New world underground
We were stoked to check out the third installment of the quarterly East Nashville Underground Festival as it kicked off on Friday. Pulling off a large, eclectic bill spanning two nights is no easy feat, but from the time we strolled into their new digs on Gallatin Pike it was clear promoters Jared and Kristyn Corder had put a lot of foresight into the event. To us, it looked and felt like a house show, but with a real PA, an open bar, Pizza Buds slices and hot dogs on the cheap and no weird fabric softener/cat pee smell.
The bill had drawn about as big a cross-section of Nashville as we could hope for, from familiar local faces to GQ types in evening wear. After a visit to the bar, we found The Joy of Painting taking the surprisingly roomy stage. The five-piece laid down a solid half-hour of tight, singable rock 'n' roll with hints of New Wave that reminded The Spin of longtime faves The Features. Garreth Thomson and his boys emphasized this connection by sliding in a rendition of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" between a mix of cuts from their upcoming 7-inch and their 2011 EP, Asterisk.
Roots of a Rebellion brought the bandanna-and-hemp-necklace set bobbing to the front of the crowd. Though the plethora of truly awful suburban "something-infused reggae" bands has set the bar painfully low, Austin Smith & Co. did credit to their influences by not tripping on it. They may not be Toots and the Maytals, but they kept a feel-good groove without getting monotonous, helped along by two tasteful multi-instrumentalists on brass, percussion and keys.
High-octane duo Blackfoot Gypsies unveiled both a new LP, On the Loose, and a painting by a fan, featuring the band staring in awe at a giant demon goddess with a cow skull for a head. Looking and sounding like they just returned from opening for The Who in '71, the pair burned through a set of vintage riffage with infectious gusto. We couldn't tell if it was the free booze or the band's Page-and-Bonzo stage antics that inspired folks to climb the speaker stacks. Either way, it felt appropriate for frontman Matthew Paige to end the set on the floor, pantomiming a fight for life against the power of his guitar.
By the time local rapper Chancellor Warhol's mic was checked, the crowd was packed in tight, and when Chance commanded us to bounce, we complied as a unit. Fresh from his debut at Lollapalooza and following a six-month dry spell of shows in Nashville, Chance and his band were clearly happy to be on home turf. Their set featured fan favorites from last year's The Silver Factory as well as previews of the upcoming Paris Is Burning. Several cuts featured a cameo by Brad Shultz, guitar-slinger from Bowling Green's purveyors of slick indie pop, Cage the Elephant.
The audience had thinned out by 1 a.m., but Sex Bombs leader Kane Stewart took no notice as he morphed into a human pinball. We momentarily feared for Stewart's safety when he hit the floor so hard he bounced, but when he feigned being too dazed to get up, drummer Dave Miller chided, "Dude, don't act like that shit wasn't well thought-out." Their Jesus Lizard-vs.-Jesus and Mary Chain-cage-match aesthetic had some appeal, but we were ready to call it a night.
Anticipation, dude-bro hugs and shots were abounding as soon as we arrived at Mercy Lounge Saturday night. The Spin hadn't been this psyched for a show since maybe ever. And we weren't the only ones, as reunited indie legends Archers of Loaf were an hour away from playing their first Nashville show in almost a decade-and-a-half. For a few hundred of our old-school indie-rock brethren — mostly mid-30s, thrift-store-chic beard-itchers, just as you'd expect — this was a momentous occasion.
It felt like a slackers' cocktail hour as fans counted down the minutes to heavy icky mettle, accompanied by the breezy, jangly sounds of local openers Quichenight. Singer Brett Rosenberg and his musical henchmen's sardonic, space-age bachelor pop pleasantly complemented an atmosphere of Christmas-morning-worthy joy. Rosenberg's high-pitched croon and conversational, literate lyrics would ultimately prove quite a contrast to Archers singer Eric Bachmann's gruff warble.
Soon the bedraggled headliners strolled to the stage and kicked off with a somewhat shaky take on the All the Nation's Airports opening gem "Strangled by the Stereo Wire." The brawling assault of volume, interweaving angular guitar lines, guts-spewing vocals and crashing cymbals that followed during a perfectly note-imperfect "Audio Whore" made that song feel like the set's true charging opener. The next 90 minutes were the happiest 90 minutes of The Spin's summer thus far.
As the band busted out one top-shelf set-list selection after another — "Freezing Point," "Form and File," "You and Me," "Might" and so on — we busted out our vocal cords shouting along, our lyrical accuracy diminishing with each dying, beer-squandered brain cell. To know Archers of Loaf is to love them. There are two kinds of music fans in this world: Those who celebrate the fuck out of the band's catalog, and those who don't really know it. This show didn't sell out (a crowd of 300 is maybe a generous estimate), but almost all in attendance were packed against the stage, making mini stadium-rock moments out of anthems like "The Lowest Part Is Free" and the lighter-cuer of the night, "Greatest of All-Time."
A few songs into the set, the band happily noted that this was the biggest turnout they'd ever had in Nashville. Returning the favor, Bachmann & Co. looked as happy to play their hits — and a few deep cuts (the surfy instrumental "Mark Price, P.I." for instance) — as we were to lose our hearing to them. Showing no signs of rust, animated bassist Matt Gentling aggressively charged across the stage, lunging at his microphone whenever it came time to sing a gang vocal. Guitarist Eric Johnson was bouncing back and forth between his amp and the front of the stage, looking like a teenager living out fantasies of rehearsed-in-bedroom-mirror rock stardom, while Bachmann delivered his gravel-voiced commands with neck veins bulging. Drummer Mark Price busted through his snare drum head before the set had even reached the halfway point.
When it came to reliving old times, Archers made nostalgia sound fresh as fuck, especially when they followed a hundreds-strong sing-along "Web in Front" with a rip-roarin' "Nostalgia." An encore featuring a fever-pitch "Harnessed in Slums" and a gloriously contorted "Slow Worm" closed out the night, and our only complaint was that the band left without playing every song they'd ever written.