Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fatherhood and victory!

Well, first of all, one of the most prominent things to ever happen in my life occurred about a week and a half ago. Aiden Noah Sowder was born at 7:18am on November 2, 2006 at North Florida Regional Medical Center, Room 350 at the Women's Center.

What a whirlwind of activity this was. Late last week, we did learn that Aiden has Down Syndrome. After a bit of grief and disappointment from Michelle and myself, we accepted these cards we were dealt and know that it was done for a reason. Our goal to nurture Aiden may have been made just a bit more difficult, but I feel that we are more than up for the challenge.

Amid the rabid rounds of congratulations, mazel tovs, and other all around acts of jubilation, one comment still sticks in my craw. After leaving the meeting of our local Democratic Executive Committee, a congressional candidate who lost his election the night before simply said to me, "you're too old to be having kids."

Excuse me?

I know I should consider the source and simply let this go. Knowing this man's political mis-steps as of late should give me even more reason to dismiss the above comment. As a self-proclaimed champion of the Left, the comments and proclamations of this man are at times quite sad. Even more sad is that I tried to help this person win his seat in Congress in previous elections despite being outside of the district in which I live.

In summary, I did not find the above comment surprising or productive. It's hardly the first time such a verbal mis-step was made by this man and will certainly not be the last. He'll probably continue to run for this office again, after losing miserably a staggering three times thus far. Instead of building a political career by beginning with a state, local, or regional seat, he continues to try to fly to the moon on a bottle rocket.

Let us not dwell on these things, though, shall we? We are here to celebrate. The dems have taken control of both houses of Congress and there is work to be done. What the opposition has done in the last 14 years in the legislative branch is both shameful and overwhelming. Let's hope that Congress gets out of reverse and puts the gear in Pro-gress.

Shalom, y'all...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

papercranes brighten up Common Grounds

Saturday evenings in Gainesville can be crazy affairs. Using the middle of the weekend to cut loose from the ordeal of papers, exams, and classes, students often pack the downtown bars and clubs for a brief hedonistic respite from academics. That’s why summer Saturdays are often a fresh change with smaller crowds and a more laidback atmosphere.

This past Saturday provided such an opportunity at Common Grounds with the blues-rock of Bracelet coupled with the mild psychedelia of papercranes. Outside, DJ Jumpstart, better known as journalist and Common Grounds veteran Jay Maggio, played songs from his laptop that included pop-heavy tunes regardless of era. At one point, Maggio segued from Petula Clark’s “Downtown” to Sonic Youth’s rendition of The Carpenters’ “Superstar.” This no doubt provided some eclectic listening for those gathered on the cover-free porch.

Onstage inside, Bracelet kicked off things with their blues-rock sound. At times reaching the higher registers of singers like Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke, singer-guitarist Larry Watts led the band through rave-ups and quieter, introspective tunes alike. He also thanked someone named Eddie for loaning him an amp after his apparently exploded. Drummer Mike Webb and the hairless Mike Allgood on bass were an intense rhythm section, with Webb even snapping a drumstick tip halfway through the set. Musically, Bracelet had a contemporary-yet-solid sound on par with bands such as Bloc Party or Snow Patrol.

papercranes were up next. (The lack of capitalization is intentional.) Led by singer/actress Rain Phoenix, the band were reminiscent of some of the best of what nineties alternative rock had to offer such as The Sundays and Mazzy Star. With the edge of the stage and mic stands festooned with twinkling Christmas lights, the band launched into their richly textured sound. This was a Phoenix family affair, with sister Liberty joining on lead vocals on a few songs while their mother, Arlyn, looked on from front and center in the crowd. In light of this, local Buzz DJ Spanish yelled that he wanted to “do beer bong hits with mom.” Phoenix retorted that she would be doing all of the heckling this evening since she had the microphone.

Earlier in the set, after saying she was at a loss for words, Rain Phoenix launched her band into a haunting rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.” The catchy “Untitled Treasure,” with sister Liberty once again on backing vocals followed, in which Rain announced that the song would be on their upcoming CD Vidalia, due out this fall.

Later in the song, Phoenix announced the imminent departure of their drummer, Dave Lebleu, for New York City, dedicating one of their songs to him. Other favorites included the introspective “What’s Left” and the driving “Trophy,” the latter of which brought out Phoenix’s guitar. As a parting effort, Phoenix announced the band was going on “a freeform jazz odyssey,” playing a song that everyone knew. With that, papercranes brought out and updated the Steve Miller Band classic “Abracadabra.” Thus, another magical summer evening of local music came to a close.

A midsummer’s night in Gainesville

At least a couple of local journalists and club owners have declared this week a “slow week” in Gainesville. This can be debatable considering the number of quality shows in the next few days. Gainesville’s Mercury Program made a triumphant return Thursday evening at Common Grounds. This week, bands such as Whiskey & Co., Papercranes, and Two Finger Suicide all play headlining stints in their hometowns.

Friday evening was no exception. The evening began at Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub where local favorite DJ Donna was spinning some of the best eighties tunes, and will be all weekend. With her tip and request jar quickly filling, Donna spun everything from Madness to Madonna, Stray Cats to Social Distortion, and many others in between, all from her impressive collection of vinyl.

After getting an old-wave appetizer, it was off to Tim & Terry’s, the restaurant/ convenience/music store that also doubles as a performance venue. There, noise duo Liquid Limbs were sweating up the back room along with technical power trio Nim Sum.

Liquid Limbs are an up-and-coming guitarist/bassist and drummer. Sounding closer to Sonic Youth than The White Stripes, however, Liquid Limbs played a tight, urgent set of punk-meets-indie rock, further proving the incredible musical power that can be unleashed by a mere two musicians. The guitarist, decked in a blue button-down shirt, set out some of the band’s free stickers on a nearby chair, adding that stickers are much cheaper to produce than CDs.

Then, as Nim Sum drummer Jimi “Stixx” Hiley was still setting up his kit, guitarist Patrick Dugan and bassist Morgan Caraway began warming up, which became a spectacle in itself, as they traded quick bursts of riffing that fell somewhere between the band Interpol and the material on Radiohead’s album Kid A. When Hiley segued into the mix, it was like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle sliding into place; the full musical power of Nim Sum was then complete. Caraway’s mother was in the audience, who was celebrating her new retirement earlier that day, along with his aunt and stepfather.

Some have referred to Nim Sum’s sound as “math rock,” but their perpetual groove is not something you don’t have to be a Rush fan to appreciate. While their chord and rhythm changes might be tight and precise a la something by the band Fantomas, their music has enough heart and soul to appeal to the most casual of music fans. Caraway also announced that the band will begin recording a new CD this week. While Caraway seemed the band’s official spokesperson, Hiley played the role of music director, whipping out a tentative set of songs early on, which eventually found its way spiked onto the top of his hi-hat cymbal.

After Caraway ended the set by feeding back his bass into his amp, the band jumped into their final song of the evening, “Fracture.” Closing by sliding an Arizona Iced Tea up and down his bass neck, another hot, steamy evening of music in Gainesville came to a close, until the next time. We’ll do it once again in less than 24 hours.

Folk explosion at the music hall

To take a night off from the heavily amplified music grind at the downtown Gainesville clubs and bars can sometimes be a palette-cleansing experience. One such occasion was this past Saturday evening at the First Street Music Hall north of downtown. This one-time church that was adapted into a performance space and childcare facility has begun hosting folk nights on the weekends on at least a monthly basis. This occasion was to raise operating funds for the local nonprofit Civic Media Center reading room and library.

First up was Rob McGregor, who performed with a trio also consisting of Mark and Andrew. McGregor, also a proficient local music producer, has been a musician’s musician for some time. This was evidenced by the many locals in attendance that were also taking a night off from the usual weekend music circuit.

Following McGregor and company was the local duo of Hamhock and Slide, who have many national songwriting accolades to their credit. With Glenn “Hamhock” Moody on electric guitar teamed up with Matt “Slide” DeWein on acoustic guitar and dobro, DeWein lived up to his nickname with the latter instrument by his deft use of steel bottleneck on both vocal and instrumental blues tunes. Both were certainly musicians of the folkways tradition, weaving tales of everything from South African liqueur to their musical travels to Colorado. Additional songs were of epic length, oftentimes consisting of multiple tempo changes and movements, especially with the twin guitars featured late in the set.

Wrapping up the evening was Lars Din with his band SongRiot. The quintet, which included trumpet, bass, mandolin, and accordion, accompanied Din as he took the stage wearing slacks and a wife beater tank top. Lars Din has been a local favorite for years, with his guitar-and-vocal style often coming across as that of a punk rock Woody Guthrie.

Songs such as “Ichetucknee” encouraged the crowd to sing, clap, and stomp their feet through a set that addressed weighty world issues in addition to simple matters encountered in everyday life. The latter included a tale of his dog’s desire to live in his van. Crowd favorites included such selections as “This Ain’t No Bike Friendly Town” and “Floodplain, FL.” Din’s band consisted of crack musicians that coped with his sudden key changes for songs even as he was starting them. The assembled crowd joined in during the refrain of “until they drag us down / we rise…” as well as the amusing “Gossip is the Devil’s Radio.”

The Northeast First Street Music Hall, obviously not a bar, was strictly a BYOB affair. The patrons either toted in their own twelve-packs of Natural Light or brown-bagged a single from a local convenience store. With that said, though, the crowd was well behaved and expectedly low key. If you need an occasional break from the downtown music scene, give the First Street Music Hall a try. As Civic Media Center founding member Joe Courter announced between sets, the hall will be hosting another music event in mid-July. Consider it a horizon-broadening move.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Bands bring a triple threat to 1982

There’s a funny thing about indie music: oftentimes, it is whatever you make it. Whether it’s a single acoustic guitar, a flailing power trio, or a three-guitar juggernaut of sound, the definition fits within its vague-yet-wide spectrum. Friday night, it was all three as The Cold Ones, J. Page, and The Enablers showed off a wide variety of indie’s elements at Club 1982 in midtown Gainesville.

While The Enablers have been defined as a quartet for the past couple of years, tonight’s billing of “The Enablers (acoustic)” was actually singer-songwriter Rob Coe and his acoustic guitar. What made his set so surreal was the presence of the other members of The Enablers, guitarist Todd Rockhill, drummer Addison Burns, and bassist Troy Perlman’s presence at the venue. While his fellow band members provided moral support offstage, Coe stretched his set from hard-luck to humorous with a set of tunes that kept the crowd spellbound. “My little baby’s got a farmer’s tan,” sang Coe, making his storytelling that much more earnest via his raspy tenor, providing a intriguing vocal presence throughout.

The set turned comedic several times, with Coe covering The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha,” the song featured in the latest batch of Heineken Premium Light television ads. Other highlights were “I’ve Been Meaning to Get You Off My Mind” and “Tomorrow,” which provided Coe a mid-set opportunity to bare his soul to a thin but dedicated crowd.

After performing a song by his former band Fay Wray, Coe referred to a conversation he had with the band’s former vocalist: “Jeff London says to trust your government,” Coe wryly declared. At the conclusion of this song, a reveler shouted, “holy s**t!” to which Coe replied, “Sorry, I don’t know ‘Holy S**t.’”

Rob Coe kept the crowd mesmerized with an ode to being down-and-out in their home state with “F**ked in Florida.” He was also in lighter spirits with the amusing “It’s a Sammy Hagar Weekend,” in which he expounded upon the hardships facing drivers that navigate the entire state on a fairly regular basis, often driving faster than 55. Coe’s robust set concluded with a cover of The Misfits’ “Last Caress.”

The black-shirted guys in J. Page were next, still fresh from their recent tour with Tampa’s New Bruises. Now a quintet, their three-guitar, three-chord attack spilled across the small 1982 room like a tidal wave. Songs such as the title track to their EP “Goodbye Chapel Hill” seemed so majestic in this context, yet the interchanged vocals along with the guitar symphony’s cohesion never made things too overpowering. Some in the band thought that they sounded “weird,” but it was certainly weird in a good way.

The Cold Ones are a prime example of the interchangeability between members of Gainesville bands. J. Page bassist Troy remained onstage for The Cold Ones’ set, joined by drummer Burns and guitarist-vocalist Michael. The power trio provided a great complement to the night, tearing through favorites like “Maurice” and “Sister Oh Sister,” with Burns’ and Perlman’s solid rhythm section backing up Michael, who looked at times like an unshaven Gordon Gano. Perlman, although a bassist for all three bands on the bill, played with only two of them thanks to Coe’s solo stint.

1982 was also refreshingly cooler this time. Co-owner Grant Tchekmeian, while nursing a broken foot between working the door, explained that they’ve discovered a glitch with the front AC unit and that it would be back in action soon. In the meantime, there are 4 “cyclone” fans scattered around the main floor, so if the heat’s kept you away from 1982, don’t fret: the air’s cool once again and the beer is ice cold.

Cowgirls and power chords

It’s a bit hard to picture a band such as The Dixie Chicks on the same bill with an outfit like AC/DC. That is unless you live in Gainesville, of course. When local bands of such styles play the same venue on a Friday night, for example, it simply means that folks from all walks of life – fans of music of all types – will be under one roof, all in the name of quality music.

Last Friday was such an evening in Gainesville. It was a night of country and rock witnessed by a wide spectrum of fans as the Rockhill Sessions Band and The Ones to Blame brought what they had downtown to The Atlantic. Country was the theme throughout most of the night as The Ones to Blame began things with hard livin’, heavy drinkin’ songs much in the style of Hank Williams or George Jones.

After a sound check followed by a “shot break,” the four ladies in The Ones to Blame hit the stage with a plethora of crowd-pleasers. Besides playing The Fest late last year, The Ones to Blame were also recently on the bill here with Whiskey & Co. last month. This accumulated experience showed this evening as these four gals were clearly having a good time. Drummer Lezli Johnson came front and center, doing her best Mick Jagger impression, complete with strutting and hip-shaking, for “$3.99 Wine,” their ode to discounted bacchanalia. These cowgirls may have the blues at times, but with songs rhyming Budweiser with Jagermeister, they also know how to cut loose and party. Mandolin player-vocalist Sue Mendez put her usual best smile forward throughout as families, singles, and couples alike scooted boots on the dancefloor.

Once the ladies cleared the stage, it was time for some old-fashioned three-chord rock by the Rockhill Sessions Band. The quintet’s namesake, guitarist Todd Rockhill, is well known for his nights working at Common Grounds in addition to his lead guitar in the band The Enablers along with ace drummer Addison Burns, who also shared the stage with him here.

Rockhill’s band also seemed determined to have fun. Complete with a new vocalist who just joined this past week, they came strong with their musical attack of large riffs that at times channeled those of rockers such as The Cult or Thin Lizzy. Rob, the rhythm guitarist, sported a Van Halen t-shirt, which often accurately described his playing. While Rockhill was often the focal point, the rhythm guitar played a vital role in much the same way that Malcolm Young anchors brother Angus’s guitar squalls in AC/DC.

With such a green vocalist, it was no surprise that the band’s primary weakness was in front of the mic. The singer tried to deflect his blown vocal cords with amusing between-song banter, including the introduction of “Stripper Pole” as a song that “would make his mom proud.” This was cold comfort, however, considering how punishingly raw the vocals were throughout the set. Rockhill took over singing duties on occasion, with his gruff tenor providing a welcome diversion from the status quo.

The night’s closing song, “Rocker,” brought Rockhill to the fore once again, saving his best guitar heroics for the night’s final song. Those wanting more, especially from Burns and Rockhill, will get their chance this Friday as The Enablers bring their slightly new lineup to 1982 for an acoustic set. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Radon settles in at home

There seems to be a thing about bands from the 1990s. If they split up and reform years later, they come back far more potent and more popular than they were in their original heyday. Take The Pixies, for example. Their reunion tours of recent years have drawn huge audiences worldwide comprised of those who return for a bit of nostalgia coupled with those that have just discovered them for the first time.

Local bands seem no exception. Saturday evening, Gainesville favorites Radon reformed before a packed Common Grounds crowd. The show packed plenty of surprises, including Brent Wilson’s announcement that the band just finished recording a 11 new songs for a new CD entitled Metric Buttloads of Rock with local stalwart Rob McGregor producing. “Rob worked 14 hours yesterday,” exclaimed Wilson, who added that the band recorded the entire disc in the past 5 days. With recent reunion shows confined strictly to Gainesville’s annual Fest, Radon played their first headlining show in several years, with local favories J. Page and The Cold Ones adding support.

New Radon songs included “Control Room,” which was written about the “idiots in the White House.” The occasion seemed even more festive due to the birthday of drummer Bill Clower, who many may recognize from holding things down in the kitchen at Satchel’s Pizza in recent years. Clower came front and center to the mic several times during the evening, including an announcement that the band was taking a five minute break for beer. Apparently even aging punks need time for recuperation on occasion.

Not that the band deny it in the least. “Who here used to go to the Hard Back?” asked guitarist-vocalist Dave Rohm, commenting on the number of old-timers in the audience. Isa Shulman, a resident of Los Angeles, came to Gainesville just to see this show. “I flew into Tampa yesterday and I fly back home from Tampa tomorrow night,” confessed Shulman, who has been a long-time Radon fan going back to her days at the legendary Miami-based record store Y&T Records.

Although the band seemed understandably rusty at times, particularly when running through their new songs, Radon let their punk flag fly without apology, culminating in the classic mass-singalong during their infamous self-titled "Radon." With a new record on the way, time will only tell if Radon is truly back to reclaim their punk rock mantle or to rest on their laurels and play the occasional one-off nostalgia trip. With talent and potential such as theirs, let's hope for the former.

Against All Authority steam up 1982

The outdoor Gainesville air felt like air conditioning compared to that from which the crowd had emerged. Venerable punk band Against All Authority just finished playing a one-song encore to a mostly teenage crowd at the small-but-buzzing Club 1982 on Sunday evening.

AAA bring their intense mix of punk and ska to Gainesville quite often, but each visit is still a major event. In this instance, a staggering four bands: The Grabass Charlestons, The Body Electric, The Sense Offenders, and Black 22 provided the do-it-yourself support on the bill.

Against All Authority formed in Miami in 1992, making punk rock on their own terms. Through their six albums, AAA have amassed a huge following who unconditionally swear allegiance to the band's career through thick and thin. All ages shows such as this one meant a highly energetic high school and middle school crowd that kept the mosh pit thrashing and skanking throughout the evening.

Despite their amassed catalog, AAA focused largely on their latest release, The Restoration of Chaos & Order, with songs such as "Shut It Down" and “Sweet Televised Destruction.” Trumpeter Alan Veronese, with his talents being called upon for the many ska tunes of the evening, was forced to keep a napkin close to constantly wipe the sweat from his mouth between solos.

Singer-bassist Danny Lore, in a show of punk solidarity, wore a Radon shirt to promote their show next weekend at Common Grounds.

His molten-lead basslines coupled with drummer Macbeth Proenza’s four-to-the-floor drumming, anchored AAA's sound despite the spa-type atmosphere of 1982.

Veteran guitarist Joe Koontz kept the riffs front and center, complementing the band’s raw punk power. Koontz’s complaint about the heat was brushed off as "just kidding," but he and his band mates clearly felt the oppressive heat and humidity from a room unable to support their punk rock assault.

Proenza, who was clearly the least likely to return to the stage for the encore, brought his a-game for one final song - the last until their punk rock blitzkrieg plays Gainesville the next time, that is.

Spam everybody wants

Run-D.M.C. once declared that a DJ could be a band. Since that time, not many have taken this to heart. Bands like Linkin Park and Kid Rock's Silver Trucker Band have reduced the DJ to a side player, adding textures of scratching and beats only where it is called for, which is not terribly often.

The Spam All Stars have taken this role and turned it on its head. DJ Le Spam (aka Andrew Yeomanson) hails from Miami and has been a multi instrumentalist for many years, even playing guitar for local favorite Nil Lara for a few years in the mid-90s. This combined with spending his early years moving from cities as diverse as Montreal, London, Tampa, Bogota, and Toronto, have made Yeomanson a man of many influences. These roots come out in the Spam All Stars' live show.

The Spam All Stars bring a DJ set with band accompaniment. This is a concept that has served them well for over a decade, which has included such accolades as a Latin Grammy nomination and having their music featured on television shows such as PBS's Latino Art and Culture.

Throughout their Gainesville visit, DJ Le Spam and company moved from salsa to dub to fusion to funk and back, all with the seamless verve of veteran musicians. Le Spam was clearly the band leader, however. Vocalist flautist Mercedes Abal, guitarist Adam Zimmon, and other band members weaved their musical contributions over Le Spam's musical cauldron of breaks, funk, and Miami bass. "The instruments get to come in and out, dancing around each other," commented an anonymous fan between sets. Saxophone and timpani complete the Spam sound, adding that extra Latin flavor that fully brings out their Miami roots.

The instruments weren't the only things dancing. Other between-set entertainment included a pair of improvising breakdancers, throwing down windmills, headspins, and other bodily wonders with relative ease. Most in the audience found it compulsory to keep moving during the All Stars' set, with a large contingent bopping and grooving to the beat as if they were at a Medeski, Martin, and Wood show.

Despite the oppressive heat inside The Atlantic, many stayed to witness the Spam All Stars' final notes of the evening. Many clearly wanted more, and more they will get with their four independently-released CDs and their monthly visits to Gainesville. Estarán detrás...they'll be back!

Physician's Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Bear

It's common logic in Gainesville that weekends generally begin on Thursday evenings. This past week was no different as a weekend-caliber crowd packed Common Grounds to see local favorites Apollo Quartet and Dear and Glorious Physician on the bill with Seattle's Minus the Bear.

Gainesville's own Apollo Quartet kicked things off with a heavy yet melodic sound that's often compared to that of Ian McKaye and Fugazi. All three bands, however, could be forced into the genre of convenience called emo. This, however, would be rather unfair to bands that are so different in their approach, influence, and stage presence.

Dear and Glorious Physician quickly proved that this quartet of siblings are quickly becoming one of Gainesville's most loved bands. Normally this two-brother, two-sister outfit sport all white "uniforms," but the bleach was held back a bit this evening as guitarist-vocalist Jillian Westfall actually took the bold move of sporting black. While the implications of such a statement seemed unclear, the music's feel certainly did not. The Physician was in! Lead vocalist-guitarist Chase's solid guitar work was only matched by his vocals, which wavered at times between a tortued Warren Zevon, a screaming Frank Black, or an overly-smug Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies. Sister Jillian's Kim Gordon-esque delivery coupled with the strong rhythm section of Robin and Andrew on bass and drums, respectively, provides for an indie rock tour de force. Their closer proved their fearlessness for the intense, with Chase doing his best to wrestle with with his inner Maynard James Keenan. The Westfalls have certainly made progress since their appearance at The Fest last November, and it seems as if their Gainesville residency has the potential to be a long and successful one.

The placement of a laptop computer onstage with a band's gear can potentially be cause for dismay among many indie purists, but Minus the Bear proved that electronica grooves and guitar heroics can peacefully coexist. The Seattleites were in town on a break from their nationwide tour with emo kings Thursday to give Gainesville a musical adventure. Leader Jake Snider aptly led the dance rock circus, with other key roles put forth by bassist Cory Murchy and his frilly-yet-minimalist t-shirt, which is also a good way to describe his rhythmic style. Picking up where pioneers such as The Rapture left off, The Bear (as they're lovingly known to their fans) laid down rug-cutters for Death Cab for Cutie fans -- a marriage of samples and solos not heard this side of The Postal Service. The digital beats put forth by laptop jockey Matt Bayles fought with Erin Tate's drums to create a bass-heavy, syncopated stew at times comparable to New Order on steroids.

The Bear clearly had their share of adoration as evidenced by their two-song encore which featured the crowd favorite "Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse." The song titles may seem a bit unusual, and getting a mental image of a crowd consuming hallucinogenic beverages at a building of questionable character may prove difficult. That, however, was a dilemma that The Bear was here to solve. Their sound explains it all.

New: Music Reviews!

Hey all! Long time no post (what the hell else is new?). Anyway, I'm getting a bit burned out on the civic politics of this town. After all, there seems to be enough quality officeholders now in this town to take care of things. The City of Alachua may be another story. Charlie Grapski and a friend of his could use your help. For more info on that, click here. Otherwise, what follows are a series of Gainesville concert reviews that I've recently done for Gainesville.com, which is the website of the Gainesville Sun. Enjoy!