Friday, December 12, 2014

On Local Music

So The Bottom String hasn't been incredibly active for the past month or so, and for that, local music fans, I apologize. But alas the train has found itself back upon the tracks and we're rolling out a lot of exciting content in the new year. 2014 has been an astounding year for local music, next week we'll have our Top 20 North Carolina albums of the year posted, but this week marks a very pivotal point in the local music scene, at least for myself. Tonight at Haw River Ballroom marks the last Lost in the Trees show "for the foreseeable future."

Change like this is natural, its an ebb and flow. But as all of you likely know, Lost in the Trees is, has been, and always will be my favorite local act. From the minute that I saw the 13-piece band jam into the abandoned shops of Old City Hall in New Bern I knew I'd stumbled upon something special. That was roughly six years ago when I learned that a mere two and a half hour drive would place me into a hotbed of awe-inspiring talent. Artists like Lost in the Trees don't come around that often, even when you're surrounded by the talent that North Carolina possesses. Albums like All Alone in an Empty House serve as a snapshot, a moment in time where someone's artistic output served as much needed therapy for not only the writer, but for countless others who've undergone similar experiences. Anyone who's seen a parent struggle with depression, lived in an abusive home, had their heart broken, they've connected with pieces of music just like this. But I can safely say that I've never seen a piece of work as sincere, as passionate or as moving as Lost in the Trees' All Alone in an Empty House.

It's easy to let the melancholy wash over you without second thought while you immerse yourself in swelling strings, sharp guitars and rich harmonies. But to stop and take in the themes and the messages will shed a whole new light upon things.  So surround yourself with good people. I know it's painful but we can stand...Asked to forgive when you're still angry, if I can't heal my heart then forgive me. They're astonishingly powerful words that can easily get lost amidst the pomp and fanfare of the stellar instrumentation.

Maybe I'm just fanboy-ing out here because I'm about to see Lost in the Trees for the last time, maybe I'm just trying to share how incredibly important this band has been to my life, but either way it's a statement that needs to be uttered. Lost in the Trees, and artists like them, are the very reason that I've fallen in love with this music scene. I have zero doubt in my mind that Haw River Ballroom will be shoulder to shoulder, filled with fans, friends, musicians, and all around incredible people sharing beautiful moments with one another at one of the most scenic venues in the country. Being able to see a career trajectory as heart-warming as that of Lost in the Trees doesn't happen very often. From humble beginnings at Trekky Records to international acclaim with Anti, from the therapeutic symphonies of All Alone in an Empty House and A Church That Fit our Needs to the electronic whirs of Past Life, the sincerity and talent on display within this band is something that can never be paralleled for me.

Allow this to serve as a "thank you," to Ari and Emma, to Joah and Mark, Will and Leah, Jenavieve and Andrew, to Trekky Records, to any musician who's ever put themselves in a vulnerable position by revealing their innermost thoughts, feelings and fears and help others cope with their own. Thank you for letting some awestruck 19 year old stand in front of you with a shitty video camera for his brand new blog. You're the foundation that holds not only our music scene together, but everyone's scene. Shows like this re-ignite my passion to share local music with the masses, to shout from a mountaintop that "this band is mind blowing and you need to experience this before it's too late." Support your local scene, buy the albums, share it with friends, take them to shows, foster the community that you wish to be a part of. Most importantly, surround yourself with good people.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Show Review: Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar at The Cat's Cradle Backroom

Deniro Farrar at the Cat's Cradle Backroom
This was the second night in a row in which I was at the Cat's Cradle, however, this time I was going to the Backroom. When I first entered the venue, they were mixing LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean" with A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation". I knew the night was going to be very interesting after delving into their pre-show playlist.

Opening the show were Greensboro rappers, Big Whiskey and Pscril. Without a DJ to mix their music, BW was left to play their music off his laptop. Regardless of the DJ situation, BW and Pscril sufficiently warmed up the crowd with some of great tracks such as "Hideaway" featuring Chapel Hill rapper Skyblew, "The Man of my City" featuring Spanish Harlem rapper Dave East, and Pscril's self-produced track, "Keep Strivin'". They ended the night with an awesome track called "Scottie Pippen", which got the crowd jumping and moshing. You can check out both rappers catalog of banger tracks on Big Whiskey's YouTube channel and Pscril's SoundCloud page.

Unfortunately, the next act, Body Games, was unable to make it due to "logistics beyond [their] control." I had first seen this Carrboro group perform at Kennedy Theatre during the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. At their show back in September, they were joined on stage by Charlotte rapper, Well$, who was the act that followed Big Whiskey and Pscril. I was not too familiar with his raps, but he drew a pretty good crowd for his set. Well$ did some acapella raps in the middle of his set, which is always impressive. At the end of his set, he told the crowd to come see him at the merch table by saying "Come talk to me, I swear I'm not awkward."

Well$ left the stage soon after I finished my second Pabst, and the atmosphere in the Cat's Cradle Backroom was getting quite 'turnt'. Flat brim hats, basketball jerseys, and saggy skinny jeans were abound in this young crowd. Lana Del Rey was playing in the background as I ascended the stairs to the upper level to get a better view of the primary acts. Gazing down at the sound guy, Deniro Farrar's manager Meko was using his phone to illuminate the setlist (SCORE!). DuRu Tha King was up next followed by JK the Reaper, and closing the night was Denzel Curry with a 40 minute set and Deniro Farrar with a 45 minute set. As I was leaning over the railing, I looked to my left and caught a glimpse of Deniro Farrar and his crew hanging out in the green room.

A few minutes later, DJ Trap hit the stage to warm up the crowd with some of his beats. He is Deniro Farrar's road DJ and enjoys playing some EDM-rap fusion. When he dropped tracks at Kennedy Theatre, they fell on deaf ears, as the crowd was fairly empty as most had been drawn to The War on Drugs show. However, he dropped several tracks that had a dubstep / brostep vibe that got the crowd jumping and moshing again.

DuRu Tha King came out to a warmed up crowd, and started dropping his own tracks. There were a few tracks that stood out above all else, one of which was "Smoked Out". You could smell a hint of ganja in the air. He ended his set with a track he played with Deniro Farrar at Hopscotch, "Social Status", however, this time it was sans-Farrar. Check out DuRu Tha King's 12-track mixtape Indoor Plus + on his DJ Booth page.

JK the Reaper, another Greensboro native, followed DuRu's set with his own DJ, Posh Shabbat (who also DJs for Denzel Curry). He had some serious sound issues, with some truly horrible reverb. One girl shouted "Don't let that get you down!" and others started a "JK" chant. The one line that stuck with me was "I feel like the rarest Yugioh card". The energy in the Backroom was palpable, as you see many locals dap each other and other friendly gestures. From atop by perch, I had a full view of all the different social groups and cliques in the venue, and overall, the crowd was VERY diverse. Before JK The Reaper's set ended, Denzel Curry came out on stage in his Xanax hoodie and started with one of his biggest tracks, "Parents".

Soon after hitting the stage with his backwards Darth Vader mask, he took off his Xanax hoodie to reveal a Stankonia shirt (major props). Many times during his set, Denzel would climb up on the leftmost speaker and eat bars like a pill-head. Halfway through Denzel's set, he picked two guys from the front row and split the crowd in two. He then instructed that the two lucky guys were the 'leaders' of the left and rights sides of the crowd, respectively. Once the beat dropped, the crowd went WILD and started moshing! I took a video of it, but it did no justice to truly express the insanity that was unfolding a few feet below the balcony, as people were getting knocked around, hitting the floor, pushing and shoving. Denzel closed his set with his biggest hit, "Threats", which is one of his trappiest bangers. Trap arms and bow-flexing soon followed.

DJ Trap came back out a few minutes after Denzel Curry's set came to a close and started dropping more of his EDM/Rap fusion tracks. The 'VIP' balcony next to me emptied out, which signaled the start of Deniro Farrar's set. His crew came out on stage first, but were quickly followed by the Charlotte-native, Dante Farrar a.k.a Deniro Farrar. He brought the bangers out first, with tracks such as the Ryan Hemsworth produced track "Big Tookie" and "Kill Your Idols". Much like his set during Thursday's Hopscotch lineup, he performed an acapella version of "Days Go By". His next track, "Fears", uses a slowed down version of Schoolboy Q's "Man of the Year", which got the crowd absolutely HYPE. Deniro commanded the crowd to wave "left, right, left, right". Deniro started handing out water bottles to the front row and said "Gotta keep you kids hydrated". After finishing one of his more recent releases, "Rebirth", Denzel Curry ran back out on stage! Deniro and Denzel closed out the night with their collaborative tracks "Bow Down" and "Feel Like That". These two young rappers have just blown up in the past year and just finished up the last stop of their Bow Down Tour, so expect some new collaborative work from them sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Show Review: Temples w/ Spires

Spires at The Cat's Cradle
'Take me away to the twilight zone' is the quote that most stuck with me on my drive to Carrboro to see Temples at the Cat's Cradle. If you've never been to this wonderful, local venue, definitely check it out. Every show there feels like an 'underground, secret concert' that no one knows about but every seems to be there anyways. The entrance is now in the rear due to some renovations, but that doesn't stop the Cat's Cradle promoters from attracting a wide variety of well-known artists to come perform.

The opening act, Spires, offered up one of the best opening performances of any band I've seen at the Cradle. The airy vocals of front-man Jason mix well with their blend of dreamy keyboards and intricate guitar riffs. Playing hits such as "Comic Book" and "Sleepy Eyes", Spires more than warmed up the crowd for Temples, and even performed one of their new songs, "Parallel Lines". They closed their set with an awesome extended version of "Candy Flip".

After Spires broke down all their equipment, there were a few guys on stage near some old-school projectors. I also spotted an older, bearded fellow on the elevated area to the left with a modern projector. The videos I had seen prior to this show had a CRAZY visualizer. The guys on stage used translucent lens and plates to mix a concoction of colors and oils. It's difficult to describe how the visualizer looked in words, but suffice to say it was mindblowing. In the 60s, these so-called 'analog liquid lightshows' were pretty common, but the dominance of lasers, LEDs, and large screens made this ancient technology all but forgotten. The group responsible for Temple's visualiser go by the name Mad Alchemy. Check out their Facebook page for a photo gallery of their work, it's quite amazing.

In addition to the liquid lightshow, Temples torn the friggin' place down as the opened their set with their album title-track, "Sun Structures". The followed that with one of my personal favorites, "A Question Isn't Answered", which got the crowd clapping along to the song. During one of the 'crowd-banter' sessions, James Edward Bagshaw (Guitar / Lead Vocals) addressed the audience and a girl shouted "EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS AWESOME!" Laughter ensued soon after the comment.

Temples at The Cat's Cradle
Whammy bars and guitar changes were rife, as the Bagshaw had to change out his axe several times. The British group melted faces with haunting melodies and synthesizers. My main focus the entire performance were the BEAUTIFUL Gresch guitars that Bagwell had at his disposal. Regardless of the brand of guitar he wielded, the entire night harkened back to a sound of the early Beatles, with a hint of Pink Floyd. If you closed your eyes, you were almost taken to the Ed Sullivan show and Ringo, Paul, John, and George (the best Beatle) were on stage playing their hearts out for the world to see. Opening your eyes, you realize you are witnessing a modern iteration of the greatest Britain has to offer.

They continued their set with hits such as "Keep in the Dark", and ended their set with "Shelter Song". In total, they only played ten songs, and the cats in the crowd were ready for an encore. After leaving us hanging for a minute while their 'guitar guy' was setting up for their final few songs, we were graced with a spectacular encore. Temples began their encore with a song with which I was not too familiar, "The Guesser". Strangely enough, this is now my favorite track off of their debut album, Sun Structures. Fortunately, they saved the best for last, an extended version of "Mesmerise", fitting for the atmosphere Temples and Mad Alchemy had created that magical night at The Cat's Cradle. If you haven't already, check out their music, merch, and other stuff on their website, you definitely won't regret it!

Expect more reviews and previews on The Bottom String very soon. You can also follow my hectic live-local music performance schedule on my blog, TeehaMusic.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Show Preview: The “Bow Down” Tour feat. Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar

Denzel Curry & Deniro Farrar
Many people may say hip-hop is dead, and that is true if you have been listening to anything on the radio. There's no depth in pop-rap, it's just a bunch of kids that want to drink Cristal or hang with Jay-Z. Who doesn't want to do that? However, there are many up-and-coming rappers that have been making a name for themselves with meaningful lyrics over some fire beats. Two rappers that have been essential in the resurrection of the rap-game are Denzel Curry and Deniro Farrar.

My first experience with Charlotte-local Deniro Farrar was at Kennedy Theatre at Hopscotch this year. His set was right before Lunice, so the atmosphere was already quite 'turnt'. We were warmed up with one of tonight's openers, Body Games, who had a special guest, join them on their visualizer, Jonah Hill. Another of tonight's openers, Well$, joined Body Games on stage for one song as well, something I'm sure we'll see some of tonight. The only set I was not excited about though was Deniro Farrar, however, my assumptions were shattered when he hit the stage. Although the crowd wasn't enormous, it felt like the room was packed wall to wall as he threw down several bangers. Deniro has also collaborated with several well-known producers including Ryan Hemsworth and Flosstradamus. He's released 5 studio albums over the course of the past four years, and even released an EP earlier this year, Rebirth. If you have been sleeping on Deniro, you need to wake up and check him out!

The other rapper on the 'Bow Down' Tour is Denzel Curry. The 19-year-old Floridian released his debut album, Nostalgic 64, over a year ago. He got his start by posting his first mixtape on SpaceGhostPurrp's Facebook page, and since then, his fanbase has grown exponentially. He collaborated with Deniro for the first time this year with their track "Bow Down". Soon after they announced the 'Bow Down' Tour which is making a stop at the Cat's Cradle Backroom tonight. The two rappers have a stacked opening line-up with several local acts including, JK The Reaper, Duru Tha King, Well$, Body Games [cancelled], and Big Whiskey.

The show starts at 8:00 and doors open at 7:00. Tickets are $15 in advance and at the door. Check out the video for Deniro Farrar and Denzel Curry's "Bow Down" below and purchase tickets here:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Show Preview: Temples w/ Spires at Cat's Cradle

2014 boasts a strange musical landscape to say the least. The internet is currently exploding over a cat-centric remix of a snarling hip-hop album, and those that aren't may be slyly soaking in the new Taylor Swift album or something of that ilk. Basically the spectrum of possibilities for a "buzz-band" are endless, and thanks to folks like Tame Impala it's kind of become cool to harken back to the simplistic psych-rock of old. Not to say that acts like Temples are blasé by any means, but there's something about the band that feels far less niched than their contemporaries. There's no strange oddities or tweaked out, pitch changed oscillating vocals, just straight forward pop-tinged psych-rock. And frankly that's what has become so enjoyable about this band.

Temples released their debut full-length, Sun Structures,  back in February and since then have been gradually building acclaim as one of the "best new bands out of Britain," according to folks like Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher. Temples take what feels like an old sonic trope, the swirling guitars, simplistic melodies and soaring synths of yore, but puts a contemporary twist on them. While their musical pallet may not rival the likes of the aforementioned Tame Impala or the personality found within acts like Foxygen, Temples still do a damn fine job of capturing the nostalgia of Revolver-era Beatles and spitting out new subject matter for a generation of fans that may not be as privy to the music from decades past.

Sure one could say that Temples isn't the most original act around, there's not a ton of defining factors within their music that makes them characteristically them, but just because their tracks may be devoid of an outstanding personality doesn't make them bland or uninteresting. Frankly artists like Temples are essential, their songs are aesthetically pleasing and certainly lend themselves to a live setting, where lyrical content may not reign supreme but the melodies that carry those lyrics make all the difference. Which is truly where Temples shines, they can write a memorable hook and make it mesh brilliantly with their wistful instrumentation.

Spires will serve as an awesome dip into the psychedelic pool as well, following in a similar musical trajectory, Spires draw upon the psychedelic rock of the 60s to churn out a fresh sound that's all their own. This Brooklyn based band will provide an interesting dichotomy to see how region effects influence, they're making remarkably similar music to Temples but are doing so from an entirely different area, thus drawing upon a wide array of influences that Temples may not have delved into.

The show starts at 8:30 pm with doors opening at 7:30. Tickets are $16 in advance and $18 at the door. Check out the video for Temples' "Shelter Song" below and purchase tickets here:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Collection share live performance of "The Middle One"

The Collection will perform in Charlotte at
The Visulite Theatre on Saturday Oct. 25
I'll never forget the feeling of elation that overcame me when I heard the opening notes of The Collection's self-titled EP. A faint banjo rolls slowly through your ears, repeating its refrain as David Wimbish's delicate, warbly vocals sneak their way in to the minimalistic track. As subtle harmonies slowly build the song erupts into a brilliantly orchestrated display of shameless emotionality and spirituality. The Collection may draw much of their lyrical content from religious subject matter, but it's not an exclusive act, as the emotions and imagery evoked from this powerful music can touch the spiritual and secular alike.

This past year the band has begun to blossom in ways that even the most dedicated fan could have never guessed. Upon the release of Ars Moriendi this past July, the band began to receive a lot more national attention. Their record premiered on AV Club which lead to a whole slew of new outlets and listeners finding out about this once overlooked act. Since then they've been branching out of their quaint little pocket of North Carolina and hitting the road to spread their joyful, triumphant songs and today marks the first day of their latest outing.

To kick off this month-long string of dates, The Collection is sharing a wonderfully intimate performance that was recorded in Chicago this past August. The band prefaced their time in the city by claiming that they "were not expecting things to go great" since it was their first show in Chicago, but a few songs into their set they see fans shouting along to every word, something that frankly is hard not to do once you grow acquainted with this act. And naturally, as the road is want to do, these devoted onlookers became friends and cohorts of The Collection, letting the band crash in their studio and filming a gorgeous, sparse performance of "The Middle One," a track from Ars Moriendi. Check out the band's performance below and be sure to catch them on tour if they're stopping through your city:

The Collection Tour Dates:
23 - Elkins Park Train Station in Philadelphia, PA
24 - Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, NY
25 - Visulite Theatre in Charlotte, NC
30 - Off Broadway in St. Louis, MO

3 - The State Room in Salt Lake City, UT
5 - Old Saint Francis in Bend, OR
6 - Tractor Tavern in Seattle, WA
9 - Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR
11 - Rickshaw stop in San Francisco, CA
12 - Harlows in Sacramento, CA
13 - Radiant Church in Visalia, CA
14 - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA
16 - Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Show Review: The War on Drugs w/ Peter Matthew Bauer

The War on Drugs performed at Haw River Ballroom on
Friday, October 17
The night started out slow. Familiar for Haw River Ballroom. Long walk from the car to the door, grab a beer past the entrance, decent crowd, not too many yet we’re too far from all the major cities. Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why. Peter Matthew Bauer started the occasion. I expected a lot of Bauer—something gentle and soothing as compared to his prior sounds with The Walkmen. I had heard he’d been studying astrology, offering readings on his website for 150 a pop, the older rock star finding peace and I was excited to see how his live set would reverberate his experience.

Bauer had a 50’s vibe, surf rock mixed with indie pop and just the slightest dash of psych rock. For me it all clicked with his track “I was born in an Ashram.” Bauer has never been a vocalist; in this track I started to see whats been on his mind all those bass-thumping years. As he chanted with band in tow “let’s leave it behind, the future is ours, let’s leave it behind, all that we say, let’s leave it behind, nothing’s illusion.” I heard the triumphant dirge of a rock star bent on striking his own chord, forming a band whose frontman would sing the songs he had been holding inside. Bauer didn’t disappoint. By the time his set was winding up, the room was full of people eager to defy Kozelek and get to a The War on Drugs show. Bauer had set the room up right. Beers flowed, old friends embraced, the haw river’s characteristic “thrills” signed pointed to a stage that promised we’d see something between psych rock and indie pop hit the stage in 1!5, maybe 20 minutes.

What to say about seeing The War on Drugs. As a wise man once said, “If you can do a half- assed job of anything, you're a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind.” The War on Drugs offered up tunes, but it wasn’t my favorite show (or second favorite show) that I’d seen that week. There was no consensus among the crowd. Seemingly half-hearted woo’s sounded periodically, signifying that one song had ended and another would no doubt soon begin. Some of the people around me would leave, allowing others to shuffle forward. I myself left before the encore, by the time they played "Red Eye," third or fourth song, a characteristic hit, I felt like I had gotten a sense of the whole show I would see from then on.

I may be drunk on our local music scene, starving for each show to radiate an intensity of wonder, musicians amazed at the supportive scene they play to here in Central NC. For this reviewer, The War on Drugs lacked this intensity. Not to say they were bad, they certainly weren’t. The instruments played were played well, the band’s sound was cohesive. It was that I had come expectant of a psych rock show—a genre quite open for interpretation and my personal favorite. I had heard The War on Drugs associated with the sounds of bands like Woods, Spiritualized, The Beta Band, etc. By the time they hit "Red Eye," I was losing interest in the live show which offered very rehearsed performances of studio tracks. The drum beats were kept simple, the instrumental breaks and guitar solos were played exactly similar to studio recordings. If that’s your type of thing, I would highly recommend a The War on Drugs show. If it’s not, the show may still be worth checking out, you’ll hear familiar songs and be able to put faces and movements to a sound, but it won’t be the best show you see that week.

-Joe Wright