Posts Tagged ‘ Howlies ’

[LIVE REVIEW] Secret Stages Music Festival in Birimingham, AL

Noot d' Noot

There were a number of unknowns surrounding the first-ever Secret Stages music festival in Birmingham, AL.  I knew it had a good lineup, but I didn’t know how it would function as a festival.  Would it feel like a unified event, or just a bunch of loosely connected shows taking place during the same weekend?  Would each individual venue stick to their schedule?  Would anybody show up?

Luckily, the answers to those questions were good ones.  Secret Stages definitely felt like an interconnected festival.  There was a central, blocked off area in downtown Birmingham that served as the main hub, with vendors, an outdoor stage, and several of the participating venues all situated around the same city block.  All of the other venues were nearby, too, so it never took more than few minutes to get from one place to another.  Furthermore, they all had prominent Secret Stages placards displaying their schedule out front, and they miraculously stuck to that schedule for most of the weekend.   There were a couple of logistical issues that I’ll talk about later, but for the most part the festival was run smoothly.

Plus, the music was just great.  Almost all of the lineup was composed of emerging bands from the Southeast, and the organizers had clearly done their homework.  In this case, “emerging” never meant “your friend’s brother’s bar band that plays locally 3 times a year.”  There were a ton of genuinely talented bands that look like they have great things on the horizon.

So, how was the attendance?  I would say it was about what I expected.  When the biggest names in your lineup are The Love Language, G-Side, and Dawes, you’re not going to be drawing massive crowds.  This festival is a celebration of under-the-radar bands, so they’re catering to a smaller crowd of music lovers willing to seek out the unfamiliar, and I would say they were successful in drawing in that crowd.  The club shows all seemed like they were more well-attended than they would have been under non-festival circumstances.  I think a lot of bands probably played to crowds 2 or 3 times the size of what they would have drawn had they booked an unrelated show on another weekend.  That’s especially impressive when you consider the fact that there was a ton of scheduling overlap among the 11 stages.

Day by day breakdown of what I saw below.

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[VIDEO] Howlies at Secret Stages

I had a great time this weekend at Secret Stages in Birmingham.  I’ll have a more in-depth review up tomorrow, but for now here’s a video of Howlies performing at the festival.

Secret Stages is a regional music festival worth your $25

One of my favorite things about music festivals is the thrill of discovery.  It’s somewhere between unlikely and impossible that the average festival-goer is familiar with every single act on any given lineup, so encountering new music is almost inevitable.  Even if you plan your schedule around tried and true favorites, you’ll probably end up hearing something unfamiliar along the way.

Discovery seems to be one of the driving forces behind Birmingham, AL’s Secret Stages, a new walking festival that will feature emerging bands from all across the Southeast.  There are a handful of acts with considerable national recognition (Dawes, The Love Language, and G-Side, among others), but most of the lineup is made up of bands looking to make the move from local to regional to national.  The festival was booked with the intention of showcasing some of the most promising under-the-radar bands in the region.  “We literally went through every state in the Southeast and handpicked our favorites,” says festival organizer Travis Morgan.

The Atlanta bands making the trip this year definitely back up those claims.  We will be represented by Noot d’ Noot, Howlies, Oryx and Crake, The Booze, and The Biters, all of whom have received a strong reception in their respective local scenes and seem poised for more recognition outside of Atlanta.  The same can be said for Athens’ Futurebirds, Venice is Sinking, and Madeline.  For me, Secret Stages’ biggest draw is the chance to discover these bands’ counterparts from Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and beyond.  It’s a chance to hear some of the best stuff from other regional music scenes.  And it’s cheap – weekend passes are only $25.  VIP passes guaranteeing priority entry to venues are $55, and that also gets you access to a VIP area with complimentary food and booze.  That should pay for itself.

The two day festival will take place across six different venues and one outdoor stage in downtown Birmingham.  Morgan says the schedule is being put together “strategically,” with bands assigned to appropriately sized venues and not necessarily grouped by hometown or genre, a scenario that seems ideal for audience cross-polination.  Show up to support some hometown heroes, then stick around to see something new.

When asked about future plans for Secret Stages, Morgan stresses that the festival wants to maintain its regional focus.  The festival isn’t just trying to replicate the success of SXSW or CMJ: “I’ve definitely been to both events and they certainly have made an impact on me.  I know they both started out very small like Secret Stages, but our ambitions are not to necessarily grow to the size of those festivals.”  The focus will remain on putting together a quality festival with the best acts the region has to offer.  Those are modest ambitions, but that’s for the best.  If the festival got too big, it would be at the expense of what makes it unique.

Some of the other lineup highlights are Crooked Fingers, Thomas Function, Wooden Wand, Glossary, Jack Oblivian, William Tyler, Jacuzzi Boys, Pujol, and The Deloreans.  The full current lineup can be found after the jump (there are still more acts to be announced).  There will be comedians performing, too.  More information can be found on Secret Stages’ website, and tickets can be purchased here.

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This week’s shows (2/14/2011-2/20/2011)

Monday (2/14/2011): Valentine’s Day.  If your date is a fan of electronic music, head over to 529:  Hijacking Music is throwing a free Valentine’s Day party with music from B4N533, Tricil, Labels Are Limits, Graham Yoder, and Ghost Party.  There will be a “Cupid’s Cutest Couple Contest,” too.  Single people and couples who don’t give a shit about the holiday will probably be welcome, too. [UPDATE] – Apparently The Black Lips are playing the Clermont Lounge, too.  Not a lot of details yet, but it doesn’t appear to be a private show or anything.

Wednesday (2/16/2011): The night’s best bet is probably at The Earl for math-rockers Sorry No Ferrari, with the like-minded Humboldt Trio and Mog Rocket opening, but there’s also a good option across the street, too.  Eastside Lounge has been putting on some really solid local shows lately, and they’ve got another one lined up for Wednesday, with Glen Iris, Spirit Hair, and The King Congregation.  I hope they keep this up, it’s always nice to have another option (even if the space is kind of strange).  Elsewhere, The Drunken Unicorn has a triple bill of cool electronic pop from locals Wowser Bowser and Qurious, plus South Carolina’s Backseat Dreamer.

Thursday (2/17/2011): The theme of this month’s free Thursday Deluxe at Star Bar is apparently “they’re better live.”  Headliners Little Tybee already have some really good recorded music to their name, but nothing you can stream or download online will truly give you an idea of how much energy Hello Ocho and Reptar put into their respective live shows.  A Fight to the Death side project The Future of Airports will be playing downstairs between sets.  That one is going to be epic.  Howlies, Brass Bed, and Trench Party at The Earl should to be a good time, too.

Friday (2/18/2011): Red Sea, A. Grimes, Soft Powers, and The Leotards play Picaflor Studio on Friday.  Jonathan Richman (with Tommy Larkins) begins a 2 night stand at the Highland Inn Ballroom, but if you’re going to that, you probably don’t need me to remind you.  Dude has some serious fans.  Jesco White was supposed to do his thing at Star Bar, but he canceled.  Pretty surprising, the guy seems like such a professional.

Saturday (2/19/2011): If you haven’t seen The Back Pockets live yet, you really should fix that.  Their live shows are theatrical and participatory, but the songs and performances would be worth your attention regardless.  They celebrate an album release this Saturday at the Big House (368 Ponce de Leon).  Carnivores, Buffalo Bangers, and Bubbly Mommy Gun open.  There’s also Richman night 2 at Highland Inn Ballroom.  More Wowser Bowser, too, this time at 529 with So So Death, Mountain Lion, and Night Moves GoldCousin Dan headlines Star Bar, with Wolves, Machines Are People Too, and Anomine.  Local hardcore throwbacks Predator headline Drunken Unicorn, with Balkans side-project WIFE and Transvestite, which features members of The Coathangers and Thy Mighty Contract.  Finally, there’s Futurebirds, Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, and Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires at The Earl.

Review: Howlies – Stunned EP

As an indicator of where Howlies are headed, the 5 song Stunned EP is cause for optimism. It shows growth from their already good debut and finds the band moving away from some of their jokier tendencies without totally shedding the winking sense of humor that has always been a part of their sound.

That might not be immediately apparent, though. Opener “Zombie Girl” wrings a few clever lines out of its nightmare-ex-as-zombie metaphor, but it comes dangerously close to novelty song territory. It’s a trap the other four songs here manage to avoid. There’s definitely still humor there, but it comes through in a witty, Elvis Costello kind of way. It’s not the focal point like it was in something like “Aluminum Baseball Bat.” They get away with some fairly obvious wordplay in the chorus of “Yer Hell,” but it’s mostly because the surrounding lyrics are so much less direct and vocalist Aaron Wood doesn’t try to oversell the bravado.

There are some slight shifts musically, too. They’re still primarily in the old school garage rock zone, but I hear a deeper groove in some of these tracks than I did on the debut. The bass lines sound more vital. The punk influence is more pronounced, too. “Stunned” and “Secret Charmer” in particular wouldn’t sound that out of place on a Dead Boys or Richard Hell album. And the frantic acoustic guitar on “Tie Me Up, Throw Me Down” is a nice addition to the arsenal.

Pick up a copy and support one of Atlanta’s best bands. It’s available on 10” vinyl or as a digital download for just $4 (get it here).

Creative Loafing Music Issue + Party @ Star Bar


Last week, Creative Loafing put out their first ever all-music issue. It was mostly good. The Cabbagetown oral history and making of Aquemini pieces were both very well done, and the photo essay was nice. But some of the interviews/conversations went nowhere. The Bradford Cox interview was probably the most egregious example – Cox spent most of the time resisting the subject he was ostensibly being interviewed about and trying to distance himself from both the current and former Atlanta music scenes. He’s always an interesting subject, but the packaging seemed disingenuous. It didn’t mesh with the themes of the rest of the issue, but it was dressed up like it did anyway. At least it was more substantial than the Gentleman Jesse/Coco conversation, which was amusing but slight, and the Frobos/Lopez one, which didn’t even manage to be amusing.

Those minor quibbles aside, I think it was a solid issue and a good effort, and the show they threw to celebrate was a blast. Star Bar’s a great place for a party, and the lineup was a strong representation of the local indie scene.

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Howlies are playing lots of new songs

Howlies are doing it right. They played 7 new songs last night at the Earl, opening with 6 of them. At least one had never been played live before. I recognized a few of the new ones from the show they played at 529 back in February where they also played a ton of new material, but at that show the new/old material was split about evenly. Last night, they only played four tracks from Trippin’ With Howlies, the debut album they released a little over a year ago. It’s crazy to think that they’re already moving on to new material. Most bands in their position would tour hard behind their debut and not focus on new songs for awhile, especially when that debut isn’t some half-assed collection of 7”s or glorified basement demos. Trippin’ With Howlies sounds great (much has been written about how they got Kim Fowley to produce the thing) and it seems representative of who they are as a band. So it’s strange that they’re moving on so quickly. Gentleman Jesse’s set opening for Ted Leo last weekend (which I swear I’m going to write about later today) consisted mostly of songs from his 2008 debut. The Coathangers stuck almost exclusively to songs from the year old Scramble at 529 on Tuesday. It’s not uncommon and it’s totally understandable for bands to do this.

So it’s a surprise that Howlies are already so focused on new material, but it’s not a bad surprise. I think it sounds pretty great. It’s more like “Chimera” and “Angeline” than “Sea Level” and “Whiskey Night,” but that’s the side of the band I preferred anyway. How much you like the new songs will probably depend on which camp you fall into. My companion at last night’s show (who will likely be contributing here in the near future) is in the latter camp, and she was less impressed with the new ones.

They’re already recording the album, and if they’re playing this much of it live, I’m assuming (and hoping) it will be out by the end of the year.