• Head on over to quaint little Iceland, the real-life setting of Led Zeppelin’s ice-and-snow-laden “Immigrant Song,” where Zero to 60 front man Rick Weissinger will open a gig there the weekend of March 4 for Icelandic rockers Brudarbandid, who recently played Stella Blue.
Last-minute tickets from some online travel agencies were going for just shy of $4,000, and with the dramatic local rocker playing a couple of extra solo gigs while he’s there, this weekend-getaway package is a great way to reinforce your undying passion for local rock ‘n’ roll.
In other, slightly more regional, news, Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company has added a monthly locals-only showcase to its theater-bar roster, marking a welcome, steroid-free step to the plate by the Pizza Company in the post-Vincent’s wasteland of Asheville 2005. The event last month saw a grudge match between a slew of local heavies, including DrugMoney and Dig Shovel Dig, while the next battle for P-Co. supremacy will take place Thursday, March 3, and will feature The Poles, Makeout Room and more.
• One sad bit of news came down recently from Spindale: Charles Benedict, long-time host of WNCW’s Saturday-morning jazz program It Don’t Mean a Thing, died Feb. 18. Benedict hosted the show full-time since the station signed on the air in 1989 until last year. The station’s new on-air studio will be named in his honor.
Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers with Sugar & The Plums at The Grey Eagle; Wednesday, Feb. 16.
I must admit I was quite relieved to find that my last show to cover in this space didn’t suck eggs, asses or pitted olives in any way whatsoever. You can chalk it up to nostalgia if you like, but I found the steadily blazing meanderings of Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, alongside the pleasantly surprising Sugar & The Plums, to be as good a five-dollar show as you’re likely to find anywhere.
Sugar & The Plums started things off at The Grey Eagle, where a respectable Wednesday-night crowd gathered for a well-matched double-header of local music. Fronted by husband-and-wife duo Gabe and Kate (aka “Sugar”) Johnson, The Plums welcomed drummer Josh Carpenter (DrugMoney, Makeout Room, etc.) to their stage on this night — a particularly noteworthy addition not only because he’s such a damn fine drummer, but also because he’d practiced with the group all of twice.
During a short break in Sugar’s set (brought on when Kate and Gabe needed to stop to feed their newborn baby, who was wisely armed with the cutest protective headphones you’ll ever see), Carpenter expounded on his latest gig: “I’m kind of nervous,” he said. “But these guys were sort of born in my basement, so I know a lot of the songs.” And if Carpenter, who did a fine job as a Plum, is birthing bands this good in his basement, I can’t wait to see what he’s got in the attic (besides a dirty cot for Fisher amid a sea of empty PBR cans).
My predecessor Steve Shanafelt was, appropriately enough, also in attendance on my final night on the job. Last year, Steve wrote of the new parents’ band: “Sugar & The Plums sound like what would have happened had the whole East Coast alt-country movement fatally tumbled off the Blue Ridge Mountains at the end of its blind race out of Nashville.”
Which is pretty astute. An eerie slide guitar opposite patient, almost psychedelic, banjo picking ably backs the textured dual harmonies of the loving couple, and Mrs. Sugar nicely recalls the drowning sorrow of the Cranberries’ front lady with her own impressive voice.
The main event came down with the sprawling heavy melodies of Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers. Robbins’ high-end vocals take a little getting used to, but once you do, you realize that the bandleader’s often sorrowful Neil Young-flavored voice is perfectly suited to his band’s dense sonic tapestries — a scene solidified like Mt. Mitchell by the sorrowfully perfect lap steel work of Jeff Whitworth opposite the thick electric guitar of Jonas Cole.
Robbins & his Hellsayers are simultaneously bleak and beautiful rockers, embodying the best of the alt-rock and alt-country styles they clearly admire (“whatever that means”). Their excellent new disc, The Lonesome Sea (which, not surprisingly, is charting and catching praise in the U.K.), offers an outstanding taste of the band’s peculiar but pleasantly inviting sound. And if you haven’t seen this crew yet, you’re missing yet another of Asheville’s finest local bands.
As I sit down to write this last-ever Junk Journal, the news of Hunter S. Thompson‘s sad demise is just coming over the wire. By the time you read this, I’ll be back in my native East Tennessee, working some job that’s inevitably not as cool as this one. I had originally planned to say something about our area’s endless stream of amazing music, and to let you know to expect something new in this space in the coming months.
Instead, I’d rather give a few sentences over to the biblical necessity of Thompson and his flagrantly hedonistic brand of Gonzo journalism, a beast that many journalism scholars decry as the most dangerous movement in reporting you can find — precisely why I admire it so.
At this very moment, Hunter is likely sitting down with old buddy Warren Zevon in the nicer, cooler outskirts of hell, sipping beer and cussing about how that “New Age Republican whore beast of a false president” is mostly to blame for their untimely deaths. Playing in the background is Zevon’s classic tune: “Send lawyers, guns and money,” it cries. “The s••t has hit the fan.”
As Hunter might have said: Indeed, Bubba, it has.
And while those two outlaws get to do their dead-guy thing from now on, we’re still stuck living in a world where one of the brightest social and political commentators since H.L. Mencken feels compelled to shoot himself in the head. That’s a wakeup gun blast from hell if I ever heard one.
Hunter preferred Grace Slick as muse in his younger days, and the spirit of such vibrantly timely music reverberated through everything the man ever wrote (especially when he was word-whipping Richard Nixon like the deadbeat dad of America that he was). I hope that a tiny bit of that spirit came through here occasionally — at least as far as skewed truth in first-person reporting goes.
Thompson famously said: “There is no such thing as objective journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” Amen, Bubba. And in that spirit, I’d like to dedicate this final Junk Journal to his memory.