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Grand Piano ... Rising
If the band name Grand Piano Falling conjures up images of emo and screamo acts with vocabularies too large for songwriting and emotions too obsessive to do without medication for extended periods, forget the idea faster than you can say "Dashboard Confessional sucks more than an Electrolux."

Grand Piano Falling --a Raleigh five-piece of four teens and a 20-year-old who met at Leesville Road--thankfully eschews the whole crying gig for cerebral anthem rock centered around climaxing Modest Mouse beats, an intricate three-guitar attack and earnest teenage songwriting that looks at the whole heartbreak thing with a convincing dose of maturity and disdain.

In the past year alone, the band has played some 50 shows in the area following their uncertain debut at First Night Raleigh in 2002.

"We had been playing and practicing and keeping it all to ourselves for a long time, so we just decided to try out for this competition Dance Party thing at First Night. We tied for the top spot, but they gave it to the other band," drummer Matt Daley laughs. "Then we started to worry what we would do if they called us back the next year, so we started really concentrating."

Picking up dates with locals like End of the Affair and Vibrant Green, the boys began to gain quite a following as a buzz started to spread about their live work. Their mercurial frontman, the kinetic Kile Blair, began to spark immediate attention with his Thom Yorke stage antics and Cinjun Tate vocals, and the stellar, incredibly smart guitar work shocked many first-time listeners. Take notice: These guys are good.

Grand Piano Falling is now anxiously awaiting their second studio date with Jerry Kee at Duck Kee Studios in Mebane and is eagerly looking for more chances to play Triangle clubs. Visit www.grandpianofalling.com.

In related news, Dashboard Confessional plays with MXPX and Vendetta Red at Disco Rodeo on Sept. 9. Attendance is discouraged.

Art Mahal
What a difference a venue makes. When Taj Mahal pulled into The Ritz in November 2001 still going strong on his Grammy-winning powerhouse live disc Shoutin' in Key, a few dozen Mahal devotees showed up for his set, predominately overshadowed by the hundreds of fraternity types on hand to check out the dynamic Massachusetts college trio, Dispatch. But when Mr. Blues Eclectic himself played the N.C. Museum of Art Amphitheatre last Tuesday night, a near-capacity crowd of mid-30s couples pushing strollers and 9-to-5'ers with too much alcohol in their bellies were on hand well before the 8 p.m. start time.

They were there for good reason, though.

Cool John Ferguson , the house guitarist who performs every Saturday night at Durham's All People's Grill, opened the set with his trio, gliding through "Low Country Blues" from his latest record, Guitar Heaven, before eventually nodding warmly to the audience as he headed into a blistering encore turn on "Go Johnny Go." Ferguson seldom took to the microphone, settling on singing refrain after refrain in his back-porch voice just to shift from one lick to another. With a brilliantly light tone, Ferguson--an axe southpaw of the highest order--wailed away on his backward Stratocaster, his whole body seeming relatively indifferent to the affair, save those schooled, traveled fingers flicking from fret-to-fret, low-E to high-E in a drop-dead second of precise power. Wow!

Taj Mahal and his Trio rode Ferguson's fine start into a motley blues ecstasy as Mahal reached far back into his enormous catalog, puling "Corrina" from 1968's The Natch'l Blues and standards like "Fishin' Blues" and "Stagger Lee" from his epic 1969 work, Giant Step. Looking eternally cool in a flamboyant blue shirt, baggy jeans, white sneakers, a huge straw hat, and narrow sunglasses, Taj seemed to shine in the trio setting, focusing more on the songs and his guitar work than he did previously with the oversized, often cumbersome Phantom Blues Band. Drummer Chester Smith dropped a reggae backbeat into most of the numbers as Bill Rich lurked in the shadows with a huge, plodding bassline, Taj sailing away with those distinctive head jerks, grins and guffaws. As sweat poured from his forearms and onto his Epiphone in the humid July air, Taj delighted the crowd, some 2,000 people clapping and screaming as he headed time-and-again into one of those bouncing guitar intros that helped make him famous. Some people just never lose it.

To see another guitar wizard at the museum, get tickets early for Leo Kottke's Aug. 9 set. Be prepared to gasp in amazement once or twice and smile a whole lot more.

And on a side note: A no-smoking policy at an outdoor venue of a public museum in the capital city of a state where tobacco farming has historically been mother's milk is tantamount to taking a fat kid's chocolate away in Hershey, Pa. And at a blues show? Please! Oh well, at least there was a bit of ironic justice in the healthy amount of marijuana smoke that drifted through the air the entire night.

Spanish for Lazy
Raleigh's fiendish, self-proclaimed rockin' ska, catchy couch potatoes of Flojo will head to Studio Grey in Charlotte for the second weekend in a row this week to wrap up recording for the as-of-yet-untitled, full-length follow-up to their 2001 debut, Average Bumz. The boys will hit The Brewery with Lava Records' Hot Action Cop--the only over-indulgent funk/rap/rock quartet hailing from the unlikely city of Nashville that almost has too much fun making music--on July 30. EndBlock

Please e-mail Grayson with your Raleigh news: dgcurrin@unity.ncsu.edu. He loves people, really.

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