Sunday, April 20, 2008

WCOM and Cat's Cradle Benefit

Oldest son and I went to a concert last night at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. It was a benefit concert for the local Carrboro radio station, WCOM, and seven groups played in succession, with two stages going so they could be setting one up while the other was in use. See links to the groups' websites at the end of this post. Most have a way to listen.

It was oldest's first rock concert - we've been more into folk music on a local level, and haven't gone to any big rock acts. He's a fan of Stranger Spirits, a local band, and they were the first act to play. The sheer volume was a surprise to him, I think.

I'd never been to Cat's Cradle before, though the venue has been there for as long as I can remember. The concert was interesting - some of the groups were pretty good - but...

The sound quality really is as terrible as we'd read in reviews of the place. The chief problem is that they turn up the drums to the loss of just about everything else. The playing and singing were pretty good in some of the groups - quite good, in a few - but you couldn't hear that except during the rare moments when the drums let up... We'd listened to most of the groups on the Internet before going, so we would know who we wanted to stay for, and not one group sounded right. Drums mashed out everything else, and the other sounds were wooden or muffled. It seems like it would be easy to fix at least the imbalance, and I can't believe no one has pointed it out to them - so I'm tempted to believe it's someone's misguided pet notion that the percussion needs to be that loud.

The venue is run down - looking like it's gotten a lot of tough treatment and little love or care. The essentials are all OK, and it wasn't dirty - but it's well worn and ugly. Maybe that's the atmosphere appropriate to rock - unvarnished, exposed, raw truth... It wears it's history, scars and all. That said, the atmosphere was warm and real - can't fault it there.

At the bar I got a Heineken, the first I've had in over twenty years, and it took me back in time. It seemed the right beer for the place. I laughed aloud at one point during the concert, though, seeing all the cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon in people's hands. I'd heard it was in fashion at the moment, specifically in cans. When I was in college no one would drink the stuff, even though it was the cheapest beer available, because it was so terrible. Emperor's new clothes. What if I stood in the middle of the floor and shouted, "Look! The beer has no good flavor!" There were also several rockers in the audience with long emaciated effeminate faces and makeup, reminding me of Marilyn Manson. Many of the girls were dressed in dresses with empire waists, many with polka dots, and their hair was pinned up to show their long necks and bare shoulders, but with long boots on underneath. Jane Austin as go go dancer. Blindly following the latest fad, the crowd seemed like sheep to me.

Speaking of farm animals, in the mens room I was confronted by strange urinals. They were basically an eight foot long trough of stainless steel that didn't flow too well from the ends to the central drain. Line up and pee companionably, I guess. Mooooo. Fortunately for me, with my shy kidney, it was not crowded.

That same lack of crowd was unfortunate for the radio station. Almost two thirds of the audience was non-paying - the members of the bands. People stood around looking pretty indifferent to most of the music (except when the red bearded guy from Oregon, lead singer for Harmute, who could almost carry a tune and wrote only slightly pretentious lyrics, was in the spotlight - the girls seemed to like him). The crowd applauded politely, but no one danced. The best assembled and adroitly performed music we heard was by the duo known as the Water Callers, who created a lot of sound, had good harmonies, attacked their music, and had interesting and fun lyrics - but they got less attention than anyone. More of a folk and blues sound than this crowd wanted, I think.

All in all I left with the impression that the people were there mostly to be seen, to be cool, to be admired, to be heard - but few people were genuinely interested in hearing or admiring anyone else. It seemed pretty juvenile - which surprised me, because I'm into a lot of what rock and punk and current bands are doing, I like it, and I don't feel it's childish at all. This was a more petulant crowd, though - not getting what they felt they deserved, and more into the success and attention they weren't getting. Pouty. I recall some concerts when I was in college in Greenville, NC. They were packed, the music was strong and well assembled, the singing was good, and everyone danced and jumped until we were all exhausted, wired, and nearly deaf. This had none of that positive energy. The Water Callers, seemed to be the most mature - genuinely into the music for the music, and listening more attentively than most. Stranger Spirits seemed the most relaxed and having the best time - they weren't trying to prove anything.

I think the groups were disappointed with WCOM's turnout - I suspect the station didn't do enough to get word out and a crowd in, and the bands ended up playing for each other. Seeing and interacting a little with the station crew and concert organizers (I bought a t-shirt to offer a little more support - I had to use sign language under the oppressive drums to indicate I wanted an extra large), I got the distinct impression they were introverts. Not the best people to organize a rock-a-thon or any other big "event." The poor turnout put a pall on the atmosphere, I think, which some of the bands seemed to struggle against all evening.

While I was glad my son got to see Stranger Spirits, we've agreed we need to go see them in a different place, with a different tone. And we'll probably go see the Water Callers given a chance. But mostly, I think it would be good to get him to a real rock concert, because the overarching feeling I have about last night is disappointment. And my ears aren't quite right this morning...

Acts that played last night (we stayed for the first 4):
Stranger Spirits - have opened for John Mayer - a strong band - we have all three of their albums. They know how to have fun, have some interesting lyrics, and can rock and roll. The lead singer can let loose, and knows how to push his voice. We particularly enjoyed Friday Night and Chicken Fried Rice (a real rock-n-roller we'd never heard before - one of the hi-lites of last night).
The Water Callers - Americana, Blues, Country, Acoustic - a duo that produces a lot of varied sound, with engaging lyrics and strong harmony. They attack their numbers with energy, and good technique, both vocal and acoustic. We'll be looking for their album in a few months, and other opportunities to hear them better.
Harmute - They sound a lot better on the Internet, with much quieter drums, and the lead singer stays on key better when he can hear himself, I think. The backup vocal was nonexistent last night, but it works on the website. They're really an acoustic band with thoughtful lyrics that don't work so well cranked up to rock volumes. We heard Persephone last night and I didn't even recognize it. I'd like to hear them again, when we can really hear them.
The Prayers & Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers - The lead singer bares his soul and has a good voice. They got a pretty good listen from the crowd, actually. It wasn't our sort of thing, too political for our taste, and we left during their set.
Sweater Weather - Too repetitive a style for us, I think. Love the group name, though.
Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies - We would have stayed to hear this band if they'd been earlier and we hadn't been so disappointed with the sound at Cat's Cradle. They've got some fun numbers, and an eclectic style mostly out of the 60s and girl groups. A bit of B-52 spirit, the Go-go's, some Chenille Sisters - all stirred around with retro organ sound underneath - listen to Can You Dig It. We may look for them elsewhere.
Crash and DJ Trizzak - Sounds to me like rap on top of a modern jazz foundation. Interesting, but not our thing at all.

No comments: