Friday, May 23, 2014

Show Hopping - Arts Walk, TMPTSP, Aaron Burgess, The Framers

Saturday May 10 turned out to be quite the packed day and evening for local entertainment in Hampton Roads.  I was barely able to walk from the car to  my front door when it was over, but the exhaustion was well worth the sights and sounds that our eclectic and musical community has to offer.

I began the day by participating in the inaugural 2nd Saturday Downtown Hampton and Phoebus Arts Walk. The idea of this monthly homegrown event is for shoppes and restaurants across downtown and Phoebus to host visual artists to create their art in front of a public audience, accompanied by the backdrop of musical buskers.  The public is free to walk around and enjoy a wide variety of artistic styles and music. Jason Helmintoller and I took our acoustic guitar and bass down to Settlers Landing Road, plopped on the corner in front of The Virginia Store, and strummed away for the cars passing by in classic Outer Loop style.  After a couple hours of little walking traffic and no audience, we strolled around a bit to find other buskers, including the sweet Ukulele sounds of Leah Hart in front of the Hampton History Museum. Shortly thereafter we made our way to Phoebus to see how their section of the Arts Walk was coming along.  Unfortunately the sudden mini-monsoon (including popcorn sized and bouncing hail) rained out most of the remainder of the afternoon.  This 2nd Saturday event has a ton of potential, and hopefully the word will spread that this happens once every month for art and music lovers in the area.  The Next Arts Walk is June 14.  Check it out!

Photo by Joe Atkinson

After dinner, Sister Freshy and I rolled out for an evening of show hopping.  There were way too many great shows happening that night to choose from and I wish we could have been to all of them, but we did manage to make it to three, which were all extremely entertaining in their own rights.

Around 9pm we pulled up with perfect timing to Roger's Sports Pub in Chesapeake to find members of The Phillip Michael Thomas Search Party dressing, prepping, and passing whiskey in the parking lot.  This was a reunion show for the Search Party and although I am still fuzzy on the details, I understand their last show was held at the infamous RAT WARD in Phoebus back in the early 2000's.  What I do know is that they are comprised of the members of the excellent Hampton based noise-core/not really metal band Human Services, plus about 4 - 6 other members including the always entertaining and out-of-his-mind shock-rocker Josh Hickey (AKA Sterilization).  Many of the members were dressed in creepy intricate costumes including a guitarist on stilts, a devil, a sweet dominatrix, lots of masks, and pantyhose over a head (to name a few).  The sounds that were coming from the stage included at least three percussionists pounding away steadily plus a metal barrel that was passed/thrown around for banging on, a few guitarists, some toy bell sets, a violinist, a few screamers including Josh with a megaphone, and again, I have undoubtedly missed an instrument or four. The music and action seemed to be entirely improvisation, and there was so much going on visually and musically that there was not a dull moment during the 35 minute set.  Before the chaos began, I heard an over-macho'd bouncer make the comment "Oh, they are just a bunch of kids, you know ... expressing themselves."  Little did he know that he would soon be escorting Josh out of the establishment for stripping down to his boxers, simulating self-pleasure and then leaning over and spreading his butt cheeks wide open for all to see. The video footage below will be the best way to get an idea of what went down, because my words on this performance just aren't cutting it!  The next Phillip Michael Thomas Search Party show will be held in Phoebus in the year 2024.

The tale of Josh's Butt Parts (a hilarious must-see)

About 10 minutes of shaky footage I took

Next, we made our way to Norfolk Taphouse for "An Intimate Evening with  Aaron Burgess" This is the front man for Boneske, and from what we'd heard this would be a variety/talk show sort of thing.  Knowing Aaron we were both curious and weren't sure exactly what to expect.  We walked in and the doorman asked for "five dollars to watch Aaron shave."  We looked up on stage and sure enough, Aaron was looking into a mirror held up by a friend, shaving his beard down into a nice fat child-molester style mustache.  Also on stage were a couch and a love seat, a turntable, and a laptop.  For most of the hour or so that we stayed Burgess switched between DJing off-kilter music while he stared the crowd down ("Manhole" by Men's Recovery Project was an especially good one for this) and rambling about whatever unsettling thoughts may have been on his mind.  Part of the genius of this persona both at this event and in Boneske is that I am often confused as to whether he is joking around or not.  I am fairly certain he was trying his best to get a rise out of some Navy guys at the bar by pushing the issue of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and then launching into a story about how his gay marriage to a foreigner who wanted to move to America didn't work out.  In a different venue, Burgess may have been beat to a pulp.  The uncomfortable air in the room that he creates is as comedic as it gets for me.  The content itself is not necessarily hilarious and could be taken as truly offensive, but this is what we paid five dollars for and although I wasn't always laughing out loud I was bursting into tears on the inside.  Before we left we got to see a few minutes of Aaron's improv rap, which is kind of terrible but somehow brilliantly impressive, and then a special guest solo appearance by Will Huberdeau of Honorary Girl, singing a few songs with an acoustic guitar (always a pleasure to hear Will's pining goofball songs).  The show was well worth the time, drive, and money, and I'm glad to hear that Aaron plans to do this regularly at Norfolk Taphouse.

An Intimate Evening with Aaron Burgess

Finally, we made our way downtown Norfolk to catch The Framers' set at FM Backstage (formerly Jewish Mother Backstage, formerly Kelly's Backstage Tavern, formerly Backstage Cafe, and now the FM stands for "Food and Music").  I had not been in FM since it changed owners and name.  This is a great room for a show and The Framers played a somewhat rowdier and more energetic set than some other shows of theirs I'd seen.  I'm not sure if it was the room and the energy feeding from the stomping twirling dancing crowd, or if Scruggs and Howland had consumed just the right amount of booze, but the good times were surely on! Maria held down the bass solid and steady and glowed especially heavenly that evening in addition to her usual natural and fashionable beauty (this photo has not been altered!!).

Photo by Kelly Earl Tousignant

Unfortunately we missed the opening set by Janks but their accordionist Daniel Neale was running sound and did a fantastic job.  That being said, I was surprised to see that there was no house sound system installed as there had been in previous carnations of the restaurant.  The stage is set up so nice and the numerous racks of light make for a professional and legitimate aura about the room.  I am all too familiar with setting up a PA on stage and running up and down beside the band to tweak the sound as Neale did.  There is no shame in that at all.  But a room with the caliber and potential of FM could and should really do better.  My two cents to FM: Invest in a dedicated house soundboard and system , and make this room stand up to other true rock clubs of legendary status!

Check out the music!
Phillip Michael Thomas Search Party:
Aaron Burgess: No solo stuff but here's Boneske:
The Framers:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Album Review: Mourning Sicness by SICMaN of Virginia

My first experience with SICMaN of VA was on a Sunday afternoon in early 2011.  They were one of the first bands to appear on the long-running podcast YourMusicShow and were performing an experimental acoustic set in the kitchen with an upright bass, guitar, and synth. Magic happened that afternoon and I was immediately drawn to their trippy yet heavy punkish sound, somewhat silly lyrics (“You in your sweatpants, your sweatpants of love …”) and their likeness to Ween, probably my favorite band of all time.  I went home and scrolled through iTunes to buy their brand new sophomore release, Sweatpants and other Necessary Nonsense, and It quickly became standard rotation in my library. I’ve been hooked on the SICMaN catalog ever since.

On May 20, SICMaN releases their fourth, and in my opinion best collection of songs to date, Mourning Sicness. Yes, some of the songs still contain dark humor and absurdities, and the heavy jamming SICMaN sound is definitely still intact.  But the songwriting and playing have matured in a way I can’t quite place and the album seems more cohesive than previous efforts.  The trio’s third release, Stale as it Ever Was was pure fun and jumped back and forth between genres often, as this record does as well.  But all the songs on “Mourning Sicness” hold a footprint of a raw yet textured sound that is sustained throughout the album.

The opening track, "Charles From the Raven," is a pure gold hard rocker that truly sets the energy for what is to come. It is also a one of the four tracks on the album that features Ween’s bassist Dave Dreiwitz as a guest.  Singer/Guitarist Matt Holloman had this to say about the securing the guest experience:

“We contacted Dave about 10 years ago about doing some bass tracks for us. We were without a bassist at the time. We kept in contact and it finally panned out he was gonna be in the area performing with Marco Beneventos trio. I met him at the venue, drove him to studio J, did the 4 tracks, and then drove him back to the venue all in about a 2.5 hour time frame. He had never heard the songs until the car ride over from Virginia Beach to Ocean View. He for some reason took a liking to us. He agreed to do a show in New Hope with us a few months later with his duo, and that turned into Ween without Gener. The rest they say is history....”

The rawness continues with the second track “Decapitated” and begins to hint at the heavy intricate textures contained on the rest of the album. Cue up trippy layers of synths and wailing guitar solos suitable for both head banging or kicking back with your smoking buddies.

Speaking of wailing, I’d be amiss to not mention Holloman’s explosive guitar chops.  When SICMaN plays live, they enjoy extending their songs to jam, sometimes up to ten minutes or more per song.  These extended jams don’t happen on their albums, but the track “Big Brown Eye” is a perfect example of what you will hear and see when you see SICMaN live in their longer jamming mode.  And, I have to wonder what Holloman sounds SO happy about when he exclaims “It’s a BIG BROWN EYE!!”

Among many other songs, SICMaN’s master bassist Scott Griffin gets to a chance to shine on the relatively mellow “Spaceship (15 to 5 Blues)” which took me back to Smashing Pumpkins Pisces Escariot era with its slow yet heavy and textured vibe.

"Bleu Cheese" is another track that features Dreiwitz and is probably the most reminiscent of Ween on this album. The likeness is undeniable both musically and vocally.   It is a genius beautiful song in its own right while also serving as an honorable nod to one of SICMaN's greatest influences.  This track, along with two others, features a second guest, Tim McDonald on keyboard.  Drummer Joe Welch had this to say about McDonald:

“I met Tim about 12 years ago when I recorded Russell Scarborough's album called "Russell Scarborough presents Tim McDonald", and I recorded his solo Jazz album soon after as well.  And when we finished the 1st SICMaN album we asked if he would put some keys down for us, cuz he dug our stuff. At the time he said he was going to move to Nashville one day and become a country musician, which he eventually did.  We've stayed in touch ever since, but for this album we sent him the tracks and had him put the keys down at a studio in Nashville and send the key tracks back to us to put in the mix.”

The other two McDonald/Drewitz guest tracks, “Madness of Life” and “Bianca Y Lobo”  are nice sing-a-long style tunes with a slightly different vibe that gets very rocking but in a folksy way that stays just heavy enough to be SICMaN.  I would reservedly compare the tracks to The Grateful Dead when the extended instrumentals get extremely textured.

My favorite track on the album, "Gagagoogoo," is a definite pleaser and is probably the most accessible on the album. At first I heard Sonic Youth, then The Pixies, then just a touch of Ween, and before I realized, it had turned into a dance track interspersed with the breakdown with the manipulated struggling shouted vocals “It all feels the same!”

As with other SICMaN albums, Mourning Sicness was recorded and mixed by Welch at his attic recording space, Studio J.  The album was nearly a year and a half in the making but not without good reason.  Welch stays busy recording other hot local acts. He produced the award winning Sunlight Fever by The Framers and is currently recording Broken Mouth Annie’s new album.  And the kicker: About halfway through the recording of their own record, Welch’s wife Rachel became pregnant with their first son, Joseph Jr.  I can only assume that the track “Hey Joey” is a fun and playful childlike tribute to their newborn, and the album title itself almost had to have popped up as an indisputably appropriate play on unfortunate mother-to-be symptoms.

I could go on and on about Mourning Sicness, and SICMaN, for many pages, but I think that Justin Wilson of YourMusicShow summed up this album perfectly with three words:  “It’s essential SICMaN.”  And with that I urge you get yourself a copy of Mourning Sicness and rock out in your own SIC way.

Mourning Sicness will be released on May 20 and is available for pre-order at

The CD Release show will take place Friday May 30 at Belmont House of Smoke in Norfolk, with special guest RIO.

Much more info and music at

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Cemetery Boys, Uglyography, and Frood

Uglyography's first show at Norfolk Taphouse this year went down April 26.  Before beginning, The Cemetery Boys' stage setup set the mood for what was too come.  There were too many skulls, skeletons, and other spooky decorations to count.  Edgar Von Graves picked up his bass and Lurch sat down behind the drums, both donning black ski masks to cover their true identities.  The duo plays mostly hard and fast songs with horror-themed and often grotesque content.  I can say with confidence, and I believe many local musicians and fans would agree with me, that Von Graves has achieved the best and fattest bass tone in all of Hampton Roads.  If I was blind and not in the know, I'd believe it if someone told me The Cemetery Boys had a guitarist.  Von Graves' pedals blend fat bottom end with crisp high end distortion and other effects as needed for each song.  The set ended with two much lighter covers which somehow fit in surprisingly well with the darker theme of the band: "How Soon is Now" by The Smiths and "Here in My Car" by Robert Numan.  It was quite a bouncy end and the crowd loved it.  These boys are fun to watch and they play out in the area nearly every weekend it seems, so if you are into scary stuff you need to look for them.

Photo by Seamus McGrann

Uglyography's set went very well from what I could tell on stage (we could hear ourselves loud and clear, thanks so much to the sound guy whose name I've unfortunately forgotten).  We had some in-time hand claps from the crowd and sold two of our fabulous Unicorn themed tee-shirts, so I take that as a success.

Photo by Jenny Lynn Sumner

We booked the final act for the evening, Frood, based solely on what we heard on their bandcamp page.  We had a feeling that their poppy quirky style would fit perfect with Uglyography and we were correct.  Their facebook description consists of two words: "Unapologetically Pop."  I don't need an apology ... The four piece outfit consists of keys, guitar, bass, and drums, and employs luscious three to four part harmonies often.  Lots of the music sounded Beatle-esque, but I would draw the strongest comparison to the Philadelphia-based Dr. Dog.  Add some unexpected breakdowns and tempo changes, and possibly the most syncopated vocal melodies I've ever heard and there you have Frood.  It is beautiful music that  remains playful and gritty enough to be called Rock n Roll.  I look forward to seeing how this relatively new band will grow musically and how far they may take their craft.

Photo by Prima Annarina

Check out the music!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I've Got some Catchin' Up, I'm way behind!

Excuse the briefer than usual synopsis for each show.  Here's a rundown of all the silky sounding events I've attended or been involved with over the past couple of busy months!

The Fighting Jamesons with The Dahus and The Framers at The Norva – March 15

Following their recent Veer award for album of the year, The Framers scored their first full set at The Norva opening for the local favorites The Fighting Jamesons.  The Jamesons barely need an introduction: their upbeat Irish rock is always a crowd pleaser and these guys are staying busy and building their national following.  The Dahus seem to be on the same path.  I was employed at The Framers’ merch stand for the majority of the evening, right beside The Dahus’ merch stand, which was aflood with quite the impressive crowd of young enthusiastic attractive women battling over the available t-shirt designs and sizes remaining.  Their fans are die-hard, and from what I heard at The Norva that night The Dahus are die-hard about their music.  This was their first show with their new bassist and it made for a full energetic rounded sound for this promising band.  The Framers rocked the house as they are always known to do, and won a horde of new fans that wiped out their first run of CDs and a sizeable chunk of their t-shirts.  Happy times all around!

The Framers with Uglyography at Hell’s Kitchen – March 17

St. Patty’s Day at Hell’s Kitchen was a blast of a Monday evening, complete with forced dancing with random strangers and plenty of friendly love as always.

Uglyography with Sean Petersen at Hampton Taphouse – March 22

Our first performance with the new lineup in our home town went well.  The Taphouse stage is always fun to play on with it’s Hee-Haw-ish country store aura about it, and Pete Pitman is such a hospitable host that any band would be nuts to not want to play this room.  Following our set, Sean Petersen debuted on the Taphouse stage with two full sets of original jams.  This guy knows how to use a loop pedal and how to create a groove with several different instruments.  He sings, plays, sways, and does it all himself with a grin.  Sean will be back at Taphouse for a block party after-party this summer!

Hampton Heritage Day at Fort Monroe – April 12

For this first annual event intended to celebrate Native Cultures relative to our region, I was on sound duty and had a wide variety of acts to handle.  On stage, the day was filled with dancing, drumming, singing, storytelling, and much more family friendly entertainment.  Performers and brief review of each are listed below:

Akebuland Ensemble and the Sankofa Projects Remembrance Drummers – African drummers that are the real deal!  Got the morning started off to a shake.

Meherrin Nation – A small surviving tribe of Native Americans that has remained along the NC/VA Border, they played Host to this event, offering prayers, dancing, chants, and storytelling.

Bob Zentz and Jeanne McDougall – this duo provided a couple of sets of 17th Century English music on a variety of stringed and classical instruments.  It was my first time witnessing a Hurdy Gurdy played, and boy is that an amazing instrument.  I also enjoyed hearing the original words to the classic folk/Christmas tune “Greensleeves.”  It actually has a lot to do with the new year celebration!

Pat Vermillon – played the role of the real-life colonist Ann Burris and told stories from the settlers’ times.

Legacy of Weyanoke – A six-piece A Cappella group with percussion included, they sing spirituals representing African Heritage and traditions.   And yes, each of them has massive sets of pipes and together they produce a beautiful sound.

Ubuntu Dance Collective – A large group consisting of mostly grade-school aged girls, they performed traditional African dances and encouraged the audience to join and shake it!

Glory Dance Ministry – A smaller interpretive dance ensemble of young children, stories were told through dance on stage.

All in all it was an entertaining full day, and I anticipate that it will only grow larger next year!

Bill Jenkins at The Hampton History Museum – April 16

I ran sound for this Front Porch Music Series event on a Wednesday night, and having that perspective of the show will tell you a lot about Bill Jenkins and the Mountain Boys.  It doesn’t mean much to most audience members, but the band requested to use one single mic (not counting the one on the stand-up bass).  So, this one mic was used for all the vocals, all the instruments, and any foot stomping or clapping that came along with it.  I suppose there were six pickers on stage and they all just gathered around this mic and what you see and hear is what you get.  There were lots of really dim and gritty sad songs that were performed, but they were all so upbeat and happy sounding.  For instance, the hook to a song about the Titanic goes "It was sad (It was sad) when that great ship went down." The music had just the right amount of intimacy and emotion to entertain yet another standing room only house at The Hampton History Museum.

YourMusicShow Presents … Outta The Furnace, Hissy Fits, and Daycations at Olde Towne Tavern – April 18

YourMusicShow, hosted by Uglyography’s own drummer DJ Blake alongside Justin Wilson, have been spinning local music on their podcast for over 4 years now.  In addition to hosting bands in DJ’s kitchen on most Sundays for the podcast and producing a second hour long weekly podcast for WHRO’s AltRadio, they continue to sponsor and book shows at venues across Hampton Roads.  YMS Presents … returned to Phoebus’ tried and true Olde Towne Tavern to bring the local music scene back to Phoebus!  Unfortunately I missed Outta The Furnace, but I was lucky enough to catch their first show ever at a Chesapeake house party several months back.  They knew how to rock the bluesy gritty classic rock and have an accessible sound for anyone that likes guitar driven licks n chops with rough around the edges soul.  The second band of the evening, The Hissy Fits, brought an all female twist punk twist into my evening, and caught my attention with their Jawbreaker-esque breakdowns and Courtney Love style vocal attitude.  These girls are the tightest and rockingest all-female act I’ve seen thus far in Hampton Roads (that being said I know of at least two that I still have not seen live, so keep up the fierce competition, ladies!) The final punch in the gut for the evening was The Daycations, which brought in-your face punk to a level that I hear is bound for Nashville.  All the elements were there for catchy pop-punk rowdiness and I wish The Daycations best of luck carrying that on over to Nashville!  Another successful and well attended YMS event down and many more are coming your way!

The Framers at O’Connor Brewing Company – April 19

This was my first time at O’Connor, and although I am not a beer drinker, I witnessed the enjoyment of all kinds of good beverages that were brewed right in the tanks that were directly behind The Framers set up for this show.  And boy could you smell that beer a’brewing!  Of course, why wouldn’t you?  It was a nice industrial backdrop for the band, and they blew through two full sets including several covers and at least two new original songs that were debuted for the first time.  Excellent performance and excellent audience to completely fill the room! O’Connor hosts these events weekly on Saturdays at 4pm so be sure to check out their schedule of upcoming shows.

Live Transmission with Turncoat Syndicate at Norfolk Taphouse – April 19

I had been anticipating this performance for many months.  When drummer Adam Joline, told me he was ready to start playing music again and was starting a band, I could only assume it would be good based on his musical tastes and his supreme production work on Broken Mouth Annie’s album The Frustration King.  A couple months ago I found out that Bryan Lewis (The Gloom, Humanoids from the Deep) would be involved.  Having the most suave man in Ghent as your bands’ bassist is always a bonus. So yeah, although I had already had a long tiresome weekend I was stoked as I could be to see this brand new Norfolk outfit.  And they delivered stuff I really wasn’t expecting.  The set started off soft and melodic, with a pretty piano-based song.  The mood changed from pretty and melancholy to confused, possibly depressed, and then angry.  At the high point in the set, there was all kinds of noises, syncopation, discordant guitar slams, and then it rounded back out to something else completely different, the whole time the rhythm combo of Joline/Lewis syncing sleek and sly as they come.  I am generally an ADD audience member and these guys didn’t provide any opportunity for a lull in the interest of their set.  It all seemed to come and go so fast, and I think that is the unintended gimmick I fell for …  I really want (need) to hear it (see it) again so I can catch all the subtleties that truly made this set enticing.

The show opened with Turncoat Syndicate (formerly Gentleman Bastards) and this was my first time seeing this four-piece as well.  Many sounds from the 90’s were brought to mind.  For a moment I could have mistaken one song for Quicksand, and another for any number of grunge bands.  Modern Rock is such a generic term these days, and it doesn’t really make sense to me … however, I could hear these guys standing up next to all the heavier brands of radio rock I hear when I happen to flip through radio stations these days. They were definitely on their A-Game for this show and I see plenty of potential for these guys should they choose to run further with it.

Check out the performers:
Fighting Jamesons:
Meherrin Nation:
Ubuntu Dance Collective:
Bill Jenkins and the VA Mountain Boys:
Live Transmission: (New Music Coming Soon, hopefully!)