Charleston Noise

“Punk Rock 9 to 5”-Atomic Peasant and Jay Parade at the World Famous Empty Glass, Friday June 29 

There was no shortage of live music choices Friday night in the city of our forgotten lord Charleston, West Virginia. By the time I got to the World Famous Empty Glass for a two-pronged punk rock extravaganza featuring Ravenswood’s Atomic Peasant and Charleston’s Jay Parade, the sun had long since turned the day into night whilst somehow managing to leave the muggy heat behind. No worries though. It was apparent by last call that both these bands for all their differences thrived on an ethos of sweat, raw talent, and an almost pure unadulterated belief in themselves.  But especially sweat. They relished in it to spite themselves, or maybe to purify.

It wasn’t long after my discreet arrival that I sat myself down at the bar and tried to hide among the patrons when I was suddenly introduced to Nathan Miller, rhythm guitarist for Atomic Peasant. He’s an affable guy in his late 30’s who exudes a natural gift for conversation. Nathan came off like he either never met a stranger or the guy from Atomic Peasant most willing to speak with me. He could have lost a coin toss for all I know. It was my first assignment.

Either way, pretty soon we’re talking about all the things that come with keeping your dreams afloat with at least one foot planted firmly in reality: the mortgages, the wives, the kids, the full-time 40+ hour jobs. As much as I’d love to play working class hero, our initial conversation is cut short as he’s pulled to the stage to join his bandmates in Atomic Peasant for what I can only describe as a swift kick to the teeth. I was immediately hooked on the mix of melodic shout-along fist-pumping choruses with classic hardcore riffage in between to keep the toes tapping (and the heads banging.) Their songs “Basements” and “Crooked Smile” are both available on Spotify for download and I suggest you do that now as your friend and humble servant. Paul Lumley (bass/vocals) described the former as an ode to everyone who ever somehow had  given up on the transformative power of punk rock itself. He and guitarist/vocalist Chris Randolph traded off songs with an intensity I assume akin to playing with a gun pointed straight at your head. This was true, passionate rock n roll from guys who have lived it. Pure and simple.

Nathan tells me the next day over the phone while the other guys are up to “something,” kayaking he thinks, that three out of the four members of Atomic Peasant are veterans, and this is their hobby he says. Hobby. I only use the word because he did. He went on to clarify that “some people join motorcycle clubs, we play music.” Fair enough, although I admit I have a hard time reconciling this attitude with what I had thought was one of the best and most intense live sets I’ve seen from any band, punk or otherwise, in Charleston in some time. Then it clicks as we start talking about mortgages again, families, work, rent. The panic of the day-to-day grind and the escape that music offers. But only it’s not really an escape, at least it doesn’t feel that trivial to me. It feels free, if only for a fleeting moment. And at the end of the day we all do need something or someone to believe in, which reminds me the last thing Nathan said to me before was ended our talk: “Always believe what you are singing about on a personal level no matter what. That’s what it’s all about.” As simple but as complicated as a nine to five. And then we hung up. I could still see the sweat dripping off Paul and Chris, shouting to the heavens with both feet planted firmly on the floor. I actually can’t think of anything more punk rock than that.

 

So how does one follow Atomic Peasant, you may ask? Well, Charleston’s Jay Parade were more than happy to melt a few faces doing just that. The band is a three piece who somehow manage to seamlessly go from third wave ska to hardcore to pop-punk and back again in the length of a set, or sometimes a song, as you can witness on their awesome new EP “Crying Over Spilt Coffee,” available for download through their bandcamp and various streaming services such as Spotify. Give it the old college try, you will not be disappointed. Jay Parade is all about musical experimentation within the collaborative songwriting efforts of Josh Connelly (bass/vocals) and Dave Gunnoe (guitars/vocal).  Jay Parade rounds out their pop-punk trio with Johnathan Shank on drums. Josh tells me over a post-show phone call that the genre-hopping isn’t an accident. He and Dave Gunnoe take turns trading off on the songwriting duties in an almost 50/50 split but are encouraging Johnathan to get in on the fun as well.

Depending on how Jay Parade starts their set (or whether you play their new EP on shuffle) they could be described as that pop-punk band, or that third wave ska band, but whatever you start out pigeonholing Jay Parade as, just give it a verse and they will seamlessly prove you, the listener, wrong. Jay Parade may have its influences, but they are the band that they will themselves to be. Josh tells me that he and Dave Gunnoe love deconstructing the various motifs and styles of rock music and building them back up to make a different whole, and they manage to do so in a way that never loses sight of the song itself or looks down on its audience. They are an extremely smart, yet completely genuine band whose charm shines through not only on their new EP, but even more so if you’re lucky enough to catch them live. If their eclectic set doesn’t bring a smile to your face and get your tired bones shaking, you may want to consult a physician. Josh Connelly and and Dave Gunnnoe are a songwriting team not to be slept on and drummer Johnathan Shank provides much more than an ample foundation for the sonic experimentation that is Jay Parade.

Speaking of being lucky enough to catch Jay Parade live, they will be back in Charleston on August 28th at The Bakery as part of one of two benefit shows coming up for The Bakery, the other being hosted by downtown’s  The Blue Parrot. You can download both Jay Parade’s newest EP “Crying Over Spilt Coffee” and Atomic Peasant’s single “Basements” now.

 

This is Steve Wandling, signing off. DON”T FORGET TO MAKE SOME NOISE!!!

7/5/2018

 

 

06/30/18 Jeffrey Thomasson Group/Astrochimp/Kerry Hughes 

The Bakery

 

Many of us wish that we could have another life, be someone or something else, or occupy some other identity. A human life only affords us so much time to do this. The structures and institutions that we create often offer more opportunities for reinvention than we do ourselves. So it is with the Bakery. In a world of disposable buildings occupied for a decade or two before being bulldozed, the Bakery is an entity from another age. Having served for years as the industrial home of Purity Bread, the building sat neglected for years. While stories like this often end with the wrecking ball, the Bakery managed to rise from the ashes, finding its new identity as the home of CMAC, or the Charleston Music and Arts Collective.

 

Institutions are born to serve needs. In its previous life, the Bakery made bread to fill store shelves because people wanted their bellies filled. In its new incarnation, the Bakery is also serving a need. The city of Charleston has, for many years, lacked a general-purpose performance space. While Charleston had a number of great bars, a civic center, an auditorium, and the Clay Center, nowhere could crowds spanning a dozen to a few hundred see a show. There was no place a young person could go to see a real band perform or play a debut show with his or her own band. Charleston needed an all-ages space with plenty of room. The problem remained that no one makes a fortune from a project like this; people who operate such places do it because it’s fun, valuable, and needed. A nonprofit venue, the Bakery meets that demand.

 

What are all-ages shows at a nonprofit like? Bars are fine places to see live music, but they ultimately exist to make a profit. To do that, bars must sell you drinks. Kids cannot drink, which means bars don’t care about them. All of that is fine for what it is. However, a nonprofit like the Bakery doesn’t need to sell you drinks in order to stay in business. As a result, shows can start relatively early, before people start drinking heavily. All of this said, you can still buy a beer at most larger Bakery shows.

 

All-ages means that kids are welcome to come, even to shows that don’t target their demographic. Obviously, not all events will draw a younger crowd. Chairs are set out in front of the Bakery’s stage for some shows, and simple concessions are sold.

 

Most importantly to me, all-ages crowds, regardless of their demographic make-up, mostly comprise people who are there specifically to see a band. These crowds tend to be enthusiastic, well-mannered, and attentive. In essence, if you love music and want to see a band perform, the Bakery is the place to do it. The focus of the Bakery is the show, not the booze.

 

The Jeffrey Thomasson Group

 

A lot of people hate jazz. It’s easy to see why when pop music programs people’s brains to expect a certain structure of music. Jazz sometimes explodes that. Fundamentally improvisational songs may bend and change shape from show to show or even during a performance. Many modern listeners are required to expand their minds to be able to properly listen to jazz, and not everyone wants to put forth that effort.

 

The now hoary beast known as jazz fusion began in the late ‘60s around some of the middle work of jazz legend Miles Davis. Fusion never really fulfilled its initial promise of a new beginning jazz that combined the muscularity of rock music with the intricate rhythmic sensibility of jazz. It did, however, inspire a great deal of well-loved music.

 

The Jeffrey Thomasson Group is reminiscent of the best of the jazz fusion lot. Despite opening its set by declaring that its members don’t play many shows, the band proved tight and well-synced. The Jeffrey Thomasson Group manages to stay on the good side of the line partitioning the sad and bloated corpse of cool jazz from the world of decent music. The little touches of prog in the sound are enough leaven to turn the whole loaf into something with a little grit. The band would appeal to fans of the jammy sensibilities of a group like moe., but also to admirers of the sheening and complex music of Steely Dan. The Jeffrey Thomasson Group keeps the energy high and the smiles beaming. Its members’ magnetic verve and enthusiasm leave no doubt that they are having a great time playing music.

 

Astro Chimp

 

Astro Chimp is a great band to pair with the Jeffrey Thomasson Group. Both offer the same formula: guitar, bass, and drums performed with substantial improvisational flair. However, the ways the pieces are combined are very different. While the Jeffrey Thomasson Group pivots and moves around the lead guitar, Astro Chimp is a three-headed beast. Two members of the latter tend to handle the rhythm, while the third indulges in gleeful melodic tangents. In contrast to the Jeffrey Thomasson Group’s jazz, Astro Chimp’s sound has a solid foundation in blues-infused rock, giving the group a broad pallet of music and influences from which to draw.

 

Astro Chimp immediately makes one think of three-pieces such as the Police, Primus, and Cream. Unlike those acts, however, Astro Chimp is mostly instrumental. The band performed only two songs that featured vocals during its set, one a cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” with Kerry Hughes on vocals, and another with the bassist singing.

 

Astro Chimp’s set covered a fair bit of ground, from highs to lows. Well-paced and satisfying, they left the crowd shouting for more.

 

Kerry Hughes

 

There are noticeable bits of Billy Bragg and Wreckless Eric in the solo acoustic folk of Kerry Hughes, while his phrasing and vocal delivery strongly evoke a Billie Joe Armstrong-Julian Casablancas hybrid.

 

Hughes’ songs are mostly about his life and experiences, offering a few covers that fit comfortably alongside those selections. His rendition of Albert Hammond Jr.’s “In Transit” was especially memorable. Hughes’s ‘90s punk sensibility fit nicely with the stripped-down solo acoustic accompaniment, his vocals shifting between earnest and ironically flat.

 

As a solo acoustic performer, Hughes was quite a departure from the heavy band dynamics found in the evening’s other two acts. While some venues might not offer a bill that diverse, it’s no shock at the Bakery. Each performance left the audience enthusiastic and satisfied. Additionally, everything wrapped up by 9:30, allowing those with early bedtimes to go home content and those who wanted to stay out to reach other shows just starting.

 

The Bakery is located on Bigley Avenue close to downtown and the interstate, making the early evening schedule ideal for anyone attending.

 

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