Record Store Day may very well be The Spin's favorite holiday, and we were indeed stoked on what this year's festivities held in store: the grand opening of Fond Object over on the East Side; Record Store Day Ambassador Jack White debuting his Voice-o-Graph booth at Third Man Records; monsters of emo-pop Paramore playing at Grimey's alongside Scene/Cream faves The Features and Hotpipes; and a big, fat celebration over at The Groove. We managed to catch a little of all of it — and even pet a pig and record our very on Third Man single in the process.
At Grimey's, awkward teen romance was budding as aspiring vinyl nerds mingled with Paramore fans, who formed their own separate line to secure a chance at meeting (formerly) Franklin's great emo hope. Indeed, the early part of the day was clearly dedicated to the babies, with Paramore fans (and Paramore fans' dads) swarming while a handful of middle schoolers got into position to play Beck songs. Which probably means that photographer John Brassil's DJ set of marijuana novelty songs, while hilarious, may not have been totes apropos.
The Poplar Grove Middle School Ensemble settled in for their 11:30 a.m. set of songs pulled from Beck's Song Reader, a record released only on sheet music. We've never actually heard these songs before, so we can't really say if their performance was spot on, but it was nothing if not adorable. And isn't that all you want from middle school kids playing Beck songs? The answer is yes.
Virginian Daniel Bachman immediately followed the ensemble with a set of wind-swept guitar folk, playing instrumental tunes reminiscent of Kaki King's contributions to the score for Into the Wild. As you might expect, the Paramore fans — who at this point were occupying every open space near the stage — treated it with mild amusement. Same goes for DJ Pimpdaddysupreme, who was trying his damnedest to get the party started, even resorting to playing Macklemore and Baauer to get the crowd hyped. But it wasn't until Hayley Williams made her way to the stage that the crowd accelerated into full-fledged freak-out mode.
Williams was joined by guitarist Jeremy Davis and bassist Taylor York for a 25-minute set of acoustic tunes, starting with interludes off their most recent album (and also a Record Store Day exclusive release, pressed into the shape of a hibiscus flower) before diving into a collection of hits and new songs — including “Misery Business” and others. We're not exactly Paramore's key demographic, but we could at least appreciate that they do what they do well. And good on Williams for delicately engaging with her fans who were word-vomiting nonsense at her out of uncontainable excitement.
Meanwhile, over at Third Man Records, the carnival aspect was in full swing as scores of tri-color collectors and Jack White devotees were predictably pouring out onto the sidewalk in multiple lines to buy limited-edish 7-inches and The White Stripes' Elephant reissue and take a spin in the uber-awesome antique Voice-o-Graph booth.
Inside the Blue Room, alt-rock singer-songwriter session man and Brendan Benson collaborator Mark Watrous was midway through a solo electric set, winning over the seemingly mostly unfamiliar crowd with his pitch-perfect high notes and hypnotically tense finger-picked pop dirges. Watrous got an almost unanimous cheer when he asked the crowd how many folks had camped outside the store overnight to stake their spots in line.
Pulling double duty, Watrous also backed Karen Elson for the fire-headed singer/supermodel’s half-hour-or-so-long set, which she kicked off with a desert-rustic, spaghetti-Western-worthy new cut called “Hell and High Water.” “So do you think I should make another record,” Elson asked the crowd to immediate applause following the song. Other characteristically eerie-sounding highlights of the short-but-sweet set included a sensually menacing murder ballad “Truth Is in the Dirt,” the foreboding slow-burner “The Birds They Circle” and the lonely lover’s pine “Pretty Babies.”
Par for the course, TMR’s promise of an additional “surprise” sparked a widespread rumor that label proprietor and official Record Store Day 2013 Ambassador Jack White would put on a surprise performance. Even after the house lights went up, all the gear was struck from the stage and a “nothing to see here” announcement was made, dozens of fans remained packed against the stage in held-out hope.
Turns out the surprise was the Voice-o-Graph — a vintage on-the-go mobile studio that records up to two minutes of audio and instantly plays it back and presses it onto a 6-inch phonograph. At the suggestion of The Ambassador himself, we gave it whirl. And we must say, it’s pretty fuckin’ rad, the hisses and pops of the finished product resulting in what we can best describe as analog Instagram. White excitedly informed us that the guy who was before us in line recorded a marriage proposal (that’s a novel touch!), and before that another RSD patron used the booth to cut a recording of his last will and testament. We briefly considered raising the bar with a murder confession, but ultimately chickened out.
Over at The Groove, the crowd spilled over from the back yard in all directions, and we squeezed through just in time for Tristen’s sound check. Despite rolling with a condensed backing group — Buddy Hughen on guitar, Matt Moody on bass and Hanzelle’s Jeremi Morris on the hybrid-electronic drum kit — technical difficulties abounded. The Who’s “Naked Eye” and Dinosaur Jr.’s cover of Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” wafted by on the cool breeze while we waited for the sound guy to evict the hobgoblins. Though we wouldn’t those songs desert-island material, they sounded pretty badass played over the P.A., and it hit us that this experience perfectly encapsulated what today was all about: celebrating the act of listening to music as something fun in and of itself.
The tunes from Tristen’s upcoming release, C A V E S, feature an ensemble-based approach and an organic, dancy feel, starkly contrasting 2011’s guitar-oriented Charlatans at the Garden Gate. No matter how excellent the players, these complexities were difficult to carry over in a stripped-down combo setting, especially with all the other activities to distract the crowd. Pros that they are, Tristen and band rolled with it, scoring highest with serpentine groover “Anti-Baby,” our personal fave from the new crop, and “No One’s Gonna Know,” the first single slated from the album.
A few flips through the dollar bins later, Chrome Pony kicked out a display of rock that was equal parts power and finesse. Brothers Tyler and Kyle Davis, with Fly Golden Eagle’s bassman Matt Shaw along for the ride, rode high on clouds of power chords and searing, almost glammy licks, propelled forward by brother Kyle’s nuanced, powerhouse drumming. Making a mental note to keep an ear on their tasty combo of rough-hewn edges and precision, we hit the road for Riverside Village.
The neighborhood surrounding Fond Object reminded us of our most recent visit to Austin: smiling faces and the smell of cooking food everywhere, and a dearth of convenient parking for latecomers. During our two-block walk to the record store/vintage clothier/arts workshop founded by The Ettes and friends, which celebrated its grand opening Saturday, we could hear Promised Land wrapping their set of '70s-influenced barroom rock 'n' roll, so we started with a quick cruise through the record store. Comprising partner Jeff Pettit’s massive collection, the stock’s selection was both broad and deep. We didn’t find the particular Buck Owens title we were looking for, but had our choice of at least a dozen other of his LPs, quite reasonably priced.
On the porch of the little yellow house in the back yard, J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices tuned up and laid into some of the most dance-worthy country music we’ve heard in quite a while. Drums and nimble bass nipped along together, unfurling tasteful flourishes that hinted at raw power underneath, while the steel bit and the piano brought to mind Skynyrd’s great keyboardist, Billy Powell. Harris carries on the tradition of honky-tonk greats, not just in his road-wise baritone, but especially in his turns of phrase and self-deprecating humor. “These clothes ain’t dirty, they’re just stained / From the honky-tonk lifestyle I’ve maintained,” he sang in a sped-up take on “Badly Bent,” a song he called “a honky-tonk speed date” before indicating that it would appear in At Any Price, the soon-to-be-released flick featuring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron. The song, he said, was chosen to replace some Toby Keith tunes used in early edits, and cited as “not country enough” by the producers; no surprise there. We were a little surprised at the general lack of dancing — indeed, more than a few skinny-jeans-clad folks were napping between saying hello to Dottie the Shop Pig, Fond Object's official (and we must say, rather adorable and well-behaved) mascot.
Back at Grimey's, the crowd had shifted dramatically from the Paramore mob scene to familiar local rock faces for the glorious return of Hotpipes. In case you thought that the band might be rusty after laying dormant for all these years, you'd be dead wrong. If anything, the resurrected incarnation — backed up by Dave Paulson, Keith Lowen and Jerry Pentecost — is even more righteously rock 'n' roll than before. Songs like “Answer Your Telephone” and “Anna, Come Down” off the forthcoming Dust are epically anthemic, sold brilliantly by Jon Rogers and Dan Sommers. We know that this is likely a short-lived jaunt, but we've got our fingers crossed that Hotpipes may live on for just a bit longer.
Then came The Features, doing their Features thing. Nashville's most consistent rock band celebrated the impending release of their forthcoming self-titled record with a set mostly composed of brand-new jams, only bending once to accommodate a request of “Walk You Home.” Normally we'd be bummed to not hear “Circus” or “Contrast,” but the new songs are a fantastic natural continuation of what we heard on Wilderness. And not a bad way to end a long day at Grimey's.