in the backwoods they understand

Sometimes a body just needs some boot stompin’, beer-swiggin’ American rock and roll. That’s precisely what the crowd got at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin on February 15, 2014 when they saw The Wild Feathers.

Affectionately dubbed “The Snowed Out Tour” according to Taylor Burns due to the sub-freezing temperatures the Nashville quintet has been encountering throughout the Midwest, the band warmed up the room with a blazing set that hit every track on their debut record along with a new song. Highlights included “Hard Times,” crowd-sing-along favorite “Left My Woman,” and barn-burner “Backwoods Company”.  Also of note were their well-chosen encore choices by The Band and Led Zeppelin – where their main set was a stone-solid performance the encore was more akin to a jukebox sing-along with your best pals.

Part of The Wild Feathers’s appeal is the diversity found among the members – drummer Ben Dumas can bang it out with the best of them, Burns has a bluesy bent that calls to mind Chris Robinson, and Joel King’s garage-rock howl is tempered by Ricky Young’s gorgeous delivery. Preston Wimberly rounds out the four-part harmonies but really shines on guitar; his solos actually add to the quality of the songs as opposed to being indulgent or distracting. Such a wealth of talent in one place led to a truly memorable evening.

Opening acts Saints of Valory and Jamestown Revival were no slouches either – SOV’s anthemic rock is ready for an arena stage and the Jamestown boys have buckets of charm. The three bands will be touring together into March. Click here to get dates and free tour sampler.

You can check out all the photos from the show here.

SETLIST
Hard Wind, Backwoods Company, I Can Have You, If You Don’t Love Me, Got It Wrong, Hard Times, I’m Alive, How, Tall Boots, [New Song], American, Left My Woman, The Ceiling
ENCORE
Hey Hey What I Can I Do (Led Zeppelin cover), The Weight (The Band cover)

back, back, back

Caroline Smith has been very popular in Madison, and for years I’ve been on the outside looking in. I first saw Smith with her band The Goodnight Sleeps at the High Noon Saloon a couple of years ago and was so bored that I actually went to go sit down in the back. I tend to be overly picky about female singers, and women in the singer-songwriter category almost never are a hit with me. I saw the band again after the release of Little Wind and while there was a song or two that wasn’t bad I still just couldn’t get excited about Caroline Smith the way so many of my friends did.

Smith released a new album, Half About Being a Woman, in October and it was reported that her sound was markedly different. When I saw she was opening for Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires at the High Noon Saloon on December 4, 2013 I thought I should give her another look.

What I’d heard was right – she has taken a new approach to her style. Most notably she’s replaced her band and moved from acoustic to electric. The more robust instrumentation allows Smith to push her voice and for the first time I noticed how lovely it really is. While some remnants of her shared past with Haley Bonar and Colbie Caillat remain, the new material references soul and 90s R&B. Generally Smith seems to have left some of the wide-eyed earnestness behind and has embraced fun – her set was full of smiles and dancing and even a few of Kendrick Lamar’s verses. I’m still not head over heels for Smith, but I can say that I’ll no longer skip her set when she’s on the bill.

Caroline Smith returns to Madison & the High Noon on January 16, 2013 as part of FRZN Fest.
See more photos from her December show here.
You can find more from Caroline Smith here.

all the city’s left for you

I’ve been digging on California Wives since we first heard them this summer. On January 25, 2013 I finally got a chance to check them out at the High Noon Saloon as part of FRZN Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. Playing a bulk of their album, Art History, California Wives evoke the 80s without being kitsch. Their sound is firmly planted in the present but one immediately knows the familiar landscape of the band’s upbringing.

Art History‘s songs are well-crafted, but they take on a new urgency and depth live. “Better Home” was the set’s apex, crashing relentlessly over the crowd during the song’s last two minutes. The band smartly reserved their self-proclaimed danciest songs for the end, knocking out “Marianne”, “Purple”, and “Blood Red Youth” in quick succession. Combined with charming banter and visual panache, California Wives gave one of the most solid performances I’ve seen in awhile.

Click on any of the photos below to see more pictures of California Wives, or click here.

Jayson Kramer
Graham Masell
Joe O’Connor
Dan Zima

always it’s in my head

I know I’ve said it many times already, but another affirmation won’t hurt: Night Moves is one of my favorite bands to see live. Last week we featured a video mixtape from bassist Micky Alfano before their show in Madison, Wisconsin at the High Noon Saloon on January 24, 2013 for FRZN Fest and then caught up with the band that night. Their performance was one of the tightest I’ve seen by them – they’ve settled into a well-worn groove of a band whose members are comfortable with each other. Be sure to catch them on tour and let us know what you think!

Click on any of the photos for more shots from the night, or click here.

pondamonium 2012 part one: i’m only happy when it rains

“It began here; it could end here. I can think of worse places to die.”

As rain poured down on the crowd at Pondamonium 2012, hosted by the Madison Mallards at their Duck Pond stadium on August 9th, 2012, Garbage’s Shirley Manson joked about slipping and breaking her neck. Storming throughout the day, the rain held itself off in the early evening only to open in a downpour within minutes of Garbage starting their set.

After seven years away, the band sounds re-energized and as good as ever. I had first seen them in 2005 at the Orpheum, but my love for them began ten years before with the release of their self-titled debut. I lived in a small town outside of Madison, which as a sixth-grader felt much farther away than the seventeen miles that separated my home from Garbage’s. Even as a sixth-grader I was music-obsessed, watching MTV every chance I got and listening to the now-defunct 92.1 WMAD.

The first time I saw the music video for “Only Happy When It Rains” I fell totally and completely in love with the band (further detailed here) and that head-over-heels feeling hasn’t really subsided. While shooting the band in the photo pit at Pondamonium I was the one singing along when not grinning ear-to-ear or staring slack-jawed at the idol of my teen years.

For their homecoming, Garbage played an ideal set: a fair amount of new songs bolstered by the best of their previous releases (including, much to my friend’s and my delight, “#1 Crush” off the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack). I was impressed with how undated their songs remain – no one sounds like Garbage and they don’t sound like anyone else, yet their sound continues to evolve. The first time I heard their new album’s lead single “Blood for Poppies” was by catching an instrumental bit while using the scan feature on my car radio. Within seconds I knew it was Garbage. The new material sounded polished and melded nicely into the band’s catalog – none of the awkward ‘waiting for the new song(s) to be over so they’ll get back to the hits’ that sometimes happens when an established act comes back after a long hiatus.

Nearly as entertaining as the music was the band’s love affair with Madison and the fans. Said Manson, “I didn’t go to school here. I didn’t fall in love here. Oh, yes I did. Oopsie!” She then proceeded to offer up each member of the band, forcing them to say a few words about the occasion. Drummer Butch Vig offered gratitude for the career-spanning support he’s found here, from his bands Spooner and  The Know-It-All Boyfriends to his and guitarist Steve Marker’s Smart Studios. Marker also offered thanks, and hometown fixture Duke Erikson expressed more through the look of joy on his face while performing than with the kind he words he shared at Manson’s insistence.

Regardless of where Erikson, Marker, Vig, and Manson take up residence, the Pondamonium show made one thing clear: Madison will always be Garbage’s home.

Check out more photos from Garbage’s set here. | Next up: The Flaming Lips at Pondamonium 2012

i am the silence, you are the marching band

The Mess We’ve Made, the new album from Bad Veins, is power-pop at its finest. Most of the tracks make you want to dance, but it’s not mindless beats and easy repetition that get you there.

The album kicks off with “Child”, full of thick bass and strings. Single “Dancing on TV” follows it up, calling back to some of the fun of mid-90s tracks like Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and Weezer-offshoot The Rentals’ “Friends with P“. “Don’t Run” closes out the top of the album. One of the more memorable songs from their live show, it radiates pure joy with its cascading strings.

“Not Like You” is appropriately titled for its departure from the sound found on the rest of the album. Loose and jazzy, the bass punches as saxophones slither and hand claps keep the time. There’s a distinctly live feel about it; you can practically see the sidemen in front of you.

Beautiful strings and poetic lyrics mark “If Then” as the takeaway track. While it’s not representative of the majority of the band’s sound, it provides an emotional anchor for the album, much like “Go Home” did for their self-titled debut. Lines like “I am the harbor / your ship has sailed” hit right where it hurts, and the pain is exquisite.

“If Then” was one of the band’s most striking songs during their set at the Majestic Theater in Madison, WI on March 24, 2012. Bad Veins’s songs are multi-layered and lush, so as a two-piece they had the potential to fall short. Not to worry; frontman/guitarist Benjamin Davis is quite funny and drummer Sebastien Schultz is entertaining to watch, his technique full of large, sweeping movements. To flesh out their sound to match what they can do in the studio, Davis and Schultz employ keys, a telephone mic, and, most importantly, a reel to reel named Irene. Their set is polished but not mechanical; Davis is dry but has heart. We are the silence; they are the marching band.

The Mess We’ve Made dropped 04.24.12.
Find out more at their official website.

a trip’s what i need

“Half-convinced the singer of Vacationer is Kenny from The Starting Line.” I received this text from a friend who was at Spotify House last month during SXSW. It turns out she was totally right. M|H had featured Vacationer last year on the Summer Jams mixtape, completely unaware that it was fronted by Kenny Vasoli. Having been in love with The Starting Line for a number of years, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see Vasoli’s new, beachy project when they opened for The Naked and Famous on April 14, 2012 at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin.

As “the Eastern seaboard’s foremost relaxation specialists”, Vacationer is about more than just the music – it’s about the vibe as well. Vasoli kicked things off by telling the crowd, “this is like a big cuddle in music form.” While the band may have intended for the crowd to chill out, the audience had a different idea. Madisonians are a dance-y people; when we like what we hear, we’re going to move. Remarked Vasoli, “this may be our danciest show yet,” and, “we’re going to pick up the pace because you guys are great dancers and we want to take advantage of that.”

Playing a good portion of their debut album, Gone, singer Vasoli radiated joy throughout. From the bass thump of the earnest “Great Love” to the sweet longing of “Be With You” the message was love, love, love – and dancing. “The window to dance to our music is closing but that’s okay because the next one’s a banger. It’s called ‘Trip’.” While yielding more of a blissed-out sway than a body-shaking dip, it was high point of the band’s set.

For tour dates, a free download, or to book a trip of your own, visit Vacationer’s website.

Click either photo to see more shots from the show.