Special thanks to The Groove and Performance Studios
While the local music scene is always unpredictableone minute everythings cool, the next someones splitting their head open at a Jonathan Richman show, or a bass player is getting written up on the New York Post gossip page2008 seemed to have more ups and downs than usual. Or maybe its just that the ups seemed to reach a bit higher and the lows, at the very least, felt a little weirder. Whatever it was, against the backdrop of both a historic presidential election and an almost-as-historic economic face-plant, Nashvilles unique collection of buskers, hustlers and DIY freaks kept our bar tabs open and our ears ringing for another year.
Sure, our year got sweetened more than five times—Next Big Nashville took another leap forward and Keith Richards landed here to play with The Crickets at the Musicians Hall of Fame induction show, to name but two more. Whether it was a matter of coming into their own, like The 5 Spot, or continuing to own, like the Mercy Lounge, the local scene definitely stepped it up in 2008.
JEFF and MEEMAW Get an Oil Change
Remember when housing bubbles sounded innocuous? When subprime loans sounded mildly worrisome, but our biggest concern was high gas prices? While plenty of bands took a major hit in the wallet in order to take their show on the road this past summer, JEFF and MEEMAW organized several grassroots fundraisers to purchase a school bus that they then converted to run on vegetable oil. They toured, then, five or six months later, the economy went to shit. As much as we love both bands, you better believe as soon as that hippie bus breaks down, they're gonna want some fix-my-bus handouts. (They'll call them house parties.) We've already got the auto industry asking for money, and can't go around bailing out everybody's vegetable oil-fueled bus. The Big Three better throw some sweet house parties for the cash they're asking. Might I suggest booking JEFF or MEEMAW? —M.S.
The 5 Spot Arrives as a Top Venue
All a sudden this year we found ourselves rolling up on The 5 Spot more often. We should point out that ruling East Nashville as a venue isn't exactly that hard—the only competition are FooBar and the more low-key Family Wash. Todd Sherwood and his gang could have rested on their geographic laurels, but instead, they finally sorted out their identity crisis and tapped into the local rock scene—and therefore our hearts—with consistently solid bills of local favorites and a Monday night dance party that's starting to rival Mercy Lounge's 8 off 8th. —T.M.
The Protomen Become a Big Deal
The year 2007 saw Nashville's premier video game rock operateers The Protomen surface as one of Music City's highest-paid novelty acts. In 2008, the band did some extensive touring and played some very high-profile gigs at Bamboozle and numerous comic book conventions, officially graduating into cult status. Turns out the band had a built-in niche of übergeeks all over the nation ripe for the harvesting. Even their local gigs brought out hardcore fans from all over, with some driving from several states away in full Mega Man costume regalia to show their support. The Protomen also released a 7-inch single on Theory 8 and spent a great deal of this year writing and recording the follow-up to their debut, which is yet another thing to look forward to in '09. —S.G.
Mercy Lounge Defends Its Title as Best Club
Hardly a week goes by that I don't find myself at the Mercy Lounge at least two or three times. Thanks to the cavalcade of great shows (both national and local), a staff whose dedication to the place is apparent in every aspect of running their venue (booking, sound, bar, door, etc.), and a vibe that straddles the fine line between rock venue and "place where everybody knows your name," Mercy once again reigned supreme as ground zero for Nashville's music scene in 2008. Because of the club's commitment to both cultivating local bands' followings and coming up with unique events, Nashville can always rest assured in finding its cultural pulse on Cannery, as opposed to Music, Row. —A.G.
The Privates Make Pitchfork—as The Walkmen
In a town starved for touring acts, it should come as no surprise that, for any local band, supporting slots on national shows are about as coveted as porn in Afghanistan. So it was really something when indie war-horses The Walkmen came not only to Nashville but to The Basement and pulled a Fugazi by tapping into our local resources. For The Privates—whose avowed love for The Walkmen was displayed two months earlier with a covers set in the very same building—their opening slot was a dream come true. This make-a-wish story didn't end there, as Dave Paulson & Co. were tapped to back The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser on "Thinking of a Dream I Had." YouTube footage of the performance later got posted on Pitchfork, and finally a local treasure were thrust, however briefly, into the national spotlight...as another band. —A.G.
Love will tear us apart
Anyone who's spent any amount of time reading comments on Nashville Cream can attest: Music can really get the passions stirred—if not downright shaken. As a result, things can get pretty messy on the local scene. When feelings and music collide, the fallout can be ugly. Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes it just hurts so good—and like every year before it, 2008 saw its share of au revoirs, exeunts, graceless goodbyes and cease-and-desists. Here are the five that caught our eye.
Whether you thought teen punks Be Your Own Pet—and all their attendant controversy for their age, parental connections and Pitchfork-darling status—were thrillingly authentic or no-talent poseurs, the news of their breakup sent a steamy ripple through our local scene. Still, the band's fast-and-loose upward trajectory into Thurston Moore's heart—and a major label roster—remains one of the best and most-argued spectacles our local rock scene has witnessed in quite some time. —T.M.
City Hall Shuts Down
Local midsized venue City Hall may have had highly controversial sound capabilities and ridiculous attempts at classing up the joint (bathroom attendants, anyone?), but they were the only local midsized venue we had. The 1500-capacity warehouse brought acts like M.I.A., Beck and Dinosaur Jr., Spoon and Broken Social Scene. So when they closed their doors, we had mixed feelings at best—uh, until we heard Urban Outfitters was opening in its place in September 2009. Midsized venue replaced by affordable hipster fashion? OK, we can live with that. —T.M.
Young Buck out of G-Unit
There's a temptation to tie the Buck/Fiddy split into an overarching narrative about consumer irresponsibility, the fall of Nixonian political tactics and Alan Greenspan's influence on the music industry in the years coinciding with commercialization of thug culture. We'll spare you the wonky details and give you the straight dope: This is the best thing that could've happened—Young Buck gets to collaborate with all the great artists/producers on 50 Cent's "enemies list" and 50 gets to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. We all win. —S.L.M.
The Pink Spiders Get Caught Up
After years of hustlin', carefully constructed bad boy images and a deep devotion to Please Kill Me-styled sleazy decadence, The Pink Spiders graduated to the majors. The Geffen-released, Ric Ocasek-produced Teenage Graffiti landed the band on TRL, teeny-bopper soap operas, Warped Tour and mall soundtracks around the country. For a band who made no bones about pursuing each of those ends, things looked pretty good. But in the past year, the pink-and-black train derailed. Geffen dropped the Spiders while bad blood and financial disputes led to the departure of the rhythm section. As the sole remaining founder, Matt Friction recruited a new version of the Pink Spiders to support the band's latest offering, the independently released Sweat It Out—a hot, steaming pile that won't do much to stop this train wreck. —M.S.
Big Brother Doesn't Like You Sharing
While the media moths were in town crawling all over the hot industry bulb that is the CMA Awards, Governor Bredesen signed SB 3794 into law, mandating that "Tennessee public and private colleges and universities exercise appropriate means to ensure that computers connected to their campus network are not being abused for the purpose of illegally downloading and distributing copyrighted material through p2p file-sharing programs." As if "appropriate means" weren't ambiguous enough, the real fog of this war on sharing is the one that surrounds the question, "Who's gonna pay for the cybercops and the network snoops?" —S.H.
The big time
Sure, Taylor Swift debuted at No. 1 on every chart there is—even the "country" one—but we're not sure we'll ever forgive her Crossroads appearance with Def Leppard. Nevertheless, our hometown and homegrown talent figured prominently in a variety of ways, and in a variety of high-profile settings this year (embarrassing twirls in the spotlight by John Rich, Hank Jr. and a studio full of boner-pill shills notwithstanding).
American Bang Go Greek
While not as earth-shaking as, say, Motorhead's cameo on The Young Ones or as awesome as Anthrax on that one episode of Married...With Children, American Bang's appearance on ABC Family's Greek was at least as cool as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in Clueless. On par with Wax's performance in Bio-Dome, at least. Though despite the cognitive dissonance of a family show about frat kids, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine AB peelin' faces coast to coast. We're hoping that the boys get their new record out soon and they save us broadcast-watching Luddites from boredom. —S.L.M.
Matthew Perryman Jones Gets That Synch-ing Feeling
Nowadays, there's less and less to be gained from record deals and radio hits that an accessible-enough pop singer-songwriter can't get elsewhere. Matthew Perryman Jones is a prime example. Between last year and this, his yearning melodic anthems have heightened the drama of TV scenes six times on shows like One Tree Hill and Private Practice. (And he's got two more placements still to come in early 2009.) Some of those songs came from the Nielson Hubbard-produced independent album he released this year, Swallow the Sea. Jones has also been a part of Ten out of Tenn's critical mass in 2008, helping prove Nashville's songwriting sophistication by way of compilation CDs and package tours. —J.H.
Paramore Break the Nashville Curse
There's a myth at the heart of Nashville lore, that when Jason and the Nashville Scorchers were forced to take the "Nashville" out of their name, the powers that be also took the wind out of our rock 'n' roll sails forever. You could call it a curse. And it held up for a long while. But ramen-fueled pop punkers Paramore hit the stratosphere in 2008, not only appearing on the MTV Awards but also going where no Nashville rock band had gone before: Their sophomore release Riot! was certified platinum on July 11. (As of Dec. 3, it had sold 1,066,710 copies.) "Misery" is their business, and business is good. —S.H.
The Year of Grimey's
As Nashville's preeminent peddlers of new and "pre-loved" music (and perennial "coolest record stores" list-maker), Grimey's record shop has little to prove in terms of their local relevance. That didn't stop them from blowing us away with the beyond-impressive onslaught of living legends they managed to finagle appearances from: David Byrne, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Erick—and, of course, Metallica—all came down to Eighth Avenue to get with the people. And though Brian Wilson hardly made eye contact with his minions, Elvis Costello remained in the store for the better part of an hour after his signing ended to recommend records to other shoppers—while himself running up a tab in the neighborhood of $400. —A.G.
Jemina Pearl, Gossip Girl
It wasn't long after one of Nashville's shiniest stars burned out over the summer that Be Your Own Pet's erstwhile frontwoman Jemina Pearl reappeared on the national skyline. Her solo debut came not in the form of a single, free MP3 download or even her own MySpace profile. Rather, Pearl went straight to prime time with a cover of Ramones' "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" that played during the climax of the Nov. 18 episode of Gossip Girl. The track was actually commissioned by the show and was a collaboration between Pearl and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. The two plan to record more classic punk covers in the future, but for now, Pearl and her new band (featuring former Turbo Fruits rhythm section John Etherly and Max Peebles) have relocated to Brooklyn and are working on a new record. —S.G.
Department of weird vibes
In rock 'n' roll, as in life, there is bound to be occasional weirdness, often when or where you least expect it. And while it's good to step outside your comfort zone from time to time, there were a few occasions in '08 that were just a bit—how to put it—off, and left us feeling strange, unsettled, creeped-out or otherwise not our usual selves. At times it was almost like we had seen...well, you'll get the idea.
Nashville Line Dances at the Wildhorse—to Lil Wayne
I think we can all agree that Lil Wayne owned 2008. From the surreal chart success of "A Milli" to his random-as-fuck appearance on the CMA Awards it was like we had—as one caps-locked Cream reader pointed out—"SEEN FUKEN ALIENS." We had our own Close Encounters-pile-of-mash-potatoes moment at Three 6 Mafia's show at the Wildhorse, when we walked into a crowd of women line dancing. The line dancing itself wasn't that weird—we had basic cable in the '90s—but that they were dancing to the stark, Dadaist "A Milli." That was far out, man. —S.L.M.
Slack Disappear From the Internet
There once was a band named Slack. They played together for almost a decade, recorded a bunch of cool music and generally assembled a rad swath of media detritus. Things didn't work out, the band broke up and things got weird. One day—out of nowhere—their entire digital history disappeared. Rumors flew about crazed lovers, sci-fi conspiracies and YouTube take-down notices. Lawyers were mentioned. Egos were bruised. But there's still one rip-of-a-dub-of-a-cable-access-show on the ol' Tube, so we'll settle for that and cross our fingers for the "happily ever after" somewhere down the road. —S.L.M.
Girl Talk Breaks the Water
One of the most talked-about shows of 2008 happened when a band consisting of one guy and a laptop literally destroyed the stage at the Cannery Ballroom. Well, more accurately, destroyed one of the boards in the floor of the stage, which gave way after Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, invited a sold-out room of drunken college students to bum rush the show. This had already disrupted the set just 45 minutes earlier, when the venue pulled the plug to get things back in order. But this time, a water pipe under the stage burst, ending the show for good. The venue's owners had choice words for both Gillis and his fans, making it known neither of them would be welcome back. —S.G.
NBN Gets Awkward
One of the great things about Next Big Nashville is the invigorating shot of competition it brings to our fair city's rock 'n' roll scene. Overlap is to be expected when every band in town is playing a set, but this year the bills were often exceedingly difficult to choose between. Too difficult, even. We saw All We Seabees stacked against Glossary; Eureka Gold against Hands Down Eugene. We also saw odd combos—The Deep Vibration sharing a bill with Skyblazer and The Protomen, for instance. And perhaps strangest of all, we saw the Mercy Lounge stuffed full of singer-songwriters. Sure, we managed to catch some momentous shows, but next year—if there is a next year for NBN—we may just have to limit ourselves to one venue per night. —D.P.R.
We Figure Out Why Bands Don't Come Here
We've been scratching our heads for ages over all the cool shows that have always blown right by our fair town, so this year, we finally decided to stop bitching and face our fears. So we started asking bookers and publicists and promoters if we have cooties or something. Turns out, we do. When we aren't geographically too far off the map for bigger acts to stop here, we're driving them away screaming with our apathetic crowds and poor attendance. Heads hung in shame. —T.M.
It seems like a lot of local releases this year were of one short-form variety or another—EPs by Caitlin Rose, Paper Route, And the Relatives, Jensen Sportag and Heathern Haints, to name a few, and 7-inch releases by Those Darlins, MEEMAW, The Protomen and Lone Official/Altered Statesman—but there were more lengthy engagements to be had: Here are our picks for the top five proper albums, in no particular order.
Hotpipes, Future Bolt
Funny that their album Future Bolt dwells so intently in the future when Hotpipes are kicking so much ass in the present. Jon Rogers' rafter-reaching vocal melodies guide this eight-song opus through pensive ruminations: existential tunes about where they're headed and how they intend to get there. The titular track is a rumbling, rocking beast of a pop song that sounds like The Walkmen with their stocking stuffed full of Television. Drummer Dan Sommers is a bombastic, one-man marching band, providing trumpet and whistle blasts and bludgeoning the bejeezus out of his kit. No, Hotpipes, the future isn't where you belong. Our CD player is where you belong. —D.P.R.
Evil Bebos, The Dead Language
Local metal can get frustrating. Plenty of bands are almost awesome, but a lot of them sabotage themselves with imbalanced noodlage, recycled riffs or a vocalist who's either a bad screamer or should maybe just stick to screaming. In instances, Evil Bebos' debut, The Dead Language, is certainly guilty of the first two offenses, but the Murfreesboro combo also have some of the best metal vocals we've heard on a local release in a long time. While the majority of the album is built around the post-rock template—meandering quietly, biding its time until the explosive pay-off—opener "From Cave's Mouth" takes exactly seven-and-a-half seconds to kick ass. And just when the record threatens to beat its influences into the ground, the Bebos throw a curveball—an eight-and-a-half minute noisescape to seal the deal. —M.S.
Ghostfinger, The Feeler
After being named in last year's category for "Rock bands who pulled a disappearing act," it was quite pleasing to see Ghostfinger back on the scene in 2008 with The Feeler. The Rolling Stones influence was so strong, the album could've just as easily been called Exile on Main St. (the One in Murfreesboro). Like the original Exile, The Feeler has that loose, woozy swagger that brings a heroic sense of triumph and absolution to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. They have succeeded in streamlining the scattershot genre exercises of These Colors Run into a more cogent intarsia—a perfect example being "When the Ocean Boils Away," which sandwiches a Stonesy chorus between a verse that recalls "Watching the Detectives" and a bridge with harmonized lead guitar that would have been right at home on Master of Puppets. —A.G.
The Features, Some Kind of Salvation
With the countless setbacks hometown champs The Features have endured in recent years, it's a miracle they managed to put out an album at all, much less one that's really, really good. While Some Kind of Salvation's paralyzingly catchy "Lions" is—thanks to its anthemic nature—a standout track, it's the subtle, smartly arranged songs like "Baby's Hammer" and "GMF" that drive you to play the album again and again. Rollum Haas' drumming is explosive but never flashy. Mark Bond's key flourishes captivate without detracting from Matt Pelham's clever vocals. And while Some Kind of Salvation may have been a long time coming, it unequivocally proves that The Features have grown leaps and bounds, making it worth the wait. —D.P.R.
Lambchop, OH (Ohio)
Though we sometimes take him for granted, the freewheeling Kurt Wagner made another seemingly effortless record this year. And if there was a more perfectly weird album cover this year, we didn't see it. The painting that graces OH (Ohio)—of a nude woman and man lying together (well, the man is doing a bit more than just lying) while a riot breaks loose outside their window—is a piquant analogy for the way Wagner's ruggedly honest songwriting has weathered posture-of-the-month indie coolness cycles, yielding, in this instance, everything from characteristic airy arrangements to an avowed passion for office supplies. —S.H.
Honorable Mentions: Silver Jews, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; The Ettes, Look at Life Again Soon; The Mattoid, Glory Holy; Cheap Time, Cheap Time
Hot shows, good times
Sometimes you just had to be there, y'know? The Spin went out to something like 150 shows this year, and not all of them were unforgettable, at least not in the good way. Some shows we wanted to delete from the mental hard drive as soon as they were over—or as soon as the club door closed behind us, whichever came first. Others we wanted to remember better than we did the next, er, afternoon. Still others felt awesome at the time but faded as the year wore on. And while a lot of top-notch performances didn't make this list—Deerhoof at Mercy Lounge, M.I.A. at City Hall, Jason and the Scorchers celebrating their lifetime achievement award—here are five that made an impression deep enough to still feel fresh at year's end.
The Sun Rises in the West at Bonnaroo
A lot of people were upset that Kayne West pushed his night-ending set at Bonnaroo back by almost three hours—but they're a bunch of amateur trustafarians that took their drugs too early and got cranky as they were coming down. We, on the other hand, are raging alcoholics and clung to the free booze table for the VIPs (Vaguely Important People) until just about show time. Seeing the reigning champion of pop play "Jesus Walked" as the sun rose on the most beautiful Tennessee Sunday morning you could ever ask for made his "Glow in the Dawn" show ABSOLUTLEY AWESOME. All caps, no bullshit. —S.L.M.
Springsteen Rocks Us, Pays Compliment
Being one of the few aged rockers to avoid the dinosaur tag and keep his reputation pretty much intact, Springsteen loomed large as ever for his August appearance at the Sommet Center. The epic ending run of a Springsteen tour is, usually, reserved for his home tri-state area stronghold, but this time around culminated in a swing through the South. Full of rarities, hits, covers and fan favorites—many played by request—the set felt custom-made for a crowd that showed enthusiasm not often seen in Music City. Familiar faces in the crowd included Bobby Bare Jr., Mike Grimes, Mercy Lounge's John Bruton and a host of local band members, and by night's end—with Bruce shouting enthusiastically, "Nashville, you were fantastic!"—it felt more like the greatest local gig I'd ever seen than an arena rock show. Anyone who was there knows. —A.G.
Monotonix Bring the Heat
Of all the hot shows we're highlighting, the first Monotonix show this year at Springwater tops the list in the most literal sense. Anyone within 10 feet of the stage had singed arm hairs—thanks to the drum kit, which was set aflame during the Israeli trio's first song—and no part of the dive bar was off-limits to the band. Even the parking lot saw some action. That kind of fourth wall dismantlement had us a little skeptical of the band's ability to translate their wrecking-ball garage rock into a less intimate setting, but all doubts were laid to waste when Monotonix opened the Exit/In for a certain band that finally decided to play in Nashville.... —M.S.
We Cream Ourselves (Again)
We at The Scene enjoy celebrating ourselves from time to time. Who doesn't? The Cream's two-year anniversary party at Mercy Lounge was certainly no exception: We staged the biggest self-congratulatory spectacle in the brief but controversial span of our existence. We booked some of our favorite acts to cover songs by our other favorite acts. Stories That Live covered The Features. Cortney Tidwell covered Johnny Cash and JEFF. The Privates covered Paramore. (OK...maybe Paramore aren't among my favorites, but The Privates' version of "Misery Business" was a treat.) The Carter Administration covered Apollo Up! and concocted a readers' poll-inspired original that was truly a glorious display of meta-rock. I'd say if throwing yourself a party were a competition, we'd have won it. And then we'd have thrown ourselves another party. —D.P.R.
Silver Jews Finally Play Here
After moving to Nashville from Louisville near the turn of the century, David Berman waited a little over five years before playing a full-fledged Silver Jews show on a local stage. A secret show at The End after the release of Tanglewood Numbers preceded the band's first-ever tour in 2005. Since then, the Joos have landed high profile gigs such as All Tomorrow's Parties, South by Southwest and an Israeli tour that served as the backdrop for the Silver Jew documentary. The band ended their 2008 tour here at home at a packed Exit/In, and the nearly three years between local shows have transformed a band notable for their ramshackle approach into a relaxed and poised rock band. Berman was funny, the band cruised flawlessly and this is obviously the state to be in for a 200-person chorus of "You're the only ten I see." —M.S.