As veteran show-goers, The Spin typically groans at the thought of standing through a bloated four-band bill. However, our curiosity concerning Andrew W.K. show-opener Punani Huntah — first piqued nearly a year ago with the track "Attraction Kit" — was enough to pull us into Exit/In early Friday night to witness Nashville's potentially only novelty dancehall act. Clad in spray-painted Tyvek coveralls, Diarrhea Planet drummer Casey Weissbuch — the Punani Huntah himself — proved himself an impressively adept MC. The spectacle was complete with hype girl Colleen Green on background duties and JEFF the Brotherhood guitarist Jake Orrall queuing beats and liberally dropping airhorn samples what seemed like every two to three seconds.
Exit's new smoking deck, complete with that fully stocked tiki bar we first enjoyed at Fucked Up's show a week or two ago, almost makes this place a cozy enough hang to visit on the reg. It was from here that we heard the opening notes of locals Music Band. Though they boast some tight-ass chops, feel-good harmonies and a tried-and-true combo of garage pop and blue-eyed psychedelic soul, Nashville has many bands of this psych-rocking ilk. That said, the band's Can I Live cassette managed to rise above the fray and genuinely become one of our favorite local releases of the year thus far, mainly thanks to the real-deal songcraft and catchy hooks buried beneath MB's super-familiar straight-from-the-garage aesthetic.
Dropping back in from a smoke break, we caught Ohio's The Nightbeast mid-set and couldn't help but wonder if maybe these guys had just fallen off the Warped Tour, or gotten lost on their way to Rocketown. With nearly every member flashing a bare, inked-up chest, sleeveless hoodies and baseball caps, these men were obviously well-traveled showmen, and their fusion of pop punk, hardcore and hip-hop seemed to inspire enough Sum 41 nostalgia amid the party-hungry crowd to drum up a fairly hearty response.
The Spin would need both hands to count the number of times we've seen Andrew W.K. and his band since his 2001 debut, I Get Wet — but we've never once seen the man as a solo act. Given his multiple other endeavors as a self-help guru, motivational speaker, music producer and avant-garde composer — not to mention the fact that we've heard mixed reviews concerning his solo sets — we weren't certain what exactly was about to happen. Were we in for wordy, uplifting, life-affirming pep talks about unity and respect? Atonal solo piano compositions? Maybe a bit of Q&A?
The set opened with a pre-recorded spiel boasting a bevy of the sort of up-worthy, positive affirmations for which W.K. is known, and the "party" diatribe eventually had the crowd chanting in unison, summoning the frontman to the stage. For a dude with so much to say, Andrew W.K. surprisingly let the music do all of the talking. Supported by pre-recorded, mostly electronic backing tracks, the singer and his hype man stomped through a crowd-pleasing, call-and-response-heavy mixtape of his best-known party-core anthems. Interspersed in equal parts were a series of instrumental jams wherein W.K. would shred the keys for minutes on end. Admittedly, this got a little old after only just a couple of turns and began to feel a little too much like filler. Our impatience was rewarded when W.K. closed the evening with the title track from I Get Wet, which was climactically counted down to all the way from 97. The crowd stomped, chanted and clapped in an almost perfect encore-beckoning rally, only to be greeted with house music from the P.A. The one thing that's sure to suck about every party is that at some point, they all end.
About three or four songs into his set Monday night at the Ryman — the first showing of a two-night stand at the Mother Church — Beck Hansen informed his crowd that "the seeds of this record," this year's stunning if tranquil Morning Phase, germinated in Nashville. Indeed, Beck began work on some of Phase's songs while spending time in Music City nearly a decade ago, and at least one of the Nashville-born songs — the dreamy folk-pop number "Blackbird Chain" — made it into his opening stretch of down-tempo, acoustic-based numbers.
And yes, positioned alongside a set-opening rendition of "The Golden Age" from 2002's similarly serene Sea Change, the frontloaded Morning Phase songs were lush and beautiful, bolstered by mellow four- and five-part vocal harmonies and at least three acoustic guitars apiece. But as great as all the new stuff sounded, were we going to get a taste of the combustible hip-hoppy funk and anti-folk tunes that made Beck famous? Were we going to see the boyish dance moves and oddball charisma that made this guy a giant in the '90s? In a word, yes. In two words, hell yes.
After braving intermittent surges of rain, The Spin made it into the venue and to our seats as Sean Lennon's outfit The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger was settling into a set of solid, lavish psych pop. With long locks, a beard and a hat that made him look a bit more like All Things Must Pass-era George than his own dad, Lennon stood center stage with collaborator, girlfriend and bassist/vocalist Charlotte Kemp Muhl at his right. Backed by four other longhairs, Lennon and Muhl delivered a set that was big and catchy, full of acid-rock riffs and traces of psych forebears from Sabbath, Pink Floyd and The Flaming Lips to, as our companion pointed out, under-sung '60s Brits The Pretty Things. Lennon had a bit of trouble with his in-ear monitor — which he called his "ear jellyfish" — along the way, but between his and Muhl's luxurious vocals and the band's tight playing, it was a satisfactory primer for His Beckness.
As we awaited Beck's entrance, our pal informed us that the massive array of back-lined gear being pulled out for the main set — which included an upright piano, rows of guitar amps, a Roland Space Echo and other things we don't quite understand but our friend geeked out over — was as impressive an arsenal as one might hope to see just about anywhere. The man of the hour brought out his band — six players in all, all of whom performed on Morning Phase — promising that after the more subdued opening set, things would get more "rowdy." When they weren't being plagued by shrill bursts of feedback (which they were for a while there), songs like "Say Goodbye" and album standout "Blue Moon" truly did sound phenomenal, thanks to the spot-on playing of longtime Beck sideman and fro-sporting bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, along with the rest of the band.
But midset, just when all of the Morning Phase material had fully washed over us and we were beginning to feel lulled, Beck & Co. exploded into "Devil's Haircut" like a bullet from a gun. Meldal-Johnsen convulsed and writhed, while Jason Falkner, another of Beck's longtime sidemen, flew into paroxysms of shred. While folks down front engaged in that tale-as-old-as-time Ryman battle of "Should we stand or should we sit?" (answer: you should fucking stand), Beck abandoned his acoustic guitar and picked up that little Silvertone of his, jamming through electric tunes like "Soul of a Man," "Modern Guilt" and "Black Tambourine." He even did an old-school harmonica "One Foot in the Grave" breakdown at the end of Odelay's time-tested "Novacane."
Now, one thing we can really appreciate about an artist of Beck's stature is how he still does his biggest hit and crowd-pleaser, the slacker anthem "Loser," without the slightest trace of perfunctoriness. The Spin wouldn't really hold it against the guy if he'd grown so sick of playing the tune that he phoned it in, but no. He did his patented Beck robot around the stage, whipping the mic cable and hyping the crowd all along. After a couple more Phase tunes plus "Paper Tiger" and "Girl," the set hit its crescendo with the massive "E-Pro," the band collapsing into a frenzied dog pile at its conclusion as Beck stretched police tape across the front of the stage — we've read that it's a move he's been pulling regularly at recent shows, and corny as it is, it was good for a LOL.
Beck and band quickly returned for an encore, the frontman snipping the crime-scene tape with a pair of scissors and declaring the area once again safe for both "musical" and "non-musical" activities. After a five-keyboard-strong rendition of "Hell Yes," Beck called a quartet of young children to the stage to dance along to a set-ending "Where It's At" — we're fairly certain two of the tykes (the gorgeous little blond ones, naturally) were part of the Hansen clan. Several young women also climbed onstage to boogie along, and the song devolved into crazed band-member introductions and a snippet of the Stones' "Miss You" as well as a quick "Happy Birthday" for one young fan.
As Beck noted at one point, it's been something like 18 years since he last played the Ryman, though, he said, the awe he felt at playing such a space hadn't diminished one bit. Honestly, going into the show, The Spin wasn't quite certain just how much awe we'd feel for the performer himself after all of his time out of the spotlight in recent years. But who were we kidding? In the time of chimpanzees, this guy was a monkey. And all these years later, the weirdo's still got it.
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