Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stillhouse Hollow

After a crazy night on Thanksgiving, I headed down to Franklin for something a little more laid back. Kimbro's Pickin' Parlor is a quaint little venue in an old house in downtown Franklin, where the band plays on the floor and the staff becomes your old friend as soon as you walk in the door. Stillhouse Hollow is the perfect act for this venue, laid back enough to not over power the room but entertaining to young and old alike. The last time I saw these guys was at Centennial Park, opening the weekly Shakespeare event. This time they had the night all to themselves, allowing for a broader showcase of their catalog.

Guitarist and main songwriter Nathan Griffin writes songs that make him seem like a seasoned old mountain man, although I can't see him being much more than 30 years old. His songs like "Whiskey", about bootleggin', and "Dakota", about a traveling band, have an old timey charm that really defines their sound. Singer/Harmonica player Joel Meeks on the other hand writes songs such as "Miss Meg" and one of my favorites "Rocky Road Toadstools" with a Shell Silverstien sort of style, using clever phrases and telling funny stories. This vocal duo works really well for Stillhouse. With Meeks' powerful pipes and Griffin's smooth voice, their harmonies are flawless. Scott Calpin on mandolin adds his own unique style which may sound a bit off sometimes while soloing, but his solid rhythm holds down the beat and he always seems to come back around at the right time. Tonight we were treated to a special guest appearance by local guitar guru Kenny Meeks in the second and third set adding a cool slide electric sound to songs such as "Pimp Hand" and Bob Dylan's "Watching the River Flow", among others.

Another great asset of this band is their wide range of cover selections. From old standards like "Salty Dog" to bluegrass favorites like "Midnight Moonlight", to their own versions of songs like Cake's "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts" and The Band's "Ophelia", they never cease to amaze me with what they might pull out. Whether it's Joel or Nate singing, they always seem to nail every lyric no matter how rapid fire or complicated they may be. These guys have a really polished sound while still being able to have lots of fun. They are starting to branch out over the Southeast and their formula appears to be working. Just show up with a guitar, mandolin and a lunchbox full of harps and play great music that everyone can get into.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mile 8

In the past decade, Thanksgiving has promised two things. One being the obvious turkey dinner we all love, and the other being a Mile 8 show at Third and Lindsley. This annual tradition always proves to be a good way to work off that huge meal and have a good time, and with the now defunct band just getting together for this night, it was a little more special.

They started off with a couple of their recent quick hitters, "Flier" and "Fabulous Evening", and then launched into a crowd favorite epic "Fog Juice", which peaked early and often squashing the abundance of tryptophan. These three songs featured lead guitarist Randy Boen on a Les Paul, something he'd never done before, and seemed only to be doing it out of some sort of phantom obligation to a longtime fan. It did sound really good, but with a snide remark that only guitar enthusiasts would understand, he switched back to his trademark blue Strat. The rest of the first set included some old Mile 8 jam classics, with "Lesson To Be Learned", the title track from their latest record "Crazy Things" with a classic "Curbert Knolding" drum solo, and "Button" with a guest appearance from a harmonica player who reeked of Nashville self love and an awkward mid-jam tease of "Midnight Rider". Closing the first set with Jacko's "Starting Something" left the already amped crowd ready for a raging second set, and also showcased their ability to nail even the most off the wall cover tunes.

After an almost unbearable trivia contest and an apology from Sax player Adam Livingston for accidentally assaulting a female fan, the second set took off featuring original bass player Neil Vance as well as some really old selections from his era including "Breaking You" and "Something Said". Another highlight of this section was "Pogo Stick", spotlighting the vocal stylings of returning original rhythm guitarist Caleb Hickman, who joined the band all night and could be described as a mix between Dickie Betts and Slash. It was good to see this line-up back together, even if the bass work wasn't quite as impressive. Moving on in the set with most current line-up including Timmy Cooper on keys and Russell Wright on bass, they rolled through more old favorites like "Afraid to Fall", and newer ones such as "Gas Station Dinner" and "Ayo Ayo", involving the crowd in the party-style chorus. And what Mile 8 Thanksgiving bash would be complete without their own original Christmas carol "Naked Christmas"? It was great to finally see this song performed without some drunk jack-ass rushing the stage and taking his clothes off. A great version of The Beatles' "Dig a Pony" started of a run of songs that would finish off the night with a huge bang including the Goonies homage "Chester Copperpot", a version of "Alien" with alternate lyrics about E.T. and an "Elliot" chorus, and their biggest show stopper "Laugh On". The encore selection of Tool's "Sober" was another one from left field, but the crowd seemed to love it and it was another reminder of good times of Mile 8 past.

For a band who officially broke up three years ago, these guys are still an undeniable force. With Lightning 100 featuring them on "Local Lightning" all week and a pretty big crowd on a holiday weeknight, the question I heard most of the night was "why aren't they still together?" Their chemistry is unquestionable, whether it's the dueling guitar lines between Caleb and Randy, the spot on vocal harmonies, or the drum work between drummer Curt Redding and percussionist Bobby Knowles, who's parts actually contribute immensely to the band's overall sound. There's a reason why most of these names may sound familiar, as most of these guys are in another, if not several other bands around town, proving that they are some of the best musicians around. I guess Mile 8 just isn't meant to be, but as long as they keep either saying "farewell" or "reuniting" every year or two, people will "come to get down".

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Boom Ticket

Tonight I headed down to The Rutledge for a Tuesday night of Boom Ticket. I figured there might not be much of a crowd, and boy was I right. Tuesday night in Nashville is a black hole, unless you're playing the arena or the Ryman.

When Boom Ticket finally started, most of the people that were there for the first two bands had left, leaving me and about ten other people. This didn't seem to phase the Boom trio, as they blasted through their set. This was the nicest venue I've seen them play so far, with a great sound system and sound guy. This made for a truly booming show from these guys, as you could really hear the thunderous drum work from Bobby Knowles. His unique drum lines really make this band interesting, along with new bass player, Jeff Taco, putting his flavor on the old bass lines. Adam Livingston's solid vocals and extremely loud guitar round out this group, as they nail their original compositions. The one hiccup came on their version of the Dead Weather's "So Far From Your Weapon". With everyone looking a little lost, they still managed to make it through, not completely butchering it but beating it within an inch of it's life. They finished strong with a classic Bobby drum line and some good feed back driven soloing from Adam.

Most of the times I see this band play, it's usually to a meager crowd. If they could get a hundred or so people to come out, the energy would surely make for a great show. They are a relatively new band, still working on finding their niche and building a following, but with the right promotion and their ability to write strong rock songs, they should be able to make a name for themselves in Nashville before they sprawl out over the southeast.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jack Nasti

Saturday night was the CD release show for The Running's new live record at Exit In. Although I didn't really pay close enough attention to them to write anything, I did watch J-Po's new band, Jack Nasti, open the night.

Instead of the boisterous showman we got from the V.A.B, we were given an intense, beat driving keyboard/mouse player. John Paul has rounded up a new rhythm section and reunited with some of the old V.A.B, including Randy Boen on guitar, Jody Douglas on Sax and the old percussion player and created a trance-techno style group. The formula is pretty much like this: Start with looping two synth chords and a generic bass line, add a techno drum beat, repeat for a few minutes while Boen and the horns noodle around until the energy level rises and rises with Randy hitting the highest note his Stratocaster will play. Then mellow out for another couple of minutes until the end of the song. This formula seemed to work really well for about 20 of the 200 people at this show. The dancers really were feeling it, but the rest of the crowd really had to yell to tell each other about their cheesy pick up lines, office jobs and hair care product recommendations. Another thing missing was any kind of light show. If these guys could get a headlining gig somewhere with a fog machine and some good moving lights, this recipe might work out really well. It's not really the kind of thing for opening the night in still yellow light before anyone's got a buzz on, but if they could get that many people to come out to see them play their own show, it could be a good party. I have to commend John Paul for laying off the obnoxious shtick and focus more on making digestible music, even if it was frequenty on a computer. I had a hard time having to watch the poor drummer sit and wait while the computer thumped out beats from time to time. I was glad to see him occupy his time with tom-tom fills, even if they were pretty much futile.

On a side note, I'm not sure if the percussionist thought he was funny, or if he was pissed off, or trying to be sarcastic, but some of his comments made for some really awkward moments. After one song he said "that's the end of that song", as if to say "they all sound the same don't they." Other times he would suggest, in mid-song, that we "all take Ecstasy" or "throw some glow sticks", as if to mock the crowd and the music. I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth but it came off like he wasn't too into this style of music. I don't blame him, it's not really the place for congas, but leave the snide comments to the critics and either play like you like it or start a V.A.B. tribute band.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dash Rip Rock

Tonight was an outing to East Nashville's Matty's Ally, a sports bar by day and a hole in the wall live music venue by night. The scene was like a club in the country with a door guy in an official t-shirt and wristbands to prove we paid the 5 dollar cover. The stage was adorned with a huge square wooden pillar right in the middle and cheesy American DJ lights. The cheap beer and the fact that I could smoke inside made me feel right at home. This place, however bush league for Nashville, was the perfect place to see the rowdy country punks Dash Rip Rock.

We arrived just as DRR was about to start. Half of the crowd seemed to lack enthusiasm, being more interested in hitting on the few decent looking ladies, while the other half was fueled up and ready to rock. With plenty of leather jackets and rolled up sleeves, I wasn't surprised to see as much air guitar as I did, but I was surprised to see the amount of gray hairs dancing.

Dash Rip Rock were a veteran outfit from N'awlins with a real talent for writing clever catchy punk country songs. They tip toed the edge of rockabilly without the typical stand-up bass and pompadours, instead employing Telecasters and mutton chops. A few songs into the set, their stirring rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow" kicked off a run of songs, each with a story or dedication to its namesake. Songs such as "Fall Down Go Boom", "If You See Kay", (about a former abusive girlfriend), and "I Wanna Get Drunk in a Liquor Store With You" had the feel that only a lawless battle-scarred touring punk band could conjure up. I particularly liked the drummer's version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and got a kick out of "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot" sang to the tune of "Let's Go to the Hop".

Overall, these guys were a great time, complete with high kicks in unison and actual musical talent to go along with the not-so-serious lyrical content. I could totally see this show at a small time festival after about 12 beers in the sun. They clearly still have a great time playing and know exactly how to get a crowd hopping. Aside from being great performers, they were pretty cool guys too as I chatted with them for a bit after the show. If anyone is looking for a good romp, check to see if Dash Rip Rock is coming anytime soon, find a designated driver, and check them out.

Heavy Trash

The other night, while most of the denim and leather contingent was watching the Boss try to remember what town he was in, I was pumped to catch another long time bad-ass Jon Spencer with his latest project Heavy Trash at The End. This little venue is across the street from it's big brother, the Exit In and usually plays host to local high school bands, making it an odd choice of stages for Spencer.

I showed up in time to catch most of the set from the second openers, Kindergarten Circus. This band, along with the venue, made something not seem right about this show. These youngsters banged through their 45 minute set with loud bar chords and unintelligible vocals thanking the crowd before they clapped and starting each song with "This song's called..." refrains. These guys definitely belong at The End, just not opening for such a rock God as Jon Spencer, even if it is a lesser known side project than the Blues Explosion.

As Heavy Trash sauntered onto the stage, the small crowd, including everyone from Urban Outfitter hipsters to a couple of bikers to Kindergarten Circus' parents, gathered around the front of the stage. After a brief technical glitch, Spencer welcomed the fans and launched into his set. This band has more of an old timey rockabilly sound than the Blues Explosion, with Jon on acoustic guitar, along with an electric Gretsch, a stand-up dog house bass, and a slick drummer, former Fluid Ounce, Sam Baker, who thanked those representing his "good old Murfreesboro". It was a little more laid back than I had hoped, but there were still times when Spencer got rowdy, shaking us up with his trademark growls and delay effects on his vocals. He writhed around that tiny stage and gave us all what we've come to expect from this New York punk blues man. Each of the other band members also treated us to a vocal selection, including "My Dirty Sneakers" from the drummer with his ukulele. The set ended with an epic, sermon-like rap from Jon, which climaxed with him doubled over on his knees and screaming like his eyes were going to pop out. This huge finale must have been lost on the crowd because they had to be guilted into clapping for an encore by an outspoken fan. When they finally woke up and got the Trash back on stage, we got a couple more songs from the new record and that was it.

This outing was fun, but odd. It was like a high school band bash with a national iconic headliner. The sound was inadequate and the crowd was a little tame but Heavy Trash put on a good show none-the-less. Jon Spencer has been around for 20 plus years and I sure can't wait to see what his next venture will be. Whether it's another new band or a reunion of one of his many old bands, like a Blues Explosion tour, or even more Heavy Trash, I'll be there, no matter what crappy little bar he chooses.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Tonight after much internal debate, I decided to at least go down to the Vanderbilt Memorial Gym and see if I could get a ticket to Jay-Z. This crowd was a little tougher than most shows I go to but I finally found the right person who didn't care what the face value was and sold it to me cheap. I made my way down to the floor right as the auditorium went dark and the stage screens started the countdown. When Jay came out, I thought the roof was going to lift off of the place. This crowd was fired up to say the least. I can only imagine what it would have been like if the show wasn't on campus and they sold beer.

I knew that there would be a live band, but I didn't expect one of this magnitude. The 10-piece ensemble really rocked. It included a dj, two keyboardists, a 3-piece horn section, bass, guitar, drums, and what I would call an auxiliary drummer. He had some congas and other percussion instruments but spent most of his time playing the electronic drum pads adding sounds that the live drums just couldn't make. There were more than a few moments when the live players, mostly guitar and bass, stood around not doing anything while the tracks played, but when they did play they rocked. Now, in the past month, I've seen such bands as KISS, Lenny Kravitz, Mars Volta, and Them Crooked Vultures, but this was by far the loudest show of them all. It's no wonder they repeatedly shouted "Huh?" and "What?". On one hand, it was awesome to feel the bass hitting me like a Mack truck, but the hurricane of sound made it a little difficult to understand what Jay was saying. I guess this didn't really affect the rest of the hardcore fans as it seemed like everyone in the arena sang every word of every song all night.

I've never really been a big hip-hop fan but I do know that Jay-Z is about as good as it gets. He truly was a great showman, whipping the near capacity crowd into an arm waving, bouncing frenzy. With every opening note, the fans went nuts like each song was a number one hit. He cruised the stage and radiated cool all night proving why, as he said, his record "outsold Elvis". I don't know many of his songs but I did recognize "99 Problems", "Death to Auto-Tune", and the one with the "Hard Knock Life" sample. Even without being familiar, the show was great. It was a lot like a rock show in sheer volume and energy with a star who really knows how to perform. He kept mentioning the fact that this was their last stop until February and they played like they were leaving it all in Nashville, even proclaiming that "this was the best show of the tour." He swore he wasn't blowing smoke, and I could see how this show would be hard to top without adding a Bonnaroo sized crowd or an all-star line up.

As I was sitting outside after the show, I heard a lot of fans talking about this being the best show they've ever been to and how awesome it was to see their hero. It's safe to say that Jay-Z converted a new fan tonight. I like how he wasn't into hyping himself all night. His huge charisma and wide range of songs spoke for themselves and will make it easy for me to get into him, and maybe even learn a little more about hip-hop.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

C.B. Fisk Organ, Opus 134 Dedication Recital

Today instead of my usual face melting ear splitting rock show outing, I decided to gain a little culture and check out my first ever pipe organ recital. I was invited by a friend who is the most knowledgeable person I know on this sort of music so I was excited to experience something new and maybe even learn something. The show was held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Green Hills to christen the new beautiful pipe organ. The featured performer was world renowned organist Janette Fishell, whose profile page in the program was full of accolades, accomplishments, and glorious places she has played.

The Covenant Presbyterian Church is a new building, only having been open since last Easter. The sanctuary was pretty impressive. All the beautiful woodwork stood out against the stone walls and the stained glass, which was more abstract than your typical portraits of saints and biblical characters. I found myself imagining being in an old church in Rome or London centuries ago when those places were brand new. It also made me think of how great this place will look in about 500 years. The acoustics of course were enormous with the high ceilings and stones, making even the slightest cough or throat clear boom out in echos.

The man introducing the show referred to the organ as "the instrument". Calling this an instrument is like calling the Titanic "a boat". The radiant steel pipes scaled the wall and the huge sound filled the sanctuary and rang out even after she stopped playing. The range of power was incredible, playing some parts that make you want to raise your arms and hands in that "summoning God" type way, while other softer parts were like a fantasy sequence in a Disney movie. One section would end with thunderous peaking chords only to lead into a whimsical light-hearted portion. With compositions from Johann Bach, Georg Bohm, and Charles Widor, among others, the song selection seemed to cover a range of different ways to showcase this "instrument". My favorite song of the night was her bluesy rendition of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus", the song she learned specifically to play in Nashville. It sounded like a song Ray Charles might play if he were to sit down at this magnificent organ.

Janette Fishnell truly was an exceptional organist. The entire performance sounded flawless. To my untrained ear, there were some chords that sounded like she was just mashing her palms on the keyboard, but she always made them fit in and flow gracefully. Her feel for dynamics was also impressive with her ability to crush us by stomping on the bass pedals and then twinkle around on the keyboard. In addition to being musically entertaining, Fishnell was fun to watch as she navigated all the different tasks involved in her recital. From pulling stops to turning pages to playing with all four appendages, I half expected her to whip out a canvass and a brush and start painting a masterpiece while she was at it. The way her limbs flowed on that keyboard sometimes made her look like a marionette whose strings were being manipulated from above.

I did end up learning a lot at this show, as well a enjoying myself. This timeless genre of music, while not something I would likely play on a road trip or party mix, is yet another art form that I should definitely learn more about. Just the fact that it's been around for centuries proves that it's a special thing. There aren't many other genres in which the current star performers come out and play songs that were written 200 years ago, mixed in with their own compositions. If you're a musician, rock, jazz, or otherwise, and you can't draw some sort of inspiration from this performance, you have a problem with yourself. This music is as relevant now as it was centuries ago and will be for years to come.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Tonight was a good night with friends at the Exit In. Ballhog was playing their second show in a week in Nashville, the other being at the 5 Spot on Halloween. That night was a lot of fun but the show sort of took a back seat to the festivities and the all out battle just to get a drink and move one step due to the huge crowd. Exit In was much more laid back and chilled out and that's really the way to enjoy Ballhog.

Being the opener, they started off with an undersized crowd, which thankfully grew as the show went on. Randy Russell's unique songs were right on tonight. The sound these guys have created straddles the line between bluegrass and country twang. The instrumentation suggests bluegrass with a banjo and mandolin and such but the songs go way beyond the usual three chord blueprint we all know, and with a horn section and a drummer, there's really nothing to compare them to. They even played some older more rare songs as they waited for their sax man, Patty D, to show up. Adam Livingston held down the horn parts pretty well without Patty, not bad for a guy who just joined the band a couple of weeks ago. They ran through the Ballhog standards, including a few of my favorites like "I Can't Hide Where I'm From", "What's This", and some others that I love but don't know the names of. Their ability to switch instruments between members is always fun to watch, you never know who's going to pick up what. This band definitely belongs at an outdoor festival in the woods more so than a super crowded bar in East Nashville, but Exit In was a happy medium.

The headliners were another oversized funk band called Sky High. These groups seem to be popping up more and more in Nashville. The formula seems to be a a large band with a horn section and keyboards and a singer with lots of soul and a huge voice. While this band's singer was really good at singing, his stage presence and overall performance were slightly lacking the energy I'd like to see from a funk party band. It just seemed like they were going through the motions. Granted, the crowd could have been bigger and more energetic, but if you're going to be that big of a band and play that kind of music, it needs to be all out and sadly these guys weren't.