Santa has been making his list and checking it twice since 1939. The chestnuts have been roasting since 1944. And Rudolph with his nose-so-bright has had us blazed at Christmas since 1949. Christmas, it seems, is a holiday as much about nostalgic feelings as new memories; The Rosebuds' latest release, Christmas Tree Island, takes that spirit to heart.
At 13 tracks, the record mines timeworn Christmas themes with new energy. The band's signature pop swells enthrall from the first jingle bells on "I Hear (Click, Click, Click)" to the beautiful strings on closer "Journey to Christmas Island."
"Christmas music is more than just changing the lyrics to a non-holiday themed song," according to the merry manifesto on the record's Bandcamp page. "It's about creating a world of its own specifically for the Holiday and capturing those feelings for a moment."
Those high intentions lead to songs of big city celebrations ("Xmas in New York"), unsung heroes ("Christmas Dan") and the simple joys of Christmas morning ("Blackout Choir"). Altogether, it's a worthy send-up of holiday tunes that trade schmaltz for pop delight.
Today brings together another pair of local favorites, Jason Kutchma and Superchunk. As soon as Kutchma mentioned the song he'd chosen to cover back in July, I instantly became excited—it's one of those that you can hear in your head as soon as it's mentioned.
"When the first 20 seconds burst from the speakers, my heart races," Kutchma explains of the original. "I heard it in my twenties and it made me feel like a teenager. It had the same effect when I hit my thirties. One day I tried figuring how to play the damn thing and, though it has many pop song qualities that make it memorable, its twists make it enduring—the incredible soaring pre-verse guitar playing over atypical chord changes, the chugging rhythm masking a time change, loose guitars hiding an expanded bridge. 'Hyper Enough' is ridiculously catchy but not simplistically catchy. There's personality and identity all through the song but it's done with ease."
And so we present Jason Kutchma covering Superchunk's "Hyper Enough." Enjoy.
When word began circulating on Facebook last week about the impending demise of DIVEbar, reaction on the Glenwood South music club's page was swift and appropriately doomy.
Many voiced outrage and sadness, often sharing memories of the club and ending their comments with "\m/", web-speak for metal horns. Some were upset that the club is suddenly closing the same month as Volume 11, Raleigh's only other dedicated heavy-music venue.
But local metal fan and regular DIVEbar patron David Askew succinctly summed up what many feel about the venue's closing: "This can't happen. I feel absolutely lost."
Askew's comments reflect the feelings of many local metal fans and musicians.
"It's a tragic loss to the metal community," said John E. Wooten IV, bass player for rising local traditional metal band Widow. "Sure there were bigger and better stages to play on, but none of them had the vibe that made DIVEbar our favorite place to play."
"I think I can speak for every local metal band that after Reservoir and now DIVEbar closing we've lost our living rooms," says Scott Endres, guitarist for Chapel Hill band MAKE, which will play its last show at the club on Dec. 29. "This is definitely a giant blow to what little there is of a tight-knit heavy music scene."
DIVEbar has actually been open in its current location—at the mouth of Raleigh's clubby, upscale Glenwood South area—since 2003, but only in the past few years has it become a destination club for metal fans. Booking agent Robby Rodwell, who was hired in April 2008, brought some of the nation's most adventurous heavy music bands, including New York industrial doom band Batillus, up-and-coming Richmond classic doom act Windhand and Appalachian space-metal outfit Generation of Vipers. He also booked classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Raven and an acoustic set by St. Vitus/Obsessed frontman Wino.
Rodwell says he liked pairing local bands with good out-of-town bands that weren't able to get their foot in the door in any other Raleigh venues. He says that once those groups were able to build up their Raleigh crowd at DIVEbar, they could move on to the bigger venues.
"I think not having a place for the good out-of-town bands to start out in Raleigh is going to have a negative impact on the scene," he says. "It definitely helps to have a little creative inspiration from beyond your own backyard."
Chapel Hill booking agent and Black Skies bass player Michelle Temple booked a variety of regional heavy music bands in the club, including Earthling, Phantom Glue and Caltrop. She praised the club for offering free or low-cost shows while still paying the bands. With free shows, she says, people were more inclined to check out a band and go see them again in other spaces throughout the Triangle. For touring bands, having a guarantee plus free beer on tour is like "a little oasis."
"You know you're going to leave with a tank of gas and play in a room full of people who appreciate you and your music," she says.
Adding insult to injury, the club isn't closing due to a lack of business. Club owners Kristy and Jason Corpora purchased the existing DIVEbar three years ago with a lease in place that is due to expire at the end of the year.
"The unfortunate circumstance of not being able to get the lease re-signed. Plain and simple," says Kristy Corpora when asked why the club is closing. "We're doing well. We're doing very well, actually."
"The verbal agreement was to potentially extend it, but nothing could be worked out," says Jason Corpora. "The landlord wants it back. There's no option to renew it, and he's entitled to do that. He wants to open up and expand his own business."
The couple won't speculate on the landlord's plans for the building, which shares space with a convenience store. They do say that they are hoping to relocate the club and open under a new name. The club's last show in the current location will be New Year's Eve.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Tess Mangum Ocaña—the concerts director and facility rental coordinator at Carrboro's The ArtsCenter—announced that she had been laid off. She had held the position for 10 years.
"That Tess had maintained this position for more than a decade demonstrates how incredibly skilled she is, what an amazing job she's done," explained The ArtsCenter's Executive Director, Art Menius. "The underlying business model in which she had to work for these 10 years and 4 months is just seriously flawed and has to be completely reimagined. She was simply caught in a situation that wasn't sustainable."
Ocaña served her last day as an active employee on Monday, but she will remain on salary for a period of time. According to Menius, both of her positions have been permanently eliminated due to budget considerations.
"We are in the midst of a long-range planning process to ensure that The ArtsCenter remains strong for many decades to come. We're 38 years old now," Menius explains. "But we had to do something in the concerts area, because the ink was just too red."
The 2013 American Roots Series—already booked by Ocaña and slated to kick off January 4 with Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys—will go forward as scheduled. Other events include a songwriting master class and performance by Suzanne Vega on February 28, a performance by Judy Collins on March 3, and the Rebirth Brass Band on March 8. The upcoming season highlights Ocaña's ability to integrate music programming with The ArtsCenter's educational mission and to bring audiences into close quarters with both legendary acts and emerging local musicians.
"Back in the day, the [Carolina] Chocolate Drops and The Avett Brothers weren't famous [when they first played the ArtsCenter]," Ocaña says, reminiscing about her tenure. "Those were some great shows. But also Mavis Staples and Rickie Lee Jones, and even in August … to be able to get Lindsey Buckingham to play a 355-seat venue—that was pretty awesome."
Exactly what the future of music will be in The ArtsCenter's Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater remains uncertain.
"'How' is the right word," says Menius, who became executive director in April. "It has to fit within our budget, else we would head down the same path The ArtsCenter's gone down too many times before. It's a very sad time for The ArtsCenter, and the end of a great decade-long era here."
Ocaña, for whom the layoff came unexpectedly, is already in talks with other venues that could benefit from her programming experience and music industry contacts.
"I'm excited for what 2013 might bring. I'm just curious to see what kind of doors might open now. But I'll really miss the audiences," says Ocaña. "Live music makes people so incredibly happy, specifically there in that venue because it's so small and intimate. I'd hate to see that go away."
Duke Coffeehouse, Durham
Friday, Nov. 30, 2012
James Jackson Toth’s set at the Duke Coffeehouse Friday night provided stirring testimony to the enduring power of one person playing a guitar and singing words that matter. Introducing himself by his nom de rock, Wooden Wand, and singing songs from Blood Oaths of the New Blues, his forthcoming release on the venerable London label Fire Records, along with older works, Toth balanced his natural geniality with the serious intent of a musical lifer.
When I chatted with him briefly before the show, Toth was in good spirits, having driven to Durham that day listening to a colossal mix of live Grateful Dead jams. In addition to amassing an impressive body of work under a variety of names and with a sprawling mix of collaborators, Toth is also a sharp-eyed and well-versed music writer. Discussing the challenges of bringing a fresh perspective to writing about music, Toth cringed at the prospect of disseminating the well-worn tropes, rock-speak phrases like “the penultimate track.” I promised him I would not use that term in my write-up.
Toth is just as committed to avoiding cliché in his music, even in the familiar blues-folk-country-Americana genre that is his chosen milieu. His set at Duke Coffeehouse showcased his knack for writing memorable and sometimes surrealistic narratives that don’t reach too hard for profundity but are marked by a depth that won’t be fully fathomed after one listen. These are songs to ponder and linger over. Throughout the set, lyrics would emerge that were worthy of contemplation, like “the monotony of pleasure,” or “Sometimes nowhere seems the only place to go.” Some lyrics seem to have been birthed in that mythic old weird America, such as on “Wand America,” when Toth sings about people who’ll “tell a lie on credit when the truth costs just a dime.” It sounds like a line from Dylan, and the comparison is an apt one. Midway through the set Toth covered “Is Your Love in Vain?,” from Dylan’s not well-loved Street Legal, which he dedicated to anyone in the audience on a first date.
The dirge-like nature of several numbers recalled the “cast-iron songs and torch ballads” vibe of Dylan and the Band’s Planet Waves. There were no shuffles and no sing-alongs in this roughly 10-song set. The pace was deliberate, the strumming passionate. Every word counted.