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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I started my day off with a trip to the annual Canadian Blast BBQ to have some great food and see what Canadian artists are up to these days. The food spread is always great, and this year was no exception, thanks to Austin's Pink Avocado Catering. The music was always fantastic.

The first band I heard was The Harpoonist And The Axe Murderer, a cool Northern take on the blues. The band consisted of slide guitar, simplified drum kit, bass, and the occasional wailing harmonica. The songs are rooted in the gritty Delta blues, but like all good Canadian acts, the grittiness is reduced and made much easier to listen to for longer periods. The songs have a bit more modern flavor and arrangement but definitely draw from that great Southern American traditional blues.

Andy Shauf also plays a kind of weirdly stylized pop music with a decidedly indie rock twist. His songs are beautifully quirky and are offset by beautifully quirky instrumentation and arrangements. Some of his songs are clipping along nicely and then just end, fairly unresolved, leaving the listener wanting just a little bit more. His guitar playing is very cool, sounding as if maybe Elvis Costello had been a modern indie rocker. One member of the band - who looked strangely familiar to me – switched between various instruments, clarinet, piano, fiddle, lending each song a little different personality of its very own. The songs were catchy, while remaining pretty casual and laid back, there were no sharp edges to the sound at all, nothing pushing, nothing urgent. And sometimes that is a wonderful thing.

I traveled cross-town to the annual Conqueroo/Guitar Town party to catch some of the fantastic music that the event always brings in. One of the bands I caught was called Future Monarchs, and they hail from Chicago. This band plays great American pop songs with a modern bent. A 5-piece band that shares lead vocal duties among its members and purveys great vocal harmonies and hooky melodies over a bed of rock'n'roll. Groovy, chunky bass lines and super-tight drumming hold everything together as the guitars and keyboards dance nicely above. The songs move from guitar-centric to keyboard heavy easily, a great line of continuity running through them without the sound ever getting stale or dull. What a fantastic band!

I was excited to see Chuck Mead & His Soggy Mountain Boys play a set, as I've long been a fan of Mead's work, both solo and with the amazing BR-549. And just like BR-549, the new band is an exercise in perfection. This band is tight without ever seeming over-rehearsed or constrained; a group of professionals having a great time playing great songs. The band ran through a set of songs from the new record that run the gamut from grittier, Texian blues to Western Swing and even a healthy dose of Rockabilly. This 4-piece band can do anything, the pedal steel taking most of the leads while Mead himself tended to stick to playing strictly rhythm. There were a few times where the two guitars (pedal steel and Mead's electric) took off into harmony leads and lead-rhythm parts that made for an amazing sound, especially when the steel dropped to the C6 neck and played on the low strings. Such great stuff! I cannot wait for this record to arrive.

Wednesday evening I sat in on bass guitar with my buddies in Zookeeper so I missed the earlier bands from the festival, but arrived in time to catch a simply amazing set by Kansas City rock'n'roll outfit The Architects. And when we talk about rock'n'roll, these boys deliver... pure, unadulterated rock in the vein of AC/DC, but with a generous amount of pop sensibility thrown in, moving the sound to somethingf more along the lines of edgier Cheap Trick. The lead guitar plays highly melodic lines that often follow the vocals, making for dual-harmony sounds that are fantastic and scream for attention. This band plays solid songs that build solidly on American rock tradition, sometimes maybe to a fault, as when they inadvertently lift classics like “Da Doo Ron Ron.”

I headed across town with some friends to catch some more rock and was assaulted by the sounds of Touche Amore. I did not find much to like about this band except for the fact that the second guitar player was playing a beautiful Jazzmaster in a metallic green-blue color with a transitional-style bound dot neck and matching headstock. What a great guitar! Perhaps if the “singer” hadn't been screaming at me the whole time and the band had done something different than simply playing Mineral guitar lines as loudly as possible I could have found something else to like.

In all my years listening to music and being a part of this industry, there has maybe never been anything as puzzling to me as the reason that Against Me! Is not a household name and many times more popular than they are; I just cannot understand why this band has never been able to gain the kind of widespread popularity that their edgy sound and beautiful songs should have afforded them by now when so many lesser bands have attained stardom. All that is good about what I would term third-wave punk rock is embodied in this band; anger; alienation; confusion; disillusionment; yearning. Against Me! still has all of those things in their songs and so much more, and couple it with superior and creative musicianship. Great songs built on intense and literate lyrics and beautiful arrangements should have catapulted this band to stardom years ago. Or now. Or tomorrow.

-David DeVoe


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