Expecting a line outside the Big Easy Saturday night, I was surprised when, arriving at about 8 p.m., I was able to walk right up to and through the door. And inside, it wasn't much busier. I wandered around near the stage, upstairs to the VIP room and outside to the smoking area, stopping along the way to listen to the two opening bands, Skipper Lindsey and Ape Shape. Both openers played good sets and the floor started to fill with people dancing to Ape Shape's funk-reggae infused tunes (see "Ape Shape: The rhyme and the reason," BW 6/1). And then, Built to Spill hit the stage. Turns out there was no line outside earlier because everyone waited to get to the Big Easy until these all-time favorite headliners were on. I think most of the greater metropolitan area turned out for this show. Playing a slew of classics and new tunes, these homegrown favorites with Bret Netson on guitar, made this a night to remember. And while the show was for a good cause (proceeds benefited TVTV Public Access Television), I don't think it was the community's altruism that brought them out. Built To Spill rocked the damn house. Doug Martsch's indie alt-rock hero status isn't for naught. He stands on stage with a kind of quiet complacency, but his music belies his demeanor. Martsch's guitar riffs are so powerful and his lyrics and vocals so strong, it's impossible not to get completely reeled in. Built To Spill has been producing fine music for a long time and, thankfully, won't be stopping soon as they reach well beyond Boise's boundaries. In Blender's June issue, I read, "Built To Spill will be heading into the studio again to record the follow-up to Ancient Melodies of the Future." Looks like Idaho is starting to be known for something more than just potatoes.
Billy Mitchell and Cherie Buckner, Thursday 2
"Billy Mitchell and Cherie Buckner at the Brick Oven Bistro." So it was announced, but it was much more than that. John Jones was spectacular with his ease of performance. He and his Gibson Super 400 covered a lot of territory: scat, comping, solos, as well as vocals-just plain brilliant work. Brian Blandford on bass and Lawson Hill on percussion were constant, solid and always in the shadows-a perfect support duo. Billy Mitchell and Paul Gavonzik weren't heard often enough but their horn harmonies were tremendous moments of interaction, really beautiful stuff, combinations of tenor sax, flute, trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone. I've roamed jazz clubs in Manhattan ... hey Boise, we've got pearls in the high desert. And then there is Cherie Buckner. She can sing with the strength of an oak or like a breeze caressing a willow. It's early evening, children are dancing, feet are moving, bodies are swaying, passers-by are stopping, not for one song but for whole sets. The music is infectious and it wasn't just the material (the age-old "Kansas City," Billy Holiday's gem "God Bless the Child", even Eddy Floyd's classic "Knock on Wood"), it was the way it was played. These guys had it down and the joy of that emanated from them to every passing soul and those in attendance.
To get this quality for free in the wide open ... hey folks, support these people. All you have to do is go and listen.
Various Artists, Friday 3
The Riot Factory hosted a rad show of four performers last Friday (and I haven't used the word "rad" in a decade). Setting the tone for the evening, Joshua Scalise was a mix of Damien Rice and The Darkness, even if you understand that's practically an impossible combination.
With over 20 people clustered in a tiny basement meant we surrounded Scalise on almost all sides as he brushed the low ceiling with his hair.. But therein lies the beauty and uniqueness of the Riot Factory-an all-ages venue frequently littered with musicians and music appreciators alike. Formerly decked out in tinfoil walls, this flashy signature of the place unfortunately had to come down at the landlord's request.
Unicorn Feather was up next, vocals and guitar by Elijah Jensen, whose energy matched Scalise's, though he multiplied his brushes with the looming ceiling by repeatedly bouncing up on his toes. Jensen demonstrated his way around a guitar before bringing Jake Hanson on stage to add to the mayhem. Hanson impressed the crowd with his beatbox skills, creating multiple sounds in a phenomenal fashion as his lips barely appeared to move. Jensen then looped in recorded sounds of a cymbal, tambourine and a power tool and began a mix of spoken word and a Twyla Tharp sort of dance while telling a story I caught only the gist of. But it was cool and definitely an active experience.
The next band, the Culottes, received an encore for their melodic tunes, with vocals reminiscent of Mazzy Star and an awesome cover of George Michael's "Faith." And finally, Kris Doty took the stage and finished off the night. Doty's vocal range is impressive, her lullaby song was hauntingly sweet and "Turtle Mind Games" and "Lemonade" proved to be deceptively simple song titles for the depth of the actual lyrics. Loretta Lynn's "Blue Kentucky Girl" fit Doty perfectly-look for a record from her to be released in the near future.
Double shot of whiskey: Neil Nelson
Neil Nelson's Double Shot of Whiskey is about as traditional as you can get without resurrecting guys like Faron Young and Waylon Jennings. If you don't like your songs full of steel pedal guitar, fiddles and honky-tonk piano, stop reading right now and move on.
If, however, songs about cheatin', drinkin' and givin' up on love are your mug of beer, then you'll want to give Nelson a try. Despite a low-budget production, this disc has excellent sound. The barrelhouse piano on "Look How Far I've Got" comes through cleanly without overwhelming Nelson's twangy vocals or the sturdy backing band, and the fiddles on "Changes" are clear yet unobtrusive. Musically, it fails to reach beyond competent, but it works.
Nelson doesn't break any lyrical trails either. Loneliness, drinking, even a salute to American soldiers: If he'd sung about his truck or his dog, he would have nailed all the clichés. The only real surprise was the length. At seven songs, there's just less than 21 minutes of music here. Hell, even the Ramones would go longer.
Still, in the end, Nelson proves to be listenable. Perfect music for sawdust floors and jukeboxes in the dark.