By Phil Pucci
December 7, 2014
In 2014 I had the opportunity to catch a countless number of fantastic shows right here in Charlotte. This year, I started working earlier shifts at work, and I took full advantage of my newly free evening time. I was overwhelmed trying to come up with this list, scanning my previously attended events on Facebook and scrolling through my Instagram photos. But here they are—12 shows that stick out to me as special events that make up some of my favorite musical memories from the last 12 months, in chronological order, accompanied by photos snapped with my phone.
Mechanical River & Amigo (January 18 at Snug Harbor)
There is no joy more pure than walking into a club and seeing a band you previously knew nothing about, and getting completely blindsided and blown away by their music. This was the case with Mechanical River, a one-man band from Charleston, SC. No preconceived notions, no expectations. Joel Hamilton set up his gear on an ironing board and sang into a microphone he’d rigged into a baseball catcher’s helmet so that he could fix his gaze on all of the knobs, keys and guitars he was fiddling with. The music was bouncy and Hamilton fired off hooks from all directions. Hometown homies Amigo followed with a reliably rocking performance.
William Z. Villain (March 19 at Roux! at Boudreax’s)
Charlotte sadly lost a music venue this year with the closing of Roux! (at Boudreaux’s) in the summer, but not before a total weirdo from Wisconsin who goes by William Z. Villain took its stage in March. Backed only by a drummer, William Z. Villain’s fingerpicked electric guitar freak-outs and jazzy grooves made his music sound like it could hardly be contained within itself—like it was bursting at the seams.
The Coathangers & Audacity (April 23 at The Milestone)
Atlanta-based trio The Coathangers had fairly recently played Scott Weaver’s locally famous Shiprocked! party at Snug Harbor when they came back to town in March. But the garage punkers kept it fresh, combining the viscerally appealing nature of their two-minute romps like “Nestle in My Boobies” with an erratic, carefree approach to their performance. They made sure to put on a great show, but seemed equally concerned with who was going to get them high afterwards, and which of the band members was in charge of getting shots of whiskey from the bar. The three ladies switched instruments often and raged onstage for over an hour. Audacity opened with a phenomenal set chock-full of power-pop jammers.
Reverb Fest (May 17 at Neighborhood Theatre)
What, am I not supposed to include this? Yes, I booked this festival, and yes, I’m going to feature it in my own article. I don’t ask for much except for everyone to allow me to be shameless. Thirteen local bands played on two stages over the course of six hours and the event provided a thorough and accurate snapshot of what young rock bands in Charlotte sounded like this year. And the event raised nearly $2,000 for Chronic Illness Relief Fund.
Swans & Xiu Xiu (July 1 at Neighborhood Theatre)
“Have you tried moving your head around yet?” My friend Thomas asked me this question during Xiu Xiu’s aurally assaulting performance, which was so strange it felt like performance art. I moved my head around for a few seconds. Whoa. It was a trip. Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart sat at his electronics and manned his mixer with the focus of a figurine maker in his shed. You know, if figurine makers worked exclusively under harsh red lights. Swans followed with their dramatic and near-deafening take on post-apocalyptic rock. Songs built up for several minutes, often climaxing with gigantic open chords and cymbal crashes across two drum kits.
Wild Trees (July 18 at The Milestone)
I told a handful of my friends that I was going to see Wild Trees, and all of them essentially had the same response: “Dude, have fun. It’s going to be fucking amazing.” So unanimous was their praise that of course I was pretty much ready to hate them by the time I got to The Milestone. But of course they slayed. Frontman Israel Haigler played with uninhibited energy, wailing on his guitar and spitting out a carefully crafted blend of indie-pop and emo-inspired vocals. His lyrics blurred the line between vague and overtly political; at one point I’m pretty sure he was singing about self-image destruction caused by Tumblr.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow & Spirit System (July 24 at Snug Harbor)
This show acted as the kickoff for this year’s Recess Fest. Talk about getting the party started right – A Sunny Day in Glasgow were freshly on tour behind their outstanding new album Sea When Absent. The dreamy, blissed out and psychedelic six-piece were led by the interweaving vocals of Jen Goma and Annie Fredrickson. Winston-Salem, NC trio Spirit System opened, haunting Snug Harbor with new wave-infused shoegaze.
Dylan Gilbert (July 26 at Tommy’s Pub)
It’s always the understated performances at Recess Fest that I appreciate the most. Over the last few years I’ve seen some beautifully quiet performances in people’s houses, behind vintage clothing stores and once in an architectural firm in NoDa. This year I saw my friend Dylan Gilbert play gorgeous music in the living room-sized Tommy’s Pub on a Saturday afternoon. Years ago, Charlotte native Dylan Gilbert was known for his kitchen sink approach to playing shows, employing an army of guitar effects pedals and loops. But this time Gilbert’s voice was only accompanied by a single classical-style acoustic guitar. Embracing the simplistic nature of his setup, he let his soulful vocals croon in the forefront, singing about the heartbreak of living very directly.
Protomartyr, The Mineral Girls & It Looks Sad (September 5 at Neighborhood Theatre)
Protomartyr released my favorite post-punk album of the year and in September played many of its songs with vicious force on the small stage of Neighborhood Theatre. Singer Joe Casey looked liked he’d been sleeping in the suit he was wearing all tour long, and haphazardly stumbled around on stage, keeping a PBR tallboy in his jacket pocket. Two fantastic local indie rock bands opened, It Looks Sad starting the evening with lushly laid-out guitar melodies and heartbreaking vocals, followed by the lo-fi, fuzzed out folk-punk of Charlotte trio The Mineral Girls.
Courtney Barnett & Sam Ferrin (October 17 at Visulite Theater)
This tour package was an odd pairing, but hey, if it’s good, it’s good. Sam Ferrin are an ethereal, dramatic, meticulously conducted quintet which at times reminded me of The xx and at other times reminded me of INXS. Courtney Barnett juxtaposed the evening with her wild telecaster-driven indie rock and roll. Guitars were feeding back on stage right and stage left. Barnett’s screeching guitar parts were reminiscent of almost any early 90s lo-fi indie band you can think of. “Avant Gardener” plodded along, Barnett cheekily telling the tale of a time she wanted to get out of the house to be productive, only to end up collapsing in her garden while trying to pull out weeds and going to the hospital.
Sam the Lion & The Loudermilks (October 19 on The Backyard Porch)
Easily one of my favorite musical discoveries this year was Sam the Lion, a band that I’d later learn were formed by some former members of Charlotte greats Sea of Cortez. I was invited to bass player Chris Lonon’s backyard, where he occasionally hosts shows. If Reverb Fest was a portrait of what Charlotte’s 22-year-old songwriters sound like in 2014, this was a portrait of what things look like after those songwriters have aged another decade or two. Old friends chatted while their kids ran around playing. Pizza and beer were provided in the garage. There was an extra bathroom in the master bedroom in case the hallway bathroom was occupied. Sam the Lion’s set was an exercise in restraint; they let their music breathe, allowing guitar & electric piano flourishes to be more effective and resonant. Later, The Loudermilks amped up the energy a little bit with an impassioned alt country performance.
Alvvays, Absolutely Free & Late Bloomer (November 14 at Neighborhood Theatre)
Along with the Protomartyr show, this was a fantastically booked evening. Late Bloomer powered through songs from their recent LP Things Change, seamlessly transitioning between one fuzzy guitar jam to the next. Alvvays lived up to their buzzing success this year, playing sunny pop confections and joking around with the audience between songs.
In this article
- Charlotte Music
- a sunny day in glasgow
- Charlotte Music
- courtney barnett
- dylan gilbert
- it looks sad
- late bloomer
- mechanical river
- Neighborhood Theatre
- phil pucci
- reverb fest
- sam ferrin
- sam the lion
- spirit system
- the coathangers
- the loudermilks
- the mineral girls
- tommys pub
- visulite theatre
- wild trees
- william z. villain
- xiu xiu