Jeb Bishop & Jorrit Dijkstra
Nov. 15, 2012
Against a backdrop of exposed brick and dimly lit by scattered lamps and tabletop votive candles, the casual performance Jeb Bishop and Jorrit Dijkstra offered last night at Neptune’s in Raleigh offered welcome shelter from the chilly breeze and spitting rain outside.
The set began unassumingly, as trombonist Bishop and saxophonist Dijkstra convened near the back of the bar, in the loosely defined patch of floor they treated as a stage. Bishop offered a brief introduction, and the musicians lifted their horns and began to play an hour-long, 14-song set notable for its close harmonies, nimble navigation of rhythm and playful explorations of texture.
The second of four dates supporting both their duo album 1000 Words and the debut of the Steve Lacy tribute ensemble The Whammies (The Whammies Play The Music of Steve Lacy) drew heavily from the former. It began, however, with a faithful rendition of the latter’s namesake. That choice set the tone for the remainder of the set.
Lacy’s influence looms large on the duo. They wove two more Lacy tunes—“Blinks” and “Hemline”—into the setlist, fitting seamlessly with the pair’s original pieces. In leading The Whammies and researching Lacy’s archives, Dijkstra, who studied briefly with the late saxophonist and composer, has taken an interest in Lacy’s music to an academic pursuit. But in their performance last night, the Lacy influence seemed much more spiritual than analytical. From a recent European tour with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Bishop explained his attraction to Lacy’s music: “It's hard to lay it out briefly, but for me Lacy's music has this amazing complexity born of simplicity, and a playfulness that I love.”
Those qualities come celebrated in the compositions Bishop and Dijkstra prepared for 1000 Words. Most pieces began with a strong and deceptively simple melody, often played in close harmony or unison, or in a precise call-and-response. The “complexity born of simplicity” Bishop mentioned was apparent in frequent, staccato pauses, in melodies with notes volleyed between players. As each took their solos, they steered the songs away from the foundation, playing on the boundaries of free-improv. Bishop favored an array of mutes—plunger, several metal mutes, what appeared to be a Tupperware container—and at one point used a small synthesizer to add a noisy complement to the duo’s playing. Dijkstra muted his alto, once, with a ball, and twice swapped the horn for a lyricon—a rare wind-synthesizer—to give his half of the composition a futuristic sensibility.
As faithful as they were to their album, Bishop and Dijkstra managed to retain a sense of playfulness and spontaneity—ideal for the informal, stageless setting.
Friday, Nov. 9, 2012
On Friday afternoon, several hours before Macklemore’s Friday performance at Cat’s Cradle, he and a female companion sat down across the street for a meal in a secluded corner of the patio at Carrboro gastropub, Milltown. They ate, and Macklemore washed the food down by reading a few pages of the paperback version of Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad. Minutes later, Macklemore hopped on his skateboard and rode down Franklin Street, amid a town full of folks celebrating UNC’s homecoming. This isn’t the standard routine for most visiting rappers, but the 29-year-old Seattle rapper/ singer has amassed a devoted following with his ambitious, hip-hop homilies, not standard rap follies.
A sold-out crowd of Macklemore fans, who’ve personally dubbed themselves Shark Face Gang, erupted as Macklemore opened with his ode to Cadillac-cruising “White Walls” from his chart-topping album with producer Ryan Lewis, The Heist. The song’s studio version features Compton-area rapper Schoolboy Q, but the crowd of mostly white, Generation Z kids who’ve probably seen The Twilight Saga films more than Menace II Society weren’t parsing socio-cultural backgrounds. Macklemore wouldn’t let them.
In fact, he reminded them of just how much he stands for equality before jumping into The Heist’s fourth single, “Same Love”, a song originally made in support of Washington’s Referendum 74, which gives same-sex couples the right to legally marry. Earlier this moth, the referendum was approved by popular vote; three days later, Macklemore brought the celebration here to North Carolina, where same-sex marriage is still not recognized.
Then there was the case of Macklemore’s wardrobe changes: a throwback Seattle Supersonics jersey with his name on the back, a pink rabbit fur coat passed on to the stage from the crowd during “Thrift Shop,” a poncho purchased from an actual Chapel Hill thrift shop, and a purple-and-white-striped cape with a glam-rock wig straight out of the video for the riot-inciting “And We Danced”. None of this seemed out-of-the-ordinary, especially compared to Macklemore’s hypeman—a black, bare-chested trumpeter who ran around the stage waving a giant Irish flag while dressed in nothing but a Scottish kilt.
“You people did a better job than any major label could have ever done,” Macklemore told his fans, thanking them for helping The Heist eventually become the No. 1 downloaded album on iTunes during the first week of its Oct. 9th release. He began chanting the chorus for “And We Danced”: “And we danced/ And we cried/ And we laughed/ And had a really, really, really good time/ Take my hand, let's have a blast/ And remember this moment for the rest of our lives.” Macklemore’s emotionally charged bon voyages are tender enough to captivate and memorable enough to want to be relived.
Check out a Stranger Spirits set, and you may find yourself faced with a hype ninja or a surfing Amazonian librarian or the Sherriff of Rockingham himself. “We call ourselves rock ’n’ roll pilgrims from another planet,” explains Aubrey Herbert, aka Destructika Poppins, a most evil take on a favorite English nanny. Adds Chris Wimberley, the regal Lord Wimberley of Bitchfield, “We have delusions about having our own set of action figures.”
Whatever their excuse, these seven pilgrims are dressed to kill and ready to unleash a new record of altiverse melodies on audiences. Masterpiece Rock Parlour is a collection of songs that drift from ’80s movie musical hooks to gospel swells to Springsteen-esque growls.
We caught up with Herbert and Wimberley to talk about the record and personal stories that influenced its creation.
Indy Week: How long have you been working on the record?
Chris Wimberley: Oh boy, Aubrey: Has it been about five years?
Aubrey Herbert: About five, yeah. It’s been a work in progress.
CW: Pretty much. We were going to call this The Great American Novel, but we decided that would be a little pretentious sounding, so instead we’re calling it Masterpiece Rock Parlour.
AH: It sounds awesome, too, and that’s also a reason.
Rewind me back five years. How did you get started?
CW: Oh wow, where were we five years ago?
AH: I was finishing up college at UNC. Chris was working with another guy as kind of a two-man-band. That’s how Stranger Spirits started out.
CW: I was working with Chris Anderson, our drummer. We met Aubrey and Taylor and started working with them. Actually, maybe the more significant thing is their love story. They fell in love and they got married. There were lots of marriages, deaths, and all kinds of things that have happened since we started working on this record.
AH: That dragged it out for five years.
CW: Yeah, that’s just a few of the reasons why, it just became this thing that we would return to and build little bit by little bit.
AH: We started out with two people, and now we have seven people in the band. It’s grown quite a lot since five years ago.
When working on it that long, how do you know that you’re finished?
CW: That was actually a problem at points. There were a lot of things that delayed this. As we came to different places in our creative lives together, we just had to ask ourselves that constantly.
AH: That’s a problem, too. You can concentrate on something so much that at some points you can almost go in the opposite direction of where you want to be. You’re doing more harm than good in spending more time on it. At some point, you just have to let it go.
CW: Just being creative together was one of the things we loved and one of the reasons why we are together as a band. The process at times was really rewarding, but obviously you can work on something way too long. Records are not meant to be made for five years. I know this from my clients, but in terms of myself, for myself this was one of those big, epic, “trying to write a great American novel” kind of things. I’m not saying that, “Oh, this is the greatest record ever.” We are really proud of this, but it was a really challenging record to make and the songs were really personal. Sometimes they were hard to sing because they got so personal, so it took a long time.
What were you going for in the beginning, then?
CW: Well, we had been doing this mad-scientist-robot-girl rock show, where we dressed up as mad scientists and robot girls. We called it Rock Laboratory. We knew that we wanted to do something similar with Masterpiece Rock Parlour, where we wanted to put together content and fun and characters and costumes and a sense of imagination along with the music, however it was going to be interpreted.
How did it evolve during the process? How would you describe the sound now?
CW: Big, fun, melodic rock. We’re trying to embrace the ‘80s revival, I guess, but we’ve been doing that for so long that it just sort of came back around. It took so long to make it that we were sure that certain things about the record would be fun from certain decades, so I guess we were a little postmodern about what we decided would fit.
AH: The original intent was to lean more toward that rock’n’roll sound with that ‘80s or ‘90s flare, but it ended up in many songs, some will have more of a western or more folky sound, some are bluesy. This album ended up being kind of a crucible of sounds.
CW: A lot of the actual songs are about rock’ n’ roll themes you would hear in songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re not trying to be a catchall here. We talk a lot about what it is to have a calling and what it is to lose things for that calling. That’s a big part of what the record deals with from different angles—from money and love and death and those kinds of things.
Is that the personal aspect for you?
CW: Well, part of what made Chris Anderson and I start writing some of these songs (and then we, of course, finished the rest of this with the full band) is that we were pretty fascinated with having worked with so many amazing, talented people just everyday at Nightsound who are trying to get stuff out of their hearts and heads because it’s their calling. It’s who they are. We identify with that, and some of this is our personal experience and our stories and some of this is inspired from other people’s stories and struggles to deal with their calling. Like Aubrey’s saying, there’s this crucible thing where we end up taking so long to put so much together from so many different stories and places.
My father was really ill for many years before he passed away. That had a lot to do with a lot of the writing for me, but the record wasn’t just about any one thing. Everyone deals with balancing their artistic life with their normal life, and for me, that was the big challenge I was going through the whole five years of making this record. To be the best that I can be, how do I have one foot in the real world and one foot in the art world? How do I walk that line to be able to serve myself and the ones I love and be able to make great art?
Stranger Spirits release Masterpiece Rock Parlour Saturday, Nov. 17, at Local 506.
An Evening for Richard Adler
Monday, Nov. 5
UNC’s Hill Hall
Crowds gathered early last week to celebrate the legacy of UNC alumnus Richard Adler, class of 1943. Adler, who died this past summer, was a prominent figure in musical theater of the 1950s, best known for The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Theater geeks will remember him for his (and partner Jerry Ross’) drive to relates stories about issues of the day; masses will know him for songs like “Steam Heat” and “Whatever Lola Wants.”
Students and faculty alike contributed to this night of performances. The rotating cast performed songs from across Adler’s career and featured two short lecture breaks from musicologist Tim Carter. Chancellor Holden Thorp, who initially suggested organizing the event, was on hand to welcome attendees; he contributed his skills as an accompanist later in the night.
The real stars of the night were the company of UNC students who performed songs from Adler’s catalog. Highlights included Todd Lewis’ rendition of “I May Be Wrong but I think You’re Wonderful” from John Murray Anderson’s Almanac and Emily Spokas and company’s take on “Hernando’s Hideaway” from The Pajama Game. Other acts keyed on a terrific sense of comic timing (a nod to Mason Cordell and Nathanial Claridad’s “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” from The Pajama Game) and choreography (a great ensemble ender from Paige Burhans and company performing “Six Months out of Every Year”).
Each piece offered a glimpse at the talents brewing in the music and dramatic arts programs at UNC, but they also provided time to reflect on how far the musical has come—for better or worse. Adler’s original songs are a refreshing flashback from our era of jukebox musicals and commercial gimmicks. At the same time, the tunes sported an old-fashioned flare, veering from jazzy swing to operatic high note in an eight count.
The Lincoln Theatre hosted quite the three-band bill on Friday with The Love Language, Gross Ghost and The Toddlers. One act after another unveiled refreshing material, making this one of my favorite shows of the year.
The Toddlers offered a number of new songs, presumably from their upcoming Kickstarter-funded release. As they began to play the sparse "Starlight" in near total darkness, the crowd slowly began to quiet down behind the eerily perfect vocals of Nathan Toben. Gross Ghost barreled their way through 10 songs in just about 30 minutes; frontman Mike Dillon seems to be becoming more and more comfortable in front of larger crowds. The Love Language then closed the evening by bringing out a 10-piece band that included a string section and saxophone player. They ran through several new songs in the larger format, making the upcoming release of their third album seem that much more intriguing.
The three-band bill packed the Lincoln Theatre, and a sizable percentage of under-21 patrons injected additional energy into a bill already overflowing with it. Someone should send this trio on a nationwide tour.
The One Love Reggae Fest—billed as “the last big reggae festival of the year”—brings 10 bands, emcees and DJs to the Durham Armory Saturday night from as far away as Jamaica and as near as the Bull City itself. Former WNCU DJ Cayenne the Lion King assembled the line-up and will perform his own solo material, while author and artist Antony Leonard Pierre hosts the night.
Tickets are available via eTix for $20 in advance.
It was difficult not transforming into a complete fanboy when Chip Robinson came to perform several songs a few days ago. It was election night, after all. But midway through the first song, perhaps sadly, I no longer cared who won.
After seeing and hearing the fire coming from Robinson as he performed a familiar "Angelita>Bells>Angelita" medley, I was day dreaming what it was like to see the Backsliders in the mid to late '90s. I was underage and a few dozen miles west, but I'd like to think I could have gotten into The Brewery or Local 506 somehow. Alas, I'm left to continue day-dreaming while reading one article after another describing those days where Robinson and the Backsliders were both kings and pioneers of an alt-country scene that seemed as magical as it was wild.
These days, Robinson can be found at a pickup gig here and there without much consistency. In late September, an interesting development came about for the too-young fanboys of the Backsliders: Robinson and Steve Howell reunited for the first time in more than 10 years for a benefit show at Slim's. Oh the agony, hearing about it after the fact. But all is not lost: On Dec. 15, the Robinson-Howell quartet being billed as The Backsliders will be taking the stage at the Pour House presumably with Jac Cain running sound. I will be knocking on the door excessively early.
Hooting and clapping in this video provided by Dan McGee of the Spider Bags who, turns out, is also a huge Chip Robinson fan. I shudder to think there are people who are not.
The purpose of the Indy Week's Simple Music Video Series is to capture local and touring musicians who we feel are producing something special. The hope is to capture something very simple in order to mirror the experience of viewing a performance as if you were in a small crowd watching a quiet set. We hope for content of the music to be the primary focus of the series, not multiple camera angles meant to keep the viewer guessing and entertained.
Most bands featured in the series will be a sample of the deep pool of talent in the Triangle, while others will represent some of our touring favorites.
Last night, Kings hosted a sold-out crowd for a touring trifecta that brought varying flavors of heaviness.
Portland's Lord Dying opened with a tough blend of trash and doom, its twin guitar attack relentlessly crushing riffs alongside E. Olson's raspy bark. The band only eased up on the pummeling for guitar solo heroics and a cover of "Forget the Minions" by the now-defunct post-hardcore act Karp, which also makes an appearance on Lord Dying's tour-only EP—oddly enough, only 666 copies were pressed.
Savannah's Black Tusk took the stage next in a uniform of beards and muscle tees that left their sleeves covered in ink rather than cotton. Soon thereafter, the lean, muscular trio led off Set the Dial's "Bring Me Darkness" with a chant of "6! 6! 6!" that, perhaps too predictably, had the dude-dominated crowd pumping the air with cans of Modelo and PBR.
Employing a triple vocal attack—with varying degrees of gruffness—over a more straightforward version of the sludgy metal championed by hometown brethren Kylesa and Baroness, Black Tusk's arrangements shifted without warning. Those punishing tunes—about "skulls, fire and all kinds of other cool shit," as they eloquently put it Thursday night—commanded a modest pit by set's end.
When bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam began the first song of Red Fang's set, it was the first time anyone came closer to singing than growling the entire night, though Durham-born guitarist Bryan Giles offered enough vocal grit to offset his clean delivery. Though the Portland quartet's hard rock is melodic and menacing—Bryan C. Reed's comparison with Queens of the Stone Age is apt—it only gets metallic on the occasional breakdown or dirge-like chug.
But the crowd's reaction to the headliners was far more visceral than earlier in the evening, erupting at the opening notes of each song and violently moshing throughout.
Chris Yoder's friends are doing what they can to honor his memory. The local music lover died of heat stroke at Bonnaroo 2011, and Sunday sees the second Raleigh festival bearing his name. The first Yoderfest, a four-band affair at the Pour House, took place in August of last year. This weekend's expands to two venues—Deep South the Bar and again the Lincoln Theatre—and seven acts, including a headliner that organizer Chris Badders is fairly excited about.
"The fact that we have a nationally-known band like Big Gigantic is huge for the festival, only in its second year," he says. The Colorado live electronica duo is contributing to a pool of donations and raffle money which will then go to the Fender Music Foundation, Badders says. Last year's charity, Faith Ministry, is a Christian organization that builds houses in northeastern Mexico. This year's puts instruments in the hands of American music educators.
"We decided to donate to the Fender Music Foundation because it was more in-line with Chris' passion for music, and his belief that everyone should be exposed to music," says Badders.
The eventual ideal is to buy some land and throw a dedicated outdoor fest, something echoing—at least to a degree—Yoder's beloved Bonnaroo. Badders realizes the current Yoderfest is a baby step in that direction, but he remains ambitious and inspired by his late friend. Yoder's business model involved a cheap plot of land in a remote location; not too different from local grassroots arts-and-music phenomenon Shakori Hills, with permanent stages and tents.
"I've never known a person to be more set toward achieving his goals, or unsettled until those goals were accomplished," he says. "If anyone was going to grow up to start his own music festival, it was going to be Chris Yoder."
Badders is hopeful, but realistic: He realizes an all-day event culminating in a late-night bill may be a hurdle on a Sunday—the day that best matched Big Gigantic and Lincoln Theatre's schedules.
"I'm afraid that if this year doesn't go off as well as possible it might hinder us advancing the festival further next year," says Badders. "We want next year to piggyback this year and possibly bring in two or three more nationally known bands, and even expand to more venues."
Big Gigantic, Crizzle, and DJ Rou-Dee play Lincoln Theatre at 8pm, Nov 11. Tickets are $17–$20.
Supatight, Beside the Fire, Nectar Unit, and Pseudo Blue play Deep South the Bar at 1:30pm. The early show is free.
Five Star, Raleigh
Friday, Nov. 2
The celebrity DJ hustle earned a bad rap when Jersey Shore's Pauly D started pissing people off with his outrageous booking prices and piss-poor skills. But it's a lot different when a class-act artist like Erykah Badu offers her services for a room of dance-ready folks accustomed to 9th Wonder's True School Corporation's juiced parties. So last week, on the Friday night kickoff of N.C. State and N.C. Central's homecoming festivities, 9th hosted the best party in town, with the most unexpected DJ.
A little after midnight, a flock of True School affiliates outfitted in Zulu Nation hoodies formed a barricaded lane so that Badu could make her way to the stage and sink into her role as DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown. As a spectator, the task of being cowed by her majesty and being buttoned-up with the urge to dance to her set offered some difficulty. She worked, so, you had to work with her. 9th Wonder supervised at times but largely because he was happy to be a part of the show.
This is a huge month for 9th Wonder. On Nov. 13, his collaborative albums with Boot Camp Click's Buckshot and the West Coast's indie hip-hop king Murs will be released, so this affair acted as a prelude to all of the release-date hoopla surrounding those two long-awaited projects. Indeed, on a platform in the middle of the room's far-corner staircase, painter Jason L. Ford worked on an acrylic portrait of 9th as the Grammy-winning producer warmed-up the crowd for Badu's set. It was her night, but it was still 9th's house.
Sometimes when celebrity DJs manage turntables, it's like they're battling quicksand—they get so fatigued from the floundering and life-saving that they eventually drown themselves out of their own mix. With minimal hiccups, Badu labored with ease and elegance—never breaking a sweat, mismatching a beat or showing any signs of overall technical deficiency. Of course, she wasn't born to be a turntablist, but she lives to emit music. She figured it out on Friday night just like she did a few years ago when her son, Seven, taught her how to use GarageBand to record parts of 2008's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War).
Badu's R&B touch came into play when she threw on Musiq Soulchild's "Just Friends (Sunny)"—a rarity for this setting—before blending it into another Philly classic, Beanie Sigel's party knocker "Roc Da Mic." Her other rare picks—like Devin the Dude and Snoop Dogg's "Fuck You" followed by Too Short's "These Are the Tales"—highlighted Badu's breezy, Southern persona.
"This is my therapy. I just spin what I like," Badu said toward the end of her set. Moments later, to accompany the Jay Dee-inspired song "Telephone," she told the story of a dream that the late, celebrated Detroit producer told her in his last days. In the dream, Ol' Dirty Bastard told Dilla to "get on the white bus, even though the red bus looks like a lot of fun." As Badu explained, ODB was trying to tell Jay Dee how to get "home."
Badu sang on her night in Raleigh, but only enough to satisfy a thimble-sized appetite. She wasn't here for that. She came to help her fellow Zulu Nation brother 9th Wonder continue his legacy.
When asked about future 95 Live guests, Five Star owner Michelle Bender remained tight-lipped about whom 9th has lined up for his January birthday party, but not without suggesting that it would be a big name. To some, Erykah Badu is as big as it gets; to 9th Wonder, she seemed another legend on call.