The Berkley Cafe, Raleigh
July 22, 2010
The canopy of oaks blacked out the shiny haze of the Raleigh summer night sky as I passed through Nash Square, domain of the biggest oak trees in the world which stand eternal guard over the entrance of The Berkley Cafe. Tonight's bill at The Berkley Cafe was a showcase of acts that are fun to know about and follow before the masses "catch on" and stepping into the street towards the front door and away from the realm of the oaks I could faintly make out the rumble and thump of the opening set played by The Tomahawks, a Chapel Hill group which has significant potential to "get caught". This being my fourth or fifth The Tomahawks live show in the past year and a half of their being, I am familiar. Nick Jaeger and crew calculate together easy rolling simplified style with exacting dominant guitar choruses and they are pacing with the vintage roots rock influence that is gaining local popularity. Tonight, the performance garnered a new impression I can add to their descriptions, that of Nick Jaeger's vocals having a pronounced similarity to Jeff Tweedy's alt country warble.
Just after The Tomahawks tore down their half dozen instruments, Chapel Hill minimalist rock duo Blag'ard set up all both of theirs, served an obligatory ten second sound check and hit the go button. Blag'ard may be a two piece because guitar player and vocalist Joe Taylor's Marshall half stack ate all of the other instruments or they may be a two piece to so that there is no confusion; what you are hearing is guitar rock. Taylor drives tube amp tone from start to finish while maintaining a respect for the purity of the instruments. The only thing between his Fender strat and a turned up Marshall half stack was a wrangly cable. Not a single stomp box in sight, just purist vintage rock and roll spoken between a guitar and its amp. Aside from the hauntingly melodic "Stay" which plucks harmonics and falsettos, Blag'ard holds court on the darker side of indie rock and let's the guitar do most of the talking.
The Tomahawks and Blag'ard capable of headlining any event they play may have drawn the short stick against a couple of power acts as the show literally had four headliners but someone had to play at ten o'clock. Appearing a little over a year ago but with quick silver popularity, Durham psychedelic rock group Free Electric State took the third spot on a four band bill and exerted a forceful presence in the Berkley stage room. Free Electric State's set can best be described as a volumed up trance rock opener song with a grandiose and high energy six song long outtro. An electric guitar in the hands of both David Koslowski and Nick Williams provides a push pull effect as they each transition between lead riffs, chord crunching, and super interesting sound manufacturing while flowing into the rhythm section and vocals from Shirlé Hale and drummer Tony Stiglitz. Free Electric State's large prominent sound was an interesting contrast with the last to play Lonnie Walker who uses space between vocals, guitars, and drums to build the same kind of energy. Lonnie Walker may have delivered their brand of Americana punk last in the evening but the performance was an opener to a two month long tour which they embarked upon the moment they pulled the cables out of their guitars at the end of the set. July and August will deliver Lonnie Walker across the US before landing back home in Raleigh in time to play Hopscotch. --Carrboro Ninja
Free Electric State
Show promoter and youth role model Bart Tomlin manned the door of The Berkley Cafe to greet all who enter.