Side projects? Supergroups? New bands with familiar faces? Fine lines separate them all, and each definition has a lot to do with intent and level of commitment. With Jonas Stein and David Bermudez's party-time DJ troupe Sparkle City spinning records on FooBar's smaller side Friday night, the bar's roomier side hosted a smattering of what might have well been at least one example of each, but The Spin doesn't carry a fine enough blade to split those kinds of hairs.
We walked in to catch the latter half of Kings of the F**King Sea's set — in this case, the asterisks are apparently intentional. Despite their self-proclaimed nautical majesty, guitarist, singer, former Immortal Lee County Killer and current Ultra S/C Chet Weise and Ettes drummer Poni Silver don't veer far into uncharted waters. Rather, the two charge full-speed into their best-known strengths — viscera-jostling volume and mayhem, namely — to forge a familiar and furious form of blues punk that occasionally drifts into guitar-pedal madness.
Next up was Music Band, which wins the award for most subversively pedestrian band name of the year. Sonically ... it's The Sonics. It's the under-25 Nuggets compilation tribute band you've come to know and enjoy that is currently touring under several hundred different names. But The Spin isn't griping. We'd much rather hear lackadaisical three-chord psychedelic stomp than go back to watching the kids wear their girlfriend's jeans and scream about their feelings.
Like the rest of the world, The Spin has come to know and love Jem Cohen as the bottom-end-and-vocal-reinforcement dude stage-left of Ettes frontwoman Coco Hames. But we're always curious to see a sideman step out front to show off what he's been holding back. Strapped with a twangy six-string Rickenbacker and backed by bassist Joey Plunket and fellow Ette Silver on drums, Cohen's apparently been stashing a few jangle-pop cards up his sleeve. Coupling Byrds-y riffs with a subdued power-pop delivery held up well against Cohen's faint but endearing voice.
For JP5, Cohen and Plunket swapped positions (this time with the former on guitar and vocals and the latter on bass and backgrounds), with Adrian Barrera and hardcore enthusiast Cy Barkley thrown in on guitar, and Rachel Horton subbing in on drums. The word "supergroup" crossed our mind briefly, before it occurred to us that JP5 is just short for The Joey Plunket Five — meaning this is undoubtedly mostly Plunket's solo outing. A little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, Plunket's songwriting took center stage with a Southern-tinged series of sing-along power-pop gems that had us wondering why the hell this guy hadn't started a band upon moving here a few years ago. Totally worth breathing in a night's worth of smoke-infused FooBar air for.
Hear me roar
Robin Eaton's warehouse studio space in Berry Hill isn't open to the public very often, but it was a music venue in a past life, and The Spin found it quite comfortable and accommodating. Sort of like the old Zombie Shop with a nest of high-end recording gear in the middle, lots of padding on the walls, and a well-tuned P.A. on the substantial stage. Before we got lost in a daydream about making records at Club Roar on Saturday night, we heard William Tyler tuning up, and noticed a friend in the crowd grimacing. "I think I might regret coming to this show," he said. "I just dusted off my classical guitar, and I was feeling pretty good about how much I remembered."
Tyler performed solo, showing off his top-shelf chops in the realm of "American primitive," a denomination of instrumental fingerpicked guitar music championed by John Fahey and with adherents as diverse as Leo Kottke and Six Organs of Admittance — and also a genre defined about as concretely as "modern dance." A shimmering composition on the 12-string electric opened the set, as Tyler commented that he hoped to bring the instrument back from its exile in pop music — an exile brought on by overexposure via the theme song from Friends (i.e., The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There For You"). "Tears and Saints" from 2010's Behold the Spirit also made an appearance, in which Tyler engaged a pulsing Pops Staples-by-way-of-Sandy Bull vibrato on his amplifier, using its periodic silences as an inaudible metronome. A highbrow technique, for sure, but like the other tricks in his bag, used subtly and for the sake of the song, rather than to impress us with his skill.
Tyler introduced "The World Set Free," which closes his forthcoming Merge Records LP Impossible Truth, by addressing both his choice to write instrumentals and the cloud hanging over the local music scene in the wake of local rock 'n' roll dude Ben Todd's death and impending political crises. Our notes are smudged, but to paraphrase: "In a town full of songwriters, it seems contrarian to get onstage with a guitar and not sing. I've got a lot to say, but I don't know how to say it with words anymore. ... A lot of my songs are about nostalgia, or some other way of dealing with that anxiety that everyone gets." Guitar in hand, Tyler built a delicately balanced ecosystem of acoustic patterns with his looping pedal, only to send the whole thing exploding into space with an apocalyptic 12-string fireball, accompanied by glimmering shards of debris echoing back from his delay unit.
As we recovered, we watched Angel Olsen and her rhythm section set up. Like Kim Novak in Bell, Book and Candle, with a Danelectro in place of Pyewacket the Siamese cat, the young Missourian-cum-Chicagoan cast her spell over the room from the first bars of set-opener "Miranda," instantly killing all audience chatter. Olsen's voice is robust — she's the only singer in recent memory who we've seen ask for less in vocal in her monitor — and has its own unique timbre. It's warm but not overwhelming, breaking into a Patsy Cline yodel, a Nina Simone wail, or a Grace Slick croon when called for. Rarely outside of mid-20th century country do we hear a yodel drip with anything but self-conscious irony, but from her time as a member of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's troupe and in touring her own work, Olsen has perfected her control over it and other techniques; like Tyler, she used her techniques sparingly, and so to even greater effect. In few places was that more apparent than "The Sky Opened Up," a hypnotic drive through "White Rabbit" country in which Olsen and her able two-man rhythm crew conveyed a complex sense of wonder and foreboding that Jefferson Airplane never quite nailed.
'Round midnight, Richie Kirkpatrick and his rambunctious Ri¢hie rascals took over the stage. Where the other two acts succeeded by virtue of restraint, Kirkpatrick & Co. capped the night by going over the top in the best way possible: a double rhythm section, with the Matt Martin-Jeff Ehlinger drum tag team, and the double-bass section of Aaron Wahlman on bass proper and Grant Gustafson on the baritone guitar. Tongues planted firmly in cheek, they delivered a not-unusual set, which is to say it was a sterling, high-power mating of nimble garage rock with all the best excesses of arena rock and glam. Riffs and Van Halen licks whipped out of Kirkpatrick's pocket like a switchblade comb as he warned us about the power of "Wild Forces," and how taking a sex poll on the Internet might change your life in the new number "No, No, Yeah." Ri¢hie announced again that the new album is nearly ready for public consumption, and on that bit of hopeful news, we slipped into the night.