Tuesday, May 24, 2016

God Saves the QC with month long list of shows to benefit Milestone

The annual God Save the Queen City festival returns for its sixth year in August. Instead of an all-day fest as in its first four years or last year's multi-day event, the taste-making event will change formats somewhat taking over Snug Harbor's weekly residency and culminating with a larger concert at the Fillmore.

The main concert takes place August 27 at The Fillmore with Austin-based Canadian guitar and drum duo Black Pistol Fire, Greenville, SC native and cool country singer-songwriter Nikki Lane, Nashville's Promised Land Sound, and Charlotte's Serfs.

The first 500 early bird tickets for the Fillmore show are $10. After that advanced tickets are $15 and $20 at the door.

The weekly residencies also presented by Charlotte-based screenprinters Ink Floyd and Pabst Blue Ribbon take place each Wednesday and feature both out of town and local acts. Admission for those is a $2 donation that will go toward the Save the Milestone campaign. Greater monetary donations are encouraged.

Wednesday Aug. 3 kicks off with Nashville's Daddy Issues, Charlottesville's Left and Right, and Charlotte hip-hop fixtures Elevator Jay and Rapper Shane. Acts for Aug. 10 are Nashville Kansas Bible Company, New Jersey's rock powerhouse the Everymen, and Charlotte's Business People.

August 17 it's T. Hardy and the Knocks from Athens with Charlotte's Dust & Ashes and Landless. Memphis' Space Face team with Charlotte's It's Snakes and Ancient Cities Aug. 24. And the God Save the QC residency ends with a Houston Brothers reunion Aug. 31. The Houstons follow Noises Ten and Hot Gates' frontman Jason Scavone, and Midwood staples the Fat Face Band.

God Save the Queen City is again teaming with Heist Brewery on a signature seasonal English porter. The beer will make its debut at Heist July 15 where local rockers Temperance League, who performed at past GSTQC, will perform. 

For more information check out www.gstqc.com, www.godsavethequeencity.com

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Carolina Rebellion's inaugural 3-day run offers diversity and camaraderie

Carolina Rebellion ends its three day run at Rock City Campgrounds today. The festival kicked off in Concord Friday with a mix of classic rock and metal, `90s radio staples, and a smattering of current acts. It continued Saturday with half of thrash metal’s Big Four and some of the genre’s bigger acts.
Expanding from two to three days for the first time in its six year history allowed for a more eclectic lineup. Friday’s focus was largely nostalgic.

German metal legends the Scorpions – Friday’s headliner - marked the occasion as its first with longtime Motorhead drummer Mikkey Dee, who is filling in on the band’s North American dates. The Swede’s first drum solo here since Motorhead’s final show in Charlotte in September felt like a triumphant return. The death of Motorhead’s linchpin, Lemmy Kilmister, in December marked the end of Dee’s 23 years with the group. 

Many in the Rebellion crowd had never gotten a chance to see Scorpions before and the group didn’t disappoint. It kicked its set off with “Going Out With a Bang” from its 2015 album “Return to Forever.” The introduction felt like a mission statement for the night and for the band, given its 51 year history. Some of its members are only a few years shy of 70. The production was what you expect of a headliner, with Dee on a stage-length platform a story above the rest of the band (who came and went via two hidden staircases) and a series of graphics interspersed with footage of the band on three giant screens.

Scorpions (below) surprisingly didn’t stack the setlist with hit after hit opting for 1990’s “Tease Me Please Me” instead of radio staple “Rhythm of Love” or power ballads “Wind of Change” or “Believe in Love.” It did offer up “Still Loving You” during the encore. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” put the final exclamation point on the night. 

The crowd, which trudged in droves between the two main stages all weekend, went from Jacksonville, Florida - a hit-filled set by road dogs Lynyrd Skynyrd - to Deutschland. For years Skynyrd has performed at the seated PNC Music Pavilion as a co-headliner or support act, but the chaos of the general admission crowd added a new energy to the show. Given his expression as he launched into a solo during “Sweet Home Alabama,” guitarist Rickey Medlocke seemed to note the crowd surfing. The Southern rock band may have seemed an odd fit for the heavy festival, but given the location and its historical place in rock, Skynyrd fit right in. 

Georgia’s Collective Soul, which closed out a run of `90s hit makers on one of two smaller stages, was a fitting lead-in for Skynyrd with pop-rock radio staples “The World I Know” and “Shine.” The latter even had fans in the field who were simply waiting for the next band singing along.

Filter and Candlebox preceded Collective Soul as did another hit-heavy band, Three Doors Down, on the main stage. While those acts are mainstream rock staples, the more aggressive Escape the Fate and New Year’s Day appealed to a younger crowd on the opposite side stage. The former was at the mercy of Friday’s brisk winds, which meant inconsistent volume during songs like “Just a Memory.”
Veterans of hard rock giants, Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) and Vinnie Paul (Pantera), respectively gave crowds a taste of their current bands Sixx:A.M. and Hellyeah. Paul’s rumbling blast beats shook the hill top as he and his bandmates from Mudvayne and Nothingface plowed through Hellyeah’s late afternoon set. 

Sixx:A.M. - Sixx’s collaboration with former Guns n’ Roses guitarist DJ Ashba and producer/vocalist James Michael - delved into theatrical, almost rock opera territory with two female backing vocalists whose voices could go from shouting catchy choruses to operatic swells. They were certainly not just eye candy and contributed to the show with those varied vocals and interplay with frontman Michael. With a focus on uplifting, positive messages and that theatrical bent, Sixx:A.M. proved to be doing something that no one else is right now and it worked to its advantage. 

There are always a few wild cards on the bill, and NC’s prog-metal experimentalists Between the Buried and Me filled that role. It’s fluttering, harmony dual guitar parts, nimble sci-fi bass lines, and mood altering synthesizer were actually the perfect soundtrack for the sunset. Even if its rollercoaster of arty metal was too heady for some, everyone recognized its cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” – an ambitious festival feat given the length of the song and the brevity of anyone but the headliners’ sets.  

Short sets meant a 25 year old band like Clutch, who closed out the same side stage as BTBAM on Saturday, was relegated to 30 minutes. It opted for four tracks from its latest album, “Psychic Warfare,” one from its previous release, and two older tracks. 

The format also meant fans had to choose between side stage acts, while the main stage bands alternated times. That pitted Clutch against recent Grammy winners Ghost, whose theatrical show and last year’s radio play and buzz meant the Swedish metal band was one of the festival’s newer must-sees. Visually its costumes were scaled back to simple white faces and black clothes, but the performance was not. 

Yet the variety of the bill meant Saturday fans could also opt for the psychedelic stoner metal of the Sword or Parkway Drive's growling metalcore.

Thrash metal founders Anthrax and Megadeth played in succession on the Carolina stage. As with past Rebellions, Anthrax packed its 40-minute set with mosh-inducing staples “Caught in the Mosh,” “Got the Time” its “Antisocial” cover and “Indians” along with a couple from its new album. 

The crowd surfing and circle pits continued for Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson and company. The 54 year old band leader seemed a kinder, gentler version sharing his appreciation for the fans and joking about messing up the lyrics to “Sweating Bullets.” Its set ended with the obligatory one-two punch of “Peace Sells” and “Holy Wars.” 

Florida’s A Day to Remember brought pop punk and hardcore punch to the opposite main stage as the sun began to set. While delivering one catchy chorus after another, the young-by-comparison band’s set was also big on antics with a guy in a hot pepper costume shooting t-shirts at the crowd, an anatomically correct blow-up doll making its way to the stage, singer Jeremy McKinnon daring the audience to surf on top of crowd surfers. While most attempts at the latter were foiled by gravity and the fact that a constantly moving crowd isn’t Cirque du Soliel, a few managed to stay vertical atop the crowd for a few seconds. 

Lamb of God and Five Finger Death Punch delivered a biting punch of metal on both fronts with Shinedown’s more mainstream rock closing out Saturday night. 

Carolina Rebellion finishes up Sunday with headlining sets from Deftones, Rob Zombie and Disturbed. Horror rock icon Alice Cooper closes out the side stage in the fitting pre-Zombie slot. The lineup also continues to diversify with late afternoon sets from rapper Yelawolf and Cypress Hill and punk vets Pennywise. Japan’s female fronted Baby Metal will certainly draw curious onlookers with its cartoony image and theatrical, symphonic metal.

Throughout the weekend there was a defiant spirit that Carolina Rebellion and its sister festivals prove that rock - while it’s not the sole chart-ruler it once was – is by no means dead. But it’s sudden underdog status isn’t lost on the people who make the music. Hellyeah praised the region’s “metal community” and Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty thanked the crowd for being the kind of people who go to a show on Friday night. 

Entertainment has taken a hit across the board in the past 15 years, not only due to downloading and the collapsing record industry, but in the live arena as well with more people choosing to stay online at home than engage in a live concert. Yet as a stranger lifted my 60 pound 7 year old on to his shoulders to watch Megadeth (top), I was reminded of the camaraderie and community that these kinds of events create. In a global climate where so much emphasis is on division, the kind of unity music creates is greatly needed. 

Maybe it was the weather - much cooler than the previous few years, with rain falling only for a short time during Scorpions' set - or the ease of traffic coming in from I-85 during the afternoons this year, but

Carolina Rebellion seems to get easier to manage each year (although I don't know how traffic was coming in from the Speedway). The cigarette smoke, lack of vegetarian vendors (it's mac n' cheese, fries or nachos), or late day breeze from the port-a-potties and occasional mud were the only downsides this year and for many, if not most concert goers, smoking and meat are part of a metal way of life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Q&A with actor Kiefer Sutherland, who plays Visulite Wednesday

Fans know actor Kiefer Sutherland from starring roles in Fox’s “24” and films dating back to “Stand By Me” and “The Lost Boys,” but they don’t know him as a singer-songwriter. A lifelong music fan who started the independent Ironworks label with best friend/musician and producer Jude Cole in 2002, Sutherland will release his debut album, “Down in a Hole” in June. The tour leading up to the folk-country release stops at Visulite Theatre tonight. Sutherland spoke to the Observer earlier today about the transition to music.  

Q: So what role did music play in your life growing up?
A: Music was a huge thing. It started when I was very young. I had a brother who 7 years older than me that I idolized. He made a point of playing stuff for me whether it was Jackson 5 or Elton John, songs with lyrics that were quite transcendent to any age. I made a joke I was the only 3rd grader listening to Aerosmith.
I’ve watched my daughters. My youngest is 28 now. They listen to music in a very different way. I remember putting headphones on and taking a few hours with an album. They don’t do that. (For me) it wasn’t an addendum to another activity whether it was being on the set and taking time to play or listening to something that would put me in a good mood. As an art form I gravitate more toward listening to music than going to movies. And I love movies.

Q: Did you absorb a lot through the artists on the label?
A: Certainly as a writer. I watched different artists like Rocco Deluca and Suzanne (Santo) from HoneyHoney. Anything I’d written before that time had been a fluke. I’d play a few chords, I’d find a melody I liked. It was accidental. When I watched these incredible artists it was very specific. I thought, I’ll try that.

Q: It seemed to work.
A: Over the last 8 to ten years I’d written a few pieces and taken them to Jude Cole only in the effort that we’d send songs to BMI or Sony Music and see if their artists would be interested in covering them. He suggested we keep them for myself. I laughed. I was certainly aware of the stigma of an actor doing music and I didn’t want that. He took me out and we had a few drinks and I started to like the idea.

Q: For someone who has played characters, what’s it like putting yourself out there through what’s largely autobiographical lyrics?
A: It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’ve done a lot of live theater and films and television, but I’ve always been able to hide behind that character. The only common denominator I can find between the two - and its substantial - is I like to tell stories. (Because) I hadn’t thought about it - which I guess is pretty stupid - nothing prepared me for being on stage for the first time and explaining why I wrote a song and this is what happened to me when I was 25. I can’t say it wasn’t a little disarming for me to be that open or honest in front of a group of people. I was lucky that evening. It happened to be a positive experience and we’ve gone forward like that. It probably would have been different if they threw things.

Q: I would think hearing those stories helps audiences relate to the songs.
A: I’ve got a bit of a time concern because I’m doing a show for ABC, “Designated Survivor.” The album won’t come out until June. It’s a big ask to have an audience come to hear songs they haven’t heard before. Explaining where the songs come from and why has helped that a bit.

Q: Did you talk about this project with any actors that moonlight as musicians?
A: I haven’t. It’s not because I’m not interested in what their experience was. It was more of a time factor. There’s this idea that all actors know each other. Outside Kevin Bacon I wouldn’t have known who to call. It was one of those things we’re playing small bars and it was just an experience that I wanted to have on my own.

Q: What can you share about “Designated Survivor?”
A: That’ll come out in the fall on ABC. There’s a part in the Constitution that demands when there is a State of the Union or special event at Congress that requires the government’s attendance, that a member of each party of each cabinet is sequestered in case of a natural disaster or attack. In the case of our show there’s a terrorist attack and the character I play becomes president overnight. It’s about his family, political instability…this show is certainly not “24.” I’m playing the president – yes I’ve gotten that old (he’s 49). I was a huge fan of “The West Wing” and there are aspects of that, and with the terrorist attack, it will have aspects of “24.” 

WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Tonight
WHERE: Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave.  
DETAILS: 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com    

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Pumpkins/Phair focus on songs and musicianship Wednesday

Wednesday’s Smashing Pumpkins’ concert at Ovens Auditorium may have not been what some fans expected of the alternative rock band who started its career with blazing psych-rock and ventured into metal, industrial and hard rock over the years. Instead the focus of the band’s Plainsong Tour was often on Billy Corgan’s songwriting, stripping songs like the symphonic pop radio hit “Tonight Tonight” down to its bare bones with just Corgan and an acoustic guitar.

The same was true of opening act Liz Phair, who ran through an all too brief career-spanning solo set with just her voice and guitar. A nervous performer in her early years, Phair’s grown at ease on stage. Her voice was near perfect. She hit the high notes repeatedly, for instance, during her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” She included two new songs in the set as well as “Exile in Guyville” gems “F*** and Run” and “Divorce Song.” Later singles “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I” were boiled down to their simplest, truest form sans the recorded version’s pop production. She sounded great and looked nowhere near 49.

Corgan performed the first four songs of the Pumpkins’ set solo before a beautifully painted backdrop of blooming trees. He and Phair armed with just a guitar reminded me of how most of us start playing music – learning chords and covering other artists’ songs on an acoustic, which gives way to writing original songs in that same way. It’s a format I’m sure some of the audience could identify with and gives a bit of insight into the original form of the songs.

Guitarist Jeff Schroeder joined Corgan for a worthy rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Corgan’s voice is a good match for early Bowie and Schroeder added a flamenco-style spin to the guitar solos. Phair appeared again to sing backup on “Thirty-three.” The other band members, which included original Pumpkins’ drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, Schroeder, and new-ish touring members Katie Cole and Sierra Swan, came and went when needed.

His other band, Zwan’s “Jesus I” and “Mary Star of the Sea” gave way to what Corgan called the “Siamese Suite,” which he said, “Shuts up fans still waiting for the Smashing Pumpkins to come on stage.”

“You know,” he continued with a smile. “I actually wrote some of these songs. And I was in the room when they were recorded.”

It was one of a few self-aware asides he threw out to a sometimes inconsiderate crowd that shouted “Bring back (original members) Darcy and James” and “It’s not very rock n’ roll Billy!” during what was intended to be a quiet, rather intimate affair in contrast to the Pumpkins at Ovens in 2008. That jammy set bordered on metal. It had the crowd on its feet, but didn’t sound nearly as good as Wednesday’s concert.

“Mayonnaise” and a solo organ rendition of “Disarm” that wasn’t much like the recorded version, bookended the portion of the show dedicated to fan favorite, “Siamese Dream.” The changing backdrops and lights enhanced the mood. In fact the light patterns later in the show were innovative in their striking simplicity, illustrating everything doesn’t need to be centered and spotlights.

As relaxed and low-key as the performance was, it showcased a variety of styles from Schroeder’s subtle flamenco and Japanese guitar work to Chamberlain’s jazzy drumming to the more electronic, drum machine-based “Eye” (from the “Lost Highway” soundtrack) and the witchy “Saturnine.”

“1979” drew the crowd to its feet before Corgan turned crooner, dancing and belting songs without his guitar. He let bassist Cole take over lead vocals for “Malibu,” a song he wrote with Courtney Love for Hole’s third album. Her voice added a touch of country to the Southern California vibe. It was one of the night’s lighter moments, although listening to sexist arm chair critics in the crowd debate Cole’s abilities given how “hot” she is set off a debate in my head about the decade that birthed the Pumpkins.

While alternative music gave outsiders a voice in the `80s and gave way to bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins whose mainstream success yanked alt-rock out of the shadows in the `90s, it also associated those acts with bands that fostered a more misogynist bro mentality. That sector of fans obviously hungered for a heavier set Wednesday, but Corgan rose above the critics and his own desire to confront. When one fan yelled a request for a song he’d already played, Corgan smiled, feigned meditation, and admitted: “Old school me would’ve said something.”   

The crowd may have tested him, but he stuck to his guns. The anthemic closer “The Spaniards” came closest to giving them what they wanted – a big, rocking finale. But he abruptly followed it with one of the Rolling Stones’ quieter moments, “Angie.”

While Plainsong isn’t the arena rock spectacle `90s fans might expect, the Pumpkins aren't just a hard rock band but one that also writes beautiful songs. It offered the Pumpkins’ in a different light which isn’t something every band is capable of 25 years into its career.