Those Darlins with The Jane Shermans and Adia Victoria at Ovvio Arte, Elton John at Bridgestone Arena 

The Spin

The Spin

Social Darlinism

Seeing as how it's a studio space whose regular uses include video and design work by proprietors Veta Cicolello and Theo Antoniadis, The Spin isn't sure if Ovvio Arte is usually set up as an intimate venue, but it adapts well: high ceilings, appropriate P.A. and plenty of room for a couple hundred patrons. The series of panels along the back of the stage — topped with the letters O-V-V-I-O, which were separated by colored fluorescent tubes — gave the place an appealing, slightly retro feel, like Hamburg's Star Club circa 1961 perhaps, minus the scantily clad dancers. One thing's for sure: We were glad to be out of the rain and into the latest installment of Ovvio's Bianca's Upset concert series last Thursday night.

We were trying to answer burning questions like "Who is this Bianca, and what has damaged her calm?" when Adia Victoria and her band kicked off their set with a riff on "Green Onions." Trade not-so-secret: Starting with any kind of Stax reference is guaranteed to perk our ears up. We were impressed by Adia's tight band, who dealt out jazzy blues, arranged elegantly and delivered fluidly. Whether or not this is their regular gig, these cats are seasoned. Relative newcomer Adia played and sang well, but with a kind of Joanna Newsom-meets-Billie Holiday affect to her voice that didn't fit quite right. Far be it for us to tell anyone how to sing, but her speaking voice landed better on our ear. We're into straightforward songs, but Adia's tunes have yet to reach the point where they really showcase her personality; they felt like they could be anybody's songs, and that's not what you want when you're trying to stand out in a sea of hopefuls. All that said, her strong fundamental skills and relaxed stage presence mark her as someone to keep our eyes and ears on in days to come.

While we waited for The Jane Shermans to set up, we saw their guitarist's two pedal boards and groaned inside, having witnessed many a bro sporting a full Guitar Center display rack yet playing the blandest parts we can't remember. However, we're glad we held our judgment, since guitar-slinger/songwriter/producer Angelo Petraglia showed us that he knows how to use every single one of those pedals to maximum effect. With powerhouse drummer Joshua Moore, Petraglia makes a great foil for frontlady/bassist/bringer of thunder Eulene Sherman, whose pro-grade vocals immediately brought to mind Melissa Etheridge, with less gravel. The trio delivered 45 solid minutes of first-Bush-administration hard rock, with accents that would have marked them progressive at the time. They're not so much our bag, but The Jane Shermans do their thing with a hard-to-fake passion, and more than a few in the crowd were on board, as evidenced by a dude in a suit hollering for them to turn it up.

We could wax all kinds of philosophical about Those Darlins and their journey from ragamuffins to road warriors, but to get straight to the point, they've continued down the path we saw them on last summer, ratcheting up the rock in their repertoire almost to a point where the "garage" tag no longer fits. As they continue work on a new album with engineer Roger Moutenot, the band (including new bassman Adrian Barrera, introduced to us by a friend as on leave from Gentlemen Jesse and His Men) are deepening their exploration into pub rock and other somewhat-more-sophisticated expressions of rock 'n' roll. With their white-on-black outfits, they even resemble Dr. Feelgood a bit.

Though they've trimmed back in the goofball antics department — no breakaway dresses or rubber chickens this time — the Darlins have replaced said antics with a sharper lyrical tack and polished musicianship that fit a mature band in it for the long haul. They haven't lost their sense of humor (frontlady Jessi Darlin, who spent most of the evening incognito in a beat poet costume, suggested we all meet her in the studio's confessional after the show), but first and foremost they're out to kick some asses. Their set featured mostly new material with a handful of cuts from Screws Get Loose, capped by "Be Your Bro" as an encore. After stopping to confer warm wishes, we sashayed our way through the after-show dance party to the exit. Well played, Darlins. We certainly think you have what it takes to outshine Mumford & Sons in the originality department when you play their Gentlemen of the Road concert series this summer.

Hello Yellow Brick Road

The Spin's entire life has been permeated by Elton John. He had already released more than a decade's worth of stone-cold classic hits by the time we were born, and thanks to our mom, we spent our childhood far more familiar with E.J.'s music than with that of any other contemporary artist. In fact, we talked to our mom on Friday before Elton's show at Bridgestone Arena, and she said she'd already seen him twice. Not only that, we ended up tweeting with our exceptionally savvy grandma during the show about the set list from the Elton John concert at MTSU's Murphy Center in 1984. The Spin officially became a third-generation Elton John concert attendee on Friday night. That doesn't happen with many musicians.

Suffice to say, we were stoked. By the time The Spin made it to Bridgestone (apparently every cab in town is unavailable by 7 p.m. on a Friday), we had just enough time to find our seats and prepare to cry. Oh yes, The Spin cried. Multiple times. No opener — he went on at approximately 8:05 p.m., dressed in a cherry-red suit with a Captain Fantastic-fonted "FANTASTIC" emblazoned in rhinestones across the back. It was almost demure. The band was just as nattily dressed in suits and sunglasses, the youngest member of which we pegged as being a relatively spry 50. But that ain't matter, because ...

The songs. Oh sweet Jesus, the songs. John appropriately opened with "The Bitch Is Back," segued right into "Bennie and the Jets" — which included an arena-wide call-and-response, naturally — busted out "Levon" (our first and most overwhelming weep of the night), a Brenda Lee-dedicated "Tiny Dancer," "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (second cry), "Rocket Man" (cried), "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," "Sad Songs (Say So Much)," "Daniel" (even Elton John has songs for beer break), "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," "The One" (very good for being relatively recent), fucking "I'm Still Standing," "Crocodile Rock," "Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)," and then the encore? "Your Song." Guess who cried again.

Just look at those songs. That's not even a comprehensive set list — the hits! The sheer number of timeless hits! Did we mention that John signed a bunch of autographs before the encore? And pulled Bernie Taupin up onstage, who just happened to be in town? (Taupin's Beyond Words art exhibit is currently on display at Nashville's Rymer Gallery, as a matter of fact, and John even stopped in to check it out on Friday afternoon before his show.) Also, did we mention that we smelled the inviting smell of someone getting way high right before "Levon"? That John took the time to tell the audience the titles of the non-mega-hits, and let everyone know which albums all the songs were on, just like the crowd's own personal Shazam? That he would pop up from the piano every now and then like an open-mouthed Whac-A-Mole, and it was hilarious? That we saw two baseball-hatted bros clink their beers together during "Tiny Dancer"? If there's one thing three generations of a weeping family and a couple of rando bros can agree on, it's that Elton John is the best.



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