The same Remains, the song
In 45 years, we hope we even remember what it means to rock, much less kick as much ass as The Remains did Thursday night. We showed up to the Nashville Film Fest closing party at The Cannery trying, best we could, to block out everything we knew about the band and listen with fresh ears. That was pretty hard, though, since we kept thinking to ourselves, "They opened for The Beatles. They opened for The Beatles. They opened for The Beatles." Other than that, we totally kept our cool. (To the band's credit, they never brought that up.)
Way deep down (which isn't actually that far), we were secretly afraid that this was going to turn out like some nightmarish version of those PBS specials where all the teen idols of the '50s come out and sing their hit(s) in really bad shirts, and the camera sweeps around the stage way too much. And to be honest, there was a moment or two (maybe three) where the vibe threatened to get all cruise ship on us. But that didn't last.
Dancing broke out sporadically. People pumped their fists. There was sweat involved. A friend of The Spin who is roughly one-third the Remains' median age leaned in and said, "This is so fucking cool." Singer, Nashvillian and erstwhile Emmylou sideman Barry Tashian reminded us that The Remains' "Why Do I Cry" was featured in Superbad, and soon thereafter his son, Daniel, joined the band onstage, holding and playing approximately seven various shakers, tambourines and maracas. Jonell Mosser and Greta Gaines then came up to percuss and sing backup on the band's slick treatment of the old Willie Dixon joint, "Diddy Wah Diddy."
It may have taken a while to stoke the rock 'n' roll fires, but once they did, they damn near burned the place down. They followed their classic Nugget "Don't Look Back" (which absolutely killed) with a raved-up, mannish-boyish blues stomp-slash-psychedelic noise freak-out—complete with mic-stand slide guitar and wild drum fills—that blew us away. Yeah, they opened for The Beatles. Maybe it should have been the other way around.
Occupying the farm
If Philly's lo-fi rockers The War on Drugs had a somewhat late start for their show at the Exit/In on Sunday, it can be forgiven. With a 12-hour trek from Denton, Texas, that day at the tail end of a nearly three-month tour across the States, they were no doubt a tad frazzled. But if their asses were a little numb, their opening set for local retro-rocker David Vandervelde hardly showed it, as lead singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel bantered happily to a rather thin crowd that nestled in the dark where the band could hardly see them. Gliding between tape loops, battered keyboards and carefully modified guitar sounds—a string of pedals laid out beneath his feet to capture every hook's texture—Granduciel flung lyrics into the mic as drummer Mike Zanghi battered his kit furiously, and bassist Dave Hartley kept his own stage left. Live staples "Taking the Farm" and "Arms Like Boulders" set the momentum for the night, but it was lesser-known tracks from their roster that made a lasting impact to a crowd mostly unfamiliar with their work. As they roared through "Needle in Your Eye #16," which sent synth-induced vibrations through the floors, and hammered out a more upbeat rendition of the originally even-keeled "Barrel of Batteries" (and was that some new material we heard there in the middle?), The War on Drugs seemed to attract more than a few converts. One latecomer even doused the band with approval, glad to hear some genuine, street-level rock rather than the bleeding-heart pop at the DMB/Mraz show he apparently attended the night before. The performance may not have featured the band in full form, as they're wont to have a rotating cast onstage—including backup guitar from founder Kurt Vile, who opted out of the tour, and even a second drummer—when further north. But whether shorthanded, tired or blasting the amps for a modest crowd, these guys make damn sure the war continues and they meet any skirmish head-on.
Cursive the drinking class
When we entered the Mercy Lounge Sunday night for what felt like the millionth time in the past two weeks, comedian Andrew Wright took to the stage. Now, we imagine opening for touring bands with a one-man stand-up routine to be a daunting task to say the least, but the prospect seems even more impossible when the person onstage happens not to be very funny. Such was the case for poor Wright, who had a hard time eliciting even pity laughs. He took a page from Jeff Foxworthy in a bit called "You might be a squatter if..." and even dabbled with Carrot Top-styled prop comedy. When you take your cues from Jeff Foxworthy and Carrot Top, you're all but guaranteed to fail with the indie rock crowd. A guy at a table near the front said, "This is sad. It makes me want to kill myself with shards of plastic," which was way funnier than anything Andrew Wright said.
We noticed some gear being loaded in just as Wright's routine began. Turns out that was Man Man, who showed up late for reasons unknown to us. Since they missed soundcheck earlier in the day, it meant an hour delay before their set. Since last we caught the band, the composition of their crowd has taken some odd turns. Sure, the tragically hip were in full force, but so were some popped collars and two of the most annoying hippie girls ever to stand next to us. But really, after thinking about it, Man Man's quasi-circus jams might not be all that far removed from what we understand to be hippie jams. They employ the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to instrumentation while bellowing out big choruses, all the while maintaining an aesthetic that hints that maybe as listeners we're supposed to be on the drugs. Luckily they don't jam out with guitar and keyboard solos, and their stage presence makes for an entertaining show even if their songs are kinda forgettable. The one thing that has remained unquestionably constant since last we saw the group: They're still the weird band of choice for people who don't listen to weird music.
Headlining the tour was Omaha's Cursive, a band that we should probably go ahead and admit to having seen countless times in the early aughts. We followed the band right up to The Ugly Organ but have little idea what they've been up to ever since. It was as if we were entering a portal, back to a time when the word "emo" was most often confused with a large, flightless bird. The songs they were playing when we saw the band over and over again six years ago are still getting heavy rotation in the band's set lists, and they still inspire packed venues to shout the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
In the middle of the set, Cursive frontman Tim Kasher threatened to jump on the next train outside the Mercy Lounge, never to be seen again, if he didn't play the best show of his life that night. He proved he still has the ability to command a crowd, each member of which was dead quiet when he whispered, and pumping their fists every time he shredded his throat. We don't know if it was the best show of his life, but it was just as good as the times we saw him all those years ago.
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