The Kindergarten Circus (8:45 p.m., The End)
It’s been a year since I first saw the youthful dynamo that is Kindergarten Circus at last year’s Next Big Nashville and, if anything, the band has only gotten louder and more impressive.
Kindergarten Circus funnels a clear influence from blues rock bands The Who, The Kinks and early White Stripes through gritty, raw garage punk. This band is all about crashing distorted guitars punctuated by blistering blues-inspired solos. There’s a good reason why the boys in the band gushed about their adoration for The Clutters in a questionnaire on Janet Timmons’ “Out the Other” blog last year. Closing your eyes, it’s easy to forget that the members of the band are only 17, 16 and 15.
Although the elder singer and guitarist, Dillon Watson, is still the focal point for the band, bassist Logan Sissom and drummer Aaron Browning have grown as musicians and stand-out on their own as well. The band is like a rusty freight train, barreling down the tracks with no hopes of stopping. That is, until something breaks and the whole thing is derailed for a bit. Whenever Watson had to stop to change tuning, the momentum collapsed and they had to work to build it back up again.
The teenage trio is the best reason why Nashville is sorely in need of an accessible all ages venues without the baggage associated with RCKTWN.
Velcro Stars (9:30 p.m., The End)
Following Kindergarten Circus as the Grand Palace showcase were Velcro Stars, a band that has somehow become more famous for being a springboard for other bands like former drummer Andy Spore and How I Became the Bomb and, now, current bassist Jonathan Brock and Shoot The Mountain.
“Basically, if you start a band and join Velcro Stars around the same time, your other band will f—in’ blow up,” joked singer/guitarist Shane Spresser after introducing Brock as “Nashville’s newest celebrity.” Why Velcro Stars haven’t been launched into the stratosphere of local rock fame is a mystery, but maybe it has something to do with how completely “un-Nashville” they are.
Although Velcro Stars are based in Murfreesboro, their sound comes straight from Athens, GA. Keith Pratt and Spresser wail through light-hearted pop songs in the style of Robert Schneider, The Apples in Stereo and, on a larger scale, the Elephant 6 Collective. Somehow, Athens has becomes the national headquarters for bright, happy tunes.
Consider Velcro Stars as an ambassador from Athens, bringing the fire of twee pop down from Olympus to whoever will listen.
A Note on Shuttles
Shuttles are a great idea. In theory, you can travel from Cannery Row to anywhere you want in 20 minutes or less. Shuttles keep you from having to burn gasoline speeding down West End. They protect you from the horror of trying to find parking at the Rutledge. They put every show at your fingertips, allowing you to hop all over town, collecting stamps until the back of your hand is overcome by a splotch of colored ink.
For the most part, the shuttle service does everything that it advertises. Unless, that is, you’re hoping to cross the river to see what’s going on at The 5 Spot or LimeLight. When I got on the dark shuttle from Exit/In in hopes of seeing Dukes of DaVille without having to figure out where LimeLight was, I was eventually informed of this limitation. Although, the driver did offer to drop me off with the understanding that he wouldn’t be coming back.
Tempting as a long walk across James Robertson Parkway is, I wound up at Cannery instead. But before my shuttle arrived at Cannery Row, I was treated to a high-speed winding tour of Nashville’s venues from the comfort of a dark shuttle in which I was the only passenger. On my eventual ride back to Exit/In, the driver told me that fewer people have been riding compared to last year. She confided to me that “it makes driving hard with an empty bus.”
The Pink Spiders (10:30 p.m., Cannery Ballroom)
The Pink Spiders have had a rough couple of months. Founding members Jon Decious and Bob Ferrari left the band and trashed remaining member Matt Friction in a tell-all interview with the Nashville Scene. The band’s still struggling to get their nearly scrapped third album out in stores after being unceremoniously dropped from Geffen, all while attempting to recapture lightning in a bottle with a band full of new members.
In all truthfulness, I hadn’t planned on seeing the band play after seeing a tired, egotistical performance by the band at last year’s festival. But after a wayward journey via shuttle, I stuck around to see how the new Pink Spiders faired. What was most immediately noticeable was that they’ve apparently done away with the costumes, finally casting off the tired gimmicky image they’ve foisted upon themselves. Matt Friction had a good thing going with Silent Friction and The Pink Spiders are virtually the same band, except with more ego than most people are comfortable with.
If the band can reinvent itself as a band first and not an image, then maybe they can move past their dismal recent history and win back some of the fans they’ve spurned. Until then, they’re playing adequate Kinks-inspired garage pop songs and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Glossary (11:15 p.m., The End)
After another shuttle ride across town, Glossary had already taken stage at The End. After witnessing the historically phony Pink Spiders, it was a culture shock to see a band that was nothing if not genuine. Glossary played a stripped down set of Americana tunes rooted deep in Southern tradition. This is a band that’s playing music only because it’s in their nature to write and record these songs.
That sentiment was best reflected when they released “The Better Angels of Our Nature” last year for free online with only a limited pressing of CDs sold in stores and direct from the band. Unfortunately, their set was over before I knew it, after only a handful of songs. But even though I was only able to see the band play three or four songs, I can say with confidence that they put on one of the best shows of the night, if not the festival. The band isn’t riding the cusp of local fervor like How I Became the Bomb or The Features do, but they still put on a show made up of reliable, good ol’ fashioned tunes.
Dead Confederate (11:45 p.m., Exit/In)
One of the beauties of Next Big Nashville is that, from time to time, you’ll stumble across a band that you’ve never heard of before. Sometimes they’re playing across the street at a time when you’ve got nothing else going on. More often, they’re a band preceding the band you showed up to see in the first place. Dead Confederate, an import from Georgia, is one of those bands.
The band’s lighting was strikingly minimalist. All of the overhead lights were shut down and replaced, instead, with bright white can lights which would burst and dim like flash bulbs. The result was a band quite literally appearing larger than life, with their shadows dwarfing them on the walls. This same trick was attempted by Mother/Father in December when they opened for the Protomen, but they didn’t quite pull it off. Dead Confederate has the sound and presence necessary to use a moodier rock aesthetic.
Dead Confederate blends shades of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine into a shoegazer wall of sound. Everything about the band lends well to the kind of ethereal, psychedelic sound that they presented at Next Big Nashville. Dead Confederate is a band worth keeping an eye on, just like Wax Fang was last year.
The Protomen (12:30 p.m., Exit/In)
Next Big Nashville poses some problems for some bands. Generally, the sets are shorter and bands are at the whims of the person running the soundboard. More than one band was cut off short by Bruce at The End without any negotiation for two more songs. So, what’s a theatrical band like the Protomen, who employ elaborate make-up, costumes and framing devices in their live shows, to do? I had assumed that they would have simply dialed back the theatrics, but this assumption was completely and utterly wrong.
The Protomen started their Mega Man inspired rock opera three years ago with a self-titled album about a freedom fighting robot who attempts to get revenge for his brother, who was apparently killed in an assault on fascism. As time progressed, the band has swelled to include a four person chorus, all while holding down their songs with 8-bit tunes upgraded to fit the energetic rock & roll fury put forward by the band’s two guitarists. They’re larger than life and know it, which is immediately obvious from their live performances.
In 2009, the band will finally release their second act. Because the new album is so close, they dismantled their usual setlist to mash together old songs and new. The band has such power over the crowd that although it was approaching 1 a.m. midway into their set, no one seemed ready to leave. That’s the sign of a great live band.