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  Secret Stages 2015  



Birmingham, AL


Droves, Raindeer, The Sheikhs, Seratones, Muuy Biien, PRECUBED

Reviewed by:
  Tracers and PostLibyan  
Photographs by:


      It might make sense to start with Part 1 of this review.  

In retrospect, we lucked out a bit with the weather in Birmingham. While it’s still August and hot as Hades, the air was reasonably dry, which made exploring the city a bit more fun than it might have been. Since Secret Stages Day 2 didn’t really begin until the early evening, we spent the day looking around and visiting various locales. We enjoyed the Vulcan statue and Birmingham city museum, even if the top of the status was a little windy on the unenclosed walkway (and perhaps took my breath away at times).

A great view of the city though!

And the Vulcan statue is pretty cool!

We also managed to get to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, a museum/display tucked in with the historic Carver Theater, which is currently a specialty event theater these days but also hosted Saturday morning jazz lessons for students. The décor may have been from the 70s (including pink carpets), but the displays were fascinating, especially with the combination of ephemera and instruments/costumes from greats like Ella Fitzgerald. It was a nice little museum, and a very good suggestion from PostLibyan!


Glad you liked it. I thought it was interesting that the modern ephemera in the museum including Ella’s Nieman Marcus credit card!

Huh. Well, i guess that is a relic, a piece of a departed celebrity…  As someone who was raised Catholic (a group that knows a thing or two about relics) i can’t help but think about the relics of future Saints. Will someone’s old Amex card at some point in time be revered for granting miracles? Is there someone right now listening to an iPod who will later perform miracles and be Canonized, and that iPod later be an object of reverence?  How very odd…


Eventually, though, it was time to turn attention to Day 2 of Secret Stages. Deciding to experiment for dinner, we wandered down yet another creepy alley by the railroad tracks and came upon Carrigan’s Public House, a multi-story eating venue with excellent food and a good beer selection. We filled up on smoked tomato hummus and a couple of sandwiches (as well as beer) before it was time to toddle back to Das Haus for the first band of the evening.

This time, when entering Das Haus, it wasn’t that crowded and you could actually feel some cool air. Additionally, they had seemingly replaced the sound guy from the previous night, so things were able to move right along. This was a good thing, because the first band was pretty much set up and ready to go. This was Droves, who apparently hail from Birmingham. I’m not sure how they were described in the promotional material, but in concert, they placed that combination of heavy metal and post-rock thing which can be fun. Kind of post metal?


I thought there was a good bit of hardcore punk in their set, but i agree that they had moved beyond that framework into something a little more complicated.


Either way, this four piece ripped through a number of tunes (with a convenient Alps landscape in the background), playing fast and loud and above all else hard.  I really liked them, even if it’s not normally the music I search out.  Rather, this is the type of catharsis-inductng rock that you don’t even realize you need until you wander upon it.  Certainly, to my mind, their 45 minute or so set passed quickly and then it was time to wander on.

  i think they were in and out in half an hour. A half an hour of screaming vocals, thrashed guitar, and strong rhythms. They were fun.  

PostLibyan had suggested that he really wanted to see this Baltimore band called Raindeer. From the recorded track, the music seemed poppy and dreamy, and a little bit reminiscent of Beach House.  I was up for it, so we decided it was a go….which led us to “Easy Street”, a temporary venue set up apparently just for Secret Stages.  In practice, this meant that it was a downtown building with no drinks, no water, and no bathrooms as well as minimal ventilation.  Furthermore, there was a gentleman policing the space to make sure no outside beverages were brought in at all.  Ugh.  I’m from Atlanta, so I’m used to venue handing having free water (or at least selling it), if only to minimize severe dehydration in their patrons.  But nope.  Here in Birmingham, and especially at Easy Street, it was like a desert.  A damp, steamy, stagnant desert.  Seriously, this lack of water was major complaint about the entire festival, seeing as it was on the last first weekend of August.

  This was a major bummer, and probably downright unsafe as well. It got really sweaty in there. People need water.  

Nevertheless, as we arrived at Easy Street, the much-anticipated Raindeer was taking the stage to a large appreciative crowd. 

From my vantage point (toward the back, in the range of the single oscillating fan), I couldn’t really see the group:  some of this was due to the lack of height of the “stage” but most of it was because the band was tiny.  It didn’t really matter, as I could hear just fine and lo and behold, I really liked their sunshiny Indie pop sound. 

The songs had nice guitar hooks with high-pitched vocals (both male and female) soaring over it.  They had good rhythm and pace as well, and I could see the crowd bouncing around and dancing in appreciation.  Admittedly, I was quite taken with Raindeer and by the time they ended, I was making a mental note that I wanted to see this group again.


I think they were a little more energetic than Beach House, but yes, they did play a kind of sunshiny dream pop. Very nice.


Then it was back to Das Haus, which was running an off schedule with starts about 15 minutes later than the other venues.  This meant, in an ideal world, that we would have time to see a couple of songs from The Sheiks (a Memphis garage rock band), grab a drink, use the restroom, and then return to the parched wasteland of Easy Street for our next few bands.  Once we entered Das Haus, the previous band had almost completed loading out.  But alas there was no band putting stuff on stage.  We grabbed a drink and settled in at a table.  And waited….and waited some more.  Finally, about 5 minutes after The Sheiks should have started, the band showed up (to great consternation from the stage manager of the venue) and began their set up without any seeming urgency.  By this time, I was getting vaguely annoyed, which likely showed by the time this band began their set. 

We watch a few serviceable tunes from The Shrieks, but I couldn’t really appreciate them since the situation had got under my skin.


The Sheikhs were not bad, and i bet in other circumstances Tracers would have liked them.

But they pissed off the crowd, and they weren’t good enough to overcome that.  Whatever.


I nodded to PostLibyan and we decided to wander back to Easy Street to see what was happening there.

And I’m ever so glad we did went back.  We managed to catch the last 2 or three songs of a group called Seratones, who are from Shreveport LA.

And they were awesome.  Imagine, if you will, a punk sounding band with rockabilly undertones over which came growling, earthy soul-influenced female vocals.  It’s not a combination I would have thought of, but these folks pulled it off.  I guess it’s not surprising, since while we listened, I did a little bit of research, and the musicians came from a long line of punk/thrash bands (including one awesomely named “Thrashosaurus Wrecks”).  Anyway, despite the sweltering heat, the band was firing across all cylinders and had everyone in the venue enthralled.  Great stuff.

  They were hammering at it, just pounding on their instruments while the vocalist wailed away. Everyone up front where i went to take a few pictures was dancing like crazy and clapping and getting in to it. They really put on a fun time, and i am glad i got to see a few songs. I wish i had managed to catch more of thier set! Despite the sweltering heat and the lack of liquids, in retrospect we would have been better off jsut staying at Easy Street... Oh well.  

At this point, we got to hang out for a while in the coolish evening air while the next band set up at Easy Street.  This was Athens GA band Muuy Biien.  They’ve been around for a while but I’d never seen them, even though many friends kept telling me I need to check them out.  So, ironically, it was in Birmingham (not Atlanta) where I’d first get to encounter them live. 

After a relatively quick set up, this 5 piece took the stage and launched into an abrasive punk/noise sound.  Sort of influenced by The Fall, sort of influenced by Wire, and sort of just really noisy, it was also pretty durn great, filled with an ineffable energy that just oozed through the venue. 


This was a great post-punk band with trebly guitars turned up LOUD and a vocalist jumping around and screaming and singing… 

Lots of fun.


But the way the crowd reacted to this aggressiveness…  The venue started out mostly full, but quickly people began to stream out.  Many of these folks had hands over their ears or made the classic “ick” face as they passed by on their way to the front door.  Additionally, over the course of Muuy Biien’s set, some folks would come in, stand around for a minute or so, and then quickly exit.  The way I look at it, you must be doing something right in a punk sense when you can more or less empty out a venue of random spectators.  And this is indeed what Muuy Biien did, leaving a small core contingent of folks who were really into them.


They were intense, i’ll give them that. I liked it, but can see how it is not for everyone.


Once Muuy Biien finished, we had a 20-25 minute break before our next scheduled show.  We took a look around and realized that Raindeer was playing another set at that moment, in a real venue with drinks and bathrooms and (presumably) air conditioning.  PostLibyan and I looked at each other and said why not, so we bopped over to see a little bit of Raindeer for the second time in a day.  We entered to hear them again (and I was able to see the band, since this venue had a real stage!).  They still sounded really good, although the mix at this venue wasn’t as good as Easy Street.  But the band was still bouncing away, showing off the synths to better effect while the shimmering vocals continued to shine.  The fact that I enjoyed them just as much this second time around suggests that Raindeer really will be a great band and certainly one to keep an eye on.


The second venue was next door, and there was a door between the two that usually stayed closed. Given the way that Easy Street had a bunch of pool tables pushed against the back wall, i wonder if that venue was the pool room for this other bar…  Whatever.

  But then it was time to return again to Easy Street.  This time we wanted to see Velouria, a local Birmingham band with a dreamy pop sound.  We really liked their promo song on the Secret Stages sampler so though they would be an excellent act to catch.   

Yeah, i really wanted to see these guys. I loved the free song that they gave away with the sampler…


As we came back into Easy Street, we saw a group setting up with synths, guitars, laptops and the like.  It wasn’t what I was expecting from Velouria, but you never know what someone’s live act is going to be like.  I could see more and more folks streaming in, asking the venue workers, “This is the Velouria show, right?” to which the works nodded.  And then….this band took the stage.  They were a five piece with no female vocalist, which seemed distinctly not like Velouria.  At the end of the first song, one of the musicians said into the mic that they were <garbled> from Pensacola.  I watched as suddenly people began to flip open their schedules and gradually leave.

We, however, stayed.  As it turns out, the garbled named band was actually called PRECUBED and they are an instrumental/electronic post-rock act.  And they were actually really good.  Now, admittedly, I am bit of a sucker for instrumental post-rock.  I like the way in general the way the timbre of the sounds ebb and flow.  I like the way the instruments tend to pull apart and crash back together as they build and swell.  Seriously, I like this stuff and I like it live. 

PRECUBED offered all of that in spades.  Unfortunately for them, the Velouria change hadn’t been announced (or announced in a way that the word got out) so in the end they played to maybe 10 folks.  And I felt bad for the band, because it was a total shame.


Yeah, it kind of sucked for them. But they were a last minute fill-in band who had played a regularly scheduled set next door earlier that night. It is a shame that Velouria cancelled at the last minute, but whatever. I thought that PRECUBED did a really good job with electronic post-rock in a live setting. The 5 members shifted instruments around often, but the sound was smooth and dense and complex and great. Not everyone can pull that off live, and they did. I was impressed, to be honest. I was glad that we were among the few people who stook it out and watched them.


Once PRECUBED soared to a close, PostLibyan and I had another band on the schedule.  But we were both parched and PRECUBED had been a good highnote to end a festival on, so we decided to call it a night and wander back to the hotel with the sweet sounds of post-rock ringing in our ears.

All in all, I have to admit I had a great time at Secret Stages.  The music we searched out was almost uniformly excellent and I encountered a number of bands who I wouldn’t normally see.  Truly, my favorite acts were Twin Limb, Waking Astronomer, and Raindeer.  I suspect I would add Seratones to this list had I seen more of them.  But then again, as I think back through the bands, I keep wanting to add more to my favorites, which is a sign of how much I enjoyed everything.  In truth, the only really downsides were the lack of water at that temporary venue and the fact that there seemed to be a little scheduling mayhem on the second night (see:  the Velouria incident).  But I’d definitely do this festival again even if I hope that next year they possibly move it to a more moderately temperature month.

Related Links: (free download of EP)


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