Ten Columbia, South Carolina Bands That Matter More Than Hootie & the Blowfish

Okay, this week’s unveiling of a commemorative monument honoring Hootie & the Blowfish in their hometown of Columbia, SC is big news, at least around here:

Free Times Cover Story
State Newspaper Coverage

I contributed an opinion piece to the Free Times cover story that acknowledged the band has done plenty to deserve the honors they’re getting, even if the monument seems to be about ten years too late to really mean anything, but I didn’t really have the space to expand upon the relative importance of Hootie vs. others who came from their home state. Massive sales figures are great for the bank account but a lasting legacy of musical innovation and influence is not something that even Hootie’s members would lay claim to, surely. With that in mind, here are ten South Carolina acts who ought to have legacies that stand up to and perhaps outstrip their more famous ‘neighbors’ (though even they have some solid connections to Hootie themselves.)

1. Lay Quiet Awhile–the alt-rock of this late 80’s, early 90’s quartet could be artfully spare or a sonic sledgehammer, depending on the song. Their legacy? Singer Danielle Howle went on to a critically-lauded solo career of her own and bassist Dan Cook released two albums with Verna Cannon, served as music editor and now overall editor at the Columbia Free Times alt-weekly. Hootie connection: Cook played violin on the “MTV Unplugged” Hootie special taped on the USC campus.

2. Danielle Howle–Yes, she gets two spots technically since she was a member of #1, above. But her solo output has been even more lauded, appearing on several different indie labels over the past fifteen years. Hootie connection: Howle’s Thank You Mark album was produced by Hootie’s Mark Bryan, and she sang a duet with him on his most recent solo disc.

3. Isabelle’s Gift–one could say that these guys are here due to longevity, as they’re still out there plugging away. I’d argue that their length of service is a deciding factor only because their redneck punk/metal hybrid was ahead of its time when they started and now it would seem almost quaint, if it weren’t for the bulldozing intensity of their best material. Ask anybody in a hard rock band in Columbia what inspired them to play and I guarantee this band’s name will be on the list somewhere, if not at the top.

4. Treadmill Trackstar–Would Angelo Gianni and friends have conquered the world in the 1990’s if they hadn’t signed a dead-end deal with the Hootie-run label Breaking Records back then? We’ll never know, but for a couple of years you could hear “Shouldn’t I Take” on mainstream radio around here in regular rotation, and Gianni’s buzzsaw pop was in line with the then-popular Smashing Pumpkins‘ sound. Their indie release Excessive Use of the Passive Voice remains a favorite locally released album, and while the band’s recent resurrection and new music may not gain them the world, it certainly proves that there’s a lot more artistic output to come from them.

5. In/Humanity, Guyana Punchline, Anakrid--One cannot talk about Columbia’s music scene without mentioning Chris Bickel, and his bands have always had both the attitude and the aptitude to capture whatever punk-inspired zeitgeist was on his mind at the time of their many recordings–tapes, seven-inch records, albums, Bickel has released enough stuff over his career to easily fill up one of those old Peaches record crates.

6. Bedlam Hour–The first Columbia band I can remember signed to a national record label contract (Positive Force Records released the band’s epic Rock The Cradle), the fast and furious yet overwhelmingly positive punk rock that Chuck Walker and company played was a huge influence on a generation of young punks in Columbia and beyond, and “Grey Sweater” is one of the best songs ever to come from Columbia’s music scene. Hootie connection: Hootie’s Mark Bryan and BH’s Walker and bassist John Leroy (as well as second bassist Adam Kolesar) were all student DJ’s together at WUSC in the 1980s.

7. From Safety To Where/Bolt/Death Becomes Even The Maiden–a mutiple band listing that acknowledges the interrelated lineups of these groups, all three of which play some sort of hyphenated post-punk rock amalgam that was (and is, in the case of the ongoing DBETM) light years ahead of their local and national peers. If Columbia were a hipper town in the national music press, Eric Greenwood would be referred to as our Roger Miller (Mission of Burma and No Man founder, not the country songwriter).

8. The Rob Crosby Group–The token 70’s band on this list, to be sure, but Sumter’s Rob Crosby was one of the most popular southern rock acts in the state in his day, and members of his band have gone on to play in other groups and combinations ever since. Crosby ended up a songwriter in Nashville with a string of hit songs, a couple of which he took to the country charts himself.

9. Toro Y Moi–As much as I enjoy Chaz Bundick’s other band I’m not even going to mention them here because this bedroom side project has meant much more to his career (and Columbia’s currency on the international music scene, if it has any). Causers Of This, released back in the beginning of 2010, has immediately secured a spot on my list of the best albums ever by a Columbia act, and one that’s bound to inspire countless kids in bedrooms across not just South Carolina, but the world.

10. Jack Williams–Okay, he doesn’t live in Columbia or even South Carolina any more but there’s no songwriter alive whose music is more intricately entwined in our state’s history, topography, and culture. Since 1997’s Across The Winterline Williams has been releasing album after album of captivating, folksy observations on southern life, and life in general, and touring all over the country.

2008 Music Crawl Report

No, it wasn’t SXSW, or Bonnaroo, but last night was an overflowing night of great music here in Columbia, South Carolina—especially if you were a fan of local original rock. The Free Times Music Crawl featured thirty bands and solo performers playing some form or subgenre of rock—indie, jam, punk, alt-country, etc. Of the years the Crawl has been in existence, this was probably the best overall lineup in terms of the quality of the individual acts, though there was not as much variety as there has been in the past—no hip-hop, soul, jazz, or bluegrass/country at all. What there was, however, was consistently entertaining and occasionally transcendent music from a wealth of local veterans and newer bands.

My own Crawl experience is typically one of attempting to see a little bit of a lot of bands, especially of the ones I haven’t yet had a chance to see before. Here, then, are my impressions of what I got to see and hear at the 2008 Free Times Music Crawl, in the order that I experienced them:

The Rise of Science—I got to the Art Bar too late to see a personal favorite, All Get Out, but these guys were a good alternative start to the evening. They offered up the first instance of a recurring theme for the night, that of earnest indie rockers asking audience members to do the overhead clap-your-hands thing. Crowd participation rocks, and even with an early time slot this band had them into the performance.

The Decade—Always a fun set anytime they play, this local pop-punk combo were a little looser than usual but they too had an enthusiastic audience.

Will Erickson—An acoustic troubadour in the Edwin McCain/Dave Matthews tradition, Will Erickson had to contend with an early crowd who looked almost surprised to see somebody playing music during their football watching time. Armed with a raft of effects pedals including a vocal harmonizer that made it sound like he had a backup singer, he quickly got the couch-sitter’s attention.

The Choir Quit—Speaking of getting people’s attention, I’m not sure the dinner crowd at the Mellow Mushroom were expecting to be serenaded by the off-key caterwauling of this guitar-drums duo. Interesting stuff if you can get around the uncomfortable dissonance.

Cassangles— A more intentional form of dissonance took center stage with this instrumental trio, probably the best surprise of the night for me. Not since the angular rhythms of Bolt has Columbia seen a non-vocal ensemble that can create such gripping narratives of sound. Yes, they’re playing some things not quite in the “right” key, but it’s most likely on purpose and part of the act. It is extremely difficult to play rock and hold people’s interest without the aid of vocals, but this band had the audience in an aural headlock—probably the reason their set was one of the few at which I stuck around for more than a couple songs.

The Daylight Hours—If you weren’t in the first twenty feet in front of the stage at Flying Saucer, you probably couldn’t hear the gentle acoustic tunes of the Daylight Hours, who were just David A. playing acoustic for this set, accompanied by one of the guitarists from Magnetic Flowers.

Marry a Thief—A headliner on any other night buried in the middle of the show here, Eric Skelton and crew sounded great on the tiny outdoor stage—but then again, they sound great everywhere they play. More indie rock handclapping during this set, too.

The Starseed Project—Mainstream modern rock sometimes doesn’t get the respect it deserves (See Nickelback, for instance), but this local band does it better than most.

The Friendly Confines—Singer-songwriter Rob Lindsey found himself a band, and a good one at that—members of the Cassangles and Magnetic Flowers contribute to make his rough edges go down smooth.

Nick Pagliari—New to town and eager to please, Pagliari had to contend with the non-stage that was the upstairs at Mellow Mushroom. Even in an acoustic solo setting, the polished nature of the songs from his new CD pushed through the crowd noise enough to impress fellow performer David Reed, who was waiting in the wings listening.

Daniel Machado—caught what seemed to be the acoustic segment of Daniel’s set, which meant I missed out on the grandiose pop of his band but still heard his eloquent, almost archaic-sounding lyrics.

This Machine is Me
—Some of the most fun tunes of the night, but somebody please tell the bass player that his singer’s a lot cuter than he is so he really needs to get out of the front and center stage position and let her stay in the crowd’s sight line the whole set.

Testing Ground—Had not seen them since Ryan’s accident and recovery, so I was smiling even during the more menacing parts of the band’s sledgehammer-heavy tunes.

The Private Life of David Reed—Another professional in an almost untenable situation at the Mellow Mushroom, but he too pulled it off nicely—enough that he got a compliment in reply from Nick Pagliari (See the note about Nick, above.)

Danielle Howle—Heard a bit of a new song and a bit of an old one, just enough to remind me why everybody who meets this woman is instantly a friend and a fan of her music.

Venice Is Sinking—Mesmerizing music from this Athens, Georgia group that nearly rendered me motionless after a long night of speed-walking up and down Gervais Street. I’m sure I’m not the only guy totally smitten with the violinist, either.

Magnetic Flowers—Another inspiring set from this group, who just keep getting better. Just when you think they can’t possibly get any more energetic, throw anything else into a song’s arrangement, or come up with a more singable chorus—they do. Notable for me as the only band of the night that I heard an entire set. Bonus points for yet another instance of the indie-rock handclapping crowd participation bit.

Death Becomes Even the Maiden—After trying to explain the concept of postpunk to a casual fan on the sidewalk outside prior to their set, Eric Greenwood and company put on a better primer than I could ever hope to.

Josh Roberts & the Hinges—A harder, more rock ‘n’ roll set than I’m used to seeing from Roberts, with cameos from Nicole Hagenmeyer on several songs that lifted the harmonies into the stratosphere.