Moogfest 2017: 3 From NC

On May 18-21, Moogfest, the electronic music and arts festival, will be enjoying its second year in its new location of Durham. With Flying Lotus performing on Saturday, Michael Stipe premiering his first solo composition, and Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein doing a live score for Stranger Things, there’s no shortage of musical and technological innovation. But as an NC-based radio station ourselves, we wanted to focus in on the North Carolina artists who will be gracing the Moog stage this year. WQFS 90.9 spotlights three North Carolina artists who will be at the Durham festival.

Mykki Blanco

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Photo by Julia Burlingham

Fresh off releasing Mykki last fall, Raleigh’s own experimental rapper and performance artist, Mykki Blanco, will be performing a set on Thursday evening and giving a masterclass as part of the Moogfest Protest stage on Friday. The self-described “non-binary gender-queer post-homo-hop musical artist” is known for cinematic music videos and dynamic stage presence.

Mallarmé Chamber Players

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Photo featured on Moogfest

The three-decade-old non-profit Durham ensemble, the Mallarmé Chamber Players, will be providing support for Syrinx on Saturday evening. the Canadian instrumental group that released only two albums in the early 1970s but were known for their innovation with Moog synthesizers.

Pie Face Girls

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Photo from Pie Face Girls’ Facebook

Raleigh punk trio Pie Face Girls have only a handful of tracks to their name, but that doesn’t stop them from a sarcastic lilt (“Come on baby make it worth my time/My time/My time time time…“) and a droning, heavy riff. The band will be playing Motorco Park on Thursday at that sweet 5:45 set time.

 

Big Something brings big groove to Greensboro

Originally posted on the Guilfordian

Last Friday in Greensboro, bar and music venue The Blind Tiger was packed for the first of a two-night album release show. The band: North Carolina’s rock-funk-jam sextet Big Something. The Blind Tiger’s usual arrangement of chairs and tables was uncluttered to provide a dance floor. Red lights flashed off the rotating disco ball on the ceiling. It was a night of groove.

“It’s just great to play in Greensboro,” said Big Something drummer Ben Vinograd. “We’re about to leave for a month on tour, so it’s … our last home stand before we head out on the road.”

The Burlington-based band has its roots in the Blind Tiger. They started playing professionally here, not just as a band, but as individuals.

“I’m from Greensboro, (and) the Blind Tiger is the music venue for growing bands,” said Casey Cranford, who plays saxophone and EWI. “I lived a stone’s throw away from the Blind Tiger for quite a few years: … 19, 20, 21 years old. … I learned how to play in bars at the Blind Tiger.”

As Big Something spoke about their history with the venue, echoing through the concert space was the sound of Aqueous, a quartet whose two guitarists trade off solos and vocals. The heavy funk band from Buffalo, NY was one of two groups hand-picked by Big Something to open the weekend shows. Saturday would feature Chattanooga’s Opposite Box, but tonight, the twinning guitar licks of Mike Gantzer and Dave Loss brought a fiery energy to this cool February night. College students boogied on the floor while a silver-haired couple gently nodded their heads in time at the barstools.

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“The crowd felt like a music festival displaced, with old and new hippies mingling and dancing like it was 1975 again,” said Guilford College senior Martin Brown in an online interview. Perhaps the crowd brought the energy from Big Something’s annual music festival “The Big What?” with them.

When Aqueous stepped offstage at 11:30 p.m., the Blind Tiger was packed to the gills. Attendees roamed between the bar and outside deck, where a number of tables were set up. A man in a Grateful Dead shirt was having strands of glitter woven into his beard, and Guilford College alumnus Eli Tuchler ’16 was holding an art raffle to raise money for Greensboro’s Interactive Resource Center.

The mood of the night was celebratory as the merchandise table featured copies of Big Something’s just-released fourth studio album Tumbleweed. New and longtime fans came together for the show.

“I first saw Big Something at Floyd Fest about six or seven years ago and I have been loving them ever since,” said Tuchler in an online interview. “They have brought together a really awesome group of local people, and it is a beloved community for many friends in the Greensboro area.”

“I just love … how happy everyone is at their shows,” said senior Anna Rider, who said she had seen Big Something about five times, more than once at the Blind Tiger. “It’s … a very happy venue, always, with a great crowd who just flips out over them. …Being in that energy is really nice.”

“You can tell that (the band has) a good time,” said senior Ellie Weiner, who saw Big Something for the first time that night. “People (are) grooving.”

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Touring over the past few years, Big Something had established the songs of “Tumbleweed” as live staples, but to have them in studio form put them in a new context.

If there was a goal, it would be to serve the songs as they … already were, and … to put the best recording of them down possible,” said Vinograd.

“I think our goals have always been the same,” added guitarist Jesse Hensley. “It’s just been to make really good music that’s fun to listen to (and) fun to play, so it never gets old to us and people keep asking and want(ing more music).”

The audience at the Blind Tiger clearly came because they wanted the music, as Big Something, dressed in matching powder blue tuxedo t-shirts, took the stage in front of a packed crowd. Just before midnight, band and audience alike leaned into the buzzing synth-turned-bassline of “The Flood.” At the end of the first verse, the band froze, silent, and the room went black. Anticipation stretched as the dead stage lights spun wildly and the audience screamed, yelled and threw their hands up toward the disco ball rotating above.

“Better keep your gun close,” vocalist Nick MacDaniels sang, and the groove came back. This time, it was here to stay.

BOY LEGS (9/4 House Show)

One minute, BOY LEGS‘ rapper Jib Butts took off his shirt and informed the audience: “I’m a spicy boy.” The audience chuckled.

The next, he hunched over, rapping as if the inside of the microphone housed each of his personal demons. The audience was silent.

This is the bipolar charm of BOY LEGS, a hip hop duo from Boone who played a house show in Greensboro last night.

At one end of the spectrum, BOY LEGS are terrifyingly self-aware, critical, and dark.

Between DJ Dylan Evans‘ slick production and Butts’  lyrics, there’s the painful honesty of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’ the depressive undertones of Childish Gambino’s ‘Because the Internet,’ or maybe just the angst of Atmosphere.

Evans’ productions are impeccably paired to make all Butts’ earnest confessionals loom large with danger.

It’s great to be honest, but it’s even better to sound cool doing so.

Fusing electronic psychedelia with traces of hip hop, BOY LEGS’ music may sound familiar to fans of Tame Impala, a band now famous for perfecting that combination.

During their set, Evans strapped on a white fender from behind his table of DJ equipment, itself adorned with a purple and green mandala quilt, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd. Moody future-bass beats, Evans understands, are served well with heavy guitar chords.

The resulting sound, in particular the lyrics, was as raw as Butts voice will be by the end of the night.

You listen like you might to a friend you’re concerned about: not knowing how to react, but knowing that something important is happening. BOYS LEGS’ performance demands your attention.

But the music doesn’t leave you at darkness. There’s the other side of things: the power of Evans’ production paired with Butts’ dynamic delivery. The act of performance itself-Butts and Evans working together to share about dark topics (lost relationships, self-hatred, racism), fighting any urge to conceal expression-is an act of resistance in itself.

Each line of self-directed abuse calls forth an equally powerful call to keep living. It’s a battle for survival and Butts, writhing across the room, is doing it right in front of you.

This tension is at the heart of BOY LEGS’ music. It comes across honest, painful, and inspiring, an acknowledgement of pain, but a refusal to let it end there.

After their set, an audience member exhaled deeply. He turned to me and said: “I feel like I just experienced something.” The understatement of the evening. And no matter what the crowd has to say, BOY LEGS can rest easy.

They’ve laid it all bare.

For fans of Future Islands, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Atmosphere, Spiritualized.

WQFS Attends Moogfest 2016

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A weekend of art, technology, and music promised inclusion, creativity, and open discussion. May 19th through the 21st, Durham was lit up for Moogfest.

There was city-wide free programming like Inside the Music of Grimes (a tent housing an interactive mesh which altered the sounds of “REALiTi” when pressed) and family-friendly performances from Yo Gabba Gabba‘s DJ Lance Rock featuring artists who ranged from the co-founder of the New York Theremin Society Dorit Chrysler to bass funk master Bootsy Collins. Those with a coveted Moogfest wristband could attend festival-exclusive workshops, panels, and performances. The city was alive for the annual festival, enjoying its new home in Durham after years in Asheville.

#synthesizelove

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As a reaction to the passing of House Bill 2, which required individuals in North Carolina to use bathrooms designated for their gender assigned at birth, Moogfest actively promoted inclusion. Locations where people could pick up their wristbands also sold #synthesizelove t-shirts, whose proceeds went to local non-profit organizations fighting HB2.

The festival also held a keynote address by Sirius XM founder Dr. Martine Rothblatt. 

“We electronic musicians who ride the mind waves realize that gender is in the mind, and the first commandant to respect others as we respect ourselves means to respect others’ minds, others’ souls, others’ hearts and others’ rights to use the lavatory they feel is right,” said Rothblatt. “HB2, out with you.”

Moogfest locations such as 21c Museum Hotel had bathroom signs designed by Peregrine Honig, declaring “We don’t care” instead of designating a gender.

“We believe the future is Non-Binary,” read the artist’s statement displayed in the hotel. “(Q)uite frankly, we don’t care who uses our bathroom because ALL are welcome.”

“Can You Remember the Future?” Afrofuturism Panel

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On Saturday, a panel moderated by Kimberly Drew consisting of Hieroglyphic Being (Jamal Moss), Christian Rich (Taiwo Hassan and Kehinde Hassan), Reggie Watts, and Janelle Monáe held an open discussion on the nature of Afrofuturism, especially at the intersection of art, music, and identity. The Armory was packed, with people lining the walls in lieu of chairs.

Moderator Drew brought attention to how the term Afrofuturism is used, by whom, and about whom.

“Who are we referring to with these labels?” asked Drew. “You have to have agency in this…who is the author here, whose voice is valued the most…I think the individuals matter the most.”

“Black people are magical beings,” said Monáe. “We have to use our creativity and our music to deal with our problems.”

“It takes a really magical person…to deal with the harsh reality.”

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Hieroglyphic Being noted the necessity of bringing conversations like this one to youth who don’t have access to academic discussions about Afrofuturism. Through panels, group outreach, and festivals in different areas, these conversations should be extended so others can be “enlightened like we are being enlightened today.”

An audience member asked, how can music be used as a progressive tool?

“I think we’re going to have to be more active as listeners,” said Monáe. To make meaningful music more accessible, listeners have to search it out and share it.

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Another audience member posed the question of how Afrofuturism relates not just to music and technology, but all cultural things. “I know all of you here are Afrofuturists,” he said, turning to the audience.

“You have to find a god in you in order to find your purpose. Everyone’s a genius…otherwise why would you be born?” said Hassan. “Everyone has a chance to speak, so do it.”

Arts and science are two things that help people discover their creative outlets, said Watts. The Internet is great for making connections and engaging in creativity, but “people are important…share in your ideas and share in your hopefulness.”

Technology for Art’s Sake
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Throughout the weekend, visitors plugged into their inspirations and energy using technology new and old. The Moog Pop-Up Factory had plenty of synths, which Reggie Watts, among others, were more than happy to demonstrate.

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Around the corner vendors were set up: there was a demonstration of Sensory Percussion electronic drums and a wall showcasing EO1 digital frames by Electric Objects, and every music-centric table was surrounded by folks making use of the available technology.

Free Programming on the Lawn

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On a stage surrounded by water, DJ Lance Rock of Yo Gabba Gabba hosted a day-long, kid-friendly festival featuring prolific musicians. The last set of the day introduced Bootsy Collins and Mark Mothersbaugh to young audiences and their delighted families.

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Before the sun turned into rain, Reggie Watts took the stage for over an hour of improvised music and monologue (and conversation, as the crowd was frequently posed with questions from the stage). “I have to say this is the first gig I’ve done with live foot soaking,” Watts noted.

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If the audience weren’t completely willing participants in this weird experience of surrealist call and response, would it all fall apart? Or would Watts keep spinning around the stage, making gloriously weird sounds about the sun, the digestive system, and love? Certainly, a change in the weather didn’t seem to stop him, as the audience leaned in closer even as clouds passed overhead and people started dressing the stage’s speakers with rain-protective gear.

One Last Performance
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Patient fans lined up early Saturday evening for the final performance of Gary Numan’s 3-night residency at Moogfest.

The smoke-machined intimacy of Carolina Theatre set the tone for the nights, as fans filed into the seats and patiently waited. After soundcheck had left the stage, the lights shot out, and with no other warning, the opening synth of “This Wreckage” blared through the theatre. Fans yelled.

The enclosed theatre felt far away from the business of the rest of the festival, but the energy in the room was probably the most Moog-like of all. The music was center-stage, and the close nature of the venue made the Numan’s performance feel timeless until the encore of “Cars” signaled evening’s end.

“I’m very grateful,” said Numan. “Thank you.”

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Named after Dr. Robert Moog, Moogfest is a celebration of electronic music, but not just the tools: showcased are the minds awash in creativity that bring new ideas to the masses. A Moogfest ticket is an opportunity to take part in thoughtful, needed conversations on race, gender, and human rights through the lens of  technology and music.

Moogfest is fostering new ideas not just in the arts, but what it means to be human.

Friday Night at the Armory: Art of Cool

The first night of Art of Cool was a true reflection of the Durham festival’s unique blend of jazz, hip hop, and R&B. Though tonight’s sets felt a little short, it was still a stellar start to a stacked weekend of music in Bull City.

Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals

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Anderson Paak jumps on the drums during his set at the Durham Armory.

At the end of Anderson Paak‘s Friday evening set at the Durham Armory, it seemed like nearly everyone in the crowd had a smile on their face. The LA-based hip hop artist thrilled the audience with a mix of cuts from his two albums, the trap-tinged soul of 2014’s Venice and this year’s critically-acclaimed Malibu. Despite the disadvantage of an early evening set–he went onstage after 9 p.m.–Paak managed to pull in large numbers, filling nearly three-quarters of the Armory, a comparable crowd to last year’s headliners, Snarky Puppy.

Not only did he fill the Armory, he got the crowd energized and moving. On the pulsing house of ‘Luh You,’ Paak got the crowd chanting the chorus: ‘I think I luh you.” While beats were mostly provided by Paak’s DJ, Paak would occasionally sit down at a silver drumset at the corner of the stage to add some live percussion to the mix. “He’s Prince, the whole deal!” a fan in the front-row shouted into her neighbor’s ear, attempting to overcome the cheers as Paak finished another song. It was a futile attempt. At one point in the set, Paak himself attempted to quiet the wild crowd. “Hold up, hold up. I gotta speak from the heart for a second.” As one of the members of his backing band started playing anyways, Paak threw his hand back to silence him. The crowd quieted.

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Anderson Paak & the Free Nationals onstage at the Durham Armory.

“You drank up all my liquor, what I’m supposed to do now?” Paak crackled. It was the beginning of Paak’s extra funky, Hi-Tek produced single, ‘Come Down.’ If Paak was genuinely concerned about the whereabouts of his Hennessy, the message was lost amidst shouts of the chorus: “I get so high, now sugar, c’mon, I might never come down.” The well-played joke fit in with the overall light, fun mood of the set. Paak is an incredibly dynamic performer, bouncing around the stage with a grin on his face the entire show. The live versions of the songs embellished the funky side of his songs, making them even easier to dance to. To say it simply, Paak is fun. Take this moment at the end of his set.

As the church piano of ‘The Bird‘ faded away, Paak put on ‘Lite Weight,’ from Malibu, and jumped into the crowd, forming an impromptu dance circle. Cellphones flew up to document the moment as Paak dropped low to the floor, still with a grin on his face. By now, that grin had passed on to the audience, who cheered as Paak finished his set, for real this time.

Nicholas Payton

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New Orleans virtuoso Nicholas Payton pulled double duty, playing keys and trumpet throughout his set at the Durham Armory.

While it was sad that Paak’s party had to end, the stage had to be cleared for a jazz legend, New Orleans virtuoso trumpet and keyboard player Nicholas Payton. Sitting center stage with two decks of keyboards in front of him, a trumpet stand on his right, and bedazzled Nikes on his feet, Payton brought another blend of genres to the stage. Though Payton is a jazzhead, Payton’s band, Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, combined elements of jazz, funk, and, as you can tell from the title, hip hop. The name of the group is perhaps a reference to the vocal samples that played as transitions between songs. One sample, at the end of a new track based on a book famed jazz drummer Max Roach was writing when he died, featured a quote from a Roach. Others focused on the cultural appropriation of African-American music.

Alongside the hip hop-style sampling, Payton blasted trumpet solos from behind his keyboards, alternating between long, tense sustains and rapid-fire high notes. All of this took place atop strong, almost funk-based grooves, the music resembling the hip hop-dabbling of Roy Hargrove’s the RH Factor. Payton, like Paak, blurred the boundaries between genres.

Kamasi Washington

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Kamasi Washington solos as trombonist Ryan Porter looks on.

Washington handed things off to Kamasi Washington around midnight. With 6 or 7 members onstage, including two full drum sets, it took a little extra time to get things set up. Those who stuck around, opting not to rush over to the Pinhook for what I heard was a hype, but short, set from NC’s finest Rapsody, were well rewarded for their patience. Washington, who blew up outside of the jazz world this year through collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and fellow Art of Cool headliner, Thundercat, stretched the limits of the jazz idiom, blending jazz, hip hop, R&B, soul, and even afrobeat.

The most definitive example of this was Washington’s take on the Ray Noble jazz standard ‘Cherokee.’

Just as Charlie Parker transformed the original into a bebop rite of passage, Washington and company brought their own twist to the ‘Cherokee.’ Instead of playing it at the blistering pace of the bebop version, Washington took it mid-tempo, making it sweet and soulful. The horns made Cherokee’s horn section sound like Young-Holt Unlimited’s ‘Soulful Strut,’ (aka that song from the The Parent Trap). As if they were determined to move the groove through every conceivable interpretation, the group traveled through breakbeats and even a little bit of Dilla swing. Parker would have been proud.

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Vocalist Patrice Quinn moves to a solo from saxophonist Rickey Washington, who is also Kamasi Washington’s father.

At one point, Parker turned over the lead role to bass player Miles Mosely, who led the group in a version of his infectious new single, ‘Abraham.’ What started as a psychedelic bass freakout (Mosely made extensive use of his wah pedal) eventually structured itself into a tight, poppy funk track. By the end of the song, everyone was singing along to a chorus they learned only minutes ago.

For the group’s last song, Washington played ‘The Rhythm Changes‘ from Washington’s 2015 four-disc album, The Epic, ending the evening on an uplifting note. With the song edging towards ten minutes, and taking the set past 1 a.m., the staff flicked the lights on to signal to audiences that the show was ending soon.

If you were bummed that the lights went on and, yes, the song did eventually end, never fear. There’s more genre-morphing music coming your way today, on the second day of Art of Cool.

Totally Slow, The Bronzed Chorus, and Black Squares/White Islands at Irata CD Release Show

A little bit of snow can’t stop a good show. But it can postpone it. Revolution Cycles rescheduled Irata’s CD release show to this Saturday, a week after the originally intended date.

A large crowd turned out for the opening set from Totally Slow, one of Greensboro’s most beloved punk trios. The crowd was decidedly multi-generational, full of 30-something parents as well as their kids.

Totally Slow’s opening set was characterized by its sustained energy. On long-lasting 8th note builds, the chords never lost their grip or flagged in tempo. This sense of urgency made sense given the groups’ background. The band takes its roots in hardcore, though this project is more Ramones than Black Flag. Frontman Scott Hicks retained a high-pitched bark, but that bark was rounded out by two-part harmonies.

After Totally slow’s last song, a 20-minute followed. Once the Bronzed Chorus started playing, it was easy to understand the delay. The group is made up of only two members, but, with the skillful use of effects and loops, their experimental rock sound is much larger than that. Guitarist Adam Joyce’s foot was constantly poised over an arsenal of pedals. Drummer/keyboardist Hunter Allen switched between hammering his drum kit, looping his keyboards, and twirling knobs of effects. Unless Allen has an extra hand that we don’t know about, this dude is a beast.

Their music sounded even more immense coming out in stereo amps, an unusual setup. This elaborate gear gives the Bronzed Chorus access to a wider palette of sound.  Joyce explained in an interview.”I want all the colors and flavors.” The music was at times brutally direct and others whirling complex. At one moment, audience members raised their voices and threw their fists in the air. The next, they dropped their heads, nodding, lost to a twisting new groove and a spiral of dense effects. No matter what was happening though, you could always feel a strong pulse.

Many of the songs took simple ideas and built them into something completely unfamiliar. It was like a more macho Animal Collective or a more cerebral Explosions in the Sky. After one song, an audience member shouted his preferred description: “magnanimous!” Whatever you call it, the music was well worth the time it took for them to set up their gear.

Black Squares/White Islands brought it back home to the bass-drums-guitar-vocals format. They followed Bronzed Chorus, dispensing a heavy dose of prog rock-tinged metal. Consider them Greensboro’s belated answer to Tool. Bassist and vocalist Sean Hall played robust basslines while hitting hard high notes. Drummer Mikey Munday’s drumming was particularly impressive.

Unfortunately, this reviewer had to leave early. Fortunately for me and you, all of these bands are local. Check them out next time they play a bicycle store near you. We shouldn’t have to worry about snow next time.

 

Basement Life, Wayleaves, and GSO @ Green Bean

This was not your typical soundtrack to a Saturday night at the Green Bean on North Elm Street. Basement Life, Wayleaves, and GSO‘s sets last night caused the floorboards to tremble, the orders to be shouted, and the barista to wear earplugs. All well worth it for a night of stellar punk, power-pop, and rock’n’roll.

Greensboro’s Basement Life made their presence felt with a set of heavy post-punk. Guitarist Eric Mann stretched the limits of his cable, roaming back and forth between the band’s corner and the people sitting at tables around the shop, challenging people to look up from their drinks and hear the music. It had been almost 10 years since Mann’s last band, Kudzu Wish, played their farewell show at Greene Street Club. As far as this night goes, Mann’s performance had lost none of its urgency in the time passed. Alongside vocalist/bassist Gavan Holden and drummer Caleb Gross were equally fervent.

Taking it in a different direction, Raleigh-based Wayleaves played a mix of power-pop and Americana, falling somewhere between Big Star and Neil Young. Art Jackson, Brian Quast, and Carmen Biggers stepped up to their mics for three-part harmonies in the first song, a dash of southern rock that started things off on a high note. After a few songs, Wayleaves drifted into a string of Americana ballads, even tossing in a cover of The Fairport Convention’s “Now Be Thankful.” Their last song, a throbbing garage rock song about a boy, a girl, and a walkman, was like a shot of espresso, an unexpected burst of energy at the end of the set.

Perhaps they were just setting things up for GSO, who rounded out the night with seven songs of original rock’n’roll. They played the tightly-crafted songs with just the right amount of looseness. On standout “Get It On Time,” guitarist/vocalist Mike Duehring and Lee Wallace’s traded shouts of the title phrase filled the Green Bean’s high ceiling.  Wallace let out a howl of delight as the song ended. The audience picked up where he left off, clapping and cheering for the band. Soon, GSO finished and the sound of jangling mugs returned. The barista could take out his earplugs now. But boy, what he had missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Plug Into Greensboro Music.