Sunday, November 30, 2008

Show Review: New Town Drunks

Fuse, Chapel Hill
November 26, 2008

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It could have been a warm summer eve in Havana, the sticky sweet fume of cigarette smoke numbing my senses as it swirled up to the sparingly few lamp shades whose dim light drew a rich and dark red hue from the walls of the small lounge. The men leaned in with wide grins from their booth seats to hear stories being shared across the table while extravagantly decorated women arranged themselves at the bar being seen and admired. But the favorite drink at this club wasn't a mojito and it wasn't warm outside. We were at Fuse and the favorite drink is the good old Chapel Hill alt music scene mainstay, PBR. Outside on a cold and dark Rosemary Street, the members of a proud and diligent music subculture began to follow their shadows into the small room where New Town Drunks were about to hold their second free pre-record release show.

I walked in alone and was greeted by every pair of eyes in the room. This is a band whose following know each other by first name and new faces are welcomed with curiosity. Instinct lead me to the bar, serendipity gave me a spot right next to Diane Koistinen whose voice is readily noticeable as the ballad-belting singer for New Town Drunks. I dubbed in "I'll take one too" as Diane ordered a PBR and we shared the quick smile of approval for one another's taste in beers. Having listened to and enjoyed all of the tracks posted on their myspace and reverbnation profiles I was eager to know what of their new album they would be playing but I held my tongue and found a wall to hold up in the back of the room while watching gear set-up and sound check.

My chosen spot being right next to a pair of room heaters proved to be a great place for conversation however as the blustery November night drove a steady stream of cold hands my way. In random conversations three times I was asked who I was/where I came from, once I was offered left over pizza (which I ate), and once if I had voted, which in retrospect I should have not hesitated with my answer because the conclusion jumped that I was socially expressionless and I spent the better part of my beer defending my politics while being cackled at. When I finally steered the conversation with the pollster back onto music I learned that she had not heard New Town Drunks before and confessed was more interested with their name. As the music started however, her reaction told a story.

Here a new impression was being made as the pollster and I shared a toast of approval to each song we found pleasing. From the modern day call of the wild, "lost" which is both an instructional tale for what we are to do on the day we say "F!" it and just start driving as well as it is a guide for those who will endeavor to know where we went, to the down-and-out stay predictably down-and-out "Down With The Poor," these are characteristically American songs about the human condition having reached the summary of ones mistakes and interestingly enough, they are arranged to melodies that kept me and the pollster's heads bobbing.

In writing about these songs however, this blogger is late to the party as these previous releases are soon to be playing back-up in favor of their new album, "The Ballad of Stayed and Gone" of which two songs were played for us and as far as I could tell maintain form with the NTD subject matter of heartache and it's self-prescribed remedies. In that tradition, their music plays theme for an alternate reality for each us should we have zigged instead of zagged and offers a suggestion to "who would I be if not who I am?" Perhaps a raging alcoholic? If I were I could think of no better songs to rage to and no better bunch of folks to hold my hair.

The New Town Drunks next listed show is December 27th, 2008 at The Cave with Taz Halloween and Dexter Romweber.

New Town Drunks revernation and myspace profiles: New Town Drunks New Town Drunks

Monday, November 24, 2008

Show Review: The Tender Fruit

Nightlight, Chapel Hill
November 22, 2008

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There are two types of hooks in rock and roll. Most songs I profess my love to hook me with the vocal melody whose writer likely invested the better part of their sanity weaving vocals with chords and alcohol until the pattern of a hook appeared. Friday evening however, as I walked the dark ally which serves gateway to Nightlight, my mind was on the more elusive and enduring of the two, a hook born solemnly and singularly from instrument, and there is no better example than the knuckling lull of the Tender Fruit's "The Truth Is" guitar lick which was playing in my head as I stepped through the doorway.

Recently introduced to The Tender Fruit during a normal morning routine of perusing show schedules over coffee and listening to myspace profiles of any that I had not become familiar with, and my reaction to their music was chemical. The attraction was not unlike the first time I heard "Wish You Were here" or "Mary Jane’s Last Dance," attention lifted to entirely foreign yet eagerly agreeable notes resonating as they scribed to my mind. Sometimes you hear a song and a voice and you just know.

So with expectations stacked high from adoration of the few songs posted on their myspace profile I sipped my PBR and mused at the commotion of one band tearing down and another setting up while fending off the lingering question, "would their live show live up?" Answers came quickly as their first song, "Would You Know Your Lover," eased its way into our ears, my expectations given away in favor something more, something unintended. Not only was this a powerful and inspiring live performance but it coursed to an intimate and endearing quality that reached far beyond "a faithful reproduction" and touched on a fleeting uniqueness, exclusive and profound. Those fortunate enough to be huddled on chairs and couches to witness it found themselves on an emotional coaster ride, responding with grins and giggles to lead singer Christy Smith's innocent and girlish flirting on the mic’ between songs and with jaw drooping wonder as her meanderingly soulful voice strummed our heart strings during them.

Each song's performance molded differently from the last invited an engaging ensemble for the eyes as well as the ears. Watching the mechanized coordination of Staci Sawyer and Josiah Drewry sitting side by side both swinging sticks at a single set of drums and seeing Christy's purely acoustic guitar ring clearly and loudly over drums and amplified vocals demonstrated the creativity of a rock group that is making up their own rules. As hearts fell one by one for the sad songs that made us happy, it became clear that The Tender Fruit are a tremendously talented folk rock group with a welcome home in Durham's brimming music scene.

The Tender Fruit's next Durham show will be at The Pinhook on December 19th, 2008 alongside local folk group Midtown Dickens.

visit their profiles: virb myspace profile

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Show Review: MAX Indian

Local 506, Chapel Hill
November 11, 2008

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"HEY," came the blurted shout of an eager fan from somewhere behind. Turning around to look I noticed the room had filled so much so that there was no longer a discernible escape path, just walls of wide-eyed vintage-clothes clad scenesters getting comfortable with their own little piece of Local506 concrete where they would spend the next forty-five minutes, sipping PBR and swaying along to MAX Indian who had just finished sound check.

"Hey" retorted MAX Indian front man Carter Gaj in the mic with a welcoming smirk. The eager fan cackled with glee and the excitement of the room notched up noticeably. We were about to be treated to some of the best southern rock that Carrboro has to offer and you could cut the anticipation with a knife.

The set opened with the rhythmic marching of the kit keeping friends with the groaning bass as Nick Jaeger's Gibson brought in the melody of the first tune. Carter effortlessly glued the parts together with a riff from his tele that was as beautiful as it was utterly complex. Stepping with eyes closed into the mic, he delivered the signature MAX Indian voice, crisp and eerie, soulful and haunted. Song by song the crowed fell deeper into contentment, none of us trying to catch ourselves.

The beguilers didn't long make the beguiled wait before the first bars of the hit-ish "Heaven Help Us" swelled through the room like the first sip of a cold beer. Across the room shoulders dropped and swooped as if an invisible masseuse had just gripped the crowd, thumbs deep in our backs dispersing tension and replacing with solace. Heads gently rocked and pocket hinged hands tapped hips as the boys turned the night into a coveted memory.

With their CD release party scheduled for Local 506 on Dec 13, 2008 it can be concluded that this is a band on the upswing. We should all enjoy it while they are still local because if the talent we saw last night is a bellwether, we'll be sharing MAX Indian with the rest of the world soon enough. On the bill at the CD release party will be The Old Ceremony and my personal favorite, The Love Language who are local boys that left us for the beach. Please come back Stu, this is madness.

Here's a pic I snapped:

"MAX Indian drummer James Wallace chatting with Embarrassing Fruits bassist Lee Shaw between sets at Local 506. Carter and Nick in background."