According to the number of dangling inchworms I’ve been unsuccessfully dodging recently, spring has sprung in my neck of the woods, and I’m hoping that warmer temperatures thaw the horrendous live music freeze-out I’ve been experiencing over the past few months. I’ve let opportunity after opportunity pass me by, but I’m ready to get back in the game, and the night before last, with about an hour to go before The Trillions showed The Camel why they remain one of the most explosive acts in town, Bandmate 4eva Doug and I took in a fantastic opening set by a Bethlehem, PA-based surf rock group called The Great White Caps.
I know we’re not all the way to true beach weather yet, and I know that decent wave-riding in Richmond is at least a few decades’ worth of global warming away, but on Wednesday night, with the first Friday Cheers looming large and the hopefulness of spring coating the city like a fresh dusting of pollen, the Caps offered a frenetic and reverb-soaked performance that was every bit as invigorating as it would have been to hop in my temporarily yellow Honda Fit, drive to Virginia Beach and jump in a 58-degree, early-May Atlantic Ocean. Just as invigorating was the clarity of The Great White Caps’ approach, which I found myself thinking about for much of their set.
When Richmond Playlist posted its Best Richmond Albums of 2012 list last week, two things immediately became clear: Richmond produced a bumper crop of new music in 2012, and I managed to wrap my brain around only a small portion of that output. But instead of blaming myself, as is customary for a person with a guilt complex as highly developed as mine, I’m going to project blame onto the following 5 LPs, which were so damn good I couldn’t stop fawning over them. Here are my favorite full-length albums from Richmond artists this year, along with a bonus list of the EPs that loomed large as well.
Because of the shindig I mentioned yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I could make it to Saturday night’s Trillions CD release show at Gallery 5. And by the time I got there, I was pretty tuckered out and had already missed Kid Is Qual’s set (more on these fine folks to come in a future post). I definitely needed a pick-me-up, and having recently gone cold turkey on Red Bull certainly wasn’t working in my favor. But I’ll tell you two things that were working in my favor: Worthless Junk labelmates Black Girls occupying the second opening slot and the Trillions kicking ass/taking names.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview RVA’s favorite team of #snuffrock specialists, Black Girls. It was a tremendous honor meeting and chatting with these 5 incredibly talented and gracious gents, and the resulting article is available now in the spring issue of RVA Magazine. I’m excited about how it turned out, as the band has had some wonderful things happen in the last few months, and I really believe they are destined for great things. If’n you’re interested, you can read the piece online here or, if you’re an ink and paper kind of guy/gal, you can pick up a hard copy of RVA Magazine for $0 at several spots around town (my favorite place to snag the mag when it comes out is Steady Sounds on Broad Street, but hey, that’s just me). In the meantime, you can sample Black Girls’ song “Get Off” below and, if you don’t have it yet, click here to pick up their kickass recent album, Hell Dragon.
So last Wednesday’s show at the National was quite the hootenanny. I already wrote about how much I enjoyed the outstanding headlining act, the Head and the Heart, but I have to say a few words about the fine work done by Black Girls in their opening set. There’s nothing like catching one of your favorite bands on the perfect night. Homecoming shows are always special, but this was the RVA group’s first stop in town after their most packed string of dates yet, having spent March on a trans-American/Canadian tour with the above mentioned, Seattle-based headliner. The atmosphere on Wednesday was appropriately celebratory, and Black Girls’ music fed off the welcome-home-y energy throughout, sounding equal parts powerful and joyful. And it wasn’t just who started off the evening but what as well, given that having “South Carolina” at the very top of a setlist is akin to waking up in the morning and immediately downing one of those giant Red Bulls that only truckers and people who sell Red Bull to truckers drink. From these first few moments until the closing notes of “Broadway,” the band channeled all the energy in the room into what may have been the best performance I’ve seen them give. You often hear about how busy concert schedules like the one they had in March render a band tighter or more polished, and this is undoubtedly the case for Black Girls, as well. But two of the band’s greatest strengths are a loose, confident swagger and a willingness to take chances, and the road seems to have, somewhat paradoxically, nurtured these qualities as well. As precise as each member’s performance was, it seemed like I was also hearing some additional layers and stylistic flourishes that I hadn’t before. Gillihan’s vocal improvisation was as far-reaching and captivating as I’d ever heard it, and the use of synth felt bolder and more emphatic than I remembered, shining a light on an aspect of their recently released album Hell Dragon that I absolutely loved. As a side note, this post doubles as an official, 5-alarm, all-hands-on-deck Merch Alert. I snagged the above pictured t-shirt just a few minutes after they concluded “Broadway,” and I was not the only one clamoring for one. I suggest grabbing yours at the earliest opportunity, as they appear to be too fly to last long. And even though iTunes technically has an infinite number of Hell Dragon downloads left in stock, I encourage springing into action on that front as well, given how great the album is. Get a taste of the #snuffrock awaiting therein by previewing “Broadway” and “St. Simons” below.
My introduction to the Head and the Heart came courtesy of an RVA Magazine interview with drummer Tyler Williams, who took a leap of faith a few years back by moving from Richmond to Seattle to join the group. He did so at the suggestion of another former Richmond resident, Jonathan Russell, who is half of the band’s founding partnership (he also happens to be a former high school friend of Williams’). File what I’m about to say under “Small and Mostly Meaningless Coincidences,” but I read this article in the midst of my own westward journey, aboard my very first cross-continental flight, bound for Portland. As tenuous as that connection may have been, I was pretty damn excited to see what the west coast was like, and reading about these fine Virginia gents heading west made me feel adventurous as well (so much so that I bought the 7-inch single of “Down In The Valley” while in Portland, even though I had no idea what it sounded like).
Reliving that adventurousness is one reason I was so excited about heading to the National this Wednesday evening to see the Head and the Heart in person (another reason being that Richmond’s outstanding Black Girls was one of the two opening acts — more to come on their performance in a separate post). And there was so much to love about the headlining set — singer and violin player Charity Rose Thielen’s impressive voice and magnetic personality won the crowd over completely, and Russell playing a solo acoustic tune to kick off the encore was a treat — but it was the last song of the night that best illustrated why I love the Head and the Heart so much.
I’ve mentioned this before, but when I started writing You Hear That, I had no idea how much amazing music is being made right here in Richmond, VA. During the course of the past year, I’ve been completely blown away by RVA’s homegrown tunes, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to blogs like Richmond Playlist and Sounds of RVA for pointing me in all the right directions. And as inspired as I’ve been by outstanding groups like White Laces, Black Girls, Goldrush and The Trillions, there’s so much more to discover — especially when it comes to RVA hip hop. The Cheats Movement blog, which is a tremendous source for information about local rap artists (not to mention a seemingly bottomless well of positivity and enthusiasm), has helped me take a big step in that direction by posting the video above, which is the first in the series of clips that will document an event that took place on October 21, 2011 called RVA Hot Sauce. Much like the graffiti photos that got me hooked on Marc Cheatham’s blog several months ago, this video is a wake-up call as to the staggering amount of creativity flowing through this city, and I can’t wait to see the additional installments and hear more from performers like Black Liquid. Watch him and several other talented RVA folks in action in the video above (seeing Brian McDaniel from Dirty Richmond freestyle is particularly awesome), listen below to an older Black Liquid tune called “Life,” and keep an eye out for more RVA Hot Sauce videos down the road.
When I wrote this past weekend about Black Girls’ new album Hell Dragon, I mentioned that one of my favorite parts of seeing live music is expecting the unexpected. Even if you’ve seen a band before, you never know what you’ll find at their next show. Coincidentally, when I was finishing dinner before heading over to the Hell Dragon release party at the Camel, I was blindsided by a totally unexpected musical surprise, but it was a piece of recorded music — one that I’d heard a zillion times, for that matter — that did the blindsiding. To be painfully honest, I first heard Bettye LaVette’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces“ by accident. I needed to listen to “Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band (don’t ask) and absentmindedly let Spotify play through the song title search results. Quick side note — Spotify searches make for the strangest playlists you’ll ever hear. When “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” came on, I heard LaVette’s deep, expressive and soulful voice placed against a sweet, southern backdrop of twangy pedal steel and lazy drums, piano and bass, and I fell for the juxtaposition right away. It was a powerful moment of discovery, one I got to relive when I finally found a used copy of The Scene of the Crime, the album on which “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” appears, at Deep Groove Records on Saturday. At dinner a few hours later, I shared news of my vinyl find with Robbie, a friend whose brain is a musical encyclopedia, and that’s when he blindsided me. ”Oh yeah, The Scene of the Crime. You know her band on that album is Drive-By Truckers?” Bam. In that moment, a wormhole opened up and two treasured parts of my musical universe were suddenly and permanently connected. I couldn’t believe it, nor could I wait to give the whole album another listen, this time with the knowledge of who was providing that sweet, southern backdrop. Listen to the song below to see what I mean and click here to buy The Scene of the Crime. Who knows what surprises await when you do!
I love live music. There’s the feeling of community, the sensory overload, the expectation of the unexpected… And one of the greatest gifts a band can give is a recording that captures those feelings, so you can take the live experience with you throughout your day. On the way to work. Walking down the street. Raking leaves. Raking more leaves. If you have a pair of headphones, all of these moments are just crowded, sweaty dance parties in disguise, and Black Girls’ new album Hell Dragon is a 9-song invitation to say “Fuck it!” and make those dance parties a reality.
Gregg Gillis said it best. Near the end of his set, the most high-profile performer of the night pointed out*, while standing atop his Panasonic Toughbook’s necessarily sturdy table, that he’s been to tons of festivals, but it was special to see so much of Richmond in the inaugural RVA Music Fest. RVA Magazine did a truly great job organizing, as Sunday was an outstanding snapshot of some of Richmond’s best musicians, and I felt really lucky to be there. One of the bands that reinforced that feeling most was Black Girls. I think everyone’s experienced this moment — you’re at a show, and a performance so totally and completely fills the space around you that the room/theater/amphitheater you’re in feels tiny in comparison to the size of the moment you’re in. Black Girls set up shop in exactly that type of moment on Sunday, giving an amazing show that preceded Stage Two’s headlining act, No BS! Brass Band. In a chaotic festival setting, where people had only moments ago been milling around, snagging (delicious) tacos from Nate’s Taco Truck, Black Girls seemed totally in control, belting out danceable, falsetto-fueled rock and soul songs with a captivating swagger that emanated from every corner of the band. Plus, I got my wish and members of No BS! joined them onstage for closing song “Broadway,” a tune that joyously melds the two bands’ upbeat personalities. Check out the studio version of their collaboration below, pick up Black Girls’ self-titled album here, and the vinyl-inclined can grab the two bands’ split 7″ here.
*I’m paraphrasing here. By this point, dancing had supplanted any sort of note taking, mental or otherwise. Though no direct quotes are available, we can safely assume that I yelled “Oh shit!” when “Thriller” kicked in. UPDATE — Who needs a memory when you have YouTube? Here’s the clip.