Duke Coffeehouse, Durham
December 4, 2009
"I wasn't planning on it being this crowded." I overheard the person 1.3 inches on my left whisper to his friend. We both flashed the same vacantly agreeing expression towards each other and I became aware that I was apprehended for eavesdropping. I quickly created a diversion by pulling the view finder of my camera to my eye rattling off two out of focus shots of Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes who were just finishing up their opening set.
The soulful art pop quartet of Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes is Carolina Chocolate Drops charismatic banjo picker Justin Robinson now flanked on either side by she-fiddlers and a half-and-half synth/drummer. Their sound verges on R&B, perhaps old fashioned born Carolina folk music re-imagined by neomotownesque Bohemians with far too much animation to downplay the vowels. The Duke Coffeehouse stage is tall in comparison with Durham venues and lent in quality to the larger than life presence of the already six foot plus stature of Justin and his model-tall violinists. Emblazoned in sequence and style behind a tree lined myriad of microphones and microphone stands which were grown in preparation for the numberless folk ensembles of Midtown Dicken's and Humble Tripe, Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes marked a tone of movement and penetrating enthusiasm which hyped the room early.
Justin and friends now pulling cables and opening cases afforded a smoke-break rush which in turn provided a view to the front of the stage as the crowd dispersed through the side door of the room. Revealed by the dispersing crowd was the placement of two amps and a bizarre drum kit on the bare floor just ahead of the stage. Melting into place on them was the unique-mongering art-on-call indie-folk The Wigg Report who found themselves fully within their element as an abstraction between sets. The Wigg Report seized the space between Midtown Dickens and the openers by landing their gear, plugging in and playing. No aesthetic was lost in the hurried arrangement however. The lo-fi contrivings of their microphones slipped through guitar amps instead of the main PA flirted with the profound and their tube colored acoustic saxa-drumming chants held true to their nature of each performance becoming a variant of their last. Gleaming mysteriously in the red glow of the stage lights The Wigg Report's anti-folk tension and compulsive punk vitality tore attentions on them like the conflicted subject at the epicenter of a da Vinci war epic.
A half dozen raucous songs later, the stage was ready for Midtown Dickens. In from the smoky cold came the folk denizens hungry for the avant-garde challenge Midtown Dickens begets to old time mountain music. As if banjos and accordions were their older brothers borrowed car Midtown Dickens went upon a cross country joy ride with windows rolled down, radio wide open, and laughing voices singing about tomorrow. Champions of the Durham anti-folk subversions, Midtown Dickens are writing their own rules on what makes music and performance amusing. From Catherine Edgerton playing a soul rendering tune on the saw to Kym Register gluing refrains and choruses together with a somber trombone, Midtown Dickens spins the untypical into the essential.
On this Friday Humble Tripe and Midtown Dickens had just finished up their "Humble Tour" where the two played through rock clubs and living rooms across the South East in promotion of their new albums. Earlier this season Midtown Dickens self released Lanterns which is their first album Oh Yell's, cooler older brother who likes electric guitar, and Friday would be the homecoming official release party of Humble Tripe's Counting Stars on Durham label 307 Knox Records. With shared members, Humble Tripe took stage and most of Midtown Dickens stayed also. Once guitars, keyboards and shaky things were all in place but before the final performance of the eve kicked in 307 Knox curator of creativity Melissa Thomas grabbed the microphone and summed up the special quality the night maintained; it was a fitting celebration for a great year of Durham indie rock.
With their crisply delivered country sensibility and indie sincerity, Humble Tripe carried the midnight hours upon the shoulders of harmonicas, tambourines, banjos, six strings, ivories, and harmonic spectrums. A suitable comparison being The Rural Alberta Advantage crossed with The Thrills; Humble Tripe brings a concert of voices and instruments into their mix. Best wishes Humble Tripe on Counting Stars and well done to 307 Knox on a sharp year end celebration. --Carrboro Ninja
visit their profiles:
The Wigg Report:
Midtown Dickens' Catherine Edgerton strumming out a ghostly harmony on the saw at Humble tripes CD release party at Duke Coffeehouse on Friday December 4, 2009.
The Wigg Report
Justin Robinson and the Mary Annettes
Anne Gomez (Cantwell Gomez and Jordan) Melissa Thomas (307 Knox Records) and Catherine Edgerton chatting between sets