Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Music: Swell Friends

Charlotte foursome Swell Friends celebrates the release of its latest EP "Dizzy" Sunday at the Milestone (3400 Tuckaseegee Rd.).

Swell Friends is the fourth band for singer Robby Hartis since the breakup of the Lights, Fluorescent, which was probably my favorite Charlotte band of all time. Other than his stint playing bass in Sugar Glyder before its breakup, Swell Friends is also his first without any of the other Lights. While both Sidewalks and My Captain sounded a lot like Lights, Fluorescent, Swell Friends takes a new approach. 

"Dizzy" is full of catchy, fast-paced tracks that land closer to melodic hardcore and punk than indie rock. Daniel Hodges proves a creative guitar player adding to the intensity with frantic, yet colorful playing. As the former sound engineer for Steel Train and Grammy winners fun. who ran a successful Kickstarter for his own work last year, the full-speed-ahead punk is not what I expected. The rhythm section of Ryan Southwell (formerly of Love Colt and David Stein and the Ravens), and Jesse Soper (of A Stained Glass Romance) drive with a propulsive back beat but also keep the barreling vehicle on the road. 

"Dizzy" often reminds me of old school bands like Minor Threat, Sick of It All and Agnostic Front, as well as the Suicide Machines second album "Battle Hymns" with shades of screamo and emo. Some of the breakdowns turn mathy. Others are just incredibly catchy. 

As a lyricist Hartis revisits territory he's explored in other bands. His father's death, which he touched on more than once with the Lights, gets a heavier, angrier ode this time out, 

There's an urgency and a messiness to the tracks that never lets up, but melody isn't sacrificed for speed and noise. 

You can check out "Dizzy" here or join Swell Friends tonight at The Milestone where Kang, Black Pope, Del Rio, and Release the Dog also play. Admission is $5-$7 and music starts at 9 p.m.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tremont celebrates 20 years Saturday; I open my scrapbook

Most of the current and former staff who showed up for the Tremont family reunion in Oct. 2013 with all three owners Penny Craver, Dave Ogden, and John Hayes (About 8 people didn't fit in the shot. And that's my little boy's head in the front).
Tremont Music Hall celebrates its 20th anniversary Saturday with a show that takes a nostalgic look back at local music while acknowledging the heavier direction the rock club has taken in recent years.
Antiseen, who predates the club by over a decade but has a long history there, will headline. Co-founders Joe Young, who passed away in 2014, and Jeff Clayton both worked there at times, held antiversary concerts there, and Young's memorial service was held there last May.
Other acts include Radio $alesmen, Animal Bag, Kudzu Ganja, It Could Be Nothing, Cronic Disorder, Deadlock, October, and Bloody Mary. The Fill Ins fill the resident youngster spot on the lineup, while many of the other bands are no longer active although many of Tremont's early patrons will remember them. Some are reuniting simply to honor their old rocking grounds.

Laura Baca of the Eyeliners.
The hard rock, punk, and metal lineup reflects the kind of music that Tremont is known for, but while hardcore, punk, metal, industrial, and screamo became its calling card the venue started out as practically the only large all ages club in town. So while Tremont hosted Ministry, Christian Death, Earth Crisis, Bloodlet, Social Distortion, L7, Fugazi, Rob Zombie, Green Day, Clutch, Fall Out Boy, the Deftones, Incubus, and My Chemical Romance, it also boasted Stereolab, Blur, Paula Cole, Jewel, Maroon 5, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Iggy Pop. the Psychedelic Furs, the Roots, Ween, Blues Traveler, Matchbox 20, Son Volt, Gregg Allman, Train, Mighty Bosstones, Drive-By Truckers, and Cypress Hill.
Jason Navarro and Royce Nunley of the Suicide Machines

Pretty much anyone that had a hit on WEND 106.5 The End in the mid `90s made a stop at Tremont.

This was before venues like Neighborhood Theatre and the Visulite or Amos' moved to SouthEnd and expanded. My own college live music experience was tied to Tremont. I discovered the Suicide Machines there; watched 7 Year Bitch with about 10 people in the big room; saw Ani Difranco for the first time; soldiered through Placebo's opening set for Stabbing Westward through a cold medicine haze; held coats while punk kids danced to "Ice Ice Baby;" and danced like a complete fool myself to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Rancid (mostly so my friend wouldn't look so lonely).

Musicians like Valient Himself and Taking Back Sunday's Adam Lazzara, who grew up in High Point, wax nostalgic about the shows they saw their in their youth long before headlining there.

The notable live shows I experienced there aren't limited to those early years though. I left Valient Thorr in June 2013 grinning from ear to ear, took my son to see Iamdynamite there twice that year (that's him with the band below) and watched Foxy Shazam 8 months pregnant from the bleachers in the back of the Casbah. I found a few shots I took at shows in the `90s as well as some early ticket stubs. It's amazing what $10 would get you back then.

This January I caught Wednesday 13, who played the club frequently with his old band Frankenstein Drag Queens. And Antiseen's December comeback show with new guitarist Russ Ward was one of the warmest receptions I've ever witnessed.

It's passed through the hands of three owners, Penny Craver, Dave Ogden and now metal lover John Hayes who is calendar busy. What's remained besides a family-like staff, is the owner's passion for music which is reflected in a staff who are often members of local bands or somehow tied to the local music scene.

Tremont hasn't only played host to national acts, it nurtured local talent. The first show I saw there was my boss' band Laburnum (I started at the Cotswold Record Exchange the month before). I practically got lost dragging two of my friends from Queens beyond the walls of Dilworth.

So many local acts called Tremont home-base at one time. Sugarsmack, Lou Ford, Jolene (who went on to tour with Hootie & the Blowfish), Muscadine, Come On Thunderchild, My So-Called Band, Alternative Champs, Babyshaker, HRVRD, Scapegoat, Campbell (members of Flagship), Sugar Glyder, Junior Astronomers and numerous others honed their act there - some while as young as their early teens. Many moved on to other venues in town or broke up, but Tremont played a part in supporting new acts and still does whether its up and coming hip-hop or the latest hardcore or metal act.

You'll also still find that odd singer-songwriter or pop bill on the calendar along with the juggalo shows, because really, who's to say what Tremont is other than withstanding? It may be like Cher and cockroaches, still standing (much like its predecessor the Milestone) long after we're all gone or just too old to go to shows.

Admission to Saturday's anniversary show is $10 to $15 and music starts at 5:30 p.m.

My son watching the Aggrolites soundcheck on Mother's Day 2012.

 (All photos: Courtney Devores)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

McLachlan proves humble host, indelible vocalist at long-awaited return

When Sarah McLachlan walked on stage Wednesday night at Ovens Auditorium, she didn't do it with big bounding intro music or launch into a fiery opener, she simply stood at the mic, welcomed the crowd, and introduced the first song. There was no pop singer pretension or facade of "entertainer" and the crowd didn't need any props, choreography or distracting bling. They were there for one reason - to hear that showstopping, emotional powerhouse of a voice.

After opening with "In Your Shoes" - a single from her latest album, "Shine On," written for MalalaYousafzai - McLachlan shared that she wanted to remove the "us and them scenario" from the concert setting. She did so by creating a sort of interactive environment answering questions submitted at the merch table and inviting social media contest winners on stage where she gave them all hugs, took selfies and answered questions including, "Have you ever fallen in love with a woman?" Sorry girls.

Introducing songs like "Monsters" and "Loving You Is Easy," she sounded like a woman scorned who hasn't lost her sense of humor. She told stories about her struggles in romance, losing her father, parenting two girls (ages 13 and 7) who do not think she's the cool rock star that her audience does and meeting her new beau (reportedly former hockey player Geoff Courtnall). She even gushed about the message of the new "Cinderella" movie. By the end of the night it felt like McLachlan was just like us. Until, of course, she launched into the operatic vocal exercise that is "Fear." Um, well, no she's not just like us. Her voice is so good I'm not even sure she's human. And at 47 she looks about 35.  If she hadn't shared earlier that she'd taken Dayquil and had to rehearse for two hours before the show because of her illness, no one would've been the wiser.

McLachlan and her four-piece band (which seemed more stripped down than when I saw her at the height of her popularity in the `90s) played two sets drawing heavily on 2014's "Shine On" as well as best sellers "Fumbling Toward Ecstacy" and "Surfacing" with a few stops at 2003's "Afterglow" and 2010's "Laws of Illusion."

The only hiccup was visual. The fairly simple set relied on a smattering of different types of lighting, but the blocky LED screens which projected distracting watery images seemed like they'd be better suited to an outdoor amphitheater setting.

The tracks she chose from "Fumbling" weren't always the ones you'd expect - although anyone that owned that album knew every track on it. The band altered the arrangements of older songs like "Hold On" slightly, which seemed more "up" than the original. "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy" always doubled as the emotional climax of that album as well the odd track that wouldn't have fit as a single. It filled that place in the set as well turning into a shuffling psychedelic epic (McLachlan even flexed her whammy bar) that would have served as the concert closer at a jam band show.

"Stupid" (from 2003's "Afterglow"), which closed the first set, boiled to the place where the arena rock of Muse meets "Fumbling"-era McLachlan. It was as heavy as the night got. There was no need for earplugs as the volume was relatively quiet and made space for McLachlan's voice. Songs like "Sweet Surrender" and "Possession," which closed the regular set, had some of the crowd dancing on its feet although most remained reserved, glued to their seats even during the closing sing-along of "Ice Cream."

"Angel" - forever tied to McLachlan's ASPCA commercials (3 hours of her life which raised $30 million she shared earlier) - featured bassist Butterfly Boucher, an Australian recording artist and songwriter in her own right who has played Tremont Music Hall as a solo artist. "Beautiful Girl," written for her daughter, and "The Sound That Love Makes" helped finish out the set on a positive note.

Although the band was smaller and the room less awe-inspiring than the Fox Theatre in Atlanta where I first saw her in October 1997, I left thinking similar thoughts. While that Atlanta show confirmed what a remarkable and natural live vocalist McLachlan is, I left Wednesday thinking she is an equally remarkable person.

Friday, March 13, 2015

This week's hot concerts

Something Clever
Friday  6:30 p.m., Tremont, 400 W. Tremont Ave., $8-$10,  
The Charlotte-based metallic hard rock band celebrates the release of “Season of Darkness.” The album creates a melodic metal assault with thick riffs and intricate fretwork, crisp basslines, pummeling tempos and vocal dynamics. The anthem “Best Laid Plans” would be a perfect score for a WWE or UFC promo.

Friday  7:30 p.m., Great Aunt Stella Center, 926 Elizabeth Ave., Free,
The NC new grass outfit, whose 2013 album title “Dark Holler Pop” is an apt description as any of the band’s fresh take on roots music, brings youthful, spirited, but still tradition-based, modern bluegrass to the Charlotte Folk Society’s monthly free concert series.

J. Roddy Walston & the Business/Moon Taxi/Jessica Hernandez
Friday  8 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $13-$15,  
The long buzzed about Southern rock outfit is enjoying sell out concerts and long awaited popularity following 2013’s “Essential Tremors,” which was boosted by “Sweat Shock’s” inclusion in a Coors Light commercial last fall. Nashville’s Moon Taxi and soul/blues-rock singer Hernandez make for an impressive lineup.

Andy Grammer/Alex & Sierra
Friday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $27.51,
The acoustic pop singer-songwriter behind 2011’s “Keep Your Head Up” continues making positive pop songs like his latest ode to fidelity on the road “Honey, I’m Good.” He’s joined by 2013 “X Factor” winners Alex & Sierra, who first charmed Simon Cowell with their unique take on Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

Adventure Club
Friday  8 p.m., Label, 900 NC Music Factory Blvd., $30/$45-$100 VIP,  
Crafting a dynamic mix of the abrasive and accessible by blending dizzying dubstep, gentler electropop, and dancefloor atmospherics often with the aid of delicate guest vocals, the Canadian production duo is making a name for itself in dance music.

Pat Green/Hudson Moore
Friday  11 p.m., Coyote Joe’s, 4621 Wilkinson Blvd., $15-$18,  
With the single “Girls From Texas” (with Lyle Lovett) from his forthcoming album, country singer Pat Green returns to his independent Texas roots and in doing so brings 24 year old Ft. Worth songwriter Moore on the road. Like Green, the rising country singer bridges Nashville gloss and red dirt grit.

Green River Revival
Saturday  1 p.m., US National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy,  
The US National Whitewater Center’s fifth annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K run is followed by an afternoon concert featuring Charlotte’s Matrimony and Durham’s quirky roots-pop combo Bombadil, who announce the departure of multi-instrumentalist Stuart Robinson just weeks before the March 24 release of its new album “Hold On.”

Anthony D’Amato/Liz Longley
Saturday  8 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $12-$15,  
D’Amato is one of the most gifted folk-rock singer-songwriters to come along since Josh Ritter with whom he shares a literary Dylanesque quality. He recorded his acclaimed “The Shipwreck from the Shore” with members of Megafaun and Bon Iver and Ritter’s bands and joins Longley as she celebrates the release of her new self-titled album.

Sarah McLachlan
Tuesday  8 p.m., Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., $55.27-$99.18,
Not since Lilith Fair has the Canadian songstress best known for her beloved `90s albums, gut wrenching ASPCA commercials, and the dormant femme-fest, graced a Charlotte stage. Her “Shine On Tour” boasts over 2 hours of career-spanning songs, so it should please old and new fans.

Steve Aoki
Thursday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $48.41,  
The Grammy nominated DJ and Dim Mak Records founder’s latest live production - the Neon Future Experience, which follows the September release of his latest all-star album - boasts custom built LED cubes with mirrored panels that mimic much larger festival sets and create visual depth to reflect the pumping electro-pop soundtrack.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Music: Something Clever

Since last fall my backlog of local album and EP releases has been accumulating. In a perfect world I would have time to give all of them adequate attention, but time doesn't always allow for that against other deadlines. It's not always possible in the music industry to form more than an initial opinion, so I like to live with releases for a couple weeks - at least - to give the music time to sink in and give myself time for thoughts to form.

Because that's not always possible I've decided to add a weekly feature to the blog where I focus on one new release with links to the music. Readers have ears. They can listen and make up their own minds.

This week it's Charlotte hard rock/metal band Something Clever, who celebrates the release of  its "Season of Darkness" EP Friday at Tremont Music Hall. The dynamic five-piece band plays tense, textured metal that shifts between thick chunking riffs and flashier guitar work amid vocals that sometimes propel to a scream, vivid bass work, and pummeling rhythms that aren't afraid to pull back when the mood calls for it. You can listen to two tracks here.

Did I mention their lead guitarist is female? Unfortunately that's still not that common in hard rock and metal, but for me (who had few female guitar role models) it adds to Something Clever's appeal. Those chauvinists I grew up with who doubted a girl could shred (not that I could) would never know the difference listening to "Season of Darkness."

It's interesting that Something Clever was tapped to create a track for WSOC's Friday night high school football show in 2013, because listening to the anthem "Best Laid Plans" during the group's segment on WEND 106.5 Sunday I thought they'd be perfect to score WWE entrance music or a UFC pay-per-view. It's got that muscular mix of hope, confidence, and swagger and the sing-along parts don't hurt it's mainstream appeal either.

You can catch Something Clever Friday or pre-order the EP for $5 on the band's website. You can find it on iTunes and at as well. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and is stacked with local and regional acts Beyond the Fade, A Light Divided, A Graceful Regret, and Ozai - former members of S.I.Q. Admission to the all ages show is $8 to $10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Avett kicks off Elliott Smith tribute tour at home with Mayfield

When I was a kid my dad would say he was going to a bar or a friend's house or a festival "to listen to some music." Sitting at McGlohon Theatre watching Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield perform for a quiet, packed house Tuesday during the first date of the duo's "Sing Elliott Smith" Tour, I wondered how often crowds actually truly sit and listen to the music being played on stage with the attentiveness of my father.

Although some in the crowd were as familiar with Elliott Smith's work as the trio paying tribute to him on stage and many knew the covers they played of Smith-influencing artists Hank Williams, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan, Tuesday's show insisted on a quiet, respectful audience that hung on nearly every note.

Sure that happens at Evening Muse regularly, but in the case of a raucous Avett Brothers' show or Saturday's Fleetwood Mac concert at the arena, fans already know the words to most of the songs. They're singing along or making beer runs, watching beer runners file up the stairs or posting photos to Facebook when they aren't watching through the video recording on their phone. Although there were beer runs Tuesday and a few cell phone videos, the environment at McGlohon reminded me of watching Ani Difranco unveil a new song to a rapt audience at one of her shows in the `90s. That happened over and over again Tuesday, but aside from Avett's stirring new original, most of the songs weren't new.

From the moment I took my seat and saw the kitchen set on stage, it felt like the tribute show would be interesting and different. Would they act out a scene from "The Honeymooners?" Avett, Mayfield, and upright bassist Paul Defiglia, who subs for Bob Crawford with the Avetts on the road, emerged from a doorway on to a wallpapered set complete with refrigerator, counter and sink. Details like a picture not yet hung, a trash bag hanging from a cabinet door handle, a dish drainer, coffee maker, and fridge magnets brought the scene together. At one point Mayfield made tea while Avett played Smith's "Angeles" alone.

They began with Smith's "Let's Get Lost," "Fond Farewell," and "Baby Britain." At times I could almost hear the echo of Smith's version in the latter, which happened occasionally during the show.

Introducing The Dillards' "There Is A Time," Avett mentioned that he connected the song, which Mayfield performed with her brother in Charlotte in December, less with Smith and more with "The Andy Griffith Show." Originally a twangy bluegrass tune, it was performed on "Andy Griffith" by the Darlings. Avett's observation that he probably picked up some of his moral compass from the TV series drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Those candid moments combined with the warmth and intimacy of the performance and the venue's impeccable sound (which you almost take for granted since there's never a blip), made Tuesday's show feel extremely special.

Avett shared that he once had the intro to Alice In Chains' "Dirt" stuck in his head for three years, much like he did Mayfield humming Smith's "Ballad of Big Nothing."

Avett pushed his vocals to new places singing the second verse of Mayfield's "For Today" and later on "Angeles." Their recorded version of the latter - one of my favorites on the album - isn't out of his range by any means, but his voice is less distinguishably Avett on that song.

Mayfield's haunting voice feels so at home in honky-tonk. The cover of Hank Williams' "Settin' the Woods on Fire" was particularly fun. She led some of her originals, but where it got really interesting was hearing Avett sing lead on Mayfield's "Our Hearts Are Wrong" or her leading his "Rain on My Tin Roof."

The idea of sitting and listening was even more pronounced during Avett's original new song which included ear perking observations on love, loss and aging with lines like "Romance and sadness arrive hand in hand."

Yet if there was one goosebump-raising moment it was their rendition of Smith's "Twilight" with Avett on piano recreating the moment that started this obvious passion project. It was easy to hear what Avett first heard backstage in Sun Valley, Idaho when he plunked out the notes on piano and Mayfield joined in.

They saved Smith's Oscar nominated "Miss Misery," which does not appear on the record, for the encore.

At the close of the show, he genuinely thanked the audience admitting that it's scary to start a new project.

Although they played no Avett Brothers' songs and seventy percent of the set list was covers, the show felt incredibly special. It may have been opening night, but there were no obvious hiccups. I'm sure you can find a complete set list online, but I think seeing this show without any expectations other than two friends paying tribute to another artist they both love is the way it should be heard. The little surprises are part of what makes it feel like one of the best shows of the year -
one where everyone just sat back and listened.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

After 17 years, Fleetwood Mac returns whole again with McVie

It's been less than two years since Fleetwood Mac played Time Warner Cable Arena, but the return of the legendary group's seminal lineup Saturday marked a special occasion. Although it was, as Stevie Nicks noted early on, the band's 62nd show with Christine McVie since reuniting for the On With the Show Tour in September, it was McVie's first Charlotte show since leaving the band in 1998.

The warm response she and Mac received as Lindsey Buckingham hit the first note of "The Chain" was electric. The crowd roared with excitement, and I wondered how McVie could have walked away from such adulation presumably forever - Nicks has stated she thought McVie would never return to the band.

Good thing she did. Fleetwood Mac was whole again able to perform McVie-showcasing tunes like "You Make Loving Fun," "Everywhere," "Say You Love Me," and "Over My Head," McVie, whose voice has remained intact, made the addition of songs like "Little Lies" possible, filled out "Don't Stop," and beefed up harmonies elsewhere.

View a photo gallery from the concert

Nicks seemed in stronger voice Saturday than in 2013. She hasn't bothered to reach for the high notes on "Dreams" and "Rhiannon" for years, but she was in fine form on "Seven Wonders." She thanked "American Horror Story: Coven" for bringing back (Nicks sang it on the show) the song. She also soared on "Gypsy" and "Landslide." She dedicated the latter to the people that marched from Selma on the historical march's 50th anniversary and talked about the impact of that moment. She and Buckingham were 15 and 16 years old. She later shared a story of how they met and their first band while introducing "Gypsy."

While the entire band seemed reinvigorated with the always subdued John McVie's bass lines punching up the backbeat, Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood remained the band's fire. Buckingham, who stole the 2013 show, was again a tireless showman who seemed to revel in the spotlight, bouncing his guitar against his knee, hopping on one leg, and goofing with fans in front of him. He of course demonstrated his six string dexterity on "Big Love" and "Never Going Back Again."

Fleetwood's atypical drum solo, which occurred midway through the encore's "World Turning," found him verbally rallying the crowd while taking in their feedback with eyes closed before the solo escalated against a loop of his verbal antics.

Although known best as a mainstream pop-rock band, "Tusk," "Goldust Woman" and "I'm So Afraid" allowed Mac to stretch into psychedelic jam territory with Nicks bucking wildly across the stage in her platforms during "Goldust's" extended jam.

Of course with a collective career - not to mention individual ones - that extend over 40 years, there were omissions. The woman shouting "Hold Me's" request was unmet. Gone were Nicks and Buckingham's solo hits. Instead the focus was on Fleetwood Mac's history from the first album the lineup made together in 1975 to its 1997 hit "Silver Springs" (which Nicks had originally written for "Rumours").

The aging pop group (from McVie, who looks incredible for 71 to Buckingham, the baby of the band at 65) relied on the support of two backing musicians, Neale Heywood and Brett Tuggle and three vocalists, including Lori Nicks and Sharon Celani who have been with Nicks since her first solo album.

If it turns out that Fleetwood Mac decides it's never going back (on tour) again after this, it will have left fans satisfied. But the members seem to be enjoying it and each other so much I doubt that will be the case.