This Little Underground 

Bao Le-Huu takes on Fire in the Cave, Appleseed Cast, Two-Piece Mini Fest, Cassandra Wilcox and more

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R.I.P., Jerry Leiber. Beginning in the ’50s,he and partner-in-crime Mike Stoller teamed up to form a pioneering songwriting and production duo whose achievements are historical and many. Chief among them was being the first to imbue black American music with epic production, thereby expanding the sonic vista of pop music in a landmark way. Phil Spector may have built the Wall of Sound, but these two visionaries laid the foundation. Man, the orchestral sweeps on those old Drifters and Ben E. King records still make me swoon.

THE BEAT

Seeing way heavy bands in an art gallery is weird (Aug. 24, Substance). But, hey, good is good, wherever it is. Local band Sterile Prophet threw down nicely with their horned Southern sludge. With doomed grooves, hardcore vocals and deep, dark blues riffage, they’re impressively leaden but still surprisingly dimensional.

Melbourne’s Arc and Panther dropped some bombs with their noisy hardcore. While the slower shades of the heavy spectrum rob your breath by crushing your chest with sheer tonnage, these guys do it through the hard, pummeling relentlessness of their dynamic cacophony.

But bringing the real pain was brand new Orlando squad Fire in the Cave. Literally. By “cave,” they must mean “ear hole,” because I had to book it to the bathroom only seconds into their irrationally loud set for toilet paper to stuff my ears. With the shock now managed and sense returning to my thoughts, I stepped back into the room and marveled at how sonically tangible they still were. It is seriously a horizontal avalanche of sound gunning for the back of your skull. Their titanic cliffs of riffs swing between triumphantly piercing the sky and straight up blow-torching your hide off. It’s doom that’s grand, black and staggeringly visceral. They may be new, but they’re coming with supreme and possibly dangerous sonic ambitions. For them, it’s victory and annihilation or bust.

Seeing them now, it’s astounding to think that Kansas band the Appleseed Cast (Aug. 24, The Social) started out as an emo outfit. To their credit, they had reasonable taste and therefore bled their poor little hearts from the right side of the emo tracks. But still, fast forward to today and you’ve got a toweringly full band whose large, heavenly post-rock movements are capable of great intelligibility and tenderness, even without vocals. If every emo band could turn out this well, that would be a just world.

Fellow Kansas band Hospital Ships opened with their more atmospheric take on the kind of sheepish, plaintive and pleasant indie rock from the late ’90s and early ’00s. Though nice enough, their performance was a bit sleepy, not really stirring until the rousing finale.

Though the quality was inconsistent, I like that the Two-Piece Mini Fest, which debuted early this year, made a reprise (Aug. 26, The Social). Besides swaggering sets by Bob on Blonde, Melbourne’s the Dull Blades and the improved Yogurt Smoothness, the overall selection didn’t feature enough of the rugged kind of rock duos that rightfully rule the two-piece format. Panama City’s SuperMoon dealt in rock but were thin and middling. Still, I very much believe in the theme. Furthermore, the dual-stage setup was great, minimizing lag time and maximizing action. And, well, the hula-hooping of the Moon is a Disco Ball girls is always entertaining.

Notably good was local artist Cassandra Wilcox, whose songwriting is quickly getting better. With the accompaniment of a drummer as strong as Mumpsy’s Jeff Ilgenfritz, her songs took off and sounded like they’re heading for greater heights than she ever achieved with former band Wilbur.

Not so good was local band Bellows, two dudes who sure juggle a lot with drums, guitar, synthesizer, laptop and harmonica. I always admire a small band that’s high-functioning. But good god, man, the pieces all gotta go together otherwise the whole thing’s down the toilet. And unfortunately, they’re too undercooked as players to be able to wrangle all these elements into cohesion. But I’ve seen them twice now and have come to the conclusion that their fatal problem is their marshmallow center. At heart, this is barefoot-guy-and-an-acoustic-guitar fare, with all the trite collegiate emoting that entails. So with Bellows, it’s not an issue of ambition. It’s an issue of taste.

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