Big news for rock fans this week, as "alternative" legends Sonic Youth are finally making their way to Vermont. They'll be playing the Higher Ground Ballroom on Sunday, February 18, with bi-coastal drifters Wooden Wand.
Most folks already know something of the SY story - how the band was forged in the fires of the New York No Wave scene, then, over two decades, grew from gnarly post-punks to purveyors of textured art-rock. Though they've mellowed with age, their music still has plenty of bite, and their live sets always seem to include more than few full-on freakouts.
Sunday's show seemed to come out of nowhere; I'd assumed SY had pretty much wrapped up touring in support of their most recent studio album, Rather Ripped. Turns out they're now gigging behind The Destroyed Room: B-Sides & Rarities, which collects audio detritus from their years with Geffen Records. Actually, it's not really a very big tour - a few New England dates and two shows in Mexico - which makes their Green Mountain pop-in that much more exciting.
It's hard to gauge what songs will comprise their set list - will it be new stuff or a selection of classics? Since the band plays in unconventional tunings, they have the tendency to stick to more or less the same numbers for entire tours. So what we hear in South Burlington should be similar to what the kids in Guadalajara will rock out to later in the month. But it'd take a hell of a road trip to confirm this. Or maybe just the Internet.
And what of Wooden Wand? Well, they're pretty out there, even for, ahem, "freak-folk." I really dig their '05 release, Buck Dharma, and not just because it's named after the guitarist for Blue Oyster Cult. Wow - I can't believe I managed to work another BOC reference into this column. They should totally give me a cut of their royalties. Anyway, WW seem to release an album every weekend, so it's pretty hard to keep up. I'm sure they'll have a whole new batch of discs at their merch table; maybe I'll load up.
I was recently tipped off to a contest being held by Magic Hat Brewing Company that might just help local musicians gain some exposure. "Solid Gold on Hold" offers tunesmiths a chance to provide the music for the Hat's next "on hold" message. That's definitely a hell of a lot cooler than listening to an automated voice tell you that "your call is important to us." Which, in my experience, is never true.
The beer slingers are inviting interested musicians of all genres to compete for the top honor. That means that death metal bands aren't excluded! I'd personally love to hear "all representatives are busy" delivered in a Cookie Monster growl. With a blastbeat behind it.
Here's how the actual contest works: Head to http://www.MagicHat. net/gold to sign up and upload your ditty. Once enough submissions are gathered, the public will vote for the winner. Sort of like "American Idol," minus the inevitable recording contract. But who needs superstardom, anyway? The chosen champion will not only go down in Hat history, but will also be awarded a $1000 shopping spree at Small Dog Electronics. That's it - I'm in.
An aside: The logo for the competition is modified from the artwork that graces Magic Hat's spring seasonal ale, hI.P.A. Why should you care? Because Stanley Mouse - the artist who created the Grateful Dead's iconic "skull and roses" graphic - designed it. Far out, man.
BEAD 'EM UP
Speaking of Magic Hat, how can we forget their sponsorship of downtown Burlington's annual Mardi Gras event? That's right, this Saturday is your yearly opportunity to stand in the freezing cold and get beads flung at you. For more info on this curious ritual, see guide in this issue. PARADE POSTPONED TO SAT. FEB. 24 [details]
There's also quite a bit of music taking place in addition to the big parade. Actually, for most local venues, the party starts Friday night. Here's a partial roundup of the sounds on offer.
Nectar's hosts twisted country-rockers Chuch with Fungus Amungus on Friday. The following evening features music from noon 'til whenever, with the Boogie Hustlers, Japhy Ryder, Blue Sky Mission, Roku and Funk Wagon all stopping by. Metronome's got a 6 p.m. early show with the Anarchist Orchestra and Sugarblue on Saturday, followed by a special Mardi Gras edition of Retronome.
Higher Ground kicks out the jams on Friday with Soulvation Army and DJ Koushik. I have it on good authority that this show will be a musical tribute to Sly & the Family Stone and will feature various local music luminaries. The following evening, HG has Chris Cagle, who's apparently one of them thar modern country stars.
Perhaps the strangest show I've gotten wind about is The Wards with the Dirty Blondes, which takes place at Wine Works, of all places. That punky blowout goes down on Saturday night. Neither band comes to mind when I think about a mellow pinot grigio, but it should be wild.
For those of you who like the hard stuff - and I mean musically speaking - there's a big-ass metal show taking place at Burlington's Odd Fellows Hall this Saturday.
Bands include Philly/upstate New York's Architect, whose sound is deliciously noisy and full of pummel. Then there's New Hampshire's The Network, who've got that whole "controlled chaos" thing going on. Rounding out the bill are This Is Why, and Burlington's own Romans and Caracalla. The latter is currently my favorite heavy band in all of Vermont. Not a bad endorsement, I might add.
The show is substance-free, all-ages and kicks off at 6 p.m. Admission is a mere $8. BYOE - that is, bring your own earplugs.
READY TO RUMBLE?
If you're looking to get better at anything, you've got to test your mettle. For musicians, this can only mean one thing: a battle of the bands. There's something beautifully Darwinian in the concept, and nothing puts a fire in your gut like "getting owned."
The Vermont Youth Orchestra has teamed up with Higher Ground to host a BOB on Wednesday, March 21. That's more than a month off, but I figured you might need some time to practice up.
Proceeds raised from the competition will go towards the VYO's upcoming concert tour of China. Now before you pros get all excited about the idea of schooling some fresh-faced upstarts, keep in mind that the contest is open to high school and college acts only. So go pick on someone your own size.
Superstar judges include saxman Dave Grippo, singer-songwriter Amber DeLaurentis and some dude named Jon Fishman. No word yet on the MC, but I'll bet he or she will be extra-awesome.
Of course, there are prizes, including a Washburn acoustic guitar from Advance Music, recording time at Egan Media Productions, and even an opening-band slot at Nectar's. That should get you started on the road to glory.
Interested bands can request an application by emailing BattleOfTheBandsVYO@yahoo.com. Once you fill that out, submit it with a one-song demo and 25 bucks from your band's slush fund. You've got one of those, right? I mean, I can't teach you everything. Anyway, send that stuff to:
VYOA: Battle of the Bands, 223 Ethan Allen Ave., Colchester, VT 05446.
Oh, yeah, the deadline is 5 p.m. on February 21, so get cracking!