About half an hour before “the absolute latest possible time” I told him I’d need his contribution to this column, local poet Greg Brown rushed into Old Europe, where I was waiting, and thrust two sheets of typed paper into my hands. It didn’t have a music review on it. Instead, it was a largely fictional transcription of a phone conversation between Greg and an ex-girlfriend. It did mention, in passing, the bands he and I had seen the previous night. I groaned.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s a review,” he said.
“No, it’s not,” I told him. “It’s more wordy gibberish about one of your ex-girlfriends.” But I wasn’t particularly mad. Most of Greg’s best writing is about his ex-girlfriends, and I’d more or less expected this. “You’ve got 30 minutes, poet-boy. Two-hundred words, now.”
He nodded, and reluctantly started putting pen to page. Within 10 minutes of being violently stared at, he managed to hammer out the required words.
If you ever have a day to kill, I suggest trying to get a lazy, if talented, poet pal to co-write a music review with you. It’s like trying to take a cat on a walk; they tend to wander off and pursue their own interests — the invisible causes of strange rustling sounds, for instance — all the while oblivious to the actual goal of getting from one place to the other.
I have to say, though, that on paper it seemed like a grand idea.
Where: The Grey Eagle
When:Saturday, Oct. 19
Who:The Sad Bastards, Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, and Drug Money
True to their name, The Sad Bastards mix somber, lamenting alt-country vocals over guitar and hard-kicking drums.
“[The set] started off really slow,” says Greg, “and they were just standing around playing music, going through the motions. It started all right, but then I got kind of bored, so I went outside to have a cigarette and some coffee. And then, about mid-puff, they started getting loud, so I went back in and saw what was going on. The guitarist was strumming with a drumstick on the guitar. That was fairly entertaining. Then, it was kind of more of the same, but louder. It wasn’t bad. It had potential.”
The next group up was Wayne Robbins & The Hellsayers, a kind of local dream-team. Jeff Whitworth, whom I’d only known previously as the Grey Eagle’s soundman, played a variety of guitars, creating some impressive atmospherics. On drums was Black Eyed Dog front man Brian Landrum, hitting hard and adding a sort of Athens-rock edge. And then came Robbins, whom I’d never heard of until I received Whitworth’s handwritten invitation to the show a few days earlier.
Robbins has a deceptively light voice, falling halfway between Cat Stevens and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan; his voice lends itself to emotionalizing the harder-edged ballads he favors. Many of the group’s songs involved ocean imagery, most notably “The Ballad of the Queen Anne’s Revenge,” which featured Whitworth on six-string guitar-necked banjo. During the course of the evening, Robbins and The Hellsayers were joined onstage by members of The Sad Bastards (two of whom happen to be Robbins’ brothers) and guest guitarist Jeff Buchanan. Overall, the result was a very strong, if perhaps overlong, showcase for a band only on its third gig.
Greg, always the iconoclast, focused on Robbins’ attire:
“He was finely dressed. He was wearing a shirt with the ruffles on it, but no tie. A tuxedo. Do tuxedos necessarily have to have tails? I don’t think they do.”
After much coaxing, I was able to obtain Greg’s musical thoughts, as well.
“I was going to say that [Robbins and The Hellsayers] reminded me of [Atlanta-based dark-Western group] Myssouri — but no one will know what the hell I’m talking about. Ethereal Western. It’s like … New Wave Western.”
Headlining that night was Asheville-based garage-rock duo Drug Money, who will shortly be leaving our fair city to pursue greener pastures in New York. I’ve written much about Drug Money over the past year, and having already ruined any pretense of journalistic integrity by buying front man Fisher Mehan a beer, I think this would be the perfect opportunity to give Greg a shot to do what he does best: write poems. He elected to write a Drug Money haiku. In closing, I present it here:
A Haiku For Drug Money
High energy sound.
Someone please, buy Fisher and
Conrad more P.B.R.
[Greg Brown was named by Mountain Xpress contributing reporter Alli Marshall as one of Asheville’s “anonymous celebrities.” He hosts the AREA:45 Open Mic, held each Wednesday at the Artists Resource Center (45 Wall St). His first chapbook, Outside of This, will be released later this year.]