Thre’s no such thing as “Knoxville music.” Or there’s no one single thing that defines what Knoxville music is, anyway.
Just consider the city’s kaleidoscopic musical heritage: East Tennessee natives Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, and Dolly Parton started their careers here; Samarai Celestial, long-time drummer for jazz iconoclast Sun Ra, lived his last few years in Knoxville; internationally acclaimed jazz pianist and composer Donald Brown has lived and taught here for more than 20 years; Mary Costa, the voice of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, grew up here; so did Clifford Curry, who had an R&B hit with “She Shot a Hole in My Soul” in 1967; Ida Cox, “The Uncrowned Queen of the Blues,” died in East Knoxville.
And then there’s Knoxville’s rock history, running from ’60s and ’70s pioneers like the Loved Ones, the Forever People, Rich Mountain Sound, the Amazing Rhythm Aces, and the still-running Lonesome Coyotes to right now, when there are more bands playing more kinds of music in more local venues than ever before. It’s enough to make you dizzy.
It’s that diversity that makes Knoxville’s music culture so special. On any given weekend night, you can find almost anything you want, from jazz and classical music to cover bands, singer/songwriters, original indie rock, and unclassifiable experimental sonic doodling. You can see music in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, warehouses, theaters, and arenas, or even catch impromptu al fresco performances on Market Square. Some of it is transcendent, some of it is terrible, much of it is very good. All of it makes Knoxville a better place.
So whether you’ve been paying attention all along or want a quick crash course in the last two decades of local music (and to mark 20 years of music coverage in Metro Pulse), we’re offering an epic one-night extravaganza of awesomeness starring some of the finest musical talent anyone could ever hope to find in one medium-sized metropolitan area: 20Fest.
That’s more than 40 bands at eight venues all over downtown and in the Old City, more than 40 cumulative hours of music, and decades of collective music-making experience. It all starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19. We’ve selected a broad range of performers for the event to represent the local scene’s vitality and depth—some of the bands MP has covered from its start in 1991, young artists who are shaping the future, country, punk, rock ’n’ roll, pop, electronic music, even a group that plays music from the Renaissance. The laws of physics will keep any one person from hearing it all, but a little bit of planning and a little bit of chance will lead you toward just the right combination of greatest hits and unexpected thrills.
And all for just $10. That’s right, $10 gets you unfettered access to all of 20Fest—and the proceeds will go directly to one of the city’s best musical causes, the Joy of Music School, which provides free music instruction to underprivileged children. Your admission pays for the future of Knoxville music.
So check out the following list of 20Fest performers and venues, then come on down on Friday night, wander around, visit your old favorites, and then take a chance on something you’ve never heard before. Come hear all the things that make Knoxville music what it is.
The following is an alphabetical list of all the bands playing 20Fest. For a schedule listed by venue, go here.
90 Proof • 12:15 a.m.
Knoxville’s American Plague turned 10 this year, and it’s been a long decade, one that’s seen the band morph from a four-piece to a three-piece and back again more than once; from hellbent punks to proto-metallists drunk on classic rawk to a more accessible post-alt, post-grunge outfit—now with Ryan “Tater” Johnson of local major label success story 10 Years on second guitar.
But the core of the Plague has long been the powerhouse drumming of Todd Bryant, the agile bass and motor mouth of the diminutive Dave Dammit, and explosive rhythms, super-charged Chuck Berry-isms, and weather-worn Danzig-esque vocals of singer/guitarist James “Jaw” Alexander. And what’s held them together this long, more than any particular stylistic notion, is sheer perseverance and a road-warrior mentality that even the 1980s’ most enduring hardcore outfits would envy.
The Plague are currently playing and touring on the strength of the single “Leviathan,” recorded with producers Mike Watts and Steve Haigler, of Pixies, Fuel, and Clutch fame. A full album should eventually be released from the “Leviathan” sessions. (Mike Gibson)
Morelock Music • 7 p.m.
One of Knoxville’s—and my—favorite bands was the Kat Brock-fronted Dixie Dirt, known for its jagged guitars and operatic songs that plunged listeners through emotional extremes. As a solo artist, playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by the brilliant Simon Lynn on drums, Brock is much more subdued. It’s tempting to use the boring cliché “mature” to describe her music. What Brock has always been great at is conveying the inexplicable, usually contradictory, emotions that life brings—joy, anger, regret, lust, fear—as they clash together. Now a mother, many of those more chaotic emotions have settled, but the joy of being alive rings through. As she explained to me last year, “I noticed my songs turned more tender, more heartfelt.” (Joe Tarr)
The Square Room • 10:50 p.m.
On their second album, Danced With the Devil, released earlier this year, Taylor Brown and Company expand on the straightforward folk-rock of 2009’s Coal Road Sunset with ambitious, elaborate songs that comment on the big picture—war and the economy—but also turn inward to focus on the intimate and personal. The big production sweeps from acoustic ballads to grand, epic rockers—part Ryan Adams, part Coldplay—but it is all anchored by Brown’s gruff, world-weary baritone. (Matthew Everett)
Preservation Pub • 11 p.m.
Knoxville postpunk quartet Cold Hands is in the strange position of being a very popular band that rarely plays music. When the band’s electrifying frontman, Henry Gibson, signed on as bassist for Royal Bangs (perhaps the most commercially successful band to emerge from Knoxville), the future of Cold Hands looked uncertain. But after getting burned out on the international touring grind, Gibson opted to bow out, instead focusing on his own education—and the sort-of reformation of his old band. Cold Hands have since returned to the stage for occasional one-off performances, much to the delight of local diehards who remain faithful to the band’s energetic dance-rock—and in the meantime, Gibson and company have been preparing material for a possible new album. The band’s performance at 20Fest, all things considered, might be considered a rebirth, a formal reintroduction, or maybe both. (Ryan Reed)
Pilot Light • 9 p.m.
Last year, synth-pop duo Damaged Patients provided visuals and music for the Knoxville Horror Film Festival. It was a match made in heaven (or perhaps hell)—Ben Tramer and Jennifer Toland’s gothic electro-pop would be the perfect soundtrack to any creepy B slasher. Their excellent debut album, What No One Sees, is full of synth bleeps, electronic gurgles, and dusty beats, with Toland’s femme fatale vocals and melodic focus keeping things afloat. And their presentation—images of close-up eyeballs and lips (“Un Chien Andalou,” anyone?)—is just as likely to give you the willies. As mysterious as they are hypnotic, Damaged Patients cast a spell not easily shaken. (R.R.)
The Dirty Knees
Preservation Pub • 8 p.m.
All-female punk trio Dirty Knees makes music perfectly (un)crafted for a sweaty, tightly crammed venue—which is fitting since they’ve opened for bands like No Age at Pilot Light. It’s clear that Maggie Brannon (bass/vocals), Elizabeth Wright (guitar/vocals), and Laura Rogers (drums/vocals) and their hard-hitting, filthily recorded tunes have plenty of attitude—“We totally kick ass,” reads one excerpt from their MySpace bio—but luckily, they have the musical gusto to back it up. Tracks like the Black Lips-ish “White Wolf” demonstrate their m.o. perfectly: gang shouts, out-of-tune electric guitar clang, pawn-shop trap kit on the verge of collapsing on itself. It’s the sound of an all-chick biker gang punching you in the gut and stealing your wallet. (R.R.)
Pilot Light • 1:20 a.m.
Wesley Wyrick, who performs as Dolphyn Rydyr and American Panda and formerly played in the jammy space-rock band Blasticus SS Blastica, is part of a young wave of local musicians exploring a trippy, soulful, and psychedelic kind of electronic music. (M.E.)
Latitude 35 • 11:15 p.m.
Blount County’s finest exemplars of old honky-tonk values (beer, heartache, and barrooms) mixed up covers and original songs on their debut album, Smashed Hits, from 2010. If you don’t already know the classics on that disc (“Tiger by the Tail,” “Me and Jesus”), you might not be able to pick them out from Jeff Barbra and Mike McGill’s handful of original songs, written and performed in true Bakersfield style. Nothing illustrates the band’s down-home bona fides better than their late-night performance at the Bijou Theatre during the 2010 Rhythm N’ Blooms festival—after the bar shut down at 11 p.m., the Uncles shared beer from their cooler with the audience. (M.E.)
Pilot Light • midnight
Genius or charlatan? Ostentatiously original or staggeringly stoopid? Self-consciously faux b-boys or wannabe wiggas? Whatever they’re up to, these guys are on their own trip, unlike anything else you’ll hear in this town, or probably any other. Improvised beats, syrup-slowed vocals, marginally offensive lyrics, and murky mixing are the tools they use to create a picture of their Dirty/Druggy/Dummy South. You won’t even need the killer weed that presumably fueled the recording of their debut cassette, Royal Blunts, to get on board—the group’s live show will take you there. And don’t sleep on their hot Internet videos. At a time when most everything you can think of has been done with music, why not this? Warning: If you generally enjoy what most folks consider “Knoxville music” (or really, what most people consider “music”), you will probably hate this, and it may upset your aesthetic or even philosophical sensibilities. Come hear it anyway, and imagine the look on their parents’ faces when they first heard it. (Eric Dawson)
Preservation Pub • 1 a.m.
Sort of rising from the ashes of local hard rockers 1220 (guitarist Nick Kurtz, bassist Michael Cover, and drummer Bill Van Vleet played together in that band, now on a lengthy indefinite hiatus), Earth Quaker opts for smashing, stomping brute force on its first CD, High Times in Early Life, a 40-minute headbanging rush of ’70s-style classic rock. (M.E.)
The Crown & Goose • 10:50 p.m.
Singer/songwriter John T. Baker has been a fixture in the Knoxville music scene for many years, bringing his brand of sturdy, melodic pop to a variety of bands, including the French Broads and Westside Daredevils. For his most recent outfit, Econopop, Baker’s vision was to craft tunes that were stripped-down and economical (get it?)—pure pop removed from any hint of excess or over-playing. The songs are far from expansive—Baker’s acoustic strumming is the foundation of most tracks, rounded off by tasteful contributions from guitarist George Middlebrooks, bassist Bo Ratliff, and drummer Gray Comer (who plays a kit built from only a bass drum, snare, and cymbal). There’s a lot to be said for Baker’s strict focus; tracks like the striking 2010 demo “Baby’s Second Head” demonstrate the band’s straightforward powers, with three-part harmonies gently unfolding over a three-chord chorus. Even the guitar solo is careful not to overstay its welcome. (R.R.)
Four Leaf Peat
Morelock Music • 9 p.m.
Knoxville’s foremost purveyors of traditional Irish music are also its strictest—the four members of Four Leaf Peat (Chad Beauchaine, Gil Draper, Rick Hall, and Jason Herrera) play traditional Irish folk tunes on traditional Irish instruments (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, hammer dulcimer, bodhran) in a traditional style (i.e., like neither the Pogues or Celtic Thunder). (M.E.)
The Gentleman Conspiracy
Latitude 35 • 12:20 A.m.
This rising four-piece finds the sweet spot between spastic and funky on its new EP, Volcano Attack, a brightly colored, five-track postpunk/power-pop confection recorded with guests from the Hotshot Freight Train, Plainclothes Tracy, the KVillains, and other local bands. (M.E.)
Latitude 35 • 9:15 p.m.
During the late ’90s and early ’00s, the Ghosts were a dark hot-rod ride through the American subconscious, steered by wild frontman Brett Winston, who seemed to find equal inspiration from the Cramps, Link Wray, Blue Velvet, Captain Beefheart, and Tom Waits. They’re back for one more spin. (M.E.)
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria • 10:15 p.m.
West Tennessee transplant and ex-V-Roy Mic Harrison has gradually been shifting back toward his roots since a surprising turn in the early ’00s lineup of Superdrag. On a string of three albums recorded with his backup band, the High Score, Harrison has hit the sweet spot between Southern rock, honky-tonk, and power pop—freight-train rhythms, twangy guitar leads, and stories about blue-collar jobs, hard times, and the booze that helps you forget both of them. (M.E.)
Preservation Pub • 10 p.m.
Back in the mid-1980s, a little college rock band hereabouts named the Judybats signed a deal with Sire Records and became the first local outfit to “make it” in the music business that anyone who was still paying attention could remember. And while every member of the group was a talent in his or her own right—and good songwriter or instrumentalist—it was the singer and chief haircut who stood out, a slight fellow with a brooding charisma who liked to tease his blonde locks into architecturally odd shapes, as was often the fashion with ’80s postpunkers and new wavers. But Heiskell was different from most. He was a flawless singer, for one thing. And a talented songwriter, with an uncompromising vision—maybe too uncompromising, at times. And the brooding, it wasn’t just an act, a rock star affectation—he really was a young man with a lot on his mind. And sometimes he didn’t play well with others.
The Judybats had a four-album run on Sire, then went their separate ways. Heiskell lightened up over the ensuing years. The florid haircut was reduced to a flat, workman-like ’do. He hasn’t recorded for a major label again, but he’s kept busy with a continuing stream of musical projects, including a 21st-century reboot of the Judybats, and then his most recent work—a pair of solo albums, Clip-On Nose Ring and Soundtrack for an Aneurysm. And though there’s much less brooding involved, as the album titles would seem to suggest, the songwriting and vocal chops are still very much intact. (M.G.)
The Crown & Goose • 8 p.m.
Knoxville quartet Hey OK Fantastic have one of the sillier band names you’re likely to hear. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make good music. The songs on their self-titled debut are slightly lo-fi and totally catchy, filled with acoustic strums and left-field detours. Alex Minard’s vocals are an acquired taste, but also a savory one. He’s self-consciously goofy and overwhelmingly soulful on tracks like the sturdy rocker “Judith Mogo,” and that balance between the silly and the soothing is what makes the band so fascinating. (R.R.)
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria • 11:45 p.m.
With their bracing power-chord anthems and bittersweet country ballads, this long-running alt-country band channels genre pioneers Uncle Tupelo, but the Hotshot Freight Train also reaches back to a more distant past with its pulpy, Southern Gothic tales of good and evil. (M.E.)
The Square Room • 6:50 p.m.
Hudson K sometimes includes more musicians than two, but it’s always Christina Horn, a striking figure on keyboards and vocals, and versatile hipster Nate Barrett on drums. Self-described as “eccentric antipop piano rock,” Hudson K plays a mixture of interestingly warped pop classics and sharply provocative originals; sometimes melancholic, sometimes appealingly demonic, they’re what you might expect if electric instruments and rock ’n’ roll had evolved in the decadent cabarets of the Weimar Republic. But what’s arresting is the persona of Horn herself, who can seem dangerous on stage. She’s been compared to Tori Amos and PJ Harvey, but her voice may make you reach further back, to Kate Bush or middle-period Marianne Faithfull. (Watch the band’s arresting video “Fade” on YouTube.) (Jack Neely)
Latitude 35 • 10:15 p.m.
Good ol’ boy J.C. Haun and his band of honky-tonk revivalists balance the down-home charms of classic honky-tonk with the sharp show-biz acumen of Nashville’s ’60s golden age—check out their inspired selection of outlaw anthems and barroom ballads, original songs and covers, but also notice Haun’s natty getup and the band’s understated chops. This is country music by professionals. (M.E.)
Morelock Music • 10 p.m.
The Johnson Swingtet, a loose confederation of musicians based around the core trio of Eugene Johnson, Leo Johnson, and Steve Karla, finds common ground between the Euro jazz grooves of Django Reinhardt, New Orleans hot jazz, Western swing, and various other strands of pre-World War II popular music. The many configurations of the band—which, on any given night, might include trumpet, harmonica, and cello in addition to a more standard string-band lineup—favors a nostalgic mood of swinging nightclub sophistication over period authenticity. But that mood can be transporting. (M.E.)
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria • 9 p.m.
John Paul Keith may not live in Knoxville anymore, but the Jefferson County native gets a pass for 20Fest—he was a founding Viceroy, after all. After some years of wandering, both geographically and aesthetically, Keith has settled in Memphis, where he turns out a particular kind of rock ’n’ roll that draws on the lost age that fell between Elvis’ enlistment in the Army and the British Invasion—Southern-fried, countryfied, soul-drenched party music built for juke joints instead of jukeboxes. (His pitch-perfect latest album, released in June, is called The Man That Time Forgot.) (M.E.)
The Square Room • 7:50 p.m.
Knoxville Early Music Project is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, too—that means two decades of music from the Baroque period, the Renaissance, and even earlier. The expertly trained six-member group performs period music on period instruments, ranging from sort of exotic—harpsichord, lute, viola da gamba—to the downright obscure—theorbo, crumhorns—and the group’s music reflects just as wide a range, from sacred songs to folk tunes and dance music. (M.E.)
Preservation Pub • 9 p.m.
Since their arrival in Knoxville a decade ago, Tim and Susan Lee have made themselves such a central part of the local music scene that it’s hard to remember how anything ever got done before they moved here. In addition to Tim’s three early-’00s solo albums, they have released two full studio albums as the Tim Lee 3, including 2010’s blistering double-disc Raucous Americanus. Between studio projects and live performances, they have played with almost everyone in Knoxville who has ever picked up an instrument. (They’ll be backing former Judybats leader Jeff Heiskell immediately following their own set at 20Fest.) It’s not just good deeds that have won them a place in Knoxville, though—the TL3’s classic, heavy-hitting rock ’n’ roll will remind you of everything from Mott the Hoople to Dream Syndicate and Tim’s ’80s stint in power-pop cult heroes the Windbreakers. (M.E.)
Latitude 35 • 7:15 p.m.
The LoneTones play what seems at first to be very traditional music—folk tunes with guitar and banjo and mandolin and sparkling harmonies. But when you parse the songs, you see just what a wide range of influences they draw on, from the strictly traditional (like bluegrass, country, and old-time mountain music) to the less so (’90s alternative pop, California folk) for an entirely individual brand of folk-pop. (M.E.)
Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria • 8 p.m.
Knoxville native and Boston resident Daniel Miller is celebrating the release of his new self-titled solo album, a collection of moody, reverb-drenched folk- and country-rock. (M.E.)
Pilot Light • 9:50 p.m.
Nobody in Knoxville makes music quite like Travis Gray, the purveyor of Mito Band, and also the art director for this fine publication. I have a hard time fitting him in the Knoxville music lexicon, and so does he: “I don’t think anybody going to see Todd Steed or R.B. Morris would be able to enjoy this at all,” he says. His music, inspired more by commercial jingles and children’s TV shows than garage or country bands, is geared to entertain and poke fun. Like a devious third-grader, his lyrics are mocking, funny, and, every once in a while, vulnerable. He insists that his music doesn’t really have much to do with Knoxville, “except that I live here and sometimes the songs are about people who happen to live here.” I disagree. What’s great about Knoxville is it gives people the space to create, be different, and take chances. He reflects a jaded, playful mindset that is uniquely Knoxvillian. And as this is a Knoxville music fest, you should go see something completely different that your city has produced. (J.T.)
Morelock Music • 8 p.m.
Matt Morelock, old-time music entrepreneur and master banjo enthusiast, can be found in any number of local music combinations, from a banjo/fiddle set with the Hackensaw Boys’ Ferd Moyse on a recent First Friday at WDVX to the Maid Rite String Band and the Bearded and, when Virginia resident Phil Pollard visits, in his Band of Humans. You really never know what you’re going to get. (M.E.)
Latitude 35 • 8:15 p.m.
Myers’ career began way back in the 1950s, when he and a group of classmates electrified the audience at their elementary school talent contest with the Clovers’ “Don’t You Know I Love You.” In high school, he hooked up with Clifford Curry in the Five Pennies, then spent the next couple of decades working his way through the highest levels of the music industry, recording for Motown and performing at the Apollo Theater. In the early ’80s Myers settled back in Knoxville and retired from the business, but he’s been back at it for the last few years, this time tempering his old-fashioned R&B with a little bit of country and gospel. (M.E.)
The Square Room • 9:50 p.m.
Think of Stewart Pack as Knoxville’s Diddy (if you’re a Sean Combs fan, that is), inasmuch as he is responsible for foisting upon the local listening public some of the best music and yet the silliest musical monikers (Pegclimber, Dinky Doo) of the last 20 years. From his days as mad axe-wielding leader of the early ’90s postpunk power trio the 1-900s to his ultratuneful latter-day solo releases, Pack has always been a consummate pop craftsman, as well as one of the few legitimate gonzo guitar heroes for the post-indie-rock generation. (M.G.)
90 proof • 10:15 p.m.
Fusing ’80s alt-rock, Goth, and industrial with the ’90s stoner scene and a bracing dose of metal, Pegasi 51 pulses with a neo-retro energy that’s somehow unshakably familiar and yet wholly uncategorizable at the same time. Led by the exquisite and oft-processed Peter Murphy-like crooning of frontman Rusty Yarnell, Pegasi has produced a handful of rock-solid local releases, but make for an even better live act, supercharging local stages with molten electronics, post-apocalyptic guitar heaviness, and a strobe-like intensity that never lets up. (M.G.)
Pick Up the Snake
90 proof • 9:15 p.m.
This veteran bone-crushing, head-splitting stoner rock combo has been churning out downtuned hesher anthems for years. RIYL: St. Vitus, bongs, bandanas, Marshall stacks. (M.E.)
The Crown & Goose • 8:50 p.m.
Plainclothes Tracy frontwoman Kym Hawkins sings with a fetching mixture of sweetness, sensitivity, and venturesome curiosity. Some of the effect owes to the pleasing lilt of her girlish croon, and some to the actual words she sings, and the way she teases extra meaning and innuendo from those words with her careful stutters and pregnant phrasing.
Knowing that, you’d expect her band, Plainclothes Tracy, to play, perhaps, some worthy brand of mid-tempo “chick-rock.” But you’d be wrong. Instead, Tracy backs up Hawkins with a dual-guitar assault that’s the envy of many metal bands (three guitars, when Kim picks up her own axe). They support their able vocalist with loud, sometimes complex webs of guitar noise, making for a sound that can be clangorous and powerful—think of Radiohead’s angrier live moments, but with more melody—as well as sensitive and strummy. This is chick-rock any guy can appreciate. (M.G.)
Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet
The Square Room • 6 p.m.
Jack Rentfro fits no categories. In fact, calling the sometime-journalist’s show “music” is dancing around the issue. Despite his years, long ago, as a bassist for a reggae band, what Rentfro does now is deadpan performance art borrowing from a Beat idiom: He tells provocative, unsettling, and often beer-spewingly hilarious stories over the inspired backing of some of Knoxville’s finest musicians, assembled in a jazz/blues band like no other. Imagine, if you will, William Jennings Bryan on heroin fronting the Art Ensemble of Chicago, doing kaleidoscopic impressions of Jack Kerouac, Steven Wright, and Cormac McCarthy, sometimes with the assist of a megaphone stolen from Rudy Vallee. Okay. Never mind. Perhaps a Rentfro show, like the Koran, can only be approximated in English words. (J.N.)
Preservation Pub • midnight
“That’s good; I just need a little chaos.” So says an intruding voice during the intro to “Attached at the Hip,” the silly electro-pop-indie-folk opener from Senryu’s 2010 EP of the same name. For over a decade now, songwriter Wil Wright and his merry gang of sonic troublemakers have specialized in chaos of the highest order. And they’re as prolific as they are strange—in 2010 alone, they released a full-length, two EPs, and a schizoid dance remix album, all currently available for free at bandcamp.senryu.com. But writing off Wright’s joyous eclecticism as mere tomfoolery would be a sin—underneath all the goofy layers, these songs (like the haunting “Great Expectations,” from their upcoming album, Half Wild) carry a level of deft musicianship and melodic prowess that separates them from their peers. (R.R.)
The Square Room • 8:50 p.m.
In the very first Metro Pulse story about Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes, on Sept. 30, 1991, Todd Steed (reportedly) made a bold pronouncement: “Fame doesn’t interest Smokin’ Dave because we’re not willing to play the game.” That’s an easy claim to make if you’re not actually invited to play in the first place, but Smokin’ Dave was the great woulda-shoulda band of Knoxville music history—the one that had the popularity, the early success, and the tunes to be picked up by a major label. But in the course of avoiding that fate, Smokin’ Dave (consisting of bassist Dave Nichols, drummer Doug Meech, and songwriter/guitarist Steed) blazed a new trail in Knoxville music: They were the rock band that made it okay to stay here and play. Previously, the first goal of most “serious” local musicians was to get the hell out of town and move to a “real” music city. But Steed and the boys decided that Knoxville was good enough for them, and in the process helped germinate a true Knoxville music scene. It’s a philosophy that Steed has never really wavered from in the nearly 20 years since the disbandment of Smokin’ Dave. With groups like Apelife, Opposable Thumbs, and his current Suns of Phere (with Nichols and drummer Jeff Bills), he has forged a Knoxville sound of his own: witty, rockin’, always honest. Unpretentious, because pretensions are to be mocked. Garage rock with a sense of humor—and a real shot of soul if you listen closely to those lyrics.
No matter the musical trends of the day—and Knoxville has seen many generations of them—the Todd Steed sound is the one I’ll always identify with our fair city. (Coury Turczyn)
90 proof • 11:15 p.m.
They weren’t the first, nor even necessarily the best of Knoxville’s late-’70s, early-’80s punk and hardcore bands, but they embodied the rebellious, and sometimes bilious, spirit of that music and that scene perhaps better than any of the outfits that came out of the era. Led by a yowling coffeehouse poet named Rus Harper and the delinquent energy of bassist John “Swifty” Sewell, Teenage Love tore off jagged shards of hardcore and hurled them with a wanton, desperate savagery—(mis)guided missiles that ripped through audiences, inspiring frenzies of mosh and random acts of violence.
Like cockroaches, Teenage Love survived the holocaust, regrouping 20-some-odd years later. Harper’s serpentine figure is more twisted than ever as he screeches death and lust from the lip of the stage, his raven hair now streaked with grey; but there’s more than the hint of a smile on his face now, as if it all might be a put-on, or some kind of inside joke.
Swifty is still Swifty, though. The longtime Metro Pulse contributor has the same relentless stage energy; he even still looks too young to get into the venue he’s playing, well into middle age. It’s nice to know some things never change. (M.G.)
The Square Room • 11:50 p.m.
For the foreseeable future, the members of the Theorizt are going to have to deal with the fact that performing hip-hop with a live band is the first thing people are going to mention about them. That’s a shame, though, because the group transcends novelty on its Sword Bearer mixtape, an inventive, imaginative, and fully formed introduction to the group, which features veteran rapper and spoken-word artist Black Atticus, Jarius Bush, and a crack musical and production team. (M.E.)
The Crown & Goose • 9:50 p.m.
For the most part, Knoxville bands are not what you’d call sexy. And while sex appeal is not necessary for great rock ’n’ roll—witness our abundance of not-so-pretty bands—it’s nevertheless one of the elements synonymous with the genre. Ever since Elvis Presley discovered the power of his pelvis on the Louisiana Hayride, there have been rock ’n’ roll sex symbols. Speaking as an objective observer, I must say that Brian Waldschlager is probably the sexiest performer Knoxville has ever seen (or ever will). I don’t want to embarrass the guy, but c’mon—if you saw him circa the early ’90s fronting the Dirtclods on a sweaty night in the Snakesnatch Lodge, it was immediately apparent why the group had so many female fans. Yes, his gritty rockabilly singing is perfect for the style of Southern roots rock he’s been known for in bands like Boogie Disease, Shinola/Five Bucks, and the Brooklyn Cowboys. (Note: How many Knoxville musicians ever got their band bio written by the infamous Stanley Booth? Brian’s it!) And yes, his songwriting talents are perfectly clear on solo releases like Chemistry and Waldschlager, revealing strong storytelling chops and a natural talent for hooks. But he can work a stage like nobody else, making you feel the raw energy of every song. Brian Waldschlager: Knoxville’s one and only rock god. (C.T.)
90 proof • 8:30 p.m.
Lightning-fast guitar solos; pummeling, Iron Maiden-esque intensity; Dungeons & Dragons-style artwork—the members of Warband like to kick their metal old-school. Just listen to the jaw-dropping “The Last Motherf--er.” Now try to wipe that devil-child growl off your face. It’s everything these guys do well—dig Josh Wright’s nuclear bomb bassline, Carey Balch’s counter-rhythm kit assault, and Wes Caylor’s proggy guitar leads, alternating between artful harmonizing and face-melting riffs. They whip up such an epic racket, it’s hard to believe you’re listening to the work of a trio. It’s fairly safe to assume no one will be bringing more thunder at 20Fest, so come prepared for some heavy weather. (R.R.)
The Crown & Goose • 11:50 p.m.
As trends have come and gone on both the national and local rock scenes there are increasingly few reminders of Knoxville’s former status as an epicenter for smart guitar pop, which made the Westside Daredevils’ re-emergence late last year all the more significant. Though personal and personnel tumult sidelined the band shortly after the release of their third album, 2008’s Brave New Nothing, lead guitarist Gray Comer finally opted to end their search for a drummer by taking up the sticks himself and handing over his previous duties to Econopop bandmate and Knoxville rock journeyman John T. Baker. The shift has solidified the band while maintaining their distinctive three-guitar frontline, which along with Jeff Caudill and Brett Cassidy’s harmonies offers an intricate continuation of the work of power-pop torchbearers like fellow Tennesseans Big Star and Superdrag. Now in their 12th year, the band will soon begin work on its next, as-yet-untitled album. (Nick Huinker)
Pilot Light • 10:40 p.m.
In a town where every musician who’s been around a few years seems to have been in at least a half-dozen bands and played with at least a dozen people (seriously, connect the dots between just the bands playing Friday night), almost any Knoxville band might be considered a kind of supergroup. As local underground supergroups go, though, White Gregg’s a pretty good one. Jason Boardman and Eric Lee from Dark Logik and Double Muslims (among other groups) join Damion Huntoon and Tyler Mucklow from Woman (among other groups) in creating a dynamic, kinetic racket for Maggie Brannon of Daddy Don’t, Dirty Knees, and Divorce (among other groups) to lay skittery, anxiety-ridden vocals over. Postpunk, no wave, Beefheart and whatever U.S. Maple and Storm and Stress were (sort-of-but-not-really math rock) are all reference points, sometimes all within one song. The music can get tricky, and the band does love to count, but at base what you have is a strong, old-fashioned rock band—five people who got together in a room with guitars, drums, and vocals to try to challenge and entertain themselves, and once every couple of months crawl out of the basement to try to challenge and entertain us. (E.D.)