Maybe you heard, but there were some big doings at Higher Ground last Thursday, as now-legendary proto-punk band Death took to a Vermont stage for the first — and, if you believe the rumors — last time. Predictably, excitement and expectations for the show were unusually high. In fact, I don’t recall any local show in recent memory as hotly anticipated or inflated with hype as the reunited trio’s debut VT date.
There was all manner of Facebook pimping and Twitter … um, tweeting preceding the show. There were several local radio interviews with the band. There was a preshow press conference at 242 Main. There was even a television commercial advertising not only the gig but a forthcoming documentary film about Death directed by local filmmaker Jeff Howlett. Oh, and I whipped up a pretty decent feature story in last week’s edition. Maybe you saw it? The one in which I interview Mos motherflippin’ Def, bitches! Ahem.
So, yeah. A ton of hype. In fact, maybe too much.
(Please hold while I feverishly wring my hands trying to come up with a diplomatic way of phrasing this next bit.)
This gives me no pleasure to write, but the show was disappointing.
I arrived in time to catch the tail end of the opening set by local punk rockers Folk Heroes, who were ragged, energetic and fun. And very, very loud.
During an intermission, waiting for Rough Francis to take the stage, I began to take stock of the unusual surroundings. An enormous camera and boom arm — like, 15 or 20 feet tall — dominated the room. Uniformed film crew milled around with expensive-looking gear. The band’s merch table was a mountain of T-shirts and records. Higher Ground felt less like a rock club than a movie set. Weird.
Rough Francis tore through a typically excellent set, whetting the audience’s collective appetite for Death — BTW, there is not a more exciting hard-rock drummer in Burlington than RF’s Urian Hackney right now. Period. Holy hell, that kid can play.
Finally, Death took the stage. They dove right in, unleashing a few choice classics from …For the Whole World to See. And it sounded … great, actually. But then things took a turn south. Like, to Jamaica.
The remainder of the evening felt more like a retrospective of the Hackneys’ projects since Death than a celebration of the band we all came to see. They marched through one Lambsbread number after another, sporadically tossing in a few tunes from their old Christian-rock outfit the 4th Movement and, every once in a while, a Death song. By the time they got around to playing “Politicians in My Eyes,” my excitement had been carried away in the trade winds.
I left feeling disheartened and a little duped — a sentiment echoed by a number of folks on the way out the door. Nothing against Lambsbread, who really are a solid reggae band and certainly part of the larger story. But we came to see Death, and, unfortunately, that’s not really what we got.
Maybe it’s because I fell so head over heels in love with Death’s story. Maybe it’s because I, too, bought into all the hype, and my expectations were unreasonably lofty. Or maybe I just wanted the show to be more than it really was, which was simply the epilogue to a fantastic story 35 years in the making, the coming full circle of three marvelous, visionary musicians and a celebration of their wondrously talented and loving family. And, just maybe, contrary to the crowing of certain folks in the blogosphere and other social-media outlets postshow, the evening was supposed to be less about “making history” and more about appreciating it.
- If you only go to one show this week … well, you need to get out more often. But, failing that, do yourself a solid and try to catch “suspender fusion” aesthetes the Vermont Joy Parade. For one thing, they’re a blast, live and on record. And for another thing, word on the street is that dusky-voiced front woman Anna Pardenik is not long for Burlington and will be moving after the band’s upcoming regional tour. No word yet on the collective’s plans post-Pardenik. But if you’re a regular column reader, you know she’ll be missed. In the meantime, you have two chances to catch the band this week: Friday at Montpelier’s Black Door Bar and Bistro and Tuesday at Parima in Burlington.
- Band Name of the Week: The Sketties. OK, so we actually have a three-way tie for BNOTW. Entrant number one is a curious little psych-rock outfit out of Lancaster, Pa., the Sketties. Sonically, these cats are all over the place. They mine elements of dark, druggy 1960s psychedelia but have a keen ear toward modern rock — and maybe even a nod or two (ironic?) toward nu metal. Really. Should be an interesting evening at Manhattan Pizza & Pub this Saturday.
- Band Name of the Week: Tik Tok. BNOTW number two gets a nod for three reasons. One, they’re from my original hometown of Providence, R.I., and I’m hoping that by mentioning them here they might bring me some Little Rhodie delicacies such as Autocrat coffee syrup, Del’s Lemonade or an Awful Awful. Two, their name is a reference to a robot from one of my favorite childhood movies, an underappreciated sequel to The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz — which stars a very young Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale and holds up surprisingly well some 25 years after it was made. And three, well, they’re just a really fun little band, blending rowdy, vaudeville-esque old-time and dusty Americana into a woozy, boozy jumble. They’ll make three VT appearances this week: Friday at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Saturday at Charlie O’s in Montpelier and Sunday at Burlington’s Radio Bean.
- Band Name of the Week: Split Tongue Crow. I’m saving my personal favorite BNOTW for last. It’s a relatively new local group featuring members of late, great Queen City alt-country darlings Will. Will and my own late, great-depending-on-whom-you-ask-thanks-mom alt-country outfit — though we always preferred the term “poontwang” — the Middle Eight were scene contemporaries back in the day. So take this recommendation with the appropriate degree of salt. But I’m delighted that Dave Anderson, Matt Marro, Eoin Noonan and Jeremy Woods are making music together again — and new face Cara White adds an elegant touch on backing vocals, to boot. Welcome back, guys. See you this Saturday at the Monkey House?
- Nectar’s is getting a lot of mileage out of residencies lately, which is pretty cool, especially when said residencies involve organ-funk duo Ray Paczkowski and Russ Lawton, who take over the club every Tuesday for the rest of the month. But that’s not all. Lawton’s daughter Patience will handle opening duties for each show, as well.
- Speaking of family matters, I’m pleased to report that the popular Family Night jam sessions are back on the schedule at Club Metronome after a summer hiatus. If you’ve never been, picture an open mic on steroids, or maybe hallucinogens. Er, or maybe just show up some Monday night with an instrument and rock on out.
- If you missed the big 7D-curated local music showcase at Nectar’s last month, you missed an excellent set from local songwriter Zack duPont and his band Stacked. Shame on you. Make it up to them this Saturday when they open for local alt-country bumpkins Lowell Thompson & Crown Pilot.
- Last but not least, safe travels to the hardest workin’ man in BTV hip-hop, BurntMD, who hits the road this week for a national tour with none other than Def Squad’s Keith Murray. Do us proud, B.
And finally, this week’s totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.