It’s been a roller coaster year for Nashville’s Dead, the local blog/promotion machine/record label which emerged from the garage-revival scene some four years ago. Last year’s birthday party was over the top in that good sort of way, boasting two nationally touring headliners in a warehouse bursting at the seams with excited fans of all stripes, the good vibes indicating a bright future for a scene now reaching its adolescence. In February, ND co-founder Ben Todd’s death sent a shock wave through the community — it was a tragedy to which it responded by making Freakin’ Weekend IV a massive public celebration of Todd’s life and his contributions to local music. By comparison, Monday night’s fourth birthday party felt more like an intimate family gathering — a trip back to the garages and basements where Nashville’s Dead was born.
The Spin began our evening by catching Oblivians' Greg Cartwright at East Nashville's Fond Object — the record shop owned in part by Ettes frontwoman and Cartwright's Parting Gifts bandmate/co-writer Coco Hames. It was an intimate set of rock 'n' roll numbers culled from Cartwright's extensive catalog, but presented as solo ballads rather than in the sort of fiery garage-rock-blowout aesthetic Oblivians are known for. It was transfixing, and we're lucky to have caught it.
We hustled across down and shook an umbrella at the threatening sky as we shuffled down Elliston Place. Inside Exit/In, we found the newly reconstituted Heavy Cream, with Nashville’s Dead captain Dillon Watson on bass and JP5’s Rachel Hortman on the skins, set up in front of the stage with the crowd gathered around — just like old times in Glenn Danzig’s House, without the crowd surfers hanging from the ceiling. Intense as ever, fire-breathing frontwoman Jessica McFarland took full advantage of being on our level, slam-dancing with us while the well-rehearsed band rumbled and chugged along.
Opening with a quotation from Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy — “History is like a wheel … Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope” — is not something you generally expect at a punk show, but it set the stage for the first performance of Cy Barkley’s new record, appropriately titled Mutability, which hits stores today (stream it here). The album showcases post-punk angularity seeping into The Way Outsiders’ well-established hardcore barrage, a natural evolution for an energetic, old-school band. The live set, however, stuck to the core principles of fast and loud that CB&TWO have built their name on, pausing only to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to guitarist Mimi Galbierz.
Fictional Boys were the surprise hit of the night. Comprised of Fox Fun plus three-fourths of D. Watusi, the band backs up John Webster Johns, the Lou Reed-voiced singer-songwriter who had a track covered on White Fence’s Family Perfume and who took the producer’s chair on Cass McCombs’ Humor Risk. The band appeared to be experimenting with the glam lifestyle, with everyone in some level of glitter and face paint but only Johns and drummer Asher Horton fully made up, so we giggled at an imagined dialog backstage — “C’mon guys, everybody’s doing it, the girls are gonna love it.” After the first few bars, we stopped giggling, as their sound hit a bunch of our sweet spots at once: electrified pastoral psychedelia in the vein of Syd Barrett and Marc Bolan, splattered with bratty glam. We’re going to go ahead and demand an album as soon as possible.
Memphis’ Ex-Cult were handed a tough break, thanks to some difficulties with the sound system that never quite got resolved. Even with that handicap, they turned in an impressive performance, the rhythm section growling and thundering while echoes of spooky psych, trad metal and juke-joint R&B howled around the room like pissed-off banshees. Summer single “Mr. Fantasy,” cuts from their Ty Segall-produced LP, and one brand-new song premiered at the show rounded out a solid set.
Shortly before midnight, Oblivians took over, charging out of the gate never to let go. Guitarist and Goner Records founder Eric Friedl, drummer Jack Yarber and top-notch guitar-slinger Cartwright tore through two decades’ worth of the craft they’ve turned into an art: the two-minute pop song cranked to 11. The band traded vocals and instruments fluidly, as much a testament to their skill and deep love for the material as to the common ground shared by the songs; Cartwright even goofed and started playing the wrong song once. Playing their hearts out to a crowd drastically thinned by the impending workweek, these three elder statesmen of the garage renaissance ultimately revealed a truth about music’s place in culture, born out by the continued success of Nashville’s Dead: Record sales may come and go, but the joy of experiencing music with your friends is a permanent fixture, whether you’re on the stage or in the audience.