This Little Underground 

Our live music columnist takes on Social Distortion

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In the month since I firstmentioned free local shows as a new event model worth consideration, it’s been nice to see a proliferation of good ones around downtown.

During these rough economic times, we all have to pitch in to maintain our scene’s vitality, or it will die. We must do whatever it takes to sustain it because if nobody’s there to hear it, there may as well have been no noise at all. Just because we’re not making money doesn’t mean we can’t be productive. So why not do it with some steeze?

In business terms, I realize this approach entails risk and requires coordination. But hungry venues and promoters should be willing to try anything reasonable to snap public apathy. And the first step is to lower perceived barriers to fun. Free shows are timely, responsive to conditions and, if done right, can keep a venue’s bottom line intact or even awaken it. Clubs willing to take a chance and be creative (i.e., paying bands a percentage of the overall bar take instead of the traditional cover charge) could reap the spoils, even in dry times. At the very least, it’s a well worth digging and therefore a drum worth beating.

Attendees obviously like a free show and bands in the indie community have enthusiastically embraced the concept. Lately, it looks like this idea may be gaining traction with some venues. (Cheers to Will’s Pub, Uncle Lou’s, Stardust and Back Booth for being game enough to roll the dice on the idea so far.)

Much of this tough reality is beyond our control. But a rich class of talent and an active culture that loves good music is something we have here, so it’d be a shame if our music scene became one of the casualties of the times.

The Beat

What drove home the above idea was the latest high-profile free show (Nov. 16, Back Booth) featuring Bananafish (who announced their official name change to the more evocatively apt Loud Valley, and gave away free music), Basements of Florida (who anchored the big showcase at Will’s that first showed me the big potential of a good free show), Wilbur and Tampa’s best new band, Sleepy Vikings. The healthy attendance reflected how a well-curated, well-promoted free show leaves zero excuse to miss it, and the vibe reflected a palpable sense of event.

Besides the usual tough-guy love-in that is a Social Distortion show (Nov. 14, House of Blues), there wasn’t too much out of the ordinary since their first new record in more than six years was supposed to be out in time for this tour, but was pushed back to January. They’re legendaryand they’re professional so naturally you’re gonna get a solid, rousing set. However, despite playing on theme-park property, Mike Ness is one of the few artists to play here who astutely drew a distinction between Orlando and Disney. So cheers for giving us a little credit.

An inspired gesture was hand-picking Lucero to open, a move that plays especially well here. We were one of the first cities onto these Memphis country-punks and, boy, were we right about this bright star. Their current record, 1372 Overton Park, was a shift in style that nodded directly to the luxe soul tradition of their hometown. And despite playing a support role, they didn’t skimp in the least to replicate this new sound with their most populated lineup to date, horn section and all. It’s not necessarily my preferred aspect of this band, but they’re showing evolutionary finesse and confidence.

Downtown were Brooklyn revivalists Miss Tess & the Bon Ton Parade (Will’s Pub), who rocked the old-time swing like Knoxville’s Christabel & the Jons. They execute vintage jazz, folk and blues with poise, but handled country so well on the crowd-stealing lap-steel mastery of Raphael McGregor that it makes me wish they did a whole lot more of it. There is a singularly golden glow about a joint when this kind of stuff is onstage. Like an old postcard, it conjures burnished memories that are always nicer than reality.

BTW, I fully expect to still be in a coma next week, so no column. But my tryptophan vision quest should be over the following week. Til then, be deeply and openly thankful for everything you have. Now passthe gravy.


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