Rocking the Moose

transcent2small.jpgYou didn’t have to love heavy metal to appreciate the floor-shaking sounds emanating from Claremont’s Moose Lodge last Sunday. The all-day, eight-band concert was impressive for reasons that had nothing to do with music.

The show drew over 200 customers despite losing its headliner earlier in the week. Show promoters (and local Claremont band) Hexerei quickly enlisted their friends Suicide City, a group they’d toured with last year. They agreed to come up from New Jersey to replace Bobaflex, who’d had to cancel due to a band emergency, and plans didn’t miss a step.

In the so-called hardcore music community (or post-core, or metal-core, or post-grunge; it’s inclusive, but with many names), such challenges are common. A DIY spirit, however, always pervades.

For all the pain, suffering and nihilism running through a lot of their songs – Suicide City’s “F**k Your Dreams” was one good example – this is a very optimistic crowd. It’s reminiscent of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” movies, only with more black eyeliner, metal studs and body piercing.

It’s also much, much louder.

These kids may feel shortchanged by their leaders and cheated out of the opportunities their parents had, but they believe in the power of music to transform their lives. They do so in spite of the fact that few will ever succeed enough to make a full-time job of it, and those that do will probably continue to struggle anyway. Adversity feeds their dream that music will prevail.

This attitude helps explain the almost visceral response that greeted Transcent’s performance Sunday. The Newport band made their first public appearance since losing bassist Justin “Buzzy” Brown to a heroin overdose last July. A huge crowd swarmed around them as they surged through a mix of originals and covers with precision and unrelenting speed, particularly on a version of White Zombie’s “Thunder Kiss ’65.”

Their emotional set hit a high point with “Truth Serum,” which lead singer Mike Boucher dedicated – “to Buzzy, he’s always with us.” The song exemplified the primary musical hurdle confronting those hoping to follow the path of hyperkinetic bands like Pantera, Slayer and Slipknot – the need for a good rhythm section.

Fortunately, drummer Brian Couitt played ferociously, and in time. The talented band followed him capably on a song with plenty of complex tempo and progression changes.

It was powerful moment, and an inspirational set.

Other bands didn’t fare as well, relying on speed and passion when a little control and rehearsal time would have helped more. Stare Fall played like the house band on a runaway train, with Sam Kinison on lead vocals. Of course, to many in Sunday’s audience, that’s a compliment. A City Divide performed solidly, but occasionally let the song run away from them.

The hip-hop duo LoKei was totally out of place, a situation exacerbated by a late arrival (they were supposed to open the show), which forced them to play while Transcent set up their equipment. Regardless, the notion of two lily-white Keene kids rapping about bling, bitches and mean streets is, to put it mildly, a bit dubious.

One of Hexerei’s biggest assets as a band is its discipline. To the untrained (non-fan) eye, what they do onstage may seem like unalloyed rage, fueled by guitar noise and two screaming singers. But the band rehearses several hours a week with militaristic regularity. Their show Sunday featured selections from a forthcoming album, and they also played a few older ones. “We’ll do ‘I’ because this guy asked for it,” said lead singer Travis Pfenning, pointing to a happy fan.

Suicide City followed Hexerei (no easy task) with a short but potent set, during which every band member stayed in constant motion. It was almost exhausting to watch. At one point lead singer Karl Bernholtz was literally bouncing off the walls of the stage, a turbo-charged cross between Marilyn Manson and the Tasmanian Devil.

Several times during the show, the center of the floor opened up for a version of dancing currently in fashion, an anarchistic crowd-shoving match that resembled a street fight without punches. It was mostly harmless, though one young man ran to the bathroom with a bloody nose during Hexerei’s set.

Many adults barely know this scene exists; its members may sleep in the houses and apartments of Newport, Claremont, Charlestown and Springfield, but they congregate in MySpace, communicate via text message and let loose in clubs like Chester’s Underground, Lebanon’s Electra and now at Claremont’s Moose Lodge.

They believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in a world of their own creation, populated by bands and fans.

They have each other, and they have their music.

That’s all they need.


Local Rhythms – Watching Our Children Grow With Music

citydivide.jpgLast Thursday night, I attended my 11-year old daughter’s winter music recital at Claremont Middle School. She’s the second of my children to participate in the band program; Meghan plays clarinet, her brother played trumpet.

Typically, I prepare for these nights by reminding myself that the performances are about the joy of music, not technical perfection. I hope to come away proud, if not entertained.

The first hint that I was wrong came when the sixth grade band counted down, kicking off their opening number in perfect time. Each player was poised, watching director Seth Moore with unwavering eyes.

They sounded great, not a bleat or squawk slipping from a single instrument. As they worked through their five songs, I kept reminding myself that they’d been playing as a unit for less than four months, and that vacation had ended barely a week earlier.

The string orchestra took their turn in the spotlight with equally remarkable results. The chorus tackled a challenging arrangement with character and aplomb; the combined 7th and 8th grade band then stepped up to show the underclassmen what they might sound like in a year or two.

If these kids are this good now, I thought, they’ll be world-beaters come high school.

There’s been lots of talk in the recent past about the importance of building up student athletics with feeder programs, and much community pride at the current competitiveness of the Stevens football team. The same logic holds for music; the difference is that for the past several years, a well-oiled machine has been producing ribbons, plaques and trophies for the school.

Their reputation extends beyond New Hampshire’s borders. The value of student music programs, it should be pointed out, extends well beyond high school. Most student athletes stop playing competitively after graduation. Music can last much longer.

On the Friday after the middle school concert, I attended a rock show at the Moose Lodge. I was much impressed by the talents of A City Divide, a local group with at least one Stevens band alumni who, as a result of his studies, can play the trombone.

He also learned theory, structure and how to read sheet music – not to mention how to sit still, pay attention and know the cues. Three years later, he’s still using those skills. What other talents are on display this weekend?

Thursday: The Anarchist Orchestra, Middle Earth Music Hall – This ad hoc ensemble features Tao Rodriquez and Jacob Silver (Mammals) and standout fiddler (though her Berklee professors prefer “violin”) Laura Cortese. The result is greater than the sum of its parts, with rustic overtones and silver-plated harmonies. The sinister “Pretty Polly,” however, is Morphine meets Woody Guthrie. Get it while you can, as these fine players will surely be returning to their regular bands soon.

Friday: Sol Y Canto, Vermont Academy – Their name means “Sun and Song,” and they’ll be bringing southern rhythms up to Saxtons River. That’ll end the cold snap for a few hours. Sol Y Canto’s music features rich harmonies out in front, with a gorgeous tapestry of percussive sounds underneath. Led by the Brian and Rosi Amador on guitar and vocals respecitively, the ensemble also features musicians from Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico and Argentina.

Saturday: Al Alessi with the JOSA Ensemble – Newport Opera House – There’s been some confusion about this show. It’s not Al’s regular band, but a group of musicians he worked with at last December’s “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” set. “This is for people who’ve wanted to dance at JOSA” says Bill Wightman, who leads the band and plays piano. Expect Cole Porter, Sinatra, Latin rhythms and a few blues numbers – a more robust version of their First Friday Sophie & Zeke’s appearances.

Sunday: Lucy Kaplansky, Four Corners Grill – Good news for acoustic music fans – the Flying Goose Concert series is back from hiatus. The lineup’s still being fleshed out – John Gorka plays in a few weeks – but this singer/songwriter is a good start. Kaplansky is known for her work with Cry, Cry, Cry and several excellent solo albums. She’s also a go-to vocalist for plenty of other artists. Kaplansky’s new record is due out March 6, so fans should expect some new material.

Wednesday: Eilen Jewell, Iron Horse – Jewell (first name pronounced EE-lin) is generating a lot of buzz in Boston folk circles for last year’s “Boundary County,” as well as her incendiary live shows. Jewell’s crack band trades licks with the conviction of the “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”-era Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At last summer’s Green River Festival, they played the second stage and earned not one, but two encores. Promoter Jim Olsen heard from more than a few fans who felt they belonged on the main stage.