The Appleseed Cast w/ Annabel and Adjy
Friday, July 31, 2015
Cat’s Cradle (Back Room), Carrboro —

[Editor’s Note: Let’s all welcome JMikes to the RDU Music family. He got to see one of his all-time favorite bands while some of the rest of the staff was at Red Hat Amphitheater. He was kind enough to regale us with this tale.]

First, I need thank my oldest brother for giving me an Appleseed Cast album when I was 18, Low Level Owl.  It transformed the way I listened to music…now analyzing; listening through a good pair of headphones for idiosyncrasies; feeling depth in songs as tones pan from left to right and back again; building my own stories from the lyrics…I was never the same.  Low Level Owl just plain rules, but that’s a whole ‘nother article.  The first time I saw The Appleseed Cast was 12ish years ago at small venue in Carrboro, who’s name escapes me because you know 12ish years ago and beers…beers now, not back then…I was driving back to Raleigh later that night and I was 20 and both of those things are illegal. 🙂  I was a bright-eyed sophomore at NC State and seeing my favorite band play meant I could die happy. [Ah, naiveté…you’ve been so good to me over the years.] I was already hooked on the band based on their studio albums alone, but from that night forward I was gaffed and on the boat.  My AIM status after that show would further this point.  The Appleseed Cast puts on one hell of a loud, incredible, fucking awesome show…but more on that later.

Friday night was my first show at the Cat’s Cradle Back Room (it’s a good spot, 9/10 will return) and walking in I was immediately taken back to the first time I saw The Appleseed Cast play.  The setup (stage, floor, bar, balcony), the size, and the people felt like it was 2003 again.  And that’s a good thing.  At the show, Emily (my girlfriend) and I surmised that some of the people at this show were probably there with me 12 years ago.  That says something about Appleseed’s loyal fan base and their staying power.  On to the night’s music…

As the ticket-taker stamped my hand with a blue cat – proving I was now of legal age to imbibe – a road worn, young frontman banged out a tribal beat on a floor tom and I thought: [This is going to be interesting, keep an open mind…that’s what you’re good at.] The beat began to develop layers of intricacy as I made my way to the bar and Emily bought me a beer.  Then the rest of the six-piece that is Adjy came in.  By the way, I have no idea how that’s pronounced…the band never said it on stage.  My guess was that it’s pronounced ‘ad-gee’, but the singer in Annabel said it and it sounded like ‘edgy.’ Maybe it’s a weird millennial, minimal vowel usage, edgy (see what I did there) type thing.  I don’t know, and it only sort of matters for a band.  What matters most is the music.  Adjy delivered.  When he was singing soft, the singer has some Ben Gibbard in him.  When the music got louder his angst came out.  The band layered nicely on top, with a fun pop feel to it.  Two backup singers playing xylophones and a Rhodes that I wanted to take home with me; a slew of floor toms everyone chipped in on; a drummer that held complex rhythms with purpose; a guitarist that was in the mix when he needed to be ambient, and on top when the song needed umph; and a bassist who drove each song home.  They closed their set using a Speak & Spell as an instrument…yep a Speak & Spell.

3.5/5 stars – This band from Black Mountain impressed me.

Annabel was up next.  Their sound check was loud.  My earplugs went in.  Now don’t get me wrong…I enjoy a loud show as much as the next kid…I just know that my ears ringing for days after a show is not a good thing.  This 4-piece started out a little loose, and suffered from that unspoken (hopefully unintentional) thing that sound guys do.  They were mixed terribly.  I can’t say that it’s a venue thing because I’ve seen it everywhere.  It’s always frustrated me.  What’s wrong with an opener that ends up being better than the headliner?  People will like the headliner because that’s who they’re there to see, and then they may get exposed to a really good band.  Everyone wins.  But for whatever reason dudes running sound just get lazy? I don’t know, I could be wrong.  The only sound I’ve ever mixed is for myself and I’m terrible at it.  I just wish sound guys would mix everyone as best they could.  That aside, Annabel’s first few songs still seemed a little loose…and soon it all made sense.  Half way through the set the singer announced (and I’m paraphrasing), “Those were some older songs, now we’re going to play some tracks off our new record.”  From the first chord, their new material was immediately tighter, cleaner, more refined.  The lyrics were better…this is the first line of the song For Years and Years off said new record Having It All:

“every year will seem more / important than the one before”

And that’s life in a line.  I’d not listened to Annabel before, but with this line I immediately connected with them.  The few old songs, and one line of a new song brought me through their progression as a band, and it felt good.  They closed with a song that, musically, reminded me of Pop Unknown so I salute them for that.  Oh, and the bass player’s dance moves reminded Emily of RDU Music’s own DTR Correspondent Old Greg. (“Could you learn to love me?”)

3/5 stars – I’ll be giving their new album a thorough listen through.

Time to get another beer before making my way to full fan boy position at the front of the stage.  I’ve seen The Appleseed Cast play at least a half dozen times.  When I lived in South Florida they never drove that far south (for good reason), so I’d drive 2 hours to Orlando to catch their shows.  If they’re playing and I’m close…I’m there.  I’ve watched frontman Chris Crisci’s beard go from not there, to salt and pepper, to now full on, two tone gray and black.  It’s a beard I’ve been envious of for a decade.

Beards aside…man, they put on an amazing show. Crisci is the only remaining founding member.  But you could never tell by the way the band played Friday night.  A big part of that is bassist Nate Whitman who’s been with the band for a number of years now.  Smooth, steady, punchy, fat, big, fuzzy when they need to be bass lines drive each song.  Taylor Holenbeck (guitar) and Nathan Wilder (drums) are newbies in the lineup to me, but as I said…you could never tell.  Everything was seamless.  Well besides Chris’ strap breaking mid-riff, and the smiles he made to his family who were in attendance during songs…but those made you feel good.  For a guy that’s been on and off the road for over 15 years, having his family there with him must be a dream come true.

This tour was the 15-year anniversary of Mare Vitalis, their second full length, and arguably one of their best albums.  On this tour they’ve been playing the album front to back.  I’ve always thought they were in the school of bands that don’t record anything they can’t do live.  This show helped prove that point.  Mare Vitalis crescendos all over the place, has atmosphere for decades, lyrics that seep with emotion, and gets loud…real loud.  Wilder took “Cobra”(the original drummer on Mare)’s beats and added some depth to an already unique drumming style.  Holenbeck took Appleseed OG Aaron Pillar’s guitar parts and made them sing.  Whitman’s bass steered the ship through a raging sea.  And Crisci sang with the same heart and voice as the 20-something he was when he wrote the songs.  The band delivered with only a few minor flaws (re: strap break and family distractions), but that’s to be expected with songs that are 15 years old.  I got all the same chills as when I listened to the album for the first time in college.  I was that guy in the front screaming the lyrics, giddy as all hell when the next song started.  Fishing the Sky – Forever Longing the Golden Sunsets – Santa Maria – Poseidon.   Fuck, every time I see them play is better than the last.

As I waited for the inevitable encore to happen, all I could think was: [This may be the last time I see this band play.  Chris is getting older, has a family.  This new guitarist is moving to Chapel Hill after the tour.  They aren’t saying it, but maybe this is it.  They’ve had a damn good run.  I’m honored to have gone to so many shows.] The encore came and they finished with some strong new material.  I was happy.  I went and waited in the merch line and Emily bought me the tour poster.  Then she had each member sign it.  And I got a picture with Chris.  I was ecstatic.  I’m a fan boy and I’m proud to say it.  Of the 5 vinyl records I own…2 of them are copies of Low Level Owl.  If you missed this show, then hope this isn’t the end and when they go back out on the road…go see them play.  You won’t regret it.

5/5 stars – Go download some Appleseed Cast music, your life will be better for it.  Start with this album (Mare Vitalis) and then work your way forward through the rest of the collection.  Once you’ve finished come back to their first album (The End of the Ring Wars). You won’t be able to appreciate this one at first and you’ll think I’m an idiot for writing this article.