Breaking down the year’s best local sets, part one

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Veteran indie rock trio Yo La Tengo (including guitarist Ira Kaplan pictured) played two radically different sets in its appearance at the Jefferson in January. Image: Tom Daley Veteran indie rock trio Yo La Tengo (including guitarist Ira Kaplan pictured) played two radically different sets in its appearance at the Jefferson in January. Image: Tom Daley

The year got off to an exciting start with an appearance by indie rock royalty Yo La Tengo at the Jefferson on January 24. The band served as its own opening act, playing a dozen acoustic songs, before taking a short break and returning with a full set of louder rock material. During the show, Yo La Tengo inter-

spersed songs from the brand-new Fade album with classics and obscurities from throughout its 30-year career. The highlight was an epic, fuzzed-out medley of “Nothing to Hide,” “Sugarcube,” and the cover of “Little Honda,” which brought the set to a close before an encore of garage covers by The Faces, The Fugs, and The Troggs.

Another low-key rock legend made an appearance in town weeks later, when Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi appeared with his new group, The Evens. By D.C. punk standards, the set was extremely relaxed, while still entertaining and excellent. MacKaye’s music has aged as well as his ethos, and Random Row Bookstore was a perfect setting for the February 2 show. Charlottesville lost not only a good bookstore, but also a good music venue and a resource for the art community, when Random Row closed its doors in June.

Mountains returned to Charlottesville on February 18, playing a loud set of ambient drone music that pushed the boundaries of the tiny PA at the Tea Bazaar. Though its songs are formidably dense, they also contain great subtlety and gently overlapping textures. With a minimal stage presence, its music is as wonderful live as it is on recordings.

On March 4, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore came through town with his new quartet, Chelsea Light Moving. Though the crowd at the Southern was unaccountably thin, the group put on a great set, interspersing songs from its debut full-length with cuts from Moore’s solo records. Moore, at 55, is seemingly the oldest teenager in the world, juxtaposing self-consciously dumb classic rock energy with legitimately compelling avant-garde noise-rock riffs, and he’s worth seeing live under any circumstances. I caught half of the duo again much later in the year, collaborating with Merzbow during a surprise festival appearance, and it was equally as excellent.

Daniel Bachman, the guitarist ingénue from Fredericksburg, may have relocated to Chapel Hill, but he still managed to appear in Charlottesville in April and in November at the Tea Bazaar. Bachman is an ambitious and fleet-fingered instrumentalist, following in the footsteps of John Fahey and Jack Rose, and his work seems to improve measurably with each appearance, and we can rest assured his constant touring schedule will bring him back to town soon enough.

Brooklyn band The Men have had big success after cranking out a solid series of albums over the past few years, regularly playing 100-plus capacity venues, but the group made an exception for the Tea Bazaar on May 27. Though its albums are increasingly inflected with Neil Young-derived alt-country, its live set remains a pummeling powerhouse of post-punk, and its frenetic enthusiasm hit the audience like a physical wave.

The opener for The Men was local group Nurse Beach, an artsy noise punk trio split between Richmond and Charlottesville, that doesn’t practice or perform regularly, so it’s worth making an effort to catch a performance. The band also appeared at the Tea Bazaar in August, paired with like-minded local noisemakers Great Dads, which was consistently great, and consistently surprising, in 2013.

Originally a duo of Invisible Hand guitarist Adam Smith and virtuoso drummer Steve Snider, the Dads’ lineup distorted and expanded in weird ways with each appearance, sometimes including as many as eight members. The Dads’ framework is a loose half-hour set of experimental art rock songs that take a different direction with each show—sometimes stripping down to raw, energetic punk songs, sometimes favoring a loose psychedelic assault—and on one occasion devoting the majority of its set to a cover of the Soft Machine’s maddeningly repetitive anthem, “We Did it Again.” Whether at the Tea Bazaar or in living rooms, Great Dads’ shows are always challenging and rewarding.

The Dads appeared at the McGuffey Art Center on April 12 with Chicago-based ambient noise guitarist David Daniell and Blacksburg’s old-time group, The Black Twig Pickers as part of the Tom Tom Founders Festival. The event was something of a send-off for reliable local concert booker Matt Northrup, who moved away that weekend (and also performed with Great Dads that night).

The Black Twigs have been around for almost a decade, often sharing members with experimental groups like Pelt and Spiral Joy Band. Washboard and Banjo player Nathan Bowles struck out on a solo career this year, earning him critical acclaim and respect in the world of open-minded independent music. He appeared in Charlottesville several times this year, and is a keen musician, and a kind soul who is always a pleasure to see.

Glenn Jones is another musician who blends musical styles; he returned to Charlottesville in July, sitting on the small Tea Bazaar stage, playing original guitar and banjo compositions, and telling stories to the small audience as he re-tuned. Jones shared stories about growing up in New Jersey, about life on the road, and about caring for his dying mother, and he remains a vital and engaging performer.

For part two of Feedback’s favorite music of 2013, see next week’s paper.

What was your favorite concert in 2013?

 

 

 

 

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