Random acts

Of note

Words and deeds: The band The Dead Poets are currently working on their second CD of classic poetry set to a variety of musical styles. According to the group’s Web site, they plan to be finished with the as-yet-untitled project by early 2003. For more information, visit www.thedeadpoets.com.

Front-row reviews

Who: The Von Bondies w/The Kills & David Viner

Where: Stella Blue

When: Saturday, Oct. 26

It’s not often an editor asks me to cover a particular show. Usually, I’m just sort of turned loose with the knowledge that if I am killed in action by a disgruntled musician, unnecessarily vitriolic to an advertiser or otherwise embarrassing to the publication, the publisher will simply disavow any knowledge of my existence.

But this week was special. I suspect that this highly unusual editorial suggestion was largely due to the fact that one of the bands, The Kills, actively avoids promotion by steadfastly refusing to give interviews. There’s nothing that raises an editor’s interest more than a story that seems to want to stay untold.

It’s almost as if editors are being taunted — as if the unrevealed facts and unspoken quotes were calling them grade-school insults such as “teacher’s pet,” “four-eyes” or “music reviewer.” I can tell you from experience that a taunted editor is a scary thing indeed.

So there I was, sitting at a table with notebook in hand, waiting to make heads or tails of The Kills — and, by extension, the other acts — at the behest of an editorial whim. Little did I know my assignment would be such a completely worthwhile experience.

The evening’s opening act was solo blues performer David Viner. He gave an uncluttered performance — very straightforward and completely unpretentious, which is good, because Viner isn’t from anywhere even remotely close to the Mississippi delta. In fact, he’s from London, a place not known for its blues (probably because the Thames could never support a decent crop of cotton).

In spite of his cultural handicap, Viner is an incredibly strong blues interpreter. His playing seemed effortless, especially on his covers of songs such as Mississippi John Hurt’s “Trouble I’ve Had All My Days.” During Viner’s last song, an encore of sorts, he forgot the words and played through it anyway. No one seemed to mind, but after his set, when I approached him to ask about the spelling of his name, he began to apologize profusely about his performance before wandering off backstage. For an unbilled performer in what seemed like an impromptu set, Viner appeared to take his self-perceived failure very, very seriously.

The next group up, the passively editor-taunting duo The Kills, wasted no time starting. Many music writers believe The Kills could be the next big thing — namely, the ’70s-inspired, strut-rock equivalent of the White Stripes. The comparison isn’t unjustified. Both bands take advantage of the male/female vocal dynamic. Both bands are oriented toward live performance.

Oh, and both bands were in Asheville that night.

Granted, the White Stripes weren’t playing, but Jack White was in the crowd — apparently not yet well-known enough, even after the extensive national press blitz of the last few months, to get mobbed at a small local club — and Meg White was supposedly spotted earlier in the evening at Malaprop’s, buying a guide to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Even without the Whites hanging around for good luck, The Kills were impressive enough on their own to captivate the crowd. VV, the female vocalist and occasional rhythm guitarist, comes across like a chain-smoking Joan Jett impersonating Mick Jagger, while her male counterpart, Hotel, sports a guitar-god sneer more than backed up by his skill on the instrument. If crowd reaction is any indication of a group’s power, it’s worth noting that almost all of the 50 or so patrons at Stella Blue that night were front and center for The Kills’ entire set.

The Von Bondies, from Detroit, are best known for their role supporting the White Stripes on their U.S. and European tours. Front man Jason Strollsteimer is definitely the standout personality, though the rest of the band was quite powerful in its own right. Consider The Von Bondies a macro version of The Kills, with two women providing backing vocals, as well as rhythm guitar and bass, and two men contributing lead vocals, guitar and drums. Both groups borrow their sound from the high-energy, bluesy-guitar vibe that dominated rock in the ’70s, but the sheer size of The Von Bondies’ sound, as well as Strollsteimer’s stage presence, puts them in a totally different class. The band performed two encore songs, including one with a reluctant David Viner on tambourine.

Apparently, Viner’s talent on guitar didn’t cross over to that deceptively simple percussive instrument — Strollsteimer, in what appeared to be a bit of good-natured teasing, took him aside to show him how to use it. Then, to add faux-insult to mock-injury, the crowd was instructed to clap, hands over heads, just to help keep Viner in time.

All in all, it was a remarkably entertaining and surprisingly intimate show. Just don’t tell my editor — because the one thing editors hate worse than a story that doesn’t want to be told is a story they missed out on completely.

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