Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mile 8

Well, here we are again at Thanksgiving. For me, that means turkey, football, guns, and Mile 8 at Third and Lindsley. This year was the 8th annual, although not consecutive edition and it was one for the ages. The line up was again slightly altered but the spirit of Mile 8 was strong in the air. Jason "Dubbers" Williams from Old Union replaced Russell Wright on the bass, a role he has been taking on more and more regularly (in the Criminal Element) since Russ had a baby. Elsewhere, Jody Douglas and Chris West replaced Adam Livingston (from Boom Ticket) on sax. For whatever reason Adam couldn't get up for this one, whatever, I'll get to more of that in a minute. The rest of the core was there with Randy, Curt, Timmy and Bobby in their places and Caleb gracing us with his presence again on second guitar.

They started off with "Light" and the absent members were instantly missed. The bass was great, just different and the sax was, well, how much can you really miss sax anyway unless you're Dave Matthews or Bruce Springsteen, but the high vocals that Adam (from Boom Ticket) usually provided were noticeably AWOL, and that was the biggest shame. Timmy tried really hard to replace the parts, but his falsetto was no match for Adam's from-the-gut high harmonies. Moving on, I was surprised to see "Naked Christmas" so early in the show. I think it was about the fourth song, and it seemed like this one kind of fell flat on the still seemingly sleepy crowd, who apparently hadn't had enough booze to counteract the turkey. It's still always great to hear Mile 8's classic original carol. This was the feel of most of the first set, including "Afraid To Fall" and into the "Fog Juice"-"Touch Me" run featuring Bobby on vocals for the Doors classic and a set-ending jam section that kept peaking and peaking relentlessly until finally returning to the "Fog Juice" ending. This was one of the highlights for me, as this has always been one of my favorite Mile 8 songs. Randy was right, this crowd needed to drink faster.

They started off the second set with another annual tradition, having former member Neil Patrick Vance sit in on bass for the openers "For You" and "Leave The Woman". This prompted me to ask, "Why not ask Neil to play bass for the whole show?" Then I woke up and realized what a silly idea that was. The rest of the set was a mix between Timmy songs like "Collect" and "Stolen Song", and classic jam epics including a crazy seismic version of "Laugh On". That is, the rest of the Mile 8 portion of the set. After a delirious and manic version of "Elephlamingo", they took a deep breath and kicked off "Because", the opening number of the b-side of Abbey Road. Then they went into "You Never Give Me Your Money" and it became apparent that they were going to do the whole thing, and man, they nailed it. They rocked the rockers like "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "Polythene Pam", they crooned majestically on "Here Comes The Sun King" and "Golden Slumbers" and they ended the set with, well, "The End". What a great display of the talent of these guys. The people who were there went nuts and the poor saps that left early really missed something special.

The encore was just about as much fun for me as one person should be able to have. Although it was one of my favorite Mile 8 moments, it's all a blur to me, mostly because I was joining Bobby on the percussion. The songs consisted of my all time favorite "Chester Copperpot" and "Waste Away", both of which have really fun drum parts and took killer drum breaks. Man, what an awesome time. The energy in the second set and the encore was heads and shoulders above that in the first set, and the band proved that they still have that special thing we've all been diggin' on for the last decade, even if they only practice 4 times and play once a year. Each time they play, you get that feeling like, "this could be the last one", this night more than ever, but they still kill it and they never appear to stop having a blast. Randy and Caleb are still Batman and Robin on guitar, and Curt and Bobby are still Butch and Sundance on the drums. Timmy also deserves huge props for stepping up his vocals and adding truly original songs to the catalog. If there are any more shows, there's no telling what the roster will look like, but at this point, I'll take whatever I can get.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Reverend Horton Heat

A few nights ago, after being the only fan at my own personal basement show, I headed over to the Rock Block for the much anticipated (by me) Reverend Horton Heat show at Exit In. I had seen them a few times, and I knew that they put on a rowdy party. What I wasn't quite sure of was what the openers, The Legendary Shack Shakers were like. I had heard of them but never seen a show.

When I got there, the Shack Shakers had just started and were already pounding the roomful of dark denim, leather jackets, and Betty Page lookalikes. Within the first few minutes of being there, lead singer Col. J.D. Wilkes was screaming "Normally I would play a screaming harp solo but I'm not doing anything till you guys get this ass hole outta here!" Then he jumped into the crowd and kicked the dude's drunk and disorderly ass before security gave him the Irish toss. All while I was still trying to get the bartender's attention. I could quickly tell that I was going to dig this. Col. Wilkes was a wild man up there like a mix of Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten, and Elvis. He had a piercing howl and a menacing snarl and great stage moves like spitting loogies up in the air over his head and making devil horns with his hair. The rhythm section was like a machine gun with Mark Robertson on "The shit-house bass" and "Brutros Brutros Whitacre" on drums, looking like the youngster of the bunch. With pin-ups everywhere, a lawless mosh pit, and a blistering punk-billy band, I felt like I had already gotten my money's worth and that was just the opener. I am definitely a new fan of the Shack Shakers.

When the Reverend finally came out, he was a picture of underground rock supremacy. In contrast to the preceding band's no frills, white t-shirts and sweat, the Heat guys were pure class, with the Rev. in a vintage orange suit that matched his huge hollow bodied Gretch. They explained that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary and that the set would be in chronological order. They started off with an instrumental romp from the first album and continued on down the line. The Reverend's deadpan delivery is always fun to watch, the way he looks so serious, then flashes a cartoonish smile, then goes back to grim. After "Martini Time", they enlisted the aid of Ernest Tubb's longtime lap steel player for a couple of slow old-timey songs about Texas and then gave bass player Jimbo Wallace a shout-out with "J-I-M-B-O". At 1 a.m. when they said they were going to jump out of order for a few new songs, I was bushed and decided that I had had enough.

I went into this show excited to the the Heat and maybe check out the Legendary Shack Shakers. It turned out that I had a blast with the Shakers and got a bonus dozen songs from the Reverend. His show was fun and entertaining, complete with playing a solo from atop the stand-up bass, but the rawness and fury of the Shakers hit the spot. You know, that spot in everyone that only spitting, moshing, and drinking Pabst can hit.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Brendan Benson

Tonight I was really just out to make my football picks at the Gold Rush. After a few beers, I got up some liquid courage and decided to go try to sneak in to the Exit In for the show. I have been looking forward to this show but having just bought a car this week, I needed a miracle. Luckily, I lent a lighter to someone who recognized my Tigers hat and he happened to have a plus one for the show and he hooked me up. Brendan Benson for free? Sure. Can I buy you a beer?

Now, I know Brandon from his work with the Raconteurs and a couple other random, only in Nashville connections, so I have had this show on the radar for a while. I knew that this show, as much as I wanted it to be, wouldn't be anything close to the Raconteurs, but I also knew that Brendon could bring it on his own. His band was a true example of how a band can be so much better when they are all friends and have a great chemistry together.

I have to admit, I'm not very familiar with the catalog of this band, but I know that each song was a Brendan original and his songs are poppy rock gems. They bring plenty of sentimental la la, along with just enough raw rock and stardom that makes Brendan and the "Bent Sons" stand apart from the all powerful "Jack White" stronghold. Each member of the band was strong. From the bass player who switched to keys, to the lead guitarist who switched to bass, to the solid freight train drummer, the Bent Sons were up to the task of making these songs sound awesome. Apart from the obvious musical talent, these guys also had an unmistakable bond with each other that made the show a lot more comfortable and intimate. Their interaction with the crowd was also comforting and well received.

I gotta hand it to Brendan for doing his own thing without any mention of the Raconteurs or Jack or anything else, which would definitely help his cause just out of name recognition. He is playing his heart out in front of a hundred people at Exit In, when he could just as easily be playing for a hundred thousand at Bonnaroo or five hundred in Europe somewhere. His own works stand for themselves in an intimate setting making for another great night at the Exit In.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element

I know I see this band all the time, and I usually don't write about every show I see, but this one was worth writing home about. It took place last Wednesday night at Melrose Billiards, one of my favorite places in town to hang out, as well as one of the coolest places in all of Nashville. Lately they've been having live music on Wednesday nights with bands setting up in the very back section amongst the ping pong tables and along side the shuffle board. Although it's not ideal to be out late in a smokey bar on a hump-day, the vibe and the music were worth it.

They started off in pure Criminal form, making up the first two songs and going right into their shuffle version of The Beatles' "Get Back". This was how most of the night went. There was a ton of good ole Criminal improvising including one called "It's Not About Love, It's About You", along with some of the more popular polished favorites like "Mikey" and "Playin On The Tracks". Another such run of Criminal song salad was the reggae suite with "Closing In On You" going into Stevie's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" and then into a make up song that sounded just like the maybe-so-maybe-not jam section of Phish's "Stash". They even got guest guitarist Luke Davis up and he made up a blues riff that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn tip his big feathery hat. The third set started with Johnny playing "The Gift Of Song", one of his most popular solo songs, and then one more long jam with the band, the name of which escapes me. It was late.

The best part of this show was the old school feel to it. For the past few months, Johnny, Curt, and Randy have been playing pretty much the same show, four or five shows running, with a couple of different bass players and a marked decrease in improvising. At the pool hall, they were able to make up several quality songs and although Russell's lack of enthusiasm was sometimes as visible as the great wall of China from space, he was there and he played pretty awesome for someone who's firstborn just arrived last week. Elsewhere, Johnny was feeling it all night, getting stronger as the night got later, and later, and later. If they could make up songs like this on the regular, there would be no need to record these shows for ideas. This night was a fresh breath of Criminal air that has been needed from the slightly stale song selections of late. I hope they play at the old Melrose more, that place gives them something good.