Sunday, April 25, 2010

Old Union

Last night was the Old Union show that is to be made into their next live album. I know I've seen them a few times already this year but a) I love this band, b) I knew they were going to bring it for the record and c) I wanted to make as much noise as I could. They played at the Exit In and had a really full, amped crowd.

Local minstrels Ballhog! were the openers and apart from a few new songs, it was pretty much a typical show. The new one about East Nashville was pretty funny. I need to hear it a couple more times because it was hard to follow with such a seemingly complicated chord progression. Maybe I just had trouble focusing, either way, I liked it. I can't remember the names of the other new ones but they were pretty cool too. It looks like the Hog has started to cash in on the chemistry between the Randys, Boen and Russell. The rest of the set contained some usual favorites, "Diesel", "Pickin' White Gold", and "Don't Be Sad" to name a few, which are always fun to hear.

Old Union came out and thanked the crowd and explained what was going on and then wasted no more time getting to it. They launched into "Jericho" and never took their feet off of the gas. It was everything you could hope for from an O U show. Spotty and Johnny Z's guitar's locked in, the rhythm section tight as ever, and Chuck with as much gravelly soul as you can possibly get out of a VK 7. They bombarded us with O U strongholds like "Last Chance" and "Traveling Show", along with some good covers, one of which was a Zeppelin one whose title is on the tip of my tongue (little help in the comment section anyone?). Overall the show was great. I can't wait to hear the record.

I was interested to see how this band would handle making a live album. I've seen bands before that try to make one and get so caught up in the recording that the show suffers. Sometimes the players get into their own heads and play a tight, uncomfortable show, but not these guys. They came prepared like the professionals they are and used the "pressure" of the live recording, along with the jet stream of energy from the crowd to play a really good show. It was a good night for the combination of local music, cold beer, and good friends on the Rock Block.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hank Williams Jr.

Last night I got to see a living legend do his thing. Hank Williams Jr. played at the newly renamed Bridgestone Center, the local enormo-dome. As I walked through the parking lot full of Grave Diggers, Calvin stickers, and Stars and Bars, I wasn't sure how my ticket buying technique would go over with this crowd. It sure was rowdy, as if the Hillsboro Middle School and FHS auto body garage had a reunion downtown, a scene I am all too familiar with. No more than five minutes after I started looking, the nice lady at the radio station tent gave me a ticket. So, this review is brought to you by the letters W, S, M.

Getting a ticket so early left me some time to pregame the only appropriate way, by bellying up to the sticky bar at The Wheel on Broadway and catching some tunes from The Jukebox Junkies. They played some songs about how bad country radio is and a couple of old classics including "Kawliga", the old Hank Sr. song about a wooden indian. They also quoted Jesco White which gave them instant country street cred. The Wheel was a great place to get a couple cheap beers and a shot of Jack and get ready for the hoe down.

I went into the show as they were setting up for opener Jamey Johnson (not to be confused with the pretty-boy 3-time NASCAR champ). He came out and put on a pretty good show for what seemed to be a pretty interested crowd. His songs contain a lot of lines about smoking and growing pot, drinkin' whiskey, and other such red-neck activities that are so much fun. These references always get a good reaction from this sort of crowd. There were a few too many slow ballads for my liking but overall, he was a good opener for Bocephus.

The lights went down for Hank and the screen lit up with pictures of him and Sr. and a video introduction from Merle Haggard. There was also some talk about the Monday Night Football intro, which I thought was unnecessary. Then he came out a rippin' and a tearin' and started off with "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound" and then went right into Skynard's "Workin' For M.C.A". The night was filled with great moments. In his version of the aforementioned Sr. classic "Kawliga", he played a hot fiddle solo. At another point, he got on the piano and told a great story about Jerry Lee Lewis jamming at the house and "teachin' me to boogie", and then played his version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". The acoustic set included a Dukes of Hazard theme sing-along, a "Tear in My Beer" sing-along and a campfire version of "A Country Boy Can Survive". The band came back out for the last few songs and ended the way you might expect, with everyone, including Jamey Johnson and the rest of the rowdy friend openers hollering "TO GET DRUNK! TO GET STONED! TO GET LAID!" in an all inclusive version of "Family Tradition", with Sr.'s "Hey Good Lookin'" tacked on for good measure. Then Bocephus strutted around the stage, left, and it was over. Boom, no encore. Kind of a disappointment but understandable from someone who doesn't play many shows anyway.

I'm glad to have gotten a chance to see Hank Jr., especially under the shadow of his huge banner on the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was cool to see that he was proud of his heritage and his family line. He loves his dad and all that goes along with the name. There was also no question of his political views with the huge banner stating "I'm keepin' my guns, my money, and my freedom, you can keep the change." draped across the stage. It truly was a good Nashville experience and another one off the bucket list.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Morning Jacket

Last night I was faced with quite the quandary. Do I see Levon Helm play all of my favorite old songs from The Band with countless potential hall-of-famers at God's own venue, the Ryman, or do I see My Morning Jacket, a band I know nothing about at the mangy Municipal Auditorium with all my friends? After going back and forth and really having a hard time deciding, I chose MMJ and will live the rest of my life wondering what might have been. Actually I know what might have been, I saw Levon 2 years ago but I still think that was the better show to see, musically.

I guess I missed the best part of the night, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's opening set. With a big group with multiple birthdays to celebrate, sometimes you just don't make it on time. They did join MMJ for their encore and from what I could tell, they looked to be pretty cool. The people who saw the set seemed to think it was great.

My Morning Jacket started off with some flashing lights and smoke and a huge build up which, like most of the rest of the build ups of the night, didn't really deliver much. They started with "One Big Holiday", "Gideons", and "I'm Amazed",(song title's supplied by a big fan next to me) and from what I could tell, played those songs over and over again all night. In trying to find out as much as I could about these guys before the show, I heard a lot of people say they were a "jam band". Apart from the smoke cloud and the arm flailing dancers, I would have to say they are more of a rock band that just doesn't know when to stop. Sure they took their songs out on musical strolls, but they never went anywhere. There was never that great moment when the band hits the high note and the crowd feels it and goes nuts. The only going nuts I could see was at the very beginning of each song. The whole thing was very vanilla and bland to me. They were good players and they had lots of energy on stage which is why I kept thinking surely they were going to do something special but they never did. Of course, the hard-core fans loved it but I just didn't feel anything. It was like opening presents on Christmas and getting the same gray shirt from everyone you know. Sure you love a good gray shirt, they don't suck, but, well, I guess you just expect more.

The encore included the P.H. Jazz band which could barely be heard over the stadium style guitar sounds and the caped lead singer. One of the last songs sounded like a Prince song which was kind of cool, and the Jazz band took control of the last number of the night. By the time the show was over, I had that feeling like you get at a mid-summer baseball game. It's fun and it's something to do, but I'm ready for it to be over.

If I wasn't with all of my friends and didn't meet a pretty girl, this night would have been a total bust, but at least I got to see what MMJ was all about. Although I won't be heading to a small record store in London to pick up their ultra rare b-sides LP, I respect their professionalism and their light show. Much like Avatar and Presidential elections, I just don't see what all the hub-bub is about.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nashville Symphony featuring Cherryholmes

In a continuation of my surreal Saturday, I got gussied up in a three piece suit and went down to the Schermerhorn Center for some fine art. My million dollar "Founder Level" seats were so good, I felt like every comment I made should be followed by a "Doohh Ho Ho Ho" like the Muppet Hecklers. In all seriousness, we were given a generous gift from some longtime clients and treated to a really nice night of music and culture. This was my first time in this building. It was incredible. They say it is acoustically perfect, and I would have to pretty much agree, after spending the whole night listening for just one flaw. The architecture was beautiful, from the huge ceilings and the massive pipe organ, to the Tennessee Iris fixtures in the railings. I can't imagine that there is a bad seat in that house, although I also couldn't see a seat much better than mine.

The first set, or act, or whatever it's called in symphony world, was a series of fun, upbeat tunes that set the tone for the night. It went from a Czech style ho down to a Romanian rhapsody to a symphonic version of one of the best songs ever played, "Rocky Top", which was awesome. The night's conductor, Albert-George Schram was a trip to watch. His Duet with a 7th grade boy singer reminded me of a scene right out of Willy Wonka. His wild gray hair and gravelly delivery was a true compliment to the boy's own pure high pitched pre-pubescent voice. It was a great performance and for a moment it was almost more like a play than a concert. I loved all the different instruments. Horns like the oboe and the French horn all have such unique sounds and the huge bass drums and timpani rang out throughout the whole room. I did feel a little bad for the guy on the drum kit. Aside from a few snare rolls and pops, he was more like a bull pen catcher, dressing up and showing up for the gig, but not really doing much. And lest we forget the flute, in it's natural habitat, making the songs frolic and flutter with an air of whimsy.

For the second set, we were treated to some bluegrass from Grammy Nominated family band Cherryholmes. The band consisted of Mom, Dad, two sisters and their two brothers. They had a bluegrass foundation with a little bit of the new school country sound found in groups like Lady Antebellum or Steel Magnolia. There was no doubt these kids were talented. They swapped instruments like masters and nailed harmonies with 3 to 5 perfects parts. I have to say the girls were better lead singers than the boys, who mostly sounded like Gomer Pyle might sound while singing.
Their songs ranged from fast chicken-pickin' instrumentals to beautiful ballads and even some buck dancin' thrown in. In "I'll Never Shed Another Tear", they let the symphony take the solos, getting some bluegrass licks from the flutes, the brass and the violins. Trombone solos could really take off in the bluegrass world if you ask me. My favorite song was the encore "Mary Don't You Wait" sung A Capella by all six members barbershop style. It was incredible how they again nailed every harmony perfectly and the Mom's lead rivaled a howling Janis Joplin.

The combination of perfect seats, a perfect acoustic room, roots bluegrass music, a fine glass of Scotch and a fancy suit made this a show to remember and a unique experience. Although I probably won't be adding any classical numbers to my library, I really do appreciate the music and I love to watch the conductor wave his arms around up there and bring all of the intricate parts together. I think it's good to get out of the dark smokey clubs every once in a while and get some culture and learn something. I'm glad I made it out to this show where they encouraged us to relax and hoot and holler a little more than usual. It was right up my alley.

The Racontuers

Today was a holiday known as Record Store Day, a day for us to celebrate our local indie record stores and bask in the nonchalant awesomeness that is the Nashville music scene. For instance, the Racontuers minus Jack and Jack played a short set with a couple of stand-ins at the Third Man Records compound for about 300 lucky fans. Through a set of circumstances that are too random and unbelievable to explain, I ended up in the backstage lounge of Third Man with Brendan Benson and Patrick Keeler, among wives, parents, friends and other Nashville rock stars. I had the classic Wayne's World moment when Brendan asked me about my Detroit T-shirt. I told him I was from "South Detroit" and he went on this long thing a la Alice Cooper about how there really is no South Detroit and it's really Windsor and how he never understood that Journey song. Really? Was this really happening? The highlight of the whole afternoon came during sound check when Keeler sort of went into his own little world with the drum line for "Broken Boy Soldier". It was like my own personal Moby Dick from one of my favorite drummers, in Jack White's office/museum on a Saturday afternoon, alongside my parents. There were more than a few times when I had to shake my head and come back down to Earth.

Then something happened to bring me back to reality. The show started. They opened with an instrumental tease of "The Switch and the Spur", which featured a man playing the saw, and then ran through more hits including "You Don't Understand Me", "Yellow Sun", and "Steady As She Goes". The set ended with a rocking version of "Hands" that flowed into the aforementioned "Broken Boy Soldier", which only lasted one verse and was much more subdued than the sound check explosion. It seemed like Patrick wanted to rock it but Brendan didn't have enough White in him to take it very far, although he did say "I'm trying to do my best Jack impression for y'all. He sings too high". That was sort of the feel of the whole show. The MVP was definitely Keeler. He was spot on with all the changes, even having to shout out words to Benson occasionally and directing the rest of the apparently under-rehearsed band. There were a few times when the tempo would drag and the crowd would get a little sleepy but it was still fun to hear some of my favorite music from the last decade, even if it was the slower, more mellow Jack free tunes.

It was pretty clear to see that while Brendan Benson and Patrick Keeler are seriously under appreciated yet super important members of the Racs, it's just not the same without the show power of Jack White. Brendan is a hell of a songwriter and guitar player, but it's hard to fill the shoes of the biggest rock star in town, in his own house much less. I hope the Racontuers reunite fully and soon. It seemed like they were hitting their stride and becoming a real force just when the Dead Weather started. I'm ready for Jack White to get back to singing and playing guitar and leave the drumming to bad asses like Patrick Keeler.

Even though the musical content was a little sloppy and thrown together, it still was a fun show. The guys were a class act and I would like to thank them for their hospitality and effort to put on a whole show with only half of their band.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Non-Commissioned Officers w/ Wax Fang

Tonight, in an attempt to get off of what could be described as my lazy ass, I hopped down to see some local talent at the Exit In. Knowing that two of the three bands playing were headed to Bonnaroo via the Road To Bonnaroo contest, I figured I'd check them out for seven bucks instead of hundreds and a marathon of drugs and exercise. These bands have made a pretty good name for themselves around town and I was glad to get a chance to see them.

Although I thought I was showing up fashionably late, I got there early enough to catch most of the set from Nashville's How I Became the Bomb. The first thing I thought about these guys is that they sounded like the Cure might sound the day after having been laid. Their spacey 80's sound was upbeat and almost as fun as their outfits. With a singer dressed like cousin Eddy with moves like the John Lovitz character from the Wedding Singer, it seemed like their dancey pop songs were merely a vehicle for showing off how weird they could try to be. The fedora crowd appeared to love it and it was a good kick-off to the night in store.

The second band was a powerhouse trio from Louisville called Wax Fang. It was good to see a band that was there to just be themselves and rock out. I could tell they were going to do so when, in the first half of their first song, they blew an amplifier, broke a kick drum pedal, and dropped a sampler. The drummer did have a lot of extra electronic gear that he never seemed to use. Most of it bounced off of the stand due to the unstable drum riser at the In. I was glad he didn't waste much time on this stuff as he was a great rowdy rock drummer. All three members of this band did a good job of making enough noise to fill in some of the spaces that might otherwise be left open due to a lack of members. I also liked the fuzz box on the bass, adding a Cream-y effect to the sound.

The night's headliners were the Non-Commissioned Officers, a dapper 6-piece that was kind of a combination of the first two bands. They had a friendly rapport with the crowd that made the set a lot of fun. It was good to see a band that didn't take themselves too seriously, but still played quality music. This approach made them strike me as the Mile 8 of the hipster scene. Their songs were powerful but refreshingly short, ending right when you would expect another verse and chorus. I like this concept, leaving them wanting more instead of going on like a bad SNL sketch that needed to end four minutes ago. Also, this is a great way to jam a boatload of songs into a 45 minute set. A funny moment came a few seconds into the last songs of the night when one guitar player stopped the song completely insisting that "one of these bastards needs to tune", only to find that he was the one that was horribly off key. It was another example of their light-hearted attitude mixed with their knock out rock assault.

These bands stand to have shows of a lifetime at Bonnaroo. How I Became the Bomb will probably shake the dark rimmed glasses right off of the tweekers' faces while the Non-Comms will throw a great side-stage party that will no doubt be a festival-worthy set to revive the Kings Of Leon/Dave Matthews sleepers. Congratulations to these guys for being the best Nashville has to offer the biggest festival in the south.