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Blog Concert Review

Built to Spill @ Cat’s Cradle 5/8/22

If you, like me, are an indie rock fan, then seeing Built to Spill should be on your list of bands to see live. I went with a group of friends to Cat’s Cradle (one of the best venues to see anyone play) on May 8, and I saw a couple of electric performances by individuals and bands. 

Built to Spill frequents Cat’s Cradle, as they usually make sure to have a stop every tour. This year they brought along two openers, Itchy Kitty and Prism Bitch. Itchy Kitty are from Spokane, Washington and they play wonderfully loud, jarring sounds in the vein of punk and “whiplash inducing riffage” as stated by their Bandcamp bio. Prism Bitch are from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their genre focus is in the pop indie rock niche, which unfortunately adds to my slight distaste for their performance. 

Itchy Kitty

Itchy Kitty performing live at Cat's Cradle
Itchy Kitty onstage at Cat’s Cradle – Photo by Ben Price

After milling about in the crowd waiting for the show to start, Itchy Kitty hopped on the stage. The members, Ami Elston (guitar and vocals), Naomi Eisenbrey (bass and vocals), Mike “Sug” Tschirgi (drums), and a fill-in guitarist, immediately started off trying to get the crowd moving.

Elston and Esenbrey’s vocals screamed through the Cradle and jolted most people awake. I don’t think many people were expecting a raging punk band like Itchy Kitty to open for the soft, mild-mannered Built to Spill. 

At one point during their set, my group of friends got a shout out from Elston and Eisenbrey for being the only people trying to mosh and get moving to the music. I loved their stage presence. Especially Naomi Eisenbrey’s jerky movements when they covered “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads (which was fantastic and horrifying at the same time). 

Itchy Kitty killed their set. I didn’t recognize all of their songs, but “Year of the Slut” and “Diffuse the Rat” were good ones to throw some elbows to. I am hoping this tour with Built to Spill will make their fanbase a bit more vast so we can see them headlining soon. 

Prism Bitch

Moving onto the second opener, Prism Bitch did a fine job. They were more of who I expected to open for Built to Spill. Their pop centered indie rock did not blow me away like Itchy Kitty’s in-your-face screams and riffs. The members are Lauren Poole (bass and vocals), Lilah Rose (keyboard, guitar and vocals), Chris Walsh (guitar), and Teresa Esquerra (drums and vocals). 

I thought Poole and Esquerra made the most impact on the band’s presence on stage. Both were fun to watch as they poured in all their energy into their instruments. Poole’s vocals were a great addition to Rose’s dreamy, classic, pop-rock style of singing. Prism Bitch did not get me moving like Itchy Kitty, but I have hope they’ll be able to fine tune their style to find a sound more intriguing. 

Built to Spill

When Doug Martsch finally came to stage it was already 10:30 p.m. Both openers had exhausted me and friends, but nothing could stop me from enjoying seeing one of my favorite bands knock out some of the best guitar work in the world. 

Doug Martsch was joined on stage by Prism Bitch’s drummer, Teresa Esquerra, and bassist Melanie Radford. Both Esquerra and Radford were amazing fill-ins. Radford’s bass playing was fun to watch. She looked like she was having as much fun as the crowd the way she swayed with Martsch’s rhythms. 

Doug Martsch onstage at Cat's Cradle
From left to right: Melanie Radford (bass), Doug Martsch (guitar and vocals), and Teresa Esquerra (drums) – Photo by Ben Price

Built to Spill’s set ranged from classics to covers to long winded instrumentals. They started off with “The Plan” to get the crowd “moving” (everyone was doing the obligatory calm head bops to the beat). There were a few technical issues after the first couple songs, but after that quick pause Martsch played the opening instrumental to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer”, which led into “Gonna Lose”. 

A cover of a Cate Le Bon song, “Are You with Me Now?”, marked the middle of the set. The plucky instrumentals and Martsch’s soft voice created a memorable sound. I really loved this cover (unfortunately I had never heard of Cate Le Bon before this concert). At this point the crowd began to sway their hips and move their feet more.

That cover was followed by “Goin’ Against Your Mind”. The never ending guitar riffs, bass solo by Melanie Radford, and always incredible drum work by Esquerra created the perfect atmosphere for the song. I think while they were playing “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” I saw Martsch smile for the first time and only time during their set. 

“Carry the Zero” being one of the last songs they played was a treat too. That classic hit will never get old for me, and now I can say I have seen it live. I honestly believe that finally seeing Doug Martsch and Built to Spill perform live was a life goal achieved. While the merch table was mediocre (besides the bangin’ Itchy Kitty t-shirts), seeing Built to Spill live is an important experience for people to understand why they are so well loved. 

Keep eatin’

– DJ chef

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Blog Concert Review

Boy Harsher Concert Review

When I saw that Boy Harsher was coming to Cat’s Cradle it felt surreal, like there’s no way that band was coming to that venue at this time. For the uninitiated, Boy Harsher is a darkwave artist, sort of on the edge of post-punk and electronic, and darkwave is a genre that I have been essentially submerged in this whole semester. Seeing one of my favorite darkwave bands in my favorite venue felt too good to be true, but no, it happened and it was awesome.

The opening acts did what all great opening acts should: got us moving and excited for what was to come while also leaving their mark on the show. Durham’s Permanent was someone I had wanted to see for awhile as they were at some shows I was really close to attending but couldn’t quite make, and they certainly lived up to the hype. As it was an opening act the crowd sadly wasn’t as energetic as they would be later which was a shame as Permanent really was going hard, with somewhat dissonant and chaotic synths that still came together with the drums to create an extremely danceable set. 

Club Music, the second opener, kept the energy levels up and I liked the order because they felt like the perfect hybrid between Permanent and Boy Harsher, definitely bringing some darkwave as well as some traditional sounding, well, club music. They played on despite being on crutches and even incorporated it into the show by raising it in the air like they were leading a cavalry charge during some of the more powerful moments.

Then Boy Harsher was on, their arrival announced by completely filling the stage with smoke to the point where it (almost) concealed a guy’s vape in the front row. And through the murkiness came the first of many exquisite synth lines of their set. Vibes took center stage here, with an emphasis on echoey vocals and the feeling they imparted. The absolute peak of the show was this one ~30 second part where lead singer Jae Matthews kneeled and repeatedly screamed over almost ritualistic pounding drums in an incredibly memorable and bizarre sequence that captured what makes Boy Harsher so fun to listen to: taking sounds straight out of 80s synthpop and twisting them into something intriguing and sinister. 

Joining Matthews onstage was the other half of Boy Harsher, Augustus Miller, who in addition to working various synths and MIDI controllers had a really cool electronic drum pad that he would occasionally turn to. Drums featured heavily in all of the songs but he would pull out the drum pad for specific moments when another dimension was needed such as the aforementioned ritualistic pounding, and the live performance of the drum in the middle of all these other electronic instruments was a great touch. Their chemistry was awesome, with their movements often synchronized and there were many moments where they just let the instrumental play while dancing.

While I knew I was going to like this show, I didn’t know going in that it would end up being one of my favorites I’ve been to yet. There was just something about the hypnotic way the evening rolled out, nonstop pounding drums and interesting melodies that combined with some amazing lighting choices (every show needs horizontally spinning lights from now on) truly made this an evening to remember.

-Erie

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Concert Review

Mom Rock Concert Review — Raleigh, NC (03/26/22)

On Saturday, March 26, 2022, the super fun and energetic alt-rock band Mom Rock played at the Pour House in Raleigh, NC, and I had the pleasure to be there. Straight from good old Boston, MA, Mom Rock is, as of March 2022, going on their Reunion Tour “everywhere but [on] the West Coast”, where they’re headlining 24 shows all around the US. While I knew that the audience at the Pour House is usually a pretty engaged one, I wasn’t expecting vocalist and guitarist Josh Polack to admit that we had been their best crowd so far.

Mom Rock was headlining that night, but two bands came before them to do their opening. The show started out with old school grunge band Lawn Enforcement. To put it shortly, I am as big of a fan of their name as I am of their music, and I hadn’t heard of either of them before. The raw passion they emulated on stage called for a great start. Then came Late Notice, a six piece indie rock band. Their friends and fans tend to follow them everywhere they play live, whether it’s on the NC State campus or in front of an ordinary house — and it’s pretty heartwarming to see. I’ve never been disappointed by a Late Notice live appearance, as I’ve seen them play a couple of times myself. I really enjoy their subtle blend of indie rock and hip-hop, and how the different vocalists take turns on stage singing and freestyle rapping.

When the first two bands were done, it was already 10:45pm. It was also around that time that Mom Rock arrived on stage, all dressed up in their bright blue jersey shirt, reading the band’s name in an old school white font on the front. I had the chance to exchange a few words with vocalists Curtis Heimburger and Josh Polack at the merch table a few hours before they got on stage. I took a picture of them posing with their “got milf?” shorts, and I could tell that their show was going to be a perfect reflection of their personality: super fun and electric. They were both rocking long, curly hair, glittery make-up and big black lines on their face. Drummer Wilson Reardon and bassist Tara Maggiulli stayed a bit more discreet in the back of the stage, although still perfectly aligned with the band’s style and energy.

Curtis Heimburger (Mom Rock’s vocalist) holding up the “got milf?” shorts at the Mom Rock merch table at the Pour House on March 26, 2022 – © by Lise Nox

They opened with the upbeat  “25” from their 2021 EP “a song with a happy end”. “No one knows just who they are at 25”, goes the chorus. One thing Curtis and Josh knew how to do, though, was sharing their bright and bubbly energy with the audience. I was front row the whole time, and I was taking in all of it. When they weren’t sliding their feet like crazy and shaking their legs to the sound of their own guitars, they were either jumping high in the air or escalating the huge speakers in front of the stage. Mom Rock was the kind of band that was all about giving. They were truly dedicated to use every single one of their body parts and every single inch of the stage to dance, jump, sing or scream. At some point, Curtis even ended up lying down on stage, his acoustic guitar almost smothering him.

From time to time, Curtis would disappear — either in the crowd or upstairs, depending on the song — letting Josh take over. At other times, Josh would be the one merging with the front row, while Tara was pulling off eccentric dance moves and stroking her bass. And sometimes, Curtis and Josh would play the guitar (acoustic or electric) back to back, as close to each other as they could. They played a few of their hits, like “Conversation” or “Intheinbetween” (a personal favorite of mine), and even ended up including a few covers here and there, like “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift or “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. “Grand Romantic Life” was probably the song that got me dancing the most, as it’s both one of their most listened-to singles on Spotify (so I obviously already knew it), and one of their most upbeat songs yet. By the end of the show, Josh was sitting at the edge of the stage, singing their folk-rock ballad “if i had better friends”, and he had the crowd singing in unison in a heartfelt communion. When everyone asked for an encore, Josh happily got back on stage and said, “I’m down for an encore, but it’s up to them now”, as he stared at his fellow band members backstage. They came back for one last song, and right before leaving the stage, Josh held up their white “got milf?” shorts, and other fun and colorful pieces of merch to show everyone.

After the show, I came up to Curtis like I had a few hours before. “You guys were amazing on stage”, I said, and a few compliments and thank you’s later, I offered to record a radio ID for the station. “That would be awesome!”, he shouted with a big smile on his still-very-glittery face. Wilson joined him, and I let out the loudest laugh when neither of them could figure out when or how to speak, after several failed (yet rehearsed) attempts. We all couldn’t stop laughing. Finally, we got one just right, and as I thanked them for their time, I walked away with a smile, knowing that I’d just had the best nights in weeks. I’m always excited to see smaller bands play live and to support local music venues. I’m even more excited when the music sounds amazing and the band happens to be this cool in person. I really look forward to Mom Rock releasing an album and headlining even bigger shows in the near future.

— Lise Nox

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Concert Review

Ministry Concert Review 3/18/22

The buildup to Ministry’s “Industrial Strength Tour” was long and ever-shifting. Originally being scheduled for late 2020 with support from KMFDM and Front-Line Assembly, the onset of the pandemic pushed the shows to late 2021 with Helmet replacing KMFDM. These dates also inevitably fell through, and the tour pushed back once again, this time to the spring of 2022. Helmet and Front-Line Assembly were no longer attached to the tour, but the final lineup was one I was just as excited for: Ministry, Melvins and Raleigh’s own Corrosion of Conformity (CoC).

Corrosion of Conformity

The first opening set from Corrosion of Conformity was probably what I was most excited for from this show, and boy did it deliver. The show kicked off with an abridged version of the instrumental “Bottom Feeder” led by bassist Mike Dean to set the tone; monstrously heavy. Following the Sabbath-like appetizer, the band jumped straight into “Paranoid Opioid” a rapid-fire track from 2005’s In the Arms of God. Halfway through the show was my personal highlight, “Vote With a Bullet” from Blind, my personal favorite album from CoC, and a song that single-handedly caused me neck pain for a week from headbanging. The show closed out with their 2 most widely known classic tracks, “Albatross” and “Clean My Wounds,” both from 1994’s Deliverance. The latter got an extended jam treatment in the middle of it, including introductions of the band from frontman Pepper James Keenan. In the end, CoC put on an incredibly tight performance that did an amazing job of introducing the audience to the direction the night was heading.

Melvins

The only band that I had not seen prior to this show was The Melvins, whose 40-year career includes 25 (soon to be 26) studio albums, which the band managed to put together an excellent sampler set of. The trio led by guitarist Buzz Osborne opened the set with “The Kicking Machine,” a bluesy track that almost sounds like it could be on a Cactus record in the ‘70s. The sound very quickly shifted to the sludge metal tone the Melvins are known for however as they moved into material from Bullhead and Stoner Witch, which seriously highlighted the sonic powerhouse that the band is in its current iteration. Buzz’s guitar tone keeps the notes ringing out clearly without sacrificing any grit or gain, Steven McDonald provides a rocking low end with the bass and delivers great backing vocals, and drummer Dale Crover keeps a tight groove with the band alongside his ferocious performance. The set closed out with three classic songs, “Hooch,” “Honey Bucket,” and “The Bit” which the crowd responded to with the start of a sizeable mosh pit in the left wing. Overall, the Melvins put forth a great set with a lot of variety, sounded incredible the whole time, and also demonstrate a serious amount of professional showmanship.

Ministry

During the setup for the headlining set, a chainlink fence was erected at the front of the stage, matching the industrial edge of the music. Ministry never let the foot off the gas from the time the show started until the end of the 15 song set. After being introduced to the stage in front of a projected display of the Ukrainian flag with a message of support, the band launched into “Breathe” to a blinding light show and pounding drums, with frontman Al Jourgensen belting out the words with as much power and aggression as ever. Little downtime was spent before moving into the set’s 3 songs from 1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey, including “The Missing,” which led to a mosh pit spanning the width of the floor and crowdsurfers being sent into the air.  About halfway through the set, the focus moved from the earlier Ministry material into songs Al Jourgensen did in other projects, including 2 songs from Pailhead, a project with Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, which I would not have in a million years expected to hear live. Standouts from the latter half of the show were an intense experience in the mosh pit for “Just One Fix” and the deafening yelling of the words to “Thieves” from the crowd. The encore saw the fence come down as 2 songs from last year’s Moral Hygiene were performed, which really sounded so much better live than they do on the album. Ministry closed out with an incredible cover of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” in a very intimate fashion that felt like a spot-on way to end the show.

At the end of the night, I was nearly deaf and absolutely exhausted from an amazing show. I’m glad the tour finally got to be seen through, and that the Raleigh date was added after initially not being on the tour. If you’ve not seen any of these bands in person, I would highly recommend doing so, they all deliver such strong and dedicated performances that it’s worth every penny. 

– Ezra Kinsch

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Concert Review

Concert Review: By George and Late Notice at the Trailer Park (2/25)

Coming into college this year, one of the things I looked forward to the most was going to local shows. Now that I’m in college, I don’t have to worry about my parents’ schedule, so I can go to concerts whenever it works for me. And on Feb. 25, it worked for me. 

My friends and I hadn’t been to a show at The Trailer Park yet, so we had no idea what to expect. We arrived at 8 p.m. when the concert was supposed to start, and we were a little bit worried to see that the crowd was sparse. However, when By George finally took the stage around 8:30, the yard was packed with people. 

By George’s performance was incredibly energetic and entertaining. They played a mix of covers and originals, sprinkling some brand new, unreleased music throughout. My favorite song of the night was “Klep” off of By George’s recent album, “The Life of Guy.” The energy was through the roof, and my neck still hurts from headbanging.

By George lead singer Tyler Ford singing and playing the guitar
By George Performing (photo by me)

If I thought that the crowd was delighted by By George, then they were beyond thrilled for Late Notice. As the band walked out of the house, the crowd began pushing forward. Luckily, my friends and I were in the front so we were able to use the front porch/stage as support, but I made the mistake of lifting up my hands, so that’s where they stayed for the rest of the night.

Late Notice mostly played covers, but they also played a couple of unreleased originals. Sadly, the concert ran late, so the cops came and cut off Late Notice’s set halfway through. Even with an unfinished setlist, Late Notice did an amazing job.

Late Notice setlist
Late Notice Setlist that my friend got

All around, the concert was an incredible experience. The bands did an amazing job performing, and the atmosphere at The Trailer Park was amazing. All of the people were incredibly nice, so despite almost falling over several times, I felt the safest I could possibly feel at a concert. If you ever get the chance, I would definitely recommend attending a concert at The Trailer Park; it’s an experience that you won’t forget. 

~PK

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Concert Review

Mitski Concert Review (2/18/22) at The Ritz

It’s 6:30 p.m.; my roommate (who is also my best friend) and I arrive at The Ritz inappropriately dressed for the 40 degree weather and the sun is no longer in the sky to spread its warmth on us. Shivering violently in the cold, we  play games to pass the time, trying to tune out the droning of the somewhat-obnoxious 16 year olds behind us in line that had just been dropped off by their parents. At 7:05, the line starts moving and we’re ushered closer and closer to indoors. Finally, we make it inside, and decide to head up to the balcony to get a better view. I can see my old roommate (another best friend of mine) in the front row, her neon pink hair contrasting against the blobs of blonde and brown surrounding her.

CHAI, a Japanese rock band, opens and their energy is electric. The quartet of women sings, dances, and sets the energy for the night.

After the purchase of a five dollar can of water, some patient waiting and more games to pass the time, the lights finally dim. Mitski’s band walks out before her, and then I see her. She is draped in a beautiful ankle-length white gown. She stays mostly still for the first song, “Love Me More,” and I cannot see her behind the pillar directly in my line of vision. After the second song she performs, “Should’ve Been Me” she asks in a saccharine sweet demeanor for the audience to turn the flash on their cameras off, and professes how grateful she is to be here. 

Her set list is 23 songs long, and she doesn’t deviate from it. The set list only includes six songs from “Laurel Hell” and the rest is comprised of her revisiting her older work. Her choreography is timed down to the second, she prances across the stage, running and dancing, making herself look vulnerable to the audience, but never seeming to look anyone directly in the eye.

My favorite Mitski song is “I Will” off of “Bury Me At Makeout Creek.” My aforementioned old roommate introduced it to me our freshman year. We had decided to room together our freshman year at NC State because we found out we were both Mitski fans, but in reality, I only knew one song… “Nobody.” She showed me “I Will” and told me it was one of her favorite songs ever.

Directly after “Nobody,” the tenth song of the night, Mitski begins singing “I Will.” I focus my attention on my freshman year roommate in the front row, watching as she sees Mitski perform this right in front of her. I don’t cry at concerts, I get weird about crying in front of other people. I sob. “Everything you feel is good / If you would only let you.”

Mitski only engages in stage talk twice more, once before her fake-exit pre-encore, saying the standard “thank you so much” and once more after the encore, “Two Slow Dancers”. There’s a prop-door on stage she exits through, but since I’m on the balcony I can see her slip behind the stage’s velvet grey curtains. The post-show song is “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)” by The Carpenters.

I leave The Ritz feeling fulfilled and grateful that I got to see Mitski live. She is a stunning vocal performer, a talented artist and a wonderful lyricist.

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Concert Review

Phoebe Bridgers’ Reunion Tour

In September of 2021, on a complete whim, I bought a $40 pit ticket to what would be the best night of my entire life. It has been quite a few years since I’ve been to a concert. A mix of being in college and COVID-19 has made it hard to find locations close to me that also worked with my schedule. The pandemic has made live music incredibly hard to achieve, as you all know.

My partner and I made our way to Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater to see Phoebe Bridgers in concert, with MUNA opening. As we waited in line, we saw our fair share of skeleton onesies and all black outfits. We had our vaccine cards checked and then the line started to move. I was a bit apprehensive about this experience because of COVID, but everybody kept their mask on around me in the pit and the vaccination screening eased my nerves. 

MUNA, who I had learned about not long before seeing them, brought so much enthusiasm. Such a fun and eclectic group, and I’ve become quite a fan of theirs since seeing them. Phoebe came out to sing Silk Chiffon and left MUNA to finish their set. They played “Number One Fan,” “I Know A Place,” “Crying On The Bathroom Floor,” and other songs from their albums About U and Saves The World. Their music was more upbeat than Phoebe, so I was curious if the energy would continue once MUNA left the stage.

When I say that the production value of Phoebe’s concert was insane, I mean it. With all of her songs, there was a storybook projected behind her and the band that related to whichever song she was singing. Most of the songs came from Punisher, but she also played “Funeral,” “Motion Sickness,” and “Scott Street” off of Stranger in the Alps. We were also lucky enough to hear “Me & My Dog” and “That Funny Feeling”. The images on the storybook pages would change as the songs went on. My favorite was the house that gradually burned during “I Know The End.” As former band kids (both my boyfriend and I), the trumpet player absolutely amazed us.

The way she interacted with her fans was so laid back yet so engaging. My boyfriend and I laughed and cried, and mostly I was in awe that I was watching my favorite artist on stage. Now for my movie moment – it started to lightly drizzle at one point, and I was dancing and singing to Phoebe with my best friend. I felt like nobody else there was watching or judging, and I let myself have so much fun. It couldn’t have been a more perfect first-pit experience or first concert since the pandemic really started. I’ve soaked this in for 5 months, and this concert is still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. 

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Blog Concert Review

Concert Review: Machine Girl (1/8)

In concerts, especially indoor ones, it’s pretty hard to make out what a singer is actually saying. The combination of overblown acoustics with the instruments that hit the exact registers as the vocals makes it so that, even in songs that rely heavily on songwriting, the live experience is mostly about the vibe. Studio versions of Mountain Goats songs that are restrained and contemplative roar to life when John Darnielle is ten feet away from you.

For Machine Girl, it’s all about the vibes, and the vibes are immaculate. The combination of live drummer Sean Kelly who sounded straight out of a metal show and frontman Matt Stephenson who continued that spontaneity with the controlled precision of someone whose set revolves around pounding electronic beats. Every strut, leap, and individual howl was scripted spontaneity, a balancing act that’s very hard to achieve and intoxicating when done right. A guitar came out and immediately fit right into the soundscapes being sculpted, and the ending where Stephenson leapt onto a speaker set high above the crowd felt so right, the perfect way to cap off a wild night.

As the show went off the chain, the energy of the crowd rose to the occasion. The pit was wild; during the most hype moments everyone just started sprinting in circles like a running of the bulls. The absolute climax of the show involved someone climbing into the rafters and later being told over the PA system that they could have broken $20,000 worth of equipment, which sums up the vibe at the time better than I ever could.

The opening acts fit this manic metaltronic energy to a tee. I arrived part way through No Parking’s set, a bouncy house set with a healthy amount of screaming. While it was early on and people weren’t as hyped, the fun beats and especially the engaging stage presence kept everyone swaying and anticipating what was to come. And my favorite part of the show might have actually been the second act, Austin’s Johnnascus. Their first song involved walking onstage with bandages on their head and slowly peeling them off, and this hard-hitting dial-to-11 brand of trap was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had at a concert. Towards the end of the set I found myself thinking “how is Machine Girl going to top this?”, and I don’t think they did, instead taking a different approach that ended up being just as satisfying.

-Erie

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Concert Review

Concert Review: The Mountain Goats (12/18/2021)

If you live in the Triangle and are into music, you’ve probably found that the Mountain Goats are more than just a band. They’re a force of nature, whose mere name being mentioned causing any fan in the room to talk about how good they are. I’ve enjoyed their music for awhile but never to the point of considering myself a diehard fan. So when I saw they were coming to Cat’s Cradle, I figured I should check it out and see if the hype was worth believing. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a while.

It turns out the presence of the Mountain Goats overshadows even other artists in the lineup of their own shows, as it felt like even opener Bowerbirds just wanted to see the band play. This was maybe the only slight downside as I think it took the air out of what was a great opening set; singer Phil Moore brought the kind of brooding yet energetic vocal performance that was perfect for their indie folk sound and songs like “Moon Phase” were quite beautiful while also displaying a steely guitar line. I’m not at all saying that Mountain Goats intentionally took attention away from Bowerbirds; lead singer John Darnielle made it very clear that he was a big fan of their work and went into detail about how Moore in particular greatly influenced certain songs, it just felt kind of awkward when the loudest cheer by far came when Moore said they only had a few songs left.

When the Mountain Goats finally came in, anticipation had reached a fever pitch, especially as their stage entrance came on the back of a dramatic dimming of lights and instrumental intro. This fever pitch was answered with a fiery rendition of “Michael Myers Resplendent” that turned that anticipation into joyous celebration. Throughout the show they got as loud as the best of them but what really stood out were individual moments, a steely guitar attack or an individual drum line, dislocating themselves from the cacophony to make a statement.

Much like the history of the Mountain Goats, the center of this sonic universe is John Darnielle and the wondrous narratives he spins. These are not straightforward arena-ready bangers, but winding tales filled with despair and hope, with concepts ranging from intricate descriptions of wrestling moves to fantasy quests. Before the show I was concerned that the subtleties of the songs would be lost in the roar of a live show but it was the exact opposite: seeing the Mountain Goats live is the absolute best way to experience their work. I have never seen an audience so transfixed that they had to be told when to clap. At one point, I was so locked in to Darnielle’s words I didn’t notice that keyboard player Matt Douglas got up, walked away and came back with a saxophone until it came in with a thunderous line. The versatility of instruments on display here was impressive; after putting down the saxophone Douglas picked up a guitar and Darniella used at least three different guitars throughout the show and sat down at the keyboard himself. Everything about the performance was extremely fluid, with songs blending seamlessly into one another and everyone onstage clearly having a blast being around the crowd and each other.

As the Mountain Goats have over 20 albums to draw from the songs played were extremely varied. Darnielle specifically described artists who rigidly adhere to the same setlist every night as “the forces of evil” ahead of the “middle section” of the show, which for the uninitiated is where the rest of the band leaves and he plays whatever comes to mind. With every spotlight trained on him Darnielle went dark with his time alone onstage, with “Maybe Sprout Wings”, “From TG&Y” and “Isaiah 45:23” serving as an introspective and brutally honest trilogy. The spontaneity could be felt in every word and note played and what could have been just a gimmick was elevated into an unforgettable experience.

The Mountain Goats have been located in Durham for about 15 years now, and the roots they’ve put down in the Triangle were tangible in the performance. This was the last performance of a three-day stint at the Cradle and there wasn’t just an air of finality but of pride at having the opportunity to play there. Darnielle took every opportunity to thank the audience for their support and it was apparent what the roar of the crowd meant to him and the band as a whole. I saw some amazing live performances this semester but I think this one in particular is going to stick with me for a very long time.

-Erie

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Concert Review

Concert Review: Wednesday (12/16/21)

Concerts come in all shapes and sizes, and what I’ve found from my (limited) experience is that I prefer small shows to bigger arena events. A crowd that can fit into Cat’s Cradle is my preferred upper bound, as this allows for intimate and personal experiences you just can’t get in a stadium.

This was my first time in the Cat’s Cradle Back Room, a second stage you can find to the right of the main entrance to the Carrboro venue. I expected a much smaller version of the main stage, but I was surprised at how big it was, especially with how unassuming the outside made it look. This combined with an upstairs level for seating that overlooked the rest of the room made the Back Room feel like its own thing rather than a scaled down, lesser version of the Cradle. Here, the stage was lower down and closer, I was standing maybe 5 feet from the microphone and could feel the air displaced by the speaker with every kick of the bass.

The show was a masterclass in how to manage energy levels. The first act out the gate was BANGZZ, a very high energy act that brought everyone in from the back corners of the room to get the show going. BANGZZ are characterized not just by their hard hitting drums and attack guitars, but also the stream of consciousness interludes by lead singer Erika Kobayashi Libero, talking about everything from discrimination faced by people of Asian descent in America to how marriage shouldn’t be viewed as a achievement, the latter segueing perfectly into the song “Never Speak of Marriage as an Acheivement.” These interludes add a feeling of spontaneity that keeps the audience clued in and on their toes, perfect for a first act that wants to not just play good music but to prime the audience for what’s to come. The themes of standing up to unjust systems and taking care of oneself are on full display here, and they’re delivered with an eloquence and careful simplicity that really allows it to resonate even through the instrumental maelstrom.

Now BANGZZ could have been followed by an even more high energy band, but Truth Club was the perfect compliment to an aggressive punk opening as they slowed things down and created a palpable contrast that felt like its own instrument. Oh they could get loud, but Truth Club’s loud is more of an icy hot than a raging inferno, with Travis Harrington’s understated vocal delivery being the perfect conduit for the band’s songs. Truth Club’s stage presence was also a highlight, with members going back to back for instrumental sections and a general manic quality that felt like a continuation of the down to earth vibe of the show.

Which brings me at long last to Wednesday, the headline act of the show. If BANGZZ and Truth Club set the audience up for something special, Wednesday had to deliver on this potential. Spoiler alert: it did, and it did so in a way that synthesized the best elements of the opening acts while adding its own spin. The songs played out in a more restrained way like Truth Club’s, with the emotions bubbling under the surface, but also came through in massive freakouts that went toe to toe with BANGZZ’s opening performance. One several-minute long instrumental moment really stood out for me and was one of the best moments I’ve had at a concert, this perfect union of moshable energy and a crowd that was matching it beat for beat.

Wednesday’s heliocentric stage presence was a captivating element of their performance. Lead singer Karly Hartzman acted as this central presence, a constantly smouldering sun whose every word was captivating, and even through full instrumental barrages she shone through as the focal point. This isn’t to say the other performers were lacking at all, they were amazing, but it felt like they all orbited around the main mic in a way that maximized everyone’s contribution to the overall performance.

And what really allowed me to experience all of this in its raw potency was the intimacy of the venue. The merch table was several feet to my left and when Travis mentioned it he specifically called out my “coachable” clap in response. These are the kind of magic moments you get at these kinds of venues, a connection with local artists that you can’t find anywhere else, and one that was especially hard to find over the last couple of years.

-Erie