Watt in the world
It's not often we cynical old buzzards at The Spin get to claim a first. Today we get a whole lot of them. For example, Thursday night was our first official show at Cannery Row's newest addition, The High Watt (we can now say that the Mercy/High Watt/Cannery Complex is a veritable rock 'n' roll Mall of America). Down the hall and up the stairs of the Cannery Complex sits this cozy, stylish, no-frills rock venue in which we'll no doubt find something to nitpick about soon. But for now, it's a pretty sweet hang.
If we may bust out another first, we're not sure we've ever properly given newcomers Scale Model a proper welcoming. Decked out in vests and ties, sporting matching see-through guitars — not to mention the Scene's own shutterbug and science fetishist Steve Cross back behind the drums — Scale Model melds a meek collab of '70s power pop with '80s new wave. With tunes ranging from outright catchy to rather hummable, the female-fronted quartet's humble presence is counter-pointed with a whirlwind of fuzz, synths and melody.
The room had filled by now to a comfortable capacity — not quite packed. But what would have made for an awkwardly desolate affair at Mercy was again a fairly snug hang in the new space. When spotting The High Watt's sound guy running about while using an iPad, we mistakenly figured he was probably Skyping or some such. Turns out he was mixing sound on that thing. Technology!
But we're not out of first stuff yet. The substantially moderate Interweb buzz concerning the spanking-new Echo Group has brought several times to our attention a few streamable samples. However, knowing their 7-inch release party — a split with fellow locals Mom and Dad — was on the horizon (it's the very show about which we're talking right now!), we wanted to go in fresh. Centered around core members of defunct 'Boro heavyweights We Were the States, the three former WWTS members have expanded their shit — with more personnel and bigger arrangements. Singer Justin Webb's growling croon is still a dead-ringer for that of Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, but it's easy to accept that as a mere coincidence when digging on this energetic amalgam of jangle pop, indie rock and Southern soul complete with a four-piece horn section.
Rounding out the evening was the aforementioned Mom and Dad — first time we've Spun them, too. It was not, however, the first time we've enjoyed their organ-fueled, semi-psychedelic garage-pop freak-out. Their frontman's guitar spasms, over-the-top delivery and overall bravado borderline on obnoxious, but we'll take that over boring any day. Especially amid a night of firsts. Themes!
'Roo the day, part three
In all honesty, The Spin was a bit intrigued by Monday night's final Road to Bonnaroo lineup at Mercy Lounge. Not necessarily excited, but curious to check out a bill of bands and artists with whom we were mostly unfamiliar. Let's face it: Most of us who are given the task (privilege?) of judging an RTB show usually have a few preconceived opinions about which band might "deserve" the win that coveted slot at the 'Roo. So what happens when you have little to no bias or allegiances influencing your vote?
OK. So we have seen Courtney Jaye a time or two. But last time we saw her she was still proudly dedicated to a tropical-inspired sound that always struck us as beautiful and refreshingly unique, if a bit contrived. As the crowd burgeoned around us, we realized Courtney — who's found the misfortune of opening an RTB show two years in a row — has dropped much of her signature Hawaiian accoutrements, and is now just belting out solid, straightforward pop songs in a hearty contralto that reminded us of Stevie Nicks — or maybe it was her high-waisted jeans and Dazed and Confused hairdo.
Would the ensuing artists follow Courtney Jaye's take-it-or-leave-it style? Nope. The next four bands pretty much blurred together. Ravello stuck out, mainly for being the most bombastic. These guys didn't have their sights set just on playing Bonnaroo — they were gunning for a slot on the main stage, baby. This very-well-equipped quartet struck us as a throwback to the Movement Nashville days — what AutoVaughn would have sounded like if they had toted around 36-inch pedalboards and huge, rack-mounted amp heads and effects processors. Imagine kids with Belmont chops playing garden-variety modern arena rock.
Oh No No, Sol Cat and The Electric Hearts followed in succession. We honestly can't remember much to distinguish the three. Oh No No took the stage to a corny canned sound collage that fell flat. Lead singer dude tried to get the crowd to clap along to some grooves, but the beer drinkers were having none of it. Then, with the closest attempt at a "gimmick" we saw all night, he tried to throw garbage bags full of balloons out to the crowd. They immediately fell to the ground, and we saw a handful of people in the crowd proceed to stomp on them. Yikes. By the third song it reminded us of Lenny Kravitz. It got a lukewarm response.
Sol Cat lost us at the name. There was a dude with a bandanna around his forehead singing. From the back of the room, he looked like Steven Tyler and sounded a bit like him too. By this time, the room was getting full, but most people seemed to be more interested in smoking on the deck than participating in the battle of the bands. The Electric Hearts followed with standard-fare classic riff rock fronted by a gal who was singing like she was at Madison Square Garden.
During the changeover, we figured it was definitely time for another drink. And a shot. Our spirits lifted as Fly Golden Eagle hammered straight into a groovin' soul number featuring some pretty out-there licks by a cat on sax. The second song, a Spiritualized-inspired droney jam, was badass. We rejoiced in finally seeing a band kick out some rock 'n' roll that sounded like it had been brewed in a sweaty basement on the East Side rather than in a Belmont studio. And for the first time of the evening, the crowd actually came alive! Chants of "One More Song!" broke out while Fly Golden Eagle packed up their shit and got back to drinking.
So, Captain Midnight Band is a jam band, but honestly, we haven't had so much fun watching a jam band in years. With a frontman wearing sunglasses with green glowing eyes and a conical Vietnamese hat, this was a band that was born to play Bonnaroo. And really, as jam bands go, it was pretty impressive. Slappin' bass and Trey-inspired guitar solos — if only there had been passed-out hippies and the smell of a Porta-Potty, the illusion would have been complete.
Nashville veteran and renaissance man Tyler James had the unenviable task of closing the show with his new project, Escondido. We are suckers for any kind of spaghetti Western-inspired tunes, and especially big tremolo guitars, of which Escondido gave us a heavy dose. James and the band, comprised of familiar Nashville pros, seemed content to play backup to a fresh-faced blond vocalist who sounded eerily similar to Nikki Lane. It's a shame they played at the end of the night, when most of the thinning crowd was ready to leave (including us). We would have loved to see a longer set of the desert rock.
So the night ended with us casting our vote (hint: we voted for winners Fly Golden Eagle) and taking stock of "the state of the scene" as we walked back to our car. But with news that our faves won that 'Roo slot, at least we got a good night's sleep.