Photos: Jennifer Kelly
Back at Spiro’s again, where I get a second shot at Obits.
Two years in the hatching, unnervingly different from Rick Froberg’s previous garage punk outfits like Hot Snakes or Drive Like Jehu or Rocket from the Crypt, Obits rides freight-train blues rhythms over night-time expanses, its songs driving but still, evolving slowly out of repetitive grooves, more like rough-edged Johnny Cash than punk. Songs like “Widow of My Dreams” has a riff that backsteps down the scale, sliding off towards the horizon like a blues-dreamed hallucination of “Peter Gunn”. “Two Headed Coin” shuffles on the same lonesome train tracks, split down the middle by a roadhouse bass solo. There’s even a blues cover—the old song “Milk Cow Blues”—sped up and strobed through with punk rock surfbilly power chords. It’s not Hot Snakes, and that leaves some long-term fans cold, but it’s pretty great in its own way, anyway.
The front room is hearteningly full for Wovenhand.
Wovenhand, if you’re not familiar with it, is the solo-project-that-grew for David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower. His latest, Ten Stones, is an intensely powerful, old-testament-prophecy-crossed-with-Joy-Division-drumming, far more rock than previous outings and, indeed, as rock, in its way, as anything else that came out last year. It is a great record, my third-favorite for 2008 and almost universally overlooked. (PopMatters’ Justin Cober-Lake and I were the only people to vote for Ten Stones in this year’s Pazz & Jop, and we were both kind of bummed that no one else got on board.)
But look, here we are at Spiro’s and there is a big crowd and a palpable sense of excitement, as this slight, blond man in an Indian headband soundchecks the eerie soundwashes, the booming drums, the reverbed vocals that characterize his sound. The crowd, too, has a real person/real fan feel to it, rather than the have-to-see-this-buzzy-band distraction of the industry-heavy showcases. “Ten dollars,” says a woman in front of me, “that’s the deal of the century.” Get that? She paid for this, and she’s glad to be here. Refreshing.
She’s right, too, because Wovenhand is stunning. Edwards is seated nearly the whole time, leaning out over his chair to growl into the mic, turning it around to lock in with his long-time drummer Ordy Garrison or commune with bass player Pascal Humbert (also ex-of 16 Horsepower). You realize, almost immediately, that Wovenhand is no longer a solo project, not anymore, because the power in the sound comes as much from Garrison’s pummeling drums, from Humberts’ thunderous bass, as from Edwards. Edwards is the visionary, spinning out gothic landscapes of galloping horses and men standing judgment, switching from guitar to mandolin, leaning into the mic for exhilarating barks and shouts. But the material is great because of the way it melds outsized rhythms with Pentecostal dread. It is overwhelming, fantastic, too much in all ways to process. I feel as if I cannot take in a single more piece of music… that mentally, physically, emotionally, I’m full to the top.
So naturally, I pass through Major Stars on the way out.
I’ve seen Major Stars before. Based in Boston out of the independent record store and label Twisted Village, the Major Stars have been cranking ear-melting, mind-spinning psych and rock for a couple of decades. A few years ago, they added a third guitar player and a singer, opening up their instrumental fuckery into something like hard 1960s rock. Something like it, but more open-ended, more prone to free form jams and sudden left turns. Guitarist Wayne Rogers prowls the stage restlessly, back and forth between guitar heroine Kate Biggar and singer Sandra Barrett. Biggar urges listeners to support freeform radio and local radio stores, in between songs, and you wonder what’s going to happen next year or the year when all the record stores are gone, and all the radio stations are owned by one company and Live Nation decides what bands you get to see in every city. Bleak times ahead, but for now, freakiness rules at Spiro’s.