Last Wednesday at The Basement, Skip Matheny of Roman Candle, a loud, bright rock quintet from Chapel Hill, N.C., told an anecdote about a recent visit with his friend Thad Cockrell, who had just finished an exquisite set of mournful, rollicking country. Cockrell had been checking his email when Matheny decided to put on Neil Young’s Comes a Time. Thad turned to him, visibly shaken, and said he needed at least a week’s warning before hearing those songs—he had fallen in love to that record. The incident inspired Matheny to write a song called “That’s Why Modern Radio Is A-OK With Me,” and its refreshingly clever conceit made us smile: “Don’t play Neil Young / Don’t play Van Morrison / just let some high school emo band start versing and chorusing / because there’s no way it’ll break my heart as far as I can see / and that’s why modern radio is A-OK with me.” (A demo of the song is available for download at myspace.com/romancandle.) It also wasn’t hard to imagine Cockrell being so slammed by an album: with his intense, unpretentious performance, his wistful tunes and, most of all, his breathtaking vocal delivery, it becomes clear that this is a man who believes in the devastating power of music—and he made us believe too. Cockrell and Roman Candle will be playing every two weeks at The Basement through mid-July.
Show us your mountains
The Basement played host last Friday to the likes of Pink Mountaintops and Catfish Haven. Most in attendance seemed inclined to miss local opener Bad Friend’s lo-fi homage to Guided by Voices balladry, opting rather to fill up on cigarettes and fraternize on the back porch. Much more attention-grabbing were Chicago’s Catfish Haven, making their second trip to the area in as many months. We had heard good things about their last Grand Palace show but had no idea they were so completely badass. Frontman George Hunter sings with conviction—when you hear him belt out lines that sound straight out of classic soul records, you can tell this man fucking means it. Next up were Canadian-forged Pink Mountaintops, whose extended psychedelic freak-outs were unstoppable for the first 45 minutes of their set. The subsequent hour of identical extended psychedelic freak-outs is where they lost us. By the end of an exhausting late night, The Basement had a small number of straggling lurkers not quite ready to head home. Of note was a female patron whose attire sparked a verbal accosting by the then off-the-clock door guy, who was reportedly a little sloshed. (The Basement provides competitive job benefits.) After a head-butt from How I Became the Bomb frontman Jon Burr,the bartender put a stop to the ruckus and an apology was extracted. Grimey implemented probation for the offending employee, but it was an ugly black eye on an otherwise fairly awesome night that sort of made us wish that the show had happened someplace else.
One smooth groover
After realizing that last Saturday’s Grand Ole Opry lineup offered the potential to see Michael McDonald covering Ray Charles covering Hank Williams, a team of horses couldn’t have kept us away. The middle portion of the program was a tribute to Charles—and more specifically, to his seminal record Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music—and the blue-eyed soul was out in force. Other than the silver-topped sultan of smooth, the bill included Martina McBride (smaller in person), Ronnie Milsap and Travis Tritt, who received the most intense ovation of the night for his rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.” (Say what you will about the tightness of his pants—the kid can sing.) But, for us, it all came back to McDonald making his Opry debut. His smooth grooves and thunder-rumbling-across-the-prairie voice may have been a little edgy for the crowd, but for us the combination was simply sublime. (For a detailed history of McDonald’s life and music, visit www.channel101.com and check out “Yacht Rock.”)
Becoming the bombKeith Lowen’s 8 off 8th at the Mercy Lounge is the sort of show Nashville could use a lot more of. Not only is it free, but with a 9 p.m. kickoff and 3-song sets, your least favorite acts won’t be onstage long enough to annoy you, and your favorites will play just enough to leave you wanting more. Monday’s show built slowly with the mid-tempo, folksy arrangements of acts like TAP, Gabe Dixon and Sam Ashworth. DJ Kidsmeal spun everything from Suzanne Vega to The Beastie Boys in between sets. But when Bang Bang Bang took the stage and brought their foot-stomping Southern rock with them, the crowd took a collective step forward, marking the seismic shift of the evening’s pace. The Comfies followed with a strong set of sugar-pop; there’s nothing like touring to tighten the screws. Next up were Slack (dubbed by Lowen, at the risk of offending the other acts, his “favorite band in Nashville”), who took the energy up a level—or, technically, down, with lead man Chris Slack playing the last few chords of their set with his back on the hardwood. But when How I Became the Bomb bounded onstage, it was clear who was bringing the heat. Given the band’s current popularity, it’s worth noting that at live shows, the momentum is largely derived from the crowd. The band barely works up a sweat with their agreeably paced ’80s pop, but the songs build and release with such expert precision that the crowd is worked into a frenzy, waiting for the fist-pumping sing-along and synth solo of “Killing Machine” or the chanting chorus of “Secret Identity.” A double encore, some beer spewing (from the crowd), a mini mosh pit that was quickly abandoned and a couple of crowd surfs later, and it was damn near 1 a.m. As one crowd-surfing patron noted of the show, “This is, like, the most fun I’ve had on a Monday night in a long time.”
The Small-Nice-State show at the Family Wash this Thursday, June 8, works as more than just a clever name. Though stylistically diverse, all three artists share a certain ethereal quality: Claire Small’s soulful tunes feature sparse arrangements and themes of spiritual longing; Jennifer Niceley’s dreamy voice and laid-back delivery hover delicately above the guitar work of her musical foil, Joe McMahan; and Steve Poulton, a.k.a. The Altered Statesman, plays ambient, spaced-out folk-rock with electronic accents. (Poulton played bass with Kentucky indie-faves Paul K & the Weathermen in the early ’90s.) The free show starts at 8:30 p.m.
Motown in Nashvegas
The Original Funk Brothers, a group of former Motown session players, will help christen the opening of the Musicians Hall of Fame during a free concert on Friday, June 9, starting at 5 p.m. at its new performance hall at 301 6th Ave. S. Several legendary Detroit musicians, including guitarists Eddie Willis and Joe Messina, drummer Uriel Jones and bassist Bob Babbitt, will anchor the group. Others coming to town for the gig will be Late Show with David Letterman bassist Will Lee, former Toto bassist and jazz bassist-trumpeter-guitarist David Hungate, ex-Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, Nashville session guitarist Brent Mason and singer and guitarist Jon Randall. Special guests are expected. Let the chops clinic begin.