Random acts

Big buzz

Former Unholy Trio drummer Lance Wille has been touring lately with Reigning Sound. The group, led by Greg Cartwright, ex front man of The Oblivians, is currently opening shows for August Spin cover boys The Hives. Visit www.reigningsound.com for more information.

Front-row reviews

What: ROBenefit
Where: Stella Blue
When: Friday, Aug. 6

Earlier this year, Stella Blue bartender Rob Pickens suffered a stroke. As you might expect, the cost of treatment for the uninsured drink-slinger has been well beyond what he could ever expect to find at the bottom of his tip jar.

Then, in a stroke — sorry, Rob — that is, a flash of genius, someone got the idea of throwing a fund-raiser for Rob. An eclectic collection of local musicians assembled, players more than glad to step up and give a little back to the man who kept their crowds plastered enough to forget a few rough shows.

And in spite of all the hype behind it, it was a fine, fine night filled with many shining moments and surprisingly high low points. Here are a few verbal snapshots:

• The acoustic-rock band Off-Centre, about whom Asheville crowds have frequently been ambivalent, put on a worthy performance despite being down a bassist. While the largely over-20 Stella Blue crowd didn’t seem to know what to do with the group’s emo-esque, teen-oriented music, Off-Centre closed on “Misplaced Streets,” their strongest, most broadly appealing song.

• During a set change, comedian The Angry Amish roasted Rob Pickens, remarking at one point that “he says this is for his hospital bills; yeah — he’s just getting money to pay his Bele Chere bar tab.”

• One of the evening’s biggest surprises was the short set by Foulmouth Jerk and Agent 23, both of GFE. Once the Asheville scene’s bemoaned hip-hop mainstays, GFE has since grown beyond their love-God-dope rhymes to become astoundingly good — a hippie-hop powerhouse with a razor’s edge of vocal aggression and lyrical confidence. With the duo’s set, the crowd was tugged away from the safety of the bar and pool tables, and began to party in earnest.

• Also of note: A superb set by a seemingly reborn Scrappy Hamilton. The former kings of the local throwback scene, Scrappy have reinvented themselves in the last few years, turning their sound into an influence-chasing, hard-to-define style of rock. Marked by talent, smarts and uncanny musical flexibility, Scrappy’s bit alone was well worth the night’s cover charge.

Listening room (album reviews)

Doom Ribbons, Doom Ribbons (James Owen, 2004)

Readers familiar with James Owen’s solo work will likely find his self-titled Doom Ribbons debut just as bewilderingly jumbled and chaotic as his shows. I’ve often maintained that Owen is one of the best percussionists in Asheville, the only caveat being that he tends to be a little inconsistent when performing live.

While Doom Ribbons is not quite the ambient equal of his work with The Ether Bunnies, the album does have its strengths. Sonic textures created by shattering tiles, morbidly disjointed strummed piano strings and all manner of distinctly unmusical noises carry the jigsaw melodies of songs like “NEWlylostlife.” Other tunes, like “SEEDSofitsowndestruction,” are a muddled combination of stretched-out electronic distortion and seemingly random flares of aggressive vocals and hard-edged rock arrangements.

The album’s excellent closing track, “funeralPALACE,” begins with the kind of haunted dissonance one might expect from a Downward Spiral-era Trent Reznor.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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