Mage tha Blackheart and more at The End, Band of Horses at the Ryman 

The Spin

The Spin

The Spin

Mage Is a State of Mind

The Rock Block was a veritable hot spot of bohemian hip-hop on Saturday night. While the monthly KDSML Review featuring seasoned DJs and turntablists was pumping sub bass through Exit/In's cavernous digs, some of Music City's lesser-known MCs and beat-makers were strutting their stuff across the street at The End.

The Spin walked in just in time to catch the last two numbers from openers Magnetic Forces — apparently it was their first performance. If underground hip-hop is good for anything, it's reminding you that rapping is hard. The effortless swagger and impeccable delivery of greats like Jay-Z, Eminem and Wu-Tang make it easy to forget how tough it is recite a 2,000-word song from memory, not to mention staying on top of rhythm, poise and finesse. Hence, Magnetic Forces' monotone delivery and dragging meter were simply human flaws in some otherwise intelligent jams. Besides, our punk roots dictate that practice as performance is a perfectly acceptable method of getting your shit down.

Next, all the way from L.A., beat-maker and word-sayer Adder followed up as the night's only touring act. Armed with a sequencer, sampler, synthesizer and expression pad, Adder twiddled the knobs himself, tweaking beats and improvising on his grimy electro instrumentals while laying down socially conscious lyrics he claimed to have written mostly under the influence of mushrooms. With two acts down and five more to go, local duo Last of the Horsemen was the first to make us really feel the hot fire. Fierce, bombastic beats laid the groundwork for some impressive lyrical interplay, with calls, responses and backup affirmations all tightly woven into a semi-political, mildly hedonistic and fairly punk-rock performance.

After that wylin', energetic display, local laptop soloist Binaural Beats' set served more as an intermission than a follow-up. In all fairness, a dude with a computer following two hype MCs will rarely make for the best pairing, but that isn't to say a substantial crowd didn't linger to hear Binaural's chirpy glitches and scattered beats morph into a dirty electro-dance-rock oeuvre. Though the acts were flying past in rapid succession, we were barely halfway through this program. We watched the crowd dwindle and swell repeatedly as folks braved the rain to toggle back and forth from across the street. Meanwhile, lyricist Capsize managed to wow us a little with some dazzling, tongue-twisting wordplay.

Thanks to a plug from Scene contributor Sean Maloney in his "Party and Bullsh*t" column on our music blog, Nashville Cream, Mage the Blackheart was the one act that night with whom we were already familiar. His Faceless Generation is a sample-heavy, scathing, politically charged beast of self-described "fuck-the-government shit." His set was a scattered yet impressive off-the-cuff mix of tunes off his Jeffery Drag-released cassette and tweaked-out instrumentals, over which Mage would freestyle seemingly on a whim and without warning.

We caught a few jams by closer Xyon before we'd essentially had our fill (eight acts makes for an exhausting bill). There were topics and song titles both surreal and endearing, beats as textured and intricate as we'd heard all night and a flow that was easy on the ears, but our underground hip-hop journey had run its course for the night.

And the Band Neighed On

The Spin approached the Mother Church with an open mind on Sunday night. We've heard a bit of Band of Horses, but it's never quite cut through the SST alumni, soul singers and other staples of our diet enough to stick. However, with the band having sold out a night at the Ryman, added a second night to meet the demand, and then promptly sold that out, to say that these guys must have impressed somebody is a bit of an understatement. A quick check of the details indicated that the group had also impressed two of our favorite producer-engineers, Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Halo Benders, the first three BOH records) and Glyn Johns (The Who, The Rolling Stones, BOH's latest, Mirage Rock). Intrigued, we took our pew.

The evening kicked off with an unplugged set featuring an upright piano, a harmonium and a semicircle of acoustic guitars. Taking a few cues from Talking Heads' definitive concert movie Stop Making Sense, the stage was set to suggest a living room, including a pretty sweet floor lamp, and leader Ben Bridwell began alone, with additional members of the group joining him for each successive number. Before long, bells of recognition began to ring: The second song was a very stripped-down version of "No One's Gonna Love You," which had stood out to us among a sea of middle-of-the-road riffs on adult contemporary radio, with its lilting melody, controlled-stagger rhythm and Bridwell's distinctive voice, a clear tenor with a tendency to curl the ends of words.

We could take or leave the curlicues, but this setting offered Bridwell a chance to show off his genuine vocal abilities, which bring to mind the old chestnut about a book and its cover; for a scruffy, gangly guy with neck tattoos, he clearly works hard at pitch control, crooning and shouting with equal precision. Bridwell shares this skill with his bandmates, who surprised us with big, round multi-part harmonies that, given their country-folk context, brought to mind the best efforts of Eagles and Crosby, Stills and Nash. After an impressive take on Leon Russell's "A Song for You," the acoustic set wrapped with Bridwell and guitar-slinger Tyler Ramsey gathered around Ryan Monroe at the piano for "Neighbor." With its chorus about Bartles and Jaymes not needing first names, the tune perfectly complemented the group's playful attitude, which effectively undercut the air of pretension that's hung over many an acoustic evening.

When the curtain went up for the electric set, we amended our previous comparison to read "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young," as wounded, squalling solos inspired by the latter poured forth in abundance, as often as not amid songs that started out gently. This included their rendition of Neil Young's own "Powderfinger," which had us jumping along with the rest of the crowd. The band's guitar tech was onstage almost as often as the group, carrying fresh axes, but that didn't turn the set indulgent or pretentious. It was simply a service to fans, a signal that BOH has the ability to reproduce the sounds on the records, and by God, they're going to use it.

There wasn't a whole lot here to win over an outsider, but that wasn't the mission for this show. As bassman Bill Reynolds told Scene contributor Marissa R. Moss in last week's feature, "It's about embracing the Ryman and letting it do its thing to us," which was clearly the prime directive for band and fans alike. As Bridwell mentioned, the second night's set was completely different from the first, resulting in some very deep cuts like "Part One," noted as "possibly the first Band of Horses song, ever." Songs like the title cut from Infinite Arms and the full-band electric reprise of "No One's Gonna Love You" didn't tickle our fancy, but we definitely saw more dancing, cheering and taking selfies than at some rock shows we could mention. We see plenty of musicians studying other musicians with an attitude of detached deference, and that's great, but the unreserved joy of fans who have no stake beyond seeing people they like play songs they love is just as beautiful.



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