Since there wasn't any big-ticket attraction to catch The Spin's eye last weekend (and perhaps Lollapalooza is responsible for sucking in all the touring action), we instead opted to drift around and check some of the local talent. So in between summer storms and marathon stretches of Olympics viewing at Casa de Spin — if watching the Olympics was an Olympic event, The Spin could easily take home a medal — we swung on by The Basement, Brick Factory and The Zombie Shop, peeping some tunes from the local set and doing our best to stay hydrated in the oppressive mugginess.
Our weekend began with the triumphant return of Ponychase at The Basement on Friday night. We showed up just after 10, but managed to catch the last few numbers from the melodically transfixing Echo Group. Featuring members of former 'Boro-based garage- and pop-minded rock 'n' rollers We Were the States (do you think they considered the name We Were We Were the States for this outfit?) plus a three-piece horn section, Echo Group definitely makes a savvy breed of indie rock that The Spin can get behind. We've mentioned before that — with their soaring melodies and tight little arrangements — Echo Group reminds us a bit of The Walkmen. But that's certainly something we're OK with.
Up next was the only non-Nashvillian group we saw all weekend. Louisville's The Deloreans are quirky and weird and intriguing, but not in that cloying, weird-for-weird's-sake manner that reveals a lack of originality. No, The Deloreans are genuinely weird, a pack of unlikely-looking and talented performers who somehow mesh the sophistication and proficiency of, say, The Shins with the unpredictability and verve of classic proto-punks The Monks. With his impossibly catchy and nimble power-pop vocals and striking countenance, frontman Jeremy Perry certainly held our attention, especially during tunes like the howling "Attacked by a Panther" and a big, glorious rendition of Misfits' "London Dungeon" — the latter of which was dedicated to the London Olympics, naturally.
And then Ponychase, back after a stretch of time focusing on other projects, wrapped up the night with their stellar strain of brooding synth pop. We totally dig the various members' contributions to Little Bandit, Tristen and Forget Cassettes, but it had been too long since our last dose of the Pony. Frontwoman Jordan Caress quite obviously has an affinity for Cyndi Lauper, Sinead O'Connor, Eurythmics and any number of '80s pop and New Wave behemoths, but we're not sure even she realizes just how wonderfully her influences translate. Combine that with the top-notch playing of guitarist Beth Cameron, the moody keyboard prowess of Jordan's brother Alex and the tight, succinct playing of newly added electronic drummer Brian Siskind, and you've got one of The Spin's favorite additions to the local scene.
On Saturday evening, we resolved to break our Olympic Fever with the post-Art Crawl festivities going on at local collective/art space Brick Factory. Out back on the loading dock, longtime local rock 'n' roller Joel McAnulty delivered a solo set as Phantom Farmer that functioned as an informal album release for his latest effort, Beta. It was a set of folky songs about McAnulty's inclusive, populist sense of spirituality, complete with the proclamation that he, as a preacher's son, is waging "war on fundamentalism." In his creamy tenor, McAnulty sang about how "God loves fags" and so on, peppering his lyrics with occasional swear words, perhaps to illustrate that he's not your conventional Christian.
No Regrets Coyote then returned us to our days of playing in high school bands, copping pop-punk riffs and delivering some melodies from the Rivers Cuomo School of Songwriting. NRC clearly fits right into the Diarrhea Planet-led, freshly-drinking-age clan of happy hardcore. It's not especially mature, but it's perfectly good drink-along youngster punk for kiddies to fist-pump to, and therefore it's probably not suited for a cynical, aging demographic.
The Brick Factory festivities concluded with a set from Big Surr. Recently reunited and playing out again, Big Surr also fits in with that whole Diarrhea Planet party aesthetic of which we previously spoke, which makes sense thanks to the two bands' shared members. We've pointed out in the past that these youngsters are somewhat Best Coasty — you know, sunshiny, 'verby punk-pop tunes — and we're still comfortable with that comparison. Neat, familiar little pop progressions with enjoyable solos dropped in here and there. Plus, the guitarmonies in "You Got Somethin' " are certainly choice.
And then, rolling up to Zombie for Poly's release show, we came to realize we've never heard tones so dulcet leaking through the garage's open windows. Much to our chagrin, we were informed via text message that Cortney Tidwell had dropped off the bill, but frequent Nikki Lane sidewoman (and credible singer-songwriter in her own right) Carey Kotsionis — joined by producer Adam Landry — stepped in to fill the void. Kotsionis was already midway through her set of rootsy folk tunes by the time we found our way inside. We can only assume that the Tidwell-shaped hole was thus being filled by a rare appearance from The Sways, the duo's long-thought-dormant "pop-icana" band. Stripped down to just Kotsionis and Landry for the night, their songs felt a bit more "-icana" than "pop," but it sounded pleasant enough.
The crowd seemed apprehensive about folk music being played in a place more known as a garage-rock mecca than anything else. Unwilling to break the invisible barrier formed by the two-man camera crew (aka Poly frontwoman Larissa Maestro's parents) and a pile of toy instruments in the center of the room, the uninitiated looked as if they weren't so sure about this whole Zombie Shop thing. Until a few folks bravely stepped forward, most of the crowd hung back by the merch booth, eyeing the ongoing Duck Hunt and Soulcalibur games by the bathroom and shifting uncomfortably. Poly gathered us all in a circle around their pile of instruments and bade us to shut the hell up. Instead of setting up onstage and playing through a PA system that may or may not have caught fire at least once, Poly went fully acoustic in the center of the garage.
As much as our inner snotty teenage punk hates us for it, we really dig Poly. Maestro, Eleonore Denig and Dan Sommers have managed to weave together something that is poppy on a primordial level. It's pure, uncut, '60s-style chamber pop, fraught with references to Cary Grant and covers of Henry Mancini and Buddy Holly songs. These sorts of things can go one of two ways: It either turns gooey and saccharine, like a Zooey Deschanel movie come to horrible, musical life, or it winds up being perfectly charming, successfully walking the tightrope between cute and cloying. Poly, thankfully, fits neatly into the latter category. Terminally polka-dotted but never precious, the band hints at something playful and childlike without ever bending toward self-aware irony.
We took in a bit of the bossa nova trio, made up of various Uncle Skeletons in what may be their last performance before Uncle Skeleton bandleader Ross Wariner peaces out to New York, and ducked outside for as long as we could stand before Natalie Prass took stage. We haven't seen Prass doing her solo stuff in quite some time, but we recalled her being charming in a Feist-y singer-songwriter sort of way. That still holds as true as ever, and we'd love to see her make some big moves toward indie rock like Tristen did as she was working out the songs on her debut record.
On the other hand, we once saw Prass at The Zombie Shop as one-third of a cool garage rock trio called MOM, and honestly, we were sort of jonesing for those tunes. It wasn't to be, but we did get a hell of a cover of "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, which was a good enough moment to end the night on — while grown adults doodled kitties on the venue floor with chalk behind us.