Soundbites: Freer, Mike Press
There’s a big show coming up at Club Metronome this week and, even though it’s not an ecstasy-fueled rave, you might want to bring along a mouth guard, just in case.
You see, the headliners are major-label Detroit garage rockers The Von Bondies , who are, sadly, best known for an ugly little incident involving The White Stripes’ Jack White — a nasty note stuck with a knife into a dressing-room door and more than a few bruised egos/eyes at a Motor City nightclub in 2003. The fracas has become an ongoing semi-classic B-list rock feud, filled with unsubstantiated he-said/she-said finger-pointing from both camps. To which we say to all involved: Grow up. We want the rock, not the ruckus.
Pathetic pugilism aside, the show is actually noteworthy for musical reasons. How novel! In particular, the two opening acts — both from Detroit — are likely worth the price of admission, Bondies be damned.
Nouveaux garage rockers SSM  get things started with a ferocious brand of heady, industrial post-punk — yes, you read that correctly. As New York Times music scribe Jon Pareles  puts it, “Despite the vintage equipment, this is no 1960s revival; it’s a warped re-invention.” That’s an apt description. High-minded (sort of) and lo-fi (definitely), the trio displays all the ragged, sardonic wit you’d expect from a good punk band, and backs it up with bedraggled yard-sale gadgetry.
Also supporting the Fightin’ Bondies is Freer , a nifty quartet that glosses rough-edged punk lyricism with a smooth r&b sheen. Drawing comparisons to seemingly disparate artists such as Smokey Robinson and The MC5, the band has built a considerable Rust Belt fan base and has been touring heavily in support of its debut LP, Secret Chorus, which was awarded five stars  by Real Detroit Weekly.
So if you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned rockin’ ’n’ rollin’ — or a fight, I suppose — swing by Club Metronome this Friday. You might keep any White Stripes references to yourself, though. Just a suggestion.
“Friends of Joe,” the long-running Thursday night series at Halvorson’s, has pretty much become an institution for blues lovers in Burlington, as some of the area’s finest musicians pay their respects to one of the grandest musical figures in the history of our little burg, Big Joe Burrell . In the three years since his passing, the evening has been an incredible tribute to the beloved saxophonist’s enduring legacy. But the Church Street café’s back patio has been awfully quiet as of late, and will be for at least another couple of months.
Halvorson’s stage area, though sheltered, is essentially outside. Anyone who’s spent time in Burlington during the dead of winter quickly learns one irrefutable truth: It’s freakin’ cold — last week’s record thaw notwithstanding. As such, the restaurant has decided to save the wear and tear on the musicians’ lips and fingers — not to mention the hefty heating bills — and put the series on, ahem, ice until April.
All the recent, and well-deserved, hubbub concerning Burlington’s latest entry into the low-power FM fold, 105.9 The Radiator , makes it easy to forget that Vermonters have had the luxury of topnotch college radio for decades. While the University of Vermont’s WRUV 90.1 FM  gets most of the attention, many of the state’s institutions of higher learning also sport eclectic, high-quality stations that offer genuine alternatives to the drivel on much of the FM dial. To which we boldly say: Do radios still have dials?
Back to the point, St. Michael’s College station WWPV 88.7 FM  has been a standard bearer for years. And now they have the hardware to prove it.
The station recently placed first in a nationwide-competition sponsored by independent web-based affiliate “myTracks,”  a website devoted to distributing quality independent music to the masses, free of charge. The challenge was to entice the most students to sign up on the site, and it carried a $5000 prize. The loot was matched dollar for dollar by the station’s board of directors. Therefore, the winnings actually totaled — help me out here, math majors — 10 grand. Not too shabby.
In further testament to the quality of our local college stations, Middlebury College’s WRMC 91.1 FM  actually placed second in the competition, besting significantly larger schools such as Ole Miss, Michigan State, Iowa State and the University of Kentucky. Ha! Who needs D-1 college football?
Anyone in the mood for some sly, heart-on-sleeve country rockin’? If so, you would do well to check out San Diego-by-way-of-Boston singer-songwriter Mike Press . Sort of a West Coast version of our own alt-country heartthrob, Lowell Thompson , Press delivers a catchy brand of twang-infused pop, laced with biting, self-aware lyricism. His latest album, Keep Your Head, is a rollicking and, at times, moody affair, likely to satisfy Gram Parsons acolytes and Pete Yorn fans alike.
Catch Press at the Langdon Street Café this Tuesday and/or Red Square on Wednesday, January 23, as he takes the stage with local countrified tunesmith Bow Thayer .
FREEDOM ISN’T FREE
You’ve probably never heard of Laurence Butterfield , but if he has his way, you just might before too long. The Vermont native is a prolific composer of country tunes and has been feverishly hawking his wares to the rhinestone-studded, boot-clad fat cats in Nashville in hopes of selling his work to a major artist. Judging from what’s available for perusal on his Sonic Bids page , I’m guessing Loretta Lynn won’t come calling any time soon. But Toby Keith? Now that’s a horse of a different color. Three colors, to be precise: red, white and blue. And — presumably due to a breakthrough in laundry-detergent technology — they don’t run.
Last August, Butterfield’s tune “Funeral Ballad”  was selected as a finalist for the international online competition, cleverly called “Song of the Year.” The contest focuses on finding undiscovered songwriting talent, helping them connect with industry heavies, and is judged by a panel comprising major-label execs, a handful of relatively prominent journalists and — I’m not making this up — Norah Jones.
Butterfield’s song tells the tale of a memorial service for a fallen soldier gone awry. An antiwar contingent crashes the proceedings and, of course, hilarity ensues. Here’s how he describes the demonstrators in his song: Hundreds of protestors / about as welcome as molesters. See? Hilarious! I assure you, the rest of the tune is equally poignant.
Snarky barbs aside, musicians — especially in Vermont — are notorious for their left-leaning politics. So it’s interesting to come across one who wears his patriotism on his sleeve like any number of singer-songwriters wear their broken hearts. We might disagree with his politics, but you’ve gotta give Butterfield credit for sticking to his guns, especially in The People’s Republic of Vermont. Good luck, Laurence.