Like schools and sweater sales, the concert calendar slows down in the dead of summer. This year, the seasonal decline comes freshly exacerbated by high gas prices that discourage bands from making long tours and by relatively nearby mega-festivals like Tennessee's Bonnaroo and Baltimore's Virgin Festival, which attract troves of fans and ticket money to troves of big-ticket bands.
Rusty Sutton knows this: He engineers sound at Cat's Cradle and plays bass in his own rock band, Rat Jackson. So, he thought, why not spark our own summer festival to celebrate great area music? That's how Sutton came up with the six-day local music fest, The Club Is Open, which commenced Tuesday.
"The idea was a weeklong party that we could get a lot of bands and clubs involved in, because the summer gets kind of dismal," explains Sutton from the Cradle, before admitting the idea wasn't altogether altruistic. "I was planning to leave town and wanted a chance to see all the bands I really like one time before I left."
Sutton cadged the name from Jesse Moorefield, a fellow Cat's Cradle employee and frontman of Shakermaker. Moorefield presented a free concert series called The Club is Open in Carrboro this year, its name lifted from the Guided by Voices song "A Salty Salute." Sutton figured the summer festival could serve as a nice cross-promotion for Moorefield and fill a hole in the local concert calendar since Sleazefest's hiatus, possibly complementing Troika in the fall and Elvisfest in the winter.
Unlike Moorefield's monthly shows, the festival is not free, other than Wednesday night's shows. But all proceeds go to Carolina for Kibera, which works to improve life in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Sutton got the idea from Red Collar's Beth and Jason Kutchma, who recently filmed a documentary there for the organization.
Sutton hopes the combination of charity and entertainment will lay the groundwork for a new, continuing institution: "It would be great if every summer there was a festival like this, that ties together the Triangle scene in a nice package."
And, given this year's start, it's certainly possible. Sutton assembled a wide, strong talent pool, and his commitment to devote almost every night (except Wednesday) to several bands at one club is a welcome alternative to calendar-flipping and decision-making for such festivals.
Not to disparage the careening pop melodies of SNMNMNM or the rugged pop crunch of BULL CITY, who anchor the early show at Fuse, but any fan of early '90s post-punk won't want to miss THE DRY HEATHENS later at the Reservoir. Relatively straightforward in its approach, The Dry Heathens marches to four-on-the-four punkabilly throb bathed in grimy (Social) distortion, deftly balancing hooks and agitation. After last-minute cancellations by Blag'ard and Western Civ, Carrboro's RONGORONGO and Durham's PINK FLAG will now open. (Fuse: 9:45 p.m.; Reservoir: 11 p.m.)
Sutton's own bluesy garage rock band, RAT JACKSON, headlines with tales of Harris Teeter and PBR. Rat Jackson's joined by MAPLE STAVE (see page 45), whose spring-loaded, tension-release guitar and percussive pulse pursue you like your permanent record. Catch BELOVED BINGE, too: Rob Beloved and Eleni Binge hit the road soon for a year, and, in the Durham duo's absence, we'll lose a K Records/ Teen Beat blend of generous hooks and captivating quirks. Songs about MySpace couples come backed with the struggle to like people, and shifting time signatures springboard from trebly, staccato riffs. $5/ 10 p.m.
Durham's HAMMER NO MORE THE FINGERS is handicapped as the frontrunner in the hypothetical Triangle competition for "New Band Most Likely To..." whether the category is score national attention or beguile you with shape-shifting indie rock that boasts more texture and detail than you'd expect from a three-piece. While the trio resists strict verse-chorus-verse formulations, its songs boast an easygoing allure that mixes anxious post-punk bottom-end with spidery, lilting guitar and Joe Hall's dispirited croon. Rich McLaughlin's gruff baritone captains THE PNEUROTICS' indie-country charm, and KERBLOKI continues its evolution of radical hip-hop kinetics. $5/ 10 p.m.
This bill boasts some of the finest the Triangle offers: ROMAN CANDLE headlines with smart pop sophistication and carefully burnished arrangements that suggest Left Banke but never get that rarified, feet still planted in rootsy rock jangle. Steely guitar malevolence drips from RED COLLAR's racing chords, its muscular kick like several Red Bulls or the jittery kinetic camera work in The Bourne Identity, the aggression tamed by meaty hooks and frontman Jason Kutchma's hoarse, impassioned vocals. LUD's understated, shambling hooks reign like a sunny day that's extended for more than 15 years. The band soon adds another chapter with a Brian Paulson-produced forthcoming full-length, V. Fetching indie popsters FUTURE KINGS OF NOWHERE's sunny sonic demeanor fuels ringing, emo-tinged acoustic rock. Also, AMERICAN AQUARIUM. $7/ 8 p.m.
BEN DAVIS AND THE JETTS closes the festival with smoky, strutting synth-driven electro-pop. The quintet's willowy gilded lilt wavers from gloomy new wave ("Clash It") to wiry shimmer with a case of restless leg syndrome ("Nine of Ya"), uniting percolating two-step with fluttering, nearly translucent scrims of melody. I WAS TOTALLY DESTROYING IT offers a more unabashedly melodic counterpoint, with hooks as big and open as a picture window. They come draped in distortion recalling the alternately anthemic/ melancholy roar of early '90s indie rock, highlighted by soaring boy/ girl harmonies. AMINAL MUSIC's gentle, understated indie pop, the garage-psych pop of SHAKERMAKER, and new outfit SALVO HUNTER round out the bill. $7/ 7 p.m.