Saturday, April 9, 2011

ACRN's 40th Birthday Bash / April 8 / The Union

ACRN turned 40 on April 9 at The Union, and if you weren't there, then it's your own damn fault.

Alumni and current Lobsters alike turned out, making the show one of the most well-attended shows I've seen ACRN put on in a while. Given my absence from Athens for the previous four months, seeing the formidable lineup of bands was quite intriguing. Whale Zombie, In Silent Movies and Scubadog had been personal favorites prior, while the D-Rays were a completely new act for me. With a lineup featuring some of my Athens favorites and one that could very well be destined to join those ranks, it was sure to be a great night.

The D-Rays are a psych-garage rock band that features Erick Coleman on guitar, Missy Pence on bass and Aaron Lemley on drums. Now, I will probably be showing my unfamiliarity with the Athens music scene prior to, say, 2009, but I'm not quite sure what band(s) -- if any -- the former two had been a part of prior to the D-Rays. I only assume they've been in some other bands due to their playing ability. Coleman was great on guitar, and probably quite formidable on vocals as well, though the vocal mix we're all so used to at The Union made him a bit difficult to hear.

I enjoyed everything about the band. Coleman and Pence were tight together, with Coleman letting loose some ripping guitar solos and Pence staying steady with more than a few appealing basslines. I can dig any band in which I can actually hear the bass quite well, and the D-Rays are one such band. And to be quite honest, the most pleasant surprise of the band's set in my mind was drummer Lemley. He so happens to be the drummer of Athens country-folk standard Duke Junior and the Smokey Boots in addition to his tenure here, and while I absolutely adore the Boots' music, Lemley's drumming was far more subdued -- as one might expect from such a band. With the D-Rays, Lemley seems to be able to let loose far more often, and it's altogether quite appealing, as he's an extremely talented drummer.

Given my relative ignorance of the band's genre, I can't speak to whether the band played mostly covers, mostly original tunes, or any combination of the two. I do know at least one song was a cover, as it was announced as such. I could not recognize any of the songs, so I cannot and will not speak to the original ownership of each song, but I will say this: if they were covers, I think they did the originals proud, and if they were originals, these guys could be going somewhere-- or at least could release a kick-ass album.

In Silent Movies, now a Columbus-based three-piece, took the stage next. It had been over 10 months since I had seen the band, always a favorite around here, so my excitement was evident and I pretty much told everyone at The Union to which I spoke that hadn't seen the band before (see: freshmen) that they were about to see a very formidable set. And ISM didn't disappoint. Throwing in some seemingly newer songs (I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard the songs in question, at least) and the standards such as "Deep Sea Diver" and "Plan of Attack."

Speaking once again to the general inability to hear vocals all that well at the venue, it proved slightly difficult to discern that what singer/guitarist Josh Landis was saying from time to time, but quite frankly, I was enjoying the set from nostalgia enough that I didn't care all too much. Both Landis and bassist Mike Jones were quite fun to watch on vocal-less segments of each tune, Landis following the old Christopher Walken/Bruce Dickinson adage of "Explore the space." I was also surprised to find that the band had found a new drummer: Randy, whose last name I do not know. I'm not going to be that guy that decides to compare old versus new from here, but we'll certainly say that Randy is a more-than-formidable replacement.

Now, let me get this out of my system: SCUUUUUUUBBAAAAAAAAAA.

Yep, Scubadog was the next band. Scubadog showed once again why they're one of the best live acts in Athens today. Truly, words cannot and will not fully describe the enjoyability of the four-piece's set. Jake Householder and Teddy Humpert were a devastating two-pronged attack as always, on both vocals and guitar/bass. Their banter is hilarious, and their songs are just damn catchy. In one such instance, Householder deemed the band's upcoming tune about their affinity for cops, which set Householder and Humpert into a minute-long shpeel ("But aren't they all?") before finally declaring, "Respect your local law enforcement officers!"

For me, the funniest part about seeing Scubadog live is that I still don't know half the names of the songs. Do I know the songs in terms of actually recognizing them when they're played? Absolutely. But aside from "Randy" and "Patience," I've got nothing. For me, that almost adds to the myth of Scubadog, a "super-group" of sorts that hadn't even released any recorded music until recently, when two singles were released digitally. If there is one band that I wish would record a full-length here in Athens, it's Scubadog. Hands. The fuck. Down.

Before I continue on, I must express my happiness that Josh Antonuccio is still playing in the band. Unless I just heard incorrectly, I had been under the impression that 2010's ACRN Lobsterfest was to be his final show with the band. This statement, was it ever made, has been disproven a number of times now. I'm not complaining, because Antonuccio is probably one of my favorite guitarists to actually watch play.

By the time Whale Zombie rolled around, I can honestly say that I was a little inebriated due to the fact that my 21st birthday had been just two days prior, meaning that I could actually buy drinks for myself -- and that I very much did. This caused my attention span to become a bit limited, and thus my engagement with Whale Zombie's set was curtailed. Still, as always, they put on a great show. Despite their not playing my personal favorite (I think it's titled "Transcendental Bullshit"), the mix of instrumentals and vocal-infused tracks kept the audience on its toes and moving -- quite a bit. Aside from a corner of The Union that went into a frenzy during the D-Rays' final song, dancing was never as crazy nor as plentiful as it was during Whale Zombie's set.

All in all, I'd say the night was a rip-roarin' success. Super yayz, all bands involved. Super. Yayz.

Following the show, I hit up the Union Street Diner -- and let me tell you, 3 a.m. steak and eggs has never tasted so delectable.

--Kevin Rutherford, Managing Editor

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