I went to see the second half of the Local Radio Benefit Weekend at the Cat's Cradle last Saturday. The 2-night concert was to benefit local stations WXYC (Chapel Hill) and WCOM (Carrboro). This is a cause near to my heart, as I cut my teeth doing local radion (KLSU Baton Rouge), and mostly the local radio show ("Saturated Neighborhood") back in the 90s. I remember listening to WXYC on the web down in FL when there barely was an internet. Local radio, and local bands, are where it all starts.
The line-up Saturday featured, in this order, New Town Drunks, Lizzy Ross, John Howie, Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff, Wylie Hunter and the Cazadores, and Free Electric State. I had already seen (and liked) New Town Drunks, but showed up too late to catch them again on this night. So let's start with Lizzy Ross. I've heard nothing but good about her, and she backed it up. Standing all alone on the big Cradle stage with but her guitar to keep her company, the singer kept the audience enraptured with a big voice belying her diminutive stature. She played a kind of heartfelt country blues... dark at times, poppy and jazzy at others. While much of her solo show was kind of soft and twangy, you can tell she's got a lot of soul and could really belt it out if she wanted... and she apparently does with her band, the Lizzy Ross Band (who I'll have to check out soon).
The next band delved even deeper into twang-a-liciousness. John Howie, Jr., has been doing this quite awhile (June, Two Dollar Pistols, John Howie, Jr. and the Sweethearts...). But as I'm a relative newcomer to the region, I hadn't yet seen him play. Well, his latest band, he and the Rosewood Bluff, have all the requisite parts -- two-pronged country geetar attack (three counting the slide), slappin' standup bass, and drums -- and they most definitely rock them well! John looked and sang the total cowboy, the music being a bit more cowpunk. Really, he looks and sounds not unlike John Doe. In fact, the live show was a bit reminiscent of "Fourth of July"-era X. That might not have been most X fans' favorite album (it was the "poppy" one), but it was always one of mine. Now, the Rosewood Bluff are definitely more country & western, but the punk underpinnings were there.
John Howie, Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff...
Then there was the bass player, Billie Feather. She's smaller than the standup bass she was playing, but really grabbed it by the reins. She's been in a number of local bands as well, and the experience shows. I could have sworn at one point she was perched, bird-like, atop it while playing... wait... yep, she was (as evidenced by other pictures... I just missed capturing it). She and John, and the whole band, play off each other like the pros they are.
Great slide guitar lurked and swelled in the back, filling in the sound. Having seen a few slide players recently, they seem to be onstage to country bands what the bass player was to 70s rock bands... always working quietly in the back, the underappreciated soul of the band, or something). Well, he was appreciated at the Cradle.
If you're lookin' for a shot of GREAT country-western-cowpunk, check out John Howie Jr. and the Rosewood Bluff. "The Last Great Guitar Slinger" was one highlight (of many).
Up next was Wylie Hunter and the Cazadores. They played sincere, more straight-ahead rock. At first, it didn't stand out quite as much as Howie's band (a hard act to follow), but when they got a little twangy themselves -- more befitting their name -- they found their groove. Hunter has a stong, clean voice, and later in their show, he even approximated Bruce... also to good effect. They got downright anthemic at times, like they were bucking for arena shows, and with their sound, they might be pretty good at it. So overall, I'd say a slow start, but a strong finish. A band with a future.
Wylie Hunter and the Cazadores...
Closing the night was Free Electric State. I've written about them before here, too. Suffice it to say, they worship at the altar of the indie rock gods... and the gods are pleased. Their two-pronged guitar attack (David Koslowski, Nick Williams) is reminiscent of Swervedriver and Versus. Singer/bassist Shirlé Hale at times reminded me of Heidi Ore of Mercy Rule vocally, and Kim Coletta of Jawbox on bass. And that drummer (Tony Stiglitz) is tight! Hell, the whole band is tight.
Free Electric State...
And then there's the lost, great art of feedback as an instrument. It's kinda making a comeback, and Free Electric State are probably the best local practitioners of it.
Listening to Free Electric State, it's easy to get lost in the hypnotic wash of treble and rhythm -- if you can be this loud and still be hypnotic. But as you immerse yourself in it, you find there's a surprising amount of complexity and composition going on amid the din.
Free Electric State doing "Six Is One"...
The show raised $1000 for local radio, and that's apt. The diversity of a show featuring three rather twangy, country-influenced acts, bracketed by the indefinable quirkiness of New Town Drunks and the guitar crescendo of Free Electric State, says it all about the choices and diversity college radio provides.
Support local radio (and local bands)!
New Town Drunks
Lizzy Ross Band
John Howie, Jr., and the Rosewood Bluff
Wylie Hunter and the Cazadores
Free Electric State