While it may be consistent with our reputation to arrive late for shows, we were pretty pissed when we walked into The Ryman Thursday night at 7:35 p.m. to find Superdrag already in mid-set. Don't get us wrong, The Ryman's musical heritage and antique charm is undeniable, but sometimes it's just not the most ideal venue for a rock show. This was made evident by the fact that, while nearly all in the house were rocking out to Superdrag, they were doing it sitting down. WTF? Don't people realize that this is a rock 'n' roll show and church pews are uncomfortable as fuck?
Nevertheless, the history of The Ryman stage wasn't lost on the band. As they gave props to all who've graced it before them and thanked the night's headliners for the opportunity to play, it was obvious that the band were giddily beside themselves with excitement to play this gig. And they're a band we love to see happy. It should go without saying that they rocked like it was 1996. Not one to miss an opportunity, singer John Davis had his Ryman moment as he briefly sang off mic. By the time they hit us with their classic closing one-two punch of "Sucked Out"—complete with a snippet of Guided by Voices' "Echos Myron"—into "Destination Ursa Major" (the former inspiring an inhibited sing-along that brought smiles to band and crowd alike), it felt like their 40-minute set had gone by all too fast. Our only complaint: The front-of-house mix was too quiet and uber-muddy. Seriously, this band deserves better than to have the snare drum mixed to sound like a set of Venetian blinds getting hit with chopsticks.
After sneaking backstage to pilfer a beer or two, gawk at Rick Nielsen, congratulate members of Superdrag on a job well done and hobnob among the likes of Poison drummer Rikki Rocket and Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain—who would later guest on "Dream Police"—we made our way back into the auditorium as the lights went down and a pre-recorded intro welcomed Cheap Trick, "the best fucking rock band ever," to the stage. The band made mention of this being their first time on the Ryman stage as well, then proceeded to give the Mother Church the Budokan treatment, with versions of "Come On, Come On" and the exhilarating "I Want You to Want Me" that sounded identical to those found on their iconic 1978 live album. With singer Robin Zander's voice astounding as ever, drummer Bun E. Carlos—the Buddy Rich of power-pop—pounding away, inventor of the 12-string bass and Nashville resident Tom Peterson looking disgustingly dapper and guitarist Rick Nielsen as animated as a Simpsons character with his goofy antics, the band sounded and looked great.
Unfortunately, the set list was a little spotty. Aside from a rarity or two and the predictable handful of hits, the band spent too much time playing unfamiliar new material. We were a little disappointed not to hear many of our favorite songs and (if we remember correctly) nothing off the first album. "He's a Whore," "Big Eyes," "Taxman, Mr. Thief," "Oh Candy," "On Top of the World" and even "Southern Girls"—which we thought was a lock for Nashville—were all missing. When you're a band with a discography stretching back 30-plus years and your headlining set is a mere 75 minutes long, you've got to either lengthen the show or give us more killer and less filler.
Seriously, this show was way too short. At $66 a ticket, you're paying almost a dollar a minute. At that rate, no set list should include a performance of "The Flame." Reminded that a flame is what's used to light a cigarette, we briefly headed for the smoking section and left the cougars to have their moment. We returned to our seats to find the song still going amidst a sea of lighters and waving arms. There may even have been tears. "The Flame" brought the house down, much to our chagrin. Luckily it went straight into "Surrender," during which we jumped out of our skin and sang along with all the life-affirming vigor we could muster. Man, what a fuckin' song. The version of "Dream Police" they played in the encore was just as good, as was the cover of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." Still, it just wasn't enough. If only we could've gotten a bit more, this show would've been a perfect 10, which is what time it was as we exited the building.
With all apologies to the bands we missed, we walked into The End Saturday night while Jensen Sportag's Austin Wilkinson was sit-dancing in his chair and pressing buttons on a vaguely '80s-looking controller that made it look like he was piloting some kind of abstract disco spaceship. A projector was projecting something over his face as he and bandmate Benji Craig whipped up some serious space funk. People were dancing in their minds. We think. It's kind of funny to see a room full of people look very studious and thoughtful when very, very danceable music is coming through the P.A. Well, maybe not funny, exactly. But the Sportag sounded awesome, and they probably represented the closest thing to musical enjoyment for the little gang of Blues Hammer fans slumming it at the corner of the bar. Didn't they know there were Jock Jams happening on the opposite side of the street?
It occurred to us that what was happening at The End was pretty much the exact opposite of what was happening across the way at Exit/In. While My So-Called Band and friends were playing covers of songs everybody already knew, the good ruffians of Buzz and Click VI were playing songs no one knew. In some cases, they were songs that the bands themselves didn't know until they played them.
Next up, head honcho John Brassil introduced B&C co-founder Jeremy Dickens, who quickly transformed into his musical alter ego Logickal, tweaking knobs, headbanging and getting all IDM on our ass. He was joined by a friend (we missed his name) who had driven up from the spring training home of the Mets to...uh, to do interpretive dance in an Affliction T-shirt? There was some swoopy Tae Kwon Do-style moves and yowling that happened. We're pretty sure dude's gristle was throbbing during the stage-humping part. It was not understood by us, exactly. But! Logickal unloaded some awesome, evil-sounding machine-noise-music-craze-wave-fractal-jams (there's a German word for that), like Brainiac's cracked machine about to blow its brains out using a gun loaded with the future. And the one guy who was dancing was wearing JNCOs—unironically, best we could tell. Like we said, the opposite of what was going on across the street.
OK, so the thing with improv noise bands is that instead of catchy pop hooks, there are moments. Moments of serendipitous clarity, like when you burn your toast and it looks like Jesus, or when a Chinese farmer pulls up a giant root in the shape of a human being. Guitarist Brady Sharp and saxophonist (and Scene contributor) David Maddox, playing as Bluff Duo, produced some of those moments, and it was cool. Like overhearing two people talking in a foreign language and then suddenly knowing what whole sentences mean without really understanding them. And Maddox hit the opposite of the brown note, whatever you'd call that. The white note? It made one of the Blues Hammer dudes drop his beer. Or maybe that's because he was shit-faced.
Matt Pusti's DAAS was up next, and we were told that the name is a computer joke. Get it? Em ess DAAS. Someone referred to the Make-Up and Vanity Set side project as "brain dance," which made it sound less good than it was. It was like buh-craaaack-uh-bah-boom-boom-boom craaaaack-buh-bap, and Pusti said after the show that the whole thing was made from one MIDI sample of a steel drum. We think he was kidding...or do we?
It occurred to us that the bathroom door at The End is not the best place in the world to post a menu, since it's not a location well suited to thinking about food, but whatever. We were getting hungry as Leslie Keffer played perhaps the most accessible set of hers we've ever seen, which is to say she had a table full of electronics, candles and a grid of 16 unmarked cassette tapes that she swapped in and out throughout an extended, sometimes arpeggiated drone.
It was almost 2 a.m. by the time Forrest Bride went on, and we will admit we were starting to fade at this point. Even the after-party at Exit/In was over before the Buzz and Click headliners took to the stage. But they were undaunted by the lateness of the hour. The Amy and Ben Marcantel-fronted collective started on the drone-y side but were soon blasting away at some big, Krautrockish skronkedelia that made the whole room feel like a swiftly twirling planet. We had to call it a night before they finished, but we were thankful for a great night of counterintuitive beats, wow and flutter, glitches, hisses and deformed melodies. Can't wait for next year.
Voting is now closed for our annual Rock 'n' Roll Poll. We leave no chads hanging. Email email@example.com to demand a recount.
Your illegal Mexican groundskeepers don't count, snowman69.
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