It's official: The Heartless Bastards win. They've managed to bookend Middle Tennessee's summer of 2009 with two seriously badass shows. The first show, at Bonnaroo in Manchester, managed to cut through a hangover of Hemingway-esque proportions. (Seriously, if we were the proverbial old man, then Bonnaroo was a big-ass fish dragging us to the depths of the briny deep.) The second show, at the Exit/In on Tuesday, rocked our ass so thoroughly we almost forgot that we were—gasp!—sober. (Hey, even The Spin acts responsible once in a while!) We are quite pleased to say that regardless of one's chemical state, the Ohio quartet will rip you a new one like a Rust Belt tornado in a trailer park.
Lead Bastard singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom's voice is captivating, throaty and unique—somewhere between the bayou-country blues belter Bobbie Gentry and punk's high priestess Patti Smith—and when she started wailing on her golden Gibson Les Paul, The Spin shed a little tear for the man himself and his most marvelous of all inventions. Multitrack recording is nice and all, but c'mon folks, is there anything more beautiful than a solid-body guitar cranked up and fuzzed out? Nope, didn't think so. The Spin demands that Les Paul's face be added to Mount Rushmore, as it is the only fitting tribute to the man's deeds. Seriously.
Wennerstrom's songs are just as unique as her voice, pulling from the more murderous end of American folk, the heaviest side of classic rock and the more beguiling hooks from the indie underground. If we were obnoxious rock critics (and we are) we'd say it was like Ms. Wennerstorm had hijacked Leslie West's Mountain and taken it on a Nantucket Sleighride through Dave Edmund's Rockpile—heavy as hell, catchy as a motherfucker, an unstoppable force of epic beauty like an avalanche of awesome. Go buy their new album The Mountain. You will not be disappointed—and if you are disappointed, then, well, there is very little hope for you.
Opener Colour Revolt's 2008 album Plunder, Beg and Curse didn't really ping our radar, if y'know what we mean, but the live show was something else—landing between shimmering space and vintage Southern indie swing like The Grifters with more shoegaze-y parts and sweeter vocals. It was rad.
Sick, but no health care
Despite The Fiery Furnaces' announcement earlier this month that each of their performances in August would function as a pro-health care reform rally, we saw no political signage of any sort when we arrived at Mercy Lounge for their show with White Rabbits Wednesday night. There were no nutjob picketers and no crackpots holding depictions of Obama with a Hitler 'stache. There were no extremists of any sort, or even any reasonable folks engaging in spirited debates over the merits and alleged downsides to Obama's proposed plan. There were only perfectly motionless strangers, a surprisingly large number of whom were bros in carpenter's jeans and baseball caps. In fact, the most movement we saw all evening was from the cigarette girls milling about and roping folks in with the promise of free Camel Crushes.
There were no local openers on the bill; only the two co-headliners, and it became rapidly apparent that the baseball-capped bros of which we previously spoke were there to see post-punk revivalists White Rabbits, not psych-pop brother-sister team Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces. The Furnaces, though touring in support of an album widely reported to be their most accessible to date, still rearranged and dismantled their songs, mostly removing any semblance of "pop" that they ever possessed. The Friedberger siblings, backed on this stormy evening by only a two-piece rhythm section, toyed with the tempos and arrangements of their songs from I'm Going Away (their latest) so thoroughly that many were nearly unrecognizable.
We'll admit that the Furnaces were incredibly tight, capable of stopping together on a dime and dropping in and out of grooves with near-savant proficiency. But by the close of their roughly hour-long set, it seemed most attendees were mildly exhausted by the jerkiness of their catalog. Now, we certainly aren't saying we don't enjoy The Fiery Furnaces' capable, smart variety of anti-pop from time to time. But we understand how not everyone can get into it midweek at 10 p.m. Especially if they aren't even remotely stoned. Oh, and Matthew once mentioned that he'd like to see attendees sign his health care reform petition at the merch booth if they were so inclined, but he didn't launch into a diatribe of any sort.
The ominous storm clouds finally reached critical mass as White Rabbits prepared to launch into their set, filling the sky with contorted bolts of lightning and peals of chest-quaking thunder. We extinguished our collective cigarette and ducked back into the comforting and familiar embrace of the Mercy Lounge among the full but shy-of-capacity crowd. We were pleased to find that White Rabbits played a fairly even mix of songs from their terrific debut and not-quite-as-terrific follow-up. While tempos were somewhat rushed, they played well, and their auxiliary percussionist and robust harmonies made for an extremely full-sounding set.
We enjoyed the Rabbits' performance for the most part, but we definitely can't say we were as rapt as the fella next to us in an Ed Hardy shirt. Shortly before their final song, we overheard him telling his orange-skinned date, "It sounds sick when dude breaks it down on those tom-toms!" Indeed, guy. It was sick indeed.
Happy birthday to us
We arrived at Mercy Lounge Saturday night earlier than we usually do—this was our birthday party, too, kinda—only to find that the parking lot was already full of folks who are, uh, older and have more insurance. (Beatlesfestapalooza was going on at the Cannery Ballroom.) As a result, we wound up parking farther than we're used to and walking over plenty of broken glass on our way back to the club. The things we do for rock!
Luckily, we showed up in plenty of time to grab a slice of pizza and some cupcakes from the back room, and also in time to catch local hip-hop trio The Billy Goats, who win our Most Hilarious Slash Meta Rhyme Award for MC Iller's pairing of "how big my cock is" with "a room full of indie rock kids." In between, the Goats flowed and joked, threw up the horns and even got Chrystal (y'know, from all those You Tell Concerts videos) to sing along on their closing number. Iller, 24/7 and DJ Etticut took the stage to a room that maybe wasn't sure about this hip-hop stuff, and walked off to enthusiastic cheers, which were well-deserved.
If you don't have it in the budget to furnish your party guests with mountains of cocaine, having KinderCastle play is a good—albeit wholesome—alternative. Their music is fun, upbeat, smooth and will make you feel like you're at a yacht club in the Hamptons. It's 1976 but somehow P. Diddy circa-now is there too. Unfortunately KinderCastle's joyous performance turned bittersweet when they announced near the end of the set that this was their final show ever.
The headlining set by The Features promised nothing more than a short batch of new songs, but what followed the fresh rockin' jams was a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants request set that included the newish single "Lions," "Exhibit A," an earth shaking "Walk You Home" and—by request of The Spin—a raucous "That's the Way It's Meant to Be" among others. As always, Middle Tennessee's most beloved band owned the stage, and it was all sweat and smiles as the crowd doubled over each other singing along and dancing LYK THEY SEEN FUKEN ALIENS. They were even raising the roof excitedly to the midtempo meditation "Baby's Hammer."
There is something especially rapturous about the combination of Features and alcohol and the fun that follows. Great minds will likely spend years trying to find ways of synthesizing the sensation. Soon audiences nationwide will know the feeling as the band is gearing up for a steady stream of fall touring that will include arena dates with Kings of Leon and a stop at Red Rocks.
As the set came to a close, we hoped for more people to stay and dance the night away, but the crowd dispersed rather quickly and The Spin was left to twist and twirl by our lonesome like that really lame scene in Almost Famous. (Good thing DJ Bawston Sean started playing Slayer and Sunn O))) ). The parking lot was a scene of hot-to-trot youngsters exchanging phone numbers and people who were likely going to avoid West End on their way home. Here's to another year of late arrivals by The Spin, posts about the Darlins, threads about whether or not the Kings of Leon are legitimate sons of Nashville and people commenting under multiple aliases.
Missed connection Saturday night? Dude, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
seven loaves and a spider-crab feed 5000.
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.