The junk journal

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Dragonmoose and Dig Shovel Dig, Vincent’s Ear, Saturday, Oct. 23.

Bribery is a treacherous and rotten business. From baseball to politics, history teaches us there’s always some prick willing to take a little kickback for a favor.

This perpetual greasing can emit an especially repugnant odor when it comes to the deceptively shiny world of arts and music criticism.

Every band, author or circus freak from here to Uranus greases (or hires a PR rep to grease) their respective press outlets with flowery e-mails and press releases, gratuitous CDs and complimentary tickets. The real upper-crust critic can even enjoy fancy-free trips and dinners cloaked in the unbelievably well-lubricated world of “press junkets.”

I too am guilty of participating in this damnable business, albeit on a much smaller scale, for I recently took a bribe, or rather, five bribes, to go see a band called Dragonmoose. The first package came simply enough to the Xpress offices with a sort of odd invitation to an upcoming show at Vincent’s Ear. Included in the letter was bribe # 1, a length of purple string, presumably intended to tie around my pinkie as a reminder of a show still over a month away.

Every seven to 10 days, another package would arrive with a return address of “Dragonmoose” in Whittier, N.C. (near Cherokee), each round yielding stranger and more intricate enticements to attend their show. The next three packages held a cheap plastic whistle, a dollar-store kid’s mask and two Q-tips, respectively, while the final envelope revealed a tiny plastic warrior — “a Travelling Indian, created most likely in China” — who came to me with a detailed life history and even a homemade adoption contract.

The last item was particularly compelling — because Dragonmoose paid $13.65 in rush-delivery charges to ensure its arrival in the final days before the gig. That postage alone well exceeds the cumulative value of the loot they sent. And I doubt they earned even that much back, splitting the $3 cover, as they did, with local freakers Dig Shovel Dig and the visiting nerd punk of Cantwell, Gomez and Jordan.

Needless to say, I felt compelled to attend. But as one friend admiring my Dragonmoose booty before the show noted, “I really hope they don’t suck.” After all that effort — especially the Q-Tips, sent “to be sure your Vincent’s ears are clean for the show” — I must admit I hoped the same. Such fantastically juvenile enthusiasm is hard to come by these days.

And so I’m happy to report — with or without cheap, plastic bribes — Dragonmoose definitely does not suck.

Comprised of Shawna and Moose Solito, a husband-and-wife, reverse-White Stripes duo with her on guitar and him on drums, this proggish-rock outfit touts some David Byrne/Ween vocal and lyrical sensibilities, decorated with a touch of cannabis crust. Musically, they’re hard to pin down: a bit of old Metallica here, a hint of Beck over there, with surprisingly polished, ripping solos from Shawna on her blinding pink guitar throughout. Dragonmoose had a roomful of the normally somber Vincent’s Ear bunch grinning at “songs about blind pigs, underdogs, jackasses … and one clown” (as one of their press releases promised).

Like their letters to me, Dragonmoose’s tight, good-humored songs contained strange surprises begging further consideration.

Next came the madness of Dig Shovel Dig, celebrating a new 7-inch vinyl release of original recordings. Another local duo, this one far more twisted even than Dragonmoose, Dig Shovel Dig ain’t my favorite. Their flamboyant, avant-garde approach to rhythm instrumentation makes me nauseous at times (which I know they like), while melody remains the furthest thing from their scattershot aim.

Nevertheless, and though I’m still unsure how good a bass player and drummer Ted Robinson and Mark Williams really are, I’m convinced their job is essential, as witnessed by a label on the new record that reads, “recent works from the most important composers in the universe.” Ted especially has an undeniably comic, surreal stage presence, playing keyboards with his bare feet, spanking his bass around and strutting occasionally about the room like a very tall and skinny rooster on a Ritalin bender. I’m confident that, artistically speaking, Dig Shovel Dig does important, genre-bending work, about 300 years or so ahead of its time. But sort of like with calculus or physics, I don’t want to study it so much on account of the headaches it can cause.

Score: On a scale of 1-1000, Dragonmoose scores a 647.984: good licks, lots of promise, keep practicing.

[Asheville-based music writer Stuart Gaines, a contributing editor at An Honest Tune, can be reached at youknowthiscity@yahoo.com.]

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