Have Mercy, part one
If there's one thing we've learned over the past decade, it's that the Cannery Row conglomeration of music venues knows how to throw some serious parties. On Friday and Saturday night, Mercy Lounge, Cannery Ballroom and The High Watt all kicked open their doors for a 24-band local rock party to end all parties in celebration of Mercy Lounge's 10th birthday.
By the time we arrived, the 250 first-come free tickets were long gone, leaving a swarm of procrastinators waiting patiently to get their freak on. Our first stop was Cannery, where Turbo Fruits were banging out stoner-punk grooves to a modest crowd. By the time we made it through the line, the Froots were already late in their set, which mostly just meant that we missed frontman Jonas Stein getting all his arena-rock scissor kicks out of the way. For a bunch of guys who wrote a song about a bong once, Turbo Fruits are surprisingly consistent live, and there's something about seeing exactly what we expect that we appreciate.
Booking 24 completely different bands across three music venues in the same building makes for a weird crowd. We often got the sense that some folks weren't all that interested in the music — which was obvious during Tristen's Mercy set. Armed with a set list leaning on the newer, more ethereal synth folk from her forthcoming sophomore record, Tristen tried to win over a massive crowd that was still lingering after Wild Cub got all jangly on everybody. But the din of the crowd was relentless, which is a bummer, because songs like "Frozen" really are great — they just don't have much of a chance when up against an 8 off 8th crowd on steroids (which is to say, a crowd that's mostly just interested in the one or two bands they came to see).
Meanwhile at The High Watt, Evan P. Donohue was banging out a guitar solo while wearing a hibachi chef's hat and accompanied just by a bassist and a low-key but very effective percussionist. For all of his Elvis Costello charm, Donohue's newer material sounds a bit closer to Buddy Holly, if Holly dropped more F-bombs in "That'll Be The Day." And downstairs in Cannery, Ri¢hie was doing his own Andrew WK-goes-alt-country thing, giving us the kind of weirdo Southern rock that we grew to love when his band Ghostfinger still existed. Songs like "Gravitron" have enormous weight behind them, thanks to the double-drummer setup they've got going on.
By our count, JEFF the Brotherhood hasn't played a proper show in town in almost 10 months, which had us in Bogus Bro withdrawals. As Cannery filled with smoke and the dedicated crowd of minors chanted "JEFF! JEFF! JEFF!," Jake and Jamin Orrall strolled onstage and launched into "Ripper," followed by "Mellow Out" and "Heavy Days." That was about when we realized that we're old and out of shape, retreating to a safe distance where we could watch security try and fail in Keystone Kop fashion to curtail stage divers. By the time JEFF settled into the droning psychedelic back end of their set — bolstered by D. Watusi's Christina Norwood on keys and the eponymous King Karl on guitar — security had all but given up on stopping crowd-surfers. That's the inevitable outcome of all JEFF shows.
As JEFF closed down Cannery, we caught precious little of James Wallace and the Naked Light in High Watt (playing respectably complex folk-pop in the vein of Josh Ritter) and Magnolia Sons in Mercy Lounge (playing the sort of adult-contemporary soul throwback you'd expect from the brain behind The Comfies) before we realized we were totally beat. Before long, we surrendered, knowing that we had one more day of partying ahead of us.
Have Mercy, part two
COIN kicked off night two right on schedule: Though they had the disadvantage of playing to an 8:30 crowd, they served up their synth-dazzled danceable pop with the enthusiasm of seasoned arena headliners. It didn't hurt that their set was in Cannery Ballroom, whose backwards-L-Tetris-piece shape lets the artist play to what feels like a full house, even if only the third of the room directly in front of the stage is full of bopping fans. Bop they did, and we could feel our rusty old joints loosening up, too.
We hustled up to The High Watt for some Mystery Twins, who were blasting out their signature blend of sweet Everly harmonies and gnarly Who tones. Fists pumped as we sang along with familiar favorites, like their version of Petula Clark's "Heart," and we noted the latest addition to their ever-expanding light show: a controller to animate their Castle Frankenstein-style bulbs. We like the pop-top-poppin' ways of Sol Cat, but we'd yet to peep them in person. Their stoned groove, with some funk and West Coast R&B at the foundation, put us right in the mood for a beach party. The tight-packed crowd seemed to agree, and it took some effort to avoid colliding with swaying bodies on our way downstairs for Brandon Jazz and His Armed Forces.
It took a couple of numbers for the crowd to follow Jazz's lead into the realm of Prince-y space pop — at first, folks seemed to have trouble telling whether he was cracking wise or being a prima donna — but by the end of "Vultures," funny bones were tickled and fits of unnatural body movement broke out.
Back at The High Watt, we thought we were catching D. Watusi's set in the middle, but came to find it was the finale. Though their run was short and sweet, keyboardist Norwood reminded us how well a piano suits good ol' rock 'n' roll; the sound taps into a deep well, bringing out a touch of Little Richard and Fats Domino that rock sometimes loses when guitars get wailing. Not long after, we found ourselves awash in Ravello's mouthwatering guitar tones at Mercy. Despite their curious name-sharing with the Italian restaurant in the Opryland Hotel, they continued the trend of everyone in the house bringing their A-game, holding down the '70s arena-rock angle with aplomb. These dudes may spend a little bit too much time on their hair for our taste, but for those who like a little more sheen on their rock, you could do worse.
Before Birdcloud began, The High Watt re-attained its sardine-can level of occupancy. The blue comediennes were in fine caterwaul Saturday night: Lots of road-doggin' and wood-sheddin' in the past few months have polished the edges on their entire act, down to the siren wail in "Fuck You, Cop."
Machines Are People Too let loose a steady stream of four-on-the-floor grooves, bathed in neon synth licks, that seem to be a universal call to shake some hips these days — pure heaven for folks who get down with Yeasayer and Phoenix on the reg.
From Five Knives' matching outfits and the post-apocalyptic blast emanating from their racks of top-flight gear, we thought we'd walked into a club scene from a remake of The Road Warrior, cast in an unearthly glow by the group's branded battery-operated light sticks. Anna Worstell and crew pulled out all the stops and spared no expense in making it look and sound great, but they just didn't do it for us: We've mellowed out since the Evanescence and Korn phase of our development, preferring our electronica to drip honey and our metal to have something to do with witches.
As Natural Child got revved up, we dug the inclusion of Luke Schneider on steel, bringing out the country and Western in their rock 'n' roll stew — these guys could definitely hold their own at Bob's Country Bunker. However, showcasing his ability to fit in with just about everyone, Schneider eased back on the bent twang associated with his instrument and went into rock-lead mode à la Ron Wood, dueling it out with Seth Murray on numbers old and new.
The body heat amassed by the Cherub crowd made Cannery feel about 10 degrees warmer than usual. Before we knew it, Jason Huber and Jordan Kelley suggested we put our bodies against some other bodies, and their falsetto-coated funky grooves made us excited to do so, not that we had much of a choice. Most of our memories of this set dissolved in a haze of glow sticks, sequins and sunglasses at night, but one that stands out is the group's enthusiasm for this crowd.
As closing time drew near, we ventured upstairs one last time for The Weeks. We'll never know whether Kings of Leon were singing "I wish that I knew what I know now" when they signed The Weeks to their label, Serpents and Snakes, but the younger group certainly bears marks of the Followills' influence. Their concoction of post-War U2 riffing and Southern soul rhythms was music to the mostly collegiate crowd's ears, and even engendered a little moshing and stage diving.
Pausing to reflect, it struck us that in spite of all the attention we're getting, our local indie musicians continue to deliver good times to audiences across the spectrum, and there was no better place to see that on display than here this weekend. Out way past our bedtime, we decided to ride out on those good vibes. Happy birthday, Cannery Row — and many more!