by The Spin
The Spin strolled into The End looking forward to an evening of mostly-new-to-us music and sidled up to the bar, curiously on time. Glancing over the stage, we mulled our expectations for opening act Shy Guy, which were low, based on their confusing Web presence: The only trace we found of the group was a Bandcamp page belonging to a New York DJ of the same name, which lists the Nashville Shy Guy’s tour dates for some reason fathomable only to Web developers.
By our good fortune, they turned out to be a two-guitar rock band that takes its cues from pioneering shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine and Ride, and their cover of Slowdive’s “Alison” would have slipped past as an original if not pointed out by a very animated Taylor Rust, whose cassette release was the evening’s cause célèbre.
We’re a bit uncomfortable with the term “shoegaze,” since it implies to the uninitiated that the band swatted listlessly at their instruments, which couldn’t be further from the truth in Shy Guy’s case. The quartet have mastered the art of tremolo picking and pounding drums at a furious pace to produce a gorgeously shimmering soundwall.
At our best guess, the show drew a modest crowd of 75, but most of them knew the twin-guitar attack of Memphis’ The Switchblade Kid by heart. The band unleashed wave after satisfying wave of aggressive asphalt rock in the pop-fracturing lineage of The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain, with excellent counterpoint from their lead guitar-slinger — a Zen shredder whose expression remained composed despite the raging storm of notes he called forth from his Stratocaster. More than one patron spent the set spellbound by his style.
We chatted for a minute with Kelley Anderson — a founding mother of Southern Girls’ Rock and Roll Camp, former Those Darlins bassist and engineer of T. Rust’s Dimes EP — who made special note of the house sound engineer. Though no one can replace the holy fury of the late Brad “Porque” Baker, we readily agree that his successor is friendly, engaged, and competent to wring a decent mix from the cozy old shack. We watched him walk around the room to check his mix often, which is more than we can say for some subs we’ve noticed reading a book behind the board.
T. Rust commanded the stage, pulling his band into a tight half-circle at the lip. He began his set solo, using a pulsing loop to cover the entrances of bassman Mike Kluge, who we last saw with Murfreesboro noise punk trio Awesome Shirt, and Mikey Lieberman, a sleeper among the community of talented local drummers, by which we mean he’s in fewer than five bands. After several numbers without a break, they launched into what is fast becoming their signature tune, “House,” this time in a somewhat slower, creepier version than what appears on the EP. Working with Anderson, Rust has acquired some much-needed polish since we first saw him perform as a shy teenager, but his wiry, feedback-laced solos, dipped in cascading layers of slap-back echo, show a sharp, experimental edge glimmering through his wistful post-pop tunes.
After a surprisingly chilly breather on the patio, Blank Range kicked off a short and sweet set of permutations on pan-American rock. We haven’t seen much from this group yet, but we’re pretty stoked on their cohesion and tendency to take songs in unexpected directions. Sporting dual frontmen Jonathon Childers and Grant Gustafson, BR delivers remarkably sharp tunes; “Roommate’s Girlfriend,” a song whose narrator has an affair broken off by a girl he wasn’t ostensibly dating anyway, proved particularly cutting. One key to the tune’s effectiveness was the unassuming delivery, a quality that percolates through the whole group: Cymbals were scratched, Gustafson’s baritone guitar emanated throaty skronking leads and the occasional UFO-landing noise instead of the mellow melodies to which we’re accustomed, and the lead guitar doubled the bass in old-school tic-tac style — but every uncommon technique was executed without fanfare, as simply part of the fabric.
A slew of diverse bands have surfaced in Nashville over the last decade, whose excellence has significantly shaped the national media’s renewed interest in our alt-music scene. But we began to feel like some unwritten rule had been ratified at a meeting we’d skipped, requiring every new act had to have either garage-rock roots or a rack of ’80s synthesizers. Don’t get us wrong, both of those things will always turn us on, but a little variety goes a long way to keeping our ears eager for more, so it was doubly exciting to see locals explore new angles so proficiently.