Hello Handshake/the Spiveys
Hoverboard/Marry Me Joanna
Our youth is often the time period that most informs our musical tastes as adults. And the Balsa Glider’s sound is indicative of the alternative rock and jangle pop styles that surfaced in Southern college towns in the `80s and `90s as alt-rock was beginning to really grab hold of the mainstream. While Chapel Hill (where the band members met) was gathering indie cred for bands like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, the members of Balsa Gliders were collecting professional degrees. Its members are all grown up now. Their day jobs include banker, lawyer, doctor, and Episcopal priest. But those years spent absorbing the Southeastern sounds of R.E.M. and Let’s Active certainly color its brand of rock nearly twenty years later.
A lot of bands of that era come to mind when I listen to its new EP “Photographic Friends.” The matter-of-fact vocal delivery with a slight whine reminds me of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore or Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus crossed with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, but without the slacker quality of those voices. The material ranges from bright, hopping jangle pop to more introspective.
You get a sense of nostalgia from the lyrics too - maybe some of the characters the group sings about are inspired by those from its past? The lyrics are like clever little puzzles hidden beneath bouncy pop songs that the listener can piece together with multiple listens. They aren’t necessarily cloaked in mystery, but include colorful details that flesh out their subjects. “Cable Came to Kinston” is pretty obvious, but that’s why I like it. There are also subtle musical touches as well such as the keys (which get a zippy solo) and backing “oohs” of the opening track “Cooleemee Girl” or the fluttery guitar picking as “Man the Mountain” builds to a close.
Producer Greg Elkins who has worked with Whiskeytown, Chris Stamey, and Birds of Avalon adds to the raw authenticity of the record.
The Raleigh-based sextet keeps two feet firmly planted in Charlotte (those of drummer Chuck Price) and the band’s main songwriter and vocalist Charles Marshall grew up in Charlotte and has family here. What’s becoming its annual winter show at Visulite Theatre is sort of a homecoming. The group, who got its start in DC, is back in Charlotte Thursday, December 15 at the Visulite with Yates Dew. Tickets are $10. Show starts at 8:45 p.m. 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com.
Jazz Funk Xmas Jam
8 p.m. Friday, December 9, Chop Shop, 399 E. 35th St. $10. www.chopshopnoda.com
Charlotte fusion ensemble Groove 8 heads up a unique holiday concert featuring rap, soul, funk, and jazz from hip-hop artists Yogo Pelli and Phive, saxophonist Adrian Crutchfield (of Anthony Hamilton’s band), and soul rockers Lucky Five.
Nora Jane Struthers
8 p.m., Friday, December 9, Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. $10-$12. 704-376-3737.
There’s something sinister and bookish under the sweet vocals, crisp, restrained instrumentation, and literary lyrics of this up and coming new grass-tinged folk singer who's a former high school English teacher (check out the twisted murder ballad in the above video).
8 p.m. Friday, December 9, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. $37.50. www.ticketmaster.com
The piano-pop hit makers who opened the Fillmore’s neighboring amphitheater two summers ago returns for the WKNX Kissmas concert (interestingly tickets are also nearly half what some seats were at the outdoor show).
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 11, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $10-$12. 704-358-9298.
She’s folk music royalty (her grandpa was Woody and dad is Arlo) and he was part of `90s Chapel Hill alt-rock outfit Queen Sarah Saturday. Today, they’re a dreamy folk-rock duo returning to his Carolina roots for the holidays.
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 13, Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. $17-$20. 704-358-9200.
A favorite of TV music directors who place her adult contemporary songs on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” she divides her hushed, breathy alto between innocent and sultry over intimate piano pop or, at one point, a wicked channeling of the Eurythmics and Concrete Blonde (listen above).
9 p.m. Wednesday, December 14, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. $7. www.etix.com
This married Cleveland duo create dynamics-driven, experimental art rock that recently caught the attention of “Rolling Stone” who called its third album, “Madness in Miniature,” “Rust Belt scrappy and dreamily explosive.”
Chatham County Line
7 p.m. Thursday, December 15, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $15/$30 VIP. 704-358-9298.
The Chapel Hill act delivers two sets – one of its traditional acoustic bluegrass and a second electric set that’ll serve as a reunion for guest drummer Zeke Hutchins who also reunites with the aforementioned fellow Queen Sarah Saturday alumni Johnny Irion who opens the show.
The first hour-plus portion was threaded with a Christmas narrative from TSO’S 1996 album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” about a lonely soul whose perspective on the holiday changes after meeting a wise old man in a bar on Christmas Eve. The arrangements interspersed originals with traditional carols such as “Silent Night” and “O’ Come All Ye Faithful” as well as music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” which served as a highlight. An original R&B ballad belted by Erica Jerry morphed into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” While the gentle violins from “The Nutcracker Suite” later tiptoed into a heavy, bounding version which featured quick guitar licks that could’ve been lifted from a number of hard rock classics.
While the classical bent of the show made it more of a quiet sit-down affair without a steady stream of people heading for the bar, there was plenty arena rock grandeur. The crowd wooed and whistled at guitarist Joel Hoekstra, a lanky Sebastian Bach-looking player with long blonde waves, as he shredded on his Les Paul at the foot of the stage.
For many Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s concerts are a holiday tradition. The audience certainly had its favorite performers in band leader/guitarist Chris Caffery (who wore a Bobcats’ jersey with his name on it during the break) and vocalist James Lewis whose lead on songs like “Ornament” added a touch of gruff biker-cool. The crowd also seemed familiar with vocalist Ronny Munroe who appeared as a costumed homeless man with the voice of a European Neil Diamond during “Old City Bar.”
While the diverse cast of lead vocalists, animated violinist Roddy Chong (who led a 7-piece violin section made up of local musicians), and narration from Bryan Hicks made for plenty going on, the production was actually the real star. At one point tiny bubbles fell slowly creating realistic falling snow that evaporated as it landed on the crowd.
The light rig and drum kit were massive. Part of the light rig extended halfway into the audience, featured screens that hovered over the floor seats, and lowered to form a catwalk over the crowd where the musicians and dancer/singers could perform from platforms.
The production only escalated after the holiday portion of the show when the band performed songs from its 2009 double album “Night Castle” and 2000’s “Beethoven’s Last Night.”
“You want to see this stage come alive?” asked Caffery between sets. Alive meant transforming the backdrop, screens, and light rig into a mechanical fire breathing dragon. While that sounds preposterous, it was actually very cool and well done, with eyes and teeth appearing on screens as the three light rigs opened and closed while fire shot from the dragon’s “mouth.” If Grammy’s were given for production this seems like a clear winner.
The female singers from the choir formed a dance team for the second half as well. The women used their hair as another limb, swinging it back and forth in whiplash-inducing sync. Considering the hair-dancing and headbanging a more fitting name might be Tran-Sibhairian Orchestra.
Although there wasn’t anything as impressive as the dragon, the onslaught or pyro and fireworks continued through “Beethoven’s 5th” and a finale that wound its way back to the holiday theme with the mashup of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells" - signature TSO.
The concert is over-the-top from beginning to end, cheesy and sort of delightfully self-aware of that factor. But I found at some point even those who are apprehensive (like myself) to the general ridiculousness of combining such equally grand yet seemingly disparate elements in a non-traditional holiday show eventually succumb. Within the context of the show (at least by the third or fourth song), it no longer seems so ridiculous.
8 p.m. Friday, December 2, Amos' Southend, 1423 S. Tryon St. Sold Out. www.amossouthend.com
For WEND 106.5's annual Not So Acoustic Xmas, the station presents "an evening with" the quirky alt-rock band who will perform two sets (no openers).
The Chelsea Daggers
10 p.m. Friday, December 2, Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St. $5. 704-333-9799.
This stirringly original local trio melds heavy, bluesy stoner rock with haunting Yeah Yeah Yeahs-like vocal invention, but the eclectic outfit can burst into a poppy `80s-inspired chorus, sixties rockabilly throwback or experimental cabaret. With the Malamondos and Foe Hammer.
Carolina Chocolate Drops
7 p.m. Saturday, December 3, Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St. $20-$23. 704-358-9298.
Having gone from a youthful string band born out of the Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University to Grammy winners, the trio returns for its semi-annual winter performance - its first in Charlotte with its new lineup.
8 p.m. Tuesday, December 6, Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd. $39.50. www.livenation.com
After his performance during Speedstreet last Spring, the man of many hits is back to ring in the holiday season with fellow classic `70s and `80s rock vocalists Mickey Thomas from Starship and Lou Gramm from Foreigner.
George Porter, Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners
9 p.m. Thursday, December 8, Double Door Inn, 1218 Charlottetown Ave. $12. 704-376-1446.
At 63, the influential veteran Meters’ and Funky Meters’ bassist leads this New Orleans’ outfit with a loose improvisational feel that seamlessly fuses his roots in funk, R&B, jazz, and rock. With Donna Hopkins.
10:30 p.m. Thursday, December 8, Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St. $10. 704-376-3737.
Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Tom Hamilton (formerly of Brother’s Past) makes inspired Americana that’s anchored in sparse folk but flirts with pop charm on songs like the sing-songy, whimsical “Swimming at Night” and the bluesy road song “Dance All Night.”