Music Crawl 2009 Wrap-Up

The Tenth Anniversary edition of the Columbia Free Times Music Crawl here in Columbia, South Carolina is in the history books, as the saying goes, and as usual there were plenty of good bands to be seen—so many this year, in fact, that even my own usual overabundance of options and overly optimistic plans proved too much to tackle. In the course of six hours, however, I still managed to see and hear seventeen of the Crawl’s thirty-two bands. Apologies to those not in the comments below, I’ll have to catch up with you soon elsewhere.

Here, then, are some thoughts on what I did get to crawl around and experience last night:

Hello Tomorrow—capable, emo-leaning alt-rock; the second band I’ve seen this year cover a Weezer song—that’s ‘classic’ rock for this generation, I suppose. One bone to pick, but it’s with their fans—If the large crowd of teens and parental units outside the fence were there to see this band, as I suspect they were, they could have at least clapped for them once or twice.

Calculator—a debut live listen for me with this relatively new local act; they play a sort of anti-math rock, all angles and jutting riffs like cliffs their herky-jerky stage antics threaten to send them over at any moment. More, please.

Loch Ness Johnny—As dependable as St. Patrick’s Day, this local Celtic rock band is an old favorite that warranted a quick peek. Heard their amped-up take on “Shady Grove” and another staple of their live sets, the Velvet Underground tune “Waiting For My Man.” As always, the group has excellent timing—playing to the back of a lot of heads turned toward the big screen TV in the thick of the Carolina-Georgia game, they managed to end songs at the same time as Gamecock touchdowns on the screen above them not once, but twice, making it appear as if the roar of the crowd was for them, not the game.

Junior Astronomers—One of the few out-of-town acts in this especially strong year for local talent in the Crawl, this Charlotte band poured out the energy on the outside stage at Art Bar. Bonus points for the fact that the long locks of the lead singer made him look like he could be the son of Root Doctors’ vocalist Walter Hemingway.

Sweet Vans—Prepared for this to be awful, I was pleasantly surprised at the sturdiness of the trio’s beats and rhymes, even if they were absurd to the point of causing the regular patrons of Rust to look on in bemused silence. One song, for example, paired the “Sanford & Son” theme song with a Mark Sanford-inspired refrain of “Ar-gen-tina…”

The Restoration—Forget what I said about playing covers at a showcase gig like this, the opening salvo of the Beatles “Come Together” was just what this sometimes delicate indie-folk outfit needed to jolt the football-fixated crowd at the Flying Saucer into paying attention.

Chris Compton—Caught a quick song and a half at the Mellow Mushroom from the Fossil Record singer, who must have incredible powers of concentration to play and sing like that with so many pizza dinners practically under his nose.

Marry A Thief—a stage beneath a wide open expanse of darkened sky was tailor made for Eric Skelton and Marry a Thief; Justin Register (throwing in some pointed, perfectly placed lead guitar fills) is the kind of guitarist who makes everyone around him sound great, too.

Sheem One—Though I’ve lost faith in a lot of modern hip-hop, the ones who attempt it with a live band have my respect and admiration. Sheem One brought the musical entourage, at least a half-dozen band members including three backup singers who treated the crowd to a mini-medley of Motown over which Sheem One proceeded to egg on both the band and the audience.

Haley Dreis—Despite the near-perfect pop of her debut CD, it was almost a relief to see and hear that in person, Dreis acts every bit of her nineteen years of age, giving shout-outs to her mom and talking about “boys.” Also noteworthy is that she can pull off the songs from that debut nearly as well live, without the trappings of a big production budget.

Magnetic Flowers—despite a sound mix and technical glitches that were often horrendous, this set under the stars provided all the proof needed that this band’s not only a great barroom listen, they’re stadium ready, complete with moves like singer/guitarist Jared Pyritz standing on the bass drum and waving to the far reaches of the crowd in the surrounding parking lot.

The Unawares—This set boasted the best sound of the night, in service of this trio’s barely restrained garage-pop anthems. Another band that’s much better live than on disc, which is saying something in this case.

Black Bottom Biscuits—The full-band lineup of the Biscuits gives them the kind of room to roam that they’ve always hinted they needed, and for a half hour they proceeded to ride roughshod over country and rockabilly sounds.

American Gun—taking a cue from the sound issues present for some of the outdoor stage participants prior to their appearance, American Gun did what any self-respecting rock band ought to—turned it up, spitting and clawing their way through an inspired set. Look out this fall, as the band’s releasing a new CD and singer Todd Mathis reports he’s working on a gospel CD with Zach Seibert.

The Heist and the Accomplice—There are bands that get such good press that one has a tendency to take them for granted; the Heist is certainly among those for me. It only takes a couple of songs to remind myself, however, of the throbbing rhythmic pulse that’s at the heart of these indie rockers.

Hot Lava Monster—Their time in California must have lit a fire under Hot Lava Monster, who played a nonstop set of scorched-earth rock, making it look easy in the process.

Josh Roberts & the Hinges—in a loud, late night, boisterous barroom, beginning a set with a quiet, repetitive, nearly a capella number would be a momentum-killer for most musicians. For Roberts, it’s as if he simply does what he wants, regardless of the ramifications. No worry here, however, as the Hinges rocked hard and righteous for the remainder of the evening. One indicator of the stature Roberts and his band enjoy among their peers—the crowd was peppered with performers from the rest of the evening’s entertainers as well as several who were, on this night at least, simply spectators singing along with the rest of us.

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