Local Rhythms – Don’t Be Such A Spud

activitytv.jpgI may never leave the house again.

Late last week, Comcast completed a promised upgrade to their On Demand television system. Customers with digital set-top boxes now have twice as many reasons to stay on the couch. Movie selection has doubled – I counted over 190 free films, though some, like “Sahara” and “You Can’t Take It With You,” are so old they’re practically in the public domain.

The IFC offering is more cutting-edge, with brand-new indie films that open on TV and theaters on the same day. But these movies will cost you $5.95 each, though like all pay-per-view content, they can be watched for up to 24 hours.

It’s not all good. The on demand music is overstuffed with Beyonce, 50 Cent and Ne-Yo, and doesn’t excite me much. It may be hip-hop nation, but I live in a classic rock county. Some other new stuff is just silly, like On-Demand Dating, which has 30-second video ads from lonely men and women. Try E-Harmony, kids.

Move beyond that, however, and there’s a bevy of programming that may get you out of your chair. Activity TV, found on the Kids menu, offers lessons in juggling, puppet making, cooking and origami. This programming is also available on the activitytv.tv web site.

On Sports, there’s an exercise channel with lots of 10-minute workouts, as well as the youthful SportSkool, which features how-to demonstrations in snowboarding and skiing (there’s a nifty little Bode Miller profile), along with baseball, soccer and skateboarding lessons from pros like Mia Hamm and Dontrelle Willis.

On the Music menu, aspiring axe players can take guitar lessons. Star with the basics, move on to Barre chords (I didn’t know it was spelled that way either), and then apply your newfound knowledge to classics like “Pride and Joy” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

If you’d rather sing than play, the music channel also has Karaoke TV. The song selection, with a bit of country, rock and pop, is a more diverse than the music videos. Don McLean’s “American Pie” was a regular family experience, with my wife and daughter joining in on the chorus, and laughing heartily at me as I tried to follow the bouncing lyric ball. There’s everything from “More Than A Feeling” to “Baby’s Got Back.”

It’s a great way to watch television without being a couch potato. If you’d rather go out on the town, however, here are some choices:

Thursday: Tim Harrison, Middle Earth – This Canadian folksinger reminds me a lot of fellow countryman Gordon Lightfoot. They both cover much of the same territory in their songs: the great and unforgiving wilderness, small quiet country towns, and geese – lots of geese. Harrison has won the attention of some of music’s more discerning ears, among them Daniel Lanois, who’s worked with Dylan and U2 (and produced Harrison’s last album).

Friday: Last Kid Picked, Electra This Newport band recently celebrated 10 years together; tonight, they head to West Lebanon. Give the litigious climate in the music business lately, I wonder if they’ll be looking over their shoulders when they play “It’s A Long Way To the Top?” AC/DC, after all, was one of the plaintiffs in that recently Vail nightclub suit.

Saturday: Hexerei & Transcent, Imperial Lounge – Music lives on Washington Street, despite the flight of Bistro Nouveau to greener pastures. Hexerei is very close to releasing their third album; Transcent’s combination of passion and technical proficiency so impressed me recently, I managed to garble their lead singer’s name in my review. For the record, it’s Mike Boucher.

Sunday: Spookie Daly Pride, Pickle Barrel – A raucous four-piece band from Boston that combines elements of hip-hop with loose, fun rock and roll. They remind me of Oingo Boingo before the movie soundtracks, or a caffeinated Squirrel Nut Zippers. For a clue of how ubiquitous they are, they’ve opened for everyone from Bela Fleck to Busta Rhymes.

Monday: Bob Weir & Ratdog, Capitol Center – The Grateful Dead side project that evolved into a full-time gig for Weir, though long-time bassist Rob Wasserman is gone (the two still play as a duo every now and then). With classic Dead songs like “Throwing Stones” and “Truckin’” combined with solo gems – “Cassidy,” “Mexicali Blues” and “Playing in the Band,” to name but a few – this should be a fine show.

Tuesday: Longford Row, Salt hill Pub – The members of this Burlington-based Irish trio, led by Gerry Feenan of Trinity, bartered tickets to the Saw Doctors’ Lebanon Opera House show in exchange for their services tonight. With any lucky, they’ll be able to serenade the objects of their adoration later. The band stopped by for a pint or two the last time they were in town. This set marks the resumption of the much-loved weekly Irish Sessions, though the next one will begin earlier.

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.