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Two smoking barrels

Newcomers highlight WKNC's benefit two-fer

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Sure, the second WKNC 88.1 Double Barrel Benefit was about celebrating a local station in the midst of a long-awaited resurgence and helping it pay the bills.

But, ultimately, Double Barrel II should stand as a representation of the hard-working, well-worth-the-cover upstarts hoping to make it in the Triangle. Whereas last year's slate worked with predominately Raleigh bands who had already proven themselves in these parts (Shadow of a Great Name, The Dynamite Brothers and Proof) and bands well on their way to such status (STRANGE and Schooner), General Manager Jamie Proctor stretched the boundaries of this benefit to every cranny of the local scene in search of fresh talent.

With only a handful of shows under its belt, TV Knife proved a crowd favorite, successfully melding Raleigh's rock 'n' roll history and current art aspirations with a Flaming Lips pastiche somewhere between Telepathic Surgery and Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. The Birds of Avalon (El Boa), who debuted only four months ago, are more concerned with shaping complex, inspired Zep/T. Rex/prog dedications to those antecedents than just recreating forebears' magic. In 40 minutes, El Boa--a five-piece culled from local favorites like The Cherry Valence and The Weather--turned out their best set yet. And American Aquarium--the roots rock quartet that stands as the sole happening thing in terms of N.C. State's mainstream circle, as they regularly draw several hundred to The Brewery--began the second night, despite the fact that, for them, downtown remains uncharted.

Bu Hanan Records, the Chapel Hill label with warranted ambition matched only by the talent of a roster that includes Perry Wright's The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, represented one-fifth of each night, with the newly up-from-Texas Kapow! Music opening Friday and Prayers and Tears playing material from a new album (due in March) on Saturday. This collective has a chance to make a national splash, as long as they can keep their Chapel Hill residential neighbors at bay. Even the imports--including Wilmington's must-see The Fashion Brigade and Athens' ferocious fuzzy math foursome We Vs. The Shark--proved better than billed. These bands seem to be buzzing with energy, and, combined with that of our own newcomers, could help make regional touring and show exchanges in the Southeast especially meaningful in years to come.

The second installment of the Double Barrel did hold a bit of personal disappointment, though. As it turns out, All-Astronauts, the half-fem, half-men psych quartet hailing from Winston-Salem, isn't quite as exciting as I had once thought. The band certainly has its grating punk blister down to a lock-and-key tightness, and the brazen caterwaul of Kat Lamp (dressed like the heroine of a '60s fairy tale written by Dr. Timothy Leary) is a riot of histrionics and defiance. But comparisons to noise savants and punk renegades alike fail on several critical criteria: Aside from Lamp's raucous bandleading, the band lacks any cohesive trace of abrasion to suit that voice, coming across as a mismatched hodgepodge of influences trying much too hard in too many different directions.

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