Freak of the week
There was an awful lot of rock ’n’ roll jam-packed into Freakin’ Weekend IV, local blog Nashville’s Dead’s annual freak fest.
After serving our time in the line that stretched down the Elliston Place sidewalk on Friday (Night Two), we made it into Exit/In for the back half of D. Watusi’s rather bittersweet set. Bittersweet because, of course, Nashville’s Dead/Freakin’ Weekend founder Ben Todd served as the Watoos’ bassist from their inception right up until his death last month at the age of 24. There was a rather solemn but decidedly determined-to-party vibe permeating the weekend’s festivities, and perhaps at no point was that vibe more palpable than during frontman Dillon Watson & Co.’s set. With The Paperhead’s Peter Stringer-Hye stepping in on low-end, the garage punks ferociously attacked their beat-music-styled riffs — progressions which always struck The Spin as landing halfway between Dave Clark Five sunny and Monks sinister. Members of Todd’s immediate family were in the crowd, and we definitely saw more than one tear-rimmed eye by set’s end.
Then came the two-guitar hardcore-punk attack of Memphis’ Ex-Cult. We spotted Watusi’s Watson stage-diving with an absolute sense of purpose as the Cult members quintessentially represented that Goner Records sound, hoisting the black flag of punk that was flown by fellow Goner Jay Reatard before them. White Fence — who come from the same West Coast school of noodling psych rock as cohorts Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and The Fresh and Onlys — made some of the most muscular and interesting stuff we’d see all weekend, shifting between shimmering, sunny psych pop and ramped-up droning grooves. We definitely detect some post-punk in White Fence’s mix of styles, and our compatriot noted a touch of The Fall’s influence.
The crowd — which had seen such local-rock hotshots as Jack White and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney milling about throughout the night — was amped up by the time Atlanta’s lords of irreverence, The Black Lips, took the stage. Half-full beer cans flew overhead the moment the Lips ripped into “Family Tree” from 2011’s Arabia Mountain. Even though the antics these goofy garage gurus were known for in their early days have died down a bit (there’s still plenty of spitting, just no urination), they’re certainly as pleasantly sloppy as ever. The Lips sincerely thanked Todd for all he’d done, going on to play a “prototype” or two of new songs. They admitted that they haven’t played out in a while, as they’ve been holed up working on their new record. Nevertheless, it felt like a perfectly great Black Lips show to The Spin, with genuinely exceptional melodies woven into the middle of all that madcap charm.
During Saturday’s day show — while a pared-down Gnarwhal thrashed through mathy post-hardcore riffs in Local Honey’s parking lot — a dude climbed a cinder-block dividing wall and stage-dove over the band and onto the crowd of skinny teenagers below. And survived. Later that evening, folks once again poured into Exit/In, and once Cy Barkley and the Way Outsiders took the stage, the night kicked into a familiar gear. Cy’s performance hasn’t changed much from the past half-dozen or so times we’ve seen him — aside from the addition of Mimi “Hot Legs” Galbierz on second guitar — but that’s to be expected from a band that so deftly channels mid-’70s Oi! and the gritty ’80s hardcore punk that followed it. They’re almost unrelentingly street punk, which sticks out in a scene full of psyched-out fuzz rock.
After an intro from Freak Queen Jessica McFarland — who effectively encouraged many of the ladies in attendance to ditch their bras — Diarrhea Planet continued their trend of getting more ambitiously goofy every time we see them. Whether it’s raining thrift-store hats on the crowd or guitarist Emmett Miller fleeing the stage to shred in the balcony, DP at least knows how to keep it interesting. But for all their silliness, one of the most emotional moments of the night came when the Planeteers ended their set on a stellar cover of “Born To Run,” dedicated to Ben Todd and backed up with locals Whit Smith on vocals and Reece Lazarus on sax.
As JEFF the Brotherhood arrived onstage, Exit/In took a turn for the lawless. Dozens crowded around the band, filling the wings for a safe perch to get freaky. So many people — mainly longtime friends of Nashville’s Dead with the tattoos to prove it — were onstage that at one point they supported their own crowd-surfers. Exit/In staff valiantly tried to keep the crowd back, but they were no match for a swarm of punks going nuts to “U Got the Look” and “Ripper.” Even as the band broke for the second half — when the Bogus Bros were joined by King Karl’s Karl Bergman and D. Watusi’s Christina Norwood — the crowd turned into a high-stakes game of Red Rover.
But in fairness, this was a community-embracing show unlike any we’ve ever seen. And as the house music faded up at the end of the night, kids onstage shed real tears over the final moments of Freakin’ Weekend IV.
Every Rose …
It was a long drive out to Murfreessboro to catch the Save Macaulay the Band’s record release at Casa Burrito, but it was totally worth it. Just kidding! The Spin didn’t travel back in time to relive Caitlin Rose’s ultra-awkward anti-folk phase under the name Save Macaulay, but hanging out at the back of Mercy Lounge on Saturday as Rose celebrated her triumphant return from the U.K. and the release of her new album sure felt like some bizarro-world version of 2006.
It’s about time this town had an instrumental outfit of openers Steelism’s caliber — there’s no gimmick or kitsch, just badass instrumentalists. Steelism is essentially our generation’s answer to Area Code 615, a contemporary Western outfit that blurs the lines between country, soul, rock, funk and whatever else is lying around. If you have to walk into a room, make sure British import and Steelism pedal-steel master Spencer Cullum Jr. is using a talkbox when you do it — pure class.
Andrew Combs — backed by the fellows of Steelism, who were pulling triple duty all night — has developed a hell of a presence. We’ve been fans of his songwriting for a while — his debut album Worried Man was one of our local favorites from last year — but with the band shredding behind him, Combs takes on a swagger we hadn’t noticed before. It complements the character of his writing well and makes us feel pretty confident that he’ll move up to the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Rose’s transformation seems like such a radical one, going from quirky-folky to full-blood country songstress in just a few short years, and The Spin couldn’t help but be blown away. Her song craft has taken the place of the quirk, and as she plowed through cuts from her debut Own Side Now and the brand-spanking-new The Stand-In, it was clear the crowd was there to hear an accomplished and lauded singer, not just the gal who sang “Gorilla Man” in the back of burrito shops.
Rose played her gorgeous standby “Sinful Wishing Well,” just her and her acoustic, but the din of crowd conversation wouldn’t die down. Just as well, as any crowd noise was blown the hell away by Rose & Co.’s full-bore rendition of Buck Owens’ classic “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail.” By the time the set was over and Rose finally capitulated to the audience’s demand for an encore — she sent Combs out for a quick acoustic version of his classic “Too Stoned To Cry” — we finally did get our little slice of the long-lost house-show version of Caitlin Rose, as the Grand Dame of Indie Nashville came out and laid down her vocals-and-tambourine weeper “T-Shirt.” We raised a glass and toasted to a bright future and a burrito-stuffed past.
Visit nashvillecream.com to see The Spin’s review of The Zombies with Night Beats and The Ettes at War Memorial Auditorium.