Soundbites: Party Gras!, Swing Low, Practically Ripped, BiteTorrent
What were you doing 15 years ago?
I was a 16-year-old at Champlain Valley Union High School, obsessed with Weezer’s Blue Album, the Boston Red Sox, my car, a pretty girl in my madrigal choir and convincing my classmates that it would be a good idea to have The Pants play our junior prom on the Spirit of Ethan Allen — they did, and it was awesome … at least until the captain of the hockey team threatened to throw Tom Lawson off the boat if the band didn’t play a slow song. Ah, memories!
It’s funny, thinking about it now, 1995 really doesn’t seem all that long ago. But, man, how things have changed.
The Pants broke up and went their separate ways — they even had a big reunion show a few years back. My beloved but then-cursed Sox have won two World Series titles. Weezer … well, they never made a good album after Pinkerton in 1996. But that one was so great, we’ve forgiven them. And the girl from my madrigal group? Married and living happily ever after in another state.
But something else happened in 1995. Something that at the time very few of us likely knew was taking place. I know I didn’t. And I certainly never knew how large a role it would play in my life a decade or so later — and beyond. On a cold February afternoon 15 years ago this very week (or thereabout), a handful of hearty/crazy souls bedecked in funny handmade costumes marched up and down the Church Street Marketplace, for no apparent reason beyond kicking cabin fever — and maybe being drunk.
It was the very first Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade .
You know the rest of the story. What began as a microbrewery in Bob Johnson’s basement grew into one of the largest craft breweries in the country. And what began as a small band of beer enthusiasts carousing downtown has evolved into one of the largest annual events in the state. And, if the spiel from my days as a tour guide at the brewery still holds true, it is the largest Mardi Gras celebration east of New Orleans. That’s right, once upon a time, I referred to beer baron Alan Newman as my “boss.” Actually, I always just called him Alan. But you get the idea. Full disclosure, and all that jazz.)
The parade and all of the attendant weekend-long activities draw tens of thousands of revelers into the Queen City, raise an impressive amount of money for the Women’s Rape Crisis Center , and infuse some much-needed energy into an otherwise frozen midwinter nightlife scene.
I’m not championing the virtues of Magic Hat any further until they stop killing off my favorite beers. I know I’ve written lines to that effect before. But I’m still in shock over the recent loss of HiPA. Why, Alan? Why? (Imagine me shaking my fists ruefully.)
I will however, champion the wealth of music happening, ahem, in concert with the big parade. And there is a lot of it, so let’s dig in, shall we?
We begin our trek in the cozy confines of Radio Bean. Why? Because it’s a little off the beaten path, or at least the parade route, and thus makes for a good escape destination should you find yourself overwhelmed in the Church Street district. Also, it was at Radio Bean following the parade two years ago that I first encountered  In Memory of Pluto  and Villanelles , two local acts that became personal favorites. So I’ve got a good track record with the Bean on Mardi Gras.
Anyway, among the acts slated to play there this Saturday, I’m most interested in surf-punk outfit Torpedo Rodeo , who will be playing a couple of sets immediately following the parade. The band has been on my radar for about a year now, and I’d really like to catch them live before they release their debut album later this spring.
Red Square has an entire day of music scheduled, beginning at 11 a.m. with local songwriter Jay Burwick . Now, as with most big to-dos, the parade has its detractors. But you gotta love any event that legitimizes drinking before noon. Anyway, Burwick will be followed by my main man Nastee  on the wheels of steel, DJ Raul spinning hot-blooded Latin grooves, Boston funk outfit Hi8us , and DJ A-Dog , who closes out the night. The Square will also open its patio, where you can catch DJ Cre8 — no relation to Hi8us — during the afternoon and DJ Stavros in the evening. Which reminds me of another reason to love Mardi Gras: day drinking … outside!
Across the street, RíRá (the Irish Pub!) has a full slate as well, beginning with Celtic outfit Longford Row  at noon and continuing all day with Bi-Polar Bears (great name) and then Bear Fight .
(While we’re on the subject, and because I don’t have cause to write about the bar very often, it’s “Ree-Rah” not “Ree-Rah’s.” No “s.” Got it?)
Around the corner on Main Street, Nectar’s may just boast the hottest lineup of the day. Eclectic local rock outfit Wagan  — not to be confused with Funkwagon , mind you — wakes up the Bloody Mary and mimosa crowd with a late-morning set. Then, Connecticut’s Caravan of Thieves , fresh from an earlier set on Church Street, take the stage for some gypsy-flavored acoustic rocking, followed by fellow Nutmeg Staters Bronze Radio Return . Regional funk favorites Dopapod are next, setting the stage for a pair of local acts to close down the bar: reggae band Pulse Prophets and hip-pop progenitors Strength in Numbers .
Before we move on, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention La Primá Dégras, the Mardi Gras pre-kickoff kickoff on Wednesday, February 24, at Club Metronome featuring a gaggle of Magic Hat acts including Reverse Neutral Drive , Evilhero , CMYK (The Graphistés of Magic Hat) and Ryan Ober. And if any of those bands can smuggle in some Heart of Darkness, I might even attend…
Kidding aside, congrats on 15 years, Magic Hat. That’s one hell of an achievement.
Now, seriously, I want Jinx and I want it now.
Regular readers know I’m rather fond of/obsessed with Rhode Island indie-folk outfit The Low Anthem . Regular readers also know I’m prone to taking credit for “breaking” them — a notion that is patently absurd. Sure, I reviewed their debut album months before the national media picked up on it. And I interviewed them long before tastemakers like Pitchfork or Paste knew who they were, and before they started playing Newport and Bonnaroo. But who’s counting? The only reason I knew anything about TLA was because of ex-Langdon Street Café booking agent Ed DuFresne, who started booking the band long before people like me paid them any attention, and stuck with them when they were drawing, like, 15 people a night to LSC. It seems TLA remembers those days.
The band has just announced a nationwide tour that will find them sharing the stage with The Avett Brothers , running through the wringer that is SXSW in Austin, and headlining big-time joints such as Boston’s Paradise Rock Club, Northhampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall and NYC’s Bowery Ballroom. But toward the tail end of their tour, they’ll make something of an odd stop, and we’ll have Ed DuFresne to thank when they do.
On Thursday, April 22, The Low Anthem will appear at Montpelier’s Bethany Church with Toronto’s Timber Timbre . Tickets for the show at the 350-person-capacity church are on sale now and can be purchased at Burlington Records, or online at www.nekmf.frontgatetickets.com .
Was Asher Roth Unavailable?
It was announced earlier this month that alt-rock band Third Eye Blind  would be headlining the annual spring concert at St. Michael’s College. According to an article by David Mooney appearing in the school’s newspaper The Defender , the students are, well, semi-charmed. Mooney writes that disgruntled undergraduates have gone so far as to start several Facebook campaigns in protest, which in turn led to the creation of Facebook groups protesting the protest groups. Ah, college.
Event organizers seem genuinely befuddled by the reponse. But I believe I might have an insight as to why students are so up in arms. 3EB’s biggest hit, “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life” topped the charts in 1997 — when the average freshman was 7 years old.
I’d be pissed, too.
This just in from the Department of Shit That Really Bugs Me:
It’s no secret that I’m not big on tribute acts in general. It’s just a personal thing. But I do understand the appeal. Groups such as Badfish, Dark Star Orchestra and The Machine draw well because, for certain audiences, they fill a void. Specifically, you can’t go out and see Sublime, the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd anymore. I get it.
But I have a problem with bands like Practically Hip  — Canada’s number-one Tragically Hip  tribute band! — who are playing a two-night stand at Olive Ridley’s in Plattsburgh this Friday and Saturday. So, what’s the big deal?
For one, T-Hip is still a working band. In fact, they were just here last summer. They played the Concerts on the Green series at Shelburne Museum for a relatively reasonable $35 a pop. Which brings me to my other problem with P-Hip and bands like them. The cover charge to see a knockoff in Plattsburgh: $20.
There oughta be a law.