COMUSIC REVIEW – Big Medicine, Mercer and Johnson @ Mojo’s

It’s January 12, 2013. Columbia is still in winter break mode – quieter in some ways but with a sense that the students will soon return and things will adjust to normal after the Holidays and the hangover of sorts that accompany them. As the second weekend of the year arrives the weather is suddenly getting colder and there’s talk of snow. There’s also several shows going on around town in spite of the sleet and snow that came in the early evening.

Burrows was supposed to play but got either snowed in or iced in after their show in KC the night before, making this an all local band show.

Mercer and Johnson navigating the bittersweet

 

Mercer and Johnson opened the night off with a mix of original songs and covers of some roots/country (real country) favorites. Beginning with just mandolin and bass, their songs of life, love, and longing had a bittersweet tinge to them. A switch to acoustic guitar a little over halfway through the set shifted the aural textures but the vibe remained. A mix of storytelling and longing permeated their set by this road tested local duo. Readers who are into more grittier roots music and country will definitely want to check this act out.

 

Eddie and Craig of Big Medicine

Big Medicine came on shortly after for their first show in over a year. Taking advantage of the vibe, they unleashed a set of roots rock full of driving beats and a vibe that’s almost equally rooted in honky-tonk country as in blues or early rock’n’roll. While the set was slightly sloppy (very understandable given the down time they had) there was a lot of energy here that got the crowd who braved the storm to make it here. Driving drums and blazing guitars were in full effect here until the end. Good to see Big Medicine playing again.

After the show, the crowd hung out, paid their tabs, and made small talk in an attempt to avoid the inevitable venture into the winter storm situation outside Mojo’s. As we ventured into the inevitable snow and what that entailed, many of us had wondered what would be ahead. In the next week students would return to town and life would slowly veer back to business as usual. For now, it was winter weather and hoping things weren’t too bad tomorrow.

CoMusic: Johnny Cash Tribute

I grew up watching Elvis impersonators croon and swagger, so when I headed to the Blue Note to see One More Round, a Johnny Cash tribute band, I had low expectations. I thought that I might see an amusing show and hear my favorite Cash tunes. One More Round had something else to offer though: Four extremely talented musicians who put on a great show from start to finish. They are returning to the Blue Note on February 11th to do it again.

One More Round consists of Bill Forness as Johnny Cash, Tara Schmittgens as June Carter, Brandon Jacoby as Luther Perkins (guitar), Matt Davis as Marshall Grant (bass), and Benet Schaeffer as W.S. Holland (drums). At their show on December 9th, they played thirty songs, a full two hours. Forness, who has a mother named June, talked with me after the show.

Did your mother like June Carter and follow her music?

She did not. But my grandmother and grandfather did. My mother did like old country, and I grew up around it. My step-grandfather was a picker, and my uncle actually lives in Nashville and was a singer/songwriter for Tree Publishing House for many, many years. He wrote songs for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and different people. I’ve been a singer/songwriter for 25 years and have been playing and writing songs. I started doing cover songs, doing it as a living.

All Johnny?

At first it was an array, like four hour cover shows, just me and the guitar. But the more that I’d do Johnny Cash, the more people would come up and say, “Would you please do this one or that one?” So I started to learn more, and it was being received very, very well. Then there was a breaking point in a restaurant when a guy came up and said, “I’ve been coming to see you play for a while, but I’ve brought my girlfriend. Will you play Ring of Fire tonight?” When I started to play it, he sat her down in front of me and proposed. He said that it was the closest thing to Johnny Cash that he could get. That’s when I said, “I’m going to do this and see if I can make people happy.”

The crowd at the Blue Note was happy the night of the show. Two hard-core Cash fans, one with a large Johnny Cash tattoo on his arm, stood front and center enjoying the show and waiting for their favorite songs: Ring of Fire and Folsom Prison Blues. Seven-year-old Danny O’Toole attended the show with his father Tom, who saw Cash perform years ago in St Louis. Danny’s favorite song is Jackson, a duet that Cash did with his wife June. The band’s June was not able to make it that night. Not only did they manage without her, it turned out to be the song that brought the house down.

You pulled up an audience member to sing that song with you. Do you often do that?

That was the first time. The first time anyone has ever said “I’ll get up there and do it!” It was a blast. It was complete spontaneity.

The band plays well together, and Forness has a great stage presence. They covered all of Johnny Cash’s best known songs and threw in some trivia here and there. I learned that Cash did covers also, and One More Round played some of those: Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, and Soundgarden’s Rusty Cage. They nailed them all, but Rusty Cage, the final song of the night, was one of the best songs that I have experienced live.

Johnny Cash himself once performed on the Blue Note stage. Owner Richard King said in an interview recently that it was his favorite show at the club.

How did it feel to play on the same stage as Johnny Cash?

I was very humbled to perform on the same stage as Johnny Cash and June Carter; that was the first stage I have performed on that they performed on. There was a moment on stage when I felt a calm wash over me, as if I was in the right place, doing the right songs, at the right time. It felt amazing!

I posed a tough question to each band member before we left: If you could only play three Johnny Cash songs for the rest of your life what would they be?

25 Minutes to Go…um…probably “Hurt”, which wasn’t his. Oh, man, there’s just so many that I really like! Probably Ring of Fire.—Bill Forness

I like to keep things peppy, so they’d probably be “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Ring of Fire”, and probably “Get Rhythm”.—Brandon Jacoby

That’s a hard question. One’s got to be “Ring of Fire”. One that we don’t do that I like: “The Ballad of Ira Hays”. My last one would be “Home of the Blues”.—Matt Davis

“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down…Green”, “Green Grass of Home”. They’re all really heart-wrenchers. “Five Feet High and Rising”; I’ll tell you why: The thing about the chickens sleeping in the willow trees…it cracks me up every time.—Benet Schaeffer

One More Round: A Tribute to Johnny Cash. Saturday Feb. 11th, The Blue Note. Doors open at 8; Show starts at 9.

COMUSIC REVIEW – Landlord Holocaust, Kills and Thrills, Dead Icons, and Gay Uncle @ Cafe Berlin.

It’s been a warmer than usual winter so far. There have been a couple moments of snow but nothing much sticking around. Meanwhile the semester is underway and the “holiday” many don’t want to deal with is on its way. So, as February 1st reminds us that it really is 2012, I needed to get out for a bit and decided on this show at Cafe Berlin

Gay Uncle opening up the night.

 

Gay Uncle first caught my ear at a show a couple weeks back so their appearance on this bill was an added bonus. They started off a little slow this time around, but after the first song the duo quickly veered into a set of guitar and drum forged hardcore that neared powerviolence levels of aggression at times. Loud, fast, and in your face, they value intensity and rawness slightly more than precision (though precision is there, make no mistake about that). WIth songs that go by at breakneck speed, Gay Uncle’s music sometimes seems to go by before you know it. However, there’s something here that makes me curious about them. These guys are on the way to becoming one of Columbia’s best underground bands so check them out if you get the chance.

Tearing up the stage - Dead Icons

 

Dead Icons from Kentucky proceeded to take the night into a completely different direction. This quartet threw down a heavy set of metal tinged HC punk with hoarse vocals and lots of scooped tone guitar leading songs set on pummel. Hard edges crunch and double bass drum rolls connected instantly with the kids in the pit. Their songs are more loud, fast audio missiles that aim to explode on contact. Admittedly some can say that Dead Icons’ music leans a lot on metal but the power is evidence regardless when they take over a stage and lay waste to the crowd. While I’d never heard Dead Icons before I saw the flyer for this show there’s something here that makes me curious what they’ll become down the road.

 

Kills and Thrills in action.

After a brief break and the usual tear down and setting up, Kills and Thrills came on to play. From the start this band lead a sonic throw down with some modern sounding HC punk delivered with a heft and intensity that surprised me. Seeming to be one part noise/one part punk fury, their music is dealt out in full force with a singer more than willing to dissolve the barrier between band and the sudience, this band playd hard driving music that takes no prisoners and has the ability to head in unexpected directions. While they take a relatively common dual guitar fired format, they approach it in a way that’s shocking yet somehow comfortable in the process. I’ve tried to explain what they’re about but Kills and Thrills are a band that you have to see live to understand.

Finally, it was time for Landlord Holocaust to wrap up the evening. This local quartet plays vintage influenced stripped down punk built firmly in the three chords loud fast rules camp with power chords in full effect and a straight ahead rhythm section. The band is talented but seemed to be slightly misplaced on the bill, having to close the show when they would’ve been better placed earlier on the bill. The band also appeared to be having an off night, though that could be as much due to bill placement than anything else. Yes, they’re talented and wear their vintage punk roots with pride but right now I feel it best to wait and see this band again before i make a judgement.

Bringing the night to a close with Landlord Holocaust.

 

Then the show was over. Most of us ventured out into the chilly but warmer than usual February night dazed and wondering what’s next. As I headed over to a friend’s house to wish him well on his birthday, I realized how early it turned our (two of the bands had to cancel, shortening the bill significantly). Still, it was a nice way to spend a milder than usual winter night here in Columbia.  I wonder what the rest of the month will be like.

COMUSIC REVIEW – The Hanukkah Jones Band – “Turn Your Head and Scoff” EP

     One thing that seems to be common when I type these reviews is the state of local music. While musicians in this town are playing a wide variety of music they face a wall of indifference from people so convinced that there’s nothing good that comes out of Columbia that they never even bother to check out any local artists to see whether they might be wrong or not. Thankfully not everyone in this town is like that; thus creating a community that, while underground in many ways, has a lot to offer not live in terms of live shows but on disc as well. One disc that piqued my interest lately was the second CD from The Hanukkah Jones Band.

On their latest disc Jon Heller and company offer up six songs that blend power pop hooks with some punk and hard rock attitude. It kicks off with “Hey Padme,” a tale of a dead relationship within a discussion of Star Wars prequels that seems obtuse lyrically but is carried by raw chords and a tasty guitar solo. Along the way, the songs are rockin’ tales regarding introspection, dying, love, life et al delivered with tight rhythms and saturated guitar tones. All the while, Heller’s lyrics carry a mix between pop culture and intellectual thoughts, creating songs that stand apart in many ways from run of the mill pop-punk or indie rock.

There are a number of changes since HJB’s debut CD Rodent Rage both in lineup (Heller is the only member who played on both discs) and soundwise. A slightly slicker production actually highlights the songs and helps the guitar tones stand out in the mix. However, the sonic changes aren’t so much a change in direction as a progression in the band’s aural vision, moving it forward in the process.

The Hanukkah Jones Band aren’t the hipster flavor of the month. However, if you want some melodic straight from the heart rock that’s melodic but also makes you think at times, their new disc is definitely one you should check out,

Comusic Review: Cave, Running, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, Hott Lunch @ Mojo’s

First my apologies for taking so long to get this review up. Last weekend was very busy for me and I didn’t have a lot of time near a computer to put up reviews. While for many people in Columbia last weekend was memorable for Mizzou squashing Texas like a bug (17-5) for music fans it was likely they may have been among the packed crowd at the November 13th show at Mojo’s to see Cave.

Hott Lunch kicking out the jams....

First to play was locals Hott Lunch, who have been getting a bit of word of mouth from the underground. Expanding to a quartet, the band have brought a more psychedelic and hard rock leaning to their music with hard driving guitar hooks, a fair amount of garage rock organ and a lot of hooks. To put it mildly, these guys deliver one of the best rock shows in town. Unfortunately short (a necessarily thing with a four band bill), the band kicked out the jams in about six songs to reveal one of this town’s better bands. It’s been interesting to see Hott Lunch evolve and I’m curious to where their muse will lead them next.

Jeremy of Jerusalem and the Starbaskets

Jerusalem and the Starbaskets came up next and took things in a direction that’s similar, yet markedly different. As when I saw them in St. Louis last month, they still have the trio format.  Musically, they continue to create a melodic sound where vintage acid fried country rock meets noise laden alt rock, walking a thin line between punk, indie, and folk in the process.  This band has always followed its own muse, sometimes too freaky for melodic crowds, sometimes too melodic for freak folk fans.  However, its that unique vision that creates such interesting music and makes every show they do one worth checking out.

Had no clue what Running would be like only to find myself picking my jaw off the floor.  These guys unleashed some pure hardcore punk with hints of noise woven in.  Loud, fast, and in your face, each song came off like a grenade, coming off like a missing link between mid period Black Flag and No Means No.  Ferocious and uncompromising, Running is one of those bands that was like nothing else on the bill yet fit perfectly somehow.  Wish they’d come through here more often.

Running - may not grow on trees but they take the corwd by surprise.

A short time after Running left the stage the crowd grew thick adn slightly restless waiting for Cave to come up and play.  THe formerly local quartet was ready to decimate, diving into a set of mainly instrumental space rock built on drones and repetition with some near Kraut rock influences thrown into the aural mix.  Along the way, the band filtered in influences ranging from pschedelic rock to jazz-funk to pure space music.  Within their lengthy compositions the crowd reaches a slightly hypnotic feel, dancing along as the drones and chords build simemringly to a cresecndo.  While Cave have moved somewhat away from their local noise punk origins, the abdn has honed its hooks into a sonic machine that slowly lures the listener in until they succumb.  Their live shows are something that requires witnessing to truly understand what they’re about.

Three quareters of Cave getting into a locaked aural groove.

Once the show was over and people slowly began to filter out towards parties or whatever, a couple thoughts crossed my mind.  First, this had to be the largest crowd I’d ever seen for a Cavge show in the yearsw I’ve seen them.  Also, three quarters of the band either are or were local (running being the sole exception) though I wonder if anyone knew Cave came from here originally given this city’s antipathy towards local music way too much of the time.  Also, this turned out to be one of those nights that call to mind what Columbia can be (and has had glimpses of in the past).  This was going to be the start of a busy weekend for me  but one where the live shows kept my interest and made me wonder what was ahead as well as think of new ideas to create on my own.  This was an interesting night.

 

COMUSIC REVIEW : IN DEFENCE, THE PROSELYTE, CREATUREZOID, AND THE PHAGGS @ CAFE BERLIN

Saturday April 22 in Columbia, MO. It’s the week after homecoming and the town is in the bizarre state of flux that is part football Saturday, part semi-humid fall weekend day. While there are a few things going on, the town does seem to lack some of the energy it tends to have on a weekend. However, as I got some errands done, I got ready for one of the few shows in this town that would seriously blur the divide between punk and metal. Thus, In Defence were returning to town for the first time since late May.

The Phaggs kicking things off for the night.

First up was local band The Phaggs to kick things off with a definite punk flavor. Diving headfirst into a set of the noisy HC with screamed vocals and guitar that nearly crumbles under its own semi hollow bodied distortion that’s become their signature. However, while their presence on this bill is slightly surprising given the more metal leanings of some of the bands, this trio (on this night anyway) is showing themselves to be the tightest they’ve ever been live. Yes, they definitely owe a nod to early to mid 80s hardcore and its hard to tell what they’re singing about, but Justice and his bandmates have come a long way from the chaotic, nihilistic band that they began as and may be one of the better bands in this town that a lot of people don’t know about.

 

All hail the mighty Creaturezoid.

Definitely flying another sonic flag altogether was Creaturezoid, whom I’d heard about for a couple years but somehow had always missed live due to either obligations I couldn’t get out of or arriving at an afternoon show at Flat Branch Park just as it ended; thus I was interested in hearing them. Their set was pure speed/death metal built on a wall of scooped tone guitar chords, tight songs, and a lot of solos. Dished with a singular power, the band’s songs go for the jugular with a solid footing and an edge that draws from earlier bands but isn’t completely beholden to them. While Columbia isn’t known as a metal town per se, this is a band that could play a vital role in making a dent towards that direction. If you dig thrash and 80s style crossover metal Creaturezoid is definitely worth checking out.

The Proselyte get ready to tear things up.

The Proselyte came from Boston and are on a short leg of a tour with In Defence. Since I’d never heard of them before I was curious to see what’s they’re like as they set up their wall of amps. What emerged from the speakers was doom/stoner metal (for lack of a better term) that arose from midtempo rhythms, a mix of heavy power chords and some bluesy leaning guitar licks and an energy that the band played as their lives depended on it. While there was a huge amount of gear on stage (by Berlin standards, anyway) the band played the fine line between volume and pure aggression as the songs pummeled over the crowd with a swagger that veered from assured to pure noise. They were also the loudest band on the bill with one person noting they stepped outside for a second and could hear everything perfectly. While their type of music isn’t everyone’s quart of brew the Proselyte know their sound and excel at giving the crowd a pure sonic attack that will stick with them.

In Defence: Ready for the Pit

In Defence were about to tear the house down by kind of bringing it back to where it began. The Minneapolis based quintet threw down a short, sharp blast of hardcore punk infused with a definite amount of pure metal throughout. Dual guitars blazed away at these somewhat humorous songs as the crowd got into instant pit mode. There’s a power and energy here that carried the band through a set that was, sadly, too short whether riffing on a new bass drum pedal that broke before it even got used or moshing vs. circle pits, the band maintained their mix of raw energy and hardcore attack that has been their bread and butter live. While there wasn’t the circle pit dance lesson like there was last time they were in town, In Defence again proved their ferocity as what hardcore and metal can come across as when it put together well and actually done right. Once again, they put on a live show you have to see to believe.

Post show, it was off into the Columbia night.  For  Saturday night it seemd unbelievably quiet.  Maybe it was the early afternoon loss the Tigers had to Oklahoma State, maybe it’s the time of the semester.  Regardless, it seemed to be a chilly though reflective contrast to the power and energy that took place inside Cafe Berlin that nigh thanks to the venue, Thorazine Overdose Productions for putting it on, the bands, and those who made it to the show.  This was an interesting way to spend an autumn night; a way I wish others could’ve shared.

 

CoMusic Review – Roots N Blues N Bar B Q Festival Day Two

AUTHOR”S/POSTER’S NOTE: My apologies for the delay between posting the review of the first night of the festival and this post. It had been a busy week and I wasn’t fully able to get this done until now. Also, due to the reach of this day in particular the review will be in two parts out of necessity.

After catching a brief snippet of Sam Bush’s set over at Peace Park, I realized it was time to walk over to Flat Branch Park and the Community Stage to see Cabin Sessions play a fairly rare live show. The local collective of songwriters did an acoustic set that ranged from introspective indie pop to folk and country and back, all while maintaining some kind of group identity. Fresh off their latest recording session the previous week, the band played mostly old chestnuts but did offer up a new song or two along the way. It was a fairly breezy affair that stretched some of the roots and blues definition while remaining more true to the intent of both than some acts.

 

The Cabin Sessions at Flat Branch Park

Unfortunately, on the way back to the main stage, festival favorites the Music Makers Review were still setting up and not playing yet.so I wasn’t able to see thir set. However, after getting some dinner I did make it to Peace Park in time for Dale Watson to play. Backed by the Lonestars on fiddle and pedal steel as well as The Texas Two on upright bass and drums, Watson gave the crowd some pure honky tonk country in a uniquely Tejas manner. Twangy songs about drinking, women and the state of country music is Watson’s bread and butter and he delivered to a largely appreciative crowd. This was my first time seeing him and he didn’t disappoint. At a time when country music seems increasingly to be pop with a dobro or a fiddle, it’s always good to hear what real country sounds like.

 

Dale Watson

And now here’s the rash decision of the night. Robert Cray Band was playing the main stage while Los Lobos was playing the stage at Peace Park. Wanting to see both but knowing there was no perfect solution, I decided to see the first five songs of RCB (mainly cause it was supposed to start about 15 minutes earlier). While I couldn’t see the whole thing, Cray and his band laid down some take no prisoners electric blues with plenty of guitar and organ interplay and songs about betrayal, loss, love, and the like. If circumstances were different I would’ve stayed but when two really good bands are at a festival like this sometimes you have to see a bit of both. Will definitely have to see a whole set from Robert Cray sometime in the future.

Robert Cray Band in action

Made it over to Peace Park partway through Los Lobos’ set with Sam Bush was sitting in on violin for much of it. At the time I arrived, they were doing several Latin flavored numbers. However, the band’s diversity was on fire tonight as they played everything from moody ballads to uptempo rockers to even a covers of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and were joined by a member of the Music Makers Review for “Sweet Home Chicago.” It was one of those nights with a packed crowd at Peace Park, making it hard to move even though the music almost makes you do so. While the night was somewhat strange, the fact that a festival like this meant a collaboration few would expect (I know I didn’t) made it worthwhile.

 

Los Lobos with special guest Sam Bush

While getting a quick snack, I heard a bit of Fitz and the Tantrums playing on the main stage. While the song was catchy and fun, given a choice between that or Taj Mahal on the Peace Park stage meant the latter would be the obvious choice.

The Taj Mahal Trio kicked things into gear with a set of classic blues that wasn’t afraid to take the occasional chance.  Fueled by Mahal’s great guitar and banjo work, the trio delivered a journey to blues at its most primal using both electric and acoustic guitars to deliver the vibe throughout.  The crowd response was explosive as the set wore on.  In some ways this was a winding down of sorts, using Mahal’s knowledge of the genre and his history to bring the day’s events to a close.  Needless to say threre was something here that brought things to a close in a real sense.

Then it was all over.  As we walked to either our cars or our next plans it was clear that today had been a busy, somewhat expansive day of food and music.  As for me personally, spending much of the past 12 hours on my feet left me bushed but I did get to chefck out some acts I hdan’t seen before, even if only for a brief moment or two in some cases, and saw some artists I hadn’t seen live in a long time.  It was a long weekend but one that was eventful.