From the mid-Aughts and into the 2010s, Nashville’s underground rock landscape was the envy of the rest of the country, thanks in no small part to Jake and Jamin Orrall — the brothers who co-founded the local-centric Infinity Cat Recordings label with their dad and launched its flagship band, JEFF the Brotherhood. JtB has been mostly dormant since the tour behind 2018’s Magick Songs, with singer-guitarist Jake living in New Orleans and drummer Jamin in Los Angeles, and the label made what’s billed as its final new release in May.
The band’s high-energy, high-volume sound — rooted in grunge and garage rock, but increasingly eclectic as the band progressed — hits different these days. As is only natural, other labels have taken up the mantle of supporting Music City’s underground music scene. But JEFF’s show Wednesday at Exit/In, amid the ongoing 50th anniversary celebration for the hallowed Elliston Place club, made it clear that Music City hasn’t forgotten the Orralls’ contribution.
The opening acts came across as a mixed bag. Snooper (who our photog sadly missed out on) is an audiovisual project helmed by animator Blair Tramel and local punk provocateur Connor Cummins. Playing as a five-piece, Snooper’s live sound — chaotic yet clear — brought to life the cruder recordings they’ve released so far. Cummins’ other going concern, Safety Net, is also a snarly post-punk outfit with barely contained energy, fresh off the release of an EP called Art — here’s hoping both bands keep rolling steady into the new year. Nashville-via-Atlanta up-and-comer Kent Osborne (who’s recently spent some significant time in L.A.) did his best to rile up the crowd as the room filled up. But the crowd didn’t respond with the same kind of energy they’ve shown for previous sets of Osborne’s punk-metal-rap.
JEFF the Brotherhood has taken on various forms over the years, and had planned this gig as a trio show. But with second guitarist Kunal Prakash a late scratch, they took the stage in their tried-and-true drums-and-guitar formation. They launched straight into “Garbage Man,” the gleefully belligerent A-side to the 7-inch that is Infinity Cat’s aforementioned 125th and final release. With amplifiers cranked and stompboxes and wah pedals kicked in, it took less than 30 seconds for the first of the night’s endless succession of stage divers to get airborne.
Settling in, the duo pulled from all corners of their catalog of more than 10 albums they’ve built up since they were teenagers. The flanger-fied “Hey Friend,” from 2011’s We Are the Champions (manifesting a better version of Weezer than Weezer has been in a long while) appeared early; the krautpunk corker of the titular song from 2010’s Heavy Days came later.
In between: “Melting Place,” a riff-tastic tour de force from 2015’s Wasted on the Dream, the second album the band made on Warner Bros.’ dime, which they released on iCat after the major released them from their contract. In our recent interview, Jake described the album as their take on the grand scale of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream; the result is something he’s just recently been able to listen to objectively. As the show began to wind down, Magick Songs' Electric Wizard-style stoner-doom epic “Farewell to the Sun” was unleashed. The band has a new album in the can, which they’re planning to release next year, but the newest songs played Wednesday were “Garbage Man” and its flip side “Mountains.”
Most represented in the set list, with a half-dozen songs, was the Bogus Bros 2016 LP Zone. The album was released via Canadian indie Dine Alone after the buzz around the band had subsided a bit and its major-label misadventure was in the rearview, and it’s understandable why Jake cited the record as one of his personal faves when we talked. Zone was the sound of the Orralls playing the exact music they wanted, without interference, for the first time in years. On Wednesday, Zone material like “Bad,” “Toasted” and set highlight “Energy” stood out as prime examples of peak JEFF: sonically thick, mega-melodic studies in dynamic, youthful rock ’n’ roll.
Despite the duo not having played onstage in their hometown since a spring 2019 gig at Drkmttr, the Orralls' innate familiarity with the material and each other’s playing covered up any traces of rust. The crowd, while heavy as you might expect on millennials and Gen-Xers, also included a surprising amount of revelers who seemed too young to have caught JtB the first time around — a reminder of the ripples that keep radiating out from the work they’ve put in. Remarked Jake, surveying the room: “This is crazy. It’s a lot to take in. I’m fucking loving it.” JEFF the Brotherhood’s legacy is solid, but it’s clear there’s plenty still in the tank. Whether their forthcoming album is their swan song or the springboard to a new era of JEFF, odds are very good that there will be fans ready and waiting for it.