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, which is the website of the Gainesville Sun. Enjoy!