Memphians have been enjoying Thursday night parties in the warm weather months for several years now, both on the rooftop of The Peabody Hotel, and more recently on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel. Now a third series of parties and concerts has been launched at the new Tower Courtyard in Overton Square, known as Thursdays on the Square. The inaugural event was held on Thursday April 17, featuring performances by Memphis blues queen Ruby Wilson, Al Kapone (who led the crowd in a chant of “Whoop That Trick” for the Grizzlies), and indie artist Free Sol. Several hundred people attended, and the event will be held every Thursday night through the end of August. Admission is $5.
I suppose I had vaguely heard of the Magnetic Zeros before, but I certainly had never heard any of their music, and probably wouldn’t have made a point of going to see them if they hadn’t been on the same showcase line-up with the Hot 8 Brass Band. That being said, I was both impressed and amazed with the performance by Magnetic Zeros’ drummer Crash and other members of the band informally playing at the SXSW Hackathon. The songs were melodic and showed the influence of a number of American roots genres of music. Again, I was disappointed at how empty the hall was given how great the music was.
I didn’t quite know what a Hackathon is, but when I saw that the Hot 8 Brass Band was scheduled to perform at the Hackathon at the Austin Convention Center, I walked over there after dinner. Unfortunately, not a lot of people had chosen to come to the concert, despite its being free, and the upstairs ballroom was sparsely filled. Albert Hammond Jr was on stage, and he was not happy at all. “This is why South By Southwest should not be allowed to have a hackathon”, he yelled from the stage shortly after I got there.
My friend Malcolm, the owner of Memphis’ excellent Memphis Music record shop on Beale Street had introduced me to St. Paul and the Broken Bones back in February by showing me a YouTube video. Up until that point, I had not heard of the Birmingham-based band, which had recorded their album in Muscle Shoals, but I loved the soul-oriented style of the band, and their inclusion of live horns. When I saw that they were playing in Florence, Alabama, I planned to drive down for the performance, but a gig came up, and I was unable to go, and in the meanwhile, their debut album Half The City appeared on Spotify, and I found it very impressive indeed. So when I saw that they were performing at the South By San Jose event at the Hotel San Jose in Austin, I knew I had to be there. Fortunately I arrived as they were just setting up, and was able to get a spot directly in front of the stage. The South By San Jose event, known as SXSJ, is always a cool place to see bands anyway. The line-ups are generally great, the events are free and don’t require badges, and the outdoor location makes for great sound and plenty of room. Behind the crowd is always a collection of vendors selling all kinds of goods. As for the band, I was impressed with how tight their performance was on stage, and with St. Paul’s enthusiastic stage presence. The show was definitely a high point for my SXSW this year.
A year ago, I had never even heard of The Autumn Defense, but one of the better features of Spotify is its ability to suggest and recommend bands to you based on bands it knows you already like, and at some point Spotify told me I would like the Autumn Defense. I’m not going to say that Spotify has always been spot on with its recommendations to me, but it was right about the Autumn Defense-I not only like them, I LOVE them. So when I saw that they were playing on Rainey Street at the Clive Bar for the Filter on Rainey showcase sponsored by Filter Magazine, I had to make the walk over from the Convention Center. They were already on stage and performing when I arrived, but with it being a day event, I had no problem getting in and getting into a good location near the stage. The band performed songs from their newest album Fifth which came out this year, as well as songs from all of their previous albums, before closing with a cover of the Fleetwood Mac/Bob Welch tune “Sentimental Lady”.
The band that lured me into Cheer Up Charlie’s was extremely ethereal and melodic, and proved to be called Painted Palms. I had not heard of them before, but they were just the kind of indie band that I like, with plenty of harmonies and recognizable melody, and little angst or anger. The majority of Cheer Up Charlie’s is an outdoor enclosure, with an outdoor stage backed by a white stone cliff. I stayed for the remainder of the band’s set and then walked back out to the street. As it turns out, Painted Palms has released a new album this year called Forever.
Since the sad demise of Mississippi’s venerable Be-Bop Records chain several years ago, the sole survivor as far as vinyl and indie rock has been Morning Bell Records, a vinyl-oriented store with a strong local selection that has operated in Fondren’s Duling Hall for the last couple of years. That space, while cool, was exceptionally small, and Morning Bell, like many of today’s better record stores, is a venue for live performance as well as retail music, so toward the end of 2013, it moved to new quarters on I-55 north just north of Northside Drive, not far from the old iconic Bebop Record Shop location. The new, roomier space has allowed for the addition of a cafe, which will feature coffee drinks, baked goods and panini sandwiches, and the larger room should be an asset when live concerts occur there. Other than the move, the bigger room and the addition of espresso drinks, nothing much has changed. Morning Bell is still as hip as ever, and demonstrated the point admirably by playing bluesman Leo Welch’s new album Sabougla Voices as I was walking in.
Morning Bell Records
4760 I-55 N Frontage Rd
Jackson, MS 39211
My last panels of this year’s Midatlantic Music Conference were at 5 PM back at The Chop Shop in Charlotte’s NoDa district, and then the final night of showcases began immediately afterwards, with a showcase featuring artists from the student-run Split Rail Records label, which is a part of Appalachian State University in Boone. I particularly noticed a singer-songwriter from Charlotte on the label named Alexis Worthington, who was performing on the back indoor stage. Not long afterward, Raleigh-based indie artist Frank Hurd was performing his rootsy, tuneful style with his band on the front stage, and caught my attention.
The first night of showcases for the Midatlantic Music Conference took place on three stages, with rock and folk acts on the two indoor stages at the Chop Shop, and the urban and hip-hop acts a block away at the Roux Bar behind Boudreaux’s at 36th and North Davidson. Both were well-attended, although Roux is a small venue, and it was hard to walk around in due to the crowd.
The annual Midatlantic Music Conference began with a panel about the state of the music industry in Charlotte, and proceeded to the first showcases of the evening, with rock bands at The Chop Shop and hip-hop at The Roux, all in the North Davidson arts district.