Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Great Cover Up 2012 - Night 3 (Kings, 12/15/12)

I couldn't make the first 2 nights of this year's Great Cover Up at Kings.  That's too bad, because I apparently missed Iggy (Cosky) doing Iggy (Pop), Janice Joplin, and E. L. muthafuggin' O!  Damn!  That must've been great.  Video, anyone?

But Night 3 was pretty impressive as it was.  Luckily, I didn't show up 10 minutes later, or I would have totally missed Joy Division.  Sam Logan, Nathan Price (Lilac Shadows, etc...), and Reed Benjamin (Jenny Besetzt) had us momentarily transported back to the Factory in 1979 Manchester.  I caught fairly authentic versions of Transmission and Love Will Tear Us Apart.  Sam did his best detached Ian Curtis onstage...

Jumping up a few years, Thom Yorke & Co. took the stage as Radiohead played... well, I don't listen much to Radiohead (although I'm told I'm supposed to), so I don't really know what they played.   Actually, Ari Picker (Lost in the Trees) and Alex Maiolo (Fan Modine) made me think "maybe I AM supposed to listen to Radiohead!"  

Then the roof blew off the joint.  It was an old-fashioned rhythm and blues revue, featuring the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin!!  Well, Reese McHenry (ex-of she and the Dirty Little Heaters).  Reese did a pretty good approximation, which is saying a lot.  She also had a BIG band of 10 backing her up!  Killer keyboards (that guy was wailing), backup singers, horns, the works.  R.E.S..P.E.C.T., You Make Me Feel..., Think, etc.  Reese was the best moment of a great show I saw a few months back when she got up and sang the opening number for Spider Bags.  I had never seen Dirty Little Heaters, but I wondered what I would hear again from her and when.  This was exactly the type of thing I was hoping for.  

Then the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took the stage, featuring two members of Cellar Seas and Zeke Krautwurst from T0W3RS.  Chelley Godwin WAS Karen O!  I mean, you tell me...

Though she only sings backup with Seas, she owned the stage here. This was also one tight band, if only for a one-off gig, and she and the guitar player made for a helluva dynamic pair.  It was stripped down and spare, but loud and garage-y in that sweetly dangerous way the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are.  I don't really remember the set list... I think they did Maps

Speaking of garage, the Sonics followed.  I'd heard of them.  But Ian told me they invented garage.  And he was probably way influenced by them.  You know....  back in Manchester...  in the '70s..  when he was alive.  Anyway, this band was made up of The Infamous Sugar and members of Savage Knights and Black Zinfandel.  "Suge" preached over the keyboards and the crowd, while the rest of the band had that '60s proto-grunge thing going full force. 

Closing the night, Swedish death metal progenitors At the Gates performed most of one of their albums (Slaughter of the Soul?  Sorry, not a metal guy). This incarnation of ATG was composed of members of locals Morose Vitality, and they were pretty tight and intense.

A perfect closer to a diverse evening's music.  What I can't figure out is just how Kings gets all these famous (sometimes dead) acts to play such a small room.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Okay Failures: (Re) Birth of a Legend

Due to a series of Lifetime Movie of the Week events in my personal life, I've been sorely neglecting the blog lately.  Very few things could have pulled me out of this cave of chaos that has been my milieu for the past month or so.

But there is one thing.

I'm talking about... of course... Okay Failures.
You may or may not know about the Okay Failures show this weekend at Nightlight. They would have you believe it's a one-off, art project... that they've never played before.  But don't believe the hype.  They just wanna lay low.

For those who REALLY pay attention to music, you remember Okay Failures.  If you don't, then shame on you.  Okay Failures started as the teen-angst outlet of Kyle Bravo, one summer evening down in Baton Rouge, upon being kicked out of a Better Than Ezra show for storming the stage screeching "If it's GOOOOD, a WOUW how ho-uw!" in a beer-soaked frenzy.  He vented the rejection by performing nothing but BTE songs for the better part of 1992, accompanied only by ukelele, delivering the lyrics with a biting fury, often crying at show's end.

Some time later, a young Maria Albani was on a family trip down south.  Her distant cousin, Gaston Albaneaux, took her to a coffee shop just north of LSU's campus to see some local music.  In a world that grunge had taken by storm, she was immediately intrigued by Kyle's creative use of sparse instrumentation.  THIS was different!  She grabbed some stir sticks from the creamer table, hopped up next to Kyle, and begin banging away.  Remembering that dark moment from 2 years before, Kyle invited Maria to join up as the second Failure.  There are thousands of people who claim to have been at that show, but there were only about 15 there.  I know, because I was one of them.  I also remember a kid from up in Ruston, Jeff Mangum.  He just sat in a corner all night, alone, scribbling furiously.

It wasn't long before Maria talked Kyle into enrolling at UNC, where they began working out material in unorthodox locales, infamously taking the stage (un-billed, and unwelcome), after Bad Brains' gig at the Station.  

Meanwhile, up in New York, a young artist named Annoyin' Lover (Jerstin Crosby) was trying to sell his rhymes to emerging Staten Island collective.  They tolerated this hanger-on ("college", they called him) because of a shared love for Hong Kong cinema, particularly a film called Shaolin and the Wu Tang.  Rumor has it, it was Crosby's idea for them to take their name from the film, and that they stole some of his lyrics for their breakthrough independent hit, Protect Ya Neck.  This snub was too much for him to take, so he departed form warmer climes, where he thought he could latch on to the burgeoning scene in Chapel Hill, NC.

Rejection breeds strange bedfellows, and Crosby's fomenting political awareness soon found a home as the third Failure.  Okay Failures were now whole.  Their stripped-down political rant-fests were mostly played on the street, busking up and down Franklin and Main, eschewing the vibrant club scene.  Plus, they had learned to write a damn catchy song, while completely ignoring the evolving "indie" dogma.  Local musicians grew to admire their staunch opposition to the status quo, and they were offered opening gigs weekly (which were always, summarily, turned down).  Mitch Easter begged to produce them.  Mac pleaded for them to sign to Merge.

And then, they discovered electricity.  The sudden clash of treble and buzz with the dholak, autoharp, and bouzouki to which fans had become so accustomed was groundbreaking.  It at once repelled old fans and attracted legions of new, and they finally began to play local clubs.  The coining of the word "buzz" in the musical context is widely attributed David Menconi, hearing this new sound and writing about as a young journalist in Raleigh.  The sound is also said to have caused Mangum's nervous breakdown, believing that it rendered his just-recorded-but-unreleased In the Aeroplane Over the Sea obsolete.  By 1997, Okay Failures became the subject of a major bidding war.

Then as abruptly as they flared up, they disappeared.  No one quite knows why.  Each moved away, and weren't heard from musically until Albani was spotted playing in a Portland, OR, outfit.
Bravo briefly made news in 2005, rescuing Fats Domino from Katrina floodwaters.
Crosby settled in Brooklyn, and his presence alone is thought to have sparked that burg's revitalization as the latest Austin/Athens/Seattle.
Okay Failures never recorded.  They never toured.  They never sold a single record.  But they're cited as influences by acts ranging from Animal Collective to Eminem, from Arcade Fire to Calexico,  from M.I.A. to Wye Oak.

And they'd have you believe they're just a bunch of friends pulling together for a lark, a one-time experiment.

So don't believe the hype.  BELIEVE the HYPE.

Okay Failures play a show no one ever thought would happen this Saturday, at Nightlight, in Chapel Hill.  The place only holds a few dozen, so show up early.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Some Army EP Release (Local 506, 8/22/12)

I went to this show partially because I hadn't seen T0W3RS enough lately (excepting the Saturday CAM show at Hopscotch, at which time I was -- frankly -- burned out on music), and partially because I had heard good words about Some Army.  Gray Young opened... always great frenetic indie-guitar, but I only caught a small part of their set. And I intentionally put my camera up for T0W3RS because -- well, sometimes you've just gotta stop and smell the roses.  Which for someone who does what I do, means "Put the damn camera up and just LISTEN!"  I'm glad I did.  Plus, I've covered them so much here, if I give them too much more press, I'll have to re-label the blog ("H0w 5trang3 it i5..."?).

So this post is about Some Army.

You hear a lot of bands, especially in these parts, that meld Americana with a more indie sound.  That's not unexpected.  Musical history is full of such progressions.  Run DMC taking an Aerosmith lick, Animal Collective adapting Brian Wilson tricks to modern technology.  But it's usually more subtle... so-and-so does something-with-something else, and you get something "original".  Nothing, of course, is ever totally original.  By way of osmosis, even subconsciously, all new music is informed by what others have done in the past.  But you can make something new from something old.  Music would go nowhere without that possibility.

So as I said, you hear a lot of attempts at this particular synthesis.  Indie-Americana. Alt-Country.  Whatever.  But seldom does it register -- to my ears anyway --  as sounding "new".  Some Army, however, do.   It's not just that they sound new.  They sound natural, like there was no intent.  It just came out that way.  I've heard front-man Russell Baggett say he listened to a lot of No Depression stuff and a lot of indie-rock, and you can hear those things.  But it doesn't sound like those things.  Too many bands sound like those things.  Some Army just sounds like Some Army.

Their self-titled EP (pretty much a short LP) starts with the ghostly Servant Tires. The spectral aura is  accentuated by soft keys and a hard, cutting slide.  Baggett's voice is smooth and high, with ever the slightest drawl... perfect for the music. The second cut is the jazzy Business Gee.  It's jazzy in the way that some 70s pop was: almost cheesy, but in the end, simply cool.  The electric piano, the jazz strumming, calls to mind Gerry Rafferty (or maybe it's the similar vocal timbre?).  Beautiful backing vocals from Elysse Thebner, add to that 70s-jazz-pop vibe, and some great lyrics ebb and flow ("There's a time to lead and a time to follow / and everything else in between rings hollow").

Gee has been on "repeat" in my head for the past week or two.  Great song.

Lifting the pleasant fog of the first two numbers comes the crunchier guitar and driving snare of the more upbeat Under the Streetlights.  This cut gains Some Army admission to the VIP room of that buzz-club called 'Gaze.  But more to the point, on the heels of Business Gee, it really showcases the their diversity.  Following the atmospheric segue of QueensFall on Your Sword: returns to a slower, cool, environment -- fuzzy and a little jazzy again.  We've Been Lucky and Children of the Maiz close out the CD with perhaps the two rootsiest numbers, Lucky sounding like as less-jangly Dumptruck, and Maiz running Americana through a Kinks/Stones filter.  Quiet slide returns, complimented by soft strumming, and gradually builds to a rousing guitar/drum/organ crescendo. 

This CD is perfect for a quiet fall night out on the porch, which is exactly how I first took it in.  But Some Army are great for a fall night at a club as well, starting with this week's WKNC Local Beer Local Band night at Tir Na Nog. (Oct 4), followed by the Pinhook on Saturday (Oct 4).  Both shows are FREE!

Here are a few photos from the EP release show at Local 506...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Constructive Destruction

The video speaks for itself, but I believe this kind of cathartic, retro-artistic expression does wonders for the autistic mind.  Thank you, Artspace, for providing this wonderful opportunity!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Feelies (Cat's Cradle, 9/15/12)

Okay, old band (older than ME even!).  Two sets.  No opener.  Early start.  Billed as "An Evening With..."  All the hallmarks of a snoozer.

Oh, they had the pedigree.  To me, the Feelies were already post-punk when punk had barely left the womb.  Formed in 1976 (though I didn't discover them until a decade or more later), their angular, jangly guitars, mathematical precision, and tense builds and crashes, made them a harbinger of the Pixies, Husker Du, R.E.M, Pavement, Versus... well, let's just say indie-rock in the late '80s and 1990s.  They themselves are often cited as being heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground.  But I think they were early enough, and different enough, to be considered more like younger contemporaries.  I wore out my vinyl of their debut, Crazy Rhythms, and then spent years looking for it on MP3.
Still, despite all this, I didn't anticipate much other than a pleasant, nostalgic, early night.   I had never seen them live, so I went in large part because of that little voice that sometimes whispers "When else will you get the chance?"

The Feelies, however, begged to differ.  They OWNED their pedigree.  They sounded as relevant as any band I've ever seen fill the Cradle.  If they were a local buzz band of kids, I'd have been blown away.
They started slower, gradually building the energy of the eager crowd, which -- while clearly filled with many of their generation -- was  liberally sprinkled with the younger set.  They played some of the more pastoral numbers from their follow-ups to Rhythms, The Good EarthOnly Life, and Time for a Witness; rolling songs like On the Roof, The High Road, For Awhile, and Invitation.  I was waiting for some from my favorites from Rhythms, to no avail (though I missed the first 2 or 3 songs).  I half-hoped the second set would be that album in its entirety.

Nevertheless, I found myself getting more and more into the show with every number.  Live, these "pastoral" numbers (including several from their recent CD, Here Before, which I hadn't yet heard) had a drive I didn't anticipate.  Glenn Mercer's vocals were deep and strong as ever, and his lead guitar a perfect counter to Bill Million's rapid-fire strumming.  And they were TIGHT... like they'd been playing non-stop for the past 20 years.  In fact they have not played as a band for most of the past 20, and apparently now only play a handful of shows a year.

By the time they played Slipping (Into Something), the psych/spazz-out builder from Earth, and Away, a jangly rocker from Life, and I wasn't missing Crazy Rhythms at all.  These WERE crazy rhythms.  Towards the end of the second set, they finally catered to my finicky demands, playing Raised Eyebrows and Crazy Rhythms from the debut. If I remember correctly(?), they also played the dark-cool Moscow Nights.

But they weren't done.  Fans of a band like this demand an encore.  They complied with covers, which they're known for.  It was the Beatles and the Stones, She Said and Paint It Black.  In their own inimitable style.  The crowd chanted and stomped for more.

Encore Two it was, then:  Real Cool Time (the Stooges) and Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except for me and My Monkey).

What a night.  Two long sets.  Two encores.  The Feelies rocked the house.  Musically satiated, we head for the... Oh, wait.  Encore Three.  Now I was starting to see why the show started early: they needed to fit it all in before last call!  This one consisted of R.E.M.'s  Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars) and their own Fa Ce La.  

Then -- hell yes -- Encore Four.  The Velvet's We're Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together, followed by Brian Eno's Third Uncle.

Musically exhausted... NOW, we head for the door.  Well, the merch table.  Feelies fans have a lot more cash on hand than fans of most young bands these days.  What a show.  Don't think I've ever seen four encores; and each one better than the one before.  More photos below; hopefully capturing the energy of a night that won't soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hopscotch Saturday Night - T0W3RS, Versus, Wye Oak, No BS! Brass Band (8/8/12)

Saturday night, the last night of Hopscotch, and I'm already worn out from a several hours of day parties.  What would the night bring? 

Best to start with a sure thing:  T0W3RS, at CAM.  The moment I saw them first play, T0W3RS became one of my favorite locals.  Their recent full-length, If All We Have Is Time, is one of the best releases anywhere in the past year.  They took the opportunity of this year's festival to launch a new EP, Wyatt. "Cassingles" of each song from the EP, with B-sides from 5 other local bands, were strategically hidden throughout downtown during the festival (I found two!).  Having created a lot of buzz playing a day party at last year's Hopscotch, they're more than ready for the night.  Just before this early (9:30) show, a few people were millling around.  But once the Carrboro wunderkind of a band took the stage, a large crowd seemed to magnetically gravitate out of nowhere towards the stage.  Baloons were released, and the party started.  If I remember right, they started with Bounty, a bouncy song from the EP that got the crowd jumping -- or at least I'm sure they played it, and a few others from the new EP.  Besides the new music this night, there are revelations each time I see these guys.  This time -- maybe it was the acoustics of the space -- I realized just how strong a voice Jacki Huntington has (when not playing guitar or banging the tom).  And testament to the energy T0W3RS inspire in their audience?  There probably wasn't one second of the set when every baloon touched the ground.  It looked like the wall-installation at CAM, Exploded Hipster, had exploded into the air... perfect for this show.


So what next?  Tired of trudging all over Raleigh all day, I thought (after crossing downtown one more time) I'd stay put for awhile.  I made for Lincoln Theater and their all-Merge line-up, having just missed Superchunk/Merge Records co-founder Mac McCaughan.  Versus was up next.  I hadn't seen Versus in years, and they were playing back-to-back with the always great Wye Oak.  Early on, I wasn't feeling it.  Festival-fatigue, maybe.  But I grabbed a beer, popped the lens cap, and head to the stage.  Perhaps I forgot how their restrained intensity can build, and their quiets can seamlessly turn into very louds.  I should have known better:  this is the band that taught me the value of restraint in hard rock.  Within three songs, fatigue was a distant memory.  I listened to a lot of Versus back in the day, but I was surprised I didn't recognize most of the songs.  They were probably playing a lot of newer material from their first release in a decade, On the Ones and Threes, which has sat criminally neglected in the nether-regions of my iPod.  Based on this blazing show, I've made a promise to myself to correct that horrendous oversight (hitting "play" NOW).


Wye Oak, I've seen a couple of times, but in smaller venues.   In that setting, the duo of Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner's minimal instrumentation flood the space and make for a surprisingly intense and loud experience.  I was curious how they'd fill the closer-to-arena-sized space of the Lincoln.  Really, they had no problem.  Part of it is probably Jenn's voice, which could fill an arena. 

[just a sec... OKAY, I remember this Versus song from the show! (playing on iPod now):  Into Blue... great one!  Now back to your regularly scheduled review...]

Um, where was I?  Wye Oak, right.  Jenn Wasner's voice is a force of nature, and it had no problem filling this space.  She wailed on guitar and roared that beautiful, penetrating, otherworldly voice.  It went straight past the ears to the brain. Spine-tingling.  Andy accompanied her on drums, simultaneous keyboard, and sometime bass.  As always, a dark, insense, and rocking set...  perhaps even better than usual in the big venue, which I wouldn't usually say of any band. 

Wye Oak...

So it's 1:30 or so.  I walk over to Slim's to catch... DAMN!  I just missed Whatever Brains!  STILL have not caught them. I thought that would be a perfect way to close out Hopscotch.  Never fear.  There must be something left, right?  Back to the Pour House, where I started my day at noon, at the Trekky Records day party... maybe they at least still have iced coffee?

Better!  No BS! Brass Band is still playing!  This was on my list, being from NOLA and all.  Now, I can be a little picky about brass bands, having been raised on the Dirty Dozen, and with the Soul Rebels being the house band at my old haunt back home. But these Richmond, VA, natives held their own.  A lotta chops, and a lotta fun.  They did standards, they took no less than full crowd participation, they covered A-Ha...  Yes, A-Ha (you'd be surprised at what a good brass band is capable of).  Though I only caught 3-4 songs, it was a great way to close out a great festival.  Finishing where I started the day, and "coming home", as it were.

No BS! Brass band...

It's Tuesday night and I'm still recovering.  I can't wait for next year.