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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Live: Getting Fucked Up on happiness

Posted by on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 5:52 PM

Rowdy, lovable kings and queens: Fucked Up in Raleigh - PHOTO BY JEDIDIAH GANT
  • Photo by Jedidiah Gant
  • Rowdy, lovable kings and queens: Fucked Up in Raleigh
Fucked Up, Weed, Bandages
Kings, Raleigh
Saturday, July 5, 2014

On the surface, the Toronto hardcore-but-not-hardcore band Fucked Up appears aggressive and abrasive. Just consider the name. Behind that intense façade, though, are songs that are sweeping, and, to use an oft-abused term, epic. When paired with the band’s relentless live energy, those tunes turn into uplifting performances that swallow everyone involved. At least that's what I learned Saturday night in Raleigh, during my live indoctrination with Fucked Up.

The outfit—but especially frontman Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham—fit right at home in Raleigh. During Saturday's set, Abraham doled out nods and shoutouts to North Carolina figures ranging from Sorry State Records to Ric Flair and Petey Pablo (“That helicopter has already taken the hell off,” he said, referring to the shirt he’d ditched early in the show). Abraham repeatedly embraced and high-fived eager fans, and it was often tough to tell who was happier to be there. An atmosphere of positivity and fellowship reigned. When he stormed through the audience, fans helpfully held up Abraham’s mic cord to prevent safety and tech problems. On one of these field trips, Abraham bear-hugged a father-daughter duo who had been eagerly watching from a bench against a wall.

Front-and-center pits tend to be gyres of testosterone, with aggro dudes shoving each other just because they can. But Fucked Up manage to give these same dudes a different energy: sure, there was shoving, but it came driven by smiles and even a few hugs shared among strangers.

Though the general joy of the evening were the night's greatest features, Fucked Up delivered on the musical front, too. Longer pieces like “Year of the Dragon” fit in seamlessly among tunes like “My Name is David” and “I Hate Summer,” which Abraham dedicated to anyone made to feel bad about their appearance.

The evening’s openers served as complementary counterparts, priming the crowd well for the heaping third course of Fucked Up. Raleigh’s Bandages played heavy and hard songs, bolstered by restless rhythms and crunchy guitars. There seemed to be so much variation within each track that it almost didn’t matter where each one started or stopped. By contrast, Vancouver's Weed offered melodic tunes that edged much closer to early ’00s indie rock. 
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    Touring in support of the new Glass Boys, Toronto’s Fucked Up delivered a blistering, hug-worthy set at Kings.

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Google Play premieres Merge mini-documentary, offers free downloads

Posted by on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 4:57 PM

July is the Month of Merge, as the label continues its yearlong windup in celebration of its 25th anniversary and a festival the end of the month. The latest of their promotions comes from Google Play  which has a short documentary about Merge in addition to several tracks by label bands that Google Play users can download. Among these tunes are Merge-on-Merge covers: Hiss Golden Messenger does Spoon, while Superchunk does Wye Oak. The Mountain Goats' stripped-down piano take on "Who You Are" by American Music Club is a particular strong point. The documentary highlights the early days of Merge Records and its unconventional beginning, and includes interviews with co-founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, bands and friends of the label alike.

You can stream the documentary and check out those tracks here. Quick, maybe frustrating heads-up: Though some tracks are free to download, you'll still have to enter your credit card information to process the "sale." Commerce.
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    Google Play shows up to Merge Records' 25th anniversary party with multimedia offerings.

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"Hell" and back again: Tom Maxwell's tale (and new LP)

Posted by on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Like a vintage shirt from the back of the closet, Tom Maxwell has returned to the rotation, and it's a good look. On Monday, the former Squirrel Nut Zipper announced the impending release of a new album and book. After an eleven-year recording hiatus, it’s his second album in three years.

Maxwell’s fronting a new band featuring members of Lost in the Trees and The Old Ceremony, including Mark Simonsen, James Wallace, FJ Ventre and Evans Nicholson. They back him on the forthcoming self-titled Tom Maxwell & the Minor Drag. It’s highlighted by a guest duet with Ani DiFranco on “Roll With It,” which recently premiered on USA Today’s website.

The track’s Dixieland swing will be familiar to Zippers’ fans, though you shouldn’t pigeonhole Maxwell. His last album, 2011’s powerful Kingdom Come, surveyed a variety of styles, from punchy piano-rock (“Why I Smoke”) to shadowy Nick Cave-ish noir (“So High”) and elegant chamber pop (“Fuck It”). The new album was recorded in New Orleans with producer Mike Napolitano (The Twilight Singers, Galactic), who produced Maxwell’s 2000 post-Zippers debut, Samsara, too.

The book, titled Hell: My Life In The Squirrel Nut Zippers, focuses on the years leading up to his 1999 departure from the band. Maxwell has said he wanted to focus on the wild and woolly early days, when they were conceived as a merry pirate band—that is, before success and money got involved. It builds to the point when everything begins to change. He leaves off there, figuring everyone knows enough about the band's contentious demise.

The book and CD will receive simultaneous release on August 26th. You can pre-order both, and even get signed copies from Maxwell’s website.
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    Once a Squirrel Nut Zipper, Tom Maxwell announces a new book about his time in the band as well as a new album.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Alice Gerrard turns 80, celebrates with a new LP

Posted by on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 12:46 PM

There are plenty of aging musicians who probably should’ve pumped the brakes on their music career decades ago, but Alice Gerrard isn’t one of them. The Durham resident turns 80 today and has a new record, Follow the Music, due on the acoustic-centric powerhouse Tompkins Square September 30.

Gerrard rose to prominence in the folk music boom of the ‘60s and ‘70s through her work with Hazel Dickens; in the half century since, she has continued playing and recording, solidifying herself as a legendary figure in bluegrass and traditional music circles. Hiss Golden Messenger’s Michael Taylor produced Follow the Music, and the album features Megafaun brothers Phil and Brad Cook. 

Follow the Music is a mix of new original tunes by Gerrard as well as her own re-workings of traditional folk songs. You can stream “Boll Weevil,” a fiddle tune made popular by Tommy Jarrell, below. Gerrard’s take on the song is steady and even-keeled, with a twinge of mournfulness that reflects the trouble boll weevils brought to farmers across the United States in the early part of the 20th century.


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    Bluegrass legend and Durham resident Alice Gerrard has a new LP, Follow the Music, out September 30.

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Video: JKutchma delivers refreshing set at Oak City 7

Posted by on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 12:44 PM

On a recent Thursday in Raleigh City Plaza, Durham's JKutchma led a nine-piece band through a handful of songs, several of which are from the upcoming album tentatively titled Blue Highways. Despite being sandwiched between an act that screeched through a Led Zeppelin cover and the '90s one-hit Fastball, Kutchma and company brought something different to the evening.

The group offered a much more nuanced set than those of the brash acts it shared the stage with, each member of the outfit contributing to the swirling arrangements and melodies. While some of the crowd might not have been completely receptive, the show acted as a fine preview for what Kutchma has in store for his follow-up to last year's Sundown, USA

Check out a pair of clips from the show below.

JKutchma & The Five Fifths, "Bus Station in Montana"

JKutchma & The Five Fifths, "There's A Light On"
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    Despite an inattentive Raleigh crowd, JKutchma & The Five Fifths powered through a set of mostly new tunes.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Videos: The Flatlander Joe Ely makes a rare Raleigh stop

Posted by on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 11:53 AM

On a recent Wednesday night at the Southland Ballroom, Texas Legend Joe Ely was greeted by a little bit of home. As temperatures outside approached 100 degrees, a large crowd filed into the venue to see someone who does not visit this part of the country often. Roots music promoter Marianne Taylor has tried to book Ely during her respective stints at The Pour House, Hideaway BBQ, Berkeley Cafe and now Southland Ballroom, but she's never been able to secure a date with him. With such anticipation, the few rows of chairs quickly filled.

After delightful sets from Reagan Boggs and Lucette, Ely took the stage, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Plankenhorn. In the early ’70s, Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore began the on-again, off-again collaboration The Flatlanders, now regarded as very influential. "Dallas," maybe the trio's most recognizable track, was recently picked up by the FX show Fargo for use in an episode. Ely lamented that the group hadn't received any money for that 1972 work and that this would be the first.

Ely is a master of weaving styles from Tex-Mex and rockabilly to folk and country through his narrative songwriting. During "Indian Cowboy," for instance, he tells a story of accidentally picking up a job in West Texas with the Ringling Brothers as a young man, even referencing the famous tightrope walkers The Wallendas.

Throughout the evening, Ely received many requests for tunes from his considerable back catalog. He performed a pair of tunes by fellow Flatlander Butch Hancock, "Row of Dominoes" and "She Never Spoke Spanish To Me," with Plankenhorn providing brilliant flares of Spanish guitar to each number. 

As the evening wound down, Ely received a standing ovation as the crowd lined up to meet the Texas legend. Ely greeted each with a warm smile and signed a considerable amount of items. One after another, they declared how far they had driven to see him before filing out into the hot evening air.

Below, catch a handful of clips from the evening's performance.

Joe Ely, "Dallas"

Continue reading…

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    Joe Ely greets the warm air and warm fans at Southland Ballroom.

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Video: Boys benefit Girls Rock at the Haw River Ballroom

Posted by and on Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 10:23 AM

Let’s hear it for the boys: On Friday night, a handful of local male musicians came together for a concert benefitting local nonprofit Girls Rock NC. The dudes delivered a solid night of music that, for the most part, paid tribute to the female musicians and other women in their lives who inspired them. The Beast started it all with a set that leaned heavily on Pierce Freelon’s songs about his mother, Nnenna Freelon, with a bit of obvious Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliot thrown in toward the end.  Megafaun’s Phil Cook offered an unusually chatty set, opening with a few of his own tunes before playing others by Amy Ray, Aimee Mann and Gillian Welch.

Up next was a high energy bunch from The Love Language’s Stu McLamb, with Mark Connor and Thomas Simpson rounding out the rhythm section. Though rough around the edges, the band powered through tunes like Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” Hole’s “Violet” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” before finishing with Beyoncé’s “XO.” The evening’s final act was the Mountain Goats, whose long set depended more on John Darnielle’s own material than those of the other acts, but his Warlock and Siouxsie and the Banshees complemented his tunes well.

Throughout the night, some of the material felt a little hokey or harried—there was more than one admission of working out songs just a few days before the show— which is a shame. But the moments where sincerity shone through (see Cook's version of "Hard Times" below) lifted the evening above any technical difficulties or strange setlist choices.  

Check out a few videos from the show by Dan Schram below.

Phil Cook, "Hard Times" (Gillian Welch cover)

Stu McLamb and Friends, "Violet" (Hole cover)
The Beast, "Come Closer"

The Mountain Goats, "Spellbound" (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)
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    Members of the Mountain Goats, The Love Language, Megafaun and The Beast performed covers to benefit Girls Rock NC.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Live: Iron & Wine gets comfortable on new home turf

Posted by on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 11:54 AM

  • Photo by Craig Kief
Iron & Wine, Angel Olsen
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Saturday, June 28, 2014

The last time I saw Iron & Wine—in the spring of 2008 at UNC’s Memorial Hall—it came on the heels of the release of The Shepherd’s Dog. At the time, that record was Sam Beam and company’s most ambitious effort after his lo-fi start, but it was the sparsest selections, like Beam’s duets with sister, Sarah, that were the highlights early that night, as Beam’s band gradually grew more bloated and settled into reggae-flavored grooves. Struggling to stay awake midway through the set, I resorted to exchanging corny Marley-meets-Beam jokes (“Iron Wine Zion” was far too easy) via text with equally disappointed friends. Others in my section simply left.

That experience was more than six years ago, but it’s a good thing I didn’t give up on Iron & Wine performances, as Saturday night’s outdoor set at the North Carolina Museum of Art was as fresh as that Chapel Hill show was tired. While a pair of intervening releases—Kiss Each Other Clean and last year’s Ghost on Ghost—gently pushed at the edges of Beam’s range, he’s also adapted his sleepy early material to become more dynamic in live settings, thanks in large part to the lush textures that his four-piece band added.

“Sunset Soon Forgotten” became a sprightly shuffle when paired with Beam’s fleet picking, while “Fever Dream” was graced with jazzy touches, each number nestling nicely alongside the golden pop feel borrowed from '70s singer-songwriters on Ghost’s “Baby Center Stage” and “Grace for Saints and Ramblers.” Upon Beam’s invitation before “House By The Sea,” the crowd even rushed down to the standing room area in front of the stage to dance, which wasn’t an uncommon sight during the evening.

But while the band roared like roadhouse rock ‘n’ rollers on the coda to “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven,” Beam’s brief solo break midway through the set still served as the night's climax. With a few hundred fans sitting in front of the stage and providing a more intimate vibe, Beam was loose and personal, entertaining requests while pausing his guitar playing a couple times mid-introduction to tell a story or laugh off a misplaced capo. Perhaps it helped that this was his first area show since moving to Durham, although Beam confessed that it was the first time he’d taken the “long commute” to Raleigh. He already seems to have some hometown pride, too, chiding a Raleigh resident in the front row. Between the banter, Beam played a handful of favorites better suited to just he and his guitar, sandwiching oldies “Naked As We Came” and “Southern Anthem” between his popular cover of “Such Great Heights” and In Good Company’s gorgeous “The Trapeze Swinger.” The latter mesmerized, with crickets’ chirps the only thing that interrupted the dramatic pauses amid lengthy verses.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for opener Angel Olsen, whose hushed, fragile vocals often competed with the chattiness of the sold-out crowd, still picknicking near sunset. The Asheville resident struggled to overcome inattentiveness despite an excellent, if placid, performance. With only her electric guitar to accompany her, Olsen’s hypnotic but uneasy playing hinted at the storminess bubbling beneath her songs’ calm exterior. “Hi-Five” was a standout, not only because it picked up the pace slightly so that it was nearly a toe-tapper, but also for its marriage of Olsen’s stark, folkie moods with a classic country twang.

Iron & Wine set list 
Woman King
Sunset Soon Forgotten
Low Light Buddy of Mine
Resurrection Fern
House By The Sea
Big Burned Hand
Boy With A Coin
Baby Center Stage
Tree By The River
Joy (Sam Beam & Rob Burger)
Such Great Heights (Sam Beam solo)
Naked As We Came (Sam Beam solo)
Southern Anthem (Sam Beam solo)
The Trapeze Swinger (Sam Beam solo)
Caught in the Briars
Sundown (Back in the Briars)
Grace for Saints and Ramblers
Half Moon
Summer in Savannah
Me and Lazarus
Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
God Made The Automobile
Fever Dream
Lovers’ Revolution
Encore: Muddy Hymnal
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    Sam Beam and his band played a gentle yet engaging set at the North Carolina Museum of Art on Saturday night.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

UNC-Chapel Hill gives Ringo Starr a plaque—and a hat

Posted by on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 10:12 AM

Moments before the hat: Ken Weiss, a Beatle and Mark Katz - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK KATZ
  • Photo Courtesy of Mark Katz
  • Moments before the hat: Ken Weiss, a Beatle and Mark Katz
On Sunday, Mark Katz, the chairman of UNC-Chapel Hill's music department, helped secure a Carolina-blue mortarboard to the head of the man who sang “Yellow Submarine.” Ringo Starr, in town to play a show that evening at DPAC with his All-Starr Band, arrived on campus to accept a proclamation from the music department in recognition of his contributions to music, culture and life at large.

The idea of issuing such academic proclamations originated with the music department’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Ken Weiss, a music business veteran who Katz appointed to the position he created in 2010. Weiss sought to make meaningful connections between the university and notable musicians performing in the region. Having once worked with the former Beatle, Weiss contacted him, and Starr warmed to the idea.

“When we agreed to meet, he said, ‘Bring me one of those graduation hats,'" offers Katz. "And it was very Ringo-esque, in that we put it on backward and we were fumbling around and finally we got it on right.”

To paraphrase Starr's first solo hit, the finding of the hat didn’t come easy.

“I went to the student stores on campus to get one,” says Katz, “and they said we only sell them at graduation time. And I said, well, it’s a special occasion; we want to give one to Ringo Starr. And the woman said, ‘Let me call the warehouse.’”

Unlike his colleague—who was Stephen Stills’ manager and has worked in Broadway, film and TV—Katz is not so used to meeting legends. “It was more than being in his presence,” he says. “It was hearing that voice that is so distinctive, that I’ve basically been hearing all my life.”

Katz says Starr’s warm reaction seemed heartfelt. “At first, I was thinking, 'Well, why would he care?' He probably has a house full of plaques that people have given him. But he did seem to be gratified by this, because it’s different from the sort of self-congratulatory awards from the music industry—peers awarding peers.

"This was all different," Katz continues, "an institution of higher education recognizing that he’s more than just an entertainer, and he seemed to take that seriously. And he was genuinely excited with the ‘graduation hat.’”

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    Before his DPAC show, Ringo Starr received accolades and a "graduation hat" from the university's music department.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Live: In Raleigh, the Counting Crows get listless

Posted by on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 at 10:54 AM

At least the sky was interesting: the Counting Crows in Raleigh. - PHOTO BY GRAYSON HAVER CURRIN
  • Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
  • At least the sky was interesting: the Counting Crows in Raleigh.
Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Last night in Raleigh, the Counting Crows did not save “A Long December” until the encore, or even for the end of their humid Wednesday evening set. Instead, the 1996 hit about hope in the face of abject despair came not long after the midpoint of the 90-minute show, embedded into the sequence with casual modesty—not the hit, the order seemed to suggest, just another one. The band’s crew lugged a piano onto the stage. Adam Duritz sat behind it. The Crows played the tune, and the night continued, no Courtney Cox jokes or coronations required.

Perhaps they should have reconsidered that systemic lack of pomp: When the smash ended, the crowd kept conspicuously quiet, clapping and cheering with the same respectful and respectable volume they’d maintained throughout the night. People had sung along, of course, but the performance did not elicit the same thrall that’s to be expected from tunes that everyone in a throng of several thousand knows. But if the band wouldn’t give the song its fanfare, why should the fans?

In fact, that sense presided over the entire concert, a low-energy waltz of fumbled steps and modest ambitions. Acknowledging the summer shower that had passed through during the set of openers Toad the Wet Sprocket (who, mind you, understood that “Walk on the Ocean” needed to be played last), the Crows started with a low-key version of “Rain King.” The band shuffled behind the seven-part harmonies like they’d just finished a collective backstage nap. That feeling never really left, despite the overabundance of onstage strobe lights or the upbeat and thoroughly uninspired new songs the band previewed from the forthcoming Somewhere Under Wonderland

The torpor stemmed, at least in part, from the vocal fatigue of Duritz, who skipped entire sections of songs where his voice needed to crack into falsetto and opted instead for a barely articulated mumble. The band roared as expected during “Children in Bloom,” but Duritz provided only a semblance of his original power, his words struggling to find space between the organ drone and the clattering drums. The yearning tone of “Round Here” had been calcified by age and experience; it felt hard and brittle, more than a touch pathetic against the liquefied air.

A friend who tracks the Counting Crows more closely than I do these days reported that Duritz had laryngitis, that his voice isn’t typically as bedraggled as it was last night. If that’s true, it explains a lot and offers a touch of an excuse, as his singing remains the point of intrigue for the band. Without it, a compelling performance is an uphill battle.

Still, it doesn’t explain the night’s overwhelming feeling of obligation—on behalf of the band, the fans and their required interaction with one another. The Counting Crows knew they needed to play a specific mix of certain songs; the new ones were carefully divvied among the hits, and Duritz qualified a cover of “Blues Run the Game” by vowing it was a rarity. In turn, the crowd knew they needed to bow, at least a little, to the past, to cheer even when the guy they'd paid to see couldn’t hit the high notes.

But no one onstage or offstage ever transcended that contract. Really, it seemed like no one even cared to try.
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    In Raleigh, neither the Counting Crows nor their fans get too excited.

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a band can play any of their songs wherever the fuck they want to in a set. no one needs …

by notwithstanding on Live: In Raleigh, the Counting Crows get listless (Music)

While I didn't attend the show in NC, I did see it a few nights earlier in NYC's Beacon Theatre …

by Cnoelf on Live: Ringo, Toto and a surreal night in Durham (Music)

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