Our favorite element of VFW Post 1970 is that surprisingly comfortable overlap in the hipster-redneck Venn diagram: All the rock 'n' rollers are happy to order PBR and Miller High Life, and the staff — relentlessly busy as they were last Thursday night, bless their hearts — is happy to serve it. Plus, drunken hipsters tip better than you'd think, and both sets are pleased as punch to be able to smoke their Pall Malls indoors.
The sold-out crowd was bustling and chattering, but everyone managed to meander toward the stage as joke-folk duo Birdcloud kicked off just after 9 o'clock. With Makenzie Green in chartreuse tights and a bikini top and Jasmin Kaset in some sort of jersey-esque tube miniskirt, Birdcloud faced one another, plugging along in that artless if endearing manner of theirs on guitar and mandolin. We've seen the 'Cloud, oh, a handful of times (is there a bill they haven't played on in the past six months?), so we were as prepared as one could ever be for their two-minute folk ditties, all of them stuffed with sarcastic melisma between grunted, semi-harmonized, caterwauled verses about getting fucked up at the Springwater, swimming-hole jealousy, blowing rodeo clowns, living with your granny, being "Indianer than alla y'all" and "snail trails" — even The Spin doesn't have the stomach to explain what that last bit means. Anyway, the duo donned telemarketer-style headsets so Kaset could perform her trademark solo on Green's crotch-mounted harmonica during "Saving Myself for Jesus." But despite the fact that their subtle, nuanced hit "Warshin' My Big Ol' Pussy" tends to go over well with most audiences, crowd noise had grown louder than Birdcloud's tacky-by-design hollerin' by set's end.
After squeezing their gear onto the VFW's modest stage, Natural Child launched unceremoniously — just like we like it — into a set of scuzzed-out blooze-rock tunes, many of them from their forthcoming Hard in Heaven. Wes Traylor did a bit of the old Gene Simmons tongue-wag as he hammered away at mean bass riffs, guitarist Seth Murray grooving along and doubling vocals at his side.
So yeah, Natural Child is all Stonesy (they covered "Tumbling Dice" for Chrissakes), riff-fueled, filthy blues rock. And yeah, they stick to the same formula. But there's a magic to it — a slackerdom and weedy nonchalance, fortified by hooks, charm, chops and sweat-soaked fun — that puts them among Nashville's finest live rock 'n' roll outfits. We slipped away to get another beer during Natty C's last number, but we're fairly sure we heard Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" ... or was it "My My, Hey Hey"?
After a tender intro from Nashville dude and former King Tuff sideman Joseph Plunket, frontman Kyle Thomas & Co. fired off a stellar one-two punch of "Anthem" and "Keep on Movin'" from this year's eponymous LP. A large, dreadlocked youngster hoisted Birdcloud's Makenzie Green — bloody elbows and all — atop his shoulders right in front of us, but once we found our way out from under Mak's ass and past the high-on-youth moshers, we noted Thomas' ability to burn naturally through some rather complex little lead parts. "Freak When I'm Dead," as it happens, proved to be a rather apropos rallying call for the flock of haphazardly crowd-surfing little bastards up front, many of them nailing the VFW's disco ball and ceiling fan as they glided over our heads.
As for the music, Thomas fishes the most visceral elements from every corner of rock 'n' roll: the mean riffing of cock rock and metal; the zero-fuck-giving stoner ethos of psych rock; the wild-eyed, bumping fury of punk rock; and the strut of glam and proto-punk (the T. Rex and Tom Verlaine similarities being the most obvious, we'd say). Funny, while chatting with door gal Brynne Bowden — an employee of The Stone Fox, the forthcoming local venue that booked the show — toward set's end, The Spin called Thomas' general aesthetic "dirty," which Bowden misheard as "nerdy." But there's nothing nerdy about a dude who wears a Flyers cap and a feather earring, shreds like the devil and sings about sun medallions.
Ripe for the picking
Even for a show at the Ryman, the assortment of people that filled the old church to see Fiona Apple on Friday the 13th was surprising — made up of everyone from tiny, femi-fist-pumping punks to collared-shirt-big-boot dudes to every chick in Nashville who owns a pair of Dr. Martens. When Apple made her way onstage, the girl next to The Spin whispered, "Ugh, she's soooo skinny," as everyone else completely and totally lost their '90s-lovin' shit. Apple's red lips were visible from the balcony as she childishly tiptoed onto the stage and burst into "Fast as You Can" from When the Pawn ... while gyrating and beating her leg with a metal baton.
When The Spin arrived, opener Blake Mills — also Apple's guitarist — was a couple songs in and sounding decent, but the hustle and bustle of the room made it apparent that everyone was waiting for the lady of the hour. Mills is an exceptional guitarist, but came off shy during his own set. Until, that is, his cover of Santo and Johnny's classic "Sleepwalk," when he referenced the number's use in La Bamba with a cry of "RITTCHIIEE!"
Just when The Spin thought the crowd couldn't get any more bizarre, an usher cleared some seats, allowing Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban to sit a few feet away with a small group of rowdy young ladies. So long as we obscured our vision with a strategically positioned beer, Urban semi-headbanging to "Sleep To Dream," which came mid-set, didn't take anything away from the show. The gloomy and ruminating "Shadowboxer" cut through the room, Apple's distinctive vibrato sending the crowd into shrieks, her harsh, primeval moans falling over the audience like a sweater that probably shouldn't be worn in the summer — a little heavy and overwhelming, but it fits in all the right ways.
Apple moved unpredictably from her piano bench to the microphone, prancing like a deer in and out of headlights. She covered her face during "Extraordinary Machine" and twitched, falling to her knees, then jumped up and ran over to beat on a floor tom during "Daredevil" from her latest, The Idler Wheel ... . Though there was no lack of energy in Apple's set, there were peaks and troughs, allowing for her to get wild for a song or two and then bring it down for a breather.
Wearing a crimson, glittered dress with a high slit up the side under a tiny tank top, Apple bent, twisted and contorted her body in a possessed but magnificent fashion — some folks cringed, others were delighted. On the way out, The Spin watched a kid with a popped collar (we know, we thought they didn't exist anymore either) imitate Apple while telling his buds that he knew she danced, "but that was just weird." That girl could writhe on the floor all day and not open her mouth to sing and we would watch, but add her soulful grunts, growls and howls, and we can assure you it's less weird than a dude who shows up to a Fiona Apple show and expects to see anything less than provocative.
And damn, did she writhe, jump, dance and squirm. It appeared as if her eccentric, sexual energy crawled offstage and up the pant leg of everyone in the crowd — couples licked one another's necks and rubbed each other's backs like they were pre-gaming for an Eyes Wide Shut party. Seriously though, had Apple played a few more songs, an all-out orgy might have defiled The Mother Church. When Apple finally busted out "Criminal" near the end of her set — something of her "Free Bird," if we may say — she almost appeared to sing it out of respect for the crowd, but with an ostensible disdain for performing it. It was the only song in the set that felt dry and rushed. Admittedly, The Spin wasn't displeased when Apple spoke after "Criminal" and said, "OK, let's pretend two minutes went by, you all clapped and I'm back." The "encore" was a sad, striking cover of Conway Twitty's "It's Only Make Believe." A little anticlimactic, but pleasing nonetheless.
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