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2017 Americana Music Festival & Conference 9/12 – 9/17, Nashville

“Now that’s Americana!” This year’s festival and conference offers more to adore. View a photo gallery following the text.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN / PHOTOS BY ALISA B. CHERRY

If the Americana Festival and Conference proves anything, it’s that anything and everything born of genuine roots can be classified as Americana. It doesn’t matter whether it originates from the heartland, the swamps of the south, the outer reaches of California, the mountains of Appalachia, or as far afield as the Australian outback and the urban and rural expanses of the U.K. A showcase for literally hundreds of acts, each competing for attention in more than three dozen venues, various onsite events, as well as assorted record shops, restaurants and boutiques, it challenges attendees to figure out how to place themselves in several locations at the same time, a daunting proposition given the fact that music occurs simultaneously and decisions must be made.

Not surprisingly then, the Americana Music Festival is ideal for those with quick attention spans, eagerness and impatience. For all others, it takes planning, sound strategy, dexterity and a willingness to make the most of five days filled with ongoing entertainment. In exchange, it offers the opportunity to see both icons and artists of international stature, a diverse contingent that this year alone included Van Morrison, Graham Nash, Jason Isbell, Emmylou Harris, The Blind Boys of Alabama, John Prine, Robert Cray, Kasey Chambers, Colin Hay, Robyn Hitchcock, Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer, Jon Langford, and Lee Ann Womack, to name but a scant few.

It’s a large and durable umbrella, this thing they call Americana, and summing it up succinctly is an impossible feat even for those with broad imaginations. As artist and compere Jim Lauderdale is fond of saying, “Now that’s Americana!”

While every day and evening boasts highlights of every description, the awards presentation on the second night of the fest is one of the most prestigious music ceremonies one might ever witness. Simply put, it rivals anything the Grammys have to offer, at least as far as coolness is concerned. Where else can you catch Graham Nash harmonizing with the Milk Carton Kids on an old Every Brothers chestnut or John Prine doling out honors to an emotional Iris Dement and before joining her for a duet? With a house band led and directed by the great Buddy Miller — absent this year but ably subbed for by the equally prolific Larry Campbell — there are stars galore crowding the legendary Ryman stage.

That said, the Americana Festival does not differentiate between artist and enthusiast. Hanging out at an event like the Compass Records annual open house or spending the evening enjoying a live broadcast of the syndicated show Music City Roots at the Yee-Haw tent practically guarantees you’ll run into someone of renown. We found that to be true even on arrival, courtesy of a luncheon with John Oates, who was as amicable as anyone can be while promoting a new project. Likewise, there’s little in the way of barriers between back stage and front, and during our stay, we had opportunity to chat with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kasey Chambers, Colin Hay, Willie Nile, Jonathan Byrd, and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. Everyone is especially gracious in these relaxed environs, allowing for especially cool connections.

Aside from the idols, the festival provides a great opportunity to catch artists on the way up. We were fortunate enough to see the young Aussie duo Falls, whose sweet harmonies and bewitching melodies prove nothing less than utterly enticing. Two young Americans from Austin Texas, Max Gomez and David Ramirez, were equally worthy of attention, two strong singer songwriters with an authority and presence that extends far beyond their relatively modest ages. Three rockier ensembles, Deer Tick, Band of Heathens and Reckless Kelly literally shook the rafters in their own individual performances, while Matthew Ryan, normally calm and composed on record, showed he could also rock with a ferocity that had the crowd taking notice. There were numerous others as well — The Wild Ponies, a husband wide duo that served up superb songs from their new Galax, the amazingly talented songstress Becky Warren and extraordinarily entertaining Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboy, an ever-exuberant Korby Lenker, and a superb Scotsman Dean Owens, all of whom proved themselves well worthy of recognition. Those on an exploratory mission will always find ample rewards.

Indeed, then it comes to rising stars, the English and the Aussies are especially well represented. Each contingent host showcases that are consistent must-sees. The Bootleg BBQ in particular, held on the back lawn of The Groove record store, becomes one of the best attended events of the festival. Sponsored by the British Underground, it’s an outstanding opportunity to spotlight some of Britain’s most dynamic up and coming artists within the umbrella of international Americana. This year, the dynamic and irrepressible Yola Carter, sisterly trio Wildwood Kin and the charismatic Danni Nicholls were among those that wowed the crowd, with special guests Angaleena Presley ensuring the connection between the U.K. and the U.S.A. remains as unbreakable a bond as always. There were also star sightings — with Jim Lauderdale checking out the action and Indigo Girl Amy Ray braving the heat and obviously enjoying the entire afternoon. And the barbecue ain’t bad either.

While entertainment is a priority for most, it ought to be noted that Festival and Conference also offers educational opportunities. The Country Music Hall of Fame provides an ongoing series of themed exhibits that trace the music’s evolution from past to present, and during the festival, there are special gatherings well worth attending. Two in particular were an intimate discussion and acoustic performance from Allison Moorer and her sister Shelby Lynne, who were celebrating the release of their first collaborative effort, and a program devoted to Southern Roots, specifically, a salute to the legacy of the late Gregg Allman and his band of brothers.

When all is said and done, the Americana Fest is most appreciated as an opportunity to immerse oneself in the best the genre has to offer. It offers a chance to stay ahead of the curve, to be a part of a musical movement that’s making its impact worldwide. Ultimately, it’s a community, one that provides opportunity to make new friends, reconnect with old friends and share in the celebration of sound with immense populist appeal.

Indeed, as Mr. Lauderdale sums it up so succinctly, “Now that’s Americana!”

***

Marty Stuart getting the Duo/Group of the Year Award at  The 16th Annual AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium on 9/13/17

Webb Wilder at NPR Music Live from the YeeHaw Tent on 9/15/17

Lindi Ortega at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

Yola Carter at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboy at The Station Inn, Nashville on 9/15/17

Angaleena Presley at The Bootleg BBQ at The Groove, Nashville on 9/16/17

The Falls from Australia at SoulShine Pizza Factory, Nashville 9/16/17

A.J Croce at Compass Records 9/13/17

Sam Outlaw at Mercy Lounge, Nashville 9/13/17

Harrow Fair at Outlaws and Gunslingers Luncheon at the American Legion Post 82, Nashville 9/14/17

Jim Lauderdale at The Music City Roots at the YeeHaw Tent, Nashville 9/14/17

Ray Wylie Hubbard at NPR Music Live from the YeeHaw Tent 9/15/17

Taasha Coates at A Taste of Australia at the Filming Station, 9/15/17

Kasey Chambers at A Taste of Australia at the Filming Station 9/15/17

Poco’s Rusty Young at the Filming Station, Nashville 9/15/17

 

Colin Hay At City Winery, Nashville 9/12/17

John Oates & Lee Ann Womack at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Winning the Emerging Artist of the Year Award – Amanda Shires @AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Graham Nash and The Milk Carton Boys at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires performing at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Emmylou Harris at AmericanaFest Awards Show at the Ryman Auditorium 9/13/17

Lukas Nelson at Cannery Ballroom, Nashville 9/13/17

Whitney Rose at Outlaws and Gunslingers Luncheon at the American Legion Post 82 9/14/17

 

 

 

 

 

Riot Fest 9/15-16-17/17, Chicago

Dates: September 15, 16 & 17, 2017

Location: Douglas Park, Chicago IL

The scene of the 3-day crime was Douglas Park, and Detective Bruce was on the crime scene immediately to document the bloodshed. (Go HERE to check out more of her photos.) They may still be cleaning up the mosh pit area….

 

TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERICA BRUCE

Another September, another excellent Riot Fest ran this past Friday to Sunday in Chicago. Under sunny (but at times really, really hot) skies, crowds took over Douglass Park, raring to get its rock on. A number of bands played seminal records in full like Dinosaur Jr (You’re Living All Over Me), Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Let’s Face It), Wu-Tang Clan (Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)), among others. But the big, special, super cool, and awesome highlight was what Riot Fest always seems to do best, and that’s to get a seminal band to reunite and close out the weekend. This year, it was Jawbreaker. One of the best summations of the show was by music critic Dan Ozzi who tweeted, “People tweeting about the Emmys like Jawbreaker didn’t just put a hole in the fuckin earth.”

 Here’s a bit about what we saw at Riot Fest 2017:

Day 1

American Airlines lost part of my luggage, so much of the day on Friday was spent waiting for its return then, recreating my bag at CVS when it failed to show. (FYI: CVS in Chicago sells liquor and wine, who knew!) As such, we only got a couple acts in for Day 1, but boy, were they mighty.

Ministry

“Hey Chicago, nice to be home,” said Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen, who grew up there. It was kind of surreal seeing a band like Ministry play any other time but the dead of night somewhere, but the heaviness and political commentary that Jourgensen is known for was out in full force. I found myself wondering if he has a bear of a time going through security scanners at the airport (LOTS of piercings).

New Order

The crowd for New Order was delighted that the band filled half of its 11-song set with the popular stuff like “Bizarre Love Triangle,” and songs from popular records like Power, Corruption, and Lies and Substance 1987. Lead singer Bernard Sumner’s voice is still strong, a lulling force atop the electronic lullabies for which the band is famous. They didn’t play it all safe though, pulling out “Ultraviolence,” a song Sumner said they hadn’t played in a long time, in spite of it having to be stopped and restarted to adjust guitarist Phil Cunningham’s guitar. Bathed in blue light with photos of what looked like Manchester showing behind them, Sumner also gave a nod to his old band, Joy Division, at the start and end of the set, with “Disorder” and then “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I’m sure the young 20-something I saw bawling during the latter was not the only one in the crowd doing so.

Nine Inch Nails

NIN was the headliner for night one, and lead man Trent Reznor made sure it was dramatic throughout. From a kicked over keyboard over at the end of the first song (“Branches/Bones”), to the live debut of “The Backward World,” to “The Day the World Went Away” played for the first time in four years, Reznor and the band filled all of Douglass Park with keyboard and bass sounds. He even included a unique cover, David Bowie’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” from Blackstar. It was all as loud and lovely and bombastic a set as you could want.

 

Day 2:

Probably the highest in high energy of all three days, it was full of punk, funk, and dancing gypsies.

Fishbone

Seeing Fishbone live is a better kick to the nervous system than three cups of coffee and 38 Red Bulls combined, so why wouldn’t one kick off Day 2 with something so awesome? Their combination of punk, funk, and soul has long been copied, but nothing can ever touch the original that is the mighty Fishbone.

Peaches

I’ve never been much for electronica music but Peaches is so much more than just that; she’s part performance art, part DJ, plus, she can sing her ass off. Her “big fat vagina” as she called it, was the celebrated part of her set, from her head piece, to her backup dancer costumes, to her bodysuit adorned with pink fuzz in the correct spot. But it was obvious that women and men alike love Peaches-at one point, she walked atop the crowd’s hands like Jesus walking on water, without dropping a note. With songs like “Boys Wanna Be Her,” “Dick in the Air, and “Fuck the Pain Away,” it struck me that Peaches is to women what the music of the Afghan Whigs is to dudes-affirming, powerful, and sexy as all get out.

FIDLAR

It’s been a few years since FIDLAR released a record, but, like all good things, time has only proven how much their straight-ahead punk rock sound has been missed. Always joyous and raucous live, Saturday afternoon’s set was fast, loud, and animated. Lead singer Zac Carper looks healthy and sounds great, and made the large Riot stage area as intimate as a little LA club. “Wake, Bake, Skate” live is still a blast to hear.

Bad Brains

If anyone proves the power of “having that PMA,” for 40 years, it’s the Bad Brains. Given the recent health scares of lead singer H.R. (brain surgery in Feb) and guitarist Dr. Know (cardiac arrest in 2015), D.C.ers like myself were more than a little concerned that the sun had set on one of our most cherished local bands. But their show on Saturday proved all was well, in spite of less than stellar stage sound. A young second guitarist, apparently, the grandson of musician Richie Havens, played lead with Dr. Know throughout the set, and Lamb of God singer Randy Blythe joined the band at the end for “Big Takeover,” “The Regulator,” and “Redbone in the City.”

Mike D (DJ set)

Mike D used his set to give Chicago a little musical geography lesson about NYC, rapping and talking as his DJ spun the originals of artists from each borough. He started with his hometown of Manhattan using the Beastie Boys “Sabotage.” Queens was represented by Run DMC, to which he said, “”We couldn’t have done what we did without this next band from Hollis, Queens, Run DMC. RIP Mr. Jam Master.” Brooklyn got the biggest cheers though with Jay Z’s “99 Problems” and the Beastie’s “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” home of another Beastie Boy, MCA.

Gogol Bordello

Going from NYC rap to Ukrainian gypsy punk by way of NYC in the form of Gogol Bordello as the sun was setting was slightly surreal and perfect. The dancing onstage and off was so frenzied, I half expected to someone to spontaneously combust at some point. With members and influences from all over the world, Gogol Bordello remains the craziest live show in town.

At the Drive In

No less powerful was At the Drive In. Lead singer Cedric Bixler jumped off the drum set and threw his body about the Roots stage so hard, you know bruises the next day were eminent. The majority of the set came from Relationship of Command rather than the new record, in*ter a*li*a, and, if you’re wondering, Bixler’s voice seems to be back and in stellar form.

QOTSA

The bluesy, swampy rock that is Queens of the Stone Age was hard-driving and perfect way to cap off Day 2. Lead singer Josh Homme rocked, and rolled, and even gave the audience a rendition of Danzig’s “Mother” which was frankly, better than the original.

 

Day 3:

A little less punk, a little more post punk pogo!

 

Beach Slang

The things we learned about Beach Slang lead singer James Alex in their 12:40 PM set that kicked off Day 3:

-He’d been drinking since early that day

-He does better with straws (in a drink)

-No guitar can hold him

-He somehow doesn’t pass out wearing a buttoned-up tuxedo shirt and a corduroy jacket in direct 86 degree sunlight

-He knows how to play a cover that will win your heart (“Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” by Grant Hart)

Hot Water Music

Lead singer Chuck Ragan’s voice is one of those that as soon as you hear it, you know who it is. You had to smile as that sandpaper scrubbed growl bounced off the Ferris wheel and hit you back again.

Mighty Bosstones (Performing Let’s Face It)

Ska music never really goes out of style, it just merges with other styles to take on a different form. 90s ska was infused with a bit more post punk than before, and a major force of that was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Let’s Face It, lead singer Dicky Barrett and company brought the plaid, the killer horns, those great songs, and of course, their great stage dancing guy, Ben Carr, to get a whole new generation skanking to the Bosstones beat.

Minus the Bear

Minus the Bear? Minus the energy. Songs? Good. Stage presence? So so. Energy level? Zzzzz

GWAR (candids in the press area)

The minute GWAR walked into the press area in costume, they were surrounded by everyone and their cell phones requesting to take a photo (including TV on the Radio lead singer Tunde” Adebimpe, which was a wonderfully random  dichotomy). It got so that their handler had to ask that people stop so that they could actually attend their interviews. Once completed though, the band did hang out for a bit and posed for every last person who asked.

Built to Spill

Another band performing an anniversary record was Built to Spill, doing their fourth record, Keep it Like a Secret. They didn’t say much from the stage, but this post-punk version of a jam band didn’t have to; from the first incredible hooks of vocalist/guitarist Dough Martsch in “The Plan” to the ethereal trippiness of “Broken Chairs” was all you needed. Their performance made me fall in love all over again.

TVOTR

I’ve photographed TV on the Radio quite a few times since 2008, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen them as energetic as Sunday’s set. (Seriously: Even the notoriously stationary guitarist Kyp Malone was pogoing about at times.) Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe jumped around and swayed so much it was like he was trying to exorcise any nearby demons straight into the ether. And, based on the scorching version of “Wolf Like Me” which closed the set, I’d say the exorcism was a total success.

Prophets of Rage

Tom Morello once told Rolling Stone about Prophets of Rage,  “We’re an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.” And he wasn’t kidding. The sound was so intense coming off the Roots stage during their set  that even J. Mascis would have been jealous. Playing tracks by the collective bands that are represented in Prophets of Rage-Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill-had the capacity crowd pogoing in unison like they were at Glastonbury. The audience was so frenzied and so loud, especially during the “Fuck no, I won’t do what they tell me” chorus in the set ending “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, I was certain that aliens on Mars were asking each other, “What the hell is that sound?” Make America Rage Again indeed.

Jawbreaker

Probably the first sign of how big a deal this Jawbreaker reunion was to people was seeing the sides of the Riot Stage prior to the set, all so packed with people standing to watch the show, it almost seemed dangerous. But this was a reunion few expected to happen. In front of a giant “Jawbreaker” curtain, the trio slammed into 15 tracks that sounded just as fresh today as they did 20-plus years ago, including  five that were last performed live between 1995 and 1996 (“Want,” Million,” “Parabola, “Kiss the Bottle,” and “Bivouac”). Much like at The Replacements show a few years ago, I ran out of fingers and toes counting the sheer number of bands playing today whose sound was obviously influenced by Jawbreaker. And the band seemed genuinely awed by the reception and thanked Riot Fest for making the reunion happen.”We are honored and humbled to be in your city. Dance and be nice,” said Jawbreaker lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach.

 

Boy, did that park dance.

 

Erica Bruce’s contact info and gallery of Riot Fest can be viewed HERE.

2017 Hopscotch Music Festival 9/7-8-9-10/17, Raleigh NC

 

Dateline: Raleigh, NC, where the coolest music festival in the Southeast goes down every September. Our man on the ground reports. Picture above: Metz, gettin’ purpleized….

BY DANIEL MATTI

Hopscotch went into its 8th run the extended weekend of September 7-10, and with it came the oh-so familiar cancellations, along with discovering new bands. The lineup included over 100 bands with familiar faces and local acts who packed downtown Raleigh with festival goers. This was the first year Hopscotch had utilized the Exhibit Hall A, aka “The Basement” in the Convention Center, where it is mostly known in years past as the area where Wristband City (where you pick up your wristband for the festival) and Posterscotch (a runway of local artists showing off their design skills in the format of posters and other goodies) were mounted. With all the lineup challenges, this was my journey through Hopscotch.

 

Thursday

City Plaza was the first stop on the agenda to see local angel-voiced Skylar Gudasz. The plaza started to slowly build up as Skylar took the stage, some discovering her for the very first time while others were there to get into position for Big Thief and Margo Price. All three performers in City Plaza that night were fierce and knew what they came to do on stage. They all delivered with amazing results.

The night ended up being one of the bigger nights for the noise rock genre. The CAM was going to be the oasis for me. Before settling into that venue, I walked around peeking my head into venue after venue, discovering new music. Severed Fingers, with their bliss of fiery hot folk rock, blew me away, along with Schoolkids Records-The Label band, Happy Abandon of Chapel Hill, that had pleasantly packed the place. From there I headed over to CAM to stay put. From catching the heavily improvised set by Kayo Dot (due to some technical difficulties) to Metz closing out the night with their enormous wall of sound and performance, it was a good evening.

 

Friday

The second day of Hopscotch proved to be the biggest day for conflicts regarding seeing bands—especially during the later portion of the night. Kaytranda, Songs:Molina, Marie Davidson, Whores, and Protomartyr were all scheduled at the same time, and the biggest time slot of the night, with the surrounding time slots having hard-to-see conflicts as well. With a name like Hopscotch and your familiarity of the childhood game, this was the night to “scotch” all around, from catching the bass-heavy tunes in The Basement to The Afghan Whigs packing the house (and surprising the audience by bringing Sean Tillman, aka Har Mar Superstar, up onstage to perform the latest single “Demon in Profile” from their latest album “In Spades”).

 

Saturday

As the weekend’s perfect weather continued for downtown Raleigh, Saturday was the day of discovery. Unfamiliar with a lot of the artists performing that day, I was led on a journey with a couple friends who had suggestions here and there. Early in the night we headed to City Plaza to watch the newish addition to the mumble rap movement “iLoveMakonnen,” but lo and behold, he had canceled the night prior and then was replaced by local hip hop artist Phonte (from the bands Foreign Exchange and Little Brother). With him sweeping the outside plaza off its feet, Phonte proved himself to be more than just a local act and an even better choice to open for Big Boi from Outkast.

We then traveled over to Red Hat Amphitheater to make sure that we had secured a spot for the most popular act of the weekend, Solange. Proving herself to be one of the best performers of the weekend by incorporating avant-garde dance performances and amazing solos done by her six-piece band. After the other disappointing cancellation from Jlin, filling the spot was a longer set from on-and-off Nine Inch Nails keyboardist Alessandro Cortini. For the performance most of the room sat on the floor and stared in awe at the projections and as he orchestrated massive sound from the back of the room. Ending the night, we were able to catch Lunice from TNGHT and Branchez at CAM. Lunice had the room dancing and swaying from side to side as he played numerous Kendrick Lamar remixed tracks and ending with a few TNGHT gems. After Lunice performed, Branchez took the stage and it was extremely lackluster—almost to the point where most of the crowd left to go catch the last bit of set from Machinedrum or wait in the line that wrapped around the block for Japanese Breakfast as they played in Neptune’s Parlour.

 

Sunday

One of the more relaxing days was Sunday, as all of the acts performed at Red Hat. This was the first year that Hopscotch had added the 4th day to the schedule and they proved they could keep the party going. From Cloud Nothings to the local folk group Mount Moriah to an odd sounding set from Angel Olsen. She is known for having a compelling, if somewhat downcast, setlist, but with her guitar and vocals being oddly panned to the left for the performance, it was hard to keep focused on the singer and her band.

Overall, this was another great Hopscotch in the books. One can hope that they can continue the 4th day, though perhaps not at Red Hat but by incorporating the already Hopscotch sanctioned venues.

Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman 9/3/17 Littleton, CO

Dates: September 3, 2017

Location: Hudson Gardens, Littleton CO

Tales from topographic gardens – specifically, Hudson Gardens…

BY TIM HINELY

Ok, so I blew off La Luz at the Bluebird for this because for one, I’ve seen La Luz several times and two, I had never seen Yes before, or at least something this close to Yes.

Also I had never been to Hudson Gardens before but had heard good things. It’s a big field where they have weddings, parties, classes and off to the side is a stage where bands play. It’s mostly of ther over-50 yuppie variety. This past summer saw the likes of Chris Issak, Firefall, Loverboy, Donny and Marie, the B-52’s and lots more, you get the picture. This Yes show was the last one of the season and we caught it on a perfect night, in fact, after being a real hot day it really cooled off in the evening. Perfect for concert going!

This version of Yes is billing itself as “Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman.” Apparently Steve Howe has a different version of yes touring the country as well (R.I.P. Chris Squire); for a dissection of the legal and personal breakdown between the Anderson and Howe camps in April of this year and what led up to it, read this story at Ultimate Classic Rock.

I had begun following the band on the heels of their third album The Yes Album from `71 and continued on through the following records of  Fragile, Close to the Edge and Yessongs.

In addition to the foundation of Anderson on vocals (he sounded great) Wakeman on keyboards and Rabin on guitar they had a rhythm section in tow as well (who from our vantage point we couldn’t even see…..I couldn’t see Wakeman either from where we were sitting off of stage left).

They opened with “Cinema” and led into “Perpetual Change” and then right into “Hold On.” From there the set lagged, if just a little, with “South Side of the Sky” and “And You and I” but picked up again when they soared into “Lift Me Up” and “Rhythm of Love” with a chatty, amiable Anderson talkintg to the crowd in between songs.
They ended with it “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and came back out for one encore, which was “Roundabout” (which is an old fave, sounded great and really got the crowd moving).

I was a little bummed about not hearing cuts like ‘Starship Trooper,” “Yours is No Disgrace” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” (yup, I do lean heavily toward The Yes Album) but at least we heard “Perpetual Change” from that album.

Aside from hearing the hum of the food trucks that were nearby (serves us right for not getting there early enough to be closer to the stage) and a meathead security guy not letting me take pics even though I had a photo pass, it’s a nice place to see a concert. Our beach chairs got some good use for the night and Yes can still pack a punch. Now I’m curious to hear Steve Howe’s version.

Photo credit: Pollstar/Hard Rock International

CHANNEL 3 – Put ‘Em Up LP

Album: Put 'Em Up

Artist: Channel 3

Label: TKO

Release Date: August 18, 2017

www.TKORecords.com

 

www.TKORecords.com

The Upshot: Punks Not Dead, okay!

BY JOHN B. MOORE

It’s been more than 15 years since Channel 3 last put out a full record of new music and time has clearly been good to the band. The group’s sound has evolved immensely since their early ‘80s hardcore days and what they lack in ferocity, they now more than make up for in lyrical prowess and tight muscular riffs.

Though decidedly still a punk band on their latest, Put ‘Em Up (like on the politically-charged tune “The God You Deserve”), elsewhere the band trots out their varied influences, from power pop to straight ahead rock. Though I’m not certain this is necessarily a concept record, written and recorded after last year’s election, the political and social themes are all over this album.

Like many of their contemporaries both here (Bad Religion) and overseas (Stiff Little Fingers, Cock Sparrer), Channel 3 is putting out some of their best stuff in years: It certainly looks like punk really is a veteran’s game. The band is celebrating their reemergence with sets at a number of punk events this fall, including the aptly titled Punks Not Dead and Remember The Punks festivals.

Consumer note: Available on CD and digital, of course, but the BLURT-approved version is on blood-red vinyl. Hey, you can even get a 12” stencil of the cover art for your troubles

DOWNLOAD: “Water & Time,” “She Never Wanted It This Way” and “The God You Deserve”

 

HAPPY ABANDON – Facepaint LP

Album: Facepaint

Artist: Happy Abandon

Label: Schoolkids Records

Release Date: August 25, 2017

www.schoolkidsrecords.com/label

The Upshot: Ornate baroque pop one moment and huge anthemic soundscapes the next from a remarkably gifted and promising young NC band. Read our interview HERE.

BY FRED MILLS

In their short-but-fruitful existence to date, Chapel Hill’s Happy Abandon have garnered a reputation as a forceful act that weds dramatic performance to a nakedly emotional aesthetic. So much so, that the owner of the Schoolkids Records label – formerly Second Motion; home to Tommy Keene, The Veldt, and Bettie Serveert; and, full disclosure, sister business to BLURT – was soon convinced that the young trio would be the perfect flagship artist for the newly-christened label. It wasn’t a frivolous move, either, and if you caught their single “If I Stare” last year, you already have a sense of the group’s ornate, cinematic pop mastery (listen to it HERE at their Soundcloud page). By way of additional full disclosure, I fuckin’ loved ‘em the moment I heard ‘em, and this was well before Schoolkids’ Stephen Judge had signed them to the label.

On the resulting debut, lyrical introspection and high-energy extroversion (read: loud) get woven tightly together, with catharsis the objective. This is not to lump Happy Abandon among traditionally theatrical bands, many of whom confuse billboard-sized pronouncements with profundity, an aesthetic misstep that many prog, metal, and even emo groups also make. On the 10 songs that populate Facepaint, the group offers up grand, sweeping melodies, soaring/anthemic vocals, and manic explosions of energy offset by solitude-conjuring denouements, and the overall effect is utterly exhilarating. Opening track “Ivory Bound” unfurls via pirouetting acoustic guitar and piano, just a hint of percussion—then comes the swell of a string section, which crescendos lustily then swoops directly into “Beneath Our Feet,” a hectic rush of searing guitars, convulsive drums, and pounding ivories as vocalist Peter Vance—in a deliciously androgynous voice—croons, then sneers, then snarls, then pleads. On “Take Me,” this light/heavy strategy further showcases the players’ strengths as the song gradually rises in volume and tempo until, about four minutes in, the listener finds him- or herself cocooned in a glorious wash of sound, guitars, percussion, and keys, as the massed vocals strive for, and attain, full-choir status. (This band does love its vocal arrangements.)

Elsewhere, Happy Abandon demonstrate their versatility at ballads (the ornate baroque pop of “Choice”), showtunes (“Stop Taking Care of Me,” a dark-but-dramatic narrative chronicling a lover’s steadily-rising addiction: “I’ve watched you becoming the monster inside of you/ It has the same eyes as you/ But it can’t love the way that you do… You can’t kill what’s killing you/ If you’re feeding it too”), even orchestrally-inclined art pop (the aforementioned “If I Stare,” an extravagant waltz which boasts violins, cello, flute, and even Peter Bjorn and John-styled whistling).

To their credit, these three men (singer/guitarist Vance, drummer Jake Waits, bassist Justin Ellis; on most tracks they are joined by keyboardist Alex Thompson, who also conducts the strings) don’t deploy their dynamics in rote or template fashion. These are fully-formed rock songs with emotional interior lives that would also work stripped-down or with a full orchestra. Ultimately, Facepaint is a remarkable debut from an uncommonly gifted and promising young band.

Consumer note: The vinyl for Facepaint comes in either standard black or eye-popping multicolor splatter vinyl. And for colored wax, it’s a solid pressing; collectors frequently find themselves complaining about the audio quality of color vinyl, but they won’t have to this time out.

DOWNLOAD: “If I Stare,” “Beneath Our Feet”

JACK COOPER — Sandgrown

Album: Sandgrown

Artist: Jack Cooper

Label: Trouble In Mind

Release Date: August 25, 2017

http://www.troubleinmindrecs.com

The Upshot: Guitar virtuoso brings a sharp sense of loss and change to his glowing, spare arrangements.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

These shimmering songs are full of ellipses, the spaces between guitar notes clouded over with wistful nostalgia for Jack Cooper’s lost seaside childhood. Cooper has gotten a fair amount of ink lately for his quietly subversive, acoustic dueling guitar duo Ultimate Painting (with Veronica Falls’ James Hoare), also rather luminously introspective, but Sandgrown is more personal, with the smell of salt air, the sting of sea breezes, the sharp sense of loss and change running through every track.

Take “Gynn Square,” named for an old-fashioned commercial block near the beach in Blackpool, England, a resort gone slightly to seed. Cooper is up early, who knows why, watching the last vestiges of weekend hedonism fade, (“as the sea spray washed the weekend from the concrete”) and thinking about the ghost of a girl in a deck chair, by the melancholy of the song, lost forever. Cooper’s singing is quiet and natural, his arrangements glowing but spare. Guitar notes are left to hang in the air glittering. Space separates thoughts and images. Lyrics are put together artfully, with embedded rhymes and rhythms, but delivered casually and full of pauses, as if Cooper were just deciding what to say next.

Other songs are slightly more emphatic, like “Stranded Fleetwood Blues” with its shambolic shaken percussion, its backbeat knocking drum beat, its twisting, exploratory guitar lines, or “A Net” which drones in a directed, almost krautish way, though subdued and acoustic. There are a couple of jazz-scented intervals – Django-ish “Sandgrown Pt. 1, Rev. 1,” and also “Pt. 2” — which weave and bobble like gazebo concert band tunes remembered from long ago.

The disc finishes on a particularly pensive note, with the slow moving, hallucinatory “Memphis, Lancashire,” a memory palace song (whose memories Cooper is clearly too young to personally own) about Elvis and maybe also WWI. Guitar chords flutter down, settling, a bass rumbles up from underneath, and Cooper sings wistful, non-linear phrases about music and remembrance. (“And when the crowd goes quiet, I hear myself again.”) There is a gorgeous aching guitar duet near the end, one part arcing out in liquid runs of blue notes, the other flickering in tone-changing chords. It’s enough to make you miss people you never met and long for places you’ve never been. Just beautiful stuff.

Consumer Note: For you vinyl fans, the LP version comes pressed on tangerine-colored wax.

DOWNLOAD: “Memphis Lancashire,” “Gynn Square”

 

BEACHES — Second of Spring

Album: Second of Spring

Artist: Beaches

Label: Chapter Music

Release Date: September 08, 2017

www.chaptermusic.com

The Upshot: What would you say to a mashup of Krautrock, shoegaze, dronerock, and the like?

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Beaches, the five-woman garage-psych band out of Melbourne, plays a mesmerizing blend of clatter and drone, undercutting sun dappled melodies with shifting undercurrents of buzzing tone. This double album is their third, following two previous albums that earned fervent praise in Australia; the second, Beats, featured a like-minded artist on guitar – one Michael Rother from Neu!  This one relies solely on the home team, a seasoned group of musicians who include Antonia Seibach (ex- of Love of Diagrams), Alison Bolger (of Panel of Judges, Ali McCann, Gill Tucker (of Spider Vomit) and Karla Way.

That’s a guitar-heavy line-up with Seibach, Bolger and McCann all playing six-string, and indeed, the density and variety of guitar sounds is one of the first things you notice. After the wordless pound and exhilaration of “Turning,” the band turns to wide horizons drone in “Void,” with traded vocals and sweat-sheened overdrive evoking the much-loved Scottish band Prolapse or Austin’s Experimental Aircraft. “Contact,” later on, is even dreamier, riding a surf wave of swelling sound, its interlocking guitar and bass licks gamboling atop blissful surges of overtone. The singing is just fine, and will remind you of plenty of other bands in the Dum Dum Girls/Vivian Girls continuum, but it’s the heft and interplay of instruments that put these songs over.

Seventeen tracks makes for an extended listening experience, but there’s enough variety that you’re never bored. In fact, the second half seems to hit a little harder than the first, starting with “Arrow,” track ten, the most fuzzily pop of these tunes. The cut is upbeat to the point of euphoria, but slashed through with razory guitars, so that there’s a high but not a sugar high. “Walk Around” is more open-ended, but just as inviting, as sawing effects blister through radiant clouds of tone. Forget the girl group comparisons for Beaches – this stuff transcends gender – think instead of the great drone-heavy shoegaze bands, Bailter Space, Ride, Slowdive, and sure, why not, even Neu!

DOWNLOAD: “Arrow” “Contact” “Walk Around”

 

 

 

MARK BRYAN – Songs of the Fortnight LP

Album: Songs of the Fortnight LP

Artist: Mark Bryan

Label: Chucktown Music Group

Release Date: August 11, 2017

www.facebook.com/ctmgmusic

The Upshot: A slew of low-key gems and terrifically upbeat anthems from the erstwhile Hootie guitarist and songwriter.

BY FRED MILLS

Charleston’s Mark Bryan is not exactly an unknown quantity; for those of you who need a gentle prod, think “multi-platinum artist Hootie and The Blowfish.” Since that group’s ubiquitous alt-rock radio heyday, and subsequent, intermittent moments in the sun, Bryan hasn’t been exactly laurels-resting. Granted, his public profile isn’t quite as high as Hootie vocalist Darius Rucker’s ascent within the country music milieu, but maybe that’s because the so-called “public” pays more attention to chart placement and radio spins than behind-the-scenes activity—and, in Bryan’s case, good works.

Go to Bryan’s Wikipedia and you’ll get a sense of some of those musical good works, which include Carolina Studios, a nonprofit arts/music organization for kids, and the Chucktown Music Group, which works to connect local musicians with vital resources related to artistic guidance, promotion and marketing. Bryan has even teamed with Charleston venue the Charleston Music Hall to produce a regional music television show.

Meanwhile, as any good musician worth his salt would do, the songwriter has continued to, ahem, write songs, and Songs of the Fortnight represents his and is trio The Occasional Milkshakes (Bryan, bassist Hank Futch, drummer Gary Greene) performing material originally posted on Bryan’s “Songs of the Fortnight” blog, a three-year project for which, every couple of weeks, he posted new songs or those recorded by artists he had been working with.

The LP—a 180-gram vinyl release, complete with download card and all housed in an utterly gorgeous slick-laminate-stock outer sleeve plus full-lyric/credits inner sleeve (credit where credit is due, right fellow wax devotees?)—boasts a slew of low-key gems, among them the twangy, goodtime, neo-folkabilly “If You Saw Her” (“They say beauty’s from within/ And I guess it must’ve been/ Before it busted out of her and became free,” sings Bryan, in an utterly joyous moment), and the falsetto-flecked, fiddle-powered “The Great Beyond,” which neatly straddles the alt-country and bluegrass camps. There are some terrific upbeat moments as well, notably the riffy, Marshall Crenshaw-esque power pop anthem “Forgetting About Me,” and the delightfully hectic melody-and-rhythm rush that is “Mybabyshe’sallright” (it features BLURT hero and Hootie alumnus Peter Holsapple on correspondingly hectic harmonica).

Bottom line being that Songs of the Fortnight is designed to give listeners an 11-song musical vacation from what ails ‘em, ‘cos Bryan intuitively grasps how music, whether chronicling moments we want to revisit or need to recover from, is ultimately a healing and uplifting force. Believe it.

DOWNLOAD: “Forgetting About Me,” “If You Saw Her,” “The Great Beyond”

 

BASH & POP – Friday Night is Killing Me

Album: Friday Night is Killing Me

Artist: Bash & Pop

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: September 08, 2017

http://omnivorerecordings.com/

The Upshot: Erstwhile ‘mats bassist rapidly emerged from his bandleader’s shadow to display a remarkable sonic acuity, as this expanded reissue clearly reveals.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

When the Replacements broke up in 1991, all eyes turned toward bandleader Paul Westerberg for the next move. Eager to move on from the ‘Mats’ reputation, Westerberg spent the first part of his solo career trying earnestly to become alt.rock’s James Taylor, before eventually settling into an eccentric and erratic series of one-man band LPs.

Fans looking for more of the ‘Mats’ rollicking bar band asskicking had their heads turned in the wrong direction. Had they shifted their gaze, they might have noticed Bash & Pop. On 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me, its first (and, for over two decades, only) album, the band formed by bassist Tommy Stinson proved the ‘Mats’ co-founder to be not only the true soul of the beloved band, but the heir to its ramshackle rock & roll. Boasting more of a Faces/Stones vibe than anything his ex-bandleader ever recorded as a solo artist, Stinson, his bandmates, and the myriad sessioneers who helped create the record tap directly into the tight-but-loose vein of aspiring bar bands everywhere.

Singing in a classic soulful rasp, Stinson uses the prototypical model of two guitars, bass and drums to field a set of songs steeped in both brash attitude and winsome uncertainty. “Never Aim to Please,” “Hang Ups” and “Fast & Hard” (with an uncredited Westerberg on backing vocals) fulfill the first part of the band’s name nicely, insisting on the world rocking out with a joyful grin overtaking the sneer. The world-weariness of a life spent on the road starts to intrude in “Loose Ends” and “Tickled to Tears,” before finding full flower in the title track. Stinson strips back to near nudity on the ballads, imbuing “Nothing” and “First Steps” with wistful nervousness, but still displaying a determination to move past it. With it all coming together under the watchful eye of producer Don Smith, Friday Night is Killing Me calls attention to itself not with bombast or chest-puffery, but with smart songcraft and a time-tested take on old-fashioned rock & roll.

This new edition adds a second disc with some of Stinson’s home demos, alternate takes on most of the album’s tunes, and three non-album cuts. The power popping “Harboring a Fugitive” and hard rocking “Situation” were worked up in rehearsal but didn’t make the LP, while the punky “Making Me Sick,” featuring a different lineup of Bash & Poppers, ended up on the Clerks soundtrack. Nice treats for completists ultimately make an unheralded but great record even better.

DOWNLOAD: “Friday Night (is Killing Me),” “First Steps,” “Never Aim to Please”