Rockin’ in the free world
and David Rawlings
trotted out their rock-star alter egos at The Basement last Tuesday as The Esquires
hit the stage after a too-long hiatus from the public spotlight. In keeping with their proclivity for unannounced performances, they showed up late in the evening, started plugging in their array of vintage amplifiers and started a-whuppin’ and hollerin’. Well, obviously a few people knew about it, as Buddy Miller
, Bobby Bare Jr.
and a few other local luminaries were in attendance, along with quite a few folks who had received 11:30 p.m. “Get over to The Basement NOW!” telephone calls. With Rawlings on his trusty Fender Esquire (thus the name), Welch on bass, drummer David Steele
and guest keyboardist Daniel Tashian
, the band tore through a set of gritty rock covers, including a few Neil Young gems for which Rawlings’ high tenor is perfectly suited: “Out on the Weekend,” “Powderfinger” and an incendiary “For the Turnstiles.” The pleasure of hearing Rawlings’ delightfully eccentric guitar work was matched by Welch’s kid-in-a-candy-store look as she played bass, like it was her first gig. The house PA system was turned off for the most part, as the pair sang through an old Magnatone amplifier, adding to the intimacy of the evening. When asked about future Esquires shows, Rawlings was pretty noncommittal, but judging by the crowd (and the band’s) excitement, we suspect it won’t be long before they spontaneously materialize again.
Sometimes we forget how good a scuzzy, sweaty brown T-shirt can look, or how refreshing a lack of pretension can be, but we were reminded last Thursday when three straight-up rock bands played The Mercy Lounge. We caught the tail end of the American Princes
, who set the bar high, as far as energy was concerned. Southern Bitch
, as their name suggests, were loud, sassy and vaguely comforting in their predictability. Guitarist Wendy Musick
violently whipped her hair, head-banging like one of the boys, and the almost-full house (which included Jason Isbell
of the Drive-By Truckers) was definitely digging it. Lucero
spike their Southern rock with a healthy dose of punk. The insatiable crowd goaded the band to play until almost 1:30 in the morning, not that the four boys from Memphis were complaining. Eventually gravel-voiced lead singer Ben Nichols
, the one sporting that sweaty T, was forced to admit, “This is the last song we remember.” By the end of the night the crowd had been reduced, like a simmering sauce, to an entity with less volume but more intensity, helping power the drunken sing-along that ensued. The fans just kept begging for more, prompting Nichols to ask, “Don’t you guys have work tomorrow? School?”
Stanky—in a good way
Medeski Martin and Wood
started their first set Sunday night at Cannery Ballroom with a 20-minute-or-so barrage of dissonance and mayhem that surely challenged the patience of the uninitiated, prompting one of our friends to say, “This is the musical equivalent of Andy Kaufman.” But the relentless torrent of auditory turbulence only heightened the contrast of the stanky grooves and infectious (if unorthodox) melodies that would eventually unfold. In fact, instead of getting gradually more far out, as is often the case with MMW, the night seemed to transpire in reverse. The second set was exceptional, featuring a stunning interpretation of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” as well as one of our favorites, “Is There Anybody Here That Love My Jesus.” And, while five-minute bass solos are high on the list of musical transgressions, we’d have gladly endured an entire set of nothing but bassist Chris Wood
, arguably the hardest-grooving bassist alive, and thoroughly musical, never wanky. Beating out rhythms on his upright’s wood body, strumming chords, playing melody and coaxing otherworldly sounds with his bow, he kicked off the encore with perhaps the greatest five minutes of bass playing we’ve ever laid ears on. Kudos to the Cannery for switching sound companies—a big improvement—and for installing some ventilator fans to help with the smoke.
Dispatch from the ’Boro
Band drama and long breaks aside, the WMTS Benefit
show at The Boro Bar & Grill last Wednesday was a modest success, for MTSU student-run station WMTS, at least. The crowd was as big as could be expected from a college audience on a weeknight with exams looming, but most of those in attendance seemed inattentive to what was happening onstage. It felt more like a WMTS staff-and-listener social gathering rather than a rock show. New Designs in Architecture
opened the night with a solid set, despite scandalous rumors of some tensions among band members. Huntsville, Ala. duo LaSalle
were impressive, playing multiple instruments simultaneously, yet the crowd barely seemed to notice. We weren’t able to stay for the entirety of the evening, but we imagine things got livelier by the time headliners Belize
took the stage. WMTS will be having another benefit show, this time an electronica DJ showcase, at the 5 Spot on Friday, Dec. 9.
Jetpack do it for the kids
It’s a given that rock ’n’ roll appeals to a youthful demographic, but Jetpack
are going for one of the youngest demos of all: the local rock band are set to be the subject of a forthcoming children’s book, to be published next fall by Child’s World press in Minneapolis. So how does something like that come about? In the interest of full disclosure, we should probably explain that a local author, Deb Barnes, contacted the Scene
in search of the perfect group to feature in a kids’ book about what it’s like to be in a rock band: not too heavy, nice and clean-living, but not too
clean (read: Christian), either. In other words, cool, but with just the right tinge of nerdiness. One of the Scene
’s music scribes furnished Barnes with a list of possibilities, and she went with Jetpack. Frontman Sean Williams
says he and his bandmates were flattered, if a little amused—“we aren’t exactly Motley Crüe,” he confesses. The book, Rock Star!
, will show young readers what the life of a rock band is like: tons of fun, but with its share of hard work (loading gear, soundcheck, sharing your Twinkies with backstage groupies, etc.). Setting an example for budding rock ’n’ rollers is a pretty heavy responsibility, but, Williams says, maybe “the kids who read it will realize they aren’t weird if they don’t want to become an investment banker or lawyer.” Jetpack share a bill with The Carter Administration this Saturday at 3 Crow Bar. It’s a 21-and-over show—no preschoolers allowed.
A grand idea
We may love the big city (Nashville, that is), but Murfreesboro’s pretty nice, too. They’ve got that charming small-town vibe and some of the best local bands around; and, for a time, the late, lamented Red Rose Coffee House was booking some amazing touring bands. Well, the town’s getting even cooler these days, with the arrival of Grand Palace
, a new independently owned record store that may well do for the ’Boro what Grimey’s has done for Nashville. Partners Lynn Weaver
, James Robbins
and Alex Norfleet
say they’re going to focus on platters that matter—as in vinyl, new and used. The selection will encompass everything from metal and punk to country and soul, along with a healthy selection of local releases. Located at 128 ½ Church St., in a pre-Civil War building in downtown Murfreesboro, Grand Palace is also home to a recording studio and screen-printing shop that specializes in posters and T-shirts for bands. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 554-6023.
Send tips, gossip, guitar tabs and vociferous grumbling to email@example.com.