Monday, May 6, 2019

Spiral Stairs / Spider Bags at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room - 3/30/2019

Spiral StairsWith Spider Bags
Cat’s Cradle Back Room

I was supposed to be seeing Hamish Kilgour (of the Clean) in the opening slot of this Spiral Stairs gig, but at some point between when I bought the ticket and show time he had been swapped out with Spider Bags for reasons that would never be given (though the obvious culprit is likely travel from New Zealand).  I’ve seen Spider Bags a shit ton lately, but they’re still a damn fine back-up plan that I’ll never complain about.  This isn’t the first time I’ve said this, but their sets seem to be getting shorter by number of songs, but the songs are getting longer and jammier in that great seventies butt-rock way.  I keep waiting for a James Gang or Joe Walsh cover to make their way into the set list.  They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear except for “Keys To The City,” so stop not playing that please, Mr. Bags.  

This Spiral Stairs outing was very similar to the last time I saw him – new record to promote, guest appearance from Pavement drummer Steve West (who lives somewhere in Virginia), a little sloppy, but for sure a lot of fun.  They kicked things off with the opening track “Hyp-No-Tized” from the new album “We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized,” and Scott Kannberg spent the entire time roaming the stage and adjusting the volume of the entire band’s amps like that mad man Mark E. Smith (RIP).  I finally figured out where at least a couple of his backing band members come from: the Posies and Snowglobe; maybe by the next time they come around I will have figured out the entire band.  The set was mostly from the two most recent records, plus a Preston School Of Industry track and a Nick Lowe cover (“Truth Drug” maybe?).  And, of course, we can’t forget the Pavement portion of the evening with West on drums: they played an all-time favorite “Kennel District,” plus “Date With Ikea,” “Passat Dream,” and “Painted Soldiers.”  I really, truly do like the Spiral Stairs records, I think Scott’s recent production is just as good as that of his former counterpart Stephen Malkmus…but hearing Scott & Steve play Pavement songs is never not going to be the highlight of the evening. 

Teenage Fanclub / Eric Bachmann / The Love Language at the Haw River Ballroom - 3/18/2019

Teenage FanclubWith Eric Bachmann & The Love Language
Haw River Ballroom

There is no tool to accurately measure just how excited I was to see Teenage Fanclub again.  Last time was five years ago at Merge25, in the middle of the day in the blisteringly hot parking lot of the Cradle, and despite all that it was still a blast.  This time around, with a better venue, a reasonable temperature, and me planted right at the front trying to get a good picture or two?  It quite literally doesn’t get any better than that.  One major bummer is founding member Gerard Love is no longer with the band – his harmonies were definitely missed.  That said, I doubt it’s tough for a band of this stature to find adequate fill-ins for their touring ensemble – in this case, bassist Dave McGowan (Belle & Sebastian) and Euros Childs (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) signed on to join Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and long-time drummer Francis Macdonald in a fantastic performance of tracks from across the band’s entire 30 year catalog.  They played one or two songs from all nine of their full-length releases; the exception was my favorite Fanlub record, “Songs From Northern Britain,” which got four(!!!) selections.  Highlights included “The Cabbage,” “I Don’t Want Control Of You,” “The Concept,” “Alcoholiday,” “Baby Lee,” ...and also every other song they played, to be completely honest.  The harmonies between Blake & McGinley were still spot on after all these years – it’s absolutely impossible not to sing along when Teenage Fanclub is playing, people standing around me be damned.

While this gig was a few months earlier than the proper Merge30 festival in July, it was still considered part of the 30th anniversary festivities - and consequently the label filled both opener slots with fellow Merge artists.  The Love Language started the night, a group I hadn’t seen in ages though I’m not entirely sure why.  Outside of front man Stu McLamb, I’m pretty sure the membership of this band is different every time I see them – this version was a five piece, for those keeping track at home.  Eddie from Fin Fang Foom/Solar Halos was playing bass, which was a bit of a surprise because I don’t think of him as a pop guy, but of course he did a fine job.  I must confess I only really know Love Language's first two records, but I know them quite well – and luckily they threw in just enough of those older tracks to hold my attention, including two all-time favorites “Providence” and “Lalita.”  The middle-aged guy standing near me might have been more into this performance than any person I’ve ever seen at any show ever.  I wish I knew that level of joy in my life.

The middle act was Eric Bachmann…hey, I’ve seen this guy before!  His band was the same three dudes he had with him at the Merge Hopscotch day party last year, and they played many of the same songs (though the set was slightly longer).  There was a smattering of old Crooked Fingers material (“Crowned In Chrome,” etc) but it was mostly tracks from his last two solo records – “Murmuration” and “Dreaming” standing out as highlights.  Much like last time, I was hoping Skylar Gudasz would show up to add backing vocals, but it wasn’t to be.  One of these days I’ll hopefully get a repeat of that Hopscotch performance from a couple of years ago, but until then I’ll still enjoy basically any show I can get out of the man, no matter the format, line-up, or songs played.   

The Cowboys / Personality Cult at the Nightlight - 2/26/2018

The Cowboyswith Personality Cult
The Nightlight

I’ve been trying to see Personality Cult for ages now, and by “trying” I mean not leaving the house but silently cursing myself for being suck a lazy pile of shit.  This bill was strong enough to motivate me though – that and the fact I hadn’t seen live music in nearly two months.  The band is fronted by Ben Carr, who you may also know from Last Year’s Men and Natural Causes and probably a bunch of other things (I feel like maybe I saw him in Paint Fumes at one point too?), plus a couple of other dudes I didn’t know who may or may not have been twins.  What’s great about Carr is all of his bands go in a different direction – Last Year’s Men did a twangy garage thing ala the Reigning Sound, Natural Causes went down an angry Gary Numan synth punk path, and this latest act is just straight-up first gen catchy-as-fuck punk ala the Buzzcocks.  They bashed out pretty much their entire self-titled record from last year in around 20 minutes – outside of having to borrow a guitar from the Cowboys after breaking two strings on the very first song, the band was no muss, no frills, no banter, just rock.  I’m good with that.  More acts would be smart to follow that same pattern.

The Cowboys are a quirky power pop four-piece out of Bloomington, Indiana that single-handedly defy the stereotype that nothing good ever came out of that state other than “Hoosiers.”  The band has a lead singer!  For some reason that will never not be odd to me at any music venue outside of a large amphitheater or arena.  I always wonder – are they still required to help carry gear in and out of the club?  I hope they at least help the drummer out, he’s got so much damn shit to haul.  I’m not even sure where to begin with the bassist – it was like a spaghetti western extra collided with a Madchester-era raver, but goddamn he did a fine job on those four strings.  The guitarist saw how high Ian Williams plays his instrument with Don Caballero/Battles, and decided to literally take it up a notch (he was also super talented, for the record).  Drummers are always weird so need to dwell there.    Their songs are catchy and enjoyable as they are, but given the genre the hooks could use just a touch of work – maybe Robert Pollard needs to offer weekend workshops to up-and-coming bands to help write a chorus that turns into an ear worm.  They were still a damn fine group though, and I would definitely see them again – and not just because I would want to see what the bassist was wearing.