Friday, September 19, 2014

Turnstiles lean on classic country and rock playbook on new album

Cleaning my house recently (which probably means I was obsessively arranging my four-year-old's toys as if for a window display - we all have our quirks) my iPod shuffled to the song "Thinking Back" from Charlotte band the Turnstiles' new album "Souvenir Summer." My first thought was, "Is this the new Son Volt? It's really good."

Frontman and chief songwriter Brad Thomas doesn't have Jay Farrar's signature low twang, but there's certainly something Son Volt-ish about his phrasing. For me it summons images of John Travolta and Madolyn Smith on the dancefloor at Gilley's in 1980's "Urban Cowboy" (if it's any indication of the Turnstiles' material, classics like "Lookin' For Love," "Lyin' Eyes," and "Look What You've Done to Me" all appeared on the "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack).

The honky-tonk numbers on "Souvenir Summer" remind me of Dwight Yoakam (especially "The Bright Lights of Elkin") - meaning they could've have a shot at hits in the `80s and `90s before mainstream country was so indistinguishable from pop music that it defied its own genre (honestly, how many current country hits are built on a sample and loop?). "Souvenir Summer" is closer to the country-rock of old which places it snugly in that current Americana neighborhood.

It's more textured than simple categorization implies though. "Casino Pier," for instance, is the album's wild card. It's a dark, somber tale with a flitting guitar fill that hints at the band and Thomas' versatility. The opener "Southside" charges with country-rock drive. Thomas peppers his compositions with curious images that provide a visual map of the stories he's telling, especially on songs like "Southside," "Casino Pier," and the haunting "Hillside Grave." Just the title "Guardrail Vaportrail" provides a stark image and creates curiosity - does it not?

The Turnstiles can rock with Eagles-meets-Replacements fire too ("Trustafari Safari"). They aren't just well written lyrically, but they're written musically with a sort of familiarity. That would indicate the Turnstiles, some of who I see at shows and have hosted touring bands at house shows, have done their homework when it comes to writing and arranging. Many of the songs are easily put to memory making it easy to tap a foot and sing-along on the chorus while leaning in to hear the lyrics during the verses.

The Turnstiles play the Bathtub Gin in downtown Mooresville tonight, Friday, September 19. Admission is free.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This week's hot concerts

Brad Paisley
Friday  7 p.m., PNC Music Pavilion, 707 Pavilion Blvd., $38.91-$81.13,
Following the release of his latest album “Moonshine in the Trunk,” the country guitar whiz whose concert tours are big, show stopping productions, returns with his Country Nation World Tour. Randy Houser, Dee Jay Silver, Leah Turner, and Charlie Worsham open the show.

Jeremiah Wilde
Friday  10:30 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $5,
This Charlotte rock band is the next step for frontman Jeremy Vess and guitarist Jeremy Mullis, who gained local recognition in the band Vess. The new quartet (with Kevin Dudley and Joe Reese) celebrates the release of its dramatic, driving new single “Momentum.”

Saturday  7 p.m., US National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Free,
The busy family band, which has been spreading its spirited folk-pop nationally since the major label release of “Montibello Memories” in May, returns home briefly (before heading on tour again in October) for a free show - one of the last of the River Jam series’ season.

Astronautalis/Sarah Jaffe
Saturday  9 p.m., The Milestone, 3400 Tuckaseegee Rd., $14,  
The acclaimed alternative rapper and the dreamy pop-rock singer-songwriter may seem an odd pairing, but imagine a young, more hip-hop-steeped Beck and a modern, less whimsical Kate Bush playing dingy clubs together and you’ve got a recipe for “don’t miss.”

Scowl Brow
Saturday  10 p.m., Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St., $5,  
The punky Charlotte trio boasts the unapologetically frank and sometimes controversial biographical songwriting of frontman Robby Hale, who slings hard truths with a grain of hope like a young, yet grizzled Axl Rose. It celebrates the release of its new six-track EP that’s built on Hale’s scratchy voice, driving tempos and distorted hooks.

Lydia Loveless
Sunday  9 p.m., Double Door, 1218 Charlottetown Ave., $10-$12,  
The Ohio singer-songwriter may be the best true country songwriter out there today making non-commercial country for young women who can’t relate to the new Miranda. On her third album “Somewhere Else” her gnarly, world weary heartache and dark sense of humor come across like a twangy, raised on riot grrrl Stevie Nicks.

Coheed & Cambria
Sunday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $40.23,
The progressive metal act recently rereleased its breakthrough 2003 album “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3,” which spawned the singles “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer.” The group will revisit the album in its entirety live.

Joshua James
Sunday  7 p.m., Stage Door Theatre, 130 N. Tryon St., $18,  
Discriminating singer-songwriting junkies love this Utah transplant’s pastoral folk-based rock, which resonates with the spiritual beauty, thought, and simplicity of the life he lives as a farmer, father, husband, and brother in the mountains outside Mormon music mecca Provo.

Greensky Bluegrass
Thursday 8 p.m., Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave., $17-$20, 
On its new album "If Sorrows Swim," the Kalamazoo, Mich. raised jam-grass outfit doesn't make your granddaddy's bluegrass, but the progressive band can pick with the best of them. Its live show mixes jam band improvisation, pop-rock, singer-songwriter originals, nibble fingered picking, and unusual covers.   

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Third time's the charm for Kings of Leon

In 2011, Kings of Leon cancelled the remainder of its tour right before the Tennessee band was scheduled to play Charlotte. But Charlotte obviously doesn't hold a grudge. Enthusiastic fans that sang along in all the right places packed PNC Music Pavilion Tuesday for the band's first Charlotte show since 2010.

Maybe the struggles that led to that tour cancellation three years ago have made Kings of Leon a better band because Tuesday's concert eclipsed its previous Charlotte shows. Back then its sets were either outshined by opening acts (the Black Keys and the Whigs in 2010) or lacked fire (2009's Bojangles' Coliseum show). But the reinvigorated band was on Tuesday aided by a spectacular light show and visuals.

Opening acts Young the Giant and South Africa's the Kongos made good showings. The former's Sameer Gadhia is a formidable frontman with animated moves (headbanging to shoegazer guitars for instance) that match his soaring vocals. The California band is one of few acts that seem comfortable performing for a massive amphitheater audience while still relegated to the narrow front of the stage.

Rained drenched the crowd on the lawn between bands, but that didn't seem to deter anxious fans. Kings of Leon delivered on its promise of a visual spectacle matched by a more intense live show. The opening visuals of "Supersoaker" with the lights from the giant LED backdrop bleeding through images of splashing water and paint were nothing short of stunning (see below). A series of flower petal shaped lights lowered and shot beams down at the band for "Taper Jean Girl." It was the kind of extravagance they probably could only imagine when the track (from its second album) was written.

The first half of the set was marked by Nathan and Caleb Followill's brotherly harmonies and trippy visuals ("The Immortals"). The Kings presented themselves very much as a band with Matthew taking the focus for bluesy guitar solos or playing with his teeth ("Closer"), Still recovering from last month's bus crash Nathan, who always appears the most laid back, blew bubbles, smiled and winked at the camera. Younger brother Jared Followill's crisp bass was an ever present factor continually cutting through the mix. The group is criticized for taking itself too seriously, but smiles crept across all four members' faces at some point in the night.

As promised it unearthed an older, rarely played track (which its doing in every city). Ours was the punky, driving "Happy Alone" from its debut album "Youth and Young Manhood." It kicked off the escalating latter half of the show where KOL gained momentum with each song from later era "Temple" and "Radioactive" to the older track "Molly's Chambers" and back again to the brooding "Beautiful War." During "Don't Matter" one concert goer was knocked out cold by another two rows ahead of us and reportedly hit his head on a chair as he plummeted into an unsuspecting row of fans. After a few minutes of uncertainty and mild chaos, he was revived by security and carted away giving the two teenage girls in front of us an added concert memory. The band didn't notice as it introduced the next song, "Cold Desert."

Like most acts touring amphitheaters this summer, KOL didn't utilize a tiered stage. Instead it opted for a full size screen projecting artful imagery from psychedelic swirls to fast cars, sparks and smoke (for "Pyro") and retro footage.

Despite over 20 songs, the show whizzed by quickly - another indication of renewed energy. A mix of teenage girls, frat boys and even a couple Carolina Panthers joined in for the chillingly unified group-sing of "Use Somebody," which closed the regular set.

It returned for a handful of encores, but stuck to its own material instead of doling out a surprise cover (like at Lollapalooza). It may be a far cry - and practically a different band - than the chaotic Southern blues punks that played a furious, noisy set at Neighborhood Theatre years ago, but it finally feels like Kings of Leon has grown into its arena rock shoes.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

After stormy delay OutKast rules Funk Fest stage Friday

Thankfully for patient but wet ticket holders, day one of Charlotte's second annual Funk Fest didn't succumb to rain Friday at Metroline Expo. The concert promoter and performers waited it out through the storm and didn't cancel the show despite a two hour delay for the headliner. Because really? Who wants to tell thousands of fans that they aren't going to see OutKast after waiting, not just two hours, but for well over a decade for the group to even tour again much less play Charlotte.

Until mid-evening it looked as if the outdoor festival might dodge the rainy forecast completely. The sun was beating down during Salt N' Pepa's late afternoon set during which the duo capped a string of hits with Kirk Franklin's fiery gospel anthem "Stomp." By the time Fantasia went on the schedule was already 45 minutes behind, but for those stuck in traffic getting into the parking lot when Salt N' Pepa were scheduled to hit the stage the delay was a blessing.

Backed by a full band that included horns and backup singers and wearing a sequined white Vegas showgirl-meets-Tina Turner mini dress and headband, Fantasia (above) wowed a hometown crowd and brought a bit of funk and old school soul to Funk Fest. When she dropped a snippet of Drake's "Started from the Bottom" into "Without You" my friend said, "Now that means something!"

Fantasia's past may make it hard to shake her underdog status, but she's become a Grammy winning pro whether giving her vocals a break and letting her band take the lead on an `80s medley of "Nasty Girl," "In My House," "Glamorous Life," and "The Bird" (the latter in Morris Day's absence) or raising the crowd to its feet during the modern classic "Lose to Win."

Doug E. Fresh (above) again proved that he doesn't bill himself as the World's Greatest Entertainer and the Human Beatbox for nothing. He soared at both as part emcee, part rapper, part comic, and marathon beatboxer. He appropriately adopted Cali Swag District's "Teach Me How to Dougie" and had the entire crowd on its feet as he closed his set.

It was during Fresh's set that a man in front of me folded up his lawn chair, packed it in its bag, looked me in the eye and said, "In 30 minutes, this place will be shut down." Thankfully he was partly wrong. As clouds loomed and lightning struck in the distance, an announcer informed the crowd that they were herding upper level ticket holders into the buildings on the Metrolina Expo's grounds (where they regularly hold flea markets). Those with general admission tickets were encouraged to find shelter. They huddled under metal awnings between buildings, while others braved the rain - which eventually did come - under umbrellas debating when and if promoters would cancel the show.

Roughly an hour and a half later B.O.B. (lighting up above) took the stage in a drizzle. He had his work cut out for him given the soggy, tired crowd, but won over those who, as his DJ said, consider him more of "pop star" than a rapper. His breakthrough hit "Nothin' On You" was as pop as he got, opting not to include "Airplanes." And anyone that was still on the fence as he waded into the crowd for the finale of "Still In This Bitch" was probably bouncing up and down with fists raised along with him as he shouted "They tried to shut us down about an hour ago/But we still in this bitch."

The wait for OutKast was tiresome, but worth it once the duo took the stage backed by a full band at 11:20 - two hours and five minutes after its advertised start time. Five months into their reunion Andre 3000 and Big Boi (pictured at top) were already more enthusiastic, comfortable and energetic than during their Coachella debut in April bounding into the fitting opener of "B.O.B."

They charged through "Gasoline Dreams" as the rain started back up. Dancing lasers appeared to sparkle above the crowd reflecting drops of rain. Images of Gene Kelly came to mind in the sea of umbrellas dancing in the rain. One fan pulled a detached Power 98 banner over their head. The rain came and went, but no one really cared. It somehow gave more power to the image of Andre 3000 crooning tracks like "Prototype" projected through lines of rain on the big screens during his solo portion. Wearing a black jumpsuit with the words "Hiders of Pain" printed on it, he seemed to revel in performing again. He even restarted "Hey Ya!" with a grin when the crowd didn't start dancing the first time.

Longtime collaborator Sleepy Brown joined them for "SpottiOttieDopaliscious," for Big Boi's "The Way You Move," and during an old school medley toward the end of the show. Of course they hit on all the expected "Ms. Jackson," "Roses," "Rosa Parks," and "So Fresh, So Clean" before the finale of "The Whole World."

It was approaching 1 a.m. - which honestly echoes the vibe of a Coachella or Bonnaroo - and the crowd left wet and tired, but they got their OutKast and that was really all that mattered in the end. Sadly some fans that arrived during the wait just to see OutKast were under the impression that the show had been cancelled and returned home.

Funk Fest continues Saturday with LL Cool J., Ice Cube and the Roots headlining following sets from 112, 69 Boyz, and War. There's a fifty percent chance of rain all day. Let's hope it's not enough to derail the show.

Photos by Lukas Johnson.

Friday, September 12, 2014

This week's hot concerts

Funk Fest
Friday and Saturday  4 p.m. and 3 p.m, respectively, Metrolina Expo Fairgrounds, 7100 Statesville Rd., $65-$100 1 day pass, $100-$375 2 day pass,
This year’s killer hip-hop, old school, soul, and R&B festival expands to two days and features Outkast - fresh from its festival-hopping reunion - B.O.B., Fantasia, Doug E. Fresh, Forever FC, and Salt n’ Pepa on Friday and LL Cool J., Ice Cube, the Roots, War, 112, Olivia, and 95 South/69 Boyz on Saturday.

Robin & Linda Williams
Friday  7:30 p.m., Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Ave., Free,  
The internationally known duo and longtime “Prairie Home Companion” staple celebrated 40 years of making music together (and 42 as a couple) in 2013 with the album “Back 40.” Robin - a Charlotte native - and his wife return to his birthplace for a rare free concert of traditional bluegrass, old time and folk.

Amanda Shires
Saturday  8 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $12-$15,
Acclaimed songwriter Jason Isbell’s fiddler bride is quite an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right on her 2013 album “Down Fell the Doves,” which isn’t an obvious straight alt-country record. It’s more stylistically textured, darker, and bookish in a chamber rock meets art-folk sort of way.

Saturday  8 p.m., Chop Shop, 399 E. 35th St., $22-$25,
Following frontman Kirk Windstein’s departure from Down, the New Orleans’ sludge metal stalwarts commemorate their 25th year (celebrate would be too “up” a word) with the well-received tenth album “Symmetry in Black” (released earlier this year), which exercises Windstein’s demons by lacing methodical riffs with thrash and hardcore assault in classic Crowbar style.

Midnight Ghost Train
Sunday  8 p.m., The Milestone, 3400 Tuckaseegee Rd., $5-$7,  
Started as an ongoing creative eulogy for a friend after guitarist/singer Steve Moss’ best friend died in 2007, the Buffalo-based stoner trio ready the follow-up to 2012’s excellent “Buffalo” - a moody mesh of biting grooves, psychedelic expansion, and slow building, growling metal - with the upcoming “Cold Was the Ground.”

Trombone Shorty
Thursday  8 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St., $27-$30,  
TV viewers may have seen this Grammy nominated funk powerhouse performing with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Madonna on the Grammys earlier this year or as himself on HBO’s “Treme.” His third album is spiked with rock n’ roll furor (think Lenny Kravitz) and classic R&B grooves amid the jazz and funk base. With Honey Island Swamp Band.

Ray Wylie Hubbard
Thursday  9 p.m., Double Door, 1218 Charlottetown Ave., $17-$20,  
The troubadour may not be as well-known as some of his Texas blues and folk songwriting contemporaries (Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark), but as a writer and band leader he’s one of the Lone Star State’s best lesser known secrets with a flair for doing whatever he’s doing - soul, rhythm & blues, country, blues or rock - well.

Tom Keifer
Thursday  8 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $20-$23,
Aligned with the hair metal movement of the `80s, Philly’s Cinderella had as much in common with blues and Southern rock as it did glam and on his 2013 debut solo album, “The Way Life Goes,” frontman Keifer stretches even further. Expect impressive new material as well as Cinderella staples.

Thursday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $33.58,
Although the distinctive singer/emcee’s look has changed since he debuted in 2004 with beard, ringlets, yarmulke and the hit “King Without a Crown,” his reggae and hip-hop-flavored alternative rock remains some of the most positive and spiritual pop music out there and his live show rides that same feel good vibe. With Radical Something.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Former Scapegoat vocalist unveils new electro-pop video

Kit Walters, the former vocalist for Charlotte metalcore band Scapegoat (who began its twelve year run when Walters was barely a teen) has released a new video for his electro-pop project Kit. Walters, who produced and engineered Scapegoat's later albums as well as others by defunct local band Sugar Glyder and national act LetLive, recently moved to New York to pursue pop music more seriously.

The clip for "Your Ghost" features Walters flanked by a ghostly figure. One of those ghost women is my kids' babysitter, by the way, who has appeared in a handful of videos.

For fans of Scapegoat's mix of melodic hardcore and metal, the pop direction may come as a surprise. But it's something Walters has been exploring since the band called it quits - first with the group the New Renaissance and now with Kit. I talked to Walters in 2012 about moving toward a more pop sound and his production work. You can read about that transitional period here.

You can also keep up with Kit here.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Weenie Roast 2014 finds firm footing with newer acts

Hot dog weenies could have literally roasted on the asphalt at the 106.5 WEND End of Summer Weenie Roast, which was an exercise in endurance, at PNC Music Pavilion Saturday. While the heat was unforgiving for much of the day, fans did show up.

The turn out for the semi-annual music festival was much, much better than when it relaunched after a six year break in 2012. That year the lineup was heavy on acts that helped form the radio station's identity in the `90s - the Offspring, Garbage, Eve 6, and Our Lady Peace. Last summer's lineup - headlined by 30 Seconds to Mars - moved to Saturday from Sunday and toward a more current bill that included AwolNation, Airborne Toxic Event, and Manchester Orchestra.

This year's Weenie continued that trend with only headliner Weezer (pictured above) and Fuel, who closed out the second stage, having any connection to the festival's first decade. Fitz & the Tantrums and Foster the People - both strong live acts that broke big in 2011 and 2013, respectively - had throngs of fist pumping fans bouncing and dancing and by the time they went on, the lawn was fairly packed. Sure, there were some empty seats, but it wasn't that obvious.

The joy that Foster the People left the crowd with continued for Weezer, who stacked its hour and 10-minute set with hits from opener "My Name is Jonas" to encore "Buddy Holly." It's set wasn't solely about nostalgia either. Later hits like 2009's "(If You're Wondering if I Want You To) I Want You To" and the recent single "Back to the Shack" (the album it's from is out October 7) received as big of a reception as older ones like "Hash Pipe."

Frontman Rivers Cuomo sings "Rockin' out like its `94" on the latter (and bemoans shows like "American Idol") and the apex of Weezer's set echoed that era with the modern rock power ballad "Say It Ain't So." Even the most passing rock fans (like my country-loving sister on the lawn) know the words to it. It, "The Sweater Song" and "Buddy Holly" - the most nostalgic songs of the night - were also the biggest sing-alongs.

Although the abbreviated set lacked any surprises or tracks off the beloved sophomore album "Pinkerton," it felt overall better than the club set Weezer did at the Fillmore this Spring. I knew plenty of people who couldn't get tickets to that show and Weezer really deserves a bigger crowd and a louder show. Even at the large amphitheater the show felt less detached thanks to the volume (although they were not the loudest band of the day) and it wasn't much shorter in length although I will say that the crowd at the Fillmore smelled much better.

Oddly, Cuomo seem to appear before Weezer's set to sound check his guitar wearing a welder's mask. Of course, I can't prove it was him since I couldn't see his face from afar, but the pants and hair looked like they belonged to the singer although he shed the jacket (which was definitely his style) before the show (see photo).

With 14 bands, none got long sets. It was more like a buffet of alt-rock from brief spots from Sir Sly and Iamdynamite early on to slightly longer ones later in the day. That meant bands like Wild Cub and J. Roddy Walston & the Business had to get its message across quickly, which made for strong, concise sets with little filler.

The show was fairly consistent throughout. Although the conditions were pretty miserable due to the heat even early in the day lesser known bands like Charlotte's own Flagship (pictured above), who opened the larger main stage, drew respectable crowds. It helped that the amphitheater was open to general admission until 4 p.m. so fans could flock to the front of the stage while enjoying the shade and seating. The show was a nice homecoming for Flagship, whose grand, atmospheric pop-rock recalls a mix of British, Scottish, and Irish acts like U2, Big Country (minus the bag pipes) and James (the latter two didn't occur to me until watching them yesterday).

While some fans huddled in the shade or rested on the hill behind the sun-baked parking lot-set second stage where they could barely see through the fence, others braved the sun for electronic act Big Data (who did a fun, squawky synth cover of Hall & Oates "Private Eyes") and the feel-good indie rock of Wild Cub. Both were greeted warmly as was Foxy Shazam, who charged through a brief set with typical chaotic abandon full of wild dancing and cigarette munching courtesy of singer Eric Sean Nally.

I was pleased that the heaviest band on the bill was the one fronted by a woman - former "Gossip Girl" actress Taylor Momsen (pictured above). She's become more comfortable on stage since the hard rock band headlined Visulite a couple of years ago adding Stevie Nicks' twirls to her headbanging and back arching. The Pretty Reckless did have to contend with the seated area being closed to lawn ticket holders by the time they went on, which cut down on the size of its immediate crowd. The solo-heavy band didn't seem to care though.

Where the Pretty Reckless was simultaneously sultry and hard, earlier multitasking indie band Bear Hands (pictured below) proved the quirkiest of the day.

Fitz & the Tantrums' Noelle Scaggs added needed soul to the festival with her boisterous belting. It's actually hard to leave a Fitz or Foxy Shazam show without smiling. The same could be said for Foster the People, who rivaled Weezer in crowd response.

Of the bands I saw, there were no duds. By the time Fitz and Foster the People went on production came into to play with half of Foster the People playing on a stage of moving discofloor-like lights that added to the danceable rock feel of its show.

Weenie Roast has regained its spot as far as annual music events go. It's nice to see it progressing musically in reflecting the "new rock," that's largely new, format.