Friday, May 4, 2012

Snagglepuss hosts Cinco de Mayo farewell performance & cd release

Some things in local music you just take for granted - as in they'll always be around. Bands like Antiseen and the Spongetones have clocked or are nearing three decades in music here. Hope Nicholls and her husband Aaron Pitkin are another longstanding Charlotte fixture. Their history together has stretched across three bands - Fetchin' Bones, Sugarsmack and Snagglepuss.

Snagglepuss' guitarist Amy Kay is moving to San Diego to pursue her PhD, so the latter will come to an end (but a celebratory and triumphant one at least) with a cd and video release party at its home base Snug Harbor Saturday, May 5.

The farewell concert doubles as a Cindo de Mayo party. The band will play two sets - one consisting of songs from its new album, "Doing Music." The other set will feature old favorites from its 13 year history. The group will be joined on stage throughout the night by several of its peers - the Houston Brothers, Benji Hughes, and members of Babyshaker and Super Ape. The Alternative Champs - never ones to shy away from a costume - will play Mariachi band with amps strapped to their backs in lieu of a more traditional opening act.

Amy Kay was really just a kid when she joined Snagglepuss. She was 18 and had never played guitar before. That was the setup for Snagglepuss. After years on major labels, Nicholls decided she wanted to surround herself with friends and not necessarily seasoned musician friends at that. The members, including Pitkin (a guitarist turned bassist who would now tackle drums) took up instruments that were new to them.

I don't know Amy Kay that well now (although from our occasional conversations I know that she's a sweet, sweet girl). I didn't know her at all back then, but I remember thinking she must have a lot of guts to get up on stage with so little experience especially with an old pro like Nicholls (I'd been playing and singing for years at that point and I still haven't gotten up on stage). I watched Amy Kay grow up there as she gained more confidence in her playing and even started a few other bands. It's sad to see her go, but I'll live vicariously through her gutsy move to uber-expensive California like I did when she was rocking out on stage at 18.

"Doing Music" was actually recorded with Don Dixon a couple of years ago. Like all Snagglepuss records it exudes a sense of brightly colored fun, wacky idealism, and this sort of no-rules-apply approach.

There's a garage rock feel to the recording - especially because of the guitar tone and frantic saxophone. It can be chaotic and jazzy. You don't always know where a song is headed. "Dixon" for instance seems to grow out of "Vuvuzela" (the song before it) and winds through a trippy "Wizard of Oz" meets "Alice in Wonderland"-like sonic cyclone.

Like Scott Weaver's other band, Babyshaker (which started around the same time as Snagglepuss and is still going strong), Snagglepuss has just gotten better with experience and time. The harmonies on "Vuvuzela (The Banktown Anthem)" are downright beautiful. There's an entire four-disc "Occupy This Album" compilation set featuring a bunch of famous musicians being released May 15, but I wonder if anyone will capture the Occupy Movement with as much zeal as Snagglepuss does here. Maybe Yoko Ono. She and Nicholls seem like distant artistic relatives.

As a band it's always embraced the odd and weird, but there's always an anchor in really catchy melodies and hooks like Weaver and Nicholls trading off vocals with the telling "How much is enough time?" line that closes out the album. 

It'll be interesting to see where Nicholls and Pitkin will head musically from here. They own Plaza-Midwood's Boris & Natasha boutique and have two kids, so making time is a factor. But I can't imagine them staying away from the game for too long.