The Avett Brothers
Home Sweet Home, New York
Tuesday, Sept. 29
In the beginning, The Avett Brothers played an endless string of secret shows, I guess. But they weren’t private. Details weren’t guarded. Anybody could come. Relatively speaking, very few did. That’s not intended to belittle the music Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford (and, more recently, Joe Kwon) have been laboring over for the past decade.
No, it’s the opposite, or the most potent testament to this band’s power: If these kids from Concord hadn’t offered a vision of unhinged bluegrass bliss and honeysuckle-scented Americana, well, everybody (or nobody, as it were) would have kept that secret. But they didn’t. So, show by show and fan by fan, the Avett Brothers grew into something truly special—first in North Carolina, then everywhere.
And now they’re a major-label monster, recording with Rick Rubin, touring with Dave Matthews and performing on David Letterman. So it was a respectful love letter to their modest beginnings that they celebrated this Tuesday’s release of I and Love and You— their biggest, most anticipated, most impressive record yet—with a real New York City secret show.
The unticketed event was a public exhibition of Avett artwork at the street-level Envoy Gallery and a closed-lip gig down below at the 150-capacity Home Sweet Home. Writers, bloggers and label types milled throughout with their plus-ones, while a healthy smattering of diehards got in by jumping through Facebook hoops (tag 10 friends in your status update, kids!) or working magic on the gallery owners during the day-long art exhibition. But industry schlubs and fans alike seemed downright gleeful to pack themselves in the tiny space, especially since the band plays the massive (and utterly impersonal) 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 in two weeks.
Spider Bags, Yusuuf Jerusalem, Thomas Function
Craig's House, Durham
Sunday, Sept. 27
We stood in a circle outside of a modest house in a quiet West Durham neighborhood Sunday night, enjoying the mild late September air, talking about bands, telling jokes.
“When are the Spider Bags going to start?” somebody in the group asked, referring to the third and headlining act scheduled inside for the living room rock show.
“I don’t know,” someone else replied, looking around. “I think they’re waiting on their bass player to show up.”
As if scripted, a car parked across the street and flipped off its lights. Wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, with his hair cutting down close near his shoulders, the bassist in question, Spider Bag Greg Levy, got out of his car and walked toward the house. The second band, Alabama’s unequivocally springy Thomas Function, had finished about 15 minutes before, so the trio and some friends rushed the rest of the gear inside. We kept waiting.
Them Concord boys sure do clean up nice, don't they? As per usual, the Avett Brothers were dressed to the nines while making their big performance on last night's episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, but their snazzy duds failed to cover up a snag in execution.
Sure, I grinned like a proud papa when Dave—holding up a vinyl copy of I And Love And You, officially released just minutes earlier—kicked it over to our Avetts. Seth Avett struck out the first chords of the title track on a grand piano. But I flinched when the camera turned toward center stage, revealing Mike Marsh (Dashboard Confessional) behind the drums rather than Scott Avett, who usually mans the kit for live performances of the tune. I cringed more when Scott began hesitantly plucking at an out-of-tune banjo, assuredly a prop to get the elder Avett out from behind the drum kit for the television audience.
Cymbals Eat Guitars' DIY debut, Why There Are Mountains, took months after its soft release to catch with critics and fans. After all, it's not the easiest thing to sidle up to, considering frontman Joseph D'Agostino's sprawling, ragged songcraft and Isaac Brock-style yelps. But for every moment of ear-shredding cymbal-crashing, there's a soaring guitar solo to reach the cheap seats. Cymbals eat guitars, you know?
The Independent caught up with D'Agostino earlier this month as the band prepped a follow-up (three songs are already written) and made the rounds through small indie clubs across the nation this fall. They'll be playing at Local 506 tonight, Sept. 29, with The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.
Mingus Big Band and Sun Ra Arkestra
Page Auditorium, Duke University, Durham
Saturday, Sept. 26
Wild horses were not obstacles getting into Page Auditorium, but they were about the only things missing: Duke University's homecoming football game had a kickoff time matching the start of a double bill with the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Mingus Big Band, so West Campus looked like some mad maze teeming with cars and pedestrians in every direction. M.C. Escher would have been proud. Of course, there was the rain, too. My fellow travelers and I determined that the reason the traffic cop directed the lane across from us endlessly, without giving us equal time, must have been a hatred of jazz. Too bad for him...
What if more music existed purposefully at the borders, or at the nexuses of genres? And what if that happened so often that we no longer though of it as unexpected when something good actually came of it? That is, what if the norm was to shirk expectations of what any one form had to offer, to always think across the boxes?
That's the central question Wendy Spitzer, longtime Chapel Hill musician in Eyes to Space and Felix Obelix and a conceptual artist, is asking with The Liminal Festival, her three-night, three-venue event that ends tonight with a seven-band bill at The ArtsCenter. Spitzer drafted nine bands from as far away as Texas and Philadelphia to play the fest, subsidized by a grant from The Strowd Roses Foundation, and those bands shake and shift expectations of genre and sound.
"Just bringing all of these musicians together to see what a festival like this might sound like was the primary goal," Spitzer said on the first day of the festival. What these bands sound like might be beyond your expectations: Chapel Hill's Wes Phillips, formerly of late, great trio Ticonderoga, interweaves complex melodies and rhythms into lattice with his new material, assembling unorthodox pop from ideas of jazz, folk, hip-hop, math rock and straight-ahead rock ’n’ roll. He lands hooks inside songs you can't even imagine how to play.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="(photo by Karli Stephenson & Mark Reidy)"][/caption]
Chapel Hill doom trio Black Skies had to cancel a recent show in Athens, Ga. The band had never before canceled a confirmed date, a trait in which frontman Kevin Clark had always taken pride. “I’m super-bummed that we had to bail out on that show,” he says.
But it would be hard for Black Skies to pull off a set without its drummer, right?
Cameron Weeks, who, until recently, was splitting his time behind the kit between Black Skies and the decidedly different-sounding Aminal, left the band in what both parties deem a mutually beneficial, if not altogether amicable, split.
“It's like breaking up with a girlfriend,” says Weeks. “Everyone's a little pissed, but whatever.”
Clark adds, “It’s strange because Cam and I have known each other since we started playing music when we were kids, when he was 12 and I was 14. It’s a little awkward and a little weird, but honestly, I feel a lot of release with this because it’s obvious to me that this wasn’t working.”
So Black Skies embarks on a quest to find the right drummer—its fifth. Clark says they’re trying to stay open to new ideas and to look beyond their immediate circle of acquaintances to find the right person. “We don’t want to be Spinal Tap,” he says. “We don’t want to be looking for drummers forever.”
For Black Skies, the slowdown comes in the midst of some momentum built by the vinyl re-release of their Hexagons EP by I’m Better Than Everyone Records and the band’s inclusion on the forthcoming Southern metal documentary, Slow Southern Steel.
“I have some probably way different views than a lot of the people on that, but we’re still really happy to be a part of it,” says Clark of the DVD. “I think they did a good job of showing a lot of these bands other than Mastodon and Kylesa that are doing equally great things.”
For Weeks, the split from Black Skies opens his calendar to focus on Aminal, who are still supporting their dual EP releases, A Will To Fight and A Face To Fight (streaming in full here). He says that band has already begun work on its next release, to be recorded at Landslide Studio in Asheville, and is planning a December tour.
“I'd much rather be playing pop music,” Weeks says. “That's what I like. All these metal shows I was like, 'This is fun because I'm out of town, but it'd be much more fun if I was with my other band.'”
Black Skies plays tonight at Local 506 with The Curtains of Night and Make at Local 506. The 10 p.m. show costs $6. They will have a drummer.
Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn co-captain the Baseball Project, a four-piece that brings its diamond-centric songs (not to mention some non-national-pastime-themed works of McCaughey and Wynn) to Cat’s Cradle on Saturday night. We asked the pair to name their five favorite ballplayers and five favorite baseball songs. And because there wasn’t a game on, they agreed.
Like most college radio stations, WXDU 88.7 FM holds events to shore up its reserves. For the last four years, they've put together a group of record dealers with a dual mission: getting collectors and fans together over a bevy of that exhilarating black wax and raising some money through some of their own sales. This year promises to be one of the best yet, with tons of records and, well, that other blackened platter in play: the burger.
But don't just take our word for it:
Per expectations of nature's wrath, and via WKNC's blog, tomorrow's split bill with Luego and I Was Totally Destroying It on N.C. State's campus has been moved to The Wolves Den in Talley Student Center. The show is still at 6 p.m., the jams are still free and open to the public, and I Was Totally Destroying It will still make you feel like you just slammed a sixer of Sparks with your ears. Pull-quote it.