Posts Tagged With: Avett Brothers

Places That Are Gone: The Brewery

On this date in 2011, a piece of local-music history died when the Brewery came down — leveled to make way for a fancy student-housing complex. And even though it’s been gone for seven years and plenty of other fine venues have sprouted up since then, I still think of the Brewery as Raleigh’s definitive live-music club. That’s probably a function of age, but it’s an icon in my personal pantheon.

What follows is a rumination inspired by the Brewery and other joints around town that have vanished in the 27-plus years I’ve lived in Raleigh. I read this onstage at Kings nightclub in Raleigh on April 29, as part of the spoken-word series “7 Stories.”

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PLACES THAT ARE GONE
(with apologies to Tommy Keene)

7storiesmeMy name is David Menconi and I have been writing for the News & Observer for 27 years, three months and 14 days — all in that dingy old building around the corner from here. Tonight finds me in a weird moment of limbo, between work addresses.

This past Thursday, April 26, was our last day at 215 S. McDowell St. Pictures were taken, graffiti scribbled, maybe an object or two broken or lifted on our way out the door. Tomorrow morning, the N&O takes up residence in the Bank of America building on Fayetteville Street. We’re all expecting the old building to be bulldozed soon for a skyscraper.

This very club Kings has a transient history, too. For its first eight years, 1999 to 2007, Kings was right down the block from the N&O, across McDowell Street. The old Kings was the first place I ever saw the Avett Brothers, Little Brother and even Bon Iver and Megafaun — although those last two were the same band back then, DeYarmond Edison.

7storiesposterThe old Kings didn’t have the best layout, with the bar in the middle dividing the room in half. But it did have a lot of funky thrift-store charm. This new Kings we’re in now has been here since 2010 and it’s better in every way. Yet I still think of the old Kings as Raleigh’s definitive indie-rock joint. And contemplating the grassy spot next to Poole’s Diner where it once stood, I got to thinking about other music places that have come and gone in Raleigh’s rush into whatever it’s becoming.

When I moved to Raleigh in January 1991, I lived on Clark Street, just across from Cameron Village. I got here too late to experience the Cameron Village Underground and nightclubs like The Pier, which closed in the mid-’80s. But there was a Record Bar over there — remember record stores? — even though the Cameron Village Record Bar was not my go-to store.

No, my go-to back then was The Record Hole, on Hillsborough Street near campus right across from the Brewery. Run by John Swain, an irascible character straight out of “High Fidelity,” it was one of those joints that was closed til it was open, open til it was closed. John could be pretty gruff, until you proved to him you were alright. I passed his test one day when another customer asked the name of Robert Gordon’s first band, and I knew the answer: Tuff Darts. After that, John would save me records he thought I’d like, which was wonderful while it lasted. He was only 42 years old when he died in the summer of 1991, and the Record Hole died with him. That spot has been Curious Goods ever since.

7storieslineupDowntown on West Street, across from Roast Grill, stood the Fallout Shelter — a subterranean spot that had anything and everything. I remember the insane 1993 bidding war over the local band Motorola, who played a showcase at the Fallout Shelter for seemingly every record-label A&R scout in the free world. There were more industry people than paying customers, which was sadly indicative of how the renamed Motocaster’s career went after that, too. The Fallout Shelter closed a few years later, around the time Motocaster was breaking up.

In the mid-1990s, what is now the Lincoln Theatre on Cabarrus Street was called Gillie’s. All I remember about the place was its seating around the bar — swings that hung down from the ceiling, which was pretty precarious late at night after a few drinks. The Pour House over on Blount Street was different back then, too, called The Grove.

Raleigh’s main R&B club downtown was The Vibe, upstairs at 119 E. Hargett St. — where you’ll find Alter Ego hair salon now. In the late ’90s, when Public Enemy was on hiatus, their deejay Terminator X moved to the area and bought an ostrich farm in Dunn. And he’d come down to The Vibe to spin records and hang out with the owner, Greg Dent. A few years earlier, Greg ran another Raleigh club called The Zoo and one of his regulars there was a young man named Christopher Wallace. You might know him as Notorious B.I.G.

Just down Martin Street, the Berkeley Cafe is still there, although its old music hall is now Capitol Smokes next door. But the Berkeley still has bands play on the back patio, which is kind of a shrine to the old Sadlack’s Heroes — the funky beer joint that anchored the Hillsborough Street strip for three decades. That block of Hillsborough is a fancy Aloft Hotel nowadays, but countless musicians worked and played at Sadlack’s over the years. It is, of course, where Ryan Adams formed Whiskeytown in 1994. But that’s another story.

Hillsborough Street is pretty much unrecognizable now from the early ’90s, with the Rathskeller, Western Lanes, Velvet Cloak and IHOP all gone, or going. Even Logan Court, “Faithless Street” to those in the know, was recently torn down. I miss them all.

Still, the long-gone place that lingers strongest in my memory was down at the west end of Hillsborough Street, the Brewery. It’s been gone since 2011, torn down to make way for the student housing complex Stanhope. But in December of 1990, when I came to Raleigh for my job interview at the N&O, the Brewery was the first place here I ever saw a show. Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, who was a lot of fun. While the Brewery wasn’t too long on creature comforts, I quickly became a regular, especially during the eight years when I lived a block away.

In 1992, the band Blind Melon needed to get out of L.A., so their label moved them to Durham. The story I heard was that they needed to go someplace “less druggy,” which is both funny and sad. But that summer of 1992, before their album came out, Blind Melon played every Sunday night for a month at the Brewery, and I was shocked at how terrible they were. At least they remembered to send the Brewery a platinum album to remember them by after they hit it big. I remember seeing it on the wall behind the bar, and I’ve often wondered where it is now.

I also saw the Cranberries at the Brewery, playing for about 40 people a few months before they blew up on MTV. Paul Westerberg, Stereolab, Don Dixon, COC, Flat Duo Jets — too many to count. The Brewery was also one of the sets for the movie “Bandwagon,” which you should see if you haven’t because Jac Cain is in it.

The most fun of all was in the second half of the ’90s, when the Brewery was the CBGBs of alternative country. It was home turf for the Backsliders, who recorded a live album there and called it From Raleigh, North Carolina. Whiskeytown, 6 String Drag, Pine State, $2 Pistols and more all seemed to play the Brewery at least once a month. And at least one band I know of formed there: Tres Chicas, in the women’s bathroom. The acoustics in there were solid, I hear.

A breezeway connected the Brewery with the Comet Lounge next door, and that was the best between-band hangout spot. I especially remember SPITTLEFEST, the “Southern Plunge Into Trailer Trash & Leisure Entertainment,” which brought together a bunch of twangy bands every year. They’d set up a potluck in the breezeway, and I can still picture it. Even smell the barbecue if I try really hard.

Because yeah, I was there. And I’ve even got the T-shirt to prove it.

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Be my winding wheel

As we’ve covered, it’s been a mighty long time since I’ve seen Ryan Adams onstage. The last time was almost 11 years ago, when he came to Raleigh’s Meymandi Hall in June 2005 and played a tense, shambolic and kind of wonderful homecoming show that nobody realized was actually him saying goodbye. Maybe not even Ryan himself.

For whatever reason, Ryan has chosen to stay away from his old hometown and native state, to the point that he’s played every adjoining state within the past year — but not North Carolina. I’ve stayed away, too, not going out of my way to see a show of his elsewhere.

SXSW16Wednesday night, however, found both Ryan and me in Austin, Texas. And if I can’t see him play in Raleigh, seeing him play South By Southwest is probably the next best thing. Ryan was booked into a ballroom at the fancy new Marriott Hotel downtown, on a bill with (irony of ironies) that proudest of North Carolina acts, the Avett Brothers.

“It’s an honor to share the stage with an artist we all adore, Ryan Adams,” Seth Avett said during the Avetts’ opening set. Then he grinned a bit sheepishly as he continued. “Fellow North Carolinian. It’s been…a few years since he played there. But we still claim him.”

Ryan goes back 20 years with SXSW, which is where Whiskeytown had its big music-industry breakthrough show in 1996 — a night when Ryan was so nervous, he was almost too overcome with stage fright to play. Even so, that was the show that pretty much launched Ryan’s career, and he was a SXSW fixture for the next five years.

But Ryan hasn’t been back to SXSW since 2001, even longer than his North Carolina hiatus. So when the late-breaking announcement came that he’d be appearing this year, it seemed like a case of synchronicity that was just too good to pass up.

Of course I went, because how could I not? No, Ryan and I didn’t have any sort of showdown over “Losering.” I kept my distance, content with watching the show as just another face in the crowd. And how was it?

I’d rate it good, if also intermittently anticlimactic for me — which is okay. The show I’d like to see Ryan play does not interest him, just as his recent guises as jam-band guitar god and generic Bryan Adams acolyte don’t much interest me. That said, those songs were fine and earned an enthusiastic crowd response. Ryan’s between-song patter was also amusing as ever, if a tad grumpy.

“It’s none of the songs you like,” he said in response to whoops from the audience when he strapped on an acoustic guitar. “What show do you think you’re at? Crowd-pleasing Ryan Adams is at a different hotel.” The odd part was that this was preamble to 2001’s “New York, New York,” which is still the closest thing Ryan’s ever had to a hit single.

Nevertheless, there were three moments that kind of crushed me, still, all these years later. After commencing with “Gimme Something Good” for the umpteenth time (and after two years, it’s high time to retire this one as set-opener), Ryan swung into “Let It Ride.” A stately glide of a tune from 2005’s Cold Roses opus, “Let It Ride” has always been one of Ryan’s best mid-period solo songs. And I love that he still sings this line:

Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina, where they’re gonna bury me
I ain’t ready to go. I’m never ready to go.

I couldn’t help but smile.

A few songs later came “Dear Chicago,” the farewell song to end all farewell songs. It’s been quiet and solo every other time I’ve seen Ryan play it, but this version was full-band electric. It transposed splendidly to a pop song, with an edge. Ryan is going through an apparently contentious divorce, and he seemed to put a little extra feeling into this line:

I think the thing you said was true.
I’m gonna die alone and sad.

Finally, Ryan strapped on his trusty red-white-and-blue Buck Owens acoustic guitar and shushed the chattery crowd long enough to play “Be My Winding Wheel” unaccompanied. It’s a song from 2000’s Heartbreaker, and all I can say is that it was exactly that — a defiant, foolhardy declaration from someone being left behind, who feels “just like a map, without a single place to go of interest.”

I misted up in spite of myself, thinking about what a long strange trip it’s been since those Whiskeytown shows way back when. My trusty pal Peter Blackstock shot a bit of video of “Winding Wheel,” and I’m glad we have this souvenir (he also reviewed the show here).

Ryan’s 14-song set didn’t have anything from Whiskeytown, which wasn’t surprising. That’s back in North Carolina, so…you know. Anyway, I was glad I went to see him again, after all this time. But I’m not sure when I’ll go again.

So buy a pretty dress. Wear it out tonight. For anyone you think could outdo me…

SETLIST
1 — “Gimme Something Good”
2 — “Let It Ride”
3 — “Stay With Me”
4 — “Dirty Rain”
5 — “Dear Chicago”
6 — “This House Is Not For Sale”
7 — “Everybody Knows”
8 — “Be My Winding Wheel”
9 — “Magnolia Mountain”
10 — “New York, New York”
11 — “Kim”
12 — “Cold Rose”
13 — “When the Stars Go Blue”
14 — “Peaceful Valley”

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SXSW-bound and down

Near as I can tell, it’s been close to 11 years since I was knowingly in the same room as Ryan Adams. It happened in June 2005, the last time he played a show in his old hometown of Raleigh, a night that was deeply emotional all the way around (more about that is in chapter 16 of “Losering”). It’s been easy enough to keep my distance from Ryan since then, because that was the last show he played anywhere in North Carolina. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to avoid playing his native state nowadays.

SXSW16In the fall of 2011, when I was writing “Losering” and Ryan was touring for his Ashes & Fire album, I did ponder whether or not to get on a plane to go see him play somewhere else. But the timing didn’t really work out, as far as making it happen before the book’s deadline. So I let it go, and I’ve been content to leave my Ryan live experiences in the past.

Next week, however, I’ll be in Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest. And wouldn’t you know it, Ryan was just added to the schedule, which will be his first SXSW appearance since the early 2000s. He and his fellow North Carolina natives the Avett Brothers are to co-headline a showcase sponsored by Marriott Hotels. And in spite of it all — his non-cooperation, the fact that I haven’t really loved an album he’s done in many a year, and on and on — the sad truth remains that I don’t see how I can stay away.

 

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Good talk on WUNC’s “The State of Things”

TSOTWUNCThursday brings Asleep at the Wheel to my home turf to perform at the Carrboro ArtsCenter. And while they’re in the vicinity, “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson and I will be appearing on “The State of Things,” the mid-day talk show on WUNC 91.5-FM (and a show I’ve been on before). I believe Ray and I are scheduled to be on the air at about 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time Thursday.

RayCoverWe’ll be talking with host Frank Stasio about the book, of course, and also probably the Wheel’s “Merry Texas Christmas!” show happening Thursday night — not to mention their New Year’s Eve return engagement, opening for fellow travelers the Avett Brothers at Greensboro Coliseum. So tune us in on the radio (or listen online), and then drop on by the show at the ArtsCenter later and say hey. I bet Ray can be talked into signing copies of the book.

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“Austin City Limits” — from within Austin’s city limits

ACLI’m bummed to be missing Saturday night’s Yesterday’s News/Strangers Almanac show back home at Raleigh’s Berkeley Cafe. But I’ll be in a fun place, Austin for the Texas Book Festival, and at least there will be something decent to watch on TV that same night — “Comin’ Right at Ya” subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson playing on “Austin City Limits” with Asleep at the Wheel, alongside Sturgill Simpson plus guests including the Avett Brothers (with whom the Wheel will play on New Year’s Eve), Amos Lee and various Texas Playboys.

That’s cool, even if the timing of it is pretty ironic for yours truly: The book festival brings me to Ray’s hometown on the same weekend he’s on a television program I would have been able to watch from anywhere in the country. The Wheel and “ACL” go all the way back to the show’s very beginnings, episode no. 1 in 1976 (after Willie Nelson played the pilot), and the group has been on it enough times since over the years to be inducted into the “Austin City Limits” Hall of Fame this past June.

Anyway, check here to find exactly when and where in your area it will air. Here in Austin, looks like it’s on at 7 p.m. local time on public station KLRU-TV. And in the Raleigh/Durham vicinity, it comes on at midnight Saturday on UNC-TV.

AATWACL

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Asleep at the Wheel for the holidays

AATWXMASDunno how your holiday season is shaping up this year, but mine is looking quite Asleep at the Wheel-intensive. I already had them penciled in for New Year’s Eve with the Avett Brothers over in Greensboro. And closer to home, the Wheel has just been announced for Dec. 17 at the Carrboro ArtsCenter with a Western swing holiday-themed show titled “Merry Texas Christmas, Y’all!”

You might think it odd for someone of the Jewish faith to do a Christmas show. But as Ray puts it in the closing Epilogue of “Comin’ Right at Ya,” “We’ve done two Christmas albums even though I’m Jewish because, between Jesus and Irving Berlin, there would be no Christmas without Jews.”

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Asleep at the Wheel on New Year’s Eve

In my personal hierarchy of holidays, New Year’s Eve ranks near the bottom. Anywhere you go that night tends to be overcrowded with too many people trying way too hard to cram too much “fun” into one night, because they don’t get out enough the rest of the year. But this New Year’s Eve looks like it has some potential to be really cool.

Nice to see Asleep at the Wheel opening for the Avett Brothers, especially after the Avetts were one of the acts contributing to the Wheel’s latest Bob Wills tribute album Still the King.

AATWNYE

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GQ says Brian Adams, I say Ryan Adams, let’s call the whole thing off

Oh, GQ magazine. How do you go from bad to worse? Well, you do a listicle in which actor Rainn Wilson details his “10 Essentials,” including a Jura Espresso Machine, Orson Welles and “Songs Played By Sad, Intelligent Men With guitars.” Given the company below, the name between Josh Ritter and Bob Dylan is almost surely supposed to be Ryan Adams. Alas, GQ glitched it as “Brian Adams” (and also misspelled both the Lumineers and Elliott Smith). But the great thing about the web is you can correct flubs like this, which GQ did several hours after this went online — except they compounded their mistake by changing it to not to Ryan, but his birthday doppleganger Bryan Adams. Noooooooooooooo!

GQglitch

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