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jazzy polaroids by: Lexie Moreland

I wasn’t planning to go to the Black Cat Wednesday night, but while I was wandering around the city depressed because my vacation was over and the thought of going to work in the morning was filling my body with ebola worms of angst I accidentally got drunk at the Big Hunt.

The next thing I knew I was sitting on the floor in the Backstage with a Makers Mark in my hand nodding my head to what started out sounding like alt-country but kept shying away from it’s anemic clichés right when you least expected it.

It was the Butane Variations!
(note from Lexie:They have a song titled Goldie Hawn, which in itself totally endears me. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the open parking space right in front of the Cat’s double doors illuminated by a street light like a gift from God, but i pulled in and claimed it anyway, since i didn’t get any gold, frankincense or myrrh for Christmas.

I sweetly asked sexy doorman #1 if I was in time for the said act, and learned from his response that I seemingly transposed the line-up, as I thought the Butane Variations played last and not first. Alas, I ducked inside anyway to get some Polaroid footage for the greater good.)

Like one song would build up to where you’d imagine a big Steve Earle rip-off guitar solo would go but instead the drummer would leap up out of his seat and run into the crowd and play the trumpet while the rest of the band disintegrated into a single glassy chord. Or one song (“This is a song about Lindsay Lohan’s dreams…”) which started out with a Buffalo Springfield harmony between John Paul Norpoth (guitar-playing and singing) and Phil Weinrobe (singing and guitar-playing and joke-making) moved into a jangly 1980s Dream Syndicate shuffle instead of something more predictable.

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The guys in the band seemed dead-set on surprising the sleepy holiday-hung-over audience, especially drummer Michael Penque who continuously wriggled around pulling out blocks of wood and car keys and rattled the hi-hat with his hand and slapped things with his fists instead of sticks like a crazy German schoolboy with ADD. When he threw some shakers into the audience a kid with a Mohawk picked it up and started shaking it. Phil beckoned him up and he shook it onstage as they stomped out one of their more rocking jams (it might have been “Jackie” but I don’t remember too good). Bands like this recall the noisy Midwestern stuff that started the whole alt-country epithet rather than the boring singer-songwriter traditionalism and western wear culture that pervades it now. They may not have sobered me up, but I felt amazing when they were done, lucky to have stumbled into the right place at the right time.

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Prabir and the Substitutes were great too, rocking out modtastically but without irony or pretense Merseybeat style. If you’re going to play a raved–up Who-ish cover of Boots Were Made for Walking right after a similarly banging version of Take the Skinheads Bowling you’d better be equipped with the chops to really jump around and do hi-kicks and stuff and these guys have it, apparently they’re kicking it enough to open for the Silvers Beats at the 930 next week. They also have direct permission to rock out from fellow Richmonder Dave Lowery. According to Prabir, who I cornered after his set, they’re going into the studio with the ex-Camper Van Beethoven chief some time soon.

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I also managed to chase John Paul from Butane Vs down waving a bottle of Bud at him, and tell him how they reminded me of Uncle Tupelo on meth and used a bunch of pretentious metaphors (see above). He said that this show was the first night of a new tour with a new bass player, which is astonishing since I didn’t notice at all and the songs are obviously pretty complex, though not overly intricate.

I tried to watch the Nunchucks, who seemed to be both punk-as-fuck and polite young gentlemen but all I remember is a few Buzzcocks chords and the next thing I knew I woke up in a meeting at work smelling like dried poison and wearing two of the same tie.

Welcome to 2008, brain, there’s a lot more of that on the way.