Un-silent night, unholy night
The Spin loves the end of the year, and all of the holidays it brings. But it's easy to brown out on jolliness: To balance friends, family and legit day-drinking, there's rampant commercialization and plenty of extra work to get done — not to mention, you know, war, poverty and starvation affecting those way less fortunate than us. We were honestly feeling a little Charlie Brown-ish on the way to The Stone Fox, and it didn't help to hear that two of the night's bands, Ohioans Obnox and Unholy Two, had recently lost their gear in a tour-van fire. There's always a bright side, though: Friends of the bands put together a collection of gear and hooked them up with a ride, so they'd be able to finish out their tour. Wednesday night, they would be joining Useless Eaters for the latest installment of Hate Life, the monthly rock-show-slash-dance-party organized by Ben Swank, Third Man Records mouthpiece and occasional rock 'n' roll advice columnist on our music blog, Nashville Cream.
We made the rounds, getting used to the new mudroom-type affair built in front of the Fox's back door, which is there presumably to cut down on noise leakage and help them be better neighbors. A timely addition, considering that the upcoming New Year's Eve show featuring PUJOL & Co. had just been moved to the Fox from Fort Houston/New Zombie Shop. Taking note of the light crowd, it occurred to us that punk sometimes gets a bad rap because of its own inclusiveness. The definition of "punk" is broad, making it accessible to performers of all skill levels: Even young kids with little to no musical experience can get in on the ground floor. While this has been great for helping new talent develop, that limited experience sometimes comes with a limited level of commitment, and the resulting unpredictability turns some audiences off to anything called a "punk show."
Memphis native Seth Sutton and his group, Useless Eaters, are young dudes, but well beyond that trial phase. Almost three years have passed since the loss of Sutton's friend and sometime bandmate Jay Reatard, a prolific icon of the garage-punk revival that began in the late '90s, but the Eaters lineup has not completely settled. If Sutton hadn't told us, we wouldn't have known that his latest band of Eaters had practiced together only three times, or that the closing number in their set of terse, snarling, melodic tunes had been written only the night before. There were a few unsteady moments when pieces came flying off of the drummer's kit, but veteran showman Bim Thomas, who would be performing the rest of the night, was on point in the front row, ready to get him back in business.
After a few choice platter spins by the Hate Life DJ crew, Thomas and his Obnox drumming counterpart Elijah Vazquez gave the high sign. Despite having to roll with borrowed gear, the two launched into a searing set that rode the fine edge between hard blues and metal. Looking at Vazquez's jazz chops and Thomas' cool ferocity, we concluded that the best touchstones had to be Hendrix with Band of Gypsys and the recently revived early-'70s Detroit group Death. A colleague put it more succinctly: "That might be the most punk soul music ever." Giving us some insight into his driving force, Thomas related the van story. "I'm still stinging from that fire," he said. "I don't know if any of y'all have ever watched your shit burn up, but I'm not fucking with fire."
A short bar visit later, Unholy Two announced their presence with a blood-curdling electric shriek that would wake up the neighbors at HouseHouse (the experimentation-friendly venue that once operated across the street from the Murfreesboro City Cemetery ... old-school Bucket City reference!). With a name like Unholy Two, we were not surprised to find that the band featured three guitarists, plus Thomas on drums. With the grace and charm of a sawmill, the group displayed their proficiency at managing a wall of ear-melting guitar feedback. There is a method to their madness, and they come across like Confusion Is Sex-era Sonic Youth. Stone Fox co-proprietor William Tyler provided a big box of complimentary earplugs for his patrons, and this was precisely the right show for it — still, the unholy noise levels didn't stop the stalwarts from packing in close to the stage. Our curiosity satisfied, we decided to leave the tail end of Unholy's set to the real fans, heading home for the Spin Shack. Happy holidays, punx.