I'll level with ya: We haven't run a Set List concert review in way too long. But it's not that the writers here have shunned local concerts--far from it. Here are some of the best live acts I've seen in the past month and a half that haven't gotten enough press in the Observer. Some are new and some aren't, but they're each a treat to see on a local stage. We'll resume normal Set List reviews within the next few weeks.
Rose County Fair: Perhaps it's my attachment to the mid-'90s days when bands like Funland and Son Volt got drive-time radio airplay, but the fact that I hear the best of those two bands in Rose County Fair doesn't hurt my opinion. Right now, John Pedigo's newest band is the hottest ticket in town. Perhaps he was holding back when he led the solid-but-forgettable Slick 57, or perhaps having to play so many country covers in Boys Named Sue has sparked a fire in his butt. Dunno. But the few times I've seen this quartet, they've torn through the finest blend of country, pop-rock and punk I've heard since the term "alt-country" became a shameful cliché, and all brands of music fan owe it to themselves to see this band play ready-for-radio singles like "Gone, Gone, Gone."
Shiny Around the Edges: This Denton duo bears a passing resemblance to Low's so-quiet-it's-sleepy minimalism, but Shiny Around the Edges creates beauty through tension, not solemn melody. Husband and wife Michael and Jennifer Seman (yeah, yeah, get the laughs out now) will sometimes fill the air with little more than a howl, the bangs of a tom drum and a few vicious strikes of an acoustic guitar's minor chord, but whether their songs reach a crescendo or warble off into the dusk, the duo's mix of intimacy and terror practically begs for a part in an M. Night Shyamalan film. During the Strategies of Beauty festival, Shiny had some friends add wonderful bits of horns and slide guitar for a few songs, proving the band isn't stuck on a two-people-only gimmick (though you're unlikely to see a live duo as captivating as this one). Don't miss their set opening for the superb out-of-town combo of Castanets and Phosphorescent at Rubber Gloves on Sunday.
Rose County Fair
Chucky Sly: As half of Free Agents, Chucky Sly has stood in the shadows of his better-known partner Tahiti for years. But with the rise of Tahiti's newest project, PPT, Sly's had more time to roll solo, and that's good news. Without a partner, the man is much more urgent with the delivery of his stories and philosophies. He understands that a truly entertaining hip-hop show requires the right delivery, tone, beats and performance, which means you'll watch a lot more than some dope bouncing around with a thugged-out posse when you catch Sly in concert.
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Notes From Underground: If Notes plays a venue with chairs, you're in luck. Their discordant cross between noise-rock and jazz is tough to stand up and endure for 40 minutes straight without breaks between songs, but sit down, close your eyes and you should be fine. Their dalliance with jazz is only slight--nothing too far into the annoyance of Bitches Brew territory--and their sets are among the most enthralling of the scene's abstract music movement.
Hardin Sweaty and the Ready to Go: Though this quartet's weekend gig with Mt. Gigantic is already previewed in Critics' Picks, their jaw-dropping performance at the Metrognome Popfest a few weeks ago deserves a mention. As rough and green as this young band is, their sense of humor and brand of pop-rock enthusiasm is as engaging as Chomsky in their prime, particularly thanks to the psychosis of lead singer Joe McClain.
Eat Avery's Bones: Perhaps this one's too soon to call. After all, EAB's still incredibly young, and they'll try to annoy you right out of the club, but in the current wave of quality, quirky bands from nearby suburbs (Voot Cha Index, Teenage Symphony) storming Deep Ellum clubs, this quartet is the most striking of the wonderkids. Their aggressive mixture of Adam Ant and Melt Banana, hard as it might be to digest, is anchored with incredible instrumentation--their guitarist, in particular, will rip your eyes out of their sockets.
Cartright: Once Denton's Cartright releases its self-produced EP, An Assessment of Violent Entertainment, their cult following should soon coagulate (especially with lyrics like "She broke my wrists/But I'm still makin' fists"). Surprisingly, their live show hasn't attracted such a fan base yet, though it deserves one. The easiest comparison for this quintet is Little Grizzly, from their ragtag sensibility to their drunken brew of country whiskey, piano vodka and pop-rock punch. Singer/guitarist Ben Cartright puts on one helluva show, hollering at the crowd and stomping around the stage, though his band can't help but shout along and get into the spirit as well. As tight as the band is onstage, their moments of sloppiness are what make them more endearing than perhaps any band in town.