Sunday, December 22, 2013

Afrosonics, Rosa dos Ventos and Henchmen for Hire @ Neurolux (12/17/13)

I caught Afrosonics' set at the Boise 150 Sesqui-Party back in July and liked what I heard.  Upbeat, multicultural funk--just the thing for a James Brown-enamored music writer who gets awfully tired of the same old surf-garage stuff.  I was also impressed with bandleader Dayo Ayodele's nonprofit Global Lounge, which seeks to help immigrants adjust to living in the Treasure Valley.

I got the chance to write a Boise Weekly feature about Afrosonics and Global Lounge.  When some free time came up on my calendar, I decided to come down and check out the band's new lineup.  I also looked forward to checking out two local groups I'd never seen before, Rosa dos Ventos and Henchmen for Hire.

I counted about 40 people at Neurolux when I arrived.  When Afrosonics played, I counted 65.  I'd like to think that my article helped persuade some of these folks to come down, but that's probably a little hubristic.

Henchmen for Hire opened the show.  This band's soul- and reggae-tinged sound had an adult alternative feel to it--Dave Matthews, Counting Crows, like that.  I'm sure that's enough to make some readers run screaming for the hills, but really, this group wasn't as bad as all that.  For one thing, their lead guitarist was sharp--terse, tasteful but capable of letting off some fireworks.  For another, lead singer Gabe Hess managed to deploy some soul mannerisms (some moans here, a little melisma there) without embarrassing himself.  The band sounded stiff and nervous at times, but a few more gigs should limber them up.  Also, any group that can do all right by Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" and Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing" (not to mention cite James Brown and Marvin Gaye as influences on its Facebook page) has its heart in the right place.

Rosa dos Ventos played next.  This Portuguese/Brazilian/Latin American music group sure didn't need to limber up.  Their horn-like keyboard, fluid rhythm section and snarling guitar hit so fast, tight and hard that they could've been auditioning for the JB's.  Kristine Nunes's warm, low voice had some impressive power, but like the rest of her bandmates, she didn't feel the need to show off her chops too much.  It took the crowd a little while to get on its feet, but the dance floor had filled in pretty well by the end.

Afrosonics closed out the show.  "Rhythm is the key," Dayo Ayodele said at the start of the set, and his band's funk/jazz/reggae-inflected grooves proved him right.  Malleable, hard-driving bass and drums weaved with manic guitar and quirky, dexterous keyboard solos.  The rough, friendly vocals added a nice human touch.  At times, the whole mixture called to mind one of my favorite groups, Sly and the Family Stone.  I don't know if the folks in radio-land caught Ayodele's closing admonition to support local music, but hopefully, they at least caught his opening shout-out to the late, great Nelson Mandela.

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hollow Wood, Psycho Adorable and Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant @ the Crux (11/3/13)

A few days prior to this show, my now ex-girlfriend Jenn (long story, don't wanna get into it here) heard a song by Hollow Wood on Radio Boise and loved it.  She couldn't believe that a band like that was local, she said.  So when I told her about this concert, she readily agreed to check it out.  This worked out well all around, since the show gave me the chance to see Psycho Adorable's first performance back from their 11-week tour and to see the fantastically named Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant for the first time.

I counted over 50 people when I arrived at the Crux.  I saw some of my now former Exposition/Noisefan Music News colleagues (short answer: my connection with the Weekly made my continued association with NFMN untenable), Aaron Christensen (Mt. Joy), Samwise Carlson (Woodwind) and various scene regulars.  Jenn showed up midway through APTWE's set.

While I waited for the music to start, Amber Pollard's daughter Aubrey (possibly one of the most adorable children in the Treasure Valley) ran past me.  "Hi Ben!" she said.  She circled around and ran past me again.  "Hi Ben!" she said again.  Thinking about this now, I still smile.

Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant--which turned out to be Brett Hawkins's solo act backed by his brother Taylor on drums and Sun Blood Stories' Ben Kirby on bass--opened the show.  I liked Hawkins fine with just a guitar, but he got farther with a little help from his friends.  With Taylor Hawkins' steady beat and Kirby's viscous bass giving them support, Brett Hawkins' droning riffs had greater force and his vocals greater confidence.  Also welcome were Judah Claffey and Austin Lucas' maudlin violins (that there Lucas can play).  The set's earlier songs took me back to the days when "Creep" played on MTV.  The later songs sounded like Daniel Johnston having a drink with Jimmy Reed.

Psycho Adorable played next.  Their debut performance back in August left me with mixed feelings; it certainly wasn't bad, but it wasn't the fusion of styles and spirits I'd hoped for.  The bond between Bronwyn Leslie and Kelsey Swope felt much stronger here.  Even their outfits seemed to complement each other--grandma-ish blue house-dress and white mesh sweater for Leslie, grandpa-ish short-sleeve blouse and baggy gray trousers for Swope.  Also, while she's never seemed like a pushover (I saw her one time dressed as Kathleen Hanna), Swope gave off a much tougher vibe than last I'd seen her.  On the numbers where she took lead, her vocals sounded rougher.  On the ones where Leslie took lead, Swope stood and hovered (protectively?) over her partner while singing backup.

I'd be interested to hear more about their experiences on the road.  And I'll definitely be interested to hear what they come up with from here, together or individually.

Hollow Wood closed out the night.  Speaking of tougher, this group rocked a lot harder than last I saw them.  I don't know if Adam Jones was trying to channel Clint Eastwood with his poncho, but between the grinding guitars, the vrooming bass and the bubbling beats, the music almost channeled Zeppelin at times.  The vocals and the lyrics were edgier too ("OMG!" I thought. "Did they REALLY just say, 'I could f*ck a virgin'!?").  For me, everything came to a head with the dance-y number about 100 years full of pain and fear.  Instead of sounding trepidatious or despairing, the band barreled ahead as if they couldn't wait to enter the fray.  Sounded as melodious as ever too.  God bless 'em.  And Godspeed.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

a.k.a. Belle, Brett Hawkins, Calico and Woodwind @ the Crux (11/1/13)

This show was a two-birds-one-stone opportunity for me and my lady-friend: it gave us the chance to see a show at the Crux, which she hadn't done before, and to see a.k.a. Belle, about whom I'd chewed off a decently sized portion of her ear.  As an added bonus, this gave us the chance to show some support for Go Listen Boise, who had teamed up with Heather Roberts's Ten Gallon Cat to make this show part of the former's Local Music Spree.

I counted about nineteen people when we got to the Crux.  The crowd looked mostly on the younger side (early 20's or under, I'd guess).  When a.k.a. Belle soundchecked, the crowd numbered about forty and looked mostly middle-aged.  By the way, the woman in the black-and-white striped blouse is Jenn Siegel, my lady-friend.  It's hard to tell from this distance, but she's pretty gorgeous.  She'll probably appear fairly regularly in future blog posts.

Woodwind opened the show.  Back when my friend Keesha Renna ran the Crux's open mic, I saw a young gentleman perform.  He played one song that blew me away--lovely folk melody; clean, boyish tenor; understated, pained lyrics.  Made me think a little of Nick Drake or maybe Ronnie Lane.  I'd wondered in the months that followed what that guy was up to.  When local newcomer Samwise Carlson played his finale, it hit me: "Holy crap, it's him!"  That last song's melody sounded just as beautiful as I'd remembered, and Carlson's other tunes were almost as pretty.  The stray lyrics that I caught didn't sound too bad either.  Now that I have a name to attach to him, I'll be sure to keep my eye on him in the future.

Calico played next.  I worked the Record Exchange's merch booth when this young group played Alive After Five.  As I recall, they sold about seventy copies of their debut EP, which NEVER happens with a local act.  It's worth noting too that Calico's song "In Our Town" supplied the name for Boise 150's special CD compilation.

Now, do these achievements mean that Calico will be the next big thing for Boise music?  I wouldn't say that.  I would say, however, that they definitely have potential.  Their rhythms could use some livening up, and they come across as a little too solemn and serious right now (so people will take them seriously?).  Still, their melodies are unfailingly pretty, they've got some impressive poise and lead singer Ruby Somoza has the warmth, smarts, sass and straight-up charisma of a natural front-person.

Sun Blood Stories' Brett Hawkins played a surprise 20-minute set of his solo material after Calico.  Hard to tell if he's affected or not, Jenn said of his bone-simple guitar picking, saccharine folk-country tunes, reedy vocals and oddball, sardonic lyrics.  She also noticed that his shirt was buttoned wrong.  Like a drunken uncle playing songs for you, she added later (she meant that in the best possible way).  That trumps everything I had, so I'll just move along.  (And you wonder why I'm crazy about this woman.)

a.k.a. Belle kicked off their set with the premiere of their music video for "Mess You Up," a track from their new album (hopefully coming in February 2014).  It's a cute, funny bit of stop-motion animation created by Catherine Merrick herself.  I grinned when I caught a reference to an old Sam Merrick song (or was it band?), "Don't Pass Up the Chance to See Neil Young."

In the interests of transparency, I should probably mention that Catherine Merrick and I are co-workers now; she works at the Edge (the Record Exchange's coffee shop), and I work at the Record Exchange's main register.  I should mention as well that Catherine tipped me off that the Record Exchange was hiring and recommended me to the owners (I didn't ask her to do that; she just heard that they were looking for a music-savvy individual and thought of me).  Readers will make of that what they will, of course, but I've been praising Catherine since well before we started working together.  And unless she starts to suck, which seems highly unlikely, I don't see any reason to stop doing so.

Anyway, I don't know if everybody drank some coffee beforehand or what, but the band seemed more amped up than usual.  Chris Galli's bass-playing seemed especially fluid and nimble this night (I spotted him nursing some kind of warm beverage earlier).  Whatever the reason, they went a long way towards helping Jenn understand why I love this band so much.  Louis McFarland was as strong and swinging as ever (got off a badass solo on the Link Wray-esque instrumental "Here Come the Deathtraps").  Sam Merrick ripped it up on guitar and joked it up between songs, the latter of which got a great eye-roll and an Oh-God-he's-an-idiot-but-I-love-him look from his wife at one point.  As for Catherine Merrick, I've called her the best singer in Idaho before, right?  Yes?  Okay, I'll just move along, then...

You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Evil Wine Carnival @ the VaC (9/29/13)

Since this is the last blog post that I have in the queue right now, I thought that this would be a good time to make a brief announcement.  As readers have undoubtedly noticed, there's been a steep decline in write-ups for HCTD.  The reason--or the main reason, rather--is simple: I've been pitching quite a few stories/reviews to the Boise Weekly, and the Weekly keeps saying yes (and tossing me more assignments on top of them).  These assignments must take priority because they require more work, they have tighter deadlines and, most important of all, they pay (well, the ones that show up in the paper do, anyway).

Now, does this mean that this blog is coming to an end?  No, but there'll be fewer posts for (knock on wood) the foreseeable future.  Also, in addition to the Weekly, three other factors are competing for my attention right now.  The first is my part-time gig at the Record Exchange.  The second is my role as contributor/copyeditor for The Exposition, a Boise-based music website.  Jenny Bowler, whose fine photographs appeared in my Treefort 2013 posts, has taken up its reins.  There's some interesting stuff in the works, so find it on Facebook and stay tuned.

The third is... Well, she's about 5'9" (correction: she's actually 5'7") with brown-blond hair, blue-green eyes, a smile like the springtime sun and a curve in her back that drives me to distraction.  She's smart, she's kind, she's tough, she's passionate and she's got good taste--likes Dorothea Lange, Rosalie Sorrels, The A-Team, old-school hip-hop and lots more.  So if, on a given Friday or Saturday night, I'm given the choice between covering a show and snuggling with her while watching Rio Bravo or Black Dynamite... Well, sorry, but you'll just have to tell me what I missed.

But with all of this said, let me be emphatic: I may not write here as often, but I will keep this blog going for as long as I can.  For one thing, it allows me to write more informally and (at my best) colorfully.  But more importantly, I know that this blog and its readers have made all of the above possible for me.  As I've written before, HCTD is easily the best thing that's happened in my life.  I love it too much to just abandon it.

This announcement has gotten much longer than I wanted, so I'll end it by thanking all of you once again for your readership and support.  It means more to me than I could ever say or write.

I've respected Evil Wine since I discovered it two years ago, and my respect has only deepened since then.  Their penchant for smart, raunchy, left-of-center fare has been an invaluable addition to the Boise scene; I've thought of them sometimes as the moon to Duck Club Presents' sun.  Also, I've been impressed by how Wes Malvini and Dustin Jones conduct themselves professionally.

I meant to write about last year's Evil Wine Carnival, but between hitting the live shows hard all summer and learning the ropes at a new job, I was good and burned out at the time (I had a small meltdown at the end of the Carnival that I still regret).  Anyway, I saw this year as a chance to make up for dropping the ball.  I was also happy for the chance to write a feature for the Weekly about Evil Wine (though I made the error of crediting Wes Malvini with starting Gramma's House.  My apologies for that).

I worked a closing shift at the Record Exchange this night, so I got down to the VaC late.  Although I missed quite a few of the musical acts and didn't get to see anybody play any of the games, between seventy and eighty people were still there when I arrived.

Highlights (of what I saw/heard, anyway):

Drinking Contest--Held during Glenn Mantang's set (agreeably trashy punk rock).  Winner Tina B. managed to down a bowl of beer before Mantang and backing band finished the song "Malt Licker."  As I recall, she was still vertical and going strong for much of the Carnival's remainder.  Girl's a viking.

Outside after his set, I overheard this quote from Glenn Mantang to his boss: "I will be there [with] eyes closed!  Cuz I don't ever call in hung over, Rich!  I call in sick!"

Scantily clad Dustin Jones and Wes Malvini--Because it just isn't an Evil Wine Carnival if these two keep their clothes on.

Carnival Games--I didn't play them, but just looking at them made me grin.  My favorite was Birth Your Savior, which involves reaching inside the Virgin Mary and trying to extract Jesus from among the other icons (Buddha, etc.).  Erin Nelson from the Rediscovered Bookshop showed me her slightly discolored hand as proof that she'd tried this one out.

This game was a very close second.

Headless Pez--When I interviewed him, Dustin Jones expressed particular excitement about this four-man Portland metal band.  Seeing them, I could understand why.  Between the dildo-pentagram backdrop, the abs drawn in Sharpie on the lead singer's belly, the bassist's ass-less chaps and song titles like "Handy Dandy Butt Candy" and "Dr. Bonerstein," this group could've sprung out of an episode of The Evil Wine Show.  Their impressive chops--squiggly guitar noise, relentless riffing, machine-gun kick drum, banshee-wail vocals--made them even funnier.

Some quotes from this set:

"This next song's about boners!  And Satan!"
"This song's called Power Death it's by Pantera f*ck you!"
"I totally forgot the words!  Hahaha!"
"Shut the f*ck up!  This part's pretty!  Shut up!"

Introducing their final number, a song about a gay skeleton: "He's scarier than a normal skeleton because he'll butt-f*ck you!"

Kitchen--Twin Falls trio.  Good stuff--strong beat, harshly catchy tunes, snarling distortion, caterwauling vocals.  Worth hearing again, I thought (though admittedly, I'd had a fair amount to drink by this point).

Matthew and Charlotte Vorhies--I didn't get to see this guy play with Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars, but he and his wife deserve a mention here because they were just too damn adorable.  I mean, c'mon, look at them.

The Voodoo Organist--Woulda been worth the price of admission by himself.  Tongue-in-cheek horror-movie melodies and lyrics (song titles: "Do the Zombie," "Vampire Empire"), charmingly sepulchral vocals, rockin' organ and theremin solos (flying hands and feet).

Andy D--"I got drunk a couple of hours ago," Andy D said at the start of his set.  "I'm gonna burn out the rest of my drunkenness onstage."  And so he did, belting and gyrating and dropping off the stage to dance with the crowd (just the guys, though--didn't want to piss off Victoria D/Anna Vision, maybe).  The crowd stayed with him, grooving out to such irresistible numbers as "New Addiction," "Angels on the Dancefloor" and "Hey Tina (Pick Up the Phone)" (possibly my new favorite).  If Evil Wine had done nothing other than bring this act to Boise, it would've justified its existence.

During this set, a dude from Headless Pez gave me a hug from behind, grabbed my crotch and handed me a sticker.  Made my night.

Tartufi--A late but welcome addition to the Carnival.  Aside from a couple of small slip-ups, this San Francisco trio sounded as roiling and tuneful as ever.  Listening to them again, I was struck by the warm, expansive spirit of this group's music.  It could've been the audience; Lynne Tartufi said at one point that they loved Boise "probably more than San Francisco, but don't tell them that."  Like I've said before, they oughtta just buy a house here.

You can find info on the various acts and Evil Wine on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Very special thanks to Wes Malvini, Dustin Jones and Evil Wine.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Shook Twins, Stone Seed and Grand Falconer @ the Egyptian Theatre (9/20/13)

I'd never seen the Shook Twins before, but I'd been curious about them for a while, especially since Katelyn and Laurie Shook were born and raised in Idaho.  Indeed, I was so interested in them that I pitched a feature on them to the Boise Weekly (which I thought came out rather well overall).  Anyway, I also got a chance to check out this show thanks to my job.

I counted about 130 people when I got to the Egyptian Theatre.  I don't know how many were there when the Shook Twins played.  I don't know how many people went down to Tom Grainey's to wish a happy birthday to To Entertain U's Seth Brown either (happy belated birthday to him, by the way).

Grand Falconer opened the show.  I'd remembered this local band being good, but I didn't remember them being this good.  Their blend of folk and indie-rock sounded sharper and more balanced than it did before.  They complemented their ringing guitar, warm cello and clean three-part harmonies with stomping, syncopated rhythms.  Their playful, self-deprecating banter was most welcome as well.  Guitarist Michael Johnson joked about their being notoriously awkward onstage, but they didn't seem that way to me (or they were comfortable in their awkwardness, at least).  Over half the crowd was on its feet by the set's end, and those who weren't nodded to the beat in their seats.  I'll look forward to this group's new EP, which they said they've been working on these past eight months (thought it had been a while since I'd seen their name around).

Stone Seed played next.  When the Weekly feature on the Shooks got shared around on Facebook, this band tagged me in a comment asking what they needed to do to get mentioned in the article.  A little pissy, perhaps, but they did kinda have a right--I try to make it a point to mention the openers in my articles, but unfortunately, it slipped my mind with this one.  My bad.  Anyway, this roots group's high energy and smooth grooves did a good job of filling the space of the Egyptian.  Idyltime's Beth Mason looked a little stiff on standup bass (she'd only played with the band for a couple of weeks at this point), but Ty Clayton's guitar and Benett Barr's djembe held down the rhythm just fine.  Lindsey Terrell's sultry harmonies meshed nicely with Clayton's gritty baritone drawl, and her elegant violin solos gave the music some extra spark.  People danced off to the sides, in the aisles and in their seats.

The Shook Twins closed out the night.  I imagine that if, at any point in the proceedings, Katelyn and Laurie Shook came across as smug or calculating, I might have found their plaintive folk tunes and pristine harmonies unbearable (not to mention touches like the Lite Brite that read "SHOOK TWINS" that sat at the foot of the stage).  But since they came across as thoughtful, warm, funny and endearing as Katelyn Shook did when I interviewed her, said tunes and harmonies won me over completely.  As did their sprightly beats, skillful beatboxing and subtle looping.  Indeed, between their offhandedly sophisticated musicianship, their smart, slightly off-kilter lyrics and their expansive, generous spirit (an a capella Tears for Fears cover--why not?), I'm halfway tempted to call them the only real 21st century folk band.  But that sounds way too pretentious for this music, so I'll just say that this was easily one of the best shows I've seen this year.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to the Record Exchange, To Entertain U and Idaho Live.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wild Belle, Saint Rich and Hey V Kay @ Neurolux (9/19/13)

Some of my co-workers at the Record Exchange turned me on to Wild Belle (for a while, it made the regular rotation of CD's played over the store's stereo).  I liked what I heard enough to put this show on the calendar.  The chance to see Hey V Kay again was a nice little bonus (well, not so little, actually--I've put Gut Wrenching on the stereo a few times, and the listens re-convinced me of its excellence).

I counted about thirty-five people when I got to Neurolux.  When Wild Belle played, I counted about eighty.  And actually, the crowd might have been closer to ninety or ninety-five.  A very respectable turnout.

Hey V Kay opened the show.  A few songs into the set, a friend who'd never seen Karen Havey before asked me why she isn't huge in the music scene right now.  I didn't have a good answer.  "Middle-Class Sweetheart" and "Call It" (the song she debuted at the Crux show last June) sounded as tuneful and hook-laden as I remembered, and Havey's gorgeous vocals did well both by them and by her older songs.  Not only did my friend get to hear Havey's "Wicked Game" cover, she got to hear her "Toxic" cover too.  I guess I know what to get my friend for Christmas now...

Saint Rich, a five-man band from New Jersey, played next.  I came up with two different ways of describing this group's mix of ringing guitars, slinky rhythms and nasally, deadpan vocals.  The first is a sweeter, friendlier Strokes.  The second is a less interesting Soft White Sixties.  Which one you prefer will probably depend on your affection for 60's hard rock (and possibly for Delicate Steve, two of whose members are in this group).

Wild Belle closed out the show.  Whenever one of my co-workers plays something... not quite to my taste, shall we say, I just try to remember the good stuff that they've introduced me to.  Like this, for instance.  This Chicago group's blend of skanking reggae grooves and sunny, soothing pop fit together like rum and Coke.  Natalie Bergman's honeyed, lightly smoked vocals topped it all off.  The dance floor was packed and bubbling for the entire set.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Special thanks to Neurolux and the Record Exchange.