I hate the enforced joviality of holidays. Why is it that,
just because the calendar happens to read something a little
different, people feel compelled to act crazier than usual?
I never understood that.
So, faced with yet another New Year's Eve, i decided to just
do what i would normally do: eat dinner with friends and then
go see a show. There were lots of shows in Atlanta this night,
but Smith's Olde Bar drew me in.
Kicking festivities off was local jangle-pop sensation Kenny
Howes, performing a solo set without the benefit of his backing
group, The Yeahs. I have never seen Mr. Howes before, so i had
no idea what to expect.
First off, he is younger than i thought. For some reason i
was under the impression that he was some 40 + habitual scenester.
Instead, he is a stocky, long-haired guy who looked to be in
his late 20's or early 30's.
He came out with just his Rickenbocker and played thirty minutes
of pleasant pop music with singer-songwriter lyrics. At times
he reminded me of Robyn Hitchcock, and at others of The Gin
Blossoms. He is obviously a competent musician, but i think
that his option to play this show solo was a mistake. Many of
the songs plainly lacked vocal harmonies, a second guitar line,
and or a nice drum fill here or there.
The music was happy and light. He covered Last Train To
Clarksville, and i think that sound perfectly sums up his
music. All sunshine and melody.
One thing that did bother me was the somewhat predictable nature
of his lyrics. At times, he would be singing along and i would
be able to figure out what the next rhyme was before he sang
it. Now, that can be fun to do, and in general i would say that
Kenny Howes was fun. Not particularly challenging, but fun.
And considering the number of people who are apparently stuck
in the 60's (these days you can't spit in Athens without hitting
some Beatles-influenced popster), he seems to have a market.
Not my genre though. Oh well, decent for an opener. And one
of the benefits of being one guy with a guitar is that it takes
you almost no time to gear out after your performance.
Thus a mere 10 minutes after Mr. Howes left the stage, American
Dream started playing.
Three of the five members of American Dream make up 3/4 of
the band Cassionova (that is, 60% of American Dream = 75% of
Cassionova, or American Dream and Casionova are mostly
the same band. There will be a quiz later....) Between
the Casionova performance last Wednesday, the
CellOrgy on Friday, and this show i saw them three times
in less than a week! Sheesh!
Nonetheless, even with such exposure they continued to delight.
Part of it might be that the old addage, "practice makes
perfect", applies here: they have been playing out a lot
lately, and the band is tight and polished.
However, getting back to the reason why Smith's Olde Bar won
out over my other choices this evening: the place has wonderful
acoustics. American Dream are a band constantly plagued with
sound issues -- apparently mic-ing both a harp and a cello is
too taxing for most sound guys to deal with. But not at Smith's.
Sure, the bass was a little too loud at times, and occasionally
the cello would get lost under the weight of the guitars and
bass and keyboards, but the vocal mix was great, the harp sounded
clear, and the drumming was crisp and perfect.
American Dream really played well this night, and what they
played was mostly material that will be on their upcoming album.
What i liked about this performance is that Dave Railey announced
the song titles before each tune. That was so helpful -- i have
been hearing these songs live for months and i finally learned
that the song with the western guitars and drums is called Air,
and that the one that seems like a waltz is called Low.
At any rate, American Dream put on a good set of poppy tunes
with odd instrumentation. Bass, cello, harp/piano, and guitar
created a wall of sound that was driven on by some of the finest
drumming that i have seen from American Dream's drummer. On
top of all that, David Railey and Kat Gass's slightly off-center
vocals and harmonies blended nicely.
It's what they do, and here they did it well.
After American Dream left the stage, The Moto-litas set up.
I have never seen this band before, despite the fact that they
have been playing around Atlanta for quite some time. They are
an all girl four piece: drums, bass, and 2 guitars. One of the
guitarists and the bassist share vocal duties.
They played decent girl rock, but for me it was the vocals
that were their downfall. One of the vocalists had an Amy Ray-like
gravelly blues rock singing thing going on, and the other had
a trembly whiney Sleater-Kinney type of voice.
The best song that they did was a surf rock instrumental that
sounded as if it was lifted straight off of a Dick Dale album.
The non-singing guitarist really went crazy on that, and i must
say that she appeared to be very talented. I think that The
Moto-litas need more songs that showcase her guitar instead
of the two voices. But that's just me.
The Moto-litas played through midnight, and they did the little
"Toast to the New Year" thing. They played about twenty
more minutes, then left so that Five-Eight could set up.
Ah, Five-Eight. Back in 1993 i really really liked Five-Eight.
I listened to their first album, I Learned, Shut Up,
quite a lot that year. Then, somehow, i lost track of the band.
In 2001, i saw them twice before this night, and both times
i was very very impressed.
They are an incredibly tight power trio. Each member is a master
of their instrument, and they play high-energy catchy tunes.
From the opening of Lemon Love Drops to the last squealing
note of She's Dropping The Bomb (both, coincidentally,
off of that first album i loved so much) Five-Eight were a frenzied
pop attack. They tore through songs from all of their albums
and still somehow managed to find time to play Our Lips Are
Sealed and Beat On The Brat.
It was an amazingly fun show, not in the least because the
band members are so funny themselves. I think between each of
the first 10 songs the bassist would saunter up to his microphone,
yell "What time is it?", then start counting down
the New Year again. He even threw confetti most of those times.
And speaking of silly (or is that just "drunk"?),
at one point several obviously too inebriated blonde women climbed
the stage and started dancing. It was an insane night....
It lasted long, but it had to end sooner or later. In this
case, later -- it was about 2 AM when i headed out to my car
through the bitterly cold New Year's Day wind.
So yeah, i celebrated the holiday by doing what i normally
do: going to see a concert. It was, perhaps, my favorite New
Year's Eve to date. I will have to remember this next year....