Soundbites: Winter Doldrums, Dental Plan, Bumpin' Uglies, Finger Pickin' Good
Well, it’s all over. No, I don’t mean Dubya’s presidency. Still a shade under two weeks to go there, I’m afraid — and yes, I’m counting. But he couldn’t possibly fuck up anything else in the next 13 days, right? Um . . . moving on.
I am of course referring to the end of the holiday season, which traditionally marks the beginning of a little local phenomenon I like to call the “Winter Music Doldrums.” No one is really sure why it happens. But every year, virtually without fail, the period between now and, let’s say, St. Patrick’s Day is an excruciatingly slow time on the local-music front. Maybe people are just partied out from weeks of holiday shindigs/drinking-to-tolerate-family time and New Year’s Eve shenanigans. (Note to my arteries, liver and wallet: I’m sooo sorry.)
Or maybe it has more to do with the plain and simple fact that during January and February in Vermont, it’s just too damn cold to do much of anything, least of all brave the elements to wait in line at a nightclub. It’s almost enough to make you root for global warming. Almost.
On the plus side, the cold, dark days ahead are typically a fertile time for artists as they hole up in studios and start recording the flood of music that typically comes our way in the spring and summer — kind of like how babies are often born in the summer months because people stay inside during the winter and . . . well, you know.
Anyway, while the early portion of the 2009 calendar is a little light, there are still some noteworthy options coming up, should you feel like bundling up and leaving your house at night. So, without further ado, here are your best bets for avoiding a Jack Torrance-in-The Shining cabin-fever meltdown this week.
If you’re ever in need of a recommendation for new music — after you’ve read this column, obvs — there are few people with their ears more firmly on the underground than Nick Mavodones. Many of you might recognize Nick as the friendly box-office chap at Higher Ground. In addition to his duties at the area’s marquee joint, he is also a critical component of screen-printin’, indie-rockin’ magnate Tick Tick, a co-author of local music blog Angioplasty Media, and Lee Anderson’s booking guru at Radio Bean. Sometimes even music journalists need a place to turn for new stuff. So when Nick tells me something is good, I listen. And with his resume, it’s not hard to see why. This weekend, Mavodones has a couple of shows he’s particularly enthusiastic about. And, as usual, I’m inclined to agree.
First up, this Friday night the Bean welcomes a cadre of interesting regional acts, including a relatively new local entry to the electro-indie-folk fold, tooth ache. Essentially a one-woman show consisting of songwriter Alexandria Hall, her music is a curious blend of lo-fi electronic tomfoolery and bass guitar. But the real draw here is Hall’s voice, which I would put somewhere between Jolie Holland, the girls from Tilly and the Wall and either Teegan or Sara — I can never tell those two apart. Picture Nose Bleed Island as the backing band and you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
Continuing on the dental theme, we have Trenton, New Jersey’s Wisdom Tooth — another one-person experimental outfit. Baltimore-based trio The Owls Go bring some sweet harmonizin’ goodness to the table while Beachwood, New Jersey’s Wood Goold round out the bill with pretty, banjo-driven, singer-songwriter fare. Indie-folk fans should make a point to attend. And stick around as Toby Aronson, formerly of experimental trio Oak, follows with a solo set.
Saturday night the Bean hosts Brattleboro/Burlington collective Pretend You’re Happy, which combines a plethora of influences — from chamber music to metal — into a sprawling, almost theatrical blend of indie-rock. I don’t make it down to Brattleboro very often, so these guys are new to me. But based on the few tunes available on their MySpace page, I’ll wager this will be quite a show. “One-and-a-half-man band” Blame Gustav split the set. And local rockers Cave Bees close out the night.
Rounding out the weekend, local experimental Americana darlings Crinkles take the cozy Bean stage on Sunday. Word on the street is that they’ll be following up last year’s excellent self-titled debut EP — a Seven Days pick for one of the Top 10 Vermont Recordings of 2008 — with a new 7-inch to be released on Tick Tick imprint Everyone Records.
To paraphrase Birdman: Radio Bean, da musical scene, indeed.
Pretty much any contemporary acoustic/indie-folk group that doesn’t claim some combination of Nick Drake, Wilco, Elliott Smith and Iron & Wine as influences is either hiding something or in denial. Fortunately, Kent, Ohio, quartet The Speedbumps are keenly aware of their roots and proudly wear their sources of inspiration on their sleeves. And while that aforementioned list of influences could likely describe the aspirations of 99.7 percent of modern indie-folk bands, in this case, it’s really not a bad starting point when trying to pin down their sound.
If you dig those bands — or maybe Damien Rice or Andrew Bird — you’d be well served catching one of their two Vermont performances this week: Wednesday January 7, at Montpelier’s Langdon Street Café, and this Thursday at The Skinny Pancake in Burlington.
FINGER PICKIN’ GOOD
Finally, there have been some funny rumors floating around lately concerning the future of Burlington’s iconic live music landmark Nectar’s. So, before we continue, let’s set the record straight: Nectar’s is not discontinuing live music. As talent buyer Alex Budney put it to me in a recent email, “Without music, Nectar’s is not Nectar’s.” Damn straight. By the way, a cursory glance at the club’s full January calendar could have addressed that issue. But I digress.
Speaking of the calendar, you might notice an interesting series on tap this month called “Blue Thursdays.” Presented by Burlington’s Eclectic Music Productions, the weekly hootenanny will feature some of the region’s best bluegrass and Americana acts. This Thursday Stone, Coane and Sacher take the stage and will be joined by Bob Wagner and Will Kirk. January 15 it’s Montpelier up-and-comers The Dixie Red Delights with Burlington’s Wagan. January 22, newish newgrass faves The Medicinals appear with Abby Jenne. And closing out the series on January 29, it’s The Gordon Stone Band with Katie Trautz’s excellent old-time trio Knotty Pine.
Also of note this month at the House That Phish Built is local rock outfit Close to Nowhere, the next band in the club’s ongoing Live Recording Residency Series every Wednesday in January.