Tennessee weather really has a way of pissing in The Spin's Cheerios from time to time. Between Record Store Day, Rites of Spring, Jerry Lee Lewis and all the other marvelous goings-on in Music City over the weekend, we couldn't have been more excited about kicking things off with a little bit of Public Enemy and a little bit of The National at Vanderbilt on Friday night. But as we watched red splotches roll across the Doppler — and as we watched Rites of Spring's official Twitter account announce delays and, ultimately, cancellations — we wondered if Zeus was ever going to let up for a damn minute and allow us to enjoy ourselves.
Word finally came at 10:20 p.m. that Vanderbilt's Alumni Lawn was opening its gates, though only headliners Sara Bareilles, Public Enemy and The National would play. The absolute cut-off point was to be 1:30 a.m., so each act would only deliver an abridged set. We filed onto the damp lawn as slowly but surely, ecstatic young students came streaming in, arm in arm and singing along with Bareilles' lyrics. She played Cee Lo Green's "Fuck You," that Mumford and Sons song with the "I really fucked it up this time" lyric in it ("Little Lion Man") and her tune from all the commercials. (It's called "Love Song," appropriately enough, and the Vandy crowd really seemed to love it.) The whole set, brief as it was, felt very iTunes commercial-y, but Bareilles was a sport about the whole shitty weather thing — plus, seeing her T-shirts next to Public Enemy's in the merch tent made for an entertaining juxtaposition.
Despite the conditions, hoards of folks eventually showed up, and we loved seeing the youngsters defy Zeus by paying homage to eternally on-point OGs Public Enemy amid intermittent bursts of rain — even though they cheered wildly for Flavor Flav and seemed to have no idea who Chuck D is. With founding member Professor Griff back among their ranks, P.E. killed it, though sound during the first song was akin to watching one of those "Shreds" YouTube videos — instruments and vocals sliding around all over the place, one at a time, until a solid mix was sorted out. Nevertheless, even with limited time, Chuck D doled out pearls of wisdom, urging us not to be robots and to support emerging hip-hop. Quality, quality stuff.
Now, The Spin are big fans of The National. Seriously. But on a damp, cold night with a lot of college kids who wanted to drink and rock, tunes from their top-notch records High Violet and Alligator made for a strangely austere soundtrack. Regardless, they played well, and frontman Matt Berninger asked the crowd if anyone knew why Ted Danson was on his flight to Nashville. (We know why! Danson's wife, Mary Steenburgen, has been hanging around in Nashville ever since she shot the pilot for an upcoming TV show called Outlaw Country here.) Anyhow, in most anticlimactic fashion, sound was cut off completely at 1:25 a.m. — right in the middle of The National's last song. Bummer.
No time to nurse our hangovers on Saturday morning, however, as we rolled out of bed and headed straight to a mysterious mayoral press conference at Third Man Records. (Yes, that means we missed out on all of the special Record Store Day releases, which mostly sold out at Grimey's and The Groove. No, we're not happy about missing that boat.) With word that Mayor Karl Dean was going to present his inaugural Music City Ambassador Award to a noted musician — hmmm ... whoever was it going to be? — we waited beneath gray skies for Third Man's daffodil-colored Garage Door of Mystique to roll up. Inevitably it did, and Mayor Dean delivered a few words about (guess who!) Jack White's contributions to Music City's ... well, musical image. He also spoke about the importance of arts education in public schools — a huge deal to us, obviously — before bringing out White and presenting him with a plaque. Despite the fact that it probably wasn't White's first plaque-reception rodeo, he seemed genuinely humbled by the gesture — he said little, but expressed gratitude to both the mayor and to the citizens of Nashville. (By the way, contributor Adam Gold got some face time with Mayor Dean, and he'll have a report on that later.)
The next time The Garage Door of Mystique rolled up, it was for an unfortunate announcement from TMR rep Ben Swank: Due to concerns over the weather and a desire to record a quality live album, Jerry Lee Lewis' concert would be delayed until the following day at 1 p.m. Swank ended his PSA with the words "Swank out!" before disappearing back behind his yellow partition — though we totally saw him use a normal, unceremonious door just a couple of minutes later. After leaving, we discovered that Lewis still performed an indoor set for friends, family and inner-circle types, but we're not livid about it or anything. As you'll see from our coverage of Sunday, we still got our opportunity to watch The Killer kill.
The rest of our Record Store Day was spent bouncing mainly between The Groove and Grimey's — both of which were well attended. At The Groove, we watched New Wave coeds Nite Nite bring their nocturnal nuances out in the daylight (think second-generation The Cure or Joy Division for the modern barfly set) and up-and-coming Spin fave Evan P. Donohue (think Elvis Costello and Buddy Holly tunes from a capable, record-collecting college student) rock as much as anyone can in 50-degree weather. We also saw a song and a bit of material from frequent Spin accomplice Chris Crofton, who kept it mostly clean and played a delightful tune about the perils of dating someone who's obsessed with astrology.
Over at Grimey's, we mostly thumbed through racks of old vinyl and shot the shit with our fellow audiophiles. We even bumped into the folks who made Better Than Something: Jay Reatard, which was screening to a full house downstairs in The Basement. We heard tunes from Gabe Dixon as well as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, but the MVP award goes to Jonas Stein of Turbo Fruits, whom we saw at Third Man, The Groove and Grimey's, peddlin' releases from his label, Turbo Time Records. That night, the Spin soldiers split up, opting for the garage-rock sounds of Hunx and His Punx with Shannon and the Clams at The End and/or The Greenhornes with Hacienda at Mercy Lounge over Kid Cudi et al. at the second installment of Rites of Spring.
All Killer, no filler
We're pretty damn pleased that the Jerry Lee Lewis live portion of Third Man's Record Store Day block party was postponed due to frigid, windy weather conditions that likely would've compromised the show's live recording. Although we can't help but note that, had the show gone ahead as planned, there would've been a whole lot more shakin' goin' on — you know, because it was cold and stuff. Anyway, The Killer gig did go ahead Saturday, just not as planned, but as a private, live rehearsal inside Third Man's Blue Room.
While we regrettably missed the opportunity to finagle our way into that Record Store Confidential rock show, the postponement did free up our Saturday schedule, allowing us to visit Grimey's for The Mattoid's final, full-band performance in Nashville. While it was a little hard to shout along to "Party Time" with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes, the emotional warmth of the moment more than assuaged our biting shivers, coating our cold goose flesh in broken, Finnish folk-speech.
The other reason we — and probably everyone else who made it back to Third Man on Sunday — were pleased at the rescheduling is that it was absolutely gorgeous out. And since The Spin hardly ever gets out to see the light of day, we were all about soaking in the mild rays at a sublime, sunny Sunday sock-hop courtesy of one of the last surviving first-generation rockers.
So, how was it? Well, at a spry 75 years old, The Killer was still, well, killer. His voice — now a rich, aged-like-wine croon — sounded killer as he soothed the crowd with an early-in-set rendition of "Georgia on My Mind." Appearing in a dapper black-slacks-and-vest get-up, he was dressed to kill. When his slow-drawled banter was intelligible, his jokes killed, like when he introduced "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again" by saying that he literally wishes he could be 18 again. "I know I cain't, but I wish ... " he joked. And when Lewis tickled the ivories, he did so with the precise, rapid-fire trigger fingers of an infantry air-gunner. And a succinct, rollicking set list that featured classic staples the likes of "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and, of course, "Great Balls of Fire" was, well, all Killer, no filler.
As much as we came out to see Jerry Lee, we were just as enthralled by his backing pickup band to end all pickup bands, featuring the sick licks of guitar-slinging soul man Steve Cropper, rhythm picker Kenny Lovelace, Third Man house bassist "Little" Jack Lawrence — who we'd seen a mere 13 hours earlier knockin' a packed Mercy Lounge dead with a killer Greenhornes performance — and characteristically aviator-sporting, skin-beating session legend Jim Keltner, who kept heads young and old bobbing to the Midas touch of his swingin' eighth notes. Still, the man commanding much of the crowd's attention was onstage interloper, part-time-master-of-ceremonies, interpretive dancer, soda roadie and actor, Edward James Olmos (yes, really), who loved and left the Nashville crowd more bewildered than one of James Brown's former flames with his perennial side-stage presence. And we thought Flavor Flav would be this weekend's most notable hype man. Weird.
The final Road to Rooin'
Despite our disappointing loss early in the evening, a trivia-defeated Spin took consolation in the promising performances that constituted Road to Bonnaroo Round Three on Monday night.
PUJOL led the night off with a hitch-free "Keeper of Atlantis." Frontman Daniel Pujol announced that the guys (now a three-piece) were going to play a new song by their new band Providence, thereby muddling the PUJOL picture — but piquing our curiosity. The band signed off with that slick li'l dune buggy of a jam "Black Rabbit," sans the dual wailing during the outro. Sigh.
The Clutters tore through three fiery and graceful numbers — one of which was that cowbell jam from their forthcoming Breaking Bones. It was a raucous mix of leader Doug Lehmann's id and a chugging, erratic sense of rhythm seemingly taught in a Pixies' math course. Ever faithful in our marriage to the local rock scene, The Spin was pulling for The Clutters pretty sincerely.
Speaking of matrimony, husband-and-wife duo Action! was celebrating their two-year wedding anniversary and donned their ceremonial garb for the set's entirety. Their tinny guitar mixed with bare but bombastic drumming had The Spin in a trance. Hints of Breeders and Stereolab filled the air during the couple's harmonies, which lingered as another duo, Tallest Trees, set up their bells and whistles.
By subjecting the audience to a six-minute mixture of feedback and live transmissions from NASA's moon landing, Tallest Trees reminded The Spin that A) those astronauts busted their asses in school, and B) RTB requires concision. By the time Tallest Trees' drummer kicked in, their set had nearly expired. That said, The Spin does not deny TT the woozy jam they created, Animal Collective-y though it might have been.
Uncle Skeleton assembled their 12-piece band and launched into some very jazzy and eccentric numbers. They were repetitive and distant at times (like brainy background music with pleasant electronic flourishes), but The Spin would definitely pay to see US again, as they pulled off one of the more masterful sets.
Though a bit generic, Kingston Springs at least brought the rawk to Mercy Lounge's stage, and The Spin took a liking to the singer's voice — not unlike The Features' Matt Pelham crossed with a bit of Karen O — and we commend their straightforwardness.
We'd never heard of Cherub, and the male duo solidified their identity as imports once they launched into a set of throbbing electronic, raising the question: What instruments are these guys playing? To their credit, speckles of guitar were played manually, and their sound, though trashy, was au courant in a greasy way.
Sarah Silva closed 2011 RTB III with a proficient — however melismatic — set of piano-based rock. Though you won't find any Silva spinning on The Spin's turntable anytime soon, her set was relatively original — despite how much The Spin enjoyed pretending we were watching Pat Benatar.
In the end, Uncle Skeleton wooed the voters and judges, and will thusly be lugging their countless instruments to Manchester this summer.
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