Y’all, I am SO. EXCITED. There’s something really wonderful about sifting through your photos and calendars to recall all the shows you went to in 2013 (and I know I am forgetting a ton) and being overwhelmed by the level and talent that came through and cultivated in Savannah this year. I am thrilled looking at what January 2014 already holds (Lucero? Priests? YES, please!). Despite being engrossed in Savannah’s music scene for several years now, this is the first year I look back–and forward–and really feel like I’m beginning to live in a music town.
I remember the first Savannah Stopover in 2011–my friends and I dashing down Congress, frantically checking our watches against the schedule, and in the midst of it all we paused and realized, “This never happens.” There was never such a selection on a weekend that we had to make sacrifices (“Okay, we’ll be a little late to Murder By Death…” “How fast do you think I can run up the stone steps from Live Wire to The Jinx with a go-cup in my hand?” [answer: with a cheetah’s speed and a gazelle’s grace, thanks])—but now, in 2013, that’s the norm–and not just on a festival night, but on any given weekend. These days, I’ve perfected my Cobblestone Canter and can even expertly run between shows in heels with a Solo cup of moonshine in hand (thanks, Stopover sponsor/city-wide hangover inducer Midnight Moonshine [still got mixed feelings toward you]).
Our local scene has grown more stylistically diverse and inclusive in 2013. Regional bands have discovered Savannah’s passion for live shows, not to mention the signature loyal devotion we develop when we connect to a band (a feeling that seems to be mutual—did you hear American Aquarium play their new original, “Savannah Almost Killed Me,” when they performed with the Savannah Sweet Tease?). Touring bands are coming through not just to headline festivals but TO PLAY THE WORMHOLE. Y’all, BAND OF HORSES played THE WORMHOLE. If you recapped this year in music to me five years ago, I would have laughed you all the way to Jinx Happy Hour. Instead, let’s meet down there for some Damon and raise a glass to the talent that has anchored our scene for years and the incredible initiative that’s making it grow. Cheers.
The Show I Figured I’d Have To Travel For: of Montreal at Savannah Stopover. Past posts on this blog have indicated my longtime love affair with the Elephant 6 Collective. When of Montreal was announced as the Savannah Stopover 2013 headliner, I was grinning for months, revisiting that beast of a discography and having LOTS of preparatory dance parties. While I’d seen Kevin Barnes appear in other band’s sets, I’d never seen the event that is an of Montreal show—the carefully curated costumes and colors and lights—and by having it in the bandshell at Forsyth Park, I’d only have to walk two blocks to see one of my favorite bands. Unreal.
In the Stopover hustle and bustle, I was worried about time and finding a good spot—packing up from my own gig, getting Fine Peduncle set up on an air mattress in my apartment, allotting enough time to adorn myself in a satisfactory amount of metallics, glitter, and psychedelic vintage fabrics to suit an oM show—but despite arriving and overlooking a sea of attendees, I managed to slip in at stage right, right between the press and the train kids, and had a perfect view. One of the reasons I’ve always loved of Montreal is that it’s impossible to be still while listening to “Disconnect the Dots” or “Suffer for Fashion;” when Barnes wants to write an upbeat song, he writes the most blissed-out, dizzingly-joyous, tongue-in-cheek dancehall song he can, and that’s exactly what this show felt like. As the sun set, Barnes and company gave it their all, using every corner of that giant stage to engage and pour themselves into a performance (dancers in larger-than-life costumes skittered across the stage, engaging in playful battles ranging from mouse vs. eagle to church vs. state) fueled by those infectious tunes.
(By the way, if you haven’t yet, pick up the new record lousy with sylvianbriar; it’s their best in years, and features Athens-based/Savannah-favorite powerkompany’s Marie Davon on strings!)
Best Show You Didn’t Attend: Cory Branan at The Jinx. Honestly, it’s a tall task to get me to attend an acoustic solo show that starts past 11, but all that changed on a slow Thursday night at The Jinx with Cory Branan. A meager handful of us sat at the bar and watched as Branan and tourmate Jon Snodgrass (Drag the River) took turns playing songs. Branan commanded the room like a full band, digging into his acoustic guitar like he was fighting for his life and belting his lungs out. Songs like “Girl Named Go” and “The Prettiest Waitress in Memphis” shattered every pre-conceived notion I had about dude-with-an-acoustic-guitar shows as I danced in my seat, eventually abandoning my barstool and hitting the floor. If Branan makes it back to Savannah, let’s give him the turnout he deserves.
Best Band That You Might Have Skipped Because, Ugh, That Name: Diarrhea Planet at Taco Abajo (Savannah Stopover). The most sigh-inducing “kids-these-days” name of them all, Diarrhea Planet was a Stopover surprise if there ever was one. After seeing a video of the band playing on roof waving a giant American flag and setting miscellaneous objects on fire, I knew I wanted to see them live. Diarrhea Planet is what happens when you raise skater kids on Van Halen and Appetite for Destruction, and it is perfect. Their 2013 LP, I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, is definitely one to check out.
Best Celebration: The Jinx 10th Anniversary Party. It’s our finest venue and a second home to many, and it deserved—and got—nothing but the best for its special day. Savannah Sweet Tease, American Aquarium and Murder By Death shared their clearest and fuzziest Jinx stories as Wild Turkey’s biggest account in Georgia was drained of its supply. Now that’s what I call a birthday party.
The Show Where The Local Outplayed The Touring Band: Whaleboat at Savannah Stopover. Before I get my lights stomped out, let me clarify: I love Ponderosa and The Whigs. But when Whaleboat hit the stage at Knights of Columbus, they set a high bar and ruled the evening. The room was perfect for their tidal shoegaze-drenched rock, and as someone who saw probably around 75% of the shows Whaleboat played, I firmly believe this was their finest performance. As Brooklyn Vegan snapped photos of our hometown talent and other out-of-towners watched with mouths agape, Whaleboat represented the Hostess City and made us pretty damn proud.
The Great New Idea Show: Velvet Caravan at The Lucas Speakeasy Cabaret. The Speakeasy Cabaret was a beautifully executed and wonderfully non-traditional, creative way to engage the public and make the sometimes-stuffy Lucas accessible and classy. Seated on the stage watching Velvet Caravan (if you haven’t seen them yet, stop depriving your ears–Ricardo, Sasha, Jared and Eric are some of the best players this town offers) against the backdrop of velvet seats and incredible interior was a fun new take on the theater. Some of us wore our finest 20’s-inspired frocks as we were escorted through the back door, and proceeded to enjoy hors d’oeuvres & libations before we danced along to Velvet Caravan’s gypsy jazz right there on the stage.
The “Did That Seriously Happen?” Show: Os Mutantes at Dollhouse. …But seriously. That was really incredible. One, I—and many others—just assumed we’d never see Os Mutantes live (hell, the album I have is from 1968), and Two, I’ve never experienced anything in Savannah quite like that show. A room full of elated people of all ages, friends and strangers, joyously dancing with one another, exhilarated by the deeply influential and legendary tunes of Os Mutantes. What a special thing.
Best New Local Band: Ambrose. Basik Lee (Steve Baumgardner, he of Hip-Hop Night and breakdancing classes and AWOL) has been fleshing out original soulful-bluesy-singer-songwriter numbers for awhile now, but unless you hit an open mic, you weren’t likely to hear it. With a drummer, bassist, and keyboard/horn player flocking Steve and his classical guitar, Savannah can finally see what he’s been up to. Beautiful, soul-bearing songs that combine rock, blues, classic soul, and hip-hop, Steve brings his incredible showmanship and deep, slightly caustic & emotion-drenched vocals for something entirely fresh and different for our town. It’s new, and it’s important. Keep an eye out for the next show.
Best New Lineup: Blackrune. Paul Goerner is no longer alone and hot damn, is it good. With a full band surrounding him, Blackrune’s dark, fuzz core is fully realized, immersive, and bone-rattling, and you might want to bring earplugs because, you know, they rock out.
Best Overall Show: Captured! By Robots at The Jinx. You had to be there. If you haven’t seen it before, C!BR is JBOT, a man who was tired of performing with unreliable humans and decided to make a robot band. The robots revolted, enslaved him, and have been playing ever since. Though C!BR has made its way to the Jinx several times, this was my first time catching the show, and it was everything I could have hoped for—outlandish and wildly over-the-top, with JBOT’s intestines hanging out and the robots slinging insults at him and his audience. Plus, getting to be right up front and watch the ‘bots shred was an experience in and of itself for any music lover or engineer.
Here’s to a stellar 2013, the already-promising lineups of 2014, and the many shows to be announced!