Lube greases the wheels at Keegan’s
In a white, open-necked shirt and close-cropped black hair, Brad Cardille unspools a guitar cord and plugs in. He taps the string of his bass and then gives them a strum.
It’s transition time at Keegan’s on Battleground Avenue, when the worlds of the necktied workadays and party-shirt night people rub up against one another in a somewhat amicable collision.
‘“This is one of the smaller venues for us these days,’” Brad says. In the last couple of months he and his bandmates have played the Blind Tiger and Greene Street numerous times and even scored a gig at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. But Brad’s been around the block enough times to know that any gig is a good gig.
When Evan Olson walks into the room through the back door, many of the happy hour crowd decide to keep their tables and let the evening folk stand at the bar.
Evan and Brad are well known in this room. As a journeyman bass player, Cardille has played here so many times, he says, ‘“I don’t even want to think about it.’” Olson logged enough hours on this stage to qualify for a master’s in barroom dynamics. He spent most of them holding his signature tiny guitar and standing next to the Walrus, Ray Loughran, front man for the band of the same name.
When the Walrus band dissembled this winter, Loughran kept the name (with which he has become synonymous), the drummer, Eddie Walker (whose musical credentials could fill this entire page) and the morphed cover-tune schtick that the Walrus has brought to the level of artistry. Walrus’ bass player, Steve Graham, started a group called the Dickens with refugees from Soul Glo, Suckerpunch and Rubberband and they took to the local live scene.
Evan Olson kept his tiny guitar, which over the years has soaked up more chops than a fat man with a pig farm, and formed a new band around him featuring Cardille, who most recently played with Bergen and Alibi; Chris Holmes, a refugee from the rock scene who wailed for Dorian Grey and Stuck Without a Voice, on guitar; and Rob Wojnar, the band’s self-proclaimed metalhead, behind the drum kit.
But Olson undoubtedly brings the most experience. He’s been in the business long enough to remember the ascension of Hootie and the years afterwards, when Greensboro posed a challenge to Chapel Hill when it came to power pop and edgy ballads, due in no small part to Olson’s band Bus Stop, who burned up clubs up and down the East Coast throughout the ’90s. Chuck Folds played in Bus Stop and Chuck’s brother, Ben, used Olson on several projects, including Majosha (Olson collaborated with Ben Folds on the song ‘“Emaline’” from the album Shut up and Listen to Majosha and also the cut ‘“Dog,’” which was later featured on a Ben Folds EP). Since 1999 Olson has released five solo CDs, has had songs placed on numerous television shows including ‘“The Sopranos,’” ‘“Alias,’” ‘“Sex and the City,’” ‘“Dawson’s Creek’” and ‘“Felicity.’” His songs also appear in feature films like My Boss’s Daughter and the Scooby Doo series. And he’s written scores of original music for a French television show called ‘“Gagsters.’”
Tonight Olson sports a new look: he’s lost the eyeglasses and cut his hair close, dyed it to a platinum blond. He looks lean in a black T-shirt as he sets a speaker in a corner opposite the stage and then hurtles into the first tune, Everclear’s ‘“Watch the World Die,’” which also serves as a sound check.
Evan is raw and unadulterated in the role of front man, leaping and dancing frenetically without a guitar to keep him grounded. He carries his antics through to the second tune, ‘“Good’” by Better Than Ezra, with funny faces and a profiled King Tut dance and a tambourine he bashes enthusiastically. He’s comfortable in the role ‘— Olson was the face for Bus Stop and in solo gigs he’s been known to speak in funny voices and use sock puppets ‘— but it was difficult to gauge the depths of his humor when he was paired with the Falstaffian Walrus.
The set rolls on, through the Gin Blossoms, some Bowie, a touch of Hendrix carried ably by Holmes’ guitar, the Urban Dance Squad (remember ‘“Deeper Shade of Soul’”?) and’… who is that? Pearl Jam? The tunes roll on but the names stay just out of reach until ‘“Rock the Casbah,’” when Olson whips out that little guitar and drops a chopped and lean lead.
‘“Now it’s time to get weird on your ass,’” he says after the number by the Clash. ‘“Don’t be afraid’… it’s gonna be all right.’”
Later in the parking lot, Olson says, ‘“We field covers that are obscure enough that no one else is doing them, but still people go, ‘Oh yeah.””
But the second set’… the ‘weirdness’ as he calls it’… he devotes to originals ‘— some new ones and others he’s been kicking around for ten years.
Local bands that play original music are a notoriously tough sell here in Greensboro, and even Olson feels the need to soften the crowd with covers before playing his own stuff, a trick from the days with Walrus, a band that made its reputation on quirky (and sometimes insane) interpretations of other people’s tunes.
Set two reads like a rock show, with harder riffs and riskier phrasing. Holmes leans back into his leads and Cardille drops a bassline so deep that people think their cell phones are vibrating in their pockets. The women are dancing and the beers flow through the crowd. The Walrus himself is here and as he walks by the stage on his way from the bathroom he grabs the mic and sings backup to one of Olson’s originals.
But the night belongs to Olson, who owns the stage and covers nearly every inch of it: dancing, jumping, leaping and profiling like an absolutely deranged cheerleader. Or maybe he’s channeling a spastic five year old who’s just had his first taste of Red Bull and vodka. And he’s wailing on the electric, blowing into a melodica, working maracas and singing his ass off on the little stage behind the Subway.
To comment on this story, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org