Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The Smorgasbord" / May 27-28 / Haffa's and GG's Bubble Tea's Basements

What do you mean Baker Center is closed? They actually expect us to walk up that hill all weekend?

Memorial Day weekend turns Athens into somewhat of a ghost town. The University essentially shuts down, most of the student body goes home, and a tumbleweed can be seen making its lonesome journey down an abandoned Court Street—granted the tumbleweed is in the form of an empty natty box… but I digress.

There is one event Memorial Day weekend that the left behind (I thought the rapture was last weekend?) can look forward to: “The Smorgasbord.”

Smorgasbord Day 1:

“The Smorgasbord” kicked off at 7:30 Friday Night at Union Arts, a.k.a the Basement of Haffa’s Records, with a performance art piece.

Here I will choose to lift a phrase from Staff Writer Scott Smith: “I’ve never been equipped to interpret interpretive dance.” Nor have I, Scott, nor have I. And so I chose to sit that one out in what was left of the day’s sunshine while I waited for word that singer/songwriter/poet Dawn Parker would be taking the stage.

Now I’ve seen Parker read at Donkey Coffee’s Designated Space pretty regularly, and the girl is honestly one of the best writers I’ve ever encountered. People who are getting ready to leave will literally sit back down when Zach Fulton (emcee of DS and organizer of the Smorgasbord) calls her to the stage just to hear her work. That being said, I had no idea she could sing. She can. Beautifully. Between her poetic lyricism and heart-breakingly smooth vocals, her set was definitely one to remember—as was her interpretation of the Decemberists’ “The Crane Wife” with which she closed.

Following Dawn was a poetry-reading by Dan Moore. Moore, another frequenter of Donkey’s DS, gave a truly phenomenal performance. I’ve seen him read his work countless times but never with this much feeling, this much truth.

I took a break from the Smorgasbord and returned for Hannah Cook’s acoustic set. She played some great originals, particularly one about a recent camping trip, but her cover of Ben Kweller’s “Lizzy” stood out above all the rest. That girl needs to put that on youtube. Immediately. It would shame all of the other covers into submission within the first 30 seconds. Cook was joined midway through her set by two other musicians, a guitarist and pianist. They complimented her well and, despite breaks to tune, put on a lovey show. I hope to see more of them in the future.

Closing out the night was another poetry-reading, this time by Jesse Pyle. If you’ve never been to Union Art’s, imagine a basement under a record store with black walls and floor, minimal lighting, a chain-link fence, a few random balloons, and an assortment of college-aged hipster kids, well over half of whom are toting liquor in their purses/murses. Now, imagine a man in a suit who looks like he just stepped out of Harvard grad school circa 1964 reading in fluent Anglo-saxon and Italian.

I love this town.

Day 2:

The Smorgasbord reconvened Saturday at 7ish in the basement of GG’s Bubble Tea.

Opening up the night was poet Justin Carel. Carel is another poetic talent who frequents DS and, again, though I have seen him read before and always been impressed, there was just something about this particular performance that showed he was pulling out all the stops. Carel has an uncanny ability of mixing beat poetics, humor, social conscious themes, and devastating nostalgia into creations that leave a listener sometimes laughing, sometimes heartbroken, sometimes a little of both, but always enthralled. On top of that, he does improvisations with help from audience suggestions. How Carel can turn the suggestions of “socks” and “turtles” into an introspective piece on humanity is something beyond me. But thank god he can.

After Carel, was a set by 99₵ Dreamz. It was honestly his best show to date. His beats were perfectly in line with his vocals, there were no technical difficulties, and he brought bags of computer paper strips. The computer paper thing might seem strange to you. Clearly, you have no idea how fun it is to mosh in a pile of that stuff. Try it. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Okay, now you understand.

Jokes and stage antics aside, 99₵ Dreamz has some seriously bitingly clever lyrics. He passed judgment on the college hook-up culture with “I still had the nerve to call you the very next day/ despite knowing that you slept with him instead of just fucking me” on the track “Somewhere Near State Street.” He sent a heartwarming shout-out to his girlfriend, Danielle Wallette. He did a duet with his best friend Jeni Shaw—a girl with crazy pipes who needs to play out more. And he even wrote a new song about the rapture, probably his most impressive one yet which deals strongly with dystopic themes: “I was there when the world was supposed to end/ May 21, 2011/ All the college kids were outside drinking their beers/ Nothing changed here.”

I left the Smorgasbord soon after the 99₵ Dreamz set, but I did stay long enough to see a particularly endearing short film about the family that owns Souvlakis’, narrated by their 8 year old daughter.

I can think of no better way to spend Memorial Day in Athens than in dark basements with good friends, good music, and good poetry. These are our college years. This is our smorgasbord.

--Amanda Norris, Staff Writer

Friday, May 6, 2011

ACRN St. Jude Benefit Show / May 5 / The Smiling Skull

A sleepy brain and a game of “Would You Rather” later, and we were on our way to the Smiling Skull. We were apprehensive of the price at first, but morally we couldn’t allow ourselves to use that excuse, given the show was a benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. We had to think of the children.

The Athens-famous, omnipotent, flawless Nurser took the stage (of sorts) first. Things went better than the last time I saw them, but their music is so weird that it’s hard to tell when things aren’t going well. I mean that in the best way possible. There are definitely some inventive sounds coming from them, particularly from Shane Riley’s guitar. He finds the most obscure notes to play, but stirs them together so that they transition solidly.

They had some new material to lay on the growing crowd, one song in which bassist Sam Mink had to step out because he hadn’t learned his part yet. To that, Riley said something along the lines of, “Our bassist can’t play to this song because it’s such a rager.”

Blithe Field was next and to my and everyone else’s dismay, he was having technical difficulties. He tried to push through as best he could, but the beats weren’t quite the way they were meant to be. Still, he had a supportive crowd that wished him well, but his set was forced to end too soon.

Stomp the Condor, very much unlike Blithe Field, was a weirdo, rambunctious bunch. Or, really just the lead singer/keyboardist/guitarist was. They played rowdy tunes that the crowd greeted with rowdy energy. It was punk rock and other stuff at its finest. A couple of them took off their shirts, too, and of course that’s always a good time, even more so when the shirtless are wearing jorts.

The crowd was at its largest with Brothertiger, which usually is the case every time he plays. I only stuck around for a couple of songs, but left a trippy, happy, dancing group of people. That’s alls yous gotta do, anyway.

Apparently we raised $300! May good causes be benefited and may good music be cherished for all of eternity.

--Hannah Cook, Managing Editor

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of Southeast Engine, Echo & and the Bunnymen Covers, and Allen Ginsberg

It begins with Allen Ginsberg. It always begins with Allen Ginsberg. And this Friday night, it began with Allen Ginsberg--or at least a man with his glasses and hazed stare--hitting on my mom on the Casa Cantina dance floor.

Yes friends, it is Moms Weekend in Athens and as we all know, when spring dawns on this town things can get a little preposterous. We know this, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The walk from West Green to Casa alone proved that Athens would be in top form: encounters with Rick the Court Street pianist, two dueling violinists outside of Bagel Street, the late-night accordionist making a rare appearance before after hours, and even an enthusiastic breakdancer outside of the diner. There were almost as many street performers on Court Street Friday as there are bars. I love this town.

We arrived at Casa just in time to catch the beginning of opening act Wolf Ram Heart’s set. We also beat the door man--cheating Casa out of cover charge is a rare and exciting feat. I almost felt bad about it until the front man of Southeast Engine congratulated us. If the headliner sanctions it, it’s fair game. But I digress: Wolf Ram Heart.

Let’s talk about Wolf Ram Heart. Like most people who were raised on too much VH1 Classic, I love Pink Floyd but I also love to hate on all other forms of prog rock, all the time, always, no exceptions. Wolf Ram Heart is the exception. I loved their set. They played flawlessly and got people dancing, high praise for an opening act. The highlight was their cover of “Lips like Sugar”-- nothing gets the cougars boogieing like Echo & the Bunnymen.

After Wolf Ram Heart went Scubadog. It was their first show with their new drummer and I have to say it was a success. Whether their guitarist is using his capo as a slide or they are using an ipad as a musical instrument, Scubadog never fails to change things up and have a good time. Their set was great and Jesse Remnant from Southeast Engine even got up to play moroccos for them.

Speaking of Southeast Engine... Athens loves Southeast Engine. They are the kings of Casa Cantina. They might be on Daytrotter, but they are NOT a “national act.” They are our act, and they are great at it. They introduced tunes from their latest album Canary, which they referred to as their “ode to Athens,” and each one was a hit in its own right. Whether singing devastatingly poetic ballads about Appalachian coal miners or upbeat toe-tappers, Southeast Engine knows how to put on a great live show. They recognize that the surest way to a girl’s heart is with a harmonica but make no mistake, these boys can JAM when they are compelled.

A “bro” in the front row who had a few too many tried to get loud with Southeast Engine, but no one messes with the kings in their castle. Their drummer, always one for entertaining facial expressions, exclaimed “Shut up!”--while simultaneously accomplishing an excellent fill, I might add--and the offender retreated into the shadow of his flat-brim baseball cap, not to be heard from again.

When the set was over, Athenians of course begged for more, and the boys of Southeast Engine, like the gentlemen that they are, gave the crowd a choice: “Would you like rock first? Or anthem?” “BOTH!” we exclaimed, and they obliged, ending with a guitar solo off of the base drum. If only there would have been slashing windmills involved. Maybe next time Casa...

-Amanda Norris, Staff Writer