Meadownoise is turning into one of The Spin's favorite groups, and as we stepped into The Stone Fox Monday night, the first thing we noticed was the enormous set piece that is becoming their calling card. Depicting a WWII fighter plane, surrounded by lightning bolts and roses and bearing the Space Invaders-esque insignia of local artist Arcade Death, the 6-foot-diameter painting mounted on a spindle was hard to miss, but it didn't attract an undue amount of attention. In this town of creators, it can be difficult to impress a crowd. Sometimes, a Speedo and a confetti cannon are what's needed to wake folks up from their "Meh, another show" rut, but as we were about to learn, subtlety doesn't always equal bland.
Meadownoise frontman Matt Glassmeyer is a Middle Tennessee native who spent several years in avant-garde art music and jazz groups in Brooklyn before returning to join the rapidly expanding arts community in Nashville. When we chatted with him briefly, Glassmeyer remarked on the sense of community developing here: Ideas are being shared, adapted and refined across a base of folks with more divergent interests than ever before, and it's showing in a scene that supports a broader range of music. Meadownoise is as a prime example, as the most apparent label for it might be "art music" — it's filled with keyboards, Middle Eastern hand drums and guitars used as percussion instruments. Some of the sounds seem to come from happy accidents, like putting the wrong string on a guitar by mistake, and they're very weird!
You'd never mistake it for something mainstream, but Meadownoise's music also grabs your gut. They opened with the funky, muscular groove of "Mousey." Though Glassmeyer's Shuitar was absent tonight, a custom electric guitar-bass hybrid called the contra-tenor guitar provided the ominous growl underneath the song. A pair of percussion stations, featuring marching drums and various shakers, graced the slow tango of "Tell Me All The Reasons Why." They quite literally threw the audience a rope, as Glassmeyer invited "the bold people in the audience" to give the painting a spin, which they did during "This Machine and Me."
Then, James Toth, better known as Wooden Wand, took the stage, unassuming and alone with his guitar. Raised on Staten Island, the one-time Murfreesboro resident currently lives in Lexington, Ky. Toth has been on stages all over the world and backed by wide varieties of bands, but he used his characteristic eye (and ear) for detail and the living-room-comfortable atmosphere of the Fox to bring his characters to life. We were greeted by the singer of "Winter in Kentucky," who keeps an optimistic outlook despite losing his menial job as a snow shoveler to the recession: "Sometimes you gotta stop and consider the good things / Like how your money don't get ruined when it gets washed in the pockets of your jeans." With the gauzy drone ringing through the latest incarnation of "Servant to Blues," Toth skillfully lulled us into the narrator's trance. We were surprised that he drew heavily from his last two records, only pulling a handful of songs from his excellent new release, Blood Oaths of the New Blues. Among these was "Days This Long," on which tour-mates Lylas provided spectral accompaniment, as they did for the last half of the set.
During their own set, the longtime local favorites focused on mostly newer material, skipping the songs from debut album Lessons for Lovers entirely, and even bringing out some tracks from their almost-finished new record, due out this summer. Since 2009's Do You Believe in Blood?, Lylas has pursued a folk sound that's perhaps more fragile and elegiac than their debut, but frontman Kyle Hamlett and his crew stop short of getting precious. "All the Worst Sins" was the closest Lylas got to a rocker, and while drummer Rollum Haas didn't get a powerhouse workout, his skill in dynamics and the carefully tuned sound of his kit got a chance to shine through. While Toth is still in the process of promoting his new album, it looks like he is already clearing his buffer for the next one: He returned the stage to sing a number, and announced that they would be recording a few tracks at Battle Tapes the next day; they already tracked a few songs together at Loney Hutchins' studio earlier this month.
Anyway, our takeaway from this show: We have some great tools in place to sustain our creative communities, even if Nashville's new-found "It City" status puts them at some risk. Here are two local groups, adept at creating music that bridges the gap between pop and avant-garde. Rather than play a power game and try overwhelm you with their intellect, they weave in a sense of play and spontaneity that's welcoming and inspiring. Toth has the ability to work anywhere; though it remains to be seen whether he will work with Lylas exclusively, he's made it a point to include them in his future projects. Prospects are good for us to maintain our ability to foster creativity, as long as we don't think about it too hard.