The Spin strolled down Third Avenue last Wednesday night, basking in a warm breeze and a golden sunset glinting off the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We've enjoyed seeing the Nashville Symphony Orchestra kick out art music jams spanning Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Philip Glass, despite an unwritten rule about the fanciness of one's duds being inversely proportionate to the amount of attention one must pay to where one walks. Though reports were promising, we had yet to scope a pop concert inside the acoustic and architectural marvel for ourselves. The NSO's current financial predicament means we're likely to see a lot more pop concerts, making the already enticing bill with Steve Martin, the Steep Canyon Rangers and Edie Brickell a welcome opportunity to try it out.
As the house lights dimmed, a whiff of beer and a few rebel yells made us feel right at home. Clad in a white sport coat, Martin led off with a gag-filled monologue — "These banjos are like my children: One of them is probably not mine" — as he introduced the Rangers, whose hybrid style combining two parts traditional musicianship and one part skillful innovation has earned them multiple Grammys and IBMAs. With a "show 'em how it's done," they dug into a runaway train of a set featuring cuts from across Martin's catalog. Their interplay was impressive throughout, but entered a whole new realm on the Appalachian-fugue title cut from Martin's own 2009 Grammy-winner, The Crow.
Though Martin has excelled in multiple lives as an entertainer, from comedy club stage to the silver screen, this appearance may have called most on his variety-show experience on Saturday Night Live — which, after all, shares its heritage with the Grand Ole Opry in vaudeville and minstrel shows. In five decades of banjo picking, Martin has mastered the instrument, but in recognition of the difference between his talent and that of the Rangers, he reveled in the role of wiseacre MC, riffing on his own celebrity, tossing off prima-donna quips about the pleasures of playing bluegrass in "roadside honky-tonks" like ours. Not that Martin demurred from the spotlight; his solo turn on "The Great Remember" was just as masterful as the run taken by the Rangers, whose hair-raising harmony on the gospel vocal piece "I Can't Sit Down" was subsequently one-upped with the pitch-perfect parody "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."
A rich display of showmanship overall, the one slightly rough patch was incorporating Brickell's contributions. Her collaborations with Martin stretch the group's sound far beyond bluegrass; though the Rangers adapted easily to playing with a drummer and an electric guitar, the energy of these tunes was completely different. Brickell's introduction toward the end of the first set broke the stride a little, and the first few tunes felt a bit awkward, as if the author of "What I Am" had tried too hard to write "a bluegrass song" and not something of her own. However, we soon grew accustomed to the new groove, and the songs showcasing Brickell's natural storyteller side emerged — "Yes She Did" and "Fighter" ruled especially — as she and band locked onto each other's wavelengths with the ease of old friends.
The evening closed out with a bang, concluding with a W.H. Auden poem set in a blistering cadence by the band. Fiddler Nicky Sanders got a huge barnstorming solo, and producer Peter Asher (O.G. folk master of Peter and Gordon fame) got a chance to shine on harmony vocals. We strolled back to the Spin-mobile, reflecting that more non-art shows at the Schermerhorn will be A-OK by us. We may raise an eyebrow at the prospect of ABBA: The Concert, and our hopes of seeing Yes with Rick Wakeman on the pipe organ may be a little far-fetched, but if the new management elects to join in on the CMA Fest-ivities, we reckon it'll be a jam to remember.
With Ohio-bred hardcore-punk act Integrity sucking up the be-plugged slam-dance contingent across the street at The End, The Spin entered Exit/In last Wednesday to the sounds of jagged little grunge-pop trio Bully. Fronted by The Stone Fox's sound gal, Alicia Bognanno, Bully warmed the crowd of baby-fat- and fresh-tattoo-sporting millennials with their tight and angular post-Breeders punk-pop.
Even with PUJOL bassist Clayton Parker filling in for Daniel Severs (who has a busted wing on account of recently getting tagged by a hit-and-runner while on his bicycle), and even with drummer Stewart Copeland (not that Stewart Copeland) suffering some sort of kick-pedal malfunction on the back half of their last song, Bully sounded tight, practiced and full of angsty verve. A cry of "One more!" came up from the crowd after their set's conclusion, and Bognanno's confession that they just didn't have any more material ("Seriously!") was met with friendly laughter.
Bands like L.A.-based quartet Lovely Bad Things restore The Spin's faith in the future and assure us that the fuzzy jangle of the '90s isn't entirely forgotten. Their diverting jumble of sprawling guitar noise, boy-girl pop harmonies and punked-up tempos was an obvious spawn of the Pixies' bipolar alterna-pop, but also had us wishing bands like Crackerbash listened to a little more Black Flag, or Bunnygrunt was way more into Sonic Youth. Each member rotated instruments on nearly every song, and while The Spin's appetite for twee-pop and rage-blackout combos was just getting whetted, we could sense this half-capacity, born-in-the-'90s crowd getting increasingly anxious for the main event.
They hadn't yet begun to wait. It'd be at least another 45 minutes before Best Coast would launch their set. In the interim, we enjoyed nearly all of Jay Reatard's Blood Visions through the PA. We overheard that the new Nasty Gal collection was way too Lisa Frank (whatever that means). We counted the number of Best Coast shirts in attendance and tried to remember the last time we obliviously wore the shirt of the very band we were going to see. The '90s were haunting us this night, friends.
Taking the stage to Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes off You" and decked out in a frilly white top, black miniskirt and frizzy hair, hot mess Bethany Cosentino and her now three-member back-up unit took the stage in front of an armada of engaged iPhones and dutifully — almost impatiently — bolted through nearly half their debut album. Not that she needed body language to engage a crowd that spent most of the show documenting it on every social media platform imaginable, but Cosentino's demeanor flipped like a switch once she'd gotten the older jams out of the way. The band livened and loosened up considerably with newer, faster tunes like "The Only Place" and angsty ballads like "Last Year."
Opening up and bantering increasingly throughout the set, Cosentino took the opportunity to rehash a "finger banging" joke several times, comment extensively on the epic failure of the evening's only stage diver and eventually order a round of Jäger shots for herself and the band. Popular faves like "Our Deal" and debut single "When I'm With You" were handled with a little more zeal, injecting considerably more pep in the step of these stoner-pop ditties. Best Coast's two-song encore closed the show, with onetime set-opener "Boyfriend" taking the final slot. With feedback ringing from the band's amplifiers, the more wide-eyed quarter of the room lingered, seemingly hoping that encore No. 2 would come around. Maybe next time, kids.
Visit NashvilleCream.com to see The Spin's review of Melvins at Third Man Records.
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