With temps soaring into the triple digits and the AC in our ride on the fritz, The Spin — for some reason — thought it would be a great idea to eat about a pound of fried seafood before Black Lips' show at Exit/In on Wednesday night. Way to go, us! No matter. We entered the half-full Exit to the sounds of The Clutters' "Under Suspicion" — a viable candidate for Summer Jam 2011 — and quickly squelched the seafood sweats with a cold one and a lean, mean dose of familiar local garage rock.
We presume that the few dozen folks who would later pour in and fill out the venue were across the street at Gold Rush during the opening acts' sets — an increasingly common practice among Rock Block show attendees. Their loss, as they missed a great a cappella rendition of Lady Gaga's "You and I" courtesy of Clutters drummer Stephanie Brush. She was killing time as frontman Doug Lehmann changed a string. Anyway, front-of-house sound was really good — that's what happens when you actually do a sound-check, Lehmann later informed us.
Between sets, local renaissance man Ben Todd (aka DJ Nashville's Dead) was working the ones and twos, pumping out all that psych rock, doo-wop and punk the kids love to shuffle their feet to. The tunes were actually a pretty suitable segue into the shambolic sounds of Seattle's Night Beats, who let us know right off the bat that they're "from Outer Space Dot Com," which we should check out. We totally buy it, as their fractured strain of psychedelia sounded a bit like King Tuff and other members of the freaky throwback movement. Guitars and vocals were wet and verby, and while the drummer maybe could have stood to tune his snare a bit — it sounded like a wet cardboard box full of pudding from where we stood — the sloppiness of it all worked with Night Beats' aesthetic: full of far-out and freaky vibes, with an especially psychedelic freak-out toward the end of their set. Also, Night Beats looked like they probably smell fuckin' ripe. Only saying.
At this point, Exit/In was pretty close to full — not quite a sell-out, but probably close. With fog swirling, self-proclaimed flower punks Black Lips tore viscerally into tunes from across their relatively dense catalog. For their first two numbers, the Lips were accompanied by a sax player, who provided some barely audible icing to the already thick-as-hell cake of searing guitars and blown-out gang vocals. Their playing was anything but pristine, but goddamn it, thank you, Black Lips, for being one of the few remaining outfits who embrace the raw, nasty elements of rock 'n' roll, spitting them back in our faces with reckless abandon.
And speaking of spitting, yes, there was a little bit of that. Not as much as the last time we saw Black Lips — at Mercy Lounge for Those Darlins' album release about two years ago — but still some. Also, their set was accompanied by some trippy visuals courtesy of one of those liquid-light projector deals, which the Lips referred to as "magic time." Without the sheen of Mark Ronson's production, live renditions of tunes from their latest, Arabia Mountain, felt ... well, more like the Black Lips. Filthy, fun and completely fresh. We ended up looking pretty dorky waiting around for an encore — after about 10 minutes, it became pretty apparent that we weren't going to get one. We kinda wanted to hear "Bicentennial Man," but we'll live. Now, who wants to go do some shots at Gold Rush?!
While some could say the honor has been diluted a bit — being shared by the likes of Weird Al, Alanis Morissette and Queensryche — to grace the stage of country music's Mother Church is still a very notable milestone and coveted rite of passage for any Nashville band. So when our own Caitlin Rose landed an opening slot on a sold-out show at the legendary Ryman, The Spin wouldn't have missed that shit for all the shiny lanyards and open bars in the world.
Due to an unfortunate miscommunication at the box office, we perked our ears to soak in Rose's first couple numbers from the front entrance. We didn't have to strain that hard, really. She was belting out "New York" like this was an American Idol audition. By the time we took our seat in the balcony, Rose — decked out in a pink power blazer that we hear came courtesy of legendary designer Manuel — staff guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and the bevy of sidemen she'd brought with her were shifting "Shanghai Cigarettes" into shit-kicking overdrive. Rose has always had a knack for converting her jitters into charisma — a talent that has never seemed to come in handier. Not that this crowd wouldn't have forgiven her for the slightest error. Going solely by encouraging shouts flying from the audience, this could have been anything from a high school graduation to a Miss Nashville beauty pageant, as the support from friends and family couldn't and wasn't going to be contained. For additional support, she called out familiar string section Larissa Maestro, Katie Studley and Eleonore Denig to give "For the Rabbits" and "Own Side Now" an extra ballad-y kick.
Rose strapped on her acoustic guitar while announcing her last song of the evening, just before realizing what may have been her worst nightmare: technical difficulties. The thing wouldn't play through the speakers. Without batting an eye, she shrugged it off with a precious remark, unplugged her ax and started solo into "Sinful Wishing Well" several feet from the mic, semi-vaudeville style. Her band followed suit, subduing their amps to adjust for the new intimate amplitude, while Rose belted out the familiar tear-jerker like she'd never get a chance to sing again. We don't know how often opening acts get standing ovations, but if ever it was appropriate, Saturday night was it.
Frankly, we could have headed home right then and had a pretty great night. Our limited experience with the catalog of headliners The Decemberists just didn't seem to offer the emotional promise of what we'd just seen. But hey, frontman Colin Meloy had plenty of charm of his own to impart between songs, and we were relieved to hear their new material had strayed from the contrived steampunk themes that dominated their early work. Rather, the stuff we understood was from their new album was more an atmospherically confessional folk rock for kids, or a modern-day Northwestern Eagles. At one time, Meloy proved a long-standing Nashville cliché by venturing into the crowd and handing his guitar to a random audience member, who proceeded to shred like a champ. Speaking of clichés, while closing with an extended jam of the allegedly autobiographical "Chimbley Sweep," the band detoured into an extended bluesy breakdown that at some point erupted into the requisite Johnny Cash cover nearly every touring act feels obliged to play on The Ryman's stage. This time it was "Folsom Prison Blues," and like always, the solicited hand claps and pew stomps soon followed like clockwork.
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