Before “social distancing” was trending on Twitter and the live music industry shuttered itself, my wife and I ventured to Nashville to catch some music and meet up with old friends. It was a mixed bag. The music that is. No complaints about the old friends.
I was fired up to see Archers of Loaf, a ‘90s band from Chapel Hill, NC that broke up twenty years ago but just released a new single, “Raleigh Days,” which is fantastic. Check it out here:
Although the track is straight ahead rock ’n roll, I knew the Archers’ catalogue from back in the day tended towards the dark side with a gesture to hardcore and post-punk, not my favorite genres. But I thought it worth a shot. I also figured if Archers of Loaf were half as good as Meat Loaf, it would be well worth it.
The Archers played Cannery Row after the Basement East, where they were scheduled to play, was destroyed in the recent tornadoes that swept through East Nashville and other neighborhoods north of downtown leaving an unbelievable trail of destruction and twenty-five dead. Although the residents of Nashville were still clearly shaken, their perseverance was on full display with street-side fundraising bake sales and chainsaw-wielding neighbors pitching in to restore order.
As expected, the Archers’ set started out dark, although it was more brooding than enraged. I was starting to get into the angst-y dissonance of it all when the show took a sharp turn to the hardcore. I expected a mosh pit to form, but I guess the crowd was too old for that. Instead, the crowd, which almost to a person was comprised of white men with short-cropped hair and long beards, started to make clipped hand gestures sort of like a salute. My friend Alex described the scene as “militaristic” which I think perfectly described it. We decided to get out of there and check out Sadler Vaden who was playing in the same complex at the Mercy Lounge.
Sadler Vaden is the guitarist in Jason Isbell’s band and just released his second solo album, Anybody Out There? His sound was more our speed. After the first few notes, my wife said to me, “I think Archers of Loaf threw us off the scent.” Indeed they had. Unfortunately, we only caught the final two songs before Sadler called it a night. But it was pretty good stuff. Here’s “Tried and True” from the new record. It has a definite indie ‘90s feel to it.
But the hands-down highlight of the weekend was wandering around the 12 South neighborhood on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and coming upon Sheryl Crow playing in a parking lot. No joke. That actually happened. She was also selling off her wardrobe — jeans, boots, hats, purses — to the highest bidders to raise money for tornado victims. It was quite a scene.
Truth be told, I have never been much of a Sheryl Crow fan. But listening to her perform in the parking lot made me question my musical bona fides. Her voice is so dang beautiful. And strong. For some reason that never came across on the radio for me. But hearing her sing live was a revelation. Here’s a clip of “The First Cut is the Deepest” that my friend Jen bootlegged. Not sure why she only captured 49 seconds of this stunning performance. But it’s 49 seconds more than I captured so I guess I can’t complain. Although it was a bit of a swing and miss by Jen, I must say.
If that clip leaves you wanting more, as it did me, here’s a full-length video of her performing “Don’t” from her 2019 album, Threads. The album is a series of collaborations with music luminaries from various genres. Her tune with Keith Richards, “The Worst,” is worth checking out on your own time. It’s a pretty little thing, with Keith’s backing vocals taking it to the next level. I’ve always found Keith’s musicianship to be like deep frying — everything is made better by it. This track is another example of that elementary principle.
But I digress. “Don’t” features Lucius on backing vocals and they are magical (a free Fine Tuning T-shirt to the first person who can identify Lucius’ prior appearance on this blog — hint: they sing backup on a Playlist track). “Don’t” hits the ears like the very best of Dionne Warwick. In case anyone is wondering, that is no backhanded compliment — Dionne Warwick is a treasure. “Walk on By” melts me every time I have the good fortune to hear it. At first, I thought “Don’t” was a cover of Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” The soaring strings of the chorus, the love sick lyrics, the staccato stab of “Don’t” at the beginning of each verse like the “So” lead-in to the chorus of “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” The resemblance is striking. But so is the song. I also hear shades of Aretha’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” particularly at the 1:50 mark when Sheryl belts out the word “contract” (“Love is not a contract made between a woman and a man”). Such good stuff.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t close with a brief mention of the Don Kelley Band — the house band at Robert’s Western World, a bar on Broadway’s main drag. The band features a 19-year-old phenom on guitar who blazed through versions of Steve Ray’s “Texas Flood” and the Allmans’ “Jessica,” among other staples. I was so distracted by the music, I ordered a fried bologna sandwich for dinner. Which turned out to be delicious. Although not filling enough to avoid a midnight run for hot chicken at Hattie B’s. I thought I was playing it safe by ordering my chicken “Medium” hot. After all, there were still three more levels of hotness: Hot!, Damn Hot!! and Shut the Cluck Up!!! Big mistake. I went back to the counter to order a banana pudding to put the fire out. The register had already closed for the night but the manager, bless his heart, gave me the pudding for free since he could tell it was an emergency. The pudding helped — a little.
Anyway, the below clip showcases the kid’s guitar talents from two years ago when he was only 17. It reminds me of one of those YouTube mashups high school basketball players put together of all their spectacular dunks to impress colleges. The kid shows it all off here. Skip ahead to about 2:00. Enjoy!