog synths and a blonde guitarist wearing a Guayabera shirt that looks like he’d make more sense in a Beach Boys cover band.  I never know what to call the music they make – surf stoner metal maybe?  It’s pretty similar to whatever the hell it is that Fu Manchu also does.  They sound like a band that could have been playing in the background when Spicoli falls out of that VW van in a cloud of pot smoke in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”  We only caught a few songs, but they were a good few songs.  Probably a band better viewed in a small, dingy rock club though, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Before this festival, I don’t think I’d ever given much thought to seeing
Billy Idol live - but now that I’ve seen him, I’m damn glad I did.  His voice might not be what it once was, but the energy and performance from both him and the band (especially guitar god Steve Stevens, who is still a wizard) more than made up for it.  There’s always some worry in seeing a classic artist, worry that the set list will have too much “new” material that no one gives a shit about, and not enough of the classics.  When you’re talking about a 45 minute long festival window though, Idol smartly just went with what the people wanted - hit after hit after hit…and he has a lot of hits.  Sometimes you might forget what a great song “Dancing With Myself” is, and this was a terrific reminder.  The acoustic-to-electric version of “White Wedding” as the encore was terrific, as was Stevens busting out his iconic Top Gun theme in the middle of one of Idol’s tracks.  We also saw a girl trying to crowd surf, only to beef it straight to her face and have to be helped out.  Knock it off with the stupid crowd surfing, people – it’s one inconsiderate person denying a ton of people the opportunity to watch the show they paid a lot of money to see for fear of being kicked in the head.

After waiting for Incubus to finish their caterwauling, my most anticipated act of the whole day was upon us –
Baroness.  Despite my high expectations, they still managed to surpass them.  Like Mutoid Man I also saw them randomly at Hopscotch a couple of years back, was completely blown away, and have since listened to their 2015 album “Purple” obsessively.  Luckily, they played A LOT of that record, and from the crowd reaction I’m not the only one who has been feasting on that release.  I mentioned her appearance during Mutoid Man, but holy shit it needs to be mentioned how hard Gina fucking shreds the guitar – any Neanderthals out there still harboring the idea that women can’t play guitar as well as a man needs to witness this woman and then punch yourself in the face for being so stupid.  All of the harmonized solos between her and singer John Baizley were perfection - you’d think she has been with the band forever, not just a few months.  This is also where I mention what a goddamn trip it is that their drummer, Sebastian Thomson, is also in the synth band Trans Am.  The pairing shouldn’t make any sense on paper, but he definitely makes it work – it helps that he is a machine behind the kit.  The forty minutes or so that Baroness played breezed by, I would have happily taken twice that.  Let’s hope the new record isn’t too far off, and in support of that a tour date somewhere in the Triangle.  Though I’ll gladly travel much farther to see them again.

We had one last act to see this night,
Queens Of The Stone Age, but whether it was tired legs or brains melted from the glory of Baroness, it sorta felt like a chore.  Also, we were 132 miles from the stage (approximately).  Don’t get me wrong, they sounded great, and were playing a lot of older songs from their seminal album “Songs For The Deaf” which is really all I wanted to hear, but the heart wants what it wants, and mine wanted to leave this dust pit for more comfortable environs.  After about a half-dozen songs, it was time to make the mile walk back to the parking lot…I’ve never been happier to sit in a car in my entire life.  All in all, a day well spent – the music was good more often than not, the weather wasn’t too bad, there were a lot of ridiculous people to look at, and most importantly I got to spend some quality time with a couple of good friends, something that doesn’t happen nearly often enough in adulthood.