Going to the rock show

by Jordan Green

The sound — brash guitars, careering bass and drums, soaring vocal harmonies — cascades out the open door of the Blind Tiger onto Greensboro’s misty Walker Avenue, but the foot traffic is light and the committed revelers seem to be anchored to their stools across the street at Walker’s and Wahoo’s. The three bands comprise a new coalition of the willing representing a southeastern arc from Carrboro down through Charlotte to Athens. A couple of the groups have played on occasion for the hipsters on Winston-Salem’s 7th Street, and Athens’ Modern Skirts played the Flying Anvil during its brief run in Greensboro; otherwise they’re scouting new territory. On this seventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the feeling is one of nostalgia mixed with a sense that the future is here. Max Indian, the first band, plays sparkling pop, tightly executed with crisp changes. The two guitarists trade leads that can sometimes take on the effervescent quality of Brian May of Queen, though with an emphasis on that band’s pared-down rockabilly sound rather than its operatic flourishes. Max Indian’s sound is organic and unpretentious, evoking an intangible line in the rock and roll idiom from Neil Young through Elvis Costello & the Attractions to Wilco. “We’re all three good friends, we all have albums coming out,” says Jon Phillips of the Young Sons, “and we do a lot of things together.” Phillip Brantley, the guitarist for the Modern Skirts smiles, digging Max Indian’s sound. The Young Sons comprise the common denominator. “We know the Young Sons,” Brantley says. “We played a couple shows with them. It’s the first time we’ve played with Max Indian. They’re great. I love that nineties throwback sound…. We played last weekend at the Cat’s Cradle with Old Ceremony. The Young Sons are from Charlotte, so we’ve played there.” After their set, some of the members of Max Indian repair to the bar for drinks. Singer and guitarist Carter Gaj acknowledges that his band has leant some support for the Young Sons. “James and Jeff and I used our studio equipment, and put together an impromptu recording session for them,” he says. Max Indian’s forthcoming debut long-player is called You Can Go Anywhere, Do Anything. The Young Sons and the Modern Skirts are handing out two- and three-song promos tonight for their respective forthcoming full lengths, Hearts Inc. and All of Us In Our Night. Though the booths lining the wall opposite the bar are crowded with musical gear, the room is rather bare of human souls, aside from the dozen or so players in the three bands. Phillips threatens to make a raid across the street to reinforce the audience count. “Don’t be talking about September eleventh,” he quips as they load their gear onstage. “I take that shit seriously. That’s the day my heart broke, dude.” They wear expressions of anticipation even though there are few listeners hovering at the stage’s edge. “It’s really an honor to play after my favorite band ever,” Phillips says.

The Young Sons’ sound leans more towards the pop end of the dial, relying less on guitars, and sometimes dropping one of them in favor of a Nard Electro 2 keyboard. The two guitarists and bass player share vocals to create a sheen of glissando complimenting the guitars’ Byrdsy jangle. Brantley stands near the back of the room surveying the stage and looking slightly bummed. The barflies seem hardly moved. The Young Sons move quickly through their set, dropping two songs to speed things along. Guitarist Justin Williams handles most of the lead vocals, but for the final song, “Back In the Band,” he surrenders the role to bass player Mike Mitschele. “This is Mike’s song,” he says. “It’s sweet; it my favorite one to play.” The song features a slamming riff and sighing harmonies, and the individual members of the Young Sons go out on a note of satisfaction. As might be expected given their Athens domain, the Modern Skirts prove even more poppy than the rest, and both more danceable and more experimental, drawing from the influence of REM and Of Montreal. SingerJay Gulley stands authoritatively behind the microphone, cigarettelodged casually between his fingers, a visual counterpoint to pianistJoJo Glidewell, who pounds at the keys with the exaggerated motions ofDracula. Three women have merrily crossed the transom at thebeginning of the Skirts’ set. They fetch drinks at the bar, take upposition at an island before surrendering to the dance floor.

““ModernSkirts… owww!” one of them shouts. At one point the keyboard sound goescompletely out. The sound technician mounts the stage and startsfiddling with cords and jacks. Glidewell takes it in stride. When thesound is restore he celebrates by dancing a torrent of notes from hisfingertips and throwing his hands in the air in a gesture of victory. Brantley’sguitar mimics the birdlike doo-doo doo-wop-doo of the band’s vocalharmonies, and Glidewell acknowledges the appreciative audience withhumility, saying, “Thank you, guys.” Then they plunge into their finalsong in a crescendo of gnarly guitars and pummeling drums that givesway to a soft, pastoral lilt before erupting again in a profusion ofrocking piano chords, surging acoustic strumming and jarring guitarnotation.

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