Thursday, December 17, 2009
MarVell Event Center, Durham
December 5, 2009
Paul Gallant's promo words for Battle Rockets were "come see a skinny guy play 50 guitar pedals" which caught me as both hilarious and scrupulously correct. There are only two things in this world that guitar players really care about and one of them is tone. Once slipped into the instrumental only element Corbie Hill has parsed down to with Battle Rockets he may only care about one of those. One look at the regimen of effects and stomp boxes occupying a bastion at stage end gives rise to how it's done. From stretchy ghost-like refrains through easily provoked and marked-by-fire lead riffs traversing a jagged canvas, the Battle Rockets instrumental arrangements aren't building blocks of song they are the evolution of it. Throughout the performance tones and squelches raised forward triggering primal reaction as they reverberated through the room. Listening to the eloquent versus and arrangements of Corbie's vocally oriented rock band Where the Buffalo Roamed explains that Battle Rockets screams in the tongue of stomp boxes by conviction, not by necessity. As Battle Rockets outtro of distortion soaked feedback flickered to neutral Rob Beloved and Elini Binge joined on stage as Beloved Binge.
At once abruptly jarring and directional and then smoothly grinding and meanderingly melodic, Beloved Binge doesn’t just step around on a scale they play hop-scotch upon it. Their paired speak/shout vocals led story time about all sorts of drama and wrapped angular and dissonant intervals of time and rhythm with imagery creating a spaced out sense of balladry. With satirical jabbiness of The Talking Heads and fascinating tension of the Pixies, Beloved Binge's strange phase vocals and beatnik arrangements shouldn't work together but they do and they do so well that the intrigue has tractor beam effectiveness. Apparently also the type of effectiveness that can run The Marvell Event Center bone dry of PBR. By the time the hosts Scientific Superstar began we were sipping on a mélange of micro brews and wine.
Just under the radar of esoteric comes Junko Berglund, Paul Gallant, Thomas DeVries and the incandescent fervor of electronica and exotica they vortex into Scientific Superstar which is complexedly described as the this-world physical incarnation of a fictional band within a comic series they write and publish (which is also titled Scientific Superstar). Curiously unusual or excitingly strange are choices one is faced with in the witness of Scientific Superstar. Residing just under the edge of the flat earth found in the popular music universe, Scientific Superstar's experimental rock contrasts dimensionally with the homogeneous pop music society while simultaneously challenging their best to a dance-off to the death. Perhaps least in uniform is Paul Gallant's full vertical standing drum kit bearing a macédoine arrangement of toms and found objects (such as a terracotta flower pot). Different for the discriminating indy audience maybe, different for a fictional comic book super hero band? Immeasurable, and its uniqueness is the entertainment. --Carrboro Ninja
view their profiles
at 2:20 PM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Local 506, Chapel Hill
December 12, 2009
First things first: Benji Hughes live is not Benji Hughes recorded.
After releasing his debut, double album “A Love Extreme” in 2008 to much critical praise, this Charlotte native’s electro-funk musings about sweet girls in tight tee shirts and the perils of eating too much Ecstasy at a Flaming Lips show almost seemed like a flash in the pan. But beyond the catchy, danceable beats and quick-witted commentary on the modern party scene, Hughes managed to capture a deep-seated sadness that lies just beneath the surface of all great pop songs. And it is this not-so-hidden melancholy, and a full band, that makes a Benji Hughes live show so damn entertaining.
Now don’t get me wrong. This past Saturday night’s show in Chapel Hill was not all ballads and heartbreak – despite the fact that he’s got some good ones (“Waiting For An Invitation” and “All You’ve Got To Do Is Fall In Love” immediately come to mind). No, there were plenty of party anthems (sans the programmed beats) and there was plenty of dancing. At this point I feel obligated to mention that every time I have seen Hughes live, at least one person in the crowd has jumped on stage and danced with him. Saturday night was no exception.
But live, Hughes is true a crooner. He takes the stage in his trademark sunglasses and holds the mic like he’s performing on an early 80’s episode of Soul Train. And he performs every song from his album that you want to hear. And there is guttural banter in between songs. And he chides his band for not jamming out more. And it is great. But even more so, it is fun.
Personally, I have come to enjoy the unreleased material Hughes does live more than the renditions of his album tracks. There’s one where he sings to an unknown female, “You’re a lot like a shooting star but you’re more like a falling rock.” There’s one where he instructs Kenny to “cut me out another line of cocaine.” These are the real jewels of the set. Blunt and beautiful. A calm before the storm. And then it’s back to an uber-danceable tune.
After the show, sitting at the 506 bar chatting with Hughes, I said, “I like the unreleased stuff you’re doing. Are you working on a new album?”
After a moment of thought and a sip of his drink, he responded, “I’m only 34.”
His response made me feel strangely happy. --Tommy Kurosawa
Benji Huges on facespace:
photo credits:Mimi Pneurotic
Friday, December 11, 2009
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
at 11:03 AM
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
enter Wild Bill Heroic:
The ninja scroll is on the coffee table. I can't ignore it any more. It's like a little billboard in the house, something I can't walk by without at least a glance.
I was chosen. I have to do this.
I'm a show ninja.
I don't sleep. I have my best ideas at 3:42 in the morning. I can show up at any show, at any time or place, and I can be anyone you encounter. I'm the smiling guy with the beard, hovering by the bar. I'm the 23 year old girl, drawing stares. I'm the quiet redhead with the camera, snapping shots of the band. I'm the jaded but awake guy behind the bar, slinging drinks. I'm the gear nerd, who watches compulsively as the band sets up and takes precise mental note of everything they see. I'm in the dark room, I'm in the cigarette smoke that hangs like a canvas by the end of the night. I walk by the hot dog vendors and I drive home where the rain fell and sat on the highway and caught my tires and yanked them dangerously and I walk by the stacked drumsets and I step outside, out back, onto Slim's patio and I hear the thump and grind of tracks wafting without teeth from the booty club next door and the tourists' nervous grandeur as they wander around semilost and the kids by Hillsborough stepping suicidally into the street trying to hail drunkenly a drunken cab and somewhere above this the moon and then beyond baffling years and millenia of stars and galaxies beyond and beyond even that the menace that is the end of the universe and gravity is the creator and destroyer of everything, the fine balance between structure and antitime. Energy = Mariah Carey squared.
Unity, baby. Hippies and corporates agree, strangely enough. “We're all one,” say the hippies. “They're all sheep,” say the corporates.
I'm none of this, but I saw this, and I saw how the people slid through the room. The room slid right by them too, and it's going to be the same room tomorrow. New people will be here, they'll slide past each other in the same way and the ritual continues.
I'm a show ninja. I can't tell you how many of us there are. We travel by secret passageways, ancient techniques. I can't tell you about them. There is a tunnel that leads from every venue in the states to every other venue in the states and if you try hard enough, if you hold your PBR at exactly the right angle, its entrance is just barely evident on the periphery.
I emerged from this tunnel at Slim's, emerging in a carnal room where bass cabs had rattled loose the higher brain functions of every mammal in the room. Something very physical was happening, a change beyond drunkenness. I was taken over, my inner caveman saw his opportunity, came rushing towards the light, and made it into the room. I couldn't follow conversation, only music, and my body darted around like a ferret almost independently of the dull thud thud thud, bowling balls headed uphill among inverted synapses.
The ninja scroll said I'm needed to write about shows. To give press to bands who aren't expecting press. To bump past the drunks. To wish I had a camera.
I rested my can of PBR precariously on the flush lever of a urinal as I pissed and stared off into space, half-reading the scribbles on the wall. My feet sloshed in someone else's cold urine and my sneakers slid a few inches, and somehow this was a transcendental moment.
What happened was that Irata drove from Greensboro and played. Jon Case's huge amounts of curly hair flew, defied gravity, and just generally behaved like a jellyfish in a washing machine as he assaulted and battered his P-bass. From a tall Ampeg cab, powered by an Ampeg head, came a natural force as rhythmic as a rockslide, but equally as violent. Jason Ward wore a red, white, and blue sweatband above his eyes and played a red, white, and blue Ludwig kit. I swear this guy could power an entire city with the sheer energy of his playing. Hook him up to a turbine and give him a pair of drumsticks. Your choice, the city of Houston or the state of Alaska. The expression on his face when he's in the deep throes of rhythmic ecstasy is the middle ground between goofy grin and dangerous intensity Micheal Jordan used to get when he was at the top of his game. Jason Duff is the third, the guitarist, and would typically be the member most associated with aggressive playing. Duff, however, plays with infinite soul. He lags purposefully behind, writing melodic lines that somehow always slur just behind the dump truck with its breaklines cut that is Case and Ward's rhythmic engine.
The most common emotions communicated by instrumental acts are the typical serious emotions and don't get me wrong, I dig a good epic as much as anyone, but Irata is evolved from a totally different strain of howler monkey. Sarcasm abounds, like when Duff ends a measure with his slide and circles what would otherwise be a closed-end phrase back into itself, as does swagger, like when Case and Ward lock in on a lethally thick riff that would make Sleep blush.
Most importantly, and most relevant to the night at hand, this was a band at the top of their game and this was a band having the time of their lives. A lot of people were in Slim's – a whole lot of people – and they dug it. I retreated up the wall using semisecret mystical ninja techniques and checked my scroll. Pursue the shadow thieves... check. Defend the contested mountain pass... check. Advanced falconry... we'll get to that next week. See and enjoy Irata... check.
A happy crowd, a weekend in downtown Raleigh safely isolated from the freaks. Some people live the sideshow, ya dig? They go to these dead nightclubs every dead weekend and dance their dead feet to dead songs and go home in dead taxis to have terrible dead sex with these functionally defeated cubicle stuffers until the next weekend when they drink themselves cool and move their dead feet back to the ass clubs and trudge dutifully past the enormous bouncer who gets his kicks from beating all shit out of the trust fund kids whose discarded twenties pay his rent and bills and buy him a little pouch of Buddha a few times a week for his troubles, for his ankles, because it's not easy to be 300 pounds, even when so much of it is muscle and you're expected to hold on to the act but all he can think about when he cracks his fist and the blood makes its way from the kid's nose to his knuckles is the price of a movie ticket and its all a goddamn sideshow. Everyone plays their part. It's celebrated like it's wilderness, but you and I and the potted plant know that it's as spontaneous as a day at the DMV.
“Some days we don't let the line move at all. We call those days week days.”
I can't remember if that was Patty or Selma Bouvier. I can't ever remember which is which and they have the same voice anyway and I have successfully lost control of this writeup. It's all a free-for-all now and anything could happen.
From the infinite scope of human experience came a band called Free Electric State and, in less than a year... how do I say this? It's not like they've grabbed a corner for the scene or filled a niche, it's not like they're getting something that's owed to them – nothing even remotely dramatic, no narrative really. It's so simple it makes me giggle and then people start to wonder and I have to find a new set of friends that doesn't mind my fits of high-pitched gigling.
One day, FES very casually appeared and began playing shows. A lot of people liked it. Then a lot more people liked it. Now a whole lot of people like it. There's this beautiful simplicity to how they work as a band, how they present themselves. It's okay to enjoy rock and roll for its own sake. In fact, it's one of the noblest motivations.
On the surface, they're a reminder of the independent rock world of the mid '90s. However, as you really listen and engage with what they're doing, you realize that they've put you in a trance. They'll be rocking along, like in “100 Days,” with its pounding, jagged 4/4, and you'll be nodding your head with all the bliss you can summon, when you suddenly realize that Shirlé stopped singing two minutes ago and by this point the band is as hypnotized as the audience by self-perpetuating riffs, by the physical sensation of rock and roll, by the electricity that not only flows through the walls and through the air but also through our minds, that yanks the pump in our chest that sends the blood that sends the oxygen and the little parts of the molecule are ultimately held together by static charge but I don't understand the science of it past that, not this late at night. All I know is we have batteries that power us. Some of us are rock and roll machines, and our batteries run optimally only when they're powering hands and arms and feet that power the forces of physical sound which is to say rock and roll loud enough to feel it and that is how I feel about Free Electric State.
This is my book report about Seeing the White Cascade Play Slim's and it's called This is My Book Report about Seeing the White Cascade Play Slim's by Wild Bill Heroic. My favorite part of the book was when Matt Guess took his guitar and he played his guitar through what appeared to be 53 different guitar pedals. A guitar pedal is what a guitarist uses to make their guitar sound like it's being played under water or to make their guitar sound like the collision of two rockets launched directly at each other from neighboring planets. The good guy in This is My Book Report about Seeing the White Cascade Play Slim's was Matt Robbins. Matt Robbins was the good guy because he used his precise and methodical drumming to set the clocks in an orphanage and if the orphanage had set their clocks by any other drummer's playing they would have slept through the fire that swept through the orphanage and we wouldn't want that, would we? So, Matt Robbins was the good guy in the book I'm writing my book report about (This is My Book Report about Seeing the White Cascade Play Slim's by Wild Bill Heroic) because he saved a house full of orphans from dying horribly in an orphanage fire. Orphans with diseases, by the way. Matt Cash was the bad guy in the book because he set the fire, but I suppose it's okay because the cheeky little arsonist is a fantastic bass player.--Wild Bill Heroic
at 12:58 AM