field report no.082518

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Matthew Sweet

OBSERVATIONS:
Seeing Matthew Sweet in 2018 is an exercise in meta-nostalgia, which isn’t lost on Sweet himself. His entire aesthetic is rooted in nostalgia, evoking a shiny power pop, cherry picking from his 60s and 70s heroes. Sweet even kept himself busy the last while doing a series of decade-themed covers-records with Susanna Hoffs.

This show was also an exercise in his own history: Matthew Sweet hasn’t been a dominant force in music since 1994, at least. His moment came and went, somewhere just above one-hit-wonder. While he soldiers on, he also knows why his audience is there. The set was dominated by his first few albums, including every single from his breakout album Girlfriend.

I don’t say any of this as if I’m above it. I was a rabid fan of his early work—even caught him in Portland, 1994. Although I continue to collect (and listen to) his music, none of his new material has managed to grab me the way it used to. I cheered along when he rolled out cuts like Evangeline. How much of that is down to nostalgia, though? The only thing separating some of the hits, sonically from the smattering of new material he played was a lived-in, comforting familiarity.

I will say this, though, that crystal clear voice of his seems deathless.

NOTES: Matthew Sweet; Hard Rocket
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.052118

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: the Sea and Cake

OBSERVATIONS:
I was caught off guard, way back when, by the Sea and Cake’s debut album. Amidst the aftermath of grunge and the rise of electronica, they sounded like nothing else. Nearly 25 years later, they’re still really only comparable to themselves. Their sound hasn’t so much changed as evolved. You wouldn’t mistake their new album, Any Day, for that self-titled debut, but neither would there be any doubt it was the same band.

Likewise, the Sea and Cake are not a normal live band. They have virtually no sing-along choruses. As such, the band is pestered with requests to play their cover of Bowie’s Sound + Vision all (and probably every) night. What originally set them apart from their grungier peers was the sheer softness of their sound. Their melodies are not buoying as much as fulfilling. Their sound floods the room as a slowly rising tide that seeps in from every corner. The Sea and Cake play music of spaces for living, and for this one night they turned the Grey Eagle into their lounge.

It seemed strange they did an encore. Not that the crowd didn’t demand one, but the entire performance seems so counter to such rote expectations…

NOTES: the Sea and Cake; James Elkington
PRESENT: AMS: Angela F.

field report no.042818

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Superchunk

OBSERVATIONS:
Superchunk know what they are doing. They’ve run the club gauntlet since before grunge was even a thing. They know there’s a handful songs that people absolutely expect to hear (Slack Motherfucker, Driveway to Driveway…) but between those and whatever their latest LP is, they pepper in some unexpected tidbits from their now-rather-large catalog. They dusted off Song for Marion Brown, which made me go back to reappraise Indoor Living, which I admit I rarely ever put on. I was also glad at least a couple of songs from recent albums, I Hate Music and Majesty Shredding stayed in rotation. Too often, a long-running band’s newest material can have a short shelf life, lasting only as long as the next tour, never to be played again. Superchunk make a strong case for the enduring quality in their later work.

NOTES: Superchunk; Rock-a-Teens
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.022318

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Jonathan Richman

OBSERVATIONS:
Jonathan Richman is a bundle of contradictions. He exudes a studied naiveté. His songs appear simple but his performances are filled with subtle dynamics. He plays the everyman while singing in no less than four languages. His music is humorous, filled with grinning turns of phrase or out-and-out punchlines, but he never seems less than sincere. In fact, many of his goofy tunes are, by turns, heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Richman's music endures by virtue of its humanity. In person, he's human-scale—no a larger than life icon on stage. While he possesses charisma and force-of-personality to spare, the show itself feels intimate. For one night only, Richman is your own private Cyrano, serenading you with sonnets galore. I've seen him billed as opening for large scale acts, like Wilco, and I have to wonder how his show translates to such a vast crowd—but I shouldn't underestimate Jonathan, he's more cunning than he lets on.

NOTES: Jonathan Richman, featuring Tommy Larkins on drums; Ané Diaz
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

field report no.092517

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: The Church

OBSERVATIONS:
The Church were as stately as ever. The last time I saw them, they were touring their sophomore album, from 1982, in its entirety. This night they were focused on promoting their new album, Man Woman Life Death Infinity. While they're conscientious to sprinkle in fan favorites from their 35 year career, The Church remain moving forward. They've never simply tread water.  While their sound has progressed and evolved, neither has it radically shifted. Many of the newest developments came when leader Steve Kilbey ceded his bass duties to a roadie, freeing him to deliver more daring vocals for songs, like Undersea, that are unique in their catalog. Submarine pushes their atmospheric psychedelic leanings as far as they've been. Meanwhile, I Don't Know How, I Don't Why is formed in a classic Church mold, and would easily be a highlight from any LP in their last decade.  Speaking of, I don't know why I never noticed the krautrock motorik pulse underneath their 80s single Tantalized, but live, there was no denying it. 

NOTES: The Church; Helio Sequence
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.091117

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Shabazz Palaces

OBSERVATIONS:
I've seen more hip hop since moving to Asheville than I saw in all my 10 NYC years. Which is to say, New York just had more on offer for a tangential fan of hip hop. Given that, Shabazz Palaces is much more my speed than any other rap I've seen. You could argue they're more of a continuation of the trip hop tradition, which is a movement I (personally) count as formative. The left field abstraction and sonic u-turns of Shabazz Palaces is more in-line with the likes of Tricky, or even MC 900 Foot Jesus, than Digable Planets (which their leader, Palaceer Lazaro, hails from—as any writeup is obligated to mention).

Shabazz records can veer so oblique, their live show gave heft and punch to tracks that could too often drift by, almost unnoticed on the stereo. The instrumentation was stripped down, with a fitful stop-start pacing to refocus your attention. I'd seen Shabazz once in Brooklyn, but the situation—as a poorly matched opening act in a daylit, open-air amphitheater—was by no means flattering. This time around I left as a convert.  

NOTES: Shabbazz Palaces; Porter Ray
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.071117

LOCATION: Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Woods

OBSERVATIONS:
While I've become accustomed to sparsely attended shows since landing in Asheville, I'm inclined to attribute it to the type of music I opt for. This ain't New York City, and Asheville can only sustain so much experimental music. Maybe it was too early in the week or too close in proximity to a holiday weekend, but the Woods played to a thin crowd on this summer evening. Surprising, since I would have pegged their folk-tinged indie-pop as right in Asheville's sweet spot.

Small turnout or no, after well over a decade of touring, Woods are a battle-tested and dependable live act. Not to say they lack ambition or have grown complacent. Many of their songs still bear tell-tale traces of ramshackle psychedelia from their freak-folk beginnings—exploding into extended, sprawling guitar solos. Singer Jeremy Earl's permanent falsetto delivery has settled into a deceivingly wistful lull that still leans forward, pushing the tunes ahead. The denizens of Asheville missed out when they dropped the ball on this one. 

NOTES: Woods; John Andrews and the Yawns
PRESENT: AMS

field report no.032217

LOCATION: Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Blackalicious

OBSERVATIONS:
I have a special place in my heart for bands that seem to persevere in the face of indifference and obscurity. Though never outpacing their closest peers, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious has steadily held their course and outlasted and outdistanced them. It must be tiring, and this night, it showed a little—as Blackalicious looked they'd just run a marathon. Even the hype man, Lateef the Truth Speaker had a hard time making his "Yes Yes Y'all's" too convincing. 

This is not to diminish the immense craft and skill on display. Gift of Gab has an unrivaled, old-school hip hop delivery. Even that seems unfair to say, though, as it's less old school, and more 'what-old-school-might-have-grown-into-in-a-parallel-universe' kind of way. He's built upon a legacy of rapping that reaches to the earliest days of hip hop but refined it. He's a master of what I call rhythmic phonetics—marked by a careful attention to how words break down syllabically, and using them to keep a lively interaction with the beat. Nothing in his flow is four-square or hemmed in by the meter, but still always making beat more dynamic and elastic.

Unfortunately, I have to give a special mention to the opening act, which was so annoying it bordered on offensive. If you can imagine stumbling into a bar to find it's live-band karaoke night, and a handful of frat boys are hogging the stage, doing ill-advised, poorly practiced takes on hip hop classics, you get the general idea.

NOTES: Blackalicious; FTO x King Garbage
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F; Angela F.(2); Eric H.

field report no.030317

LOCATION: Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Lage & Eldridge

OBSERVATIONS:
For a show I very nearly passed up, this night ended up reaping huge benefits. I didn't necessarily know Julian Lage's work except by association—read: he plays with Nels Cline often enough—but I wanted to get out and see some music, and that seemed sufficient, so I sucked it up and made my way to the Grey Eagle.

It ended up that Chris Eldridge, half the duo I was there to see, fell ill. In light of that, they chose to do a truncated, all instrumental set (fine by me), but to make up for it, they called around to find a local act to open the show. Shane Parish was their auspicious choice.

To my ear, Parish entirely stole the show. Lage & Eldridge are phenomenal players, make no mistake, but the contrast was stark: it was feats of dexterity vs. feats of derring-do. As a pair, the duo could make finger-knotting flights glide by with ease. Lage and Eldridge were consistently upbeat and impressive but still repertory. Parish's set, by contrast was filled with brazen risks taken in the spur of the moment: wild dynamic shifts, strange tonal clusters and extended techniques not often heard at a 'folk' show.

I'm all the more pleased with the show since Shane Parish hails from my newly adopted home of Asheville, and is the first local act I've really connected with.

NOTES: Julian Lage; Chris Eldridge; Shane Parrish
PRESENT: AMS