Friday, June 4, 2021

Let the After Times Begin

On the night of June 2nd, I ventured to a strange place. It was inside. It was sort of dark, but with colorful lights which lit up a strange platform. Upon this platform, human beings created sounds, using their voices, and various stringed and percussive devices.  I think this was what they used to call “live music.” 

Could June 2021 be the month that live music REALLY comes back to us? Wednesday at Ruby Deluxe, there was an actual, real, LIVE SHOW.  Not that there haven’t been any at all.  I’ve seen the odd outdoor gig, and much love to the Pour House for starting things with seated shows indoors a few weeks ago, as things were beginning to re-normalize.  But THIS is the first music I’ve seen that felt truly like the before times. 

It started quietly, as if to warm us up to the very idea again. One singer and an electric guitar, Al Riggs, standing alone on the great new stage at Ruby, playing songs from what has become a damned impressive and extensive catalog, including the recent full-lengths Bile & Bone and I Got A Big Electric Fan To Keep Me Cool While I Sleep.  The dark, sometimes sad songs entranced the audience... Riggs’ music sets an otherworldly tone, and they appreciated it, though were sometimes a bit talkative for a quiet act... but hey, they came to dance 😊 (see below). I saw Riggs play a couple of outdoor gigs during the pandemic, and when playing solo, their music lends itself to that. But this felt different. Maybe it was the indoor vibe, the reverb, the sound bouncing off the walls. Or maybe it was just because I was just so eager for venue show. Whatever, it was good.

Al Riggs...

Even when I like the act, I’ve never enjoyed amphitheater or arena shows, or even smaller outdoor shows, as much as the intimacy of a small club. You literally feel the music, the sweat and heat, the energy. It’s visceral. The proximity of the stage makes you part and parcel of the show. 

Speaking of which, much of the audience seemed to come for the second act, Charlie Paso, and to be sure that they themselves became a part of the show. Charlie Paso, apparently, travel with their own dance crew. And I can see why. Their songs are at once catchy and ragged. Hints of Pavement and Modest Mouse flutter through ‘50s pop and ‘70s psych before heading out to the ocean and riding a rolling surf back to now. I swear they were a 4-piece the only other time I saw them too long ago, but being as 2-piece now, they’re none the worse for wear. No lack of energy and fun here. Check out their newest couple of tunes on bandcamp, What a Beautiful Place and I'm Contagious, Yr a Mess. Thanks also to Ruby for adding a cage at stage right, of which several of the dancing crowd made use. 

Charlie Paso...

Two great acts to wet my whistle, and I want MORE. Also, not a bad crowd for a mid-week show, especially considering most people hardly remember what a “show” is. So if you’re vaxxed, get out there and SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC again! And if you’re not, then wtf are you waiting for?!?  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Puzzle Quest – Remnants of the Orb, HYAH! – Vol. 1

Despite the fact that I have less and less time to review albums these days, I seem to be getting more and more sent to me.  Much of what I hear is not bad, even good, but doesn’t inspire me to set aside time to write a review.   In some cases, it just might be a genre I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to weigh in on.  In others, I was just way to busy with real life (see missed opportunities to write about the excellent semi-recent releases from Lonnie Walker and Jenny Besetzt).  Okay, maybe I’ve had a little writer’s block lately, too. :)

But recently, I’ve gotten a couple of releases that are pretty close to my musical sweet spots.  And they both just happen to come from within my own family.  The first is Remnants from the Orb by PuzzleQuest, from Champaign-Urbana, IL.  Look, whether or not my nephew was their drummer, any band that comes from the same town as Poster Children would have made my ears perk up. 

Remnants opens with a Minutemen-esque spiel (The New Flesh), a Pavement-slacker lament (Rick’s Gone), and a mellow stoner groove (Sequential Friends).   It hits on these styles throughout.  Fun pop-punk ditties are interspersed with jazzy jams, and Dale is just a pure pop gem. 

I read another review that said Puzzle Quest couldn’t decide on what they wanted to sound like on Remnants.  There’s some truth to that in that there’s a diversity of styles.  But to me, that’s part of the appeal.  I like not knowing what to expect next.  Wowee Zowee and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain jumped around so much – from wide-open twanginess to punk grinders to nightclub jitters – they gave you whiplash.  But those Pavement classics still worked as a cohesive units.  Likewise, Remnants of the Orb still “sounds” like Puzzle Quest throughout, and that sounds pretty good.
The second release is Vol. 1 from College Station, Texas band HYAH!  Another nephew (Eliot, keys), another college band.  Vol. 1 jumps around between funky grooves and indie-punk (their fb page appropriately describes their genre as “punkfunk”).  Annie is a little of both, with crunchy guitars merging with jazzy vocals and pop melodies.  Alaska is a really cool ‘60s party vibe (think more Peter Sellars The Party than Woodstock).  Dimples and Teeth’s fun punk reminds me of Wilmington’s late-great Free Clinic.  Angry Fish takes you on a 2-minute noise-weirdness-fest, before Vol. 1 closes with a couple of almost pure funk jams.  These guys might even be more schizophrenic than Puzzle Quest!  Did I already say that's a good thing?

Were it not for the family connections, I probably would never have heard of Puzzle Quest or HYAH!  But I gotta say, relatives or not, if they were locals, I’d definitely be hitting up their shows. 

Oh, did I say my niece is in a band, too?  Rally Owls.  Keep an ear out.  (I think musical talent must skip generations in my family)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hopscotch Music Festival - Saturday Night (9/9/17)

Okay readers, I'm gonna knock this one out so these photos don't wait until December to be seen!  Last night of a great Hopscotch.  After the Pour House day party, I went to City Plaza to see Body Games. Downed my second shish kabab of the fest at, well, Shish Kabob, then gathered with the crowd stage front.  Though it was early and a large venue, quite a few Body Games fans showed up.  They got to use the gi-NOR-mous TV screen behind the stage (it was a large LED screen, NOT projection).  Thanks, Big Boi!  This made it possible to incorporate their always great visuals into the set, which you wouldn't have expected possible on a bright day outside.  Of course, the music was good too!

Body Games...
Took a short break before the night shows.  I was going to take a longer one, but I heard a rumor that Andre 3000 was gonna hop on stage with Big Boi at some point during his set... or at minimum, that his show would feature a lot of Outkast material.  So I head back to City Plaza.  No Andre, but yes, Ms. Jackson was apologized to yet again.  Fun show with or without Andre (I'm sure that rumor goes around before every Big Boi show).

Big Boi...
Due to me taking the bait, I missed locals Naked Naps and most of Advance Base at Lincoln.  Caught just the last couple of songs of the latter.  While I'm not too familiar with his music other than generally, I like what I've heard (as Advance Base and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone).  It was very downbeat and unfortunately not very crowded.  He would have worked well at Neptune's, given the general vibe of that venue for the fest (see later).

Advance Base...
So speaking of Neptune's, my Plan A was to close out the fest seeing Japanese Breakfast there (Plans B & C were Slim's & Pour House in no particular order).  The two acts before her/them looked good, too.  And my past Hopscotch experience told me this would be one I'd need to get into well before the show (thus the Plans B & C).  But I still had a few minutes before Truth Club started there, so I popped back into the HUGE "Basement", the new festival venue at the Convention Center.

In the wide open space of the Basement, Alessandro Cortini was "playing".  I say that in quotes not because he's a producer/experimentalist (I learned a long time ago that a good DJ/producer "plays" their instruments, too).  I say "playing" because all you saw when you walked in was a very large screen projecting what looked like old home movies, an empty table on the stage, and experimental music seeming to come only from the speakers.  Okay, maybe he's a recluse.  He's played with Nine Inch Nails, his own band, and various others.  He's paid some dues.  Stepping to the back to get the wide view, an older guy (probably a festival hire) was working the projections.  But in the dark, in front of him, was Cortini... tweaking knobs and controlling the music, unbeknownst to most of the crowd lounging on the floor taking in the atmosphere.  It was a pretty good atmosphere to take in.  One of those unexpected little side-jaunts that Hopscotch always provides, if you're open to them.

Alessandro Cortini...
On to Neptune's.  I had recently been pleasantly surprised to find that this new-ish Raleigh band Truth Club featured Travis from Wilmington's late-great Astro Cowboy.  Similar sound, maybe a little poppier (but I never saw Astro enough live to really compare); another great drummer!

Truth Club...
Staying in the (much smaller) "basement" of Neptune's, I prepped to close out my Hopscotch with a pair of Brooklyn bands.  I know, imagine that! 😄  Cende kicked out a restless pop that very much brought me back to my days of first discovering Cali pop punk when it was new:  Lag Wagon, Descendents, early Green Day... yeah, I'm old.  But these guys aren't just completely re-hashing.  They do it with a fresh take, good songwriting, and ample skills.

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, who's been touring with Cende, popped up to sing the last number with them before her set...
I had heard a lot from Japanese  Breakfast, mostly on 'KNC.  Frankly, they were overplaying them there for a while (as I'm sure other college stations were).  So much so that I thought they were local for a bit.  But every time I heard them, I liked what I heard... "Oh, it's that Japanese Breakfast band again!"  Unlike a lot of bands that generate such buzz, they deserve it

Japanese Breakfast is the solo project of Michelle Zauner (who is of Korean ancestry and not Japanese, thankyouverymuch... the name is meant to juxtapose Asian and European values, or something).  Though her own thing, she's touring with what is a great band.  But Zauner is the unequivocal focus, a stage presence that calls to mind Annie Clark or Sam Herring.  A little warmer than the former, not as ferocious as the latter, but like them, she puts it all out there and leaves it.  It was a tiny setting, but I think she'll be taking over (and taking to) much larger stages soon.  And the music... I thought it would be a mellower show given the bedroom pop feel of the records.  But live, Japanese Breakfast lean more towards the indie of indie-pop.  Very fun, energetic show.  As I posted the night they played, Michelle Zauner is a punk rocker with a lounge singer trying to get out, or vice versa.  Amazing show.  Amazing end to Hopscotch 2017.

Japanese Breakfast...
That's it for my photos.  One day I'll get around to going through my Hopscotch 2017 videos.  Stay tuned...