From Garage to couch

by Jordan Green

From Garage to couch

The tall white guy with thick dreadlocks wielding the acoustic guitar onstage at the Garage introduces himself: “My name is Lovely Houses. I’m from Indiana. I’ve been living on a Greyhound bus since, oh, about June 3.” He sings a kind of folk music that stretches from the wry, troubled growl of Steve Earle to the high registers of Coldplay’s Chris Martin. He performs with a lot of sincerity and a sense of adventure, notwithstanding the nicks and scars on his heart. Towards the end of his set, Lovely Houses — who also goes by David — says, “I’m also looking for a couch to crash on tonight.” Lovely Houses travels the same way Loretta Lynn did, and her band was also from Indiana. The main differences are that he doesn’t own the bus or set the schedule. “It’s weird though,” David says, as the next act ploughs through a fast-paced and bracing set of rock-and-roll numbers. “Being on a bus, it’s like having 50 bandmembers.” The second band is called Rat Jackson. Like headliners I Was Totally Destroying It, they’re from Chapel Hill and Durham. The two bands share little in the way of sound, and maybe for that very reason they treat each other as jolly comrades. Singer Tad Jackson’s grandmother is reclining against the bar engaging in high-spirited conversation with her buddies. Rat Jackson plays proud, raw garage rock that smells like sex and stale cigarette smoke.

The nasty, jagged sound of their guitars has a slightly menacing quality, but the overall effect is fun, fun, fun. The bass player swerves like a punch-drunk boxer. The second guitarist bounces around the stage like a pinball. These boys find joy in guitars and other toys. “I love it,” Lovely Houses says. They play songs about carnal pleasures, obsession with females and partying hard. The singer is the most presentable of the band. He looks like the type that might go to law school as a cap to his career in rock and roll. After the close of their set, the members of Rat Jackson strip their gear off the stage, and the counterparts in I Was Totally Destroying It drag theirs up and get cooking after a couple minor adjustments. Their sound revolves around the shared vocals of keyboardist Rachel Hirsh and guitarist John Booker. They play straightahead modern rock with soaring guitar melodies, cymbal crashes and an anchor bass pulsing underneath. They ought to be stars, so tightly wound is the melodic skein of their music and so unbounded the kicking giant of their rhythm section. Most notably, Hirsh and Booker’s vocals are relentlessly upbeat and encouraging, inviting the audience to partake of their fun. That sets them apart from any of their dour indie-rock counterparts. They also manage to steer clear of the empty affectations that plague what passes for emo bands these days. “We’re getting a lesson in how great North Carolina rock and roll bands can be,” Booker says, “between playing with Rat Jackson tonight and playing with the Sammies tomorrow. Two great Southern rock bands.” See how they do? Nothing grandiose about the statement. Just gracious good feeling. The band plunges into every song with zeal, compressing energy and creativity into about three minutes, leaving the audience with a feeling of refreshment. Hirsh and Booker smile at each other during harmonies. A lot between-song banter riffs on Hirsh’s New Jersey roots. “We stopped at a strip club to ask where we could find a place to eat,” Booker says. “They told us Bojangles was five blocks away. It was a mile.” “They put sausage gravy on my mashed potatoes,” Hirsh says in a classic Joizey accent. “Who does that?” Later, they cruise through “Done Waiting.” Afterwards Booker remarks, “I’ve lived in the South my whole life, Chapel Hill born and raised. I say ‘for’ like your grandma.” Hirsh is quick with a rejoinder: “‘I”ve been waiting for you to get married.’ I get that every time she visits.”

Beer Y’all, a documentary film about the band Rat Jackson, screens at the Garage, at 110 W. 7th St. in Winston- Salem, on Thursday. Call 336.777.1127 for more information.

Steve Oliva of Rat Jackson rips a nasty solo from the innards of hisguitar at the Garage on July 30. (photo by Quentin L. Richardson)