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  MURRAY ATTAWAY AND THE REDEEMERS w/ The Indicators and Kenny Howes and the Yeah!  
  The Echo Lounge  
  East Atlanta, GA  
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I’ve been on hiatus from EvilSponge for a few months now, partially because my “real job” has kept me busy writing academic articles, leaving little prosaic energy for reviews. But, another reason for my silence was a critic’s crisis of sorts: the fear that I don’t know enough about music to say anything of substance. Our digital soapbox has proven immensely powerful (even personal at times) and I’ve been feeling inadequate to stand on the shoulders of journalistic and musical giants. Who am I, anyway? Just a music fan. Sometimes enthused, sometimes cynical, always sincere. But sincerity never won a Pulitzer for aesthetic commentary, or even guaranteed reliable musical advice.

Such was my life when I entered The Echo Lounge to see three bands I’ve gotten to know during my time in exile: Kenny Howes and the Yeah!, The Indicators, and Murray Attaway and the Redeemers. All three bands include well-honed Atlanta musicians with exceptional talent and careful craft. And Attaway, of course, was a member of local legends, Guadalcanal Diary. But my trip to The Echo was as much a social call to visit with friends as it was a night of listening to accomplished acts. I certainly didn’t plan to review the show. I took no notes. Nor did I pursue facts like a diligent and responsible reporter. If you are looking for great insight about the set list choices, guitar pedal counts, or sound mix complexities, I’m afraid my comments will be short on detail and long on narrative impression. What you will find, though, is an affirmation of live music’s unique importance and a celebration of fandom’s many incarnations.

I arrived in time to see what was supposed to be the first act, Kenny Howes and the Yeah!, setting up. However, the front person on stage looked nothing like the Howes I know. Gone were the long black ringlets of hair, dark shaggy beard, and flouncy shirt which were his trademarks. Instead, there was a man bearing more of a resemblance to Buddy Holly or Ballard Lesemann (of The Rock*A*Teens) with a cropped ‘do, white button down shirt, and skinny black tie. When he spoke, I realized that it was in fact Howes with an image-altering makeover, one that clarified both his previously beard-covered complexion and his rather incongruous musical sound. See, Kenny Howes and the Yeah! are a power-pop band with tight little ditties and interesting guitar work. I always thought, “Sounds vaguely like the Beatles, but looks more like a metalhead vacationing in Key West.” With the new image, Howes’ Brit-pop sound is more pronounced than ever, and the show reflected his interesting mix of rock influences, especially The Beatles and Pete Townsend. This night, in particular, I came to realize just how knowledgeable and reflective Howes is of his musical roots. Little wonder, then, that both he and The Indicators are featured on Love in Song, a Paul McCartney tribute CD.

Unfortunately, I cannot tell you much more about the first set. Just as Kenny Howes and the Yeah! began, I unexpectedly ran into a friend from graduate school. We hadn’t seen each other in over four years, so we found a quiet place to stroll memory lane and reflect on grad school life. In a strangely intimate moment, we shared stories of growing up with religious families in Georgia and often finding ourselves emotionally isolated. We both admitted feeling lucky to be alive and healthy after years of academic, physical, and spiritual difficulties.

My friend and I emerged from this reverie to catch more of the second act, The Indicators. At first listen, The Indicators are a classic garage band: loud, fast, and often boisterous. Underlying that “devil may care” front, however, is a complex arrangement of musical styles, an ear for unique vocal harmony, and an ensemble of meticulous musicians including two sophisticated guitarists. Three of the four band members sing at various times, making their sound diverse and unpredictable: sort of MC5 meets The Cramps meets Social Distortion. Along with a growing list of their own melodies (including Kill the Messenger, one of the newest and most promising), the band wears their influences on the proverbial sleeve; this night, they covered both Wire and Roky Erickson. (Although the vocal mixing was poor all night, David McNair’s singing on Don’t Slander Me bellowed with a dark menace.) More than anything, I realized that this band, like Kenny Howes and the Yeah!, are musicians who not only perform their own music, but they also study and celebrate their artistic influences.

Between sets I turned to my grad school friend and explained that most members of The Indicators would be backing Murray Attaway under the name The Redeemers. My friend asked if they’d cover some of Diary’s material because he was a big fan. I assured him that he’d get his wish. Indeed, Attaway’s set was a rather lengthy and diverse mix of Guadalcanal Diary covers, new songs, and a great version of Bryan Ferry’s More Than This. Again, the musicianship was strong, and Attaway’s evocative voice popped crisp and mature in the dark hall of the Echo. Sadly, I noticed that the audience was rather small, perhaps because this was Attaway’s second performance at The Echo in the past few months. But those in attendance were enthusiastic fans who cheered loudly. They needed little prodding from The Redeemers’ Mike Goldman, who showed admiration for Attaway by secretly urging the crowd to call him back for an encore.

As the show ended, my grad school friend turned to me thoughtfully. “I’m really glad I came out tonight. It was great to see you, of course, but also…,” he stammered, “Guadalcanal Diary and Drivin and Cryin -- they saved my life in college.”

“R.E.M. did it for me,” I replied. With goosebumps on my skin and golfballs in my throat, I realized that there’s something more to live music than the set list, the pedal count, or the sound mix. For one moment, this cynic understood the mythical connection between artist, music, and fan. Musical inspiration can be shown in many ways: on long nights of studying accompanied by a well-worn CD, on stage through subtle resonances or even overt covers of artistic influences, and on the digital pages of music reviews. The Redeemers chose an appropriate moniker for the evening: it was a night of redemption, perhaps not for the over-analytical critic named “Brillo,” but certainly for the sincere fan named Michelle.

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