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.

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
Hey Hey What I Can I Do (Led Zeppelin cover), The Weight (The Band cover)

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.

when you’re gone i know you’re with me

Good bands play a room the same way whether there is one person or ten thousand people. Dreamers of the Ghetto are a good band. Playing to about twenty people at The Frequency in Madison, Wisconsin on February 23rd, 2012, the band easily could have been on stage at a much larger venue. Their songs fill the room and when they relax so does their enthusiasm.

Influenced by the vaguely-gothy 80s, the music and the band members themselves have a somewhat serious front – there’s not a whole lot of movement on stage and one is more likely to step-sway than pogo to show their enjoyment. As the show progressed, though, things loosened up. After having to restart their excellent single “Connection“, keyboard player and vocalist Lauren Jones mimicked the last line of the previous song, an endearing move.

A major strength for Dreamers of the Ghetto is that they’re closer than the average band in their personal lives – Lauren is married to lead singer and bassist Luke Jones, and the guitar player is Luke’s brother, Jonathan. Drummer Marty Sprawls completes the lineup.  The Everly Brothers have had their impeccable harmonies attributed to their being brothers, and a similar situation seems to be at play with DotG. The blend between brothers, in-laws, and husband and wife is lovely. Luke’s voice is raspy and cavernous, Lauren’s strong, Jonathan’s smooth.

The Jones’s vocal compatibility was most prevalent on their best song of the night, “Phone Call“. While a strong cut on the album, it was more remarkable live. Rearranging on stage to crowd in among the keyboards, the members played off each other and relaxed. Dancing and clapping, they gave themselves completely over to the music. Jonathan had a chance to bring his voice to the forefront and it was beautiful and surprising. Luke’s ability to sing soulful high notes is hinted at in the recorded version of the song but live he goes for the gusto with great success. They could easily perform this song five times in a row and it wouldn’t wear thin. While the band’s overall performance could be tweaked here and there, there’s little doubt their continued touring will land them better and better bills.

Click to download “Tether” from their album Enemy/Lover, and click on either photo to see more shots from the show.

a heart that won’t burst

Champions of the slow and deliberate, Duluth, Minnesota’s Low are back with their ninth studio album, C’mon. A fairly straightforward effort, Low employs dreamy buildups grounded in country twang. Opening track “Try to Sleep” has the sweet gauziness of a dream. Mimi Parker’s vocals float in an ethereal unconsciousness, tethered to waking life by husband Alan Sparhawk’s earthy wakefulness. Parker takes the lead on “You See Everything”, a supremely calming track despite the undercurrent of naivety and false security. Things take a bit of a dive at the end of the album, but “Nothing But Heart” is so good that it almost wipes one’s memory of the acme-less songs that precede it.

click to see more photos from the show

“Nothing But Heart” was a high point of Low’s set at the Majestic Theater in Madison, WI on April 20, 2011 as well. A bulk of the song is Sparhawk repeating the phrase “I’m nothing but heart” over and over, but instead of being monotonous the tune adds layer after layer with each invocation. When the song finally breaks, there’s a sudden awareness of lushness as Sparhawk soldiers on as Parker skims the top with a lovely counter-melody. Low’s set was primarily cuts from C’mon with a sprinkling of favorites to mix it up – “Breaker” to start and “When I Go Deaf” to end. Regardless of what era they were culling from, the most remarkable thing was almost always in the vocal interplay between Sparhawk and Parker. While their physical interaction was nearly non-existent – Parker stood several feet behind and to the side of her husband, and eye contact consisted of a single fleeting glance at best – their vocals had an intimacy that most can’t achieve.

click to see more photos from the show

C’mon dropped 04.12.11.
Click to download “Try to Sleep” and “Especially Me“.

Breaker, Try to Sleep, You See Everything, Monkey, Silver Rider, Witches, Especially Me, Done, Sunflower, $20, Majesty/Magic, Nightingale, Nothing But Heart, Something’s Taking Over
ENCORE ?, Murderer, When I Go Deaf

i keel here this evening

Outside it was snowing, but inside the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin on February 21, 2011 it could have been a beach-party-movie-themed prom. Tennis‘s mix of surf- and retro-influenced rock & roll and seaworthy lyrics, coupled with the utterly adorable story of Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley falling in love and taking to sea made for a cozy night of adoration.

Kicking off with the sublime tune “Seafarer”, Tennis played a good chunk of their debut album Cape Dory as well as introduced a surprising number of new songs for having just put out their album a month ago. The new music was as chipper as ever and made it evident that a second album is something to look forward to.

While guitarist Riley was mostly in his own world, Moore seemed to feed off him while simultaneously connecting with the crowd. Her most endearing moment came late in the set when she danced the Pony, her tiny frame floating on the beat.

Though their set was on the predictably short side (their only album clocks in at around 30 minutes), Tennis was able to make everyone forget it was winter, if only for a little while.

For more photos from the show, click here.

i can’t get enough, oh-oh

Rooney is the perfect summer band, a fact they proved on August 11, 2010 at Madison, WI’s High Noon Saloon. In a state where winter is by far the longest season, Rooney’s love letters to the California sound best during the few short months where the sun’s warm rays reign supreme.

Led by the indomitable Robert Schwartzman (aka Robert Carmine, aka Jason Schwartzman‘s brother), Rooney is, as one concert-goer put it, a band that is “easy to listen to.” This shouldn’t be taken as an insult; rather, Rooney has figured out the alchemy behind great pop songs. Catchy choruses, nods to the early days of rock & roll, and a healthy dose of glossy shimmer pervade their music and identify their roots and influences.

In addition to their songwriting abilities, Rooney has a fairly well-honed live show. Kicking off the set was fan-favorite “Shakin'”, and tunes from their self-titled debut made up a little more than a third of their set. The lead single off  Eureka, “I Can’t Get Enough” was an excellent introduction to their new material, and for the most part the other new songs proved successful as well. The show had two hiccups, however: “Stars and Stripes” lacks the musical backbone to hold up the hokey lyrics, and drummer Ned Brower’s vocals trend chipmunk-like when taking lead. Overall, though, Rooney is a sure thing for a great show filled with songs that you’ll be humming for days after.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
A glorified slideshow of Rooney’s set.

SET LIST: Shakin’, Stay Away, Calling the World, Holdin’ On, Daisy Duke, Suckceed, I Can’t Get Enough, If It Were Up to Me, The Hunch, Blueside, Stars and Stripes, Sorry Sorry, I Should’ve Been After You
ENCORE: Not In My House, When Did Your Heart Go Missing?

the truth is not found in the hue

A familial atmosphere hung about Madison, Wisconsin’s High Noon Saloon as Megafaun and Icarus Himself teamed up for a night of homegrown tunes on June 17, 2010.

Making up Megafaun are Eau Claire natives and former bandmates of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon Brad Cook, Phil Cook, and Joe Westerlund. Now residing in North Carolina, the trio melds its Midwestern roots with their new southern swing to create songs that cross the valleys between atmospheric folk and blissed-out jams.

Stomping country clap-alongs were where Megafaun found the most success, getting the crowd to dance and in one case employing them as backup singers. However, for every time they drew the crowd in, they let them drift in equal measure. The band’s set held too many dragged-out meanderings that lead nowhere, making for impatient, weight-shifting, bathroom-visiting interludes.

Madison-based band Icarus Himself provided direct support for Megafaun, and though I only caught their last couple of songs, I was impressed. Now a three-piece, the band’s sound has come a long way from the one-man acoustic set we saw as opener for Owen in 2008.

Click here for the official Megafaun site.
Click to learn about Icarus Himself.
See more photos from the show here.