It’s a cold and dark Monday, May 4. I’m in the Caledonia Lounge listening to Burn The Mountain Down, which these days is just the deep dark voice of Scott Stapleton and his keyboard set to concert-hall-grand-piano. Stapleton’s music borders on beautiful and is evocative of all things gothic. I can see Burn The Mountain Down five years into the future – with a bunch of goth-girls as the string section and Stapleton out front with a more mature grasp of his vocal range – as the band du jour and turning up on soundtracks to vampire movies. Stapleton plays to his strength – the dark end of his vocal range – but does just as well (if not better) in his mid-range with ballads like “Broken Lost And Beautiful.” When he attempts to follow the likes of Jeff Buckley into extreme falsetto, however, he sounds a little too forced.
It’s date night (Thursday) in Athens and the PYT’s are out on parade. I’m at Last Call getting in touch with The Soul Of John Black, a six-piece R&B outfit from L.A. The band sounds a lot like an updated (mainly by DJ Phys Ed, scratching and sampling up a storm) version of the Robert Cray Band or Sly & The Family Stone or even Was Not Was or The Purple One. These guys are so good that I can’t believe I’m sitting in an almost empty venue, again! There might be 30 people in here, but there could and should be a hundred. John “JB” Bigham‘s vocals and lyrics are big and bluesy with a wonderful steely quality. When Flagpole music editor Chris Hassiotis called these guys “top notch” he was giving y’all the gospel and once again you are not listening: shame, shame, shame! While I’m on my soap box: I have been a little dark in the past on bands starting after 1 a.m., but putting these guys on at 10:30 p.m. before Green Light Council doesn’t strike me as the brightest move.
A loud, thrashy, screaming, thumping, pseudo-melodic wall of sound hits me like a proverbial truck after I cross Broad Street and walk into Tasty World to check out Pacific UV’s CD release party that isn’t (no CDs apparently). The band responsible for the audio assault is From Safety To Where, a titanic post-punk thrash-metal-infused three piece from Columbia, SC. Talking afterwards with Eric Greenwood (bass and vocals), he tells me that the entire set wasn’t all screamed but was in fact sung, unlike the three songs I heard. Having heard their most recent CD I have some doubts; nevertheless, I wish I’d heard more.
I make my way back to Last Call to see local five-piece Green Light Council, which is practically the band in residence. It’s 12:45 a.m., the crowd has filled out substantially and while GLC’s high-energy funk-rock sounds pretty good, I can’t help but feel that the better, earlier band deserved the bigger crowd. There’s no denying that GLC have built a following amongst the stoner-college crowd who soak up the psychedelic sounds, complete with long meanderings into keyboard-driven blues, calypso and more.
At 1:20 a.m. the crowd dwindles and I make for Tasty World again, to hear Pacific UV who start at 1:45 a.m. I’m glad I don’t have to work in the morning. Starting with open, breezy, almost new-age guitars and samples, accompanied by emo-esque vocals, the tempo soon lifts exponentially into moody indie guitar-rock with explosions of grungy heavy reverb. There is also a hint of Calexico sans-trumpets; closer inspection also reveals masses of guitar effects-pedals in use and the bass player is playing a keyboard, on the ground, with his shoeless feet: pretty cool.
And now: the folk-pop and alternative country of Phosphorescent is inspiringly good, soulfully sweet and contiguously groovy, I highly recommend it. It’s Saturday night at the 40 Watt, the set starts with a trick; Phosphorescent is on stage but someone’s playing brass up the back of the club. The mysterious trumpet and tuba players soon make for the front, joining two drummers, keyboards, guitar and bass and the soft gentle vocals of Matthew Houck, that’s seven in all. Phosphorescent plays songs from their new EP The Weight of Flight, mixing laid-back, tranquil pop with majestic and funky lilted folk. This mesmerizing set also features a hardly recognizable version of Ed Bruce’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” that was far from Willie and Waylon both.
I’m still in the 40 Watt; feeling like anticipation is my worst enemy. The momentum surrounding local indie stalwarts Elf Power has created a mental wake of high expectation. They must be good tonight: it can’t be just coincidence that Stipe and Mills have just walked in. The show is vibrant and energetic, there are up to four guitars and those strange brass boys are back again. Playing tracks from the new album Walking with the Beggar Boys, frontman Andrew Rieger explains the title track comes from a drunken night in Warsaw and looks intently in Stipe’s direction, later he accuses Mike Mills of acting “like a dick” and “a Class-A arse” – all in jest, of course. We’re six tracks in and I’m warming to Reiger’s patter and vocals and decide that yes, the Elves are on tonight.
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