By: Chris Gaspar
Brock Butler/Will Bradford :: 12.20.08 :: Hookah Joe's :: Asheville, NC
Lack of jobs, cost of living and vagrancy are only a few of the frustrating elements facing the mountainous sanctuary of Asheville, North Carolina. However, if you are an A&E aficionado you can easily rebuff those negatives and marvel at the abundance of talent funneled into this little mountain city. The bookings of AC Entertainment combined with the presence of The Music Allies and Echo Mountain Recording has infused a creative "breath of fresh air" into a community that was already firmly implanted in arts overdrive. Outstanding live venues like the Orange Peel, Diana Wortham Theatre and Grey Eagle flourish downtown while cutting edge facilities like Blue Ridge Motion Pictures thrive as well; in Western North Carolina these days, it's hard not to feel lucky .
Largely unaware to many outside the Asheville community, Hookah Joe's is a hip little venue where you can puff tobacco and fruit blends to your heart's delight. Comfortable and welcoming, my inaugural visit certainly will not be my last and I was pleasantly surprised by not only the size of the stage but also the layout of the room.
"We wanted to do something different, sort of like an Austin City Limits feel" noted show promoter Joel Stout of Coma Gun Music. "The hookahs, couches and ambiance provide a favorable setting where one can actually watch and appreciate the music, instead of merely dancing and standing in a crowd. Their management is superb and the venue is the perfect fit for an intimate candlelight show."
This particular night brought a unique event to Asheville with Brock Butler
(Perpetual Groove) and Will Bradford (SeepeopleS) taking a night off from their normal gigs and delving into quieter realms.
When he isn't concurrently in the studio with SeepeopleS, gigging with his new side project Freepeoples Frequency or fronting a grassroots rep agency Will Bradford relishes playing quiet solo gigs. Normally the focal point of a loud, groundbreaking rock quartet, Bradford welcomes the chance put a new spin on his older catalog while introducing newly coined material to smaller audiences. He started off the night's festivities with "The Way the World Will Fall" from SeepeopleS' excellent second album, The Corn Syrup Conspiracy. If there ever were a "radio hit" from his full band this would be the one. The studio version has an entrancing drumbeat, searing guitar wankery and features a triumphant refrain that can push even the most casual fan into a sing-along. Hearing the song stripped down offered a fresh perspective on the tune that also revealed exactly how much production goes into the songs that make the jump into SeepeopleS' catalog.
|Butler & Bradford :: 12.20 by Joel Hudson|
Bradford pushed ahead with tracks such as "Stranded on the Sidewalk," "Apocalypse Cow" and "Someday Robots" - a trio of songs on SeepeopleS' current release, Apocalypse Cow Vol. 1. This trifecta displayed Bradford's keen sense of songcraft and brought to the forefront his clever and, at times, defeated outlook on life and government.
As the set continued, Bradford unleashed a trio of covers in between originals "Out Here on Our Own" and "Oceans of The Abandoned," both cuts off SeepeopleS' debut album, For the Good of the Nation. Radiohead's "Karma Police" was followed by The Verve's "Stormy Clouds," and the capper of Neil Young's "Old Man" was met with an uproarious cheer from the modest but passionate crowd. The highlight of the set came at the tail end when Butler emerged to accompany Bradford on a spirited version of The Beta Band's "Dry the Rain" off their cult favorite The Three E.P.'s . Bradford finished off his set with the debut of a new song, "New Way Home," which one can anticipate will make it into the SeepeopleS catalog before too long.
Will on Will
"The band's fourth album is near completion and we are taking a short break from touring to focus more time in the studio, which means more opportunities for quiet solo appearances around town," says Bradford. "With SeepeopleS there is a lot of noise to sing over and I end up singing songs a bit differently when mixed only with an acoustic guitar. Many of our tunes I find myself pushing hard vocally and at times I enjoy scaling back and letting my voice relax a bit. I particularly enjoy performing material like 'Out Here on Our Own' solo acoustic. The song is truly bombastic when playing with the band, but I enjoy hearing it in a more intimate setting."
|Hookah Joe's :: 12.20 by Joel Hudson|
Brock on Will
"Will Bradford is a great friend and colleague. I have always been a fan of his band, SeepeopleS, and love working with all the guys in the group. They are one of the few bands that PGroove did a series of consecutive shows with, good friends," says Brock. "Will himself is a versatile songwriter, and he has hooks that get stuck in my head, songs like 'Apocalypse Cow.' Sometimes I can't stop myself [from singing], 'Put your helmets on.' Argh! Stop it, Brock! Two seconds later, 'Put your helmets on,' then I just surrender."
I think Perpetual Groove is a solid live act. It's understandable to dismiss them if you are not a fan of soaring guitar riffs and long, electronic jams, but they are clearly head and shoulders above many pretender bands playing for a similar ticket price. Having seen Brock perform solo only a handful of times, I was anxious to see what kind of material he would toss out during his set. Perhaps taking a cue from Bradford's set, Butler continued with a laid-back, cover-filled extravaganza that paid tribute to some of his favorite artists.
As the audience squeezed closer together on the couches positioned throughout the venue, Butler began on a familiar note with "All This Everything," a staple in the PGroove rotation. Similar to Bradford's "The Way the World Will Fall," "ATE" normally stretches to tremendous peaks, yet at Hookah Joe's the lyrics were more intimate with one man, one guitar. Four of the next five songs saw Butler highlight not only some of the world's most decorated performers, but also up and coming acts. Paul Simon's "Slip Sliding Away," Béla Fleck's "Big County" and Brett Dennen's "Ain't No Reason" were sprinkled in a harmonious order and opened a keyhole of insight into Butler's varied musical preferences.
|Brock Butler :: 12.20 by Joel Hudson|
One of the welcome surprises of the night came in the form of Matt McDonald. McDonald or his newest moniker MSM (My Subversive Media) is the former "key master" for Perpetual Groove who struck out on his own last year to pursue solo electronic ventures. McDonald has been known to strap on the axe every now and then and stepped in on acoustic guitar for a handful of songs at the end of the set. After performing a new Butler original, the duo settled in on an ominous version of Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues." This proved to be a fitting selection as the pair switched gears from the somber undertones of that song into the emotionally uplifting "Sweet Oblivious Antidote." The two mates were having a great time, and belted out some tremendous two-part harmonies that were happily received from the pockets of diehard PGroove fans in attendance. As McDonald exited the stage, Butler shifted into wrap-up mode delivering his final song of the set, a quirky take on Fatboy Slim's "Praise You."
After a well-deserved ovation, Butler appeased the packed hookah bar by reemerging for one of the most indelible tracks on Perpetual Groove's latest release Live Love Die. "It Starts Where It Ends" capped off the night and closed out a therapeutic three hour stretch from the newly dubbed "Killer B's."
Brock on Brock
"I like the sit down couch aspect of Hookah Joe's, and I think that had an effect on my song selections. I didn't expect a big dance party and sometimes that allows material to get played that I usually don't perform. The covers I choose are essentially what is the 'playlist' of my life. 'Barefoot Children in the Rain' is a Jimmy Buffett song, 'Big Country' is Béla Fleck, toss in some Brett Dennen and Fatboy Slim and I think you see what I'm getting at. You might hear Steely Dan one night or Guns n' Roses the next, but to me it's all fair game," says Butler. "On a good night it will make the performance diverse and I don't believe I would enjoy doing a show that was genre specific all the way through. Even with Perpetual Groove, I like to think we change gears to keep the eardrums stimulated. If it's a big party room, I might not want to risk going into a somber song like 'Outside Party,' which I think is powerful and moving but maybe not the best choice to get the room shakin'. It's a tricky balance, party time or music that demands a little more of the audience; both can be satisfying."
Will on Brock
"I am always blown away when I watch Brock perform solo," says Bradford. "He is someone who lives and breathes songwriting and that's something I really appreciate. He understands the weight of the words he is singing and always maintains a harmonious balance between words and music. Brock really is a GREAT guitar player. I am always a bit envious."
Those who have never given these guys a chance should absolutely try and catch one of their solo runs. I applaud them for not only being able to wear traditional rock 'n' roll hats, but also for their ability to leave the bells and whistles in the van and roll up to a venue with merely a guitar and amplifier in tow.
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