- Matthew Thorsen
Most weeks, compiling club listings and vetting story pitches is pretty mundane work. As enjoyable as this gig often is — and believe me, it is great to make a living listening to and discussing music — every job has its own particular little things that gnaw at the soul. Slogging through what amounts to glorified data entry and fending off hyperbolic PR flackery are mine. But sometimes the most boring tasks are the most important. And in regard to my two most consistently dull duties, every now and then they help shed light on emerging trends within the larger scene.
Usually, identifying themes means paying attention over a period of weeks or months to discover that, hey, there sure are a lot of surf bands playing in this here landlocked state. Or to realize that, for some reason, album-specific tribute nights are kinda-sorta becoming a thing. But every once in a while, and usually for no particular reason, it’s almost like there is a huge neon sign hovering over the collective music scene, flashing a single word that characterizes the week. This week’s word?
I’m not sure exactly why, but Vermont is in throwback mode this week, with a slew of reunion shows, milestone celebrations and all-out blasts from the past on the docket. So are you ready to party like it’s 1999? (Or 1989? How about 1969?) Of course you are.
The big-ticket item is the pair of Strangefolk reunion shows set for the Higher Ground Ballroom this Thursday and Friday, September 26 and 27. In case you hadn’t heard, original front man Reid Genauer is back with the band after having quit the Burlington-based jam stalwarts in 2000 to go back to school and then start his own band, Assembly of Dust. Strangefolk actually reunited with its original lineup for a couple of shows last year, too. So this isn’t exactly stop-the-presses breaking news. But it’s a treat for longtime fans, of which there are still quite a few ’round these parts. (I’ll even confess to having regularly rocked one of their early demo tapes in my first car, circa 1995.) But you know what’s crazy? By my tally, Strangefolk are only the second most interesting local band reunion this week.
On Saturday, September 28, at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe, seminal antacid-jazz ensemble viperHouse are getting together for their first gig since a reunion at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in 2011 — which was the band’s first show in a decade. For the uninitiated, viperHouse was a 10-member band founded by local composer Michael Chorney — somewhat in response to the preponderance of jam-rock bands that dominated the local scene at the time … such as Strangefolk, for example.
Particularly for their era, VH were a seriously cutting-edge outfit. Their music was, first and foremost, incredibly danceable. But it was also deceptively complex, relying as much on collective improvisation, unconventional orchestration and guile as bombastic grooves. In a piece I did on the band for that 2011 reunion, Steve Lemcke, who was the music crit for the Burlington Free Press during the band’s heyday, said VH “had a different vibe” from other bands of the era. “You definitely had your moments to dance and grind,” he said. “But it was their musicality that made them different.”
That, and the fact that the band was composed of players who would go on to become some of the most highly regarded local musicians of the last decade. That includes folks such as guitarist Brett Hughes (Belle Pines), vocalist Heloise Williams (Heloise & the Savoir Faire), keyboardist Ray Paczkowski (Trey Anastasio Band), bassist Rob Morse (Vorcza, a bazillion other bands) and trumpeter Brian Boyes — the last of whom now leads the Saturn People’s Sound Collective, another spaced-out big band that is something of an evolutionary cousin to VH.
“So much of who I am as a musician [and] composer comes from playing and touring with viperHouse,” writes Boyes in a recent email.
Right around the time viperHouse was breaking up, another band who would become a scene cornerstone was just getting started. This Saturday, September 28, Swale, the trio of Eric Olsen, Amanda Gustafson and Jeremy Frederick, celebrate their 11th anniversary with a special show at Radio Bean they’ve dubbed “Swale Goes to 11.” Like last year’s anniversary party, the shindig will include sets by a bunch of Swale’s buddies, including Missy Bly, Maryse Smith, Guster’s Ryan Miller, Ryan Ober and the debut appearance of the Hacked Knees, a collaboration of Rough Francis’ Urian Hackney, Jewels Hackney and Bobby Hackney Jr. — the last of whom works for 7D, BTW. The show will also feature one of my favorite gimmicks, Swaleoke, in which Swale serve as a live karaoke backing band for anyone bold enough to get onstage. In other Swale news, I’m told their new album, a follow-up to last year’s long-awaited full-length debut A Small Arrival, is in the late stages of mixing with — who else? — Ryan Power.
Meanwhile, in Middlebury, Vermont Public Radio jock Joel Najman celebrates 30 years as the host of the weekly rock-and-roll-history program “My Place” by spinning 1960s classics at “VPR A Go-Go” at the Town Hall Theater, also on Saturday — which, incidentally, is the same night Najman’s always-excellent show airs. For more on that event, check out the post on our arts blog, Live Culture.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention a couple of other shows on the slate this week that have me dusting off some old high school mixtapes — and therefore loosely fit the conceit of this week’s column. The first is third-wave ska torchbearers the Toasters, who play Nectar’s this Friday, September 27. The other is a 1990s rock fest with Fountains of Wayne and the criminally underrated Freedy Johnston at the Higher Ground Ballroom on Saturday.
In non-old-bands news, there’s a pretty solid local rock showcase at the Monkey House in Winooski this, yes, Saturday with sci-fi rockers Wave of the Future, garage rockers Black Rabbit and grunge throwbacks Phantom Suns. The Suns are playing their first show of 2013, after holing up to work on a new record. You can check out a single from those sessions, the Filter-meets-Alice in Chains scorcher “It Won’t Stop,” at phantomsuns.bandcamp.com.
It is now officially fall, but that doesn’t mean that the season for outdoor music is over just yet. This Sunday, September 29, the fifth annual Blueberry Jam — get it? — will take place at Blueberry Lake Haven in Warren. Scheduled to appear at the lakeside pavilion are songwriter Louie Brown, rockers the Clear River Band, hip-hop outfits Memaranda and the Lynguistic Civilians, as well as world reggae ensemble AFRI-VT with special guests the Allstars, which feature members of the Sierra Leone’s Refugee Allstars.
Last but not least, welcome home, Tristan Baribeau! Baribeau is back from his summerlong excursion in Alaska and is playing a set with his band, Doctor Sailor, at the BCA Center in Burlington on — wait for it — Saturday, September 28, because God forbid we spread all these good shows out over a few nights. Also on the bill are Rhode Island’s Last Good Tooth, and a new project from Mark Daly (ex-Chamberlin) called Plato Ears. In other Baribeau news, the sophomore Villanelles record is reportedly mere weeks from completion. Stay tuned…
A peek at what was on my iPod, turntable, eight-track player, etc., this week.
SISU, Blood Tears
Jef Barbara, Soft to the Touch
Quasi, Mole City
Up the Chain, Seeds and Thorns
Mazzy Star, Seasons of Your Day