Category Archives: #live

Elkhorn

I’ve been leaning on music like never before these last six months. The records I’m spinning at home have been helping to drag my soul from one anxiety-ridden day to the next, and my copy of Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions, which came out on physical formats in February, has been doing quite a bit of that heavy lifting. Its origin story is tailor-made for this frightful time; two side-long improvised pieces that represented the lemonade made when life gave the guitar duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner lemons in the form a gig-killing blizzard. Snowed in with multi-instrumentalist friend Turner Williams, Elkhorn made magic. In turn, I’ve made it through this ordeal more emotionally intact than I might have otherwise.

Speaking of accumulation, I was recently organizing the records I’ve bought during COVID era — definitely more albums than usual, given the way ordering online provides a boost both in the present and the future — and I stopped when I got to The Storm Sessions. Should it sit with 2020 live albums, maybe next to that excellent Joan Shelley Live at the Bomhard set that came out a few Bandcamp Fridays ago? Should it hang out with conventional studio albums like Waxahatchee’s masterstroke, Saint Cloud? The sessions did take place at Drew Gardner’s home studio in Harlem, yet their searching sound and the circumstances that brought them about seem antithetical to the premeditation that defines the latter end of the live-studio continuum. Improvisation requires real-time reaction. It’s singular. There might not be an audience, but it’s as “live” as it gets.

Does it really matter where I file my records? No, but improvisation does matter. It’s what we’re all doing right now. Faced with a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and more time at home than even Daniel “I Like to Be With My Family” Tiger knows what to do with (don’t worry, he’s working through it), we’re being forced to adapt on a near-constant basis. Each day, we scan the most up-to-date dimensions of this weird and difficult situation, and we adjust, because not doing so would be like wishing the sky were green instead of blue, or wishing that it hadn’t snowed so much on the night you had a gig you were really looking forward to. Maybe it’s unsurprising that skilled musical improvisers made the most of a bad situation. (Maybe we could stand to follow musicians’ lead more often.)

To be clear, this isn’t about force of will, or about grinning and bearing it. Quite the opposite. It’s about a type of strength that can only grow out of an appreciation of one’s vulnerability — of the fact that being in the world means being changed by it. The most compelling music I’m hearing these days reflects the moment we’re experiencing, not just by addressing current challenges and opportunities lyrically, but also by letting our broken, unvarnished humanity show through. Whether it’s a collection of covers captured imperfectly on home recording equipment, or experimentation with new techniques and tools, I’m finding the most fulfillment in music that dares to document — faithfully — who we are after we’re knocked down but before we’re back on our feet. That’s certainly where I find myself these days.

It’s why I continue to find comfort in The Storm Sessions, and it’s why I was so thrilled to learn that The Storm Sessions has a companion album on the way. Elkhorn has teamed up with the Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz labels to release an addendum in the form of The Acoustic Storm Sessions — another pair of side-long pieces improvised at Gardner’s home studio during that fated blizzard, captured the night before the recordings that made up the original album. This is Elkhorn’s first entirely acoustic album, and while Turner Williams does appear on these recordings as well, the tighter instrumental focus remains a compelling facet — a narrower passageway for a two-stage journey that’s no less ranging. The way the guitarists are able to draw in close to one another in spots affords the moments of contrast a whole other richness, and their expansion and contraction along that axis makes for rewarding listening wholly distinct from where they end up traveling.

Still, as with all of Elkhorn’s work, the “where” is such a gift. Oh, the places you can go while sitting and listening to Sheppard and Gardner (and Williams, in this case) build musical landscapes and chart winding, serendipitous courses through them, all while leaving you room to fill in your own imagined details along the way. I have a silly, wordless ritual for when I put on an Elkhorn album: I tend to imagine myself settling into a dream alongside one of the architects from Inception, ready to experience a world that transforms in front of my eyes. (The fun parts of the movie, minus all that stressful corporate espionage.) That ritual started as a result of an Instagram comment penned by James Adams of the Aquarium-Drunkard-hosted Bob Dylan bootleg show, Pretty Good Stuff. He concluded, “It’s like you can walk around inside this music and find new and instant friends. It’s a tonic.” So well put. If there were ever a time when we needed internal experiences that have the power to transport and connect us, this would be it. I suppose it’s ironic, then, to be so thankful these gifted improvisers were stuck in place when and where they were, but I am. Doubly so, now that we have these new acoustic sessions.

Click here to snag a copy of The Acoustic Storm Sessions in the US, here for the UK/Europe, and check out samples of both sides below.

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Deau Eyes

We’ve grooved with the Budos Band. Illiterate Light lit up the night. Now it’s very nearly time to say goodbye to the 35th Friday Cheers series, but not before a finale I’ve been looking forward to since this season’s schedule was announced: Lucy Dacus. Deau Eyes. Is it tomorrow yet?

There’s a unique poetry to tomorrow’s lineup that’s worth noting before you head down to Brown’s Island. For starters, this will be Dacus’ second Cheers performance; her first came in 2016 when she opened for Kurt Vile. And while you often hear the word “triumphant” used when artists return to venues they’ve played before, it’s especially fitting here, given the rave reviews she earned last year — both for her Historian album and for the EP she released with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers under the name boygenius — and given that hers is the headlining set this time around.

The lineup is made even more meaningful by the fact that Ali Thibodeau of opening act Deau Eyes was there in the crowd during Dacus’ 2016 show, standing front-and-center and celebrating her friend’s Friday Cheers debut. I recently had the good fortune of speaking with Ali Thibodeau of Deau Eyes for a River City Magazine article, and here’s how she described that moment in relation to this one:

Did you grow up going to Friday Cheers?

I love Friday Cheers. It’s really cool. It’s one of my favorite things that happens in Richmond. I’ve felt really privileged to have been able to have watched my friends up there doing their thing. I know when Lucy played with Kurt Vile, I was in the front row, and was so stoked. My face hurt from smiling the whole time. I feel kind of full circle because it’s definitely somewhere we would go and hang out, around Belle Isle and Brown’s Island and all of that during the summer and stroll into Friday Cheers. I’m thrilled to be a part of it this year. It feels like a real hometown accomplishment.

Thibodeau and I touched on a number of other topics in our conversation, from her upcoming album’s lead single “Paper Stickers” (embedded below) to running a successful Kickstarter campaign and creative control more generally. Click here to check out the full article and here to snag a ticket for the Cheers finale. This show is special, y’all.

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Landon Elliott

It’s happening. My absolute favorite time of year — when Mrs. YHT and I bolt out of work on Fridays; throw the kids, a stroller, and a couple of lawn chairs in the car (except when we forget the lawn chairs, which is more than 50% of the time); and zoom down to Brown’s Island as fast as we can to catch the start of Friday Cheers.

The folks at Venture Richmond are kicking off this season (Cheers’ 35th!) with a humdinger: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real is headlining, with an opening set from standout Richmond artist Landon Elliott. If you’re not familiar with Lukas Nelson, “Find Yourself” could be a good starting point. The band I play in covers the song regularly, and while the lyrics convey romantic dissatisfaction, there’s an infectious bounce to it that makes it a joy to play. And Nelson’s dad is the great Willie Nelson — not crucial for appreciating Lukas’ tunes, but still fun to know.

As for Landon Elliott, I had the good fortune of interviewing him for River City Magazine earlier this year and left that conversation impressed and inspired — by his story, by his strong sense of community, and by the way music is woven throughout his own family’s fabric. A quick snippet I saw as especially meaningful:

Were your parents into music when you were growing up?

My dad and his family are from Ohio, and they all love 1970s and 1980s classic rock and roll. My dad raised me on Journey, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe. My first concert with my dad was KISS at eight or nine years old. So there’s a ton of rock influence there… My mom loved country music. I remember [her] singing karaoke, and she’d sing at music festivals. We even moved to Nashville for two years and she pursued a music career… She recorded this really beautiful single during her time there, so that’s a gem for our family. I remember being six or seven years old, watching my mom doing the thing and thought it was so cool.

[My grandfather] was a deep-sea fisherman for 30-plus years of his life… the acoustic guitar that I play was the guitar that he took around on his boat. That guitar has been more places than I have. It’s been all the way up [and] around to Alaska and back. He would come home and people would want to see him after these long trips. We’d do these big fish fries at the house and a guitar would inevitably come out at some point and he would sing and play Elvis and Johnny Cash. That was how it all started — watching my family doing it and [thinking] “I could do that.”

Check out the rest of the interview here, and click here for ticket’s to this Friday’s Cheers show. A guaranteed good time for any music-loving family.

 

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Warrant

Heaven isn’t too far away, y’all.

Regardless of your beliefs on what awaits in the afterlife, Hopewell isn’t that far a drive for those of us who live in Richmond, and I can confirm that the Beacon Theatre is truly a heavenly place to see a concert.

I was in the area a few weeks back, on a Friday that was mostly spent exploring the past and present of Petersburg, VA. Good beer, lots of history, and evidence all over town of the film being shot there based on the story of Harriet Tubman.

That night, I got to see the results of a very different kind of historical project — the restoration of the Beacon Theatre, which originally opened in 1928 as a silent movie theater but was left vacant starting in 1981. Intentions to reopen the space turned into action in the late 1990’s, and in 2014, the Beacon reopened its doors as a music venue with beautiful bright red seats and carpets, balcony seating, and the air of grandeur you’d expect given the theater’s vintage.

And what better way to experience that grandeur for the first time than a band whose double-platinum selling debut album was called Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich? That’s right: I got to see Warrant in all of their hair-flinging, riff-spitting glory. It was quite a moment: Warrant had that room in a feverish state, with longtime fans and younger attendees alike on their feet and shouting out lyrics — especially the ones to the debut album’s title song.

If you haven’t heard it, listen below. And if you haven’t yet been to the Beacon in its current form, take a look at the schedule here and make a plan to head to Hopewell. You’ll be happy you did.

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Trey Pollard

Really neat shindig happening tonight at the Hofheimer Building in Scott’s Addition. Trey Pollard will be debuting pieces from Antiphone, his soon-to-be-released album of contemporary chamber music (out Friday — preorder here). They’ll be played by a string quartet in collaboration with Classical Revolution RVA, an organization that aims to present classical music in inventive ways “by taking it into local bars, restaurants, cafes, and galleries.” Did I mention Matthew E. White will be opening? This promises to be special, y’all. Hope to see you there.

If you’re interested in learning more about Antiphone, be sure to check out the interview I did with Pollard for the Auricular. He was incredibly candid and thoughtful throughout our conversation, and I think you get an especially keen sense for the dedication he brings to his work, whether he’s composing original pieces like the ones being performed tonight or arranging songs written by others. Here’s how Pollard put it when we spoke:

Matt and I talk about it a lot. The craft of what you do is important… It’s about how you go about it — caring about the details, caring about the parts that make up the bigger thing.

While Antiphone certainly represents a moment of cultivation, it’s also a window into how Pollard approaches music on a daily basis. In that sense, his story and Spacebomb’s are one and the same: When you do things the right way, it shows. And Antiphone is nothing short of an achievement. What a gift it’ll be to see these pieces in the live setting.

Get your ticket here, check out my interview with Pollard here, and listen below to a piece from the album entitled “8 Pairs: Fugue VI. Very Slowly.”

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Jarlath Henderson

The Richmond Folk Festival is rapidly approaching, and I’m beyond excited to share that I had an opportunity to chat with one of the three-day event’s most accomplished and anticipated performers, uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson.

Henderson hails from Northern Ireland, and he occupies a crucial creative space: the sacred middle ground between giving voice to tradition and forging a new path forward. Around the time we talked, I was immersing myself daily in the wonderful “new” John Coltrane album, Both Directions at Once, which is a dispatch from that same creative space. I ended up mentioning Coltrane to Henderson, and we talked a little about that idea of moving forward and backward at the same time.

Here’s what he said:

As a musician, I think you move from either being very sure of yourself to very unsure of yourself constantly, and it’s very hard to be sure of yourself. But within the traditional music world, in general, just like in any niche market, like bluegrass, there are the hardcore fans who really want things to be the way they were. But after a certain amount of time, it becomes more of a historical representation of a time gone by rather than an accurate representation of now. At the end of the day, it’s just a form of folk music, and it has to be for the people. It’s an interesting place to be.

Click here to read the rest of the interview, which appears in the current print edition of River City Magazine, and click here for more information on the Folk Festival.

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Old Crow Medicine Show

I love seeing shows at Maymont. I was just there a few weeks ago for Shovels & Rope, and it was outstanding. The surroundings are gorgeous — just inside the main Maymont gates, with rolling hills in the background and trees here, there, and everywhere. It’s a breath of fresh air — literally and figuratively — compared to many indoor (and outdoor) venues.

A few nights stand out in my memory as especially meaningful. Béla Fleck is one. Gillian Welch is way up there — seeing her pay tribute to Guy Clark by playing “Dublin Blues” was otherworldly. Another highlight was seeing Old Crow Medicine Show there in 2012, and I’m thrilled they’ll be returning to Maymont this Friday. (Tickets here.)

They’re touring behind a strong batch of new tunes in Volunteer, which was released in April of this year. Though the album features a characteristic mix of upbeat romps and slower, sweeter songs, things feel elevated on this album. “Whirlwind” tugs especially hard at nostalgic heartstrings, and “Flicker And Shine” pushes a truly frenetic pace, showing off the adrenaline-addled fifth gear that’s always set the band apart from many of its peers.

I’m especially stuck on “Shout Mountain Music,” though. While it too picks up the pace, it’s an example of how Old Crow can reach back to the roots of old time country and reveal something that feels wild and organic. And it capitalizes on one of my favorite techniques of theirs — grounding lyrics in specific geography, so they feel more real, and more connected to the places that have played a role in the living history of country and folk music. And I have to admit: Whether it’s “James River Blues” or “Shout Mountain Music,” it’s always fun to hear Richmond called out in an Old Crow tune.

Hope to see y’all there on Friday.

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Drive-By Truckers

A quick Friday recommendation for you:

This deep-dive on Warren Zevon by Steven Hyden via the Ringer. I have a few of Zevon’s records — two handed down from my father-in-law, one I found at Goodwill — but I knew very little of what Hyden shares about the singer-songwriter. I found the piece to be incredibly moving, especially on the topic of how to reckon with a complicated legacy like Zevon’s. As Hyden admits, it’s more than a little uncomfortable seeing yourself reflected in Zevon’s story. But I think it’s a good discomfort — the kind that lets you know there’s an important lesson to be learned by feeling and following it.

Hyden also taught me something about the Drive-By Truckers, whose headlining set I’m hoping to catch tomorrow night on Brown’s Island at Stone’s Throw Drown. I’ve heard the Truckers encore with “Play It All Night Long” at least a couple of times, but I had no idea it was a Zevon tune. (Tunes, if you’re counting the incorporation of “Ain’t That Pretty at All.”) It sounds so much like them. Now I’m tempted to draw all sorts of parallels, like how the immense weight of the Truckers’ sound when they’re at their sludgiest could have a slightly cleaner forebear in “Detox Mansion.”

Here’s hoping they play “All Night Long” tomorrow night.

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VILLAGES

Happy summer, y’all! Now that we’re halfway through the year — with midway best-of lists popping up here and there like fireflies and hydrangeas — I’ve started looking back at the albums that have come out so far in 2018. It’s been eye-opening. This is shaping up to be a crazy-good year for Richmond music. A+ albums from Lucy Dacus, Kenneka Cook, Natalie Prass, Saw Black, Andy Jenkins, Scott ClarkYeni Nostalji, and others, all in these first six months. It’s pretty wild. And as of tomorrow, you can add VILLAGES to that list.

Their new self-titled album is a quick listen at seven songs, and it’s even quicker in terms of resonance. These songs are easy to love right away, and while catchiness plays a part, I think an even bigger factor is the clarity of Justin Paciocco’s songwriting. In his review of John Prine’s new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker referred to the “metric precision” in Prine’s songwriting. I hear that same precision in Paciocco’s songs. The pacing, the rhyming, the way narratives unfold — it all just feels right. Impeccable, but not fussed-over.

Give lead single “Everything Is Fine” a listen below. The band will be toasting to the album’s release tomorrow at the Camel alongside The Northerners and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires. Click here for more info.

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Little Tybee

There are people through whom art flows especially freely — and in more than one direction at once. Brock Scott of Little Tybee is one of those people.

I got to interview him over the phone for this Richmond Navigator piece (the print version will appear in River City Magazine), and I was taken aback by the way the group manages to marry their music, their videos, their promotional efforts — all the ways they tap into a seemingly bottomless well of creativity. And when you listen to their music, you hear that same boundlessness. It’s amazing. And inspiring.

They’re playing tonight at the Camel (along with The Reign Of Kindo and Night Idea), and there’s one section of the interview that’s especially relevant if you’re thinking about attending:

What do you have planned for the upcoming tour?

I did a sailing trip in Greece a few months ago, and I filmed a music video. There’s this guy who was on the boat with me, and then two other people, and I filmed the whole experience. It was three weeks. In the video, there’s this captain, and he has two crew members, and he goes to sleep one day, and they disappear from the boat. When he wakes up, he realizes the boat is sailing by itself… Basically, that captain is coming with us on tour. We have a merch table that’s a [cutout] set of a boat, and the captain’s inside of it, and I’ve created a video for every single show on the tour. The captain is sailing to all these different islands, and each island is a different city on the tour, and we’re his crew… I have a street team in every single city on the tour, and I’m mailing them figurines [of the missing crew members], and then they hide them, and there’s going to be a photo scavenger hunt. If people find the figurines and bring them to the show and give them to the captain, he rewards them with a VIP package.

Watch the video below, and keep an eye out around town for those figurines (you can see examples on the band’s Instagram feed). Click here for more info on tonight’s show,  and click here to read the article in full.

Little Tybee — “Lost In The Field” [Spotify/Bandcamp]

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