the triad music scene
Drawn from a time and place in between the Byrds and REM, Winston-Salem produced a pair of bands who would turn pop music on its head as the ’70s came to a close. Like their Camel City counterparts Let’s Active, the dBs (www.thedbsonline.net) would only enjoy very limited commercial success, but their place as critical darlings is forever secure and the innumerable bands they’ve influenced since their time only serve as a reminder. The band’s principal songwriters and figures through the first two albums, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, have maintained an onagain, off-again professional relationship since Stamey left the dBs in 1982. Well, they’re on again with the release of hERE aND nOw, their second album as a duo and the first since 1991’s Mavericks. Holsapple and Stamey’s tour brought them back to the town that reared them for a performance at the Garage on July 31. Those expecting all of the dBs classics might have come away slightly disappointed, though there were a few gems to be mined from a fairly abbreviated set. The full bill that included Chapel Hill’s the Tomahawks (www.myspace.com/thetomahawksmusic) and locals Lee Terry & the Near Strangers (www.myspace.com/ leeterry) left little room for full exploration of Holsapple and Stamey’s full catalog and thus the evening was reserved to material from their new album. On the flip side, devoted fans should have been thrilled that their new material picks right up where they left off: chiming guitars and free-flowing harmonies accented by mildly cryptic songwriting. While it was only half of the original band, the sound was every bit classic dBs. The Garage itself was surprisingly pleasant smelling for that show thanks to the nonsmoking clause that the band stipulated in their performance contract, while the crowd was brimming with the very people who came up with the band. With the Tomahawks’ Jeff Crawford on upright bass, their set opened with four consecutive songs from the new album: “Here and Now,” a cheery cut with an amazingly beguiling melody; “Santa Monica,” a dreamy bit from the Paisley Underground; “Early in the Morning,” pop simplicity at its finest; and “Widescreen World,” a cheeky ditty marked by a strong guitar bridge. Not only did they borrow the Everly Brothers’ “Lord of the Manor” for their set, but their microphone arrangements as well. Both utilized their own mic, but a third was positioned in between for those harmonic components that require just a bit more jangle. After that brief respite, Holsapple and Stamey picked right back up with more material from hERE aND nOw before revisiting their first record as a pair with “She Was the One.” And then finally, something from the dBs reared its head, as “Black and White” from their debut Stands for Decibels reminded the crowd why it’s one of the great kiss-off songs of all time. The set’s final act was a nice mix of new material, obscure pop covers and classic dBs, with one of those covers, “I Am the Cosmos,” being an awe-inspiring nod to Big Star’s Chris Bell, who was killed at age 27 in a car crash. The song was produced by Stamey on his Car Records label in 1978 for Bell and bandmate Alex Chilton, just months before Bell would lose his life. A fitting tribute by a man whose influence has been felt as much in the studio as it has on record. It’s not always the case, but reunions such as Holsapple and Stamey’s can rejuvenate artists’ creative drive, allowing them to rediscover the spark that was once thought lost. While it’s debatable if they ever really lost it, it is quite evident that both still possess the same musical chemistry that they did as teenagers. They’ve stayed far away from the adultcontemporary trap that most reuniters fall into and in the process, reaffirmed their spot atop the mountain of cool.
Peter Holsapple (left) and Chris Stamey founded the seminal jangle-pop band the dBs and have collaborated off and on ever since. At the Garage, they share a mic. (photo by Ryan Snyder)