Sugarland – Still the Same 2018 Tour with Brandy Clark and Clare Bowen

PNC Arena – Saturday, May 26, 2018

Saturday was a night of firsts for RDU Music. We covered our first arena show at PNC with our first country act, Grammy award-winning Sugarland. [I thought this was also our first time covering a Grammy winner but I forgot Deftones won in 2001 for “Elite.” And then I got tired of looking for other winners so let’s just pretend, mmkay? -Ed.] They are touring in support of their soon-to-be-released, sixth studio album, Bigger. Joining them were songwriter extraordinaire, Brandy Clark, and TV’s Clare Bowen, of Nashville fame.

Country fans turned out en masse for this bill. PNC Arena was hopping for Atlanta’s finest, who brought a whopping 22-song setlist to our fair city, replete with a 2-song encore, closing with crowd-pleaser, “Lady Marmalade.” It is no small feat commanding an arena crowd of roughly 20,000 but Jennifer Nettles has the chops to make it happen.

RDU Music’s resident photographer, Lan, was handed a less-than-stellar assignment to shoot from the soundboard in the back and yet he still managed to grab some quality shots. I’m not sure if the PNC Arena crew forgot to leave 4 feet between the stage and barricade for photogs but getting up close is what we live for. Maybe next time.

Pick up Bigger, Sugarland’s latest release, out 6/8, here and catch them on their huge summer tour, lasting into September.

Claire Bowen opening for Sugarland at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina

Claire Bowen opening for Sugarland at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina

Melvins @ Cat’s Cradle

Monday, May 7, 2018 – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro

Melvins at Cat's Cradle Carrboro, North Carolina

Melvins at Cat’s Cradle Carrboro, North Carolina

Lan and I have seen the Melvins open for just about every band in the late 90s but we’ve never been to a Melvins headlining show. Gonna see NIN? Melvins are opening. Tool? Melvins. Manson? You bet your ass Melvins are opening. So here in the year of our Lord 2018, it was time for King Buzzo and co. to show us what they are working with as the marquee act.

We headed to Carrboro and made it just in time to miss the opener. [Sorry, All Souls. We’re old. -Ed.] It was a pretty decent turnout for some old dudes on a Monday night. I was telling my girlfriend about the show and she said, “Who are the Melvins?” I guess I forgot that she is 25. She doesn’t remember Houdini or Stoner Witch. Say what you want about some of their records over the years, when they step on the stage and rock, it’s a unique experience. King Buzzo commands the stage and plays every show at full throttle. Except for that time I saw them at Ozzfest ’98 where Buzz was not stoked in the slightest and did nothing but feedback his guitar on the stacks for 20 minutes until I bounced to the main stage to catch Soulfly. Peep Buzz talking about his Ozzfest experience in an interview with Metalsucks here. “Not cuz Ozzfest wanted us, because Tool wanted us. And I quote, they told us that they will not do it unless we do it, because [Tool] wanted at least one band on the tour that they liked. So they took us with them on the tour. Ozzfest people were adamantly opposed to us playing.” [LOL! -Ed.]

The Melvins in 2018 are all about bringing the low end with 2 bassists and a kick drum that rattled my eyeballs so bad that I had to move to the back and get another beer. Their newest slab of downtuned, head-scratching weirdness, this year’s Pinkus Abortion Technician on Ipecac, only appeared once on the setlist. With 35 years of recorded output to choose from, I can see why they throw the rule book out the window. Also, they are the Melvins and never opened the book in the first damn place. The setlist bounced around between about 12 albums and a handful of covers. It was nice to catch some classics like “Honey Bucket” off of Houdini and Stag‘s opener, “The Bit.”

The King was resplendent in his eyeball wizard regalia, alongside Pinkus, who was looking like he came straight from a Midwest trailer park next door to Joe Dirt, and Steve, rocking a suit with an all-over print flame pattern that was likely tailored by Guy Fieri himself. Oddly enough, none of those fine gentlemen were the oddest thing I saw that night. [Honorable mention goes to the dude with a sweet Mercyful Fate backpatch. -Ed.] Sitting on some rigging, stage right, was an older lady, all kitted out with a lawn chair and art supplies. She was apparently live-sketching the aural dysphoria that is a Melvins show. It doesn’t get much more avant-garde than that.

Toadies and Local H at Motorco

The RDU Music staff was approached about covering a Tuesday night show in Durham. That’s one strike for a weeknight and another for Durham. [That shit is like 30 minutes away! – Ed.] It’s a good thing that the bands in question happened to be two of the best grungy, alternative rockers that the 90s had to offer: The Toadies and Local H.

Local H at MotorCo Durham, North Carolina

Local H at MotorCo Durham, North Carolina

Local H

Let me tell you: Local H’s Scott Lucas is looking great at 47 years young. Life on the road must have been good to him because I look like shit at 35 while he can still hit the high notes with ease. Alongside drummer Ryan Harding, Scott brought Local H back to the Triangle area for a raucous set that flirted with disaster for its entirety. By the middle of song two, Scott proclaimed that it was, “one of them shows already,” as kick drum mics got tangled in patch cords and certain over-the-hill drunkards tried their best to ruin an otherwise powerful set from one of my favorite and most underrated rock acts of the 90s.

Durham did not put its best foot forward at Motorco for this show. The majority of the crowd were likeminded thirtysomethings or higher who wanted to be reminded of how it felt to spin an excellent record like As Good as Dead for the first time in their parents’ basement. Unfortunately, a couple of bad apples spoiled the bunch as two middle-aged assclowns decided to get shitfaced before 9pm on a Tuesday and bum everyone out.

In the middle of the first goddamn song, these tools were taking cell phone photos from the first row with the flash on and pantomiming hitting Scott’s guitar as his rockitude brought him to the front of the stage. “I don’t want to be in your selfies,” said Scott as he unironically flipped off the camera. Things went downhill fast as the meatheads in the crowd began to feel like their declining masculinity was in question, causing them to pop off at the mouth about wanting to fight a complete stranger who was nice enough to play a show for them. Scott tried diffusing the situation with some humor as he called out one of the assholes for sloppily making out with his insufferable girlfriend during the set. “This is a rock show, not prom. Get the fuck out of here. You are bumming everyone out.” This was apparently akin to insulting one’s saintly mother so the shitty party boys proceeded to continue causing a scene while one of their girlfriends got into it with another woman, each ending up with a handful of each other’s hair before a larger and more level-headed woman stepped in. I was more than embarrassed and hope that Local H will accept my apologies on behalf of Durham at large.

I had written about three more paragraphs on the topic of the deplorable behavior exhibited by these buttmunchers but I realized that I was starting to bum myself out so I decided to not waste any more keystrokes on these garbage people. For those of you that need closure, I heard from a reputable source (some dude) that the buffoons in question got thrown out and were starting shit outside. All is right in the world. Now back to the true star of the show: Local H’s set.

I never thought I’d see Local H with a bassist [Scott’s guitars are modded with a bass pickup. – Ed.] but The Toadies’ Doni Blair made a guest appearance on stage to join the duo for “Michelle (Again)” from 2008’s Twelve Angry Months. Other set highlights included a rockin’ cover of the recently deceased Tom Petty’s “I Need to Know” in addition to some great crowd participation on hits from the Island years like “Fritz’s Corner” and “Bound for the Floor,” both of which found yours truly screaming along at the top of his lungs. Those lyrics are so deeply ingrained into my memory that I won’t ever forget them.

If my memory serves [It usually doesn’t. – Ed.], Local H closed the set with a fiery double-time version of “High-Fiving MF” which was worth the admission price alone.

The Toadies at MotorCo Durham, North Carolina

The Toadies at MotorCo Durham, North Carolina

The Toadies

Photog extraordinaire and RDU Music‘s own, Lan, busted out 1994’s seminal Rubberneck on the way to a party we attended the prior weekend. I was immediately transported back to a simpler time when rock had that fat groove and the weed was chockful of seeds and stems. I could almost taste the ill-gotten packs of smokes we had to get older kids to buy for us. If good music doesn’t have that effect on you, it’s time to hang it up and go sell some insurance for The Man.

On the surface, the years have not been quite as nice to The Toadies’ Vaden Todd Lewis but he and his cohorts have not missed a beat when it comes to knowing how to lay down the chunkiest riffs this side of 1995. The frontman laid it out from the beginning of the set: “We’re gonna play songs from the new record, songs from Rubberneck, and some in between.” He wasn’t lying as The Toadies burned through 7 songs from their biggest record, 4 from the new record, and a handful of others including an encore consisting of two covers flanking Rubberneck‘s underrated, slow-building closing track, “I Burn.”

Durham showed up with some solid crowd participation on hits such as “Backslider” and “I Come from the Water.” I had to laugh at the poor roadie who rigged up a separate mic solely for one song’s worth of some egg-shaker percussion. Toward the end of the set, I spied the best-dressed concertgoer I have seen all year: Coexist t-shirt and suspenders with a drug rug tied around his waist. Man, I miss the 90s.

The first cover of the encore saw The Toadies paying homage to the recently fallen rock hero, Tom Petty, with their rendition of 1977’s “Breakdown.” They then closed the set with some sweet back-to-back guitar courtesy of Local H’s Scott Lucas on the classic hit, “I Put a Spell on You,” which culminated with the Scott effortlessly crowd-surfing back to the bar as if he had done so a hundred times. I have good money that says these two bands had a blast at every single stop on this tour.

Manchester Orchestra @ Ritz

Manchester Orchestra at The Ritz Raleigh, North Carolina

Manchester Orchestra at The Ritz Raleigh, North Carolina

It was a busy week for RDU Music and the Ritz as we attended two shows in two nights. In the famous words of Roger Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” It’s a good thing that Manchester Orchestra is incapable of disappointing an audience. Since it was a Wednesday night, I was unable to catch openers Foxing and Tiger’s Jaw. That was unfortunate because I hear good things about both of those bands. Rain check?

Manchester Orchestra brought seven tracks off of their excellent new album, A Black Mile to the Surface, to the Ritz along with a healthy dose of back catalog tracks, making for a fun and varied 17-song setlist. They opened the night with the first three tracks off of Black Mile in front of a surprising amount of gear. MO brought enough stage lights to make stoned Pink Floyd fans wander in off the street thinking that a laser light show was breaking out. There was also an auxiliary instrument station, complete with a microphone that invited a revolving door of members from opening bands to join in for a variety of songs, adding some additional live texture that I am sure was as fun for the guest musicians as it was for the crowd. That was a real classy move by Andy Hull and co.

As the set progressed, I quickly realized that I hadn’t written a scathing piece about shitty rock music fans in a long time. It’s a good thing that I was standing directly behind the Jolly Drunk Giant and his cadre of tiny whores. They provided me with a nearly endless supply of material. Thanks, you gangly prick.

In case my ardent misanthropy hadn’t shone through in any of the other pieces I have written for this website, please allow me to express my feelings on cell phones at concerts: fucking stop it. If you want to whip it out and take a couple of snapshots to commemorate the event, more power to you. I am not an unreasonable man. I do it myself. But if you want to record 30 minutes of video when you are standing directly next to the stage-left speaker stack, maybe ask an adult first. We’d be happy to tell you that you are a ludicrously tall moron and are ruining the experience of literally everyone behind you so that you can get 4 Insta pity likes on a video that is wholly unwatchable due to the atrocious audio quality and your inability to fucking hold still.

To top it off, when my view wasn’t 89% obstructed by this gargantuan monkey-person, his tiny girlfriend managed to snake the final 11% by holding her PBR tall boy as high as possible while, naturally, screaming, “Woo!” at the top of her lungs. It’s really hard to drink your PBR when it’s a foot above your head, young lady. That beer was also roughly eleventy dollars (thanks, Live Nation…) so maybe take it easy over there. I love Manchester Orchestra as much as you but seeing Andy bathed in multi-colored electric light didn’t make me forget how to pound a tall boy. This ain’t my first rodeo.

Oh, wait. I was supposed to be writing about the Manchester Orchestra set. Shit. Why didn’t anyone stop me? [Maybe because you are your own editor and are drunk with power. -Ed.] Regardless, the real star of the show was Manchester Orchestra, who brought an immensely powerful set, ripe with thumping bass, soaring harmonies, and poignant lyrics. I had seen MO in the past but I think they are really proud of Black Mile, and it showed through in everything they did at the Ritz.

Andy was giving 100% on the high notes. He was not phoning it in at all. On personal favorites such as “Colly Strings” and the pre-encore closer, “The River,” Andy was able to evoke the same intense level of feeling from me live as he does on wax. I was visibly affected by the sheer power of, “I’m gonna leave you the first chance I get,” followed by a mic drop to end the set. Had Manchester Orchestra actually ended the set on “The River,” I might have been forced to walk out of the Ritz holding back a tear. Luckily, the crowd was graced with an encore of “I Can Feel a Hot One” in order to let the crowd know that Andy was indeed capable of feeling love again, followed by the apt closer of Black Mile, “The Silence.” It left me eternally grateful that Manchester Orchestra “let me open my eyes and be glad that I got here.”

Raleigh Hopscotch Music Festival 2017 Part Two

Big Boi at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Big Boi at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Downtown Raleigh

I think I finally figured out the key to surviving my…6th?…Hopscotch festival: Leave early. Not like “early bird special” early but maybe early enough that you can get to bed by about 1am because you have at least 2 more days of drinking, walking, and rocking ahead of you. I met up with JOM outside of CAM after Torche finished their great set on Day 1 and he was like, “I have to work in the morning.” Say no more, fam. You need a ride?

After a solid 7 hours of sleep (and another 4 of laying around on the couch), I was feeling good and was ready to head back to City Plaza to start Day 2 of Hopscotch 2017. Little did I know that I was going to stumble upon RDU Music’s hands-down favorite set of the festival later in the evening.

Birds of Avalon at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Birds of Avalon at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Birds of Avalon @ City Plaza

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Kicking off Night 2 was Raleigh’s own Birds of Avalon. You might recognize some of their members from Kings and Garland. They brought a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll set fueled by dual drummers to City Plaza. Everyone had a mic so there was a nice, varied vocal approach to individual songs. I could have done without the extended, rambling jam session at the end but was overall impressed with Birds of Avalon’s rockitude.

The Make Up at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

The Make Up at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

The Make-Up @ City Plaza

Wiki

Up next was a band whose reunion tour was lost on most of the unsuspecting City Plaza crowd, D.C.’s The Make-Up. About 8 seconds into their opening number, enigmatic frontman Ian Svenonius jumped into the crowd and commenced to get weird with bird noises all up in the faces of Raleigh’s musically hungry. They had an MC5 sort of feel…if MC5 were emotionally disturbed people. I will say that their glitter-encrusted mauve suits were 10/10.

Our very own Yang had this to say about the band: I didn’t know much about The Make-Up when they were announced on the bill.  The little I heard of them would not prepare me for what my ears and eyes were about to see. To this very day, I still can’t figure out if my confusion borders on “like” or “dislike.”  On one hand, The Make-Up brought a ferocious amount of energy to their set.  The crowd, like me, was also a tad bit skeptical but they eventually took to the DC band after the first couple of songs. I would bet that frontman Ian spent more time in the crowd or balancing on the barrier and photographers’ shoulders than the actual stage. Songs were frantic and fast, and if you’re a fan of the incoherent ramblings of a mental patient in between songs, then Christmas came early.  I spent a good majority of this set tapping my finger on my chin trying to process what exactly my eyes were seeing, especially at the point when he put the microphone in his mouth and began bellowing like a wild animal. Like a David Lynch film, I applauded the effort and presentation but left confused and baffled. Also, I think they set the record for saying “baby” most times in a song that wasn’t R&B slow jam. [Yang]

So many types of pills…so little time to do them.

Run The Jewels at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Run The Jewels at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Run the Jewels @ Red Hat Amphitheater

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I had “offhandedly” mentioned to some co-workers that I was going to be covering Hopscotch again this year and the subject of Run the Jewels came up. One of the guys was hella stoked but I, being generally too-cool-for-school in addition to a pretentious music snob, mentioned that I wasn’t really into “modern” hip-hop. [I’m all about the GZA. -Ed.] RTJ made me take that viewpoint and stick it in my ass.

We trekked the short distance over to Red Hat Amphitheater and met up with soon-to-be #personalboy and friend of the program, Greg, where we queued up to see RTJ straight burn that motherfucker to the ground, which they verbally intimated that they were planning to do, early in the set. They definitely had the tools to do so but I was hoping that they wouldn’t literally do that. Some of us live here. But in a metaphorical sense, holy shit. By about the 3rd song in the set, I was bobbing along with the rest of the crowd, having the time of my life. Speaking of the crowd, could Raleigh BE any whiter? I heard a Nantucket-Reds-wearing fella behind me proclaim, “Killer Mike is, like…the hypest dude.” Truer words were never spoken, random white guy.

Killer Mike is, like…the hypest dude.

Future Islands at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Future Islands at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Future Islands @ City Plaza

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In what would turn out to be the worst decision we made during Hopscotch 2017, we left RTJ early to make it back to City Plaza in time for Future Islands. Now I know that we here at RDU Music have been known to be…assholes from time to time, but Jesus Fucking Christ, Future Islands. I don’t know who gave you a record deal but your frontman wishes he were Morrissey but is actually a goat wearing the skin of a man. And not in a cool, death metal sort of way. More like, he just sounds like a goat. And not in a cute, Shakira kind of way. All bitchiness aside, FI is actually a pretty good band but they are not for me, despite the HUGE crowd they draw wherever they play. Godspeed, Future Islands. I hope you enjoy your money and fame without being too offended by little fish like me.

…your frontman wishes he were Morrissey but is actually a goat wearing the skin of a man.

Har Mar Superstar at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Har Mar Superstar at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Har Mar Superstar @ The Basement

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There are defining, watershed moments in a person’s musical life journey that stick with them forever. Personally, I bounced around from Jane’s Addiction to Type O Negative to Converge before I settled in for the long haul. Little did I know that I was about to have my musical worldview shaken by a Jay Sherman lookalike from Minneapolis.

I knew that Har Mar Superstar was opening for one of my all-time favorite rock bands, the Afghan Whigs, but I was perplexed when he wasn’t playing the same venue as Greg Dulli and co. at Hopscotch. Instead, the powers-that-be decided to put Har Mar into a goddamn airplane hangar underneath the Raleigh Convention Center. It turned out to be a good thing that the festival organizers did so because there is no other meeting space in town capable of containing Har Mar’s raw sexuality and musical prowess.

Har Mar remained little more than a novelty in my mind for the last 20ish years. I was unaware that he had the voice of an angel and the sex appeal of a young Burt Reynolds. He is The Critic meets Neil Diamond. He is so unassumingly soulful that he could replace Justin Timberlake on any stage, any night of the year, and no one would be the wiser until they were smoking their post-coital cigarette.

Har Mar made his entrance wearing a wide-lapelled leisure suit and immediately commanded the crowd’s attention with his bravado and silky smooth R&B stylings. I couldn’t help but notice the crowd’s incredulous reaction. Some of us (the entire RDU Music extended family included) were blown away by Sean’s skill and showmanship while others were closer to, “Who is this weirdo making me horny?” Either way, Har Mar commanded the attention of an entire airplane hangar for a solid 45 minutes.

Har Mar’s band was a sight in and of themselves. They were all dressed in satin jackets and consisted of who I can only assume was the Tobias Funke on drums and Desaparecidos’s own Denver Dalley on guitar. They maintained an unaffected posture while Har Mar made the first 6 rows’ nether-regions wet until key moments in the set where they would join Har Mar in some minimal yet strangely effective choreography. It was magical. I lost track of myself until the slag next to me spilled her drink on me for the third time. Honestly, I was unfazed since I knew she had a good reason: She was in a hysterical fit of sexual torture brought on by one of our generation’s greatest showmen. I didn’t want it to end but I knew that the rest of the world needed to experience Har Mar for themselves as well. What kind of man would I be if I kept him for myself? This bird was not meant to be caged. Fly free, you magnificent bastard. Fly far.

After the smoke cleared, I did some amateur Googling of our Sean Tillmann and fell down the deepest rabbit hole of his superb videos and live performances. Sadly, I also stumbled upon Pitchfork’s reviews of his early 2000s albums. We’re talking 5.8, 2.0, and 1.9. Now I firmly grasp that Pitchfork’s writers have their heads so far up each others’ asses that they have ceased to comprehend the meaning of “fun,” but Christ, can anyone be so wrong? [American voters circa 2016 spring to mind. -Ed.] For the love of all that is good and pure, PLEASE don’t base your life on Pitchfork. You will end up alone wondering where your life went wrong.

Thou @ Pour House

The tease of any kind of metal was a highlight for me this Hopscotch so I ventured to Pour House to catch Baton Rouge’s Thou.  There was a staggering lack of metal artists on this year’s bill, so anything heavy was a welcome treat.  Vocalist Bryan Funck’s presence was felt on stage, even though the fellow never seemed to move or blink.  Gripping the mic stand and holding that pose like a statue, he growled and screamed with some of the best doom metal vocalists out there.  I’ll be the first to admit that after 4 songs, the rest of the show began to feel repetitive. [Yang]

Whores. @ Pour House

Whores. were definitely in my top three bands to see on the bill, so you can imagine my worry when lead singer, Christian, approached the stage on crutches and left knee in a brace.  Apparently, Christian had blown out two ligaments in the same knee.  If you’ve seen Whores. before, you’ll know that they play with a shit-ton of energy, so I was naturally worried that this show might suffer due to his injury.  Spoiler Alert: I was wrong! Whores. brought the ruckus and the entire RDU Music staff cannot wait to catch them again at Local 506 in December with the ’68. [Yang]

Afghan Whigs at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

Afghan Whigs at Hopscotch 2017 Raleigh, North Carolina

The Afghan Whigs @ Lincoln Theater

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To be perfectly honest, the main reason I bought Hopscotch tickets this year was that I heard Afghan Whigs were playing. My buddy Jeremy played me Gentlemen for the first time longer ago than I can remember. Ever since then, I have followed Greg Dulli’s every move: the Twilight Singers, Amber Headlights, the Gutter Twins. It may only seem like it, due to my age and the ages of the performers, but with the recent influx of bands from my youth reuniting, the Afghan Whigs may very well take the crown for Best Reunion Albums with 2014’s Do to the Beast and this year’s In Spades. [Surgical Steel by Carcass is another top contender. -Ed.] Needless to say, I was more than stoked to see them perform live for the first time in my life.

Greg and co. witchcrafted a sinister atmosphere with their stage setup as illuminated pyramids and skeleton etchings on their amps intermingled with dead priests and demons while the band burned through a setlist comprised heavily of their two most recent albums. Non-festival gigs on this current tour consisted of nearly twice the songs and included many fan favorites from the Afghan Whigs’ initial heyday but I was happy with anything they played as this was the culmination of roughly 20 years of fandom for me.

A couple of set highlights were the cover of the Twilight Singers’ “Teenage Wristband” off of 2003’s stunning Blackberry Belle in addition to a guest vocal performance by tourmate walking Spanish Fly, Har Mar Superstar for “Demon in Profile,” which Har Mar also covered on his recent EP, Personal Boy. Greg switched over to piano in order to let Har Mar’s light shine for that particular track.

The Afghan Whigs closed the night with “Into the Floor,” the appropriately-themed closing track to In Spades, setting a melancholy tone that told me that the band had to be moving on to the next stop of their tour. But at least they left me this excellent performance so that “I’ll always remember you this way…”

Hopscotch 2017 Day 2 Winner = Har Mar Superstar