WKNC Double Barrel Benefit
The Pour House, Raleigh
Friday, Feb. 5 & Saturday, Feb. 6
As I bemoan yet another Wolfpack men’s basketball loss (don't laugh, Tar Heels), I’ve come to the regretful conclusion that WKNC—N.C. State’s student-run radio station—may be all that’s left to be proud of regarding my alma mater. Of course, that assumption may be colored by new memories of this weekend's seventh annual Double Barrel Benefit, which starts another year of KNC-championed local music events: Besides blasting a heavy rotation of Triangle tunes on the airwaves, the station also backs sporadic on-campus shows and a Thursday night Local Beer/Local Band series at Tir Na Nog that offers fine bills for free on a weekly basis.
Making up for a lack of variety and marquee value, the eight-band line-up—while noticeably lacking any hometown representation—offered a solid mix of the area's rising stars and established vets. Kicking off the festivities on Friday night, fledgling Chapel Hill outfit The Light Pines shared members (but less these days than in their previous gigs) and a sense of pop classicism with sister project The Love Language, though its songs seemed to take on a much darker tone than I remembered from the group's brief set at the Drughorse Christmas show. Fronted by sometimes Love Language bassist Josh Pope, it should be no surprise that the Pines—which, like Stu McLamb’s aforementioned project, was birthed shortly after the demise of Strokes-soundalikes The Capulets—leans heavily on rhythm, too. I had a tough time grabbing good video, but fortunately Karen Mann pulled through. I did manage to catch some from the Christmas show, for comparison’s sake.
Up next, Carrboro duo Veelee added a surprising amount of energy to what I had previously considered to be gentle bedroom pop tunes. Vocalist Matt Park ripped jagged, crunchy riffs from his guitar—flashing some serious ’90s indie rock influence in the process—and craftily used his headstock and some well-placed duct tape to give himself an extra hand for keyboard flourishes. Alongside Ginger Wagg's rudimentary drumming, the pair harmonized with a detached coolness through catchy choruses.
Bellafea—who had a relatively quiet 2009 while Heather McEntire and Eddie Sanchez worked on albums with Mount Moriah and Fin Fang Foom, respectively—followed. McEntire's battle cry led the menacing trio through the sharp turns and tense twists of its tough, shifty tunes. During one particularly intense instrumental passage, McEntire faced her amp and unleashed a throat-shredding scream that seemed to hurl the band forward.
Max Indian headlined night one and laid claim to the evening's most enthusiastic crowd, at least in terms of singing and dancing. The Carter Gaj-led quintet now features Ryan Gustafson in place of departed guitarist Nick Jaeger, who still watched from the sidelines as the Drughorse flagship re-engineered album cut "Whatever Goes Up" to bring harmonies and Charles Cleaver's keys to the forefront. Several new tunes emphasized the rhythm section of Jeff Crawford and James Wallace over the band's trademark twin-guitar attack, though the immediacy of its razor-sharp hooks remained intact. After thanking The Pour House and the opening bands, Wallace echoed the latter's thoughts when he yelled out, “Let’s hear it for WKNC, the station that actually plays our record!” before launching into the night's ending number.
Unfortunately, on Saturday night, I arrived just in time to find Midtown Dickens tearing down their gear. A bit of a warm-up would have been nice, as Chapel Hill's Spider Bags slammed the pedal to the floor immediately upon hitting the stage. The trio never let up either, as their country-fried garage blues came tough and tight, seemingly without a break until frontman Dan McGee collapsed near the end of the sweaty, whiskey-fueled set and crawled over to his amp to strum the set to a dramatic close.
Roman Candle, who appeared at N.C. State homecoming concert last fall, were unquestionably the biggest draw of the weekend, with no shortage of Wilkesboro folks gathered to see the expats. The seasoned performers surely didn't disappoint, with a strong, hour-plus set culled from both full-lengths and highlighted by a set-closing take on the debut's "I've Got A Reason" that encapsulated the weekend—certainly not mind-blowing, but impressively executed. At least we can count on one N.C. State entity to keep that up.