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Raleigh rhythms 

Notes on the Raleigh music scene

For those of you who stood in bewilderment beneath the bright neon sign at 2820 Industrial Drive in Raleigh as you were waiting for the doors to open at the Steve Earle concert a few weeks ago, be alarmed. In fact, be very alarmed. The Ritz--the more than capable 2,400-capacity venue that has lured acts such as the Dave Matthews Band, Pavement and George Clinton over the past eight years--changed its name to Disco Rodeo during early February, unveiling a massive new sign bathed in neon pinks, blues, and greens that looks more like an advertisement for Chevy trucks than for real entertainment. And if these changes are any indication, Raleigh could be on its way to missing out on some pretty big names in music.

Both the sign and the name are apropos reflections of the venue's changing business approach, which for years has been focused on bringing in larger, popular national acts while introducing Latino entertainment to Raleigh. Since new owner and longtime Ritz manager Judy Powers purchased the club after the death of famed Raleigh scene businessman Ray Carroll in June, the direction has taken on new meaning.

The club's interior has been revamped, and a new dance floor--equipped with massive rows of disco lights and effects--has been installed. The club has reserved weekends exclusively for Latino entertainment, with Friday nights going primarily to live bands and Saturday nights delegated as popular dance parties.

Powers maintains that the remainder of the week is still available to more mainstream acts, and that the venue is still very active in the booking process. Recently, however, dates at The Disco Rodeo have been rare. A Queens of the Stone Age show on March 23 and a Sum 41 show on April 1 are the only official billings at this point. It seems as though a rumored April engagement with The Flaming Lips, who announced their Southeastern tour last week, will not happen.

"What was the Ritz will never stop. The Disco Rodeo will always have the same quality of acts," said Powers. "But we're just addressing a market that has been left untapped until now."

Speaking of the Disco Rodeo, the March 23 Queens of the Stone Age show was originally slated for the Lincoln Theatre, but it has been moved to the much larger shed. Tickets for the Lincoln will still be honored, and additional tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Lincoln owner Mark Thompson says the show--a record-setting sellout for the venue--was moved at the request of Clear Channel Entertainment, Queens' management, and local rock station WBBB 96.1.

The Lincoln is making a few unexpected booking changes of its own. Departing slightly from its typical fare of jam bands and radio rock lightweights, the Lincoln has started to bring in periodic nights of metal mayhem under the sponsorship of longtime Raleigh stagehand Mike Guin. The first set, headlined by Leadfoot, brought in nearly two hundred fans, and a second showcase to include Apocalipstik and Widow is scheduled for March 22.

Never fear, though. Radio-friendly acts The Exies, Simple Plan and Jump, Little Children are all scheduled to play over the next week, and The Jazz Mandolin Project, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Umphrey's McGee will play the Lincoln during April.

It must be the warm 'n' fuzzy time of the year for the three musicians-turned-club-owners at Kings Barcade. Steve Popson, former Polvo bassist and Kings partner, reunited last month on the venue's stage with Polvo guitar dynamo Dave Brylawski for their long overdue, inaugural set as Black Taj. Hey, who said you had to play in Carrboro to be indie rock anyway?

Built on equal parts reverb-saturated blues licks and fireball noise rock, Black Taj has just returned from a Washington, D.C., studio where they put down the basic tracks for their debut effort. Brylawski approached Popson years ago about a new project, but lineup problems (original drummer Jon Theodore quit to join At the Drive-In offshoot The Mars Volta) and day jobs hampered two years of practice and plans. The band--anchored by Popson, the Keith Moon drumming of Tom Atherton, and guitarists Brylawski and Grant Tennile--hopes to finish the album in the coming months and shop it to labels before heading north for a series of weekend tours.

Paul Siler, The Cherry Valence bassist and Kings co-owner, returned to his favorite club for two "Nights of Rock" last week. The shows, sponsored by Raleigh's two red-hot indie labels, Bifocal Media and Pidgeon English, included a fun mélange of local talent such as Fin Fang Foom, The Weather and Des Ark.

Jennifer Barwick, former Erectus Monotone/Ashley Stove bassist and wife of Kings co-founder and Stove axe-man Ben Barwick, recently gave birth to the couple's first child, May Brooks. According to all reports, she is the healthy, proud heir to the Kings throne.

Former Vanilla Trainwreck, Varnaline, and Daddy member Greg Elkins returns to Kings with his newest act, The Devil, for a set on March 22. Elkins recently manned percussion, piano and production duties on Tory, the first full-length effort from the show's opener, Port Huron Statement.

At long last, the diehard Brewery is back at it. Coming off of a strong S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest, its annual two-day sleaze rockabilly showcase including Curtis Eller and The Drunk Stuntmen, the Hillsborough Street club has returned from its early 2003 slumber with a stellar March lineup. Experimental songwriter Angie Aparo takes the stage on the 14th, while Pittsburgh rockers The Clarks take the stage on the 15th. Get there early. The ultra-melodic, acoustic-based Pete Schmidt Band gets the night started with material from his impressive premiere EP, On Your Way to Fly.

Contact Grayson Currin with info on the Raleigh scene at dgcurrin@unity.ncsu.edu.

  • Notes on the Raleigh music scene

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