like the old opry: Hayseed at Valentines.
Photo by Martin Benjamin.
By Erik Hage
The Brand New Opry: Hayseed, Coal Palace Kings, knotworking
I’m not sure if WRPI Sunday Morning Coming Down host
Jeff Burger had an If-you-build-it-they-will-come vision in
a cornfield near Troy, or whether it was just a matter of
a talented singer from Nashville named Hayseed falling in
love with a Capital Region girl and moving north, but something
really coalesced at the inaugural Brand New Opry. The event,
which took place at Valentine’s on Saturday, turned out to
be the perfect umbrella under which to gather some of the
area’s best roots-music talent. A gridlocked hootin-and-hollerin’
barroom enjoyed a broad range of local wealth, from the fractured
rural poeticism of knotworking to the new-millennium country-gospel
of Hayseed to the jacked-up assault of the Coal Palace Kings.
And Burger did a solid set for fans who like their Americana.
Burger’s newly formed band, Jackinany, opened the night in
front of an enthusiastic, vocal crowd. The newcomers offered
a loose but fun set, plowing affably through their ragged
and sincere barroom balladry. Hayseed joined them for a run
through the traditional gospel number “Further Along,” a song
he has recorded as a duet with Emmylou Harris.
(or an incarnation thereof) followed, showcasing their brooding
alt-folk-country. Instruments revolved, with John Brodeur
sitting in on the rhythm section. Ed Gorch just keeps growing
into a more and more confident frontman, and he quietly and
assuredly commanded the attention of the audience with his
compelling narratives. A stirring “In Frozen Space” and the
brooding, art-damaged folk of “Imbecile Smile” held folks
rapt. At one point, Gorch addressed the bleed of pounding
hardcore from above while preparing for a quiet number: “Now,
what we want here is the hardcore band upstairs to play really
Hayseed introduced himself with a daring a cappella opening
that cut through the barroom hubbub, inducing pin-drop silence.
CPK’s Rick Morse (dobro), Jeff Sohn (standup bass) and Don
Ackerman (drums) backed him up, as did two skilled vets, John
Dermont (guitar) and Craig Thaler (fiddle). This was far from
a loose aggregation, however, as the acoustic group’s set
was rousing and tight—and the sky’s the limit when Hayseed
is in the company of strong allies. Clutching a small, round
flask (Holy Water? A Charm? Nope, just a little something
to nip at), Mr. Seed belted out some tunes from 1998’s lost
classic Melic, such as his cautionary discussion of
the Internet, “Keep It Between the Lines.” He also dipped
into the some of the covers featured on his most recent release,
standouts being the upbeat country-rock of Duane Jarvis’ “There
Is a Light” and Tommy Womack’s buried treasure “When Country
Singers Were Ugly,” a tune that Hayseed jokingly claims is
his theme song.
The singer provided a great nucleus around which to gather
the night’s talent. He not only spruced up other acts’ sets
with guest spots (including a storming take on his “Cold Feet”
with the Coal Palace Kings), but his set also provided a nice
bridge between the pensive, more folksy presentation of knotworking
and the full-on blistering attack of the Kings. And if you
haven’t heard him sing, you’re missing out on one of the world’s
As for the Kings, they just keep getting more powerful. Props
to drummer Don Ackerman for his deceivingly subtle four-on-the-floor
approach. His down-home, nuanced solidity and backing vocals
(à la Levon Helm) have made him a strong addition to the lineup.
CPK burned through a bunch of their standards as well as a
new one, “Slow Fade,” upon which Rick Morse ripped open some
beautiful flashes of pedal steel. As usual, guitarist Larry
Winchester uncorked some inspired episodes of smoldering twang
(at one point shouting “Sweet Jesus!” and swatting frantically
as he disappeared in a cloud of dry ice). Leader Howe Glassman’s
tales of vans, cheap beer and people he cares about are slowly
and surely becoming part of our local lore.
Deep into the night, when things should have been winding
down, the room was still thriving on the sounds of the first
Brand New Opry. I couldn’t think of a better way to showcase
the area’s Americana/alt- country talent, and can’t wait to
see what Burger cooks up next time.
and What Army
Skinless, Shadows Fall, Burnt by the Sun, Locked in a Vacancy
Winners, Feb. 1
I am going to start a new not-for-profit organization. Modeled
somewhat after Big Brothers/Big Sisters or those programs
where you feed a starving child from Zambia for $25 a week,
I will establish the “Adopt a Total Hessian” program. The
premise is simple: Every show I review for this fine publication
is complimentary, and includes admission for two. However,
it has grown muy dificil to acquire good company for
shows, especially for bands like Skinless, who emit pure splatter
and attract the most truculent sub-types of human (like me).
So at each show from now on, I’m going to get some anonymous
mook in the door for free so he can use his cash to buy cigarettes
and other carcinogens. There are worse fates.
After 20 years, you’d think the owners of Saratoga Winners
would pave the goddamn parking lot already,
or at least build a reasonable outlet so people can actually
leave the place. I stood in line longer than most people stand
to kiss the hand of the Pope, next to two kids all the way
from Westerlo shivering in their muscle shirts. Then I remembered
there were tickets at the door (we Americans get used to standing
in line), so I grabbed the one guy who was hoping the event
wouldn’t sell out and barged the hell onto the musty dance
floor for some timeless, filthy metal.
Absorbing Skinless, the blast beats, the gaping maw of breakdowns,
the dead-for-most-of-recorded-history vocals, is kind of like
this: You are near the summit of a large mountain. It is windless,
about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no sun, and the air
is thick with the scent of motor oil, spoiled meat and alcohol.
This seems curious until, upon closer inspection, you realize
the mountain has morphed into a huge pile of industrial debris.
“Holy shit!” you cry, “I gotta get offa this living, seething
wreckage of human productivity!” But before you can say “Foreshadowing
Our Demise,” a team of nomadic, undead technicians appears
below with an 8-inch U.S.-issue M110 Self- Propelled Howitzer
and fires an inconceivable volley of pure satanic goodness
just above your coordinates, setting into motion an eviscerating
avalanche of broken bed frames, shells of old American automobiles,
wet pallets of bone cans from feed yards, pestilent carcasses
of once-loved household pets, old scaffolding, construction
refuse, broken toilets, PVC pipes, charred scraps from fast-food
dumpsters and someone who looks remarkably like Nick Oliveri
from Queens of the Stone Age. Skinless audio events, like
“Extermination of My Filthy Species” and the liberating “Tampon
Lollipop,” are burning, scraping soundtracks to meltdowns,
to fastidious bloodthirsty coups. Awesome and mighty, but
you be the judge. I took a shower as soon as I got home.
Shadows Fall returned to the Capital Region to burn the place
down (too bad they can’t blacktop) before leaving the states
for Japan. These guys are one of the few who have sincerely,
successfully preserved the vital pulmonary organs of the old
metal guard with timeless guitar harmonies, cutting riffage
and an ebullient, near-perfect live sound at a volume and
pitch one typically equates with most busy airfields. At the
same time, they steal a trick or two from church-burners like
At the Gates and the Haunted insofar as down-tuned swervedriven
runs that harshly bounce high melody from low octaves. Their
latest CD, The Art of Balance, is clearly one of the
finest pieces of metal recorded in the new millennium, and
we heard most of it that night. “Destroyer of Senses.” “Idle
Hands.” “Stepping Outside the Circle.” Each effort seemed
specifically written toward extracting the most base emotions
from the brain as the floor erupted into absolute hand-to-hand
combat. Fascinating and unstoppable, definitely a band to
keep an eye on.
I have been quite enamored for some time of the excellent
New Jersey quartet Burnt by the Sun, and they certainly did
precious little to cast away such adoration to the fart winds
with their punishing set, closing with the colossal “Famke,”
a bruising stomp with downbeat triplets that serve as a refrain
of sorts throughout much of their catalogue. BBTS and stunning
openers Locked in a Vacancy wasted no time in coaxing the
troops into action, ripping the floor wide open with windmill
fists and white-guy judo kicks. It would be a disservice to
attempt an adequate assessment of their talents here. Better
to wait for next time. Until then, adopt a Total Hessian today.
And teach him how to blacktop.
Club Helsinki, Feb. 9
Don Byron may be single- handedly responsible for liberating
the clarinet from the dominion of polka guys and preteen girls
with braces and anklet socks. He’s also eviscerated musical
boundaries, exploring free jazz, klezmer, classical, whatever.
With his akimbo dreadlocks, heavy-framed specs and studied
aloofness, he’s also one of the most recognizable characters
in modern music. On Sunday Byron brought his Latin-jazz based
“Music for Six Musicians” ensemble to the Berkshires.
The danger with genre jumping is that if there’s a false move,
a miss, the musician risks being branded a dilettante. While
Byron’s virtuosity and remarkable body of work insulates him
from this heavy a charge, his performance was lacking in some
Latin music, be it salsa, pop, jazz or classical, has, almost
by definition, a groove thing going on. This is not to marginalize
Latin music by saying if you can’t dance to it, it ain’t real.
It is the nature of the beast, however, that Latino music
should, at some point and on some level, make your body want
Byron’s band didn’t. The extended pieces with what were supposed
to be killer Latin grooves just sat there. It was the musical
equivalent of looking at a high-priced sports car parked on
the street. You know it is supposed to fly, and it’s not moving.
The bass, which should propel the beat, held it back. The
congas were little more than window dressing. The drummer
was working his butt off, with precious little to show for
it. Those few people in the packed house who were nodding
and tapping in time did so through considerable effort. And
all of this was made worse by the stop-start nature of Byron’s
arrangements. When music is moving and it stops, it’s effective.
If the music is immobile to begin with, a speed-bump thrown
in is merely annoying.
For his part, Byron was astonishing on the clarinet—dynamic,
fluid, and emotional. His playing was so right and so comfortable
that one has to wonder why the clarinet isn’t a standard jazz
weapon. Tellingly, the quiet song “Basquiat,” performed only
with Byron accompanied with piano and bass, was by far the
most effective and riveting song of the evening. Trumpeter
James Zala, likewise, played fabulous and interesting solos
throughout the set, occasionally throwing in some left-field
reference that was funny as it was absolutely appropriate.
After a generous 90-minute set, Byron didn’t say “good night,”
but rather announced that the group were taking a short break.
I had to leave, but I’d like to think that the band had some
unfinished business to attend to, and that the music would,
as it should, lift off and go where it is supposed to go,
up and out.