By our clock it was 9:30, but the Mercy Lounge was packed and the people were excited, which made us question if we were really in Nashville at all or some Bizarro World Nashville where enthusiasm and punctuality rule the day. Was somebody tampering with our concept of reality for nefarious ends? Was this some Philip K. Dick-ish plot to woo us into a false sense of security and then steal the secret microchip implanted on The Spin's cerebellums? Possibly, but we weren't complaining.
The Non-Commissioned Officers were on fire, sounding tighter and livelier than ever we've heard them before—obviously feeding off the crowd, who were totally enthralled with their Orchestral Maneuvers in The Dork-style zombie pop. Apparently, being tapped by The Protomen to open their show is like a license to print money, because by the time the Mercy staff sent everybody home, the Non-Coms had sold 50 copies of their soundtrack to Make-Out With Violence.
Intermission on the back porch was quite the mind-bending experience as well. Whereas the porch is usually a hipster refuge, this Friday it was like a refugee camp for Dragon*Con attendees. Wall-to-wall black T-shirts with multifarious variations on the theme "I like video games" and the geek-stink of Cheetos, Game Fuel and ball sweat supplanted the skinny jeans and white belts for the evening. The fashion highlights by far were the two crocheted Mega Man helmets and the girl with the "I Heart Heart the Doctor" T-shirt. ('Cause Doctor Who has two...oh, nevermind.) When somebody onstage started line-checking instruments, there was a virtual stampede back inside, and we were dragged along the brick wall by an unflinching nerd-herd. While nursing bloody elbows, we thought that either a) these folks don't leave house often and don't know how a rock show works or b) someone was showing nekkid pictures of Carrie Fisher on the video screens.
Sadly, by the time we made it to the bar we realized it was the former. C'mon, dudes—Red Bull and bottled water at a rock show? This isn't some World of Warcraft LAN party, order a real drink or get out the freakin' way—we've been known to curb motherfuckers who get in between us and our vodka! Oh, and leave a tip for the bartenders, you cheap fucks! By the time the headliners graced the stage it was clear that the question "Where'd you meet your wife?" will never be answered with the phrase "at a Protomen show."
The show itself was exactly what you would hope for: wicked fucking epic. Playing both of their albums in their entirety, aided by three giant video screens, a horn section, a string section and a chorus—in addition to their usual 10-piece ensemble—The Protomen managed to use every single line input on the Mercy soundboard, overwhelming the room with the power of rock 'n' roll. We're convinced that they are the Grateful Dead of Nintendo rock and this city's answer to GWAR rolled into one—a pure and powerful spectacle that engenders the utmost devotion from their fans. By the time they finished covering "We Don't Need Another Hero," we were already stoked for the next time the nerd-pocalypse comes to town.
Last Friday's record release for Cortney Tidwell's Boys was hotly anticipated, even if we did arrive at The Basement in typical late asshole style, whereupon we learned that The Paper Hats had already played. Eager to suck down smoke outside, we had just enough time for a drink-and-mingle before Caitlin Rose began.
The Pre-Raphaelite Rose did her semi-solo set, with occasional vocal accompaniment from Tristen and Jordan Caress. She's a charming artist who readily endears herself to her crowd with bizarre little asides about tornadoes and drinking. But there's power behind her understated style: The girl's got a voice Nashville can be proud of.
It wasn't long before Tidwell and her band of goddamn first-rate musicians were on. At the bar with our back to the stage when her set began, we knew we were going to be pleased before we turned around. In a town that makes a concertgoer spoiled for choice, it's still rare to be so immediately on board with a performance.
Alternating between opposites felt like the theme—loud then quiet, hot then cold. Her set list seemed to deliberately toy with the crowd, building them up to a manic rock 'n' roll frenzy with one song, only to tease them back down again with evocative, ethereal foreplay on the next. But the strategy never felt studied: Tidwell exuded pride in her band and respectfully confessed musical crushes on Caitlin Rose and Tristen, who jumped back in on vocals from time to time. Nashville institution and Lambchop frontman Kurt Wagner joined Tidwell onstage for an unlikely but wholly tender and stirring rendition of Jefferson Airplane's "Today." It got us to thinking, considering they share several bandmates, perhaps this duo should do us all a favor and start a real live project together.
Ending with "17 Horses" (our new favorite), Tidwell & Co. let the tension snap. It was a bold move to climax with a song that's a build-up in and of itself, but it was a ludicrously effective one. Heaving her body around the small stage, Tidwell had us concerned she'd crash into her band, all intently pounding away on their instruments, and pounding away any question that there was any other place to have been that night.
Little Hammy & Co.
Most weekends—especially weekends as eventful as this—The Spin can't quite come out with both guns blazin' on Sunday night. But once we remembered that The Walkmen were back in town, we showered off the party residue from two nights past and prepared to add a fresh coat. Why are The Walkmen powerful enough to snap us instantly from our Day of Rest haze? Because, as anyone who's seen them before can attest, The Walkmen are always on point. The Walkmen never miss.
With no local openers, Brooklyn's co-ed shoegazers Here We Go Magic started shortly after our arrival. Swathed in faint red stage lights that hardly rose for the duration of their set, HWGM drifted between vaguely ethereal, low-key jams and more contemporary, bass-driven, post-punk-style numbers. Sound was a bit boomy and there wasn't much urgency to Here We Go Magic's arrangements or delivery, but their set was somewhat eclectic and mostly entertaining. You know, in a modern-shoegaze-with-a-shot-of-Animal-Collective type of way. They're definitely better at playing music than at picking band names, however. We'll certainly give them that.
We stole away for a quick cigarette or five while Here We Go Magic were coming and going, um, magically, but we made it back near the stage shortly before the headliners' set commenced. The Walkmen easily had the Mercy Lounge crowd—probably at about two-thirds capacity by this point—eating out of their capable palms by the time the opening, reverb-saturated chord progression of "In the New Year" began. In case you haven't heard it live, know that, yes, frontman Hamilton Leithauser's rafter-reaching croon is absolutely precise. The Walkmen brought out a small but adept horn section for the mariachi-style strains of "Louisiana," as well as two or three other tastefully brass-adorned numbers, while drummer Matt Barrick continued to be just about the most spot-on little badass of all time.
After a pretty thorough mix from their catalog, The Walkmen retired briefly backstage. Knowing everyone in the room was waiting to hear it, though, they kicked off their encore with the most fitting indie-rock barfly anthem of our time, "The Rat." It was even complete with a dedication/shout-out to local faves The Privates. Despite our case of the Sunday Night Drearies, we had an all-around smashing time. That said, we still cut out during The Walkmen's last number in order to beat the traffic and make it home in time to peep the latest eps of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Tool Academy. We're not all party all the time, you know.
Next Big Nashville starts in less than a week, so who's holding? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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