Buy these now: Northeast Underground’s top albums of 2011

If you’ve read the headline, then you know the drill. Presented here in no particular order are the Northeast Underground’s picks for the best albums of 2011. Some you might know, others may have flown below your radar. Pick them all up now to ring in 2012 on a high note. Or if you disagree with the list, write in your own picks in the comment section.

Smile SessionsThe Smile Sessions

The Beach Boys

(Capitol/ EMI)

Dubbed “the best rock album never finished,” the official issuing of the Beach Boys’ most mystique-filled work is not quite perfection but many fans could likely care less. Intended as the follow-up to the group’s acclaimed Pet Sounds, the songs making up the original SMiLE record remained in vaults for over 30 years after their late ‘60s recording sessions collapsed amidst fierce band opposition and the fragile mental state of chief composer Brian Wilson. Now, available as part of a two-CD deluxe edition or a 5-CD box set the pop melancholy of tracks like “Wind Chimes,” “Barnyard” and “Vega-Tables” can finally be heard in all their glory. While Wilson famously released a reworked version of the same material under his own name in 2004, just the fact that one can now hear the whole band’s voices here at the peak of their powers is worth the price of admission.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (Sour Mash/ Mercury)

Co-produced by Gallagher and longtime producer Dave Sardy, the debut solo release by the former Oasis kingpin is a satisfying career renewal for a songwriter responsible for some of the most notable moments in the last 20 years of British music (“Wonderwall,” et al). Featuring contributions from The Lemon Trees drummer Jeremy Stacey and percussionist Lenny Castro, the record also includes the massive sounds of the Crouch End Festival Chorus on the inspired opening-cut “Everybody’s on the Run.” First single “The Death of You and Me” cleverly includes a welcome horn section, and later tracks “AKA…What A Life!” and “Stop the Clocks” take turns dabbling in genres like dance music and psychedelic rock respectively. Though comparisons to his former band are inevitable, Gallagher’s latest work is more experimental and well-worthy of an artist not content to stick with a proven formula. Album of the year voters should take notice.

Watch the mini-movie “Ride the Tiger” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds here:

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers – Gift Horse (Vanguard)

Though almost delayed by a heart-stopping accident that saw the majority of the band involved in a serious car wreck on the eve of recording, the latest from these New England natives is a gem from start to finish. Opening with the infectious strummer “Gravity,” the album doesn’t so much draw you in as it immediately thrusts you into the studio with the boys, complete with hand-claps, a sing-along chorus, and twinkling piano. Elsewhere, the semi-biographical song “1993” showcases the camaraderie the group often brings to its live shows with bouncy bass lines and humorous cat-calls frequently accenting lead singer Kellogg’s words. Still, it’s in the spot-on character sketches where the SK6ERS truly prove their worth as songwriters. Whether with the wistful “Charlie and Annie” or the delicate touch brought to the closing track “Noelle, Noelle,” the band balances nostalgia and maturity to come up with something totally original.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Mirror Traffic (Matador)

Produced by fellow ‘90s stalwart Beck, the latest release by Malkmus and company sees the former slacker king retaining much of the lyrical absurdity and lackadaisical playing style that came to define his time with indie icons Pavement at their peak. Standout track “Senator” mixes lines about politics, chemical warfare and blowjobs with equal aplomb, while elsewhere the instrumental number “Jumblegloss” plays like what could have been a too-short outtake from Wowee Zowee. Yet for all the nods to the past, the one adjective that could best be used to describe the current work is mature. Having already cut four albums with the Jicks, Malkmus uses this newest one to let the band build on all the progress made on 2008’s jam-inspired Real Emotional Trash. Though some fans may become skeptical after observing the album’s 50 minute plus running time, most concerns can be checked safely at the door.

Fucked UpDavid Comes to Life (Matador)

Fucked_Up_-_David_Comes_to_Life_album_artworkConstructed as a rock opera in four acts, the newest full-length by these Canadian punks is an ambitious project. Telling the story of fictional factory worker David Eliade and the woman he falls in love with Veronica Boisson, the album opens with the instrumental “Let Her Rest” before exploding into one tightly-constructed anthem after another. Lyrically, many of singer Damian Abraham’s (aka Pink Eyes) words are lost in the tumult. Fortunately this time he has the help of guest vocalists and fellow songwriters Kurt Vile, Madeline Follin and Jennifer Castle. Though layered guitars and pounding drums keep everything moving forward, the real surprise might be in the amazing amount of hooks. While coming from a group with a penchant for pushing boundaries, the end result of listening to 70+ minutes of hardcore riffing might be too much for the uninitiated. However, for fans this record could represent a dream fulfilled.

The Sun ParadeThe Sun Parade (Spirithouse Music)

This EP-length debut by Northampton’s own Chris Jennings and Jefferson Lewis, along with friends Jacob Rosazza (bass) and Doni McAulay (drums), is a too-short blast of ‘60s-inspired pop/ rock that is heavy on vocal harmonies and heartily-strummed rhythms. While standout tracks like “Leaving the Nation” and “Need You By My Side” possess melodies that will have listeners singing along for days, the real genius is saved for album-closer “No Expectations.” Building slowly from a collection of repeated notes and Jennings’ yearning falsetto, the song crashes through the other side with cymbal crashes and a galloping beat before dissolving into the silken ether from where it first emerged. While described by some as, “what Elliott Smith would have sounded like with the right medication,” the band leans close to true genius. Here’s hoping the upcoming full-length delivers on all the promise already stoked by live shows performed throughout the Paradise City.

Foo Fighters Wasting Light (RCA)

Foo_Fighters_Wasting_Light_Album_CoverOne would think that at this point in their careers Dave Grohl and company wouldn’t have anything left to prove. But instead of hunkering down in a hi-tech studio, the band decided to take things back to the garage for their seventh release and ended up forging their best overall album since 1999’s There is Nothing Left to Lose. But that’s not all. Along for the ride this time was producer Butch Vig, reuniting with Grohl for the first time since the recording sessions for Nirvana’s Nevermind, as well as Grohl’s former Nirvana bandmate bassist Krist Novoselic. And as if that wasn’t enough of a ‘90s rock fan wet dream, Husker Du guitarist and songwriter Bob Mould dropped by too to lay down backing vocal on “Dear Rosemary.” Almost 20 years on, Grohl has definitely proven the Foos are no second act. In fact, he might just be getting started.

Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

No sophomore slump for the bearded boys of Seattle. Instead here Robin Pecknold and company craft an even more grand display of their own endearing brand of indie/ folk, while still staying true to the roots that made their 2008 self-titled debut such a success. For evidence, look no further than “The Shrine/ An Argument,” an eight minute epic that transitions from a finger picking verse to a harmony-laden chorus before eventually fading out amidst squawking horns. In the hands of a lesser band, such an experiment wouldn’t work. But the Foxes roll with the atmosphere the song creates. And elsewhere, the fiercely-strummed title-track and album closer “Grown Ocean” both inspire awe with their intricate layers and headlong rush. By the time the group closes the record with a section sung completely acapella, listeners will be anxious to dive back in, after they stop to catch their breath of course.

Adele21 (XL/ Columbia)

The album no one could escape in 2011. From live performances, to the radio, and even including the appearance of several songs on the hit television series Glee – this second release by a 23-year-old British soul singer was a critical and popular smash selling over five million copies in the United States alone, and also becoming the best-selling digital album of all time in the U.S. with over a million in sales. Though the material included within was inspired by personal heartbreak and the end of a serious relationship, tracks like “Rolling in the Deep,” “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Someone Like You” struck a chord with audiences the world over. Also, by merging a love of Motown, gospel and R&B Adele created a sound both retro and distinctly her own. Fortunately, her sense of humor remained intact as well, as evidenced on the witty “Rumour Has It.”

Amy WinehouseLioness: Hidden Treasures (Island)

Amy_Winehouse_-_Lioness_-_Hidden_TreasuresWhile the success of Adele Adkins was one of the biggest stories in the music world in 2011, there was perhaps no bigger musical tragedy this year than the loss of the very artist who paved the way for Adkins and countless other female British singers. Though not a true follow-up to 2006’s Grammy-winning Back to Black, the first posthumous compilation featuring unreleased work by Winehouse and frequent collaborators Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi is an at times tender and engrossing look at a musician who had plenty left to give and do. Whether simply weaving her way through the horn-adorned “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” or injecting a little vocal heat into her “Body and Soul” duet with Tony Bennett, Amy’s voice remains front and center. And reworked takes on “Valerie” or “Tears Dry” show a true talent, who wasn’t afraid of refining her approach for full effect.

Lady Gaga Born This Way (Interscope)

Fans expecting The Fame Monster redux received this wide-ranging exercise in experimentation for their trouble. But that was the good news. Instead of retreading the same style of dance-pop that brought her to stardom, Gaga turned up the glam and let fly at a variety of topics including Christianity, personal freedom and even the controversial Arizona immigration law SB 1070. Sure the title-track was an empowerment anthem in the Madonna vein, but “You and I” features guitar work from no less an authority than Queen’s Brian May and was produced by uber ‘80s record man “Mutt” Lange. Dearly departed “Big Man” and E-Street veteran Clarence Clemon even lends his sax to “Edge of Glory,” and numbers like “Hair” strangely evoke the romanticism of some of the Boss’s biggest hits. Still, not too bad for city girl, even if that city was NYC and not Asbury Park. Maybe next time.

Social DistortionHard Times and Nursery Rhymes (Epitaph)

Social D (Hard Times)If a better road trip album was released this year, I haven’t heard it. So instead, just buckle up and enjoy the ride as Mike Ness and the boys take you up and down one punk-populated California highway after another. However these aren’t your parent’s roadways. These are hard-luck streets and the paths traveled by working men straight out of The Grapes of Wrath. Still, rough nature aside, whether portraying a lonely lover on the down-tempo “Bakersfield” or a Dillinger-era gangster on the hard-charging “Machine Gun Blues,” Ness never fails to come off as anything less than a charming tour guide, equal parts gruff loner and suave outlaw. Plus, when he urges the band to “Put the pedal to the metal” on “Far Side of Nowhere,” you’re right there beside him in the car, knowing full well he is “king of these hills,” a fact fans discovered years ago.

Happy holidays everyone! The Northeast Underground returns in 2012. But in the meantime don’t forget to follow us on YouTube and Twitter:

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‘Majestic scavengers:’ The Coyote Choir interview uncut

Coyote Choir 1

The Coyote Choir – from left Tim Desrosiers and Paul Gelineau (Photo credit: Doug Potosky)

Several weeks ago the Northeast Underground had the distinct pleasure of speaking with local musician Paul Gelineau, who is a member of Northampton band The Coyote Choir.

While our conversation at the time was to be the basis for another article on his group, Gelineau soon proved himself a rather engaging subject. And burdened by the thought of having to discard the majority his quotes in order to abide by pre-determined space constraints, the decision was quickly made to print his interview online in its entirety at a future date.

Well boys and girls that day is finally here. And Northeast Underground now proudly presents to you the entire mess raw and uncut. Read on if you dare…

Underground: First off, who are your group’s members and what instrument does each person play?

Paul Gelineau: I am Paul S. Gelineau and I play the guitar and sing the vocals. Tim [Desrosiers] plays accordion and also sings the vocals.

What is each band member’s background in music?

My love of music started with long rides to grandma’s house and me in the back seat singing Christmas songs and patriotic music to myself. I didn’t know much music in my life until I was around 11 when I first heard Ace of Base. I thought “The Sign” was the bomb. This is the first time I can recall being intrigued by modern music, and this is the first time my mom let me watch VH1. I played in the high school band for years playing trumpet, started playing guitar around 15. It’s funny because I never thought I was cool enough to play guitar, then one day I said fuck it and my dad brought me to get a guitar. Best decision. Life has been enriched ever since.

I went to Holyoke Community College after high school for music, guitar major, didn’t graduate, but got a good amount of knowledge out of the well put together music program there. I had been playing trumpet in a band called Skarmy of Darkness, and had various other bands going on, punk bands and such. Me and Tim played in a band called The Montagues for a while together, where we both played guitar and sang. Eventually he busted out his squeeze box again and we started jamming.

Tim played started playing the accordion when he was five. He’ll often joke it was due to his mom punishing him, but in all actuality she encouraged him to play it because she heard if you can play accordion, you can play anything. He took lessons from Falcetti’s, and went on to win the Mass. cup for his age groups numerous times throughout his youth. Then he stopped playing in high school because people tend to poke fun at accordion players. He started playing guitar in high school, and also played in various bands. Then we met, made the band, and after a few years of seeing him tinker with the accordion from time to time, we finally tried combining our musical abilities, guitar and accordion, and found our sound. Tim now studies music and philosophy at Bennington College.

How did you come up with the band name The Coyote Choir and what does it represent/ mean?

It’s a bit of a story. After we started jamming, and saw what we were doing was pretty neato (more on this in question five) we were hanging out one night in my car in the parking lot of one area business. I was strumming a chord progression I’d had for years, but hadn’t used, and at one part it seemed like the right thing to do was howl. We found this very funny at the time, and I went on to create a scenario for how the world really ended, and here it is:

So, the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, and me and Tim had been playing and getting more popular (back then, we still called ourselves “Paul and Tim”) and we lined up a huge world televised show which just happened to take place on that fabled day. And for the song we started howling on, we decided to get a huge COYOTE CHOIR (hence the name) to back us up during the howling part. We’d be playing, and at a certain point, our gallant troupe of coyotes would come cascading out from either side of the stage, onto podiums and risers behind us, and once they found their spot, and we got to the part, they’d howl along with us, and everyone in their homes watching on TV’s loves it, and starts howling along with us, and the vibrations of the howls start the earth vibrating all crazy, and next thing you know the earth explodes from the vibrations.

So, the band name was created by a very odd end of the world scenario involving an old chord progression, good spirits, idealistic singing coyotes, and the myths of the Maya. The name “The Coyote Choir” just seemed fitting. We are majestic scavengers fueled by moonlight and mystery.

Where does the Coyote Choir call home?

I currently live in Haydenville, and Tim is going to school at Bennington College. But The Coyote Choir proudly calls Northampton our home base. The streets have always been good to us here.

What led to the group’s initial formation?

Well, like I touched upon earlier, we used to play in bands together. Me and Tim met working at the mall a bunch of years ago. I sold watches, him cell phones. We became quick friends because I noticed Tim had a similar strumming style, when one day I had my guitar at the mall, and I let him play it. So we started jamming, made a punk band, and that was fun.

After years of hiatus, and me pursuing other things, working too much, getting fired from my job, and having a relationship go sour, Tim was there in my time of need, and I found solace with him and with instruments. We started to just jam with the guitar and accordion. And would take random musical walks around town with our instruments. That’s [when] we came up with the “La la la” song. We’d be singing it walking through town, and next thing we know, we had people and folk following us around singing along. It was magical. I felt like a pied piper.

Then we got offered to play a gig, to which we enthusiastically answered “YES” (the high spirits may have been a factor). A few weeks later, after forgetting about the commitment we made, pirate Kevin saw us and asked if we were ready to play the show that weekend and Tim and I looked at each other, realizing we forgot to make songs. We only had “La la la” at that point. So we took a couple other songs I had, worked them out, learned a cover (the Violent Femmes “Blister in the Sun”) and played our four song set, which people received well, so we decided to keep doing it, and then started playing the streets.

Watch a video of The Coyote Choir performing their song “La, la, la” on the streets of Northampton here:

How would you describe your current sound?

We get asked this often, and never know how to respond. People always walk up and mention different things we remind them of, most of which I have never heard or am only vaguely familiar with, even notable examples. I guess I’d say we’re indie folk pop, or ambient melodic klezmer. Or punk rock? I don’t know. I’ll leave it to the fans and critics to figure out where we fit.

How has your music evolved?

Our music is ever evolving. Tim and I like I mentioned started out together in pop punk bands. We started harmonizing together at this point, and that was a big shaping characteristic to our overall sound. I realized that harmonies are a big key to a good song. I myself have been involved and listened to such a wide variety of music. Ska and punk were my early roots, but now I listen to just about everything. Playing fast was the old norm, and the Coyote Choir slowed things down quite a bit in comparison. I still like playing fast at times, but I’ve been enjoying this slowdown, giving us a chance to really dissect and perfect our harmonies.

How would you characterize the experience of playing as buskers on the streets of the Paradise City?

To me, this is my favorite place in the country to busk. It’s an amazing way to meet and connect with people, and the people here are extremely supportive. Busking makes the street a stage. We’ve moved a good number of albums on the street, and it’s amazing to know you can share your music on your own terms like this. It’s a very special experience to watch young kids dancing to your music, and to see them come back again and smile for certain songs. It makes for very personable encounters.

Busking has made all the difference in my life. Busking in this city was the spark which led me on quite a journey. After I lost my job, the most liberating thing I ever realized was when I started to busk for the hell of it, and realized I could actually make money this way. Playing with Tim we do very well and the busking is now a vessel for adventure and discovery. I myself in the past few years starting living solely upon my busking, and used it as my vehicle to travel. I’ve since busked all over the country, up and down the east coast to Key West and back, and across the country and back on my guitar earnings alone. It was very exciting to drop into a city or town, and be like “Well, I’m out of gas, let’s see what I can do,” and next thing you know, you make a few bucks, make friends, find places to stay, hang out. It’s the most beautiful vessel for meeting people, and sharing music in a completely organic, genuine fashion. Also, it really makes you get your chops, and develop confidence. I’ve far and away a better player/singer since I started busking. I’d go so far as to say, it completely changed my life, and was a seminal decision. All that makes up my current happiness was manifested because of busking.

Who are some of your inspirations?

Musically, there is so much, and so much seems not fitting. I really love NOFX still, which most would say is for kids, but they’re harmonies and melodic structures really gave me a good sensibility.

My favorite band in my younger years was the Broadways, which was a big influence for me and Tim’s old band. I enjoy Wilco, Belle and Sebastian, and classical music like Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and jazz like Chet Baker, Kenny Burrell. Antonio Carlos Jobim. So much has inspired me. Including my grass roots original music scene in Palmer, Mass. The Old Store and The Shed, local music venues, really got me started on the path of rock ‘n’ roll. Without those totally DIY establishments I never would have found the road of rock, the beauty of good natured and progressive community, and awesome friends who many fun days and nights occurred with.

I’m also inspired by good food and a nice pint. And the ocean. And the stars. And my mom and dad. And my cat, Harold. Life itself is a very inspiring thing. Ideas for song are on every street corner and in every good cup of coffee and random conversation.

Tim was also into punk rock, and hardcore music. And classical was always a large part of his background. He’s also evolved over time, enjoying an eclectic mix of indie rock and Tibetan chants. It’s true. He’s very influenced these day by eastern philosophy and ecology and many of the subjects he is currently studying at college.

What is your songwriting process like?

It varies. Sometimes we create an idea together, get a good base for it, and one of us will develop it further, and come back with it and we’ll expand it into a whole song. Sometimes, we will write our own song, and we’ll bring it together and work it out coyote style. The best songs just happen. Like they’re already floating around in the airwaves, and you just tune them in and bam. Sometimes it happens together, and sometimes separate. We’ll hash out ideas in various spots, by the fountain, in that ‘80s inspired neon lighted hallway at Smith, pretty much wherever there good acoustics. Good acoustics is [are] inspiring on its [their] own. It [they] enriche[s] the sound of everything and keeps the ball moving with force.

Coyote Choir 2

The Coyote Choir (Photo credit: Doug Potosky)

What are some future projects/ recordings you have planned?

We’re currently working on new music for a new album hopefully to be recorded and released early next year. Ideally, spreading our music and touring is a dream. Continuing to produce music we think is good and that other people enjoy is the primary goal though. And hopefully someday some back-up coyote howlers.

When and where do you play next?

We’re playing at The Basement in Northampton December 30th at 8 p.m. Also, you may randomly catch us in the streets, but as it gets colder, that gets trickier to do without fingers hurting profusely and whatnot.

What is one question you would like to be asked but that I have not listed here?

Have you noticed the Chemtrails today? To which I would respond “YOU’RE AWARE” and then go on some rant about how I’m creeped out by the phenomenon. Or…do you like cats? To which I would respond, “Yes Sir, I do.” OR… what is your favorite pizza in town? To which I would respond, enthusiastically, PINNOCHIOS!!! In hopes they’ll give me free pizza sometimes!

How about some final thoughts?

I had always dreamed of making music i enjoy, and that other people do too. Granted our main stage has been the streets, and I’m not driving a pimped out ride, and I’m still scraping by, I feel successful because people seem to really like our music. People will walk by and sing along, which creeps me out, but is endearing because something I did is positively affecting someone else’s life. It’s a warm, good, humbling feeling, and I just hope to continue to make music people enjoy, and to enjoy what comes with it. Also, a storm is coming…

Tim…I’m pretty sure Tim’s final thought would be “San Dimas High School football rules!”

The Coyote Choir performs Dec. 30 at The Basement in Northampton. For more information on the band or to see future tour dates please visit www.facebook.com/pages/The-Coyote-Choir.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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‘Wanted dead or alive’ The Bon Jovi death hoax continues

Bon JoviPardon the obvious title pun, but Jon Bon Jovi is alive and well thank you. Not that many people are listening.

You see, according to the Los Angeles Times the lead singer of arguably New Jersey’s biggest band has recently found himself embroiled in a persistent “Internet death hoax” that prematurely broadcast his demise to the world at large.

First announced Monday on the wordpress site Daily News Blog International, news of the rocker’s “death” surprised many. And numerous fans quickly started chiming in with online tributes to the man who sang years ago that he was only “Living on a Prayer.” Then things went viral.

Much like Paul McCartney before him, eventually the man himself was forced to weigh in to clear up the mess. And Bon Jovi soon did, posting a dated picture of himself on his Facebook page along with the message, “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey.”

He also even joked about the incident during a concert Monday, where he pretended to take phone calls from concerned friends live on stage.

Yet, amidst such efforts, the rumor persists. As of Tuesday morning, the words “Jon Bon Jovi is dead” continued to rank high on Google’s search engine. And even as of this writing, various reports on the validity and non-validity of Bon Jovi’s pending corpsehood remain hot topics.

Stranger still is the Los Angeles Times report that the initial fake story was “copied in part from a 2009 Los Angeles Times story that announced the death of Michael Jackson.” Though the newspaper denies any involvement with the starting of the hoax, editors did announce they were looking into the connection.

Watch the official video for the Bon Jovi song “It’s My Life” here:

Whatever the case, such a strange story at least found an affable enough subject for its manufactured furor. I mean c’mon, “Shot through the heart,” “Gunned down in a blaze of glory,” Overdosed on some ‘Bad Medicine’…” The headlines practically write themselves.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to actually use them for quite some time.

For more information on Bon Jovi or to see future tour dates please visit www.bonjovi.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Tales from the other side: Captain Beefheart meets the Northeast Underground

Trout Mask ReplicaAh, the Internet is a strange place for beings both alive and dead.

You see, back before Northeast Underground joined forces with the Valley Advocate in January, my blogging persona already existed via wordpress.com. And before changing locations, one of the last posts I wrote for my old site was a short tribute piece connecting the passing of musician/ artist Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) to the anniversary of the death of Minutemen songwriter and guitarist D. Boon.

Little did I know then the potential impact such an innocuous story could have. I mean really, how often does a blogger think they have the potential to reach an audience beyond the grave?

But sure enough, months later the following comment was posted on my Beefheart/ Boon story:

Last night the Captain came to me in my dream. He said he was ‘going to the northeast’ because people like him in the northeast. He wants you to know he is ok. I don’t even believe in shit like that, nor had I ever heard of your site before. But I wondered if it meant anything so I put it in Google. If anyone believe[s] in that shit he says he is better now. He certainly looked well.

And then Friday, there was this.

Go ahead. Try it. To this day if one types “Captain Beefheart” and “northeast” into Google my old post is the first link that pops up.

So, such unusual circumstances beg the questions: Did Captain Beefheart really reach out to one of his fans after his death? And what indeed are the odds that somewhere in the country a Captain Beefheart fan dreamt of a connection between Van Vliet and the northeast after I posted a tribute to the Captain on my Northeast Underground blog?

The whole situations is almost enough to give one the willies, or at the very least a good case of the “Abba Zaba’s.”

Listen to the song “Abba Zaba” by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band here:

Still, all things considered, rest in peace Captain. I’m glad the other side is treating you well. Just cool it with the spooky stuff okay? And tell D. Boon I said hi.

For more information on Captain Beefheart please visit www.beefheart.com.

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Lady Antebellum ‘own the night’ during Mullins Center appearance

Lady Antebellum - Amherst

Lady Antebellum live in Amherst

Traffic, usually the bane of inhabitants in more urban areas, was almost the story of the night Thursday in Amherst.

With delays lengthening the trip from I-91 to the Mullins Center almost to a full hour, much could be written about the often stop-and-go conditions on Route 9 and beyond. However once safely inside the venue, most worries were checked at the door as Grammy winning country stars Lady Antebellum took the stage before an enthusiastic audience for an hour-and-a-half long set full of hits both old and new.

Or, should I say the group rose to the occasion?

Making their entrance through a riser hidden beneath the stage, the Nashville-based trio wasted little time in kicking off their concert with “We Owned the Night” the lead track from their latest studio album Own the Night.

The song like most of the material performed Thursday was perfectly suited for a pop-country crossover with mandolin lines quickly giving away to electric guitar leads, and bombastic drums giving those in attendance a jolt to get out of their seats and dance.

And dance the crowd did, many even before the headlining set began, as busy cameramen captured fans shaking their groove things from various vantage points located around the arena including Lady Antebellum’s own “inner circle,” which was located in the center of the stage.

“You guys are getting the butt-shot tonight,” Lady A vocalist Charles Kelley told the small group gathered in the most central of locations. “Which could be very good or very bad, I don’t know.”

Either way Kelley along with the other core members of Lady Antebellum, Hillary Scott (lead and background vocals) and Dave Haywood (background vocals, guitar, piano, mandolin), made full-use of their unique stage set-up that featured two staircases, three giant video screens, and a lengthy runway to lead the group to the center of the crowd.

The trap-door and riser that brought the trio out at the start of the show even got its share of work too, as the device was used to raise and lower a piano, which Haywood played during the numbers “Just a Kiss” and “Hello World.”

Still, it was when the members of Lady A worked closely together that made certain moments really shine. Whether it was the heat generated by Kelley and Scott’s vocal interplay on the smoldering “Wanted You More” or the whole trio’s carefree exchanges during an entertaining take on the holiday tune “Blue Christmas,” the group proved they knew how to get everyone involved in often-harmonious fashion.

Lady Antebellum - Christmas

Lady Antebellum getting in the holiday spirit

And such courtesy wasn’t just extended to Kelley, Scott, and Haywood either. The five-piece backing band, who supported Lady A all night was even given its moment in the spotlight as the whole ensemble took a walk down the runaway to perform, “closer to all of you,” as Kelley said.

Such a tactic quickly worked wonders as a lucky 9-year-old girl was brought up to sing with the whole group on “American Honey.” And opening acts Eden’s Edge and Josh Kelley were brought out to weave an assortment of harmony parts through covers of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water.”

By the time Lady Antebellum closed their main set with an upbeat take on the anthem “Looking for a Good Time,” there was nothing left but for the group to return for an encore and extended run-through of its smash hit “Need You Now.”

Tugging at all the appropriate heart-strings, the song started quietly before evolving into a crowd-wide sing-along that finished the concert on perhaps the most fitting of notes.

“I need you now,” go the lyrics to the moving chorus. “I don’t know how I can do without/ But I just need you now.”

With Thursday’s show coming near the end of Lady Antebellum’s current tour, those in the audience may have to do without another live gig from the group for the foreseeable future. But for those lucky enough to beat the traffic to get to the concert, the need for more Lady A may be satisfied for the time being. Or at least until next year…

***

Unfortunately, due to the heavy traffic on and around the UMass campus Thursday, the Underground like dozens of other concert-goers was unable to catch the show-opening set by the Arkansas trio Eden’s Edge. However, once inside the venue Josh Kelley (brother of Lady A’s Charles and husband to actress Katherine Heigl) was witnessed ably keeping the crowd in a party mood during his brief time on stage. Closing his set with the ode to the weekend track, “Free on Friday Night” followed by his debut country hit “Georgia Clay,” Kelley even worked in jokes about his guitar tech Andy (a self-described “smoocher”) before incorporating a rap/ R&B interlude into his raucous finale.

For more information on Lady Antebellum, Josh Kelley and Eden’s Edge or to see future tour dates please visit www.ladyantebellum.com, www.joshkelley.com and www.edensedge.com.

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“Behind the Beat: Howling at the Moon” The Coyote Choir – December 15, 2011

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Album review – Mungolian Jetset “Schlungs” – December 15, 2011

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