Jeff Tweedy brought humor, pain and the odd bout of food poisoning with him when he performed at the Walker Theatre in Chattanooga, TN this past weekend.Read More
It was raining -- not a heavy downpour but more of a light drizzle that seemed to catch on all exposed parts of your body. It wasn't unpleasant necessarily, but you didn't want to have to stand in it for very long. Always unfashionably early, our arrival (my brother and I) at The Signal in Chattanooga, TN was marked by a hesitation as to whether we should go in and kill the next hour and a half or go get some hot chocolate. And while the hot chocolate was especially tempting, we wound up going inside and finding an empty bar-style table out on the open floor of the concert hall. Washed Out would be playing later, and we didn't want to miss a note.
From the moment I was first introduced to Washed Out's wonderfully bass-y, synth-soaked chillwave aesthetic, I was hooked. It wasn't for everyone (some people decried its overly vibe-y focus and blurred construction), and the eventual backlash just about killed any momentum the small sub-genre had going. But some artists would rise above the stigmas attached to the sound and find new ways of expressing themselves and their influences through these electronic, imminently danceable tunes.
Currently calling Athens, GA home, Ernest Greene (the primary architect behind Washed Out) had, over the course of his last few records, found an arresting perspective that merged soft focus/dancefloor synths and soaring melodies without sacrificing the immediacy of his rhythmic vision. The music was often loud, filled with rumbling rhythms and Greene's submerged vocals. It was going to be a trial by fire for The Signal to see how well the venue could handle these spectrum-sliding sounds.
Eventually, the lights dimmed and we made our way to the front of the stage, zigzagging through the crowd of people. The opening band was Biyo, out of Nashville, and they were completely unfamiliar to me. Taking a large influence from bands like Autre Ne Veut and How to Dress Well, they combined an obvious love for classic R&B with the forceful energy of indie rock and the shifting landscapes of electronic music. In hindsight, they were the perfect opening band for Washed Out.
Their short but mesmerizing set was highlighted by the echoing falsetto of singer Grayson Proctor and the band's intricate and engaging interactions. Whether notes were being stretched out to their breaking points or things were slowed down a bit to focus on the escalating grooves, they were constantly moving, never allowing the music to rest before suddenly taking off in another direction. There were moments of calm beauty but also of frenetic motion, a whirlwind amalgam of familiar sounds broken down and rebuilt piece by piece.
Biyo ended their set and walked offstage to cheers, whistles and calls for more music. Their equipment was quickly removed, leaving some mics, drums, guitars and various electronic devices littered across the stage. You could feel an excitement making its way through the crowd, leaving charged particles on the shoulders of everyone in attendance. Suddenly, everything went momentarily quiet, before the crowd erupted in noise, and Washed Out took the stage.
Backed by a large projection screen, the trio (led by Greene) quickly dug in and filled the room with a squiggly and cacophonous racket, full of hummable melodies and aqueous synths. Everyone began moving in time with the music before losing any sense of their surroundings and giving themselves over to the movement embedded in these sounds. Pulling from across their discography -- with attention paid to their most recent record, 2017's "Mister Mellow" -- they set out to provide a summary of why we loved the band in the first place. And believe me, there was no shortage of affection being thrown toward the stage.
Throughout the evening, they shifted between shorter musical expulsions and longer jams which actually held some of the best moments of the concert. Alternating between electronic and analog drums, they created a throbbing, percussive environment where melodies bled out into the night and lyrics were often lost in a wash of oceanic synths and rising harmonies. Occasionally, they would back down from the noise and find a slower set of liquid grooves that allowed them to approach their influences from a completely different angle. It was still buoyed by extravagant synths and beats, but the execution was much more nuanced.
And while there's always the possibility for this kind of music to feel undifferentiated, the band managed to keep things interesting and complex despite the often chest-rattling rhythms. There was ample volume but also detail and a welcome musical specificity. The synths weren't bland and without personality -- they were stuffed full of quirky arrangements and memorable movements. There was never a moment when Greene and his band veered off course into some meandering mass of half-formed ideas. They were precise but mercurial, knowing exactly where they wanted to go but changing up the route along the way.
The band played a 2-song encore to a sea of adoration and seemed genuinely thankful for the response. They waved and left the stage. The house lights came on, and music began creeping through the stage PA. It was over, and people were sweaty, exhausted and satisfied from an evening of synth opulence. We all trudged out into the rainy night, hesitant to leave the music behind and acknowledge the reality of the outside world. But the music was still there, circling in our heads for the drive home. And nothing could take that from us.
After three decades, eleven studio albums and one solo album from principle songwriter Ben Nichols, the distinctly Memphisian alt-country quintet Lucero has arrived to cut the ribbon on Chattanooga's newest live music venue, The Signal.
And though this is no ribbon cutting ceremony that you can attend, with tuxedos cued out front holding a pair of scissors and a few promises of prosperity and affluence, it's a start nonetheless. This band of brothers is more like your high school football team busting through a banner held by face painted cheerleaders onto the grassy stadium field of your hometown, if the team's uniforms were blue jeans and work boots and the quarterback had smoked camel cigarettes for the last twenty years. I imagine Lucero as a group of guys that grew up on a steady diet of barbecue and blues music who later heard Jawbreaker and never looked back.
Their southern roots would account for the laid back approach that they take to their songs. On the last few releases, they have even been known to incorporate a horn section into the mix. But there were no horns tonight, just a group of guys that has spent years living out of a van and sleeping on floors.
The night began with a song titled "The Last Song" with the prescient lyrics "stay here and dance with me a while." After that, they played a song from their new album and then launched into the opening guitar riff of the instantly recognizable "Sweet Little Thing." And the crowd loved it. There was definitely an audience here for Lucero's music, even if some people in the audience weren't aware of it beforehand.
As the band continued through their set, the crowd stayed rooted to the floor and even danced. In the middle of the show, most of the band left the stage with only the singer remaining out front holding an acoustic guitar. He proceeded to play through a few songs that were, as he put it, "about his old man." After this short solo set, though, it was back to the races as the rest of the band returned to the stage to carry out what could be described as a sing-a-long.
Lucero is not a new band, and I got the distinct impression that the fans weren't new to the music either. There were even a few concertgoers traveling from Atlanta to relive old glory days of late nights and long weekends as heralded by the songs of lead singer Nichols. The band didn't seem to be in a rush to reach the end of their set. Each member knew what he was there to do, and there was no holding back. This was a venue that, unlike most concerts locally where a band may need to meet the room where it is, fit the band like a glove. Two distorted electric guitar, keys, drums and bass rolled over the audience with excitement as the gravely voice of the ring leader brought it all back home.
It was great to see Chattanooga show up tonight. After all the excitement caused by an event at the Mahogany Ball, and now Songbirds Guitar Museum absorbing the Revelry Room, in order to continue bringing bands to town as well as giving local talent a launching pad to grow, the city needs to fill the seats. Now the only questions that remain are: will they continue to show and how big does the city of Chattanooga desire to be?