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  FIVE-EIGHT w/ The Moto-litas, American Dream, and Kenny Howes  
  Smith's Olde Bar  
  Atlanta, GA  
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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. Very silly.

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....

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