Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Interview: Mekong Xpress on their funky debut album, "Common Knowledge"

Release party to be held this Friday, Sept 28 at the Camel.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 3:50 PM

The first challenge is keeping the Mekongs straight. There is the West Broad Street Vietnamese restaurant, whose ebullient manager, Belgian-ale connoisseur manager An “Mekong” Bui transformed into “the top beer bar in America” for three years straight. And there is the Mekong Xpress, the group of musicians who hung out at the restaurant on Monday nights that he talked into becoming his house band.

That jam session solidified into the current band, which still plays every Monday night at Bui’s cleverly eponymous next-door brew pub, the Answer. It’s a loose gig, with a roughly 9:30 p.m. starting time, a somewhat flexible lineup, and songs called from the stage rather than a pre-determined playlist. Also, there is beer, a literally dizzying variety of craft brews flowing from dozens of taps.

That looseness gives a humanistic edge to the disciplined polish of “Common Knowledge” [Egghunt Records], their debut recording. The overall sound has a classic mid-'70s feel, somewhere in a sonic landscape where early Hall and Oates, Earth Wind and Fire, and The Headhunters overlap.

“That was the height of the tape era,” says bassist Todd Herrington. “Early solid state boards, everyone was isolating and close-miking so you could really hear the instruments.” Chasing that sound, they ran one song through analog recording twice, to round off the edges with tape’s natural compression.

A deep appreciation of that era is a hallmark of the RVA sound, also reflected in Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb house band approach and Devonne Harris’s organic home studio productions. “Common Knowledge” isn’t even available on CD, it’s an LP/digital download-only release.

That the multi-instrumentalist Harris as well as singer Sam Reed make guest appearances is natural, given the how deeply intertwined the Mekong Xpress is in the RVA band tangle. Drummer Kelli Strawbridge leads Kings and channels James Brown in the Big Payback. Herrington, a longtime member of the D.J. Williams Projeckt, also plays in Payback and has been touring with Chris Jacobs. Keyboardist Ben “Wolfe” White is about to tour Europe with the Trongone Band. Guitarist Andrew Rapisardo also plays with Payback as well as Thorp Jenson and Ricky Shay, as well as being a partner at Custom Sign Shop- whose Boulevard location is the band’s practice space.

The other half of the band, The Get Fresh Horns,” includes saxophonist J.C. Kuhl [Agents of Good Roots] and three members of Bio Ritmo: trumpeter Bob Miller, trombonist Toby Whittaker, and, when he is not jetting around the world as a Latin music superstar percussionist, Hector Barez.

Conflicting obligations make scheduling time to perform together challenging. One of the goals of the new record is to reach enough ears to justify suspending other activities to hit the road together. Although positioned as a quartet for tour budgeting reasons, the ideal band is all eight players.

“We just need to find an audience big enough that the Get Fresh Horns get to come along,” Herrington says.

The album has been years in the making, with the first session at Montrose Studios in the winter of 2014 and later sessions when everyone was available. Some of the songs were carefully orchestrated, planned out line by line. Others are “Custom Sign Shop” grooves with lyrics added by whoever was singing them. Or not, in the case of two funk fusion instrumentals.

Talking about the album in the upstairs room at the Answer, the band reflected on how the album came together. The Steely Dan-like opener, “Light On,” is overtly about how they work together. An epic keyboard contribution by guest star Harris was cut back to a few well-placed notes. The catchy, west coast-tinged “Canyon Road” at first seems to be a tribute to the studio-lined street that runs through the arts district of Santa Fe, NM. But writer Wolfe has never been there.

“Originally the lyric was ‘Can’t Unload’,” he admits. “Nobody wants that.”

J.C. Kuhl accidentally recorded a baritone sax solo over what was supposed to be White’s Wurlitzer workout. Forced the choose between the two, the band kept both. Bob Miller was drop-down tired when he recorded the final solo on “Find Yourself,” at the end you can hear him say, “Something like that.” The studio forces discipline and structure absent from their weekly Answer gig.

The release party at the Camel should be something in-between, the looseness remains but there are a set of songs to cover. The Mekong Xpress’s charm is that they are both focused and open, crisply modern and totally broken-in. The secret, if there is one, is trust formed over years on the bandstand.

“You have to just let go and do the best you can,” says Rapisardo. “And sometimes it comes out awesome.”

Meking Xpress Hometown Record Release show is held on Sept. 28 at The Camel in RVA. Opening artists: Kenneka Cook, Sid Kingsley. $10 Advance, $12/door.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: "Sweetheart of the Rodeo 50th Anniversary Tour" at the Beacon Theatre, Sept. 20

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 2:20 AM

When the album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” by the Byrds came out in August of 1968, I wasn’t quite born yet. But from what I’ve since read and heard, it marked a turning point not only for the band, but for the history of rock and country music.

Until then, the Byrds were known mostly for folk rock covers of Bob Dylan and a hit take on Pete Seegar’s “Turn Turn Turn.” But their sixth album surprised fans with a total immersion into traditional country music, spurred by the enthusiasm of the group’s new young vocalist, Gram Parsons.

Recorded in Nashville and Hollywood, “Sweetheart” is filled with gorgeous harmonies, brilliant pedal steel work by Lloyd Green and thrilling electric guitar by Clarence White. These were accomplished songs that would manage to make country music more hip for younger audiences (covers of Dylan’s “Nothing Was Delivered” and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” probably helped). And although a commercial dud at the time, the work's reputation has grown and today many consider it the greatest country rock album ever.

On its 50th anniversary, Byrds founder Roger McGuinn wanted to cheer up his old bandmate Chris Hillman, who was having a bad year with the loss of Tom Petty (his friend and producer) and the loss of his home to a fire. In a wise move, McGuinn and Hillman called in country legend Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives to back them up on a select tour of "Sweetheart" in big cities – oh, and Hopewell. That's right, after stops in Los Angeles and New York, this rare tour rolled into the cozy, sold-out Beacon Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 20 for a nostalgic night that would deliver the musical goods in a big way.

A brief opening set drew from the band's country touchstones that pre-date “Sweetheart,” as McGuinn, wearing a dapper black hat, and Hillman, took turns telling stories about their influences and songwriting (McGuinn noted that after hearing Ringo Starr sing “Act Naturally,” the Byrds were inspired to work the country beat).

The talented Stuart, playing White’s modified Telecaster from the original album sessions, provided the musical muscle that carried the entire show -- bending a dizzying array of notes like nobody's business. Another key ingredient of his band was Chris Scruggs, grandson of legendary banjoist Earl Scruggs, who played numerous instruments including the crucial pedal steel parts in the second set.

For their part, McGuinn and Hillman’s vocals did not disappoint. The first set featured gorgeous takes on “My Back Pages,” “Time Between,” and the shimmering “Easy Rider” gem, “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” as well as covers of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” and Dylan’s “Mr. Tamborine Man” which closed out the 45-minute set, sending the mostly older crowd out to refresh their reasonably-priced drinks.

The second set began with a couple of Marty Stuart rockers (the beaming guitarist noted that this was his favorite tour ever) before diving into all of the “Sweetheart” songs, though not performed in order. There were impassioned takes on fan favorites “The Christian Life” and “Hickory Wind,” with Hillman singing this beautiful Parsons chestnut with gravitas. He also relayed a story about how the Byrds were supposed to perform a different song on the Grand 'Ole Opry, but Parsons insisted on playing “Hickory Wind” for his grandmother, a longtime listener of the show.

Thankfully, there was no airing of grievances tonight; the band has been known to be a bit sour about Parsons getting too much credit for the masterpiece – he was only in the band about five months. By 1973, he had overdosed on morphine and tequila in the Joshua Tree Inn at the age of 26.

Hearing the "Sweetheart" album performed in smalltown Virginia just felt right. Tonight was one of those rare concerts where older legends do justice to their legendary material and a grateful, rapt crowd seemed to recognize how special the night was from before the first note. Throughout the expertly paced show it was easy to imagine these songs never having been performed quite as beautifully, even in their heyday. Among the appreciative crowd were well-known Richmond musicians including Armistead Wellford (Love Tractor) and the Long Ryders’ Stephen McCarthy and Sid Griffin, visiting from Los Angeles. I also met some VCU political science professors and another musician from a Norfolk band called the Mockers, who was so thrilled with the show he planned to see it again in Bristol, Tn. The music seemed to lift everyone's spirits.

A well-deserved five-song encore started with the mariachi-inflected rocker “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star” before breaking into three Tom Petty classics – McGuinn singing “American Girl,” Hillman singing “Wildflowers” (both songs on their past solo albums) and the band delivering a rootsy, down-home take on “Running Down A Dream.” This mini tribute made sense considering Petty was a major Byrds acolyte -- clearly the Byrds loved him back. But as my buddy noted, I might've swapped that third Petty cover for a "Chestnut Mare."

The night’s final song was a feel-good version of “Turn Turn Turn” that had the audience singing along, lost in reverie before a final standing ovation.


Set one:

"My Back Pages" (Dylan cover)

"A Satisfied Mind" (Porter Wagoner cover)

"Mr Spaceman"

"Time Between"

"Old John Robertson"

"Wasn't Born to Follow" (Carole King)

"Sing Me Back Home" (Merle Haggard)

"Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man"

"Mr. Tamborine Man" (Dylan)

Set two:

"Country Boy Rock and Roll" (Marty Stuart)

"Time Don't Wait" (Stuart)

"You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Dylan & The Band)

"Pretty Boy Floyd" (Woody Guthrie)

"Hickory Wind"

"Life in Prison" (Merle Haggard and The Strangers)

"One Hundred Years From Now"

"Nothing Was Delivered" (Bob Dylan & The Band)

"Blue Canadian Rockies" (Gene Autry)

"The Christian Life" (The Louvin Brothers)

"You're Still on My Mind" (Luke McDaniel)

"You Don't Miss Your Water" (William Bell)

"I Am a Pilgrim" [traditional]

"You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Bob Dylan & The Band)


"So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star"

"American Girl" (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

"Wildflowers" (Petty)

"Runnin' Down a Dream" (Petty)

"Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" (Pete Seeger)

Friday, September 14, 2018

Richmond Folk Festival Poster Revealed

This year's artist is well-known local muralist Hamilton Glass.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 4:00 PM

It's become something of a tradition: The first big kickoff in the lead-up to Richmond's largest free music festival of the year. I'm talking about The Richmond Folk Fest poster reveal party at Glave Kocen Gallery.

On Wednesday evening, a group of well wishers and folk festival fans were on hand to see this year's colorful design by local muralist Hamilton Glass. You may recall his community work most recently from the Legacy Wall of outdoor art at Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital.

Glass told Style that he wanted to make a poster that embodied the diversity at the Folk Fest. On first glance, his poster feels in some ways reminiscent of a New Orleans Jazz Fest style poster. "Yeah, I could see that," he says.

"When I go to the Folk Fest, I try to open my horizons and listen to things I wouldn't normally listen to," Glass says. "I love live music. So the folk fest, that's really what it's all about."

Glass was clearly happy to have been chosen as this year's artist, beaming and thanking everyone for their support. Those present enjoyed free munchies from nearby Heritage and drank this year's Folk FestivALE by Champion Brewing, while Andrew Ali and Josh Small provided some appropriately rootsy tunes and a drawing was held for a set of all 14 years of RFF posters.

Echoing past artists, Glass noted that the most challenging part is fitting all the names of the performers on the poster. The whole process took him about a month, two weeks to design and two weeks to paint it with acrylics, he says.

"I had a whole lot more instruments in there, but I had to take things out," he says. "Every name has to be on there [a certain size], and you have to show the artists their respect. It's really harder than it seems."

Currently, Glass is working on the Fresh Paint exhibit at the Virginia Historical Museum, featuring work inspired by the story of Virginia (runs Sept. 10 through April 21, 2019). He's also got a project in Washington, DC for Coca Cola.

The 14th annual Richmond Folk Festival takes place Oct. 12 through 14 along the riverfront downtown. You can go here to learn more about this year's performers.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Director Boots Riley Appearing at ICA as Part of Afrikana Film Fest

Update: Festival postponed due to weather.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 11:25 AM

If you haven't seen one of the most creative indie hit comedies of the year, "Sorry to Bother You," now you've got a chance to witness it inside VCU's new Institute for Contemporary Art with its director in attendance.

As part of the third annual Afrikana Independent Film Festival, director Boots Riley will be appearing at the ICA on Friday, Sept. 14 for a screening of his hit film. Riley is also known for his work with the Bay Area political rap group, the Coup. He will lead a panel discussion after the film, which starts at 7:30 p.m. There will be an afterparty at the HOF at 10:30 p.m.

The three-day festival includes 40 films from across the diaspora, panels, parties and workshops. For more info, visit afrikanafilmfestival.org.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rick Alverson's New Film "The Mountain" Impressing Reviewers at Venice Film Festival

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Church Hill-based filmmaker Rick Alverson is starting to receive strong reviews for his latest film, "The Mountain," currently screening at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in competition against the likes of the Coen Brothers, Mike Leigh, Damien Chazelle, Julian Schnabel and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.

The movie set in the 1950s stars Jeff Goldblum and loosely is based on the life of lobotomist Walter Freeman, who traveled the country lobotomizing mostly women. The film also stars Tye Sheridan, Udo Kier, Hannah Gross and Denis Lavant and features the gorgeous camerawork of Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman ("Amores Perros" and "Heli").

From the reviews, it sounds like a fascinating film and another huge step forward for the Richmond filmmaker who is making a name for himself as one of the most talented and uncompromising indie filmmakers in the country. This is especially noteworthy considering Alverson recoils in disgust from typical Hollywood narratives and is more interested in formal aspects of filmmaking and working to challenge audiences, as I explain in this 2015 cover story about him.

Alverson told me from Venice that the film will likely have its theatrical opening in the spring. His last Richmond premiere of "Entertainment" packed the Byrd Theatre and featured a post-screening New York Deli comedy set by Neil Hamburger, who also starred in the film. It was a memorable night, almost like watching a movie character step off screen into reality -- I've never experienced anything quite like it.

Variety had this to say in its review of "The Mountain":

"The fifth and most austerely polished feature to date from American outlier Rick Alverson, this troubling fable about a shiftless young man (Tye Sheridan) falling under the charismatic influence of a rogue lobotomist (Jeff Goldblum) in the 1950s Midwest may take clear stylistic cues from Lanthimos and Lynch, but it’s no mere exercise in oddball arthouse posing: Alverson’s serene affectations serve a stern, stark thesis about our evolving understanding of mental health, as well as America’s dubious romanticization of its heartland.

Sure to prove polarizing on the festival circuit — it’s hard to imagine that Alverson is shooting for anything but — “The Mountain” should prove enough of a conversation piece to attract highbrow distributor interest, particularly given Goldblum’s recently raised mainstream profile. The star is almost too ideally cast in a more sober spin on his mad-scientist persona, applying signature gonzo tics and phrasing to the role of a brain doctor with more than a few screws loose himself.

The Guardian called it a film "with real cinematic language" and the Hollywood Reporter noted "the whole film is gorgeous to look at ... with Jacqueline Abrahams’ production design poised between realistic sets littered with amusing vintage objects and unnaturally spare hospital wards. A dreamy feeling emanates from DP Lorenzo Hagerman’s muted browns and greens and soft focus. All the clues are there that Alverson and his co-screenwriters Colm O’Leary and Dustin Guy Defa are after bigger game than spoofing 1950s America, as the oft-refrained “Home on the Range,” crooned by Perry Como, might suggest."

Below you can watch the press conference from Venice, featuring members of the cast and Alverson:

Gwar To Destroy "Rick and Morty"-themed DC Bar

Band will be turning it into a Gwar pop-up bar until Halloween.

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 4:00 AM

The Washingtonian ran a story today that announced that Richmond's own metal institution Gwar will be appearing in Washington on Sept.6 for the sole purpose of destroying a Rick-and-Morty-themed bar that was shut down after legal threats from an animated company.

Apparently, "Rick and Morty" is some cutesy animated science fiction thing on Adult Swim.

Here's more from the article:

The theatrical heavy metal band, known for grotesque costumes and gratuitous fake blood, will wreak havoc on the Shaw bar on Thursday, Sept. 6. “They’re going to come in and kick some things around, and break some things, and let Gwar be Gwar,” says Drink Company President Derek Brown, a longtime fan. “We just want to make sure we follow the letter of the law.” (Stay tuned—there will be a video.)

That evening at 5 PM, one section of the three-bar space will reopen as Gwar PUB (Pop-Up Bar), featuring more than 30 years of the Richmond-based band’s real-life stage props and costumes. Not familiar with Gwar? “It’s a kind of sci-fi, horror, comedy show with metal and a touch of Damien Hirst,” Brown explains. Members of the band will make cameos on opening night. The pop-up will run through Oct. 31, when there will be a special Gwar Halloween party.

Monday, September 3, 2018

PICK: Reginald Chapman Album Release at the Vagabond on Wednesday, Sept. 5

Posted By on Mon, Sep 3, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Bass trombonist Reginald Chapman returns to Richmond this Wednesday for the release of “Prototype” [Fresh Selects].

It’s a rare appearance for a onetime local fixture, known for his horn and megaphone work with NoBS! Brass and leading a series of whip-smart small ensembles like UTV Chamber and Pressure Fit. Now Chapman is based in Brooklyn, finishing his doctorate, and stepping out onto the world stage with the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra.

From its angular cadenza opening, the new CD is a solid representation of Chapman’s musical charms. There are nods to standards with “You Go to My Head,” featuring Sam Reed, echoes of NoBS! In the reworked versions of the familiar “Hoodie,” and a timely, ambitious arrangement of “We Shall Overcome.”

The lineup is RVA-rich, including most of NoBS! Brass and Butcher Brown.

The all-star band in the Rabbit Hole features Devonne Harris on drums, trumpeter Marcus Tenney, bassist Andrew Randazzo, guitar wunderkind Morgan Burrs, and Charlottesville saxophonist Charles Owens. It might be a good idea to arrive early.

Reginald Chapman's “Prototype” Album Release show will take place in the Rabbit Hole, downstairs at Vagabond on Wednesday, Sept. 5. Doors at 8. Free admission, but bring money for the disc.

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