Although we’d heard the scuttlebutt for some time that Fly Golden Eagle and several others would play a show on Dec. 15, the venue remained a big, fat question mark. But when word came ’round just a few days prior that the festivities would be held at much-loved East Side wing spot Ghot Wingz, even we of The Spin — we of ears planted firmly to the ground — were completely surprised at the choice of locale. Not only that, we were also stoked to find that Thunderbitch — that’s the new project fronted by Brittney Howard of the recently Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes, playing what may be their only show ever — Natural Child, James Wallace and the Naked Light and Promised Land would round out the bill. Considering the modest size of the chicken joint and the hip-as-they-come lineup, we were fairly certain Ghot Wingz would g(h)et pretty (g)hot and crowded quickly. After all, how many chances does one get to see a Grammy nominee play a set in a Gallatin Pike chicken-wing restaurant? As far as we can recall, not many.
After checking out the spread at The Stone Fox’s bustling daytime Holiday Market (The Spin bought a pocket watch!), we turned up early on Saturday night to find friends eating wings and drinking beer and “hunch punch” beneath the warm, angelic buzz of fluorescent light. In talking to FGE drummer Richard Harper, we discovered that Eagle frontman Ben Trimble had popped into Wingz on a whim during the search for a venue, and the management was totally game for it. The bands were to play in Ghot Wingz’s side room, where wood paneling and glowing strands of Christmas lights — but not necessarily the wall-mounted flat-screen TV — gave the whole affair something of a 1970s atmosphere. Perfect for openers Promised Land, whose brand-new Stoned Eagle EP very much reminds us of The Band, Big Star and The Kinks, among others. Live, however, the Land’s twangy, dirty tones and sloppy, swinging grooves are most reminiscent of The Byrds and the Burrito Bros., for our money. We expect big things from these youngsters, seeing as how their tunes “Cool Me Down” and “Fuck Cancer” are instant local classics.
Although, socially speaking, James Wallace and his Naked Light seem relatively tight with most of the other outfits on the bill, the band’s playful, upbeat folk pop was sort of the sonic outlier of the night. Their whimsical auxiliary percussion, bouncy rhythms, fingerpicked guitar parts and land-line telephone as secondary mic certainly didn’t make for the most visceral set we witnessed, but we enjoy the mildly Nilsson-esque big-picture optimism of “Worse Things Have Happened.”
With our cup of hunch punch doing the trick (and also beginning to wear the enamel off of The Spin’s teeth), we particularly enjoyed the sultry, psychedelic garage pop of Fly Golden Eagle. Truth be told, sound in the increasingly muggy confines of Ghot Wingz’s side room was a notch below terrible, the PA leaving Trimble’s vocals fuzzy and largely indiscernible. But who needs audible vocals when you’ve got bobbing, bass-driven party jams like “Psyche’s Dagger” and the driving, groovy hurricane of tension and release that is “Devil’s Eye (Basilisk)”?
Having retreated outside for a breath of fresh air before Thunderbitch's set, we found frontwoman Howard climbing on the back of Promised Land/Naked Light keyboardist Ricardo Alessio's motorcycle. In a cloud of exhaust and badass vibes, the two rolled up the sidewalk to the back entrance of Wingz. We hustled inside to catch the spectacle from the other side, and we must say, Howard knows how to make a goddamn entrance. As a bandmate spray-painted "Thunder Bitch" on a backdrop behind the stage, Howard issued twin blasts from a pair of air horns and approached the mic with a resounding "Everybody feeling a little lightheaded?" Indeed we were, whether it was from the hunch punch or from the combination of paint and exhaust fumes. The 'Bitch — which also features members of Fly Golden Eagle and recent Brooklyn transplants Clear Plastic Masks — commenced a set of blown-out, spacey blooze rock complete with their very own Brian Jonestown Massacre-style tambourine/flair man. Howard & Co.'s tunes definitely aren't revolutionary, insomuch as they feature wild but familiar rock 'n' roll progressions that hearken back to Chuck, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and even further — and not particularly practiced or in-tune renditions, at that. But Howard, who's gifted with an otherworldly howl, knows how to hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, and the songs were as loud, messy and party-bolstering as any of us had hoped. A companion compared Thunderbitch to '80s neo-psych outfit Spacemen 3, and we certainly agreed enough to at least mark it down in our notes.
Now, we'd heard that irrepressible rock 'n' rollers Natural Child would be performing as their reggae alter egos Natural Lion, but as they sound-checked and began lazily creeping through a rendition of Peter Tosh's "Legalize It," we realized they were absolutely serious about it. While "Paradise Heights," their reggae original from this year's For the Love of the Game, was totally to be expected, the restless, chatty crowd may or may not have been expecting a true Natural Child set to follow. But no, no. With Andy Kaufman-like commitment, NC transformed themselves from Nashville's best true rock 'n' roll band to Nashville's ... well, maybe not best reggae band (we can't really say), but definitely a stubbornly committed reggae band, at least as far as the chorus of Marley and the Wailers' "Stir It Up" goes. A friend joked that the sleepy "Jammin'" grooves made her want to go home and commence "pajammin'," but we actually really dug Natural Lion's reggae'd-out version of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," complete with "West Jamaica" in place of "West Virginia." Anyway, we heard a shout or two of, "Hey! Do you know any Natural Child songs?!" But the boys were sticking to their guns. Good for them, we suppose. It was fun either way, and a fitting enough ending to a night we hadn't seen coming in the first place.