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.