Thursday, November 28, 2013

This week's hot concerts

Edwin McCain
Friday  8 p.m., Don Gibson Theatre, 318 S. Washington St., Shelby, $27.50,
The Greeville, SC-raised singer-songwriter best known for the `90s hits “Solitude” and “I’ll Be” (which was recently covered on “The Voice”) returns to Shelby’s vintage classic theater for the third Thanksgiving running.

Friday  9 p.m., Tremont, 400 W. Tremont Ave., $15,
On its new album the envelope-pushing showmen of the New York’s theatrical industrial metal stalwart proudly carry the nihilistic, beat-driven charge that it’s wielded since the `90s when it helped ignite the growing, now influential, genre. With youthful industrial-tinged, metallic alt-rock oufit the Rabid Whole.

Tribute to Levon Helm
Friday  9 p.m., Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave., $12-$15,
Charlotte’s New Familiars were honored to open for the Band drummer/vocalist and renowned multi-instrumentalist in 2010. After his 2012 death it put together this local all-star tribute, which features the Midwood Horns, Jason Atkins, and members of Matrimony, Gigi Dover, and Chris Cook.

Friday  10 p.m., Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St., $6,
The Tarheel crooner (formerly one half of Flat Duo Jets) is a rockabilly guitar icon in the underground heralded by Jack White, Cat Power, Neko Case and actor Anson Mount as an all-time favorite. He was the subject of a 2011 documentary “Two Headed Cow.” Hear what all the fuss is still about decades into his career.

Jon Oliva
Saturday  7:30 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $17-$20,
The four octave Savatage vocalist has spent the last 20 years with holiday hard rockers Trans Siberian Orchestra. He copes with the loss of Jon Oliva’s Pain guitarist Matt LaPorte on a new solo album that incorporates the last recorded work of his brother Criss Oliva, who died in 1993 car crash.

Saturday  8 p.m., Chop Shop, East 35th St., $12-$14,
With anticipation high for its major label full-length release in 2014, the Charlotte-based band is staging a homecoming show (and its first at NoDa’s Chop Shop) that will be filmed, so join in loudly during the sing-alongs.

Chris Cornell
Monday  7:30 p.m., Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St., Sold Out,
The Soundgarden frontman, whose band’s highly anticipated return to Charlotte was scrapped due to inclement weather during May’s Carolina Rebellion, returns for a much different “American Songbook” tour which revisits material from his varied incarnations.

Hugh Cornwell
Wednesday  8:30 p.m., Tremont, 400 W. Tremont Ave., $15,
As the original vocalist/guitarist for the Stranglers, the British punk icon enjoyed 21 top 40 singles in the UK and Europe. Although not as well known in the states, he hasn’t lost any of his bite on his latest solo album, “Totem and Taboo.”  It’s a mature, but raw record that doesn’t sacrifice urgency or intelligence.

Clairy Browne & the Banging Rackettes
Wednesday 7:30 p.m. McGlohon Theater, 345 N. College St. $14.50-$29.50, 
The Aussie soul outfit, who is recording its second album in Nashville, made a splash as the hot house band in a Heineken commercial but it's the nine-piece group's live show and flashy frontwomen - led by Browne - that are solidifying its reputation as a must-see act in the states. 

Thursday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $50,
Following the June 4 release of its fourteenth studio album, “Super Collider,” influential thrash metal pioneers Dave Mustaine, Dave Ellefson and company are back to celebrate 30 years. With Fear Factory and Nonpoint.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

One Direction extends 2014 Charlotte stay

Tickets to One Direction's Where We Are 2014 tour haven't even gone on sale to the general public yet, but the group is already adding additional shows. Just 24 hours after announcing 2014 North American tour dates One Direction has added a second Charlotte show. In addition to Saturday the 27th, the British heartthrobs will play PNC Music Pavilion (previously Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre) Sunday, September 28. Tickets for both dates go on sale Saturday, Dec. 7 at Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, and online at 

The North American leg kicks off in Toronto Aug. 1 and ends in Miami Oct.5. If you simply can't wait to see them in the flesh, the group is scheduled to appear on "Saturday Night Live" Dec. 7 and The CW's iHeartRadio "Midnight Memories" release party Dec. 9 (with an encore airing Christmas night).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One Direction sets 2014 Charlotte date

Hot on the heels of its new album, "Midnight Memories," hitting No. 1 in a whopping 97 countries, the superstar British boy band announces its 2014 North American Tour dates. The group hits Charlotte's recently renamed PNC Music Pavilion (formerly Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre) September 27.

Tickets go on sale Dec. 7 at, all Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 1-800-745-3000, or at the PNC Music Pavilion box office. Presale opportunities are available to Citi card members through its Private Pass Program starting today. Visit for details. Another presale option will be available for those that sign up for a Facebook RSVP here. That presale starts Dec. 3.

The North American leg of the global Where We Are 2014 Tour currently kicks off in Toronto Aug. 1 and ends in Miami Oct.5, but expect additional dates to be announced.

Can't wait until September? One Direction appears on the Dec. 7 episode of "Saturday Night Live" as well as on The CW's iHeartRadio "Midnight Memories" release party Dec. 9 (with an encore airing Christmas night).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Widespread, Allman added to Haynes' Xmas Jam

For 25 years guitarist Warren Haynes' has celebrated the holidays with an all-star concert in his childhood home of Asheville. This year Haynes' Xmas Jam guest list is growing. His Allman Brothers' co-hort Gregg Allman (who plays Charlotte's Fillmore December 30) and Widespread Panic (who is actually playing New Year's Eve in Atlanta this year instead of Charlotte) will be part of the festivities that take place December 13 and 14 at Asheville's US Cellular Center.

Friday's lineup includes Haynes' band Gov't Mule, an acoustic set from Allman and Haynes (pictured above), Keb Mo, the Phil Lesh Quintet, the John Scofield Uberjam Band, and Widespread Panic. Saturday's bill features Aquarium Rescue Unit, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Gov't Mule, Allman, O.A.R. Michael Franti, and Sco-Mule - a collaboration between Scofield and Gov't Mule.

The Xmas Jam is always party to special guests. Those include longtime participate Kevn Kinney (of Drivn' N' Cryin'), Marc Quinones, Mike Barnes, Randall Bramblett, Ron Holloway and Roosevelt Collier.

This year's show benefits Habitat for Humanity for the fifteenth year in a row. VIP passes and travel packages are sold out, but single-day general admission tickets are still available here.

Xmas Jam has also partnered with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Asheville Brewing Co. to create a signature, limited edition beer for the event - the 25th Anniversary Christmas Jam Session Ale. Chico, California-based Sierra Nevada is opening a brewery in nearby Mills River, NC.

(Photo by Anna Webber, courtesy of Press Here Publicity)

Surgery for King's X singer following Amos' show

If you missed King's X's show at Amos’ Southend Saturday, then you missed seeing an artist sing through his pain, soldiering on through what had to be excruciating. I'm not talking about a broken heart either. Younger bands could learn a lot from King's X's 62-year-old singer and bass player Doug (aka dUg) Pinnick, who despite a ruptured hernia that will require surgery, gave Charlotte fans a full show. Two fans were overheard gushing about a set list that was "the best set list I've ever seen."

With his crew looking worried, Pinnick turned away from the crowd, addressed his pain and gathered himself between songs. The only part of the show that was cut short was the encore. It was then that his pain was truly evident. He said he couldn't sing and asked the crowd to. From a bar stool at the front of the stage he let the crowd carry the song - and what a crowd it was. Stacked with musicians and die-hard fans the audience not only out-sang pretty much any other crowd ever, it handled the harmonies too.

Pinnick, who was reportedly in shock, was rushed to the hospital following the show. He missed the band’s meet and greet afterward. Sunday’s show near Washington, D.C. was cancelled.

In July Pinnick underwent hernia surgery thanks to nearly 600 fans and friends who donated more than $26,000 to a fundraiser to help pay for his operation. Pinnick, like many musicians, does not have insurance. Saturday wasn't the first time he's played through the pain. He’d postponed this summer's surgery because of the cost. According to Pinnick’s health issues follow drummer Jerry Gaskill’s own tough year. He lost his home to Hurricane Sandy months after a 2012 heart attack. Read more about Pinnick’s situation and his upcoming surgery here and here.

Verizon Wireless Amphitheater gets new name

Charlotte's largest outdoor live music venue has a new name. As of today what's been known for over a decade as Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre is now PNC Music Pavilion. The new name is the result of a multi-year agreement between PNC Bank and Live Nation Entertainment.

PNC is relatively new to Charlotte, but has made its presence known through its arts and entertainment endeavors. Earlier this year it launched the PNC Celebrity Series with Blumenthal Performing Arts which has brought Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Gladys Knight, and Cyndi Lauper to uptown stages. It also sponsors a jazz series at The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

In addition to the naming rights, PNC will donate more than 1,200 tickets to recipients like children and volunteer mentors that work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte.

The newly christened PNC Music Pavilion, which holds over 18,000 concert goers,
opened in 1991. When I moved here it was Blockbuster Pavilion. It has held the Verizon name since 2001. I like the new title because it's less of a mouthful and quicker to type - not eating up word count. But as with Verizon, which held the naming rights for several similar amphitheaters throughout the US, there's still room for confusion when scanning tour dates. PNC is also part of the name of Raleigh's former RBC Center which adopted the name PNC Arena in 2012.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This week's hot concerts

Paint Fumes
Friday  10 p.m., Snug Harbor, 1228 Gordon St., $5,
The Charlotte garage rock trio makes a pit stop during its current national tour - it's first outing since frontman Elijah Von Cramon was hit by a car last winter. According to Von Cramon the frantic garage rock of it's full-length debut is evolving, so catching the band now may give you a reference point to where it's heading. With Temperance League, Free Clinic, and Black Market.

King’s X
Saturday  6:30 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $17-$20,
Whether lumped in with hair metal acts on “Headbanger’s Ball” or loosely aligned with grunge, the progressive Midwestern trio always had an original sound melding metal, funk, prog-rock, and soul capped by Doug Pinnick’s church-ready pipes that garnered the group acclaim from critics and peers.

Vadim and Marina Kolpakov
Saturday  7:30 p.m., Midwood International & Cultural Center Auditorium, 1827 Central Ave.,
The renowned 7-string Russian Romany guitarist, who toured as part of the Kolpakov Trio on Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet Tour and now calls Charlotte home, joins his dancer wife and Tatyana Thulien for an evening of gypsy, Eastern European and Spanish flamenco music and dance.

A Silent Film
Saturday  8 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St., $12-$15,
The Oxford alt-rock band has spent a lot of time cultivating a fervent US fan base. It jumped from Evening Muse to The Fillmore in record time thanks in part to its Snow Patrol-like intelligent story songs and emotional pop anthems. Die-hard fans will revel in ample new material at Saturday’s show.

Carbon Leaf
Saturday  8 p.m., Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave., $16-$20,
The apparently prolific Virginia outfit who managed to straddle Dave Matthews-style rock and the rootsier sound that was regionally red hot during the late `90s returns on the heels of the October release of its PledgeMusic-funded album “Constellation Prize” - it's second record in a year.

Porter Robinson
Saturday  9 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $30,
The Chapel Hill-based electro-house DJ and producer has gone from choice opening act for some of EDM’s biggest headliners to top-billing on marquees himself, charting his own singles, and remixing for Lady Gaga - and he does it all without the benefit of a kitschy DJ name.

K. Michelle
Sunday  7:30 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $33,
The music business needs its characters, so bless the scantily-dressed, Target-shopping, VH1 reality star come R&B singer who speaks her mind, pushes buttons with a knowing wink, and is proud to be “doing me” on her long-awaited, R&B No. 1 full-length “Rebellious Soul.”

Jonathan Richman
Sunday  8 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $15-$18,
To one generation he was the frontman for the Modern Lovers. To another he’s that guy that pops up and sings in “There’s Something About Mary.” To the peers that have covered his songs and even written their own about him, Richman is a revered, veteran songwriter who many credit with unwittingly influencing generations of punks.

Dave Rawlings Machine
Monday  8 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St., $25,
Gillian Welch’s better half pilots this rowdier, fuller outfit of revolving all-stars. This time he and Welch join forces with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Punch Brothers’ Paul Kowert and Willie Watson (formerly Old Crow Medicine Show) for a night that’s anything but predictable.

Wednesday  7:30 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $28.50-$35,
The Grammy nominated psychedelic art-rock band hasn’t repeated the success of its initial hit “Kids” with two follow-up albums, instead trading that early electro-pop charm for endearing psychedelic moodiness. It comes across as an act raised on Beck, Flaming Lips, and Pink Floyd - colorful, sometimes fun, and strange (hence its powerful and disturbing recent video).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Precious Memories" revisits music & mining

As a native West Virginian the idea of coal mining has always been part of my life. My great grandfather was a union organizer. He died before I was born. But if you’re a West Virginian you have a sense of what coal mining means to the state and how it has shaped the people. So when I met with internationally renowned songwriter, playwright, and community organizer Si Kahn earlier this fall for coffee, I was immediately interested when he told me about his next project, “Precious Memories.”

“Precious Memories” premiered locally Sunday at Evening Muse. It’s a one woman play with music starring musician and activist Sue Massek (the Reel World String Band) as Sarah Ogan Gunning and written by Kahn. Gunning was a coal miner’s wife in Kentucky in the 1930s who moved to New York as did her famous half-sister Aunt Molly Jackson and her brother Jim Garland - both musicians and union activists. The trio was friendly with folk legends like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger before Gunning’s life turned less glamorous. When the audience finds her strumming her banjo to “Precious Memories” she’s 50, living in a ramshackle apartment in Detroit where her husband is the janitor, and kind of mourning her half-sister Molly who died four days before the play takes place.

 I say “kind of” because Gunning’s relationship with the sister that was 30 years her senior was complicated to say the least. Gunning remained in Jackson’s shadow until Sarah was discovered in that Detroit apartment and began a folk music career late in life. She even played the Newport Folk Festival in the mid `60s. In the play, Gunning is still a bitter, aging woman that’s lost one husband and two of her four children all because of the mines. She recounts her backstory, her hardships, and her strained relationship with Jackson between songs like “Dreadful Memories,” “Girl Of Constant Sorrow,” and picket line protests like “I Hate the Capitalist System.”

Massek (above) handles the music well and many in the crowd wondered how she remembered her countless lines. I haven’t listened to Gunning’s originals, but I wonder if Gunning’s voice could be as strong and smooth as Massek’s.  Gunning certainly sung her own praises in the vocal department (she’s not modest).

Kahn crafted the occasional funny line for a character that’s certainly a character, but mining isn’t a pretty subject. After the play was over a friend looked at me and said, “That was depressing.” I didn’t find it depressing. Maybe because I knew what to expect. I was thinking driving to the Muse that night that I know very little about my great grandfather’s work as a union organizer.  That side of the family has never been forthcoming with information. I do know coal mining was work my father and grandfather both steered clear of - literally (grandpa drove a bus before driving trucks in Europe in World War II and then becoming a radio technician for the local police department).

My friends’ dads were miners. My high school boyfriend’s father was killed in a mine explosion 10 years ago, but much of my knowledge is gathered from “Matewan,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and stories my father would tell about people living in coal camps during Sunday drives through those old coal towns. My family hasn’t mined in generations, but lots of folks do because there are few other jobs that pay as well and require as little education as coal mining. Today my friend’s daughter’s ex pays his child support on time because he works in the mine, but listening to Massek (as Gunning) discuss the cold, damp, dark, and horrid conditions it’s hard to imagine a kid that is barely 21 going there willingly each day. No it’s not 1932, but it’s no air conditioned cubicle.

Partly because my family didn't pass down stories, Gunning’s history brings me closer to my own. What I walked away from “Precious Memories” with is people - especially young people - need to hear this history and stories like it. A show like “Precious Memories” performed in schools, for instance, would give teens a brief taste of mining life while presenting a history lesson in a different way.

The only thing I wish is that the play had been performed in a small tiered theater or black box because Massek was seated for much of the show and from the back of the room it isn't easy to see. The crowd still got the gist of the story and the sound was impeccable. They were filming the show, so movement was limited. It is hard to sit still in those chairs at the Muse for very long, but it's nothing like swinging a pickaxe
in the dark on your back in cold water for 10 hours.

Hopefully the Kentucky-based Massek, who is recording the “original cast recording” with Kahn at Chris Garges’ studio this week, will be back for another performance. 

(Photo courtesy of

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Eagles offer hit-filled history lesson

The Eagles didn't just give fans a typical concert Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena. It gave generations of fans a musical history lesson from its 1971 formation to its 1994 reunion. 

Prompted by Alison Eastwood’s acclaimed two-part documentary on the band (which airs on Showtime), The History of the Eagles Tour is part “Storytellers,” part “Behind the Music” and part greatest hits set with 27 songs that are practically all classic rock radio staples.  

Don Henley and Glenn Frey started the show off modestly, seated on road cases at the front of the stage for a quiet, acoustic duet of “Saturday Night.” This simple setup, Henley explained, is how it all started. The show played a bit like musical theater early on as founding member Bernie Leadon, who left the band in 1975, joined them to sing “Train Leaves Here This Morning.” Longtime bassist Timothy B. Schmidt (who boarded the Eagles’ train in 1978) and Joe Walsh appeared for “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman,” respectively before the curtain behind them dropped in the darkness and a team of stage hands shuffled the equipment gathered at the front of the stage away to reveal a more typical Eagles’ stage setup. The band lined up in a row with touring guitarist Seuart Smith and Leadon as Henley alternated between drums, percussion, and guitar. Four additional musicians filled out the band.

Frey, Henley, and later Walsh and Schmidt shared stories about the songs live and via voiceovers. Frey singled out producer Bill Szymczyk in the crowd. Szymczyk lives in Little Switzerland, NC and, Frey says, has an apartment in Charlotte. Szymczyk produced the Eagles and introduced them to Walsh, with whom he has an even longer relationship. Frey said they’d told Szymczyk they wanted to rock as the group launched into “Already Gone.”

To the crowd’s delight Schmidt took the lead on “I Can’t Tell You Why” (with Frey on pedal steel and Walsh on keys) and the lone second act track “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” which was recorded for 1994’s “Hell Freezes Over.” The format of the show took a less “Storytellers,” more traditional concert direction after mention of the reunion. Instead of jumping further into the future with material from 2007’s “Long Road Out of Eden,” Walsh performed a handful of his own classic rock staples (“In the City,” “Life’s Been Good” and the James Gang’s “Funk #49).

Although he’d communicated solely with bluesy licks up to that point, Walsh came alive during this segment, dancing like a clown during the band introductions and goofing with Schmidt. He even approached Smith’s microphone during “Life’s Been Good” before darting for his own. The band cracked up. The crowd loved him. It was as if once the switch had been flipped, he couldn’t turn his personality off.

The set list consisted of all the hits you’d expect. There were a few surprises. Walsh kicked off the second half of the set (following a 20-minute intermission) with “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” With his Talk Box guitar the funky “Those Shoes” (which certainly hints at where Henley would go in his solo career) had the crowd up and moving.

Following the encore of “Hotel California,” Frey mentioned that this is their forty-second sell-out on this tour. That’s pretty impressive, but the Eagles’ catalog is pretty impressive. The group never even got to “Seven Bridges Road,” much to the disappointment of the drunk guy who was singing out-of-tune behind us all evening.

The crowd was anything but racially diverse, but it did span generations with music so familiar it seemed to bring families together. You could see daughters and fathers singing along together, young kids that knew the words as well as their parents.

Most of the crowd missed the opening set by JD & the Straight Shot, who went on stage right before the advertised door time. The band is best known for the theme song to AMC’s series “Hell on Wheels.” Frontman James Dolan introduced the songs with stories like one about writing the song “Midnight Run” for the film “Lawless.” The film’s producers loved the track, but wanted Willie Nelson to sing it.

The group had a classic sound that bridged soul, Southern boogie, and country rock punctuated by banjo, the occasional washboard, fiddle, and rich harmonies. It shares a manager with the Eagles and it turns out Dolan is no stranger to arenas. His day job includes running Madison Square Garden. He’s also the President/CEO of Cablevision and owner of New York's Knicks and Rangers, which explains why he could afford to give cds away in the lobby. It seemed strange that the 7-piece band was relegated to performing for such a small crowd, but what they didn’t know was some of the staff was clapping along while a couple was dancing in the concession area.

Friday, November 15, 2013

This week's hot concerts

Frank Turner
Friday  7 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $16.50-$20,
The former post-hardcore singer hasn’t left his punk roots behind completely. The English band leader may strum an acoustic guitar while backed by tinkling mandolin and keys now, but there’s plenty of fire and vitriol in his charging, wordy folk-rock that fits comfortably alongside Gaslight Anthem and Billy Bragg.

The Eagles
Friday  8 p.m., Time Warner Cable Arena, 333 E. Trade St., $62.70-$202.25,
Having had its dirty laundry (pun intended) recently aired in an addictive, if characteristically excessive, Alison Eastwood-directed two-part documentary, “The History of the Eagles,” Frey, Henley, Walsh and the gang regroup for another rock down memory lane.

Rusted Root/Von Grey
Monday  7:30 p.m., Visulite, 1615 Elizabeth Ave., $23-$25,
Almost 20 years since its release its “Send Me On My Way” is still a fixture in pop culture, while the Pittsburg outfit finds new ways to unite uplifting rock and world music. Instrument-wielding, harmonizing, rootsy young girl group Von Grey offers pop music fans an alternative to the Mileys.

Jim Brickman
Tuesday  7:30 p.m., Belk Theater, 130 S. Tryon St., $39.50-$119.50,
The prolific pianist and composer’s “Love Tour” and recently released “Magic of Christmas” album (featuring Johnny Mathis, Sandi Patty, and Megan Hilty) signal that the holiday season is near. He returns to share his romantic piano music and new holiday renditions.

Wednesday  7 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $23-$25,
The blonde brother trio, who now has a brood of offspring big enough to start another Partridge Family, may not have had another smash as big as “MMMBop,” but fans know that it’s one of the most consistent, professional, and best live bands touring. The “Anthem Tour” celebrates 21 years together, which should make us all feel old.

Janelle Monae
Wednesday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $32,
R&B is often so formulaic it begs for those quirky personalities that bring something new and odd to the game. Monae - back for her first CLT show since the DNC - is that unique, eclectic female artist capable of Prince-like funk-rock, vintage Motown-flavored soul, as well as much needed quirky pop.

Talib Kweli/Big K.R.I.T.
Thursday  8 p.m., Amos’ Southend, 1423 S. Tryon St., $22-$25,
The rappers return on an off-night between dates with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (who play Raleigh Wednesday) where veteran Kweli is educating M&RL’s young mainstream fans to his acclaimed alternative hip-hop. Both anticipate new albums, with Kweli’s dropping digitally in December and K.R.I.T’s sophomore effort planned for 2014.

Third Eye Blind
Thursday  8 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $43,
While some lump Stephan Jenkins’ `90s rock radio staple in with the stream of seemingly samey WEND 106.5 rockers, Third Eye Blind not only had a succession of hits (“Semi-Charmed Life,” “How’s It Going to Be”) its revered by fans that came of age during that era as the seminal mainstream `90s rock band.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An album release show and debut close to my heart

Saturday marks the local release of my husband’s band Watch Husky Burn’s third album, but WHB’s show at Tremont also marks the debut of a new band called Sidewalks. Sidewalks is the third incarnation (or maybe fourth or fifth) of one of my all-time favorite local bands. The group features four of the original members of the Lights, Fluorescent - a band that I still miss - as well as most of the members of the short-lived group My Captain. 

Some of its members have been playing together as long ago as Via - another defunct Charlotte band that predated the Lights. For the show Sidewalks is playing a couple My Captain songs and even digging out an old Via tune for the show in addition to its new originals.

I have high hopes for the band. I loved the juxtaposition of Lights’ singer Erika Blatnik’s furiously strummed acoustic and shout-sung post riot-grrrl singing, but bassist/co-vocalist Robby Hartis’ written contributions to the Lights’ all too small catalog were emotional highlights. Blatnik’s move to Richmond ended that band, but there was always something special about the chemistry that Hartis, guitarists Andre Francois and Craig Friday, and drummer Zach Irvin shared. The guys demonstrated this in My Captain, but that band’s early momentum seemed to quickly derail. Hartis joined Charlotte rock band Sugar Glyder, who had a new national label release to tour behind (but broke up this summer). Francois’ apartment and gear was destroyed in a fire last winter. And last Spring Hartis had to have a small cancerous tumor removed from his kidney. Sidewalks certainly has some heavy experiences to pull from.

Saturday we’ll also celebrate the long-awaited release of "Garnet". Technically it’s the first album under the Watch Husky Burn name. The previous two were recorded as Husky (pictured at the last Husky show last October). By long-awaited I don’t necessarily mean that you’ve been waiting on it (although some folks on the old Stoner Rock message board and avid followers overseas have asked about it more than once). It’s long-awaited to me because his intention was to release it right after our second son was born over three years ago. I’ve watched him spend hours, days, and weeks mixing it. We even rented a cabin in Saluda last winter. He set up his studio equipment in the living room while I worked on the final third of my book in the bedroom.

The album is called “Garnet” and was recorded using these Canadian amplifiers built by Thomas “Gar” Gillies in the `60s and `70s. A photo of one of his Garnets is the album's cover. My husband and the band's bass player, Mark Hadden, began collecting them a decade or so ago. All the bass and guitar tracks and some of the drum and keyboards were recorded using them. The record was recorded in the big room at Tremont Music Hall while the club was closed.

It’s certainly taken some time. Art has a tendency to take a back seat to work and kids once you have the latter. But I think it’s given the former Husky time to evolve. Thirteen years ago Husky started as an instrumental blues-based band. I liked to think of them as kids that grew up on metal reaching back to psychedelic classic rock. On "Garnet" it's grown into something more experimental, cinematic, and indie-rock while still firmly rooted in stoner rock. 

The arrangements are probably more fully realized than they would’ve been three years ago. Listening to it I get images of futuristic cities fit for exploration by Doctor Who and Flash Gordon, the old west, and a glorious castle made of ice. Someday I hope to have my own release party for the video for the song “Malamute” that’s been dancing around in my head (complete with kickline) since I heard the final mix. And I want to use the last track for my book trailer, when the time comes. That’s the cool thing about instrumental music. It can help foster your own creativity as can all music (but that’s another blog post).

“Garnet” will be available on garnet-colored, limited edition vinyl and on cd at Tremont Saturday, as well as digitally elsewhere.
Admission to the show is $8. And M4 Messenger - one of my husband’s favorite locals - kicks off the show. Doors at 8 p.m. Music at 9 p.m.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: Lisa Marie impresses second time around

I first saw Lisa Marie Presley play to a gymnasium in Anderson, SC. Nine years later watching her perform at Shelby’s Don Gibson Theatre Saturday it was apparent Elvis Presley’s only daughter has come a long way as a musician and performer.

With her fourth husband Michael Lockwood - a lankier Tom Petty-as-mad-hatter-looking guitarist and the musical director of her band - Presley has tweaked her sound, her band, and her ease on stage. When Presley released her first album, “To Whom It May Concern,” in 2003, the world looked on with curiosity. I saw her open for Chris Isaak on the tour that followed. Although her album was good and she had a strong, smoky voice like her father’s, she seemed uncomfortable with the attention in television interviews and on stage. Not to mention the sound in that gym was anything but forgiving. Nine years and two more albums later, that’s all changed.

Saturday she played for a crowd of a few hundred who hung on her every note. In a floor-length fitted white and black diamond-patterned gown (they asked no photos be taken) she started out like a classic torch singer belting “So Long” from her latest album, “Storm & Grace” followed by another one from the 2012 album (and my favorite) “Over Me.” The sheer backdrop with rows of dotted lights peeking through gave the setting a lounge feel while the band jammed like a well-oiled, modern Southern blues-rock version of the Band.

In the hands of her band - decked out like carnival barkers in top hats and vintage velvet - the songs became playful with bluesy guitar and ragtime piano elevated by rich harmonies. The set was made up mostly of material from her T. Bone Burnett-produced third album. It finds the once Melissa Etheridge-style rocker assuming a more Americana musical personality. You can tell Presley still likes to rock though. She’s got her father’s swagger, especially when she lets loose. She was happiest banging on two floor toms during the last two songs of the set. She likely wasn’t able to join marching band in high school and may have missed her calling. Her joy brought the audience to its feet.

Her song introductions gave the show a “Storytellers” feel. She was quick to credit co-writers. She and her husband live in England now and she co-wrote much of the record with songwriter Ed Harcourt and Richard Hawley (Pulp). She touched on their work with “Storm of Nails” and the intimate “Weary,” respectively. She shared that her 21-year-old son had the lyrics of the album’s title track, which she’d written for him, tattooed on his chest. She later warned the crowd before breaking into an a Cappella intro on the last song that she wasn’t sure she could pull it off. She tore it up. Plenty of children of celebrities dream of music careers (look no further than that unfortunate VH1 competition series a few years back), but Presley is a natural singer. Her low, husky voice may not allow for scale climbing, but it’s strong, unique, and gutsy. She was on her game all night.

Throughout the set Lockwood went through the craziest array of custom designed guitars I’ve ever seen. There was a white resonator with a geometric cut-out pattern, a blue acoustic with a glitter-top, an orange hollow body with intricate line patterns, and a more subdued acoustic that’s pick guard matched its Prince-like headstock. Lockwood’s bluesy playing added another layer to Presley’s work as well. He tended to serve the song instead of relying on flash. His guitars alone displayed plenty of flash on their own.

Older songs were given new arrangements to fit the style of the show. “Idiot” - the Linda Perry co-pen from her angry pop-rock second album “Now What” - got a makeover that seemed more now and less glossy than the recorded version. Her first ever single “Lights Out” stuck closest to its bluesy pop beginnings, while “S.O.B.” didn’t lose anything in its revamped rootsier state.

Those and the encore of “I’ll Figure It Out” were the only older songs she sang (I was hoping for my favorite “Sinking In”). She briefly mentioned the charity work that’s got her playing smaller cities like Shelby - sponsoring children in third world countries. By the end of the encore half the animated crowd, who’d remained seated for the bulk of the concert, gathered at the front of the stage as Presley bent to shake hands while the crowd bopped to her version of Tom Petty’s “I Need To Know.”

As for the Don Gibson Theatre, it’s worth the trip. It looks like a theater from the `50s captured in time. The d├ęcor is a bit retro. I loved the speckled black stall doors in the bathroom and red and black tile work and the circular bar. The theater is a bit smaller than say, Neighborhood Theatre, but it’s less like a club and more like a classy seated concert hall with the noise of the bar separated from the stage. From the lights behind the stage to Presley’s dress, it all felt very vintage - not old and musty, but updated and modern with retro flair. The sound was occasionally a little boomy at first, but worlds better than my prior experience in the gym where I had to strain to figure out what song she was singing. 

Shelby is only a short drive away. We weren’t the only out-of-towners for the show, which Presley said sold out in two days. We enjoyed vegan Thai at Joe's, a restaurant that specialized in Italian and Thai (what a combo!) within walking distance. The town seemed quiet, but there were a several open restaurants to choose from. My friend compared it to a smaller Asheville with its wine shop (which sponsored the concert) and yoga studio. 

The next scheduled shows are ukulele whiz Jake Shimabukuro on Saturday and Edwin McCain's annual holiday show the day after Thanksgiving before the venue's concert schedule takes a break before picking back up in January. Make the trip. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you. For more on the theater click here

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tonight see a rock show worth seeing again & again

Some Deadheads saw the Grateful Dead hundreds of times. Today there are diehards that have seen Dave Matthews Band or the Avett Brothers or Widespread Panic so many times they’ve lost count (I know some of 'em). It takes a lot to inspire that sort of repetition. When I moved to Charlotte in 1994 I had seen less than 10 concerts in my entire life (unless you count my dad’s friends’ weekly bluegrass jams, which I did not). Almost 20 years later, my work and much of my life revolves around concerts. Yet after seeing hundreds, there are only a handful of acts that I’ll go see every time they come to Charlotte.

These days I have to consider the cost of a babysitter. So I have to pick and choose. There are what I call the usual suspects - Clutch, Interpol, and the National. My husband and I have seen the former upwards of 50 times - most of those before we met. The latter two we have traveled to see for years. 

There are a few newer acts that won me over with bold live shows who I’ll go see again and again. One of those plays Sunday at Tremont Music Hall - a rock duo called IAmDynamite. A publicist sent their album to me a couple years ago and said they thought I’d like it. Publicists say that all the time, but boy was he right. By the time the pair came to the Milestone six months later the album, “Supermegafantastic,” had become a fixture in my car and placed in my Top 10 albums of the year. At the Milestone my husband and I were in the front row tapping our feet with barely 30 people. The drummer Chris Phillips, who lives in the triangle area with his wife, later told me that his musical partner Chris Martin (who still lives in Michigan, where they grew up) had only just flown in and they weren’t well rehearsed. Still, they were great. I saw them again last December opening for Sum 41 at The Fillmore where I was giddy to watch them winning over others. 

In March I took my son to see IAmDynamite. It was technically his first rock show (if you don’t count daddy’s band). He knew the entire album. I introduced it to him to help teach him rhythm since he loves drums. Phillips’ drums are pretty direct - meaning you can find the beat, but also not basic. There’s just not a lot to muddle the mix; only vocal harmonies and guitar to compete with. The arrangements aren’t over complicated. It’s a duo that can duplicate it’s albums on stage without the aid of (gasp) backing tracks or laptops (at least not yet). 

At the show they signed his poster and posed for pictures with him. Tonight we’re doing it all again. We may even take our younger son - a notorious wild man who may run in circles around the room but who knows the songs too.

I would still see IAmDynamite every single time it plays here even if my kids weren’t into it. The group is that good. I got into this job to champion bands that I felt deserved it. That especially included underground, indie bands that were flying under the radar. Today that means bands like IAmDynamite, David Mayfield, and Valient Thorr - bands that I think should be drawing bigger crowds. The ones they do draw are enthusiastic. But more enthusiastic folks need to know about these bands. 

Watching these three acts in particular brings me so much joy. Bouncing my little boy to the beat and singing along with IAmDynamite ranks right up there with my wedding day and the day he was born as one of the happiest moments of my life. Sharing music with him is such a joy. I want to share that joy with other people too (but I won't bounce you on my hip).

IAmDynamite's audience is growing slowly.  It has scored high profile opening gigs with Blue October and Sum 41 and received accolades from "The Huffington Post" and "Absolute Punk." But I don’t know how its pop-rock delivered with the humor (just look at that ridiculous photo), harmony and hook-driven charm of Weezer and the ferocity of the Foo Fighters isn’t more well known. It should be the soundtrack to your drive home from work popping out of the car stereo speakers alongside whatever else the alt-rock and pop stations are playing (maybe that's a hurdle - its music doesn't fit into trendy genres really. It's not aggro, not folk-rock. It's straight up rock n' roll).

The first step is seeing it live. Take a chance. If you aren’t smiling by the end of the show, well, I won’t give you your money back. But I will wonder if you have a cold, cold heart. Or maybe I'll think you just don’t like snappy, infectious rock n’ roll. 

Tickets are $8-$10. Show starts at 9 p.m. I'll be the woman coming in late - because my kids can't be expected to sit through three bands - with one, possibly two toddlers wearing big blue ear protectors who will undoubtedly be exhausted by the end of the night. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

CLT music photographer celebrates two new books

If there’s one person I’ve chatted with at more concerts since moving to Charlotte in 1994 than anyone else I know, that person is photographer Daniel Coston. I sometimes see him at more than one show a night because Coston doesn’t stand around tapping his foot or sipping beer. He’s on to the next shot and usually the next show.

I first met him probably 18 years ago when I worked at Record Exchange at Cotswold. We were both getting started on this music journalism journey. He was working for “Tangents” - a local fringe indie publication. I was interviewing my first bands (Frente, Letters to Cleo) for the record store’s “Music Monitor.” Since then Daniel has become a fixture in the local music scene, working with local and regional artists both shooting them live, for album covers, and magazines. We once displayed his work at the coffee shop where I worked and a shot he took of Steve Earle during his post-Atkins diet, diet Dr. Pepper-swigging skinny period, hangs in my hallway at home.

This November Coston celebrates the release of two recently published books. Tonight he hosts “Kick Out The Garage” at Snug Harbor, which features generation spanning Charlotte garage rock from the Modern Primitives, the Mannish Boys, and Kinksmen as well as the release of “There Was a Time: Rock & Roll In The 1960s In Charlotte, and North Carolina.” Coston co-wrote "There Was a Time" with Mannish Boys’ Jacob Berger. Berger is a veteran of the Carolina rock scene who’d toyed with the idea of putting this book together for 14 years before finally talking Coston - a lover of the British Invasion and its American offshoots, as well as a growing authority on Carolina music - into co-writing it.

I didn’t grow up in Charlotte, so I didn’t have parents telling me stories about the good ole’ days shaking it down at the sock hop or anything. What I know about that era I’ve learned from talking to the musicians that played during that time, but rarely has my work taken me into the realm of underground garage rock of the `60s and `70s. Berger and Coston’s book does that with excerpts from interviews with the folks that played that music. It also touches on the other styles that were going on at the time and covers areas outside of Charlotte. It’s an interesting previously untapped history lesson (kind of like that "Carolina Funk: First in Funk" compilation that came out in 2007).

Books and music from the era will be available at the show. Tickets are $6. The show starts at 10 p.m. tonight.

Coston’s other book “North Carolina Musicians: Photographs and Conversations,” gets its own roll out Tuesday, November 19 at Evening Muse. Coston will sign copies of the book, which features his personal stories and experiences with the musicians he’s photographed since the mid `90s. Those notable names include Doc Watson, who graces the book’s cover, Tift Merritt, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Earl Scruggs (pictured with Watson above), the Avett Brothers and countless others. Coston has recruited Charlotte favorites Temperance League, the Loudermilks, and Justin Fedor, to play the book party. All three appear in the book. That’s one thing I like about “NC Musicians.” While Charlotte has often lived in the shadow of Chapel Hill - and there are plenty triangle area musicians featured - Coston doesn’t leave out our local heroes. For instance, Lou Ford (whose Edwards Brothers now make up two fifths of the Loudermilks) had a huge impact on Charlotte during the late `90s. Like Benji Hughes’ double album a few years ago, their “Sad, But Familiar” was inescapable in local stores, restaurants, and clubs.

Coston includes a few before-they-were-stars as well. There’s a very young pre-bangs Nicole Atkins at her first photo shoot (I barely recognized her) and he mentions his early work with Ryan Adams and the Avett Brothers. The book is as up-to-date as it can be with shots of predicted Charlotte breakouts Matrimony and Paint Fumes as recent as 2012.

Coston hits a variety of genres too from old time, gospel, blues, and bluegrass oldtimers like John Dee Holeman and Chocolate Drops mentor Joe Thompson (who has since passed away) to globetrotting young metal band Valient Thorr. Like in “There Was a Time,” there is a lot of regional music history in these pages. As a photographer who was getting to know the musicians from Chapel Hill’s and Charlotte’s burgeoning scenes, he was often a lot closer to the action than I was simply selling their cds and eventually interviewing some of them. Coston’s passion for his subjects - which is evident from his willingness to take on two independent book projects so close together - comes through in both. Plus, if you need to brush up on your NC music history - new and old - they're worth a look.

 The Evening Muse show is free. Show starts at 8 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. You can learn more about Coston here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

This week's hot concerts

Melanie Fiona
Friday  8 p.m., Amos’, 1423 S. Tryon St., $35/$65 VIP,
The Canadian R&B singer behind hits “4AM” and “It Kills Me” is regrouping as an independent artist with a new single, “Cold Piece,” which packs plenty of attitude. She’s paired with fellow smooth crooner J. Holiday (“Bed,” “Suffocate”) and `90s R&B quintet Silk, who helped add the phrase “Freak Me” to urban slang dictionaries back in 1994.

Mipso & David Holt
Saturday  8 p.m., Neighorhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St., $17-$20,
Titling its second album, “Dark Holler Pop,” gives this harmony-driven Chapel Hill trio a built-in calling card. There’s no better description for a record that’s a who’s who of the triangle’s music scene. The innovative group keeps good company in Grammy winning PBS’ “Folkways” host and NC music historian Holt.

Michael Franti & Spearhead
Sunday  7:30 p.m., The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd., $33,
On his eighth studio album, “All People,” the veteran California activist/musician continues to seamlessly blend rock, reggae, hip-hop, folk and funk into hook-laden pop songs while sticking with the positive messages of unity and tolerance that have long been at the forefront of his music. Canadian it-girl Serena Ryder opens the show.

Sunday  9 p.m., Tremont, 400 W. Tremont Ave., $8-$10,
This rock duo is likely the best band you haven’t heard. As an opening act it’s converted Sum 41 and Blue October fans with catchy song after catchy song. You’ll doubt whether the pair - out on its “Hey Girl” tour before its second album is released next year - is capable of writing a dud.

Joe Bonamassa
Tuesday  8 p.m., Ovens Auditorium, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., $97.30-$147,
While other young blues guitarists were copping classic licks, this now 36-year-old wunderkind was carving out his own style, which he delivers to audiences with an acoustic opening set and a show-stopping electric set for a show that clocks in at nearly three hours. Both are filled with eclectic covers from “Jelly Roll” to “Sloe Gin.”

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Wednesday  8 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St., $27-$32,
Hard to believe it’s been 17 years since the movie “Swingers” gave this California swing revivalist and actor Vince Vaughn a kick in the career. BBVD was already steeped in the swing tradition before the swing craze took hold. It celebrates 20 years with a signature dancefloor-igniting set.

Kevin Devine
Thursday  8 p.m., Evening Muse, 3227 N. Davidson St., $13-$16,
Don’t let the singer-songwriter tag fool you. Like Ted Leo, the Brooklyn band leader is as capable of rocking out to charging guitar as he is delving into folkier acoustic pop. He does both with two recently released Kickstarter-funded albums, “Bulldozer” and “Bubblegum.” With Now Now.

Trombone Shorty
Thursday  8 p.m., Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th. St., $25-$27,
The legacy musician’s place was destined as a band leader parading brass bands through the streets of New Orleans at age 6. The now 27-year-old, Treme-raised horn player continues to push the boundaries of jazz, funk, and hip-hop with rock and R&B thrown in, often collaborating with an eclectic mix of his peers and industry legends.

Thursday  9:30 p.m., Chop Shop, 399 E. 35th St., $10-$12,
This Asheville based outfit merges the no longer so dissimilar worlds of electronic music and jam rock pinning matter-of-fact, everyman-style harmonies and the occasional flicker of bluegrass and folk music on trippy psychedelic atmospherics and dance-music bloops and bleeps - making it a favorite on the festival circuit.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plaza-Midwood Radio releases local music comp

In 2003 one local musician and college radio host (Andrew Webster) put together an eight disc compilation of Charlotte music. I was just thinking the other day what a great tool that was as an introduction to Charlotte's local music scene as well as a reference tool for people like me. That was before an endless amount of local music was available online. But I still appreciate someone taking the effort to sort through it all.

Plaza-Midwood Community Radio is revisiting that idea, releasing a handful of songs by local artists every Tuesday in November. The four EPs will be compiled at the end of the month as "Don't Touch That Dial!" - an 18-track compilation. The first installment features Bo White (which you can preview above), Your Fuzzy Friends, It Looks Sad, Replicas, and Modern Primitives.

The release also serves as a fundraising tool for the fledgling internet radio station which focuses a lot of its airtime on local music, local artists, and local hosts. The EPs are free for one week - until the next one is released. Then the entire 18-track collection will be available for a small donation to the station. Donations are also encouraged for the weekly installments as the station is entirely non-profit and community funded. Download and donate here and listen to PMCR online here. .