Random acts

Of note

Filling the Void Asheville-based acoustic/heavy-rock group Off Centre has announced plans to release its debut demo in early spring. The project features Joey Wilton (guitar, vocals) and Koli (bass) performing with former MiniVoid alumni Brandon Lowery (guitar) and Grant Henry (drums). Though there’s no current contact info for Off Centre, the group plans to launch a new Web site in the near future.

Front-row reviews

Who: Morgan C. Geer w/Scott Sharpe & Ms. Audra Fleming

Where: The Town Pump

When: Monday, Feb. 10

Sometimes, the best things in life are those you never expect to happen.

I went to The Town Pump in Black Mountain anticipating a reunion show of sorts for a band — The Merle — that was on its way out about the time I really started paying attention to the local-music scene.

The thing is, I never got to see The Merle, though not for lack of trying. For a variety of reasons, it just never worked out. And though no official public announcement was ever issued, the hard-edged, down-and-dirty, near-legendary band gradually dissolved, and I became resigned that I’d never get to experience them live.

And then I saw it, a brief mention in an ad for upcoming shows at The Town Pump: “The Merle: Asheville’s Favorite Rock & Roll Band.”

Finally, the return of a group that, up till a few year ago, defined the rock scene in this town. Finally, the long-awaited musical reunion of Morgan C. Geer, Chris Yountz and Jamie Sterling, and on one of the area’s most underrated stages.

The thing is, The Merle didn’t show.

Again, the details were unclear, but short-notice cancellations are hardly a rarity in any music scene. But instead of giving up, Geer pulled together a last-minute replacement act composed of Scott Sharpe (pedal steel) and Audra Fleming (keyboards), both of whom have been frequent collaborators with Geer in his work with The Unholy Trio.

You might expect such a haphazardly assembled crew to sound a bit loose at best, but the ensuing performance of country-blues standards came together smoothly. The trio’s incredibly simple arrangements of such well-known songs as “Behind Closed Doors” and the country-gospel “Tramp on the Street” allowed Geer, as front man, to shine in a way he rarely does with harder-edged groups like The Unholy Trio.

Without a wall of sound to overcome, Geer’s naturally dynamic and heartfelt vocal phrasing — his style varies from outright guttural to an almost inculpable sincerity — shone front and center. It wasn’t his typical hard-rocking, outlaw-country performance, but it was a great surprise to hear the melodic subtlety he’s capable of when the situation allows.

The rest of the band seemed to follow Geer’s lead, with solid performances all around. Sharpe’s solos sounded effortless; he made those straightforward country melodies his own in a smooth and laid back — though still appropriately twangy — way. Fleming’s keyboard work seemed relegated to a supporting role, providing the missing rhythmic spine for the absent bass and drums.

This incredibly fun, lighthearted performance wasn’t the show I went to see; in fact, it was almost the diametric opposite. But it was something worth catching anyway — a quiet flow of low-key country made better for having almost not happened at all.


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