This Little Underground

Our live music columnist takes on No Age, Obits, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, hot new locals Fever and the Lone Hymnal, and more

Remember the mind-splattering stampede of high-quality national indie stars that blitzed Orlando just last autumn? Well, the surf’s back up, party people. As you’ll see below, the rush has already begun, most notably with the Parafora Presents Anniversary Week. But already confirmed is a downpour of notables you either already know well or really need to get on. So far, the procession includes Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Sebadoh, Broken Social Scene, Crooked Fingers, Davila 666, Smith Westerns, Yuck, Mike Watt, Dum Dum Girls, Futurebirds, Quintron, Marnie Stern, Starfucker, Caspian, Ra Ra Riot and Say Hi, among many more. Let’s get it on.

The beat

This week’s storyline? Two seriously buzz-worthy new local bands and the general greatness that comes of good guitar tones.

The first bright new local is the Lone Hymnal (Jan. 20, Will’s Pub), who are only a few shows old but have already etched an identity. Their tastefully restrained blend of ’90s American indie rock and alt-twang is a thing of sophistication and gorgeousness. The soul-baring melodies are so utterly natural as to emit the warmth of familiarity, even on the first listen. Besides his skillful playing, Chad King’s guitar tone draped their sound in miles of texture. And it was all executed with an atmospheric subtlety and richness on par with bands such as Luna.

The other hot new local, Fever, debuted at the epic kickoff of the loaded Parafora 
Presents Anniversary Week (Jan. 19, Back Booth). Featuring a couple members of Loud 
Valley, the trio weaves together threads of psych-rock, dark surf and other stylish effects-laden hues to craft a sound that’s haunting, moody and loud. Dealing in a neo-Velvets kind of blackness, their name is apt if they mean the kind of fever you get in the night. I’m talking Black Angels dope here. And in terms of style and tone, frontwoman Kelly MacDonald is one of the area’s most 
compelling new guitarists; there’s real expression in her playing. Fever showed enough in this debut to expect great things from them this year, and their seven-track demo is absolutely heavy with potential. As always, you should check ’em out yourself, which you can do for free at their next show (Feb. 1, Bar-BQ-Bar).

Also memorable was Gainesville’s Diet Cokeheads, whom I should thank. First, for coining a term I can now call my water-hating girlfriend. Second, for blowing me against the wall with their sound. After setting up in the middle of the floor crowd, they ripped forth with a righteous blast of noise-rock and art-punk. It’s a sound that’s impressively heavy and teetering on the edge. Nothing “diet” about their shit.

I saw L.A. headliner No Age play at SXSW in 2008 when they first broke. But between that thin performance and this amazingly robust one, they’ve become a seriously primetime band. In fact, few bands today understand live tectonics as much as No Age. They even brought in an extra guy just to work the effects live. If a jet engine were capable of orchestration, this is what it would sound like. A punk band that’s actually mastered playing and sonics? Now that’s a band that’s maturing in the right way.

The dud on the bill was California solo act Rene Hell, who is what happens when electronic acts don’t go that crucial extra mile in their live presentation. With a wooden performance style that involves far more knob adjusting than actual playing, performers like this are incomprehensible. The calculus they use to justify doing this onstage is simply beyond my grasp, and I’m Asian. The guy who mans the lights at I-Bar is more electrifying than this dude. Nice sounds do not a 
show make.

One band that knows tone is Brooklyn’s Obits (Jan. 16, Will’s Pub). Their punk & roll has a tonal depth that’s typically the real estate of surf bands. But besides this warm sonorousness, economy and muscle are also pillars of their formula. All meat and no fat, it’s very well crafted rock that never fucks around too much.

Also very good was Atlanta opener Gentleman Jesse & His Men, the pet project of Carbonas bassist Jesse Smith. Touched with power pop, ’70s punk and garage rock, their tuneful songs burst brightly with bracing hooks and tone-rich nostalgia, and their tight show is all vim and vigor.

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