A sizable and pleasantly diverse crowd shook off their tryptophan-induced comas and braved the gloomy weather to join Altered Statesman and Lone Official for their 7-inch release at The Basement Saturday night. We entered to the hyper-funk sounds of Small Axe, a slick five-piece armed to the teeth with sticky chops and a smooth-ass front man. Seeing a funk rhythm section—and believe us, this was the genuine article—was somewhat refreshing, and we thoroughly enjoyed their song "Pimps," a tune about the rigors of pimpology in which Small Axe's trumpet-toting lead singer warned us to "watch out for them pimps," because "a pimp gotcha lookin' for the king and queen while he's sitting on that ace."
By the close of Small Axe's set, The Basement was mostly packed, with members of Lambchop and Silver Jews making up a good portion of the crowd. Altered Statesman set to their hypnotic, practiced grooves with singer Steve Poulton leading the pack and local jack-of-all-trades Luke Schneider kicking ass on vibraphone.
Altered Statesman's energy definitely isn't through the roof—they're more " 'n' roll" than straight up "rock"—but their ethereal soundscapes are certainly impressive and atmospheric. Folks drifted back and forth between the smoking porch and the bar throughout the set, but we were dismayed to see that the cash bar up front—one of our favorite Basement features—was unmanned (or unwomanned). As the Statesman wrapped up their set, Poulton left us with his sales pitch for the split: "Buy one of those damn records."
Lone Official's set-up was a bit delayed as Grimey fiddled with the bass settings and blasted the vocal mics with a healthy dose of disinfectant. (It is cold season, after all.) We noticed immediately that Lone Official was missing the ivory-tickling of one Mr. Ryan Norris, but L.O. still worked as a no-frills, streamlined four-piece. Guitarist Sami Elamri and lead singer Matt Button's riff-swapping was pretty handy, though occasionally not perfectly in tune, on favorites like "Amelia Earhart" and "Le Coq Sportif."
For a band that constantly seems on the verge of no longer being a band, Lone Official definitely sounded well rehearsed. Button's wife was front-and-center for most of the evening dancing her ass off, which set the tone perfectly. We can't say the same for The Basement's hitherto unnoticed disco ball, however, which inexplicably kicked on mid-set, casting its bizarre sequined glow over the room and sending out vibes not unlike that of a middle-school dance. By the time Lone Official started in on their last song, we decided to slink back outside into the shadows—far from the dazzling lights that threatened to shatter our anonymity.
Dukes of hazard
We almost didn't make it to Exit/In Sunday night. With the rain, the cold, the Sunday-ness and the end-of-holiday-weekend blahs, it was almost too much. But we got it together enough to show up late, as usual, and when we walked through the door, openers The Black Fortys were in the middle of what turned out to be their last song. It didn't do much for us anyway, so we tried to shake off the cold with a cold one and do the attendance math. That didn't take long because the place was mostly empty. Which didn't surprise us, really, what with the rain, the cold, the Sunday-ness and the end-of-holiday-weekend blahs.
After setting up their equipment, which included a gigantic old Slingerland marching-band bass drum, the unfortunately named Eulogies came on and did a lot of things we like—poppy eighth-notes, major chords and straightforward drumming—without ever adding up to anything. All line and sinker, no hook. Kinda like Grandaddy lite (and that's saying something), with a bit of Arcade Fire smoldering over the top. If it's shallow to say the singer's fedora tipped us off that this band was not going to rock us very hard, then fine. We said it. We were slightly rocked, if at all, but we were at least distracted by the band's "lead" guitarist, who bore a real resemblance to a certain actor. "I feel like that guy's gonna try to sell me a Mac," one of our companions said.
People started showing up as the Eulogies drew to a close, including both Little Jack Lawrence and, oddly enough, a Little Jack Lawrence look-alike. Someone to our right (who is new to town) said, "Did you see there are two guys here who look like Garth?" Party on, dude to our right. Between bands, Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West played on repeat. We really don't need to ever hear that album again, much less three times in a row.
When The Duke Spirit finally took the stage, they did so to a canned recording of "I Do Believe," the a cappella opening salvo from their latest album Neptune. They threw on their instruments, got in place, and then, just as they do on the record, blasted into "Send a Little Love Token," which brought people to the front of the stage. Where they would stand mostly motionless for the rest of the night like—well, like a Nashville audience.
We'd like to think that's just because singer Leila Moss was utterly mesmerizing. From her gold sequined dress to her spidery, double-jointed rock postures to singing the fuck out of every song, Moss slunk and fist-pumped and pounded her chest—commanding the stage like firecrackers wrapped in dynamite wrapped in, like, bombs or something. Her energy was contagious. Sort of. Someone handed her a cell phone at one point, and asked her to read a message: "Sunday night is no excuse for not dancing," she obliged, to tepid applause. Talk about being set up. No, Nashville was not in a dancing mood, even if everyone was pretty into it (which they seemed to be, despite the standing-stillness).
When the band started "The Step and the Walk" it was with a different intro from the album version, but once they hit the verse, a ripple of recognition travelled through the crowd, inspiring at least one person to sing along. Yes! The band soldiered on through a set heavy with tunes off Neptune, playing tight and big. After they finished their last song and left the stage, someone tried to slow-clap the crowd into demanding an encore, but everyone seemed a bit too sleepy for that.
We ran into Moss as she came back out to help pack up the band's gear. "Great show," we said, meaning it more than usual. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled sheepishly. "Eh," she managed. I guess we couldn't blame her for feeling a bit bummed, what with the rain, the cold, the Sunday-ness, the endless touring and playing-to-a-half-empty-room blahs.
"Nashville, stop throwing your panties at me," sings Dawn Oberg on the bonus track to her first full-length solo CD, "it's embarrassing after a while." Perhaps best known for the booze-soaked laments of her Honky-Tonk Happy Hour, the self-described "middle-aged library worker" emerges on her album Horticulture Wars as a fierce, dry wit with a smoky middle range and a world-weariness as becoming as a plume of smoke from Marlene Dietrich's cigarette holder. Thanks to co-producer Robin Eaton and top-flight backing from Jim Hoke, Brad Jones, Joe Pisapia, Fleming McWilliams and pedal-steel great Al Perkins, among others, Oberg's piano-centered cabaret pop has a lush, intimate sound that avoids turning facile and loungy. She belongs in the company of Aimee Mann and Amy Rigby, grown-up women who give off the kind of knowledge that makes their pop-tart competition sound like mewling Brownies. (And check out the cool Kelly Williams painting on the cover.) Oberg plays her CD release show 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at Club Roar, 710 Fessey Park Road—and if you insist on throwing panties, she sings, "at least could it be a clean pair?"
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