Saturday, March 27, 2010


Tonight was the big March mustache celebration featuring local weirdos H-Beam at the Rutledge downtown. The Rutledge is on of my favorite venues in town. It's clean, roomy, and sound man Frank has been running the boards for years in Nashville and seems to have it figured out pretty well.

Sporting my own gringo bandito stache, I made it to the show just as the openers, Bowling Green's Thee Japanese Schoolgirls started their set. They sounded kind of like a really young Stone Temple Pilots might have sounded in their garage, before they kicked out their awful singer and found Scott Weiland. The band was decent but the singer, sans-instrument, was unbearable. It was unbearable enough to make me leave the entire show and hit up a nearby house party for an hour.

Upon my return I was greeted by Nashville's most far out rockers firing up their set. The first thing I noticed was that they had yet another different drummer, and had added a second guitarist and a saxophone for this show. The guitarist was Rick from a band called Uncle Milty. This was the band that opened for H's CD release show last summer with their silly, often immature and raunchy but still fun set. He added some good rhythm guitar but his biggest contribution was one of his songs about watching a lover a little too closely. I didn't catch the new drummer's name but he reminded me a lot of Rollum Haas from the Features. He had some stylish stick moves, and aside from some speeding and slowing issues, was a pretty good fit for the Beam. I was pleased to see that Russell Wright was still on bass. He has become one of the premier bassists on the Nashville local scene, with his ability to blend in anywhere and blow the doors off of anything, as well as his ability to juggle. Leading this whole trip was guitarist/singer Matt Walberg. His playing never ceases to amaze me, and his showmanship is really what makes this band so much fun. They can replace anyone they want, as long as Russell and Matt stick around.

The show included several skits and a cast of characters that covered influences from Andy Kauffman, to the Muppets, to Sid and Marty Krofft. The life-sized mustache character was the latest addition and looked great, along with the overgrown box of hair and the pimped out Tony Clifton-esque MC. The music covered plenty of persuasions as well from Pink Floyd, to Frank Zappa, to, again, the Muppets. The actual mustache contest lingered on for what seemed like forever. Luckily the back ground music for the event was funky and interesting enough to make it fun. Songs such as "Naked Ladies Dot Com" and "Love Panda" really showed how Walberg can create a completely silly, nonsensical yet musically genius song.

When I saw this band last summer, Matt promised the next show would be nothing we've ever seen before. Although the song list was similar (and it was great), he was right. I have never seen a man-high mustache, I've never seen a mustache contest with so much fan fare, and I've certainly never seen a bass player put his axe down and juggle. The creativity of this group makes it a treat to see them again and again. Their jam band style of music makes it unique every time and the ever changing theatrics make each show it's own masterpiece.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Old Union

Saturday night was another show from the good ole boys from Old Union at Mercy Lounge. This venue is perfect for this band, big enough to move around but small enough to keep the home town intimacy that we all love about these shows. The sound was pretty good and the atmosphere was lively and fresh as it should be on the first day of spring.

The opening band was The Last Straw. They drew a large crowd and although they played their songs well and everyone seemed to love it, I couldn't get into them. To me they sounded like some Old Union fans that said to themselves, "We could do that". They had the same instrument lineup and their sound was similar, maybe with a little more of a Black Crowes flavor. I listened to the first few songs but found myself out on the deck with friends for most of their set.

Old Union got their freight train set started with "Long Haul" and didn't stop raging for the rest of the night. After a few originals they graced us with an AC/DC cover block worthy of the Rock's 2 for Tuesday featuring "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" and "Back In Black". The guitars made these songs feel huge and Chuck's raspy voice made these versions about the best I have ever heard. They also covered the Beatles' "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window", putting their own southern style and swing into an already great song. Without a set break, the show seemed a little short when they ended with "Sweet Freedom". The set might have seemed short but the guitar solo from Spotty in the closer was long and juicy as he sent the loyal crowd into a final frenzy. The demand for an encore netted us an O.U. favorite, J.J. Cale's "Ride Me High".

These guys have definitely found their niche in Nashville and their fans still adore them. You can always count on a good time at an Old Union show and as good as the time is, it usually seems like the band themselves are having the biggest blast of all. Even a deaf person could get off on watching Johnny Z play a solo, and Helen Keller could enjoy a solo from this rhythm section. Good job boys.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

Tonight was the much anticipated CD release show for Volume 3 from the Criminal Element at 3rd and Lindsley. They have played two shows in town recently, but this was to be a night all to themselves giving them the space they need to truly do what they do. The release of Volume 3 marks a sort of growth from this band that showed them still writing all of the material on the spot in the studio, but making it into songs that have a little more substance than "Toasted" or "Passed Out" from previous volumes. Don't get me wrong, they still employ their clever criminal content and sexual innuendo, but the compositions and arrangements are more involved and mature.

Third was hoppin' tonight with a pretty good sized crowd and thanks to the Viking sound engineer Mikey, one of the best in Nashville, there was nary a sound issue for a guy like me to notice and stew on all night. If you're going to play this club, play it on Friday night. There is nothing this sound man can't handle and he works really hard to make everything sound perfect every time.

After a short sound check sermon from Johnny, the band started up with the single from the new volume, "Sum Of It All". The fans tonight were given a special treat by way of Johnny's vintage Wurlitzer electric piano which was also featured heavily on the next two songs, "Go", and "Closing In On You", the slick reggae tune that I really like. Russell Wright sits right in the pocket with the bass line that gets stuck in your head for the rest of the night. The verse section is Marley-esque with harmonies that could only sound better with Jamaican ladies singing them, while the chorus goes strong power ballad, then right back into the bass groove. After this suite, it was time for the classic make up song from the Element. It started as it usually does, this time with Randy Boen just throwing out a guitar riff, and the rest of the band following along. The riff started slow but the song soon took off and became a pretty good number. It's always fun to hear Johnny freestyle the lyrics of these make ups, something that he is a master of. These improvisations give the audience a chance to not just listen for a certain song, but instead just kick back and see what happens. The next new song was "I Deserved It", featuring Johnny with a screaming "slide guitar" solo from his keyboard. Anyone who wasn't watching would swear that there was a Les Paul up there with a Coriciden bottle running down the neck, not a keyboard from the 80's. The jam came to a halt to let the dynamic drum duo take a nice solo with Curt Redding on the kit and Bobby "Nightlife" Knowles who was sitting in all night on the congas. These two are connected at the brain and their collaborations always sound like one drummer with 8 different appendages all banging on something in perfect time.

The second set started with some solo noodling from Johnny which led into the mini theme trilogy of "I Wish I Could", "Do Ya Girl", and "In Strange Places". These three songs follow a storyline from meeting a crazy party girl, to getting used and abused, to coming out the other side. The three completely different songs seem to mold together well with sometimes rockin', sometimes spacey jams in between, providing another example of this album's maturity. With this being the first time they have played this trilogy live since the studio, they looked a little scared and on edge but they pulled it off pretty well for a band who refuses to "rehearse". Continuing with the new material, next was "Wouldn't That Be Nice", a standard Element party song. It has the usual funky verses into the booming chorus that the Criminals have made into their trademark formula. It also has another C.E. mainstay, hilarious lyrics that make daily household chores sound more than a little dirty. Closing out with the always popular and manic "Damn Right", they ended with a foot-stompin' revival style jam that the fraction of a crowd that remained went nuts for. Unfortunately, encore shouts were shot down pretty quick with house music.

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element have proven with this record that they can make real rock and roll while still managing to keep their wild ways and love for improvisation in tact. Volume 3 has increased their repertoire by a third, and with their ability to just make up great songs, this should make for some good shows this summer.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

G Love and Special Sauce

This was a show that I put on the calendar a couple of months ago. I have been a fan of G Love since high school when he hit it big with "My Baby's Got Sauce". I've always loved his unique blend of hip-hop, folk, and blues. I like to see an artist who has a sound that could be compared to few other artists i.e. the Beastie Boys or The Mars Volta. True pioneers inspire me.

I guess I just wasn't too interested in seeing the opening band, "Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad". Call it judging a book by the cover but even after the rousing endorsement a friend gave them, I still was more interested in 2 dollar High Lifes and watching the Predators win in a shootout at the Gold Rush. They might have been great but that shootout against the Flyers was epic.

I finally crossed the street and made it to the Exit In. Within 5 minutes I had paid the cover, got a beer, found a great spot in the balcony, and the show started. They sauntered onto the stage and Timo Shanko started the bass line of the smooth hit "Blues Music". The vocals were a little too soft, which was okay because the guy next to me knew all the words and had no problem belting them out for all to hear. The first few songs in the set were similar to this one, slow and groovy but classic G Love. One song featured a bass solo from Shanko on the stand up. Boy he was really tearin' it up on that thing. He got all hunched over and tense like we use to do when playing the Nintendo power pad. As the show went on, the energy level rose, enough even to get Mr. Love to stand up out of his chair to play. G's Philly drawl and delivery has always been his trademark feature, as well as his chair sitting. It's a mix between rapping, singing, and wicca-wicca turntable noises. By the time they got to "Baby's Got Sauce", the crowd was amped and the band was rolling. They kept this up until the end of the show, mostly due to some G-styling, and great drumming from the House Man. The encore started with a couple of acoustic songs and went right back into the Special Sauce storm. The night ended with an extended version of my favorite one, "Cold Beverage". The hands were in the air, the people just didn't care, and a beautiful friend popped up with a shot of Irish Whiskey and a PBR. Not a bad way to end a great night.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Tonight was the kind of show that I love to write about. I had no idea what to expect from Muse except some Radiohead comparisons I had heard and the abundance of skinny jeans and hair dos that suggest they are popular amongst the kids. It was kind of like seeing a movie that people have told me was good without having even seen a preview. I wasn't sure if they were worthy of playing the recently renamed Bridgestone Center, the local enormo-dome, but they drew a pretty good crowd, more than Green Day by my estimation. From the Pepe Le Pew hipsters to the cool Joe Six Pack and his girlfriend next to me, the kids seem to love them some Muse.

The opening band was an emo 4-piece called The Silverspun Pickups. They were Webster's definition of mediocre. The drummer was energetic as he could be but even that couldn't get the crowd to bob their heads even the slightest bit. Sure there was the obligatory applause after every song, but during the numbers, not one fist in the air, not one teeny girl scream, not so much as an ass out of a seat. Not even in the very front row. They seemed like they were pretty into their songs, even a little proud that they had written them, but they sucked. My God did they suck.

After a stint on the smoking line and a fresh beer, I made my way to my seat and noticed that the stage was set but there seemed to be a lack of any musical equipment whatsoever. The only things on stage were three skyscraper looking props. When the lights went down and the show started with "Uprising", I was excited to see what they had in store. With the first notes, the covers came off of the props and each member of the band was positioned atop a riser that was previously a skyscraper. All in all it was a pretty cool setup, which raised and lowered periodically throughout the night, something I had never seen before. The light show was spectacular with a mix of your run of the mill arena lights mixed with lasers flooding the hazy room and bouncing off of the back walls. The screens in the back ground showed random flashes of unidentifiable images and brief shots of the band, giving no competition to the amazing lights.

Like I said before, the three piece Muse is often compared to Radiohead, although I would tend to differ. This band made the most of their trio by playing real instruments, even if a lot of the sounds were from a mostly hidden fourth member keyboardist. The drummer did a great job of filling in the extra space with Larry Mullin-esque drum lines and the singer/guitarist had a certain Bowie/Bono bravado that made his vocals boom, as opposed to the Thom Yorke wail whine. The guitar sounds were strong and unique, much different than your typical Les Paul-ocaster tones you usually hear from most current popular bands. I was too far away to see the brand of guitar but I could tell that I had never seen anything like them before. The bass player was adequate. That's it, adequate. Lisa Simpson would give him a "Meh". I guess everyone can't be spectacular. I will give him props for the short solo in which he and the drummer spun around on the center riser while he strummed intricate chords in overdrive while the drummer wailed. The one song I recognized was the one with the chorus "I want it now." I guess I've either heard it on the radio or seen it in a Mountain Dew ad on T.V. The show climaxed with a rousing version of "Plug In Baby" complete with huge eyeball balloons dropping from the sky and bursting with confetti. Truly a mohawk raising experience.

Over the course of the night I went from "this sounds an awful lot like Blur" to "is this a Cher song?", all the while bobbing my head and tapping my foot and loving it. I didn't know what to expect but I did know that everyone I had talked to about this band had nothing but good things to say, even some of my most musically opinionated friends. I also know that they didn't disappoint. This show was pretty awesome, from the lights, to the stage, to the music and performance. I can almost guarantee that this show was heads and shoulders above the AARP-fest Clapton show that I got shut out of, choc full of energy and feeling and no one behind me telling me to sit down.