Thursday, August 16, 2012

Murder By Death and Ha Ha Tonka @ Neurolux; Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars and Duckmandu @ the Red Room (8/14/12)

I'd planned to check out The Last Bison and A Seasonal Disguise at Neurolux this past Monday, but I got too caught up working on my backlog of posts and--gasp!--a genuine, bona fide paying freelance writing gig!  I'm both scared and excited about that last one.  Just gotta jump off the cliff and see if I can fly, I guess.

Anyway, I'd managed to put that work aside long enough to head down to this most recent Radio Boise Tuesday.  I'd seen Murder By Death once before a few years back at the Knitting Factory.  I forget whom they opened for, but I remembered being quite impressed with this Indiana-based band.  This show gave me the opportunity to put my memories to the test.

As I'd anticipated, there was a solid turnout for this show.  I counted over forty people when I got down to Neurolux, and at least another twenty people showed up after only twenty minutes had passed.  I chatted with a friend and a very charming MFA graduate at the bar until the show began.  I really hope I didn't bore them too much talking about this blog and poetry and such.

First up at Neurolux was the Missouri band Ha Ha Tonka.  The touches of blues, country and folk in their music basically added extra flavoring to what amounted to some darn good indie-rock.  Brian Roberts's friendly drawl found support in Lennon Bones's unflashily proficient drumming, Lucas Long's throbbing basslines and Brett Anderson's piercing guitar and rockin' electric mandolin.  Their groove sounded pretty uptight compared to that of, say, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, but in indie-rock, a certain uptightness tends to go with the territory.

Murder By Death played next.  As I listened to them, it occurred to me that a few bands I've heard recently go for a similar kind of genre mash-up (blues plus country plus rockabilly plus funk plus folk plus who knows what else) that this group does.  This prompted the question: how exactly does Murder By Death do it better than most of these others?  Part of it may have had to do with Adam Turla's stolid baritone purr, which doesn't sound quite like any other voice I've heard.  More than likely, part of it had to do with Sarah Balliet's cello, which serves as the emotional and spiritual center of the group as surely as Clarence Clemons's sax did for the E Street Band.  In the end, however, it may have just come down to better songwriting: stronger hooks, stronger tunes, definitely stronger lyrics (a highlight of their set was a new song about going to a wake for someone you hate and having such a good time with his friends that you wonder if maybe you're the bigger asshole).  Of course, Scott Brackett's thoughtful accordion/trumpet/keyboard contributions, Matt Armstrong's juggernaut-like basslines and Dagan Thogerson's swinging, muscular drumming didn't hurt either.

After Murder By Death finished, I headed over to the Red Room, hoping to catch at least a little of their Atypical Tuesday show.  I was in luck: I got there in time to catch the excellent set by local group Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars.  They may have decided to let go of electric guitarist Shane Brown, but Storie Grubb's deft work with his amplified acoustic and distortion pedal filled in that sonic gap.  Luna Michelle's bass playing sounded more confident than ever, and the high-octane drumming gave the music some extra punch.  And best of all, I could actually hear the accordion (sounded lovely)!

Duckmandu a.k.a. California musician Aaron Seeman closed out the night.  His gleeful solo accordion covers of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," "Anarchy in the UK," "Sweet Georgia Brown," David Bowie, the Dead Kennedys, Tom Lehrer, Black Flag, Waylon Jennings, Mozart and a couple of polska (old Swedish folk) tunes brought a big ol' grin to my face.  He regretfully informed the crowd that, although he typically burns his duck hat at the end of his set-capping "Highway to Hell" cover, he wouldn't this night due to too much flammable-looking stuff around the stage.  He did, however, pull out a duck hand puppet to quack out "Old Macdonald" and "London Bridge is Falling Down."  Good absurd fun--exactly what you'd expect of Evil Wine.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Radio Boise.

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