Vinyl Soup, distaff hip-hop, David Wilcox, and the Corpse
Wednesday, October 27
Cosmic Charlie’s, 9:00 P.M.
Disclaimer: I long ago gave up on jam bands. About 10 years ago, after having spent a siginificant part of the ’90s going to every Phish, Widespread Panic, and Allman Brothers show within a few hours drive, I’d had enough. Enough of the 20-minute noodling sessions, enough with the off-pitch vocals, enough of the patchouli-ridden parking lots.
I remember somebody trying to turn me on to String Cheese Incident around that time, and I just hated it. Umphrey’s McGee: not for me. Haven’t played A Picture of Nectar since the Clinton Administration, and for a while there that was my favorite album for like, forever. Now? Bands should play songs, dammit. I was resolute.
But in the last year, a couple of conversations I’ve had have made me question my resolve. The first was over the phone, with an old friend who runs a successful booking agency in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the presence of a number of jam bands on his roster, I knew him to share at least a few of my sentiments about the genre, particularly the (to our ears) excessive abandonment of song structure, in favor of jamming that ultimately led nowhere. So he surprised me when he told me with some excitement that he was planning to attend a Phish show somewhere in Oregon or Washington or Northern California.
“Yeah, I haven’t seen them since 1996,” he said. “I’m stoked.”
“Man,” I replied, “are you really that excited about Phish? I thought you were as bored with them as I am?”
“Dude. It’s Phish. It’s gonna be awesome.” So there was that.
Then a few months later I was talking to a local guitarist about a particular riff he was working on, about the sort of sound he was going for. “Kind of a soaring, melodic Jimmy Herring thing,” he explained, referring to Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring’s legendary style of soloing, a sound both tasteful and powerful. Of course it worked perfectly.
So I got to thinking, like you do, that maybe jam bands aren’t so bad after all, and that maybe there’s even a few that I could admit to liking and would happily pay to see even on a school night. But there have to be a couple of ground rules, as are recommended whenever momentous shifts in musical taste are being contemplated.
First, jam bands should be pretty good at their instruments. If you’re gonna make your audience listen to a nine-minute guitar solo, that better be some serious fretwork. And if you run out of ideas halfway in, resist the urge to go all “Space” with it; even Deadheads go get their beers at that point.
And you gotta write songs. Unless you’re gonna bring some real-deal Ornette-style free jazz into the venue, go ahead and write some parts. People like to sing along, ya know? A catchy chorus never hurt anyone, and a killer bridge is always welcome. Jamming and songcraft aren’t mutually exclusive.
Lucky for us there are a few such bands around, and lo—one comes this way now. Right now, in fact—tonight—Nashville’s Vinyl Soup, who write real songs and play with taste and precision, are playing Cosmic Charlie’s. You can’t help but like that.
Friday, October 29
Brown Sugar: The Queens Edition
Al’s Bar, 10:00. $5.
Persona is crucial to the hip-hop artist, perhaps more so than in other popular genres. There’s the familiar gangster (or ex-gangster), the fun-loving hedonist with a mansion by the sea, the rhyming philosopher, the political activist, the urban sophisticate, and many more. What they have in common is that they tend to be roles more or less written for men to play, not women; the rap game as it’s always been played is a man’s game.
Certainly female acts have made inroads over the years, and even achieved lasting stardom in a notoriously fickle market. Still, we fans seem mostly indifferent, ignoring a feminine touch—no matter how skilled—with the microphone in favor of the latest mass-produced three-minute blast of machismo. And when we compile our top-ten lists of the GOATs, how many women make the cut? Nope, didn’t think so.
But there’s an event going on in our fair city that promises to help rectify this sorry state of affairs by presenting for our enjoyment, as part of an ongoing hip-hop series at Al’s Bar, an entire evening of word-loving women wielding SM-58s. The Queen’s Edition of Brown Sugar features an all-star lineup of local talent, anchored by DJ Greene, and is the latest installment of impresario Devine Carama’s weekly show at Al’s.
Wednesday, November 10
Natasha’s, 8 P.M. $22.
Cannibal Corpse w/ Dying Fetus, Vital Remains, & Devourment
Buster’s, 7:45 P.M. $17; $20 door
Lexington music lovers have a choice to make in November, a choice unlike any other in recent memory. Not that one—you can’t possibly be voting Paul—but this one: on Wednesday evening you can see David Wilcox or you can see Cannibal Corpse, or—and it makes me proud to be an American to type these words—or you can see them both. And the determined eclectic who not only follows a full set of Wilcox’s gorgeous guitar and sensitive, intelligent vocals with 90 minutes of—well, it’s Cannibal Corpse; adjectives fail—any soul who not only sees both shows but enjoys every minute of both of them, now, that’s a special kind of music fan.
Or someone to keep a wary eye on, at any rate. But yeah—it’s possible to catch them both, if you skip the openers at Buster’s and get out of Natasha’s by ten or so. But what sort of music fan does this? If you skip the support acts, it means you dig extreme death metal, but you dig acoustic singer/songwriters somewhat more than those extreme death metal bands less established than Cannibal Corpse, such as the grim, gifted Dying Fetus, the speed-metal stalwarts Vital Remains, or the relentless Devourment. How’s that work?
It might be helpful to compare the two artists in some key musical areas to find a better understanding of what’s happening here. For instance, lyrical content: David Wilcox, on his web site, categorizes his music into topics covered, categories which include:
- falling in love
- being single and yet happy with yourself and who you are
- strength in adversity
- personal growth
Now, here are the “lyrical themes” assigned to Cannibal Corpse at their page in the Encylopaedia Metallum:
Indeed. But even in this digital age with shuffling iPods and infinite internet streams, good names are important too; would Rumours have been Rumours if it hadn’t been titled Rumours? Of course not. So, a selection of Wilcox album titles:
- Home Again
- Big Horizon
- Turning Point
- Open Hand
And a selection of l’oeuvre de le corps mort:
- Tomb of the Mutilated
- Evisceration Plague
- Gore Obsessed
- Butchered at Birth
We obviously proceed to song titles. Just a few of Wilcox:
- “After Your Orgasm”
- “Grateful for Her Beauty”
- “Forever Now”
- “Strong Chemistry”
And the Corpse:
- “Post Mortal Ejaculation”
- “Meat Hook Sodomy”
- “Frantic Disembowelment”
I think there are some obvious correspondences here, including the influence of the features and functions of the body on the songwriters’ lyrical directions (notice the close resemblance of the first items in the lists of song titles, above), the themes of melancholy and reverie (heartbreak, zombies) and the shared emphasis on the six-string guitar as a vehicle for raw emotion. In this light, then, the similarities are striking. So go, special fan: make the right choice and go see them both.—Keith Halladay