We stepped into Exit/In on Friday night and were instantly greeted by a group with the most appropriate name in the history of rock music. Veteran ax man Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion have this way of destroying every concept you might have about what live music can be. Gnarly fuzztones dropped and bent into alien, dirge-y commotions, only to come bubbling back up into a psychedelic, space-age, bluesy freak-out, eliciting a collective "Hoooooly shit!" from the medium-sized mob of fans going collectively out of their gourd.
Even if — for whatever reason — you were discouraged as a child every time you expressed a liking for awesome songs, the sonics in the room alone were enough to tickle your cochlea till it peed itself. JSBX's two guitars and drum set slapped bass tones down like a slab of steak, through which Spencer sliced, wielding his ax like a switchblade. The early-30s-centric crowd had clearly come from all over and knew every scream, pause and shout, as they chimed in on cue each and every time the inimitable frontman called them to action. Hell, considering his roots in the NYC garage-slop band Pussy Galore, this guy's been playing the blues since before he knew how. Plus, you know you're witnessing a truly authentic psychedelic freak-out when the preacher whips his shtick out to the choir, and they are still, indeed, freaking the hell out.
From blues explosion to blues flare-up, we crossed the Rock Block to catch the end of Denney and the Jets' set at The End. Since we last saw them, D and the Js have taken a stroll to the crossroads to barter some spiritual currency in exchange for 12-bar bliss. No doubt they were damn tight, but, well, having seen what we'd just seen, Denney would have had to strangle the neck of that guitar like a chicken to keep us on the blues high from which weren't quite ready to come down.
From there we got our first look at the newly re-formed Pink Spiders. They'd just spent the past two weeks breaking in local attention-whoring, button-pushing, original pranksta Brandon Jazz as their new bassist. While we may have had our doubts after seeing the underwhelming four-string prowess he showed us during his brief stint as a POWERBRRRD, his flashy threads, permanently affixed shades and tousled locks proved he at least looked like a reasonable Jon Decious facsimile. And wouldn't you know, he was nailing those licks on time to boot. Unfortunately, the Spiders don't quite pull in a crowd like they used to. So what we got was a motley-crew choir running a few dozen deep who showed up just to sing along to classics like "Soft Smoke," "Little Razorblade" and even spanking new additions like "Cherry Chapstick." It's a long way back to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll, and the Spiders definitely want to do that.
We didn't think we'd be bummed about missing Tom Jones at The Ryman on Saturday night, but when The Spin showed up at Mercy Lounge for Those Darlins, we were greeted by a gaggle of cohorts who'd caught The Voice's early set — and honestly, their tales of "octogenarian panty-tossing" and Jones' unparalleled stage presence kind of made us wish we'd seen it. Next time, perhaps.
Up first at Mercy Lounge, however, was Murfreesboro three-piece Trophy Wife, whose experimental, minimalist noise-rock was punctuated with occasional bursts of psychedelic fuzz and even a little bit of clarinet (yes, really). Most of their set, it seemed, featured more instrument swapping than anything else and was all a bit messy, but a companion observed that Trophy Wife really isn't that far removed from, say, early Sonic Youth. Throw in a little bit of The Slits — influence- and delivery-wise — and we suppose that's a fairly accurate description.
By the time Heavy Cream set up and was ready to go, Mercy was filling up rather nicely. No, not a sellout, but definitely a sizable crowd ready to see some locally brewed lady-punk. The Spin hadn't caught HC since the addition of pint-sized sparkplug Tiffany Minton, and we must say, she's a little beast of a punk-rock drummer, capable of slaying eighth notes like it's going out of style. (Side note: We really hope punk rock with breakneck tempos never goes out of style.) Heavy Cream has come a long way recently, whittling and honing their set into a pretty stirring little jolt that would pass with flying colors at Rock and Roll High School. They did, however, abandon their last number mid-song. We're not exactly certain what happened there.
Then it was The Darlins Hour. The Spin continues to be impressed with Those Darlins' meteoric increase in both skill and song quality — gone are the days of Murfreesboro house shows and tunes with tap dancing in them. Instead, the Darlins — with Jessi and Kelley decked out in sequins, the latter of whom reminding us (as she always has) of a foxier, younger Martha Plimpton — killed a rapid-fire set featuring mostly their newer, surfy punk numbers. The girl-group and trad-country nuances remained, sure ... but as the girls climbed atop Mercy Lounge's subwoofers to play their solos and "sweat" their "dicks off" for the crowd (their words, not ours), it was the punk-rock portion of the Those Darlins pie chart that we were enjoying the most. They even played a version of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' "Shakin' All Over" — a pretty standard cover around these parts, but a treat nonetheless — and closed with the ever-rousing (arousing?) "Funstix Party."
The Bomba that will bring us together
Sometimes after a hectic week followed by an even more hectic weekend, you just need to kick back at an amazing live show and let the world fall by the wayside. That said, Bomba Estéreo's Monday night appearance at Mai couldn't have been more aptly timed. Sure, the weather was shitty and the crowd could have been more populous — but those are really just peripheral matters in the grand scheme of things. What really matters is that we got to spend a sweaty, sexy hour dancing our asses off to one of the best damn live bands in the Western Hemisphere, essentially untangling the giant ball of stress we had accumulated in our brains. Halle-fuckin'-lujah.
We showed up at the very un-Spin-like hour of right-the-fuck-on-time to catch the Colombian Party Cartel up in the booth laying down some sweet warm-up jams. A little house, a little dancehall and a little, wait, no ... a lot of Latin tracks. Some pretty primo stuff, frankly, that managed to make the sparse crowd actually dance — and early in the evening, no less. It was nothing crazy — the kids weren't climbing up the walls or nothin' — but there was definitely more shake and shimmy than in your typical pre-show mingling. It's a DJ's job to set the mood and get the crowd pumped up, and CPC definitely got the job done. Very good stuff.
Speaking of pumped up, we never, ever — let's repeat that "ever" — thought we would lose our shit to a Technotronic cover, but lo and behold, when Bomba Estéreo broke out "Pump up the Jam," we couldn't help ourselves. Granted, it was toward the end of a blistering set of psychedelic cumbia (a transnational mélange of Colombian folk, electronic, hip-hop and dub), so our critical defenses were all but obliterated. BE could have broken out "The Hokey Pokey" and we'd have been totes stoked. Seriously, that band could set zoning ordinances to music and we'd be the first people to buy the album.
Of course, since The Spin no habla Español, we suppose Bomba could have been reading zoning ordinances — we'd have no idea. There are some shows where you leave feeling better about the world than when you showed up, and this was one of those shows. Call it the cleansing power of an incredible rhythm section,or the healing power of blippity-bloops, but whatever it was — the dancing, the perspiration, the pulsing beat — we walked out of that show feeling fresh as the morning dew. And we weren't the only ones: The crowd may have been small, but every single person in that room was stoked to be there, and, by the night's end, everyone was sporting a shit-eating grin from ear to ear. We know we were.
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needs more candlelight! i like this song.