Quakin' all over
Between Rites of Spring and Commodore Quake, Vanderbilt manages to host some befuddlingly diverse but college-friendly concerts. And last Thursday night, as The Spin was ushered into the photo pit for opener Trey Songz's first three ... um, songz, the dichotomy of the crowd was immediately unmistakable. With Memorial Gymnasium somewhere in the neighborhood of half full, Songz launched into a set of tunes about pining for girls and not wanting to come between a girl and her man, all the while being screamed at violently by a couple thousand young ladies. One girl near us, in fact, was absolutely certain that The Spin was a member of headlining outfit My Morning Jacket. We insisted that we were not, but she took a picture of us anyway. So that depressingly pointless photo is out there somewhere.
Seriously though, live R&B bands are some of the tightest in the game, and Songz's band was no exception. It's just that they were playing an ilk of modern Top 40 that we don't dig so hard, and the fact that booze wasn't being sold in the gym didn't make it go down any easier. Toward the end of Songz's set, some shaggy North Face-sporting college bros had begun to file in, and the Trey fans were absolutely losing their shit — his shirt was off at this point, and while dude could certainly carry a tune, he could have been flatly singing a half-time rendition of "My Ding-a-Ling" for all these young ladies cared.
All of our past experiences seeing My Morning Jacket have been at Bonnaroo. Which is just to say that, as much as we dig significant chunks of MMJ's catalog, we weren't sure if we'd be as enraptured in a mostly sober, non-Bonnaroo setting. But the very moment we found ourselves with our chins practically onstage and Nashville-residing guitarist Carl Broemel's shoes in our faces — with Jim James' wild, golden Kentucky mane a halo in the strobe lights, a giant eyeball backdrop staring us down and a row of subwoofers rattling our rib cages — we were back at the 'Roo in spirit. And hey, we got to hear a song from Z ("Off the Record") right off the bat.
We also noticed that four of the gymnasium's tiers were entirely empty. Like, not a soul. Sound for most of the set was pretty boomy, and we found it difficult to make out the vocals. We'd like to give the room the benefit of the doubt and assume it was just where we were sitting, but we wandered around a bit and couldn't do much better anywhere else. My Morning Jacket's long-winded, jammy interludes definitely aren't our favorite bits. It's the grooves, hooks and James' eternally spot-on falsetto acrobatics that get us going. But even if the jammy portions are your thing, it's hard to become transfixed when you're trying to discern which of the sounds you're hearing are guitars and which are organ. Still, that didn't stop many a glow stick-adorned Vandy kid from bobbing and swaying here and there.
Broemel was the obvious workhorse of the evening, contributing a bit of sexy sax to one extended, laid-back jam, and injecting some heartland-rock sonics into a few numbers via his trusty pedal steel. James also rocked what the Internet tells us was some sort of Roland sampler around his neck, its dials glowing like Darth Vader's life-support chest panels. We enjoyed My Morning Jacket's encore, which was precisely what you'd expect: James in his cape, singing melisma-drenched renditions of "Wordless Chorus," Circuital's epic "Holdin' on to Black Metal" — a return to the form we like seeing from MMJ — the ever-popular Prince-ripping "Highly Suspicious" and what is quite possibly their best song ever, "One Big Holiday." By then, the college bros — high-kicking, fist-pumping and air-guitaring like no one was watching — were getting off just as hard as the young ladies during Trey Songz's set had been getting off. And that's the memory we'll carry with us until the next time we're on Vanderbilt's campus. See you at Rites of Spring, dudes.
"Guys, where the fuck are we? What is this place?"
We've spent the past few days trying to come up with the words to describe our Saturday spent in the boonies surrounding Gallatin at The Big Nashty Festival, but no matter what, we keep coming back to those two sentences, blurted out by Natalie Prass while playing the festival's "Big" stage. What is this place? Who are these people? Why did someone build a grade school across the street from a cemetery (or vice versa!)?
We never did find the answers to any of those questions. What we did find was a surprisingly sincere tribute to local rock straining hard against its own considerable weight and weirdness.
With a little help from Google Maps and a single handwritten sign leading us on a winding road eight miles north of Gallatin, we arrived at Bush's Chapel School — an abandoned schoolhouse that looked like the backdrop of a particularly bad teen slasher flick — unscathed around 4:30 p.m. By then, the festival was already half over, with seven bands we'd never heard of (and Siberian Traps) already done for the day.
The festival's vibe fell somewhere between "Gathering of the Juggalos" and "oversized campus rager" on the party spectrum. For what it lacked in helicopter rides and guest appearances by Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Big Nashty made up for in food trucks, a pair of sad-looking beer pong tables, a sparsely populated camping area and dozens of drunk college kids. Inside the gates, maybe 150 hipsters and punks (but mainly hipsters) in their early to mid-20s were milling about. It was the kind of crowd that would've meant a good night at The End, but those numbers spread awfully thin when stretched between two stages.
There were highlights! Reid Magette remains one of Nashville's greatest undiscovered treasures. We've seen him play with a handful of different band configurations, but he's really onto something with the punked-out-Bruce Springsteen thing he's now pursuing. All sharp edges and whiskey-soaked choruses, Magette's anthemic rock music hits us in the same way that The Hold Steady does.
Meanwhile, Prass was charming in a twee singer-songwriter way, Bad Cop is constantly improving past their onetime status as local-rock punching bag (the addition of Little Viking's Mikey Owen adds a dimension to the band that was definitely lacking), and we're not exactly sure what to make of Deathstar Lovebeam, who looked and sounded like Flaming Lips after taking a bad hit of acid. Their darkly psychedelic space-rock set did manage to capture our attention. But we're on the fence as to whether it was because the music was good or because of the unchecked oddness of a band with an interpretive dancer.
As the hours went on, the night got weirder. We were subjected to white dudes free-styling, live dubstep, and — the final straw — a drum circle that was onstage instead of Faux Ferocious.
By the time D. Watusi arrived onstage, the festival was already an hour-and-a-half behind schedule. This meant that headliner Hans Condor likely wouldn't set foot onstage until the wee morning hours and that we were officially over it. We can't find much fault in the Nashties' "Let's put on a show," can-do spirit, but they've got a lot to learn if they do it again next year. But if they do, we're pretty sure there's an abandoned insane asylum in Johnson City that would be a perfect venue.
Hey guys, what are you going as for Halloween? We call dibs on Fat Axl Rose. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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