Youth and young manhood
Before heading to The Basement Thursday night, The Spin popped in for a drink at the Villager to shake off the chill of the first truly cold night of the season. As a result, we missed Murfreesboro-residing experimental folksters German Error Message. We heard mixed reviews from acquaintances: One friend said it was "pretty good," another said he "would have liked it in high school," and still another said it was "terrible." No clear consensus then, obviously. Guess we'll have to investigate further, though we like what we heard at their Bandcamp page.
The Spin did, however, catch locals Lylas — who were celebrating the release of their 10-inch, Snow Day — and it seemed almost as if they turned Nashville into some chilly, alien clime with their slow-crawling, eerie folk tunes. With banjo, keys, double bass, fiddle, some delicate percussion, pedal steel and just a bit of guitar — the latter two provided by omnipresent local multi-instrumentalists Luke Schneider and Ryan Norris — Lylas seriously sounds like they should be scoring some wintry film about the Civil War or the Great Depression. Sure, it's not for everyone, but if you have the patience for dark and graceful folk music, it really is some lovely stuff.
It was to the dreamy, dubby sounds of Brooklyn-based Young Magic — a coed three-piece with "roots in Australia and Indonesia," as their website tells us — that we found a spot near the bar. Young Magic's set featured a lot of samples, floor tom and other auxiliary percussion, tribal-sounding, wet vocals, incense and prayer candles and a table full of blinking dials. When we mentioned to a friend that it sounded to us like Yeasayer with no discernible lyrics, he responded with, "So the Lion King score, then." Funny, but definitely hipper than that — Young Magic owes at least a little something to Animal Collective. We enjoyed some of the tunes, and at one point we found ourselves suddenly hypnotized by vocalist/occasional guitarist Melati Malay's spooky eyes and wordless crooning. All three members of Young Magic were very striking-looking people, in fact, and that led us to realize that this was just the sort of music that ugly people could not get away with making.
Now, we've been pumping Youth Lagoon's debut, The Year of Hibernation, a little bit lately, and we can confidently say that if the phrase "Beach House-esque dream pop with Daniel Johnston's vocals" appeals to you, you'd probably dig it. Brains-behind-operation frontman Trevor Powers played keys, sang and cued programmed beats while accompanied only by a guitarist. Though Powers' vocals were drier and a touch more shrill in a live setting, he sang well in his fragile, tender, youthful way — the vocal melodies (along with the simple guitar licks) totally make these songs. And even though the sight of the dweeby kid next to us grinding against his side ponytail-sporting girlfriend did make The Spin's inner cynic think, "Ugh, hipster bullshit," the music itself deserves attention. As songs like "17" and "Cannons" demonstrate, Powers knows how to deliver a pop hook.
Physically, Youth Lagoon wasn't especially dynamic as performers — they remained mostly still while lit by two static red bulbs (a pain in our photog's ass, no doubt), and the songs were punctuated by Powers' tiny bits of friendly, kid-brother banter. But they nailed their parts, and with this sort of stuff, we'd rather hear it played well than see the players freak out, crowd surf or writhe onstage. So really, we liked it. And as Youth Lagoon finished their last song and we prepared to slip out the door, Basement/Grimey's proprietor Mike Grimes bid us farewell with a loving "See you in hell." To which we responded, naturally, with a resounding "I know that's right."
The Foreign Exchange could not have picked a better time to pull into B.B. King's than last Friday. OK, maybe the show time could have been better — 6:30 p.m. is way, way earlier than The Spin is usually out and about. But in terms of timing the show exactly when The Spin was going to need a damn fine R&B show, The Foreign Exchange couldn't have done any better. While we usually avoid pop country at all costs, somehow we got roped into spending CMA week slobbing on the proverbial knobs of Music Row via some non-Scene-related freelance work. We felt dirty, we felt whorish, we had the most trite songs about flip-flops and Mexican beer stuck in our heads. It was awful. But one awesome set by The Foreign Exchange made everything all right.
We spent an ungodly amount of time looking for parking and trying not run over tourists with glazed eyes and small children running around. By the time we found a parking space and scraped the Dickson County residents out of our grill, we were ready to party like it was 1999 — which it was, based on the fashion choices of those milling about on Second Avenue's sidewalk. The crowd inside B.B. King's, on the other hand ... well, those were some stylish, well-dressed folks. Thank God, because if we had spent the night surrounded by Coed Naked T-shirts and souvenirs from the Charlie Daniels museum we probably would have wound up barfing. But again, even though we were on Second Ave., it was like we were a world away. We hadn't been to B.B. King's in years, but it's not a bad room, and we wouldn't mind seeing more shows there. It would be nice if they turned off the houselights during the show, though — The Spin's ADD is cranked up to 11 in well-lit rooms. But what can you do?
Despite all the weird time/space vibes involved with making it to the venue, the show was fucking phenomenal. There is no better way to reclaim your sanity after a week of kowtowing to The Man than taking in a set of badass, jazz-fueled progressive R&B. The Foreign Exchange veers between futurist fusion and pragmatist gospel revival — when lead singer Phonte led a call-and-response of "Titties and Jesus just don't mix" we knew we were in the right place — and their insanely smooth vibe intersected with the ravenous crowd at just the right angle to make the rest of the world fall away. There were moments that channeled the Godfather of Soul, not to mention a Prince cover and a lot of choice cuts from the FE catalog in between.
The band, seven members deep, has a preternatural flow, an otherworldly ability to vibe with themselves and the audience and fill an entire room with positive feelings — even with the house lights turned on. FE isn't the biggest band in the world — they are an entirely DIY outfit from production to booking — but you'd never notice that from the love and enthusiasm emanating from the crowd. Sure, singer Cy Smith's family was in the house, but that was only a tiny fraction of the crowd. You'd be hard-pressed to find a band with a more devoted audience — they braved Second Avenue to see this show, for cryin' out loud! And that devotion was paid back in kind by a show of remarkable warmth and character, of unequaled smoothness and style. It was almost enough to rinse all the pop country out of our poor, punished brain.
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