Auf wiedersehen, 2012. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out! We're kidding. Seriously, you were a great year — at least, if you only count, like, concerts that The Spin attended and forget about the whole mass-fiscal-election-anticlimactic-apocalypse-cliff malarkey. This was a great year for shows big and small, and a year that was not so great for, well, just about everything else. But that made The Spin's visit to local house-show spot Richland Ballroom to see Ancient Ocean, Lee Noble, Stephen Molyneux and Coupler (for what looks to be their last house show ever) all the more special. Unfortunately, we came to find out John Bohannon (aka Ancient Ocean) had some car troubles in Louisville and wouldn't be able to make it down for the evening. Definitely a bummer. But sitting in a living room with wonderfully talented people making wonderfully intimate music puts everything — the good, the bad, the ugly — into perspective. It even makes the stodgy old Spin appreciate what an amazing music community we get to be a part of every single day.
The Spin's holiday break was basically an exercise in damaging our hearing — when our extended family gets together it's like listening to six copies of Metal Machine Music playing simultaneously at maximum volume. So when the opportunity arose to attend a show we knew would be subdued and superlative, we had to jump at the chance — last year's Richland Ballroom post-holiday extravaganza was really enjoyable, and this year's lineup was even better. It was an evening of art rather than commerce — the kind of evening that's becoming more scarce these days as everyone jockeys for a slot on the soap opera. Plus, we spent most of December flossing our teeth with arena-rock cock, so art for art's sake, shared with friends and performed without artifice, pretension or capitalist self-delusion sounded like a perfectly wonderful concept.
The Spin arrived just in time to say our hellos and grab a seat on the floor for a set from locally raised, L.A.-based Lee Noble. Performing on chord organ and prepared cassette — take that, lazy laptop users! — Noble delivered droning, heavily delayed pieces that were both playfully childlike and somehow ancient, tapping into a sonic space that hummed with electricity but never felt cold or distant. Maybe it was Noble's affable banter — his sudden need for six AA batteries was one of the more humorous artist-audience interactions we saw this year — or maybe it was just the fact that we fucking love a good chord organ, but Noble's performance had us beaming from the get-go. The wheeze and hum of those old, amateur instruments is like an old friend — show us the person who hasn't spent hours banging on a chord organ and we'll show you a person that hasn't lived — and in the context of Noble's ethereal compositions, they were nothing short of sublime.
The crowd — roughly 25 deep at this point — moved from the living room to the back of the house in order to catch Ryan Norris and Matt Glassmeyer's Coupler, and The Spin was lured outside by the sight of a roaring fire and the opportunity for a quick smoke break. Coupler began their set while we were still by the fire pit, and goddamn, that was a beautiful moment: The crowd outside sat perfectly still as the fire reflected back at us in the huge picture window. It was like a surreal moment straight for some long-lost Scandinavian film. Coupler's “deliberate ambient” music washed over us, and the only thing moving was the flames in the fire pit's reflections. Of course, the walls between us and Coupler were obscuring the details of their understated and completely fascinating sounds, so The Spin went back inside to relish the intertwining of Norris' keyboards and guitars with Glassmeyer's bass clarinet. We're telling you, if you need some music that makes your whole being tingle from the bottom up, Coupler is the way to go.
And fittingly, Stephen Molyneux, proprietor of the Richland Ballroom and a staple of Nashville's experimental music scene, was the very last performer at the very last Richland Ballroom show. We've been fans of Molyneux's since way back, and his set of ramshackle folk numbers in a roomful of friends was both poignant and stirring. It was one of those sets that would never fly downtown or woo Music Row, but in a room where everyone had honest expectations — no chart-aspirational bullshit here — it was a delight and a joy, even if there was a bit of sadness around the whole affair. The Ballroom was the rare house venue where the music — rather than the party or the shenanigans — was the focus, and the chances that our city will soon have another spot with such a stunning vibe are pretty slim. Fare thee well, Richland Ballroom. And suck an egg, 2012.