Saturday, Dec. 29
Go! Room 4, Carrboro
This local rock triple bill, which also served as a CD release party for Wilmington's Rodeo Boy, had already attracted a good crowd when acoustic duo Work Clothes took the stage. Real-life couple Lee Waters (a drummer/guitarist who's played with such muscular outfits as Cobra Khan, among others) and Jenny Scheitler (formerly of Bevel), eschew "rock" (with all its implied posturing) to deliver compositions characterized by ethereal harmonies: evocative, beautifully muted works untethered by the rigid constraints of a rhythm section. Who needs drums? Next up: Rodeo Boy, a band that hovers in that the gray area between alternative rock and pop with their new disc, The Pine and Promise (they've also thickened up their live sound with the addition of rhythm guitarist Jason Caperton). Having hit the wine and fondue hard at a post-Christmas bash, my head started swimming about the time they took the stage, so I passed scraps of paper to other audience members (many themselves members of the local music scene), instructing them to "just write whatever adjectives come into your head" as they experienced the gig:
"Yummy!" "Dawson's Creek misses you ... desperately!" (They've had a song featured on an episode.) "Pavement with a higher voice." "A certain geek allure." "Slick, yet musical." "Buffalo-Springfield-tacular!" "Think tank." (This reference is obscure--does Rodeo Boy somehow reek of profound knowledge?) "Intellectual, yet troubled." "They employ chords, but it doesn't sound like it." "Very Neil Young-esque" (this comment came during "The Wanting Bird," the opening track on their new album). "Chick magnets." "Honesty imbued with a false sensitivity." "Fast food tastes yum, but everywhere the same [sic]."
The audience has spoken. Yet Rodeo Boy do have a certain sumpin'-sumpin'--maybe it was the way frontman James Reardon, at one point, seemed to blow into his guitar. Or their sparkling set, no doubt fueled by the desire to wow the Triangle crowd. Rodeo Boy plays it tight and clean, with flab-free, non-wanky arrangements and dead-on vocals that separate them from the indie/post-rock crowd. On one hand you can tell that the band members own--perhaps have even studied--the Pavement catalog, yet guitarist-tunesmith Reardon (that's his brother Jeff on drums) sounds like he grew up listening to The Beatles: His songwriting is very trad, very hooky, very complete.
For the record, the guys are all in their early to mid-20s. Image-wise, bassist Charlie Brookshire inspires a "separated at birth" comparison to Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson: chiseled features, small specs, with a clean-cut look that somehow still screams "musician," while frontman James Reardon sports mussed-up dirty-blond hair, attacks the mic with his head atilt and wears a cowboy-style shirt, possibly of Levi's issue.
If their performance were an episode of Blind Date, I'd opt to do it again.
The Kingsbury Manx--those musical Merlins, those constructors of mutable, mood-shifting soundscapes--took the stage and the audience was transported to Ummagumma-land, a place where Syd Barrett is lucid and still sports cherubic curls, where weed is cheap and there is no hillbilly heroin, only God's own natural opiates. Now a five-piece (with the addition of bassist Clarque Blomquist, member of such projects as Shallow Be Thy Name and Goatthrower), the Manx finally can achieve the kind of magic they've always delivered on their recordings. Their music is richly textured, subtle, favoring picked melody lines over simple rock chording. With a stage demeanor that borders on indolence, The Kingsbury Manx transport you into a meditative world where hearing and feeling are seemingly interchangeable. The vocals unwind like rolls of gauze--the songs build, crash against the shore, then gently recede. While there's an air of sadness in their work (a la Nick Drake), pain and beautiful music make great bedfellows.
Hardcore Matinee featuring Seven, Down Cycle, Man Will Destroy Himself and guests
Sunday, Dec. 30
The Brewery, Raleigh
There's a scene in Michael Tolkin's 1991 cult film The Rapture where a young girl turns to her mother and begs, "Why can't we just die now?" Two bands into this late-afternoon "hardcore" show and I was asking myself the same question. It had all seemed so promising. Billed as "The Return Of The Hardcore Matinee at The Brewery," Sunday's show featured a performance by ex-Corrosion Of Conformity drummer Reed Mullin's new punk combo, Man Will Destroy Himself, along with several other bands. What the posters didn't mention was that the only link between the other bands on the bill and, say, Black Flag, was that one or two of them may be familiar with the bug spray of the same name.
I knew something was amiss when openers Tapestry took the stage. Nothing screams "anarchy" less than a Mark McGrath-esque singer flanked by a guitarist and bassist who look like they're ready to join the Allman Brothers Band. Tapestry plays that "new metal" that "the kids" are into these days--or maybe they're not. A quick scan around the room revealed fewer than 20 underage kids at this sparsely attended all-ages show. The riffs churned, the poses were struck and, after a time that seemed longer than it was, the band mercifully stopped playing.
In the days of hardcore matinees past, it wasn't uncommon to see a band like Die Kreuzen or Bad Brains pull up to a hall just minutes before their set was to start. Bands would frantically unload their gear into the venue and work out the frustrations of their miserable 10-hour drive onstage.
So hopes for a similar cathartic experience were raised when the tardy members of Shatter Star came busting through the back door of the club and took the stage. Although the young band's set of Slipknot-inspired mush failed to set the room ablaze, their performance did provide one of the greatest examples of parental support ever: While her 17-year-old son bellowed a guttural litany of profanity, there stood good ol' mom, video camera in hand, capturing the moment for posterity.
Man Will Destroy Himself marks drummer (and now Brown frontman) Reed Mullin's first foray back into hardcore punk rock since Corrosion of Conformity shifted to straight-up hard rock/boogie in the early '90s. Aided by the powerful front line of bassist Abe Quinn and guitarists Ronnie Dalgo and Sam Madison (ex-Bloodmobile), MWDH played with an intensity and simplicity that seemed utterly alien to Tapestry and Shatter Star. Though their sound, an amalgam of classic hardcore (Bad Brains, SSD and N.O.T.A) and early crossover metal (Eye For An Eye-era C.O.C.), brought back memories of early '80s punk matinees, any of the other characteristics of those shows--punks, audience enthusiasm and/or movement of any kind--were MIA. Even a white-hot cover of Madison's vintage Bloodmobile classic, "The Smiths," failed to spark any kind of reaction from a crowd that clearly had little interest in punk "roots" music.
A telling moment came when Quinn introduced their last song as being "a Black Flag song called 'Rise Above.'" I don't know which was more disheartening: The fact that he thought that he needed to introduce the song at all (kind of like being in a band that plays classic rock and saying, "This next song is a Led Zeppelin tune called 'Stairway to Heaven'), or the fact that their dead-on version didn't illicit any kind of response. Well, that's not exactly true--the toddler being bounced up and down by her mother in front of one of the PA columns seemed to really dig it.
With two bands to go, I threw in the towel.