Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Music Tapes - Pure Whimsy, and the Power of Music (Tir Na Nog, Raleigh, 12/1/11)

Not to snub T0W3RS and the Toddlers (who were both great), and Depressed Buttons (with whom I would liked to have caught up; I remember hanging out with some of them passing through Pensacola with Conor Oberst and Commander Venus, when they were but wee little ones). They all played later this night. But I caught the opening show of the Hopscotch -- ticket sales, not festival -- kickoff party at Tir Na Nog, and the evening really could have ended there and been great.

Merge Record's the Music Tapes brought the kind of whimsical innocence and purity that is far too lacking in this world. Having been a fan of the Elephant 6 Collective and their various bands for some time (Neutral Milk Hotel, Apples In Stereo, Of Montreal...), and having caught a snippet of Julian Kostner's musical saw and quirky singing and storytelling at the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour earlier this year, I was eager to see him play with his own band.

What it ended up being was a very sweet, intimate performance probably not unlike their caroling tour appearances (this was the initial stop on the route this year)... except they usually don't do it in clubs, but at houses where they're invited. Being unplugged, they unfortunately had to work to be heard over the crowd eating and talking on the other side of the bar at this admittedly early show (TNN has to sell food, too!). But no mind. The mouse orchestra, singing snowman, and mechanized organ-playing tower didn't seem to mind (you had to be there).

Right from the beginning, the crowd pulled up close, squatting near the candles, Christmas lights, and other decorations laid on the floor in front of the band. Julian Kostner began by telling stories, as a way of introducing and bridging songs, Christmastime or otherwise. One such tale was about how Archibald Leach (one Cary Grant, as a child) wrote a melody, which became lost in an old hat for years, and was found one day by Billie Holiday, and thus entered the lexicon of Christmas as "The First Noel". Whether true or not, his unique delivery and storytelling ability was utterly charming. Banjoes (usually being bowed, like a violin), signing saws (of which Kostner is a -- if not THE -- master), and various brass instruments made for a mysterious, quiet, sweet and sometimes funny performance.

But the most touching part of the show was when Julian told the story of how people sing songs for many reasons... faith, love, fun, hope. Then he told of a hobo who, long ago, sat on a bench singing a Christmas song. And this poor man never would have dreamed -- how COULD he? -- that he would be here, 30 years later, performing that song with us, for us, this night. Then he set out a tape (on an old reel to reel), pushed play, and the band began to accompany this beautiful voice... the voice of a lost soul who has probably long since left this earth. But at the beginning of this Christmas season, he was here with us. At Tir Na Nog. In Raleigh, North Carolina. Serenading us.

I wanted to ask who that man was, and what the song was, but I never got the chance. But the important part, I think, is that his voice is still alive and bringing pleasure to people around the country, many years later, being carried far beyond the hope and faith that he himself probably had.

This is what music, and a project like the Music Tapes, can do. It makes me think of my father, an opera singer for his entire life, who probably can no longer remember who Enrico Caruso was due to Alzheimer's. It makes me all damn misty-eyed. It makes me think I need to bring some music to play for him when I visit him at Christmastime.

Here are the Music Tapes singing "How Long Has This Been Going On?"... not the 1970s "AM Gold" song by ACE, but an oldie that's been recorded by Audrey Hepburn and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others. BTW, that's a bough of mistletoe Julian's passing over the crowd, as he sings about kissing.

P.S.: I asked Julian after if he (being a member of the legendary Neutral Milk Hotel, though not its driving force, Jeff Mangum) minded me using a lyric from "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" as the name of my blog. He said "Sure, that's fine. I'm sure Jeff wouldn't mind." Again, touching.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lonnie Walker/Free Electric State/Hammer No More The Fingers (Nightlight, Chapel Hill, 11/18/11)

Here's a few pics and a video from a recent Nightlight show featuring one of my favorite local acts, Lonnie Walker, and two others I hadn't seen yet, Free Electric State and Hammer No More the Fingers. I should have seen the headliner HNMTF much sooner, and unfortunately didn't get any good photos of them this night. But they go balls-to-the-wall for a trio, have a fun sensibility not unlike Weezer, and can get downright funky at times. They've got one foot firmly planted in the old school of indie, but with an emphatic bass and a sometimes somewhat complex interplay between bass & guitar. It's not surprising they've worked with producer J. Robbins (ex-Jawbox, etc.).

Lonnie Walker opened. I've seen them a few times, and you should too. Brian Corum's country-ish twang and manic tales of heartbreak and the road take your brain places, and get your body jumping (as evidenced by the dancing fans in the video and pics below). For all the bands around here with that rootsy, "Americana"-thingy going, they take it where no one else does, IMHO standing head and shoulders above the rest. They remind me of some of the bands on Athens' Ghostmeat Records back in the 90s (Tony Tidwell, Drive By Truckers, The Lures, and Dave Dondero... or really more like his old bands Sunbrain or Flatwheelers before he went solo). Very much kindred spirits with that bunch, anyway.

Meanwhile, relative newcomers Free Electric State filled out the middle of the night with a thunderous, sorta "math rock"-y, BIG sound. They follow the indie old school, too. Dual staccato guitars, stop-starts, unexpected turns, high energy... all that with the male-female vocals kinda reminded me of Versus live. Their songs often build to pleasant, mind-numbing drones that almost (but not quite) hide the many layers used to generate them. All in all a very cathartic live show, and I'd guess as much for them every time they play as for the audience.

Lonnie Walker...

Free Electric State...

Lonnie Walker doing "Summertime"... sorry the vid's a bit dark; the original wasn't before it was dumped to YouTube.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

T0W3RS/Wesley Wolfe/Spider Bags (Tir Na Nog, Raleigh, 10/20/11)

Local Beer Local Band night at Raleigh's Tir Na Nog has always been a great Raleigh music institution, but it's picked up since their old booking agent returned from a stint at Durham's Motorco. Thursday Oct 20th's show was a major case in point: T0W3RS, Wesley Wolfe, and Spider Bags. Any of these bands could headline locally, and all three were great, so nothing against the latter two at all. Wesley Wolfe played smart, jumpy indie-pop-punk reminiscent of Ted Leo. Clarion-clear vocals mixed with spiky guitars and lyrics that were at once painfully sincere and out of left field ("there's a black hole behind my face"). Spider Bags rawked out in the psychobilly kinda way that early Dash Rip Rock did, which is a high complement from me.

But I'm going to talk mostly about Carrboro's T0W3RS, and because of this: it's rare that a jaded, grizzled, indie vet like myself walks away from the stage with grin on my face.

T0W3RS had me smiling a mile wide.


T0W3RS is fun. I mean, unabashed, infectious FUN. They're obviously having it, it shows in the music and demeanor, and it draws you in. T0W3RS is different. For all the great music around here, a lot of the bands are doing things that are similar -- rootsy, "Americana", etc. But T0W3RS doesn't really sound like anything else (despite what you're about to read below). T0W3RS is everything that makes me like music in the first place, and it amazes me, once in a very long while, that I can still get that feeling about a new act.

As for the sound and what I said above, I loathe the typical "Band X meets Band Y" description of a band's sound. It's pat, lazy, and not always accurate. In a quote attributed to everyone from Thelonius Monk to Martin Mull, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture". But we part-time music critics have to start somewhere. And my expectations going to see T0W3RS were of some strange meld between Animal Collective and country twang, based mainly on hearing 2 very different songs by them online: "OUR5" (the Animal Collective-style one) and "Summertime" (a Lonnie Walker cover, and therefore, the twang).


After seeing them, however, I can't say that they aren't, in fact, the love-child of George Jones and Animal Collective.

[There. I did it. I feel dirty. Are you happy?]

But what those two songs, and the entire show, should have told me, was that this was a diverse band doing something unique. Live, at least, the core is the (sometimes yes, rather twangy) guitar and vocals of frontman Derek Torres (also of Soft Company). But a very heavy rhythm section, keys -- both of the electronic and toy kind -- various other assorted insruments, and dual female vocals, all add to a melange that makes them, at the closest, some distant grand-nephew Mr. Jones.

Listening to "Summertime" again right now, I hear all of these things coming in to make that song very diffrent from the original, and totally their own. And that's what they do live, with their own music. All of these ramshackle parts come together to make something totally unique and totally fun.

So go see T0W3RS the next chance you get... I think they play Dec. 10 at the Cave. I guarantee you will have fun. Below are some photos of T0W3RS, and 3 of Spider Bags (sorry I didn't get any good ones of WW), and a video of the song "Big Sky" from T0W3RS. Sorry for the poor sound quality. I have to figure out how to capture better sound on what to go with the HD my camera takes. Either that, or learn to not stand so close to the monitors. Anyway, I hope I captured the feel of their show.

So here are some pics of T0W3RS...

And a few of Spider Bags...

T0W3RS playing "Big Sky" at Tir Na Nog.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Catching Up - Local Shows, Summer/Fall 2011

Haven't posted here in awhile, but I've been to a few good shows, so here's a sampling via a few of the better photos and a video. A more extensive review and photos/video of the recent T0W3RS/Wesley Wolfe/Spider Bags Local Band Local Beer night at Tir Na Nog is to come, because I wanted to devote more space to T0W3RS, who were realy impressive.

Missy Thangs (Love Language, Soft Company) in her solo debut... way back in June... at Tir Na Nog. I remember a Velvet Underground feel.

Lake Isle, whom Miss Thangs opened for. Not great, but the use of trumpet gave them a unique edge.

These guys were watching a show at Kings Barcade back in August; but then they always do.

The show featured Cassis Orange, who had a clean, 80s-influenced synth feel (see video below)...

...and Oulipo, who were supposed to sound like Animal Collective (and do somewhat, studio-wise), but were much more straight-ahead-rock-and-roll live.

New Town Drunks, at Nightlight 9/7/11. They're a great, fun bar band with quirky, unexpected twists and turns, and strong vocals from singer Diane Koistinen (ex-DeSchmog! Okay, probably nobody but me and Jolee Holland remember them).

Zen Frisbee playing one of a couple of recent gigs, here, at the Pinhook 9/17/11. They were apparently one of the local indie-punk legends back in the day, before my Triangle time. I could hear that -- they definitely had "it" -- but I felt like I was missing something (probably because I wasn't there).

Not really "local" except to my old NOLA haunts... Soul Rebels Brass Band returned to Papa Mojo's to bring some real funked up jazz to the Triangle (10/7/11). Always a blast, their regular gig is at Les Bons Temps in New Orleans. That used to be my grandpa and great uncles' corner bar!

Lastly, here's a video of Cassis Orange doing "Listen Heartbeat" at the Kings show.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Redux

So I experienced my first earthquake today, here in NC: the 5.9 centered up in VA. All this reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek story I wrote for my ‘zine back in the day, when a similarly "ferocious" quake struck near my then home on the Florida panhandle. I remember actual news stories emphasized jars that fell off of grocery store shelves. Re-publishing below for your (or maybe my own) amusement.

The Great Flomaton Quake of 1997

At 3:35 AM on the morning of October 24, 1997, southern Alabama was struck by an earthquake (no kidding) measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale (really, we’re serious!). The epicenter was located near the town of Flomaton, just 55 miles north of Pensacola. It was the second quake in a few months to strike the area, the first being a 3.1 in May 1997, and was followed by a series of aftershocks. While damage was minimal -- a few jars at a grocery store and shaken spirits -- it was such an unusual event for our neck of the woods that we sent our roving reporter north to investigate. He filed this stunning, surely Pulitzer Prize-winning report on the devastating aftermath of this catastrophe.

October 25, 1997. The tiny pastoral community of Flomaton, AL, appears shaken, both literally and figuratively. Residents are haggard and on edge, not yet settled from the previous day’s tragic yet awesome display of nature. These simple people -- farmers, ranchers, fruit of the land -- can no longer trust the very ground beneath their feet. Despite the mercurial nature of the temblor, it seems to have been not altogether unexpected. “When that 3.1 hit in May, we wuz shook up a bit, but we knew what it really meant” said city councilman and postmaster Esa Burns. “We knew hat wuz comin’. The Big One.” Indeed, they were right.

Other residents expressed similar anticipation in the hours preceding the tremor. Said Clem Bradford, of Flomaton Livestock and Feed, “Well, you could tell somethin’ was up Thursday, the night before, because the sheep were nervous. I mean... moreso than usual.” Lay minister Eugenie Johnson likewise claims to have felt a similar sense of foreboding. “Of course, we knew it would happen. It’s all there in Revelations. The End Time is near!!” When asked if she felt that the earth’s movement was indeed a harbinger of the Christian Judgement Day, she fell to the floor writhing and began babbling incoherently.

Later, in Brewton, a scene of utter devastation spreads out before me. The broken glass, the sickly sweet/sour smell, assault my senses as I come face to face with the casualties of Nature’s brute force. The earlier interviews with the locals did nothing to prepare me for what I now witnessed.

Steve, a stockboy at the Brewton Winn Dixie, related the story. “I was working late, pricing salad dressing. I heard a low rumbling, then the ground started to shake. I thought it was a truck. I had no idea what was happening. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something green. Before I could think, I jumped to the side, and six jars of spanish olives came crashing down right where my head was.” He continued to sweep up the broken jars and olives, a futile attempt at rescue and recovery. F.E.M.A. officials had not yet arrived. One could only guess that their resources were already overtaxed by the probable dozens of plates and dinnerware pieces cracked or broken throughout the county. Steve continued: “One second later, and I would’ve been a goner! Well, at least I would’ve had a nasty bump or two on my noggin.”

Others were not so lucky. “I wazza right next to the first jar to-a go” said Luigi, a 24-ounce bottle of Kraft Zesty Italian. “He was an OK guy. One minute, we’re… how you say... reminiscing about the old country. The next... I’m-a sorry. I can’t go on!” Jim, a nearby jar of pickled baby corn, stammered “It was horrible! My little safety button almost went!” An unidentified, surviving olive jar gazed down at the shattered remains of his loved ones, repeatedly mumbling “The pimentos. The pimentos. My God, the pimentos.”

Despite the crippling losses to Aisle 17 (“Ground Zero”, as the locals have dubbed it), one could say that this piney village was fortunate. Historical records indicate that an amazing 20 cases of olives AND 12 bottles of red wine vinegar were lost in the great quake of 1812. Modern buildings of more quake-proof design, combined with the recent proliferation of plastics in the food storage industry, may prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. Still, it IS best to be prepared. The following are guidelines for earthquake preparedness released by the newly formed citizen’s group, Flomatonians Against Yon Quakin’ Uv the Earth (FAYQUE):

1) Make sure your digital video camera is charged.
2) Verify that your YouTube account is active.
3) Move all briny foodstuffs to the rear of shelves.
4) Tune into your local AM talk radio station for irrational fearmongering (actually, this can be done whether or not a quake strikes).
5) Kiss yer ass goodbye, just in case.
6) Oh yeah, if a quake occurs, get under a table, or a china cabinet, or something.
(Editor’s note: Safety Guidelines 1 & 2 have been updated for 2011, to remove references to the show REAL TV, and something called “videotapes”.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Recently, we've all been reading about the discovery of a "station" of some sorts on Mars by self-described "armchair astronomer" David Martines (and really, people, much more than just a "guy who recently discovered Google Mars and has way too much time on his hands"). This has been making waves throughout the scientific community... see here and here (nothing on Google Scholar yet). The station, named "Bio Station Alpha", is pictured above.

As a scientist (with a laptop), I have taken it upon myself to pick up the mantle of this rather important and astounding research. Believe me, I am as suprised as anyone to now report to you that I have already stumbled across what is perhaps an even more momentous discovery than that of Mr. Martines.

I've found the actual Martians.

Clear as day. Also using Google Mars.

This isn't pixels, or "cosmic ray streaks" ("experts" pfahhh!!). There is NO doubt!

They appear bipedal, and seem to travel in pairs. And by my estimate, they may be as tall as 800 feet! Perhaps the lighter gravity on Mars allows such a massive organisms to survive without collapsing under the their own weight.

While I am not quite the astronomer that Mr. Martines is (my PhD is only in zoology), I believe the approximate Martian coordinates at which these life forms were spotted earlier this evening are as follows: 1°13’14.59” S, 3°20’50.42” W (although judging by their scale and presumed locomotory ability, they may have moved several hundred miles from that location by press time).

So without further ado (I'm sorry, this can't wait on "peer review"), here is the first unequivocal photographic proof... not simply of a "space station", or some unknown structure... but of LIFE on MARS!!

And here's a zoomed in image:
Looking at the relative scale of these Martians, I now believe that the "station" discovered by Mr. Martines may not be a permanent structure such as a station. It may, in fact, be some form of temporary shelter from the sandstorms and otherwise harsh conditions and cold nights of the Martian desert.

It may, in fact, be a sleeping bag.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Miss Lana Rebel and the Broken Promises - King's, Raleigh, 5/26/11

This show show was an unexpected pleasure. It was a quiet night in downtown Raleigh, and I just went out to support the Red Cross tornado benefit at the Pour House, being a multiple Cat 3 hurricane survivor myself. But after a few covers from the GnR tribute band Appetite for Destruction, which was fun (but I've never been a big GnR fan), my usual craving for original music just became too much to bear.

So I had read about this country/western style act playing at King's, and thought I'd head down the street to check it out. I missed the first couple of acts, but caught Nightingale News and the headliner, Miss Lana Rebel and the Broken Promises. Nightingale News is the name of Broken Promises member Coy Campbell King's solo act (just found out he's only sitting in for a bit on this tour). His material was pretty somber, but thoughtful. His sound filled out nicely when Lana and other "Promise" Kevin Mayfield sat in, the latter on singing saw (he and Mr. King pictured here).
It made for a fitting opener to Miss Lana Rebel's act, in which King switched to standup bass and Mayfield went to guitar. The set-up wasn't what I had expected, thinking there would be drums, more swing, etc (but really, I hadn't heard of these guys, and only had the Independent's write-up to go on). So the arrangement made for a quieter version of a down-home honky-tonk act, which knocked my socks off. Miss Rebel's voice quietly soared, telling sad tales of loneliness, loss, and perseverance. Again, maybe I expected something more jumpy, but since when has country not had a rather large element of melancholy?

Not that the band couldn't swing at times. The bass was great and the interplay of acoustic & electric got some tunes really moving. But overall, the feeling was of a listening to a great jukebox on a little highway joint somewhere on your way out west, sippin' whiskey and contemplatin' the universe.

Like I said, it was a quiet night in Raleigh. The show wasn't heavily attended. But that's never been the best indicator of a good show. They got a gig at Slim's the next night, so hopefully, more locals got a chance to check them out. There's a lot of rootsy, Americana/Appalachain-influenced indie music around these parts, but not much country & western. Miss Lana Rebel & the Broken Promises brought some of that to town Thursday (more the western, I'd say), and we're glad they did.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Love Language, In Residency at Slim's (Night 4, 5/6/11)

The Love Language closed out their 4-night residency at Slim's Downtown Distillery in Raleigh, NC, Friday night. The opening band was Lonnie Walker, who I have seen before and liked. But they totally won me over this time. Their sound reminds me of some of the 1990's Ghostmeat Records bands (Sunbrain, Tony Tidwell, Drive by Truckers), in feel if not exactly sound. Is it just me, or is Lonnie Walker frontman Brian Corum the spitting image of Paul Westerberg here?

After covering the Velvet Underground's entire White Light/White Heat album on Night 3, the Love Language returned to close the week with a mix of originals from both of their CDs. As with Night 1, the show was a raucous party. The small space was I'm sure fun and familiar to a band with the not-too-long-ago penchant for playing house parties (but maybe never again). They enjoyed every minute as much as the audience, as all danced and sang along to "Blue Angel", "Manteo", "Lalita", "Providence", and about a dozen others... probably about an even split between the two CDs.

The encore included "Pedals", which I'd not heard played live (and was beautiful). Brian from Lonnie Walker helped close the night signing "Louie Louie" with the Love Language backing, and bodies were flying everywhere (see last picture: off the monitors, over the crowd...). Slim's was definitely pushed to the limit on this night.

What a great band, club, scene, and all-around vibe to have something like this happen in Raleigh. After following idols like Arcade Fire and Guided by Voices around the country (and making idols of themselves to more than a few I'm sure), to come and host what basically was a 4-night party in such an intimate venue was a downright gift to fans and downtown Raleigh alike. Guitarist/producer BJ Burton says they're looking around for a space in Raleigh to record their third CD this summer; so hopefully we'll get another gift in the reasonable future (though they haven't played any new songs yet that I know of).

A few photos and a video below (the haunting "This Blood Is Our Own", preceded by some chatting with the crowd about the week). Pics are a little different than Night 1, as I only used a 80-200mmm zoom on night 4, which probably wan't ideal for the venue and show. Just thought I'd try something different on the second go-round.

The shirt, the shirt...

Too much of this...

...leads to this...