It's likely that several hundred (if not upward of a thousand) people whipped out their smartphones at last night's Elvis Costello concert and photographed the brightly colored Spinning Songbook that anchored the stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center. At 20-feet high, the mechanism dwarfed the size of Costello and his band, the Imposters—the tight-as-a-tick three-piece of keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher. It aptly illustrated the magnitude of Costello's repertoire, which is many times greater than the mere 40 tunes that fit on the wheel.
During the gig's three relentless hours, with an indefatigability and spontaneity reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen shows of yore, Costello played 35, 40, maybe 50 songs. Honestly, I lost count after the band reeled out an otherworldly psychedelic jam, complete with theremin and feedback that lifted me from my seat. "Mystery Dance," "Clubland," "Jealousy," "Possession," "Country Darkness," "Indoor Fireworks," "Oliver's Army," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," "Veronica," "Temptation": They played them all, and on and on.
Thus is the enduring power of Costello: His songs are architecturally sound ("Alison"), harmonically and rhythmically complex ("Watching the Detectives") and imminently hummable ("I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down"). Last night, they were human, too.
"We're going to play songs about love, sex, death and dancing," Costello told us in Durham. Really, does anything else matter?
Whatever Brains, Burglar Fucker
April 26, 2012
If one didn’t know better, the fact that Thursday night’s gig was in honor of Whatever Brains’ second LP release might’ve gone unnoticed. Frontman Rich Ivey offhandedly mentioned the new album twice. Once, after the set’s first song, “Bad Dads,” he acknowledged it as the LP’s lead track, and at the end of the set, he mentioned the album’s existence once more. That was that. Sure, the set drew heavily from the new album’s tracklist, but not more than any number of recent gigs have. And plenty of first-album standouts—“Blues Lawyer,” “The Fisher,” etc.—made their way into the set, too. Just three songs in, the quartet even brought a new synth-heavy song into the fold.
So by the band’s demeanor and the song selection, this could have been any recent Whatever Brains show. But a little after midnight, when the band members had vacated the stage, it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t much ordinary about the evening’s performance. Taking the band’s performance in two parts—the set proper and the encore that followed—offers a demonstration of Whatever Brains at its poles.
As the Brains raced through well-known songs to a receptive and polite crowd, the quintet played with taut precision, shedding the shaggy basement punk history for sharp and acidic new-wave—the type they captured on record with a cover of Wall of Voodoo’s “Can’t Make Love” on a Record Store Day 7-inch. Drummer Evan Williams and bassist Matt Watson drove the band with lockstep propulsion while guitarists Ivey and Will Evans cut sharp riffs in close harmony and tangled counterpoint. Keyboardist Josh Lawson added wobbly sci-fi soundtrack gauze and curt, Devo-esque melody. The performance was tight without sacrificing urgency, and the venue offered a bold and clear mix, making for one of the biggest-sounding Whatever Brains shows I’ve seen.
After the band dutifully trod offstage, giving no indication they wouldn’t be coming back, the wound-up crowd grew louder and more boisterous. And where the proper set was the Brains at their most polished, the encore started and ended with Ivey on stage alone, challenging his audience with ambling guitar noise, dodging playfully thrown beer cans and grinning as the less-dedicated observers started to file out the door. Between these bouts, with the full band back onstage, the music was more frenzied and frazzled. The weirdness that drives the band’s skewed vision of pop but which shows up unfettered only occasionally was fully present last night.
Together the pieces highlighted Whatever Brains as a band equally capable of stunningly singular pop and daunting mayhem. Clearly separating those attributes ultimately strengthened both.
For most of its seven-year run, The Old Ceremony has been its own home. Of the band's four full-lengths, three have been released by Alyosha Records, run by the band's leader, Django Haskins. After years of intermittent toil and triumph that have seen The Old Ceremony become one of the Triangle's most beloved pop-rock bands, the band has signed to N.C.-based indie mainstay Yep Roc Records. The label will release the band's fifth LP — the awkwardly titled Fairytales and Other Forms of Suicide — on Aug. 21.
Yep Roc is a fitting home for The Old Ceremony. Their darkly tinged pop is well-indebted to many of the luminaries that call the label home. The energetic power-pop of the band's brighter numbers nods to institutional Brit-rocker Paul Weller as well as the Canada-based Sloan. Haskins' macabre sense of '50s and '60s melody has much in common with that of Nick Lowe. The Old Ceremony's mark is one of appropriating timeless traditions and filling them with new energy. As a label, Yep Roc does much the same, collecting accomplished heroes and promising newcomers that maintain indie rock's rich heritage. In short, the two couldn't be more appropriately matched.
The Old Ceremony plays Cat's Cradle on Friday alongside John Dee Holeman. The 9 p.m. show costs $12.
Last night, attendees of The Station's weekly open-mic night were witness to an unexpected treat. In Chapel Hill for a Tuesday taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots took to the Carrboro bar's small corner stage for an impromptu 30-minute set. The overwhelmingly talented hip-hop outfit is the house band for Fallon's NBC talk show.
UNC senior Taylor Smith had just gotten home from seeing Trampled By Turtles at Cat's Cradle when a friend called him about the surprise performance. He rushed out with a housemate and got to The Station at about 11:30 p.m. as The Roots were just starting their set. He said the room was about half-full when he got there, but that it quickly filled over the course of the set. He estimatied that there were somewhere between 75 and 100 people in attendance.
According to Smith, the set started with what appeared to be a freestyle as the band invited a saxophonist who had shown up for the open mic on stage to play with them. They then transitioned into a string of disparate covers, including Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Lady Gaga's "Just Dance."
"They were really diverse, really talented musicians," Smith said, adding that he'd list the set as one of the top-five musical moments of his life. "I had never gotten the chance to see them play live before. It was fantastic."
After the performance the band stuck around for a while to hang out with the crowd. Smith proudly reports that he shook the hand of guitarist Cap'n Kirk.
The Chapel Hill-taped episode of Late Night premieres tonight at 12:35 a.m. with President Barack Obama and Dave Matthews as guests. The Roots will headline the Hopscotch Music Festival, which is owned by the Independent Weekly, Saturday, Sept. 8, in Raleigh.
Stephen Judge didn’t sleep Friday night. Saturday would be his first Records Store Day as owner of Raleigh’s Schoolkids Records. In its fifth year, Record Store Day offered hundereds of limited-run releases to bolster independent shops that have just had to pay their taxes. Determining what records to stock is always a gamble. Judge figured that Schoolkids would do well, but he couldn’t be sure.
“When I pulled into the back parking lot at 7:30 in the morning there were no cars parked in the Sadlack's spots. I thought, ‘Oh no, there’s nobody here,’ Judge recalls. “I walked around the corner, and there was a line past the Bell Tower Mart. That sense of relief just hit me.”
Schoolkids shattered the record set last Record Store Day for their best-ever sales day; Judge estimates that Saturday bested that performance by about 25 percent. He says the line stayed steady at about 100 people for almost four hours past when they opened their doors at 9 a.m.
Judge, a Schoolkids veteran who took over the shop earlier this month, was there on many huge release days in the ‘90, including when Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion double release set a record that held until last year.
"We doubled that number on Saturday," he said. "I used to talk about that day like I’d never see a day that big again, and we doubled it. It’s not even worth talking about any more. It doesn’t even register."
Schoolkids wasn’t the only Triangle store to see success Saturday. From banner days to first-time RSD participants, other shops made their presence known.
Two area stores jumped into the Record Store Day arena for the first time, both of them in Raleigh.
The Wake County location of Nice Price Books celebrated the day, gathering about 30 exclusive releases and stockpiling quality used records for the occasion. Store clerk Enoch Marchant said the strategy was successful as the festive atmosphere inspired people to drop substantial cash on rare second-hand items.
April 21, 2012
The first curious thing about Dayglow is that it happens at night. Walking down Raleigh's South Street last Saturday, you could already hear the music—throbbing bass and whooshing synthesizers, syncopated snares and hi-hats.
An unusual number of college students, many missing articles of clothing generally considered compulsory, flitted about in attitudes of stylized sexuality and violence. A swaggering pack of young men in white T-shirts, clearly acting out a Reservoir Dogs fantasy, yelled "Thug life!" at no one in particular. A clutch of young women doused each other with aerosol string. There was something dreamlike about seeing a yellow bikini in the heart of a city, as daylight waned, within spitting distance of the Capitol. An announcer roared profanities over several city blocks, ostensibly hoping to wake the city's dead.
The epicenter of all the noise and public indecency was the Raleigh Amphitheater, which spattered green lasers against the façade of the neighboring Convention Center. At the gates, the young people were processed, wrist-banded and stripped of their own glow toys, as others were on sale inside. Billed as "The World's Largest Paint Party," Dayglow began on Florida college campuses in 2006 and is now professionally administered by Committee Entertainment.
Dayglow President Sebastian Solano has described it as "a fully scripted show with a high level of production that will include theater, art, choreographed performers, and, of course, paint." Armed with nothing but this technically accurate if somewhat evasive description, I envisioned a sort of youth-cult Cirque du Soleil. But upon arrival, it was clear that we were dealing with a more straightforward proposition—a commercial rave catering to hard-partying undergrads.
At 8 p.m., hundreds of people (some daubed with paint from the bottles on sale) swayed in front of a stage where a competent DJ mixed house, trance, dubstep and Euro-pop in front of several flat-screen monitors. A timer ticked down toward something that was going to happen around 9 p.m. The prevalence of gnarled synthesizers in even the most cheerful contemporary dance music made the countdown seem ominous.
Plastic batons illuminated in rainbow colors flickered and whirled. Some people were dressed in pristine white, according to Dayglow's official rules, though just as many were in flagrant violation. There were rebels in all black. There was a lot of retro sportswear. There were fluorescent necklaces and rings and shades. There were furry moon boots, kitty ears, knit caps with fake dreads, keffiyehs worn with no shirts. There were endless varieties of shorts and skirts and strappy tops, all cut down until they merely suggested their original functions. There was virtually nowhere I could look without violating a child protection statute.
Don't get me wrong: The kids are all right, I think. But occasionally, there was a disarming guilelessness to Dayglow's elaborate pantomime, as when I saw the girl with her tank top pulled up just beyond her pink bra, or the stocky boy whose T-shirt flatly commanded "PARTY WITH SLUTS."
I had been on the grounds for only 15 minutes before a sleepy-looking guy asked me if I had any Molly.
I did not, but felt shamefully proud to still look cool enough to be asked, as I was one of the very few ticketholders in his 30s.
There was ample, if subtle, evidence that this stranger would not have to look far: Although I had no trouble buying a beer with my debit card, an ATM under a festive green canopy did brisk business, indicating a shadow economy of cash-only transactions. The seating area behind the lawn always contained a few people in the withdrawn, recuperative postures of the over-indulged. I watched cops with suppressed amusement half-carry out a young man who had the beatifically blinded expression of the truly wasted. The way his feet grazed and stumbled over the ground gave him the appearance of weak levitation, a broken saint.
"Can you feel the energy building?" the DJ asked. His exhortatory growl sounded increasingly hostile at the night wore on, like the thought of anyone not feeling the noise made him genuinely furious. "Raleigh, where my dirty girls at?"
I had kept to the periphery, but with only a few minutes left in the countdown, I steeled myself, shoved my hands deep into my pockets, and plunged into the heaving sea of barely legal flesh. From the inside, it seemed like there was more tightly clumped arm-waving than dancing. "Raleigh, it's about to fuckin' explode!" But what was it?
I was primed for an impossible flood of paint; a big fat metaphor for pointless American excess—something just a hair short of simply dousing the audience in shredded currency and fossil fuels.When the timer hit zero, the onstage monitors showed a few black-and-white clips from fusty TV shows—including, bizarrely, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was never broadcast in black and white. A portentous voiceover delivered a vague anti-conformity message that culminated, "Tonight we live in color." Lights blazed across the screen. Loads of confetti plumed upward. A pair of corde lisse dancers dangled from the rafters. A person with a giant spiked Mohawk rode over the crowd in a hamster bubble. The music pounded triumphantly. At the pinnacle of intensity ... a guy in a raver Tron costume started shooting streams of paint upon the audience from a hand cannon.
It was as anticlimactic as it sounds.
The half-heartedness I had detected in the bacchanalia was, perhaps, understandable. Rave culture originated in places like derelict warehouses, so it transfers strangely to municipal amphitheaters with strict rules, all surrounded by friendly police cordons. Raves were spaces that young people created for themselves. Without moralizing, it gives one pause to really confront the fact that this, by contrast, was created, paid for and booked on college campuses by adults. These grown-ups collaborated to enclose young people in a horseshoe of expensive beer and soft pretzels, shout at them, and then spray paint all over them, for the sole reason that the young people will pay upward of $40 (and sometimes nearly $100) for the privilege.
One point on which the Dayglow FAQ is conspicuously silent is the kind of paint used. Numerous college bloggers have reported mild stinging and persistent staining, without seeming too bothered by it. On an elevated walkway outside of a men's restroom that looked like it would need to be cleaned with fire, I chatted with a group of 24-year-old devotees of events such as this, who spoke of their attraction to the culture in terms of love and community. They seemed, proverbially, like nice young people.
I asked Evan, who gazed serenely over the grounds with paint on his cheeks, what it tasted like. "Strawberries," he said, and then gave me a fist bump. But Evan was kidding me. "It's a little bitter," his friend Alicia confided, crinkling her nose. Isn't love always?
Encore renditions of The Band's classic tune "The Weight" are pretty common at live gigs; it seems most any band with a reverence for American music and worth their salt eventually gets around to covering it onstage.
Last night's version at Cat's Cradle, though, carried a bit more weight than usual—delivered, as it was, on the day that Band drummer Levon Helm died. Two bands who clearly held Levon's life and memory dear—headliner the Drive-By Truckers and our own local opening act Megafaun—joined forces at the end of the night to offer up an extended tribute, with the audience singing along loud and clear for much of the song.
Words fail, ultimately, so just watch, and listen.
"The first words I ever learned/ Were 'Mommy' and 'Daddy' and 'heartbreak!'" Jason Kutchma roars at the onset of "American Me," the first single from Red Collar's new LP Welcome Home — due June 12 via Tiny Engines. The outsized Durham punk band has long mined the fractured ends of romantic ideals, but that line and the song that contains it express the band's unique brand of defiant heartbreak as well as anything they've ever released. Check it out now over at Alternative Press.
That's good news for Red Collar fans who have waited since the band's 2010 album Pilgrim for new material. Most of those songs had either been previously released or part of the band's live set for at least a couple years. In other words, a truly new Red Collar song has been long overdue, and this searing jam is just what the doctor ordered.
The song rushes to life on strident, angular guitars, Kutchma and fellow axe man Mike Jackson daring each other to up the ante with each new prickling solo or crushing riff. It swells incessantly until the moments when it crashes into silence, but it springs back to life without losing an iota of momentum. Kutchma plays up the gravel in his voice, taking on the role of the beaten-down working man without letting the pressure break him. "I ain't got a name/ Ain't got no crown/ It holds me back/ Holds me down!" he shouts out during a lull in the storm. It's a powerful anthem, one that indignantly espouses hard work even as it laments a lack of opportunity. With economic woes pressing hard — both in the music industry and everywhere else — "American Me" is a perfect fit for its time.
Red Collar will celebrate Welcome Home's release a little early with a party at Durham's Motorco Music Hall. The May 19 show will feature local math rock outfit Maple Stave as well as Signals Midwest and Restorations. Advance copies of the record will also be available.
In other news, Lost Chance Records announced today that it will release Pastoral, Kutchma's solo debut, in July. Credited to JKutchma & the Five Fifths, the LP sees him conquering various folk-rock forms with the same confident bravado he showcases with Red Collar.
In less than a month, North Carolinians will vote on the so-called defense of marriage amendment, which would permanently prohibit same-sex marriage and all forms of non-marriage civil unions by codifying the ban (which already exists in state law) into the state constitution.
Before that happens, though, three of the state's finest songwriters will offer a loud stand against the proposed amendment. The Mountain Goats, Mac McCaughan (of Superchunk and Portastatic) and Greg Cartwright (of Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers and The Oblivians) will take the stage at Motorco to raise money and awareness on behalf of the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families, an equal-rights organization working to rally voters against Amendment 1.
The Mountain Goats' frontman John Darnielle—no stranger to local benefit gigs—announced the show via Twitter this afternoon. Tickets for the April 19 event are $20, but a $100 VIP option guarantees a meet-and-greet before the show and a song-request inserted into any of the three acts' set list. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts an hour later. Comedian Tara DeFrancisco will open and act as MC. Tickets are available here.
It's likely tickets will move quickly for this gig; they would no matter the cause. The Mountain Goats (and Darnielle's novelistic folk songs) are known for their fervent following. McCaughan's legacy is well-defined as the co-owner of Merge Records and leader of Superchunk and Portastatic, but a recent spate of solo gigs have all been well received. And Cartwright is garage-rock royalty whose cult-favorite band The Oblivians are preparing a new album for release this fall. So for tickets, and against Amendment 1, the time to act is now.
Endangered Blood strikes an intimidating tone with its name, but it’s actually a reference to the short-lived Comedy Central series TV Funhouse. That irony is fitting for the band: Its members arrive bearing stacked résumés in the out-rock and contemporary jazz realm. The band’s most well-known member outside of jazz circles, bassist Trevor Dunn, has collaborated with John Zorn, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas and Melvins, but saxophonists Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega, and drummer Jim Black, aren’t exactly unknowns, either. All three play in various well-regarded combos, and Speed runs the excellent Skirl label.
But despite its members’ outré excursions beyond this quartet, Endangered Blood is about as focused and song-oriented as a contemporary jazz band can be without losing its edge.
“We’re a jazz band,” Speed told me last weekend. “We’re two saxophones and bass and drums, and there’s a certain thing that we’re going for with that instrumentation. It is what it is, and we’re not trying to be something we’re not, but to do something that’s unique to us.”
True to his words, there’s a stream of traditional jazz racing through Endangered Blood’s veins. But it doesn’t bog down the band, either. It might dip into the classics, as on the reverent revision of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” which appears on last year’s self-titled debut, but the foursome doesn’t play it straight. Their “Epistrophy” is a lurching thing, shaded with darker tones than Monk’s original; it pays homage, but as Speed suggests, it shows a band that approaches standards “as open and creatively as we would with our own music.”
In their originals, Endangered Blood make space for Black and Dunn’s heavy rhythms. Black drives grooves deep into funk territory; Dunn lends enough rock heft to keep things propulsive. The reedsmen match fluid, lyrical melody with sudden bursts of frenetic free jazz. It’s a rare band with muscle and agility.
The band captures that balance on record. And it’s likely they’ll have that on stage at Motorco tonight, too. The last-minute gig arrives after a year of touring behind the record, and it’s the second show on the band’s short Southeastern tour. They plan to record a follow-up album in May, before Dunn returns to the Melvins for a few months this summer.
The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10. Motorco will also be screening David Lynch’s 1986 thriller Blue Velvet in the main room.