Hopscotch and Unicorns
Royal Pine, Pinataland, Arrah and the Ferns
Thursday, Oct. 11
Normally, I don’t go out on Wednesdays. Normally, I stay in and let my brain die in front of the TV so I can get a good night’s sleep and get to work on time the next day. But when I saw that Royal Pine, Pinataland and Arrah and the Ferns were performing, I thought I’d break from my norm and see what the midweek nightlife is like.
Playing in front of about four people in the sepia-tinted room of Radio Radio, Royal Pine, also known as Robin Aigner, was the opening performer. With her candy-striped baby-doll dress, wild hair and gypsy music, she brought an ache-y folk sound to the stage. Singing songs of Winnebagos and the 1977 blackout, Royal Pine is what would happen if The Mamas and The Papas merged with Loretta Lynn and picked up the ukulele.
Immediately following was the three-person band Pinataland. With its members overlapping in and out of Royal Pine like a musical Venn Diagram, this band has a dusty, old-world feel that smoothly mixes They Might Be Giants with dark swing and a cowboy trot that gets your feet stomping on the hardwoods.
Stomping to their own brand of fun, and sporting yellow galoshes, Arrah and the Ferns were reluctant performers, but brought the good times anyway despite having to use a substitute guitar when the E string snapped. Their sound combines The Boy Least Likely To with Architecture in Helsinki.
Loaded with (among the usual instruments) a banjo, a set of shutters and elfish vocals that rope you right into the muddled memories of being 5 and making-believe, Arrah and the Ferns juxtapose an adult awareness with a childlike whimsy that takes you out of the bar and over the rainbow.
Under the jangle-y spell of their music you can play hopscotch with unicorns and let your inner child reign. But you have to do it fast, because as soon as they pick out that last chord just after midnight, the tea party ends. Thursday is here and you have to wake up soon.
More battling bands
The Future, Hustler, Emerson Rose, 83 Feet, Midwest Hype, Unfinished Business
Friday, Oct. 12
Similar to recent presidential elections, one can’t help but smirk at the baffling outcome of Friday night’s Battle of Birdy’s. Call the audience the “popular vote” and the secret judges the “swing states” that can not only affect the outcome, but practically decide it.
It was no surprise that Emerson Rose took home first place honors of the evening, with many audience members clad in their red shirts with the catch phrase “Rock Harder” on the back. Also credit the band and their well-performed set that bore influences of everything from the dual guitar assault of GnR and progressive vocal harmonies of Queensryche to the polished up-tempo deliciousness of hit factories like 30 Seconds to Mars and My Chemical Romance.
The race for second place, however, is where this story gets interesting. Midwest Hype, which had to deal with playing next to last, put in a good set of high-energy ska-flavored rock and ultimately walked away with second place and bragging rights, along with Emerson Rose, of moving on to the next round. But where things get fuzzy is when you check the score sheet at battleofbirdys.com. It clearly shows third place band Hustler as bringing in the most second place votes and an astonishing 56 first place votes versus the 18 garnered by Midwest Hype. In this case, the secret judges gave most of their points to Midwest Hype, swinging them from fourth place in audience votes to second overall.
It’s not up for debate which band deserved to win the battle of second or third place. All of the bands here won the hearts of judges and audience members in the first round, meaning they were good enough to get this far. If left up to just audience in this particular show, Hustler would have come in second. But in defense of fairness, it’s a good thing to have judges in place to keep the balance and avoid a popularity contest where, in a worst-case scenario, a band can perform poorly but still win by simply bringing the most people through the door. Having said that, the sad irony is once you’ve been signed and have a couple albums under your belt, you can half-ass your way through a tour and still make millions. Just look at Godsmack.
Getting back on topic, Hustler may not be advancing to the next round, but with each member at an average age of 18, there will be many more opportunities for this young band to do great things. Playing a balls-out set of straight-up rock, Hustler had their shit together for a performance that suggested as much influence from Aerosmith as it did Foo Fighters. Top it off with a blistering and damn near note-for-note cover of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and there’s no question how they won the audience over.
Why Hustler didn’t win the judges over? Maybe they’re Abba fans.
Punk rock night, sort of
The Cousin Brothers, Il Troubadore, Harley Poe
Saturday, Oct. 14
Last Saturday delivered another Punk Rock Night at the Melody Inn, except the punk turned bluegrass and the rock turned folk. But I’m learning PRN isn’t about a theme. It’s about any band that’s worth a damn and provides an open stage for innovative artists taking creative risks.
Saturday was also the annual burlesque benefit show for breast cancer organization Y-ME.org. So we expected the altered agenda.
Let us begin by saying the burlesque show was part of the night’s success. While a musical analysis won’t do, I can say the burlesque was every bit as demanding as any band. The girls of PRN are not only pin-up icons, but an important part of a culture now evolved.
The Cousin Brothers introduced us to bluegrass with a dash of metal. Upright bassist Kevin Vickery put the spine in every song. He plucked away at four defenseless strings and manhandled the neck of an instrument taller than himself. The aggression lent to a vigorous danceable beat.
CB’s lyrics oftentimes played on white suburban stereotypes. Some songs went so fast I began to look for the first musician to collapse. But a lively bunch showed CB was an energizing experience.
Il Troubadore took the audience from frenzied to mesmerized. They played a set beautiful to both eye and ear. The performance was an invigorating take on Albanian and Bulgarian folk music. Cellist Jon Silpayamanant made the sound of his instrument soar as his horse-hair bow began to unravel. But the instrumentals nearly came second to belly dancer Carenza bint Asya, who proved not only captivating, but somewhat death defying. Hips shook and stomach muscles ripped while Asya kept, of all things, a machete placed on top of her head. While impressive, the concept was stressful.
Harley Poe greeted an almost completely disbanded crowd. And for those who left, you missed a talented and overall hilarious three-piece band. I don’t know what it is I consider charismatic about a middle finger. Maybe it’s the fact that lead singer Joe Whiteford was just that confident.
Harley Poe gave the leftover audience a little bit of that not-so-promised punk and a synchronized combo of guitar, bass, drum and a strange homemade instrument allowing the percussionist to play the tambourine with his foot. Whiteford closed his set singing, wait, shouting the lyrics, “I can always eat your brain.” I hope this is his alternate plan.