For the next three days, an amorphous monster will strike Nashville, consuming every club, band, laminate holder, and A&R scout in its path. It’s not the Blob, it’s the NEA Extravaganza ’98but the confusion is understandable. The Blob engulfs unwary individuals, sucking them into its shapeless, featureless, omnivorous bulk. As for the Extravaganza, its only purpose is to, uh, well...hmmm. What does the Extravaganza want to do?
Three years ago, I’d have said that the defibrillated event had finally discovered its chief purpose: to celebrate music, not to create a fake buzz. Taking a page from South by Southwest 101, the Extravaganza increased the number of participating clubs; placed locals on bills with national acts; and widened its focus. As a result, the event’s overall quality improved exponentially, as did attendance and coverage.
But the Extravaganza’s boost in visibility has raised the stakes for everyone involved: for artists who want to scare up record deals; and for the organizers, who want to attract the kind of music-biz frenzy that has turned SXSW into a zoo. As a result, the emphasis on music over music business has flip-flopped once again, and the event seems less focused than everperhaps because of the many behind-the-scenes players with vested interests. For example, of the more than 300 bands playing Thursday through Saturday at local clubs, at least 14 managed to wangle two slots. Several of those are affiliated with attorney and Paladin Records music mogul Jim Zumwaltwho happens to be the Extravaganza’s chairman. Maybe that’s why one wag calls the event ”Lawyerpalooza.“
The upshot is that all the backstage politicking has created a level of preshow animosity unusual even for the much-resented Extravaganza. But the bands that were accepted have their own unenviable problems. How do you compete for Nashville’s notoriously limited live-music audience when there are shows at nearly 20 clubs? In past years, the Extravaganza finessed that dilemma through theme-related shows at separate venues. But such programming is rare this year. And that makes the 1998 Extravaganza less a festival than a cattle callone that marches hundreds of cows off to market in the hope that a single person will order a steak.
But enough ranting. Even with all the Extravaganza’s problems, there will still be more good music spread out over the next three days than you will possibly be able to hear. We can’t program your weekend, but we can point out some of the highlights. Below, you’ll find three days of cool music. The rest is up to you.
Oh, and one more thing. Those blaring Extravaganza TV commercials. They’ve got to go. It’s a music festival, not a monster-truck show.
We could tell you to head to the downtown Bat Bar to check out the blistering CYOD, Marky Nevers’ ever-mutating garage-noise ensemble, which in moments of greatness comes close to spontaneous combustion. But that show’s sponsored by the Scene, and even though several newsweeklies sent their city’s hottest bands, there’s more than enough influence-peddling going on all weekend.
So let us praise relocated Midwesterner Josh Rouse, who qualifies as Nashville’s best-kept local secret of the moment. That’s history once his remarkable CD Dressed Up Like Nebraska comes out this April on the Rykodisc subsidiary Slow River. It’s a thoroughly winning collection of thoughtful, atmospheric rock songs and ballads that unfold with disarming beauty, and it’s already earning Rouse comparisons to Nick Drake and Ron Sexsmith. He’ll play solo at Sam & Zoe’s Coffeehouse with Tom Leach.
The evening promises any number of record-label showcases, but Jeremy Tepper’s Brooklyn-based jukebox outfit Diesel Only outclasses them all; the lineup for its ”Rig Rock Revue“ at The Sutler makes this the night to beat for honky-tonk fans. Truck-driving sons-a-guns Sonny George and Phil Lee swap sets with The Hangdogs, but the highlight of the evening will be hard-country troubadour Dale Watson. He’ll be joined by Kay Adams, the pioneering ’60s country artist whose concept LP Wheels and Tears gave a woman’s view of life through a windshield.
On their delightful 1996 CD Life Is Large, Pete and Maura Kennedy ransacked two decades of lilting folk-pop and recorded the results with a caravan of guests ranging from Steve Earle to Roger McGuinn. Even if none of those folks shows up for the duo’s late-night gig at East Nashville’s Radio Cafe, the Kennedys are quite engaging enough on their own.
The following announcement is not a bizarre dream: King Crimson avant-guitar legends Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew are indeed playing a late-night set Friday under the name PROJEkCT TWO. What happens when two notorious sonic perfectionists meet the Cannery’s bus-station acoustics? Expect to fight a sardine-can crowd to find out. Nothing against Fripp and Belew, but we’re even more excited about their opening act, local space-rock combo Dinah Shore Jr., which fuses the sonic landscapes of Can with washes of ambient sound. Resolutely idiosyncratic in approach and presentation, the group should make for an intriguingly un-Extravaganza moment.
Two of our favorite bands of the weekend occupy Friday-night slots. At 3rd & Lindsley is Barbeque Bob & the Spareribs, a ferociously trashy New York R&B group (with ringer Dan Baird sitting in on bass). Their CD After School Special sounds like it was cut before the dawn of multitrack recording; if this sloppy, smoky, sweaty gem were truly what it appears to bea long-lost artifact of Northwestern ’60s bloozeit would be an underground treasure.
After Barbeque Bob, hotfoot it over to Douglas Corner for the captivating South Carolina singer/songwriter Danielle Howle and her Tantrums. Howle is a sultry, playful vocalist with a wonderful swampy drawl; her melodies and elliptical kiss-off lyrics are at once earthy and devilishly memorable. Meanwhile, at Victor/Victoria’s, Cincinnati’s addictive The Tigerlilies muss the glittery lipstick of their perfect ’70s glam-pop pastiches with caterwauling rough-trade guitars. They’re joined by Nashville’s catchy Igmo and the ear-splitting Four Hundred.
Finally, three label showcases each have much to offer. At the Bluebird, Alison Brown’s Compass imprint spotlights the elegantly crafted tunes of British singer-songwriter Clive Gregson, with Brown, Dana Cooper, and Kate Campbell trading instrumental prowess and literate neo-folk songs. Nashville’s new Treason label unveils the genre-shredding, aggressively erotic new material of longtime Nashville club fixture Rebecca Stout; Knoxville vocalist Jennifer Nicely; and the reactivated hop-metal band Stone Deep. As for the Spongebath Records blowout at 328 Performance Hall, most of these bands play Nashville all the time, but you still need to see Fluid Ounces or The Featuresand we hear dapper rapper Count Bass D will have a full band.
Some of the weekend’s biggest headliners have closing-night slots. But they’re all names you know. Therefore, we’ll concentrate on the equally worthy folks you may not know.
”Complicated,“ by the teenage University School of Nashville trio Soul Surgeon, is one of the half-dozen standout tracks on the Extravaganza sampler CD: four fabulous minutes of toothsome Stiff Records pop powered by a whipcrack rhythm section and a chorus that explodes out of nowhere. They play an early slot at the Exit/In, which’ll give you time to check out Josh Rouse’s full-band set at 12th & Porter and Boston Music Award winner Laurie Geltman at Douglas Corner.
If you’re not in the mood for mad-dash club-hopping, plant yourself at the Modern Era for 92Q’s R&B/hip-hop showcase, which features newly signed vocalist Keith Floyd, R&B wunderkind Michael ”Bo“ Bohannon, and local rapper Pistol. Or try the strong underground-rock lineup at Indienet (formerly Lucy’s Record Shop), which boasts Calypso, Laurel Parton’s not-for-the-fainthearted Trauma Team, the indescribable art-damaged classic-rock theater of David Cloud’s Gospel of Power, and the first-rate Murfreesboro noise-pop band Glossary.
At 328’s Aware Records showcase, don’t miss Austin singer-songwriter Trish Murphy, whose song ”Scorpio Tequila“ has an irresistibly rubbery groove and amusingly sexy lyrics. Finally, if you don’t mind a little walking, sample the many worthy alt-country acts playing up and down Lower Broad, from Jim and Royann Calvin at the Bluegrass Inn to Kevin Gordon at the Gibson Café to Hank Flamingo and Shinola at Robert’s Western Wear.
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