First the Big Room, then the big time

It’s the plight of the local musician: always wanting a chance to show their talents to a hometown audience, yet always being relegated to bar scene. It’s the out-of-town bands that tend to get the spotlight and the best slots at the biggest clubs. And in a scene where where you’ve played can mean nearly as much as what you play, a lack of support from the bigger local venues can seem defeating.

Rough and ready: Pierce Edens and The Dirty Work combine solidly constructed songs with a rough-hewn sound.

As the largest rock club in the area, The Orange Peel is the place for an up-and-coming band to play. Although the venue has hosted many local shows in its history, local showcases have been relatively rare. But with ever-increasing attention on Asheville’s music scene, and the relative success of other locals-only showcases (such as the multinight one held in response to the Smashing Pumpkin’s residency earlier this year) the Orange Peel has decided to do something about it.

The Local Asheville Showcase features four acts from the area, which we’ve profiled below.

Jeff Santiago

At first glance and listen, Jeff Santiago seems like your typical coffeehouse performer. With a calm, sensitive demeanor and an often-utopian world-view, this subgenre of folk performers can—at their worst—turn personal insight into grandiose stories verging on unintentional self-parody. Thankfully, Jeff Santiago is no cliché coffeehouse crooner.

There’s too much depth to his material, and too much rhythm coming out of his acoustic guitar for him to come across as just another James Taylor wannabe. Instead, Santiago’s music is a unique marriage of rhythm and heart that is both laid back and danceable while still managing to draw inspiration from it’s open mic-friendly roots.

Pierce Edens and The Dirty Work

If Jeff Santiago has the mellow coffeehouse vibe down to an art form, then Pierce Edens is the guy hidden in the back of the room drinking straight black java and sneaking pulls from a flask. Along with his band, The Dirty Work, Edens raises the showcase’s musical stakes a frenetic mixture of roots-inspired rock. Presenting an image that is part carnival barker, part troubadour and part guitar-slinging vagrant, Edens’ music has a greater complexity than you might guess from a casual listen.

“I get comparisons to Tom Waits because my voice is rough,” says Edens. “Bu I wish people would tell me I sound like [legendary country singer] Billie Joe Shaver.”

Relating stories of hard living—and even harder learning—with uncommon ease and a gravel-chewing voice, it’s easy to compare Edens to the likes of Waits. But there’s a cool, uptown vibe to Edens’ songs as well. In fact, there’s even a little sentimentality to his work. But don’t get the idea that Edens and company are just a bunch of hard-luck softies—there’s some genuine grit in their songs and a fire in their performances.

“Expect us to keep our pants on for most of the show, at least,” he says laughing.

Nevada

The rough-and-raw frenzy of Edens’ songwriting stands in direct contrast to the glacial cool of downbeat indie rockers Nevada. Although its sound often borders on melancholy, it also has the biggest sound—nearly as expansive as its namesake—of any of the groups performing at the showcase .

With a detached yet modern sound falling roughly between alt-country and indie rock, Nevada makes the perfect music for both the casual listener and the vinyl-obsessed hipster. Bassist and guitarist Sean Robbins wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We really mix [our sound] up a bit,” Robbins says. “I have a hard time describing it. We have long psychedelic songs; short, catchy piano-pop songs, and some catchy Americana stuff. There are a lot of different things that go into our sound.”

AgroLola

Bringing it all together: AgroLola have proven to not only be an increasingly band in the local rock scene, but also a key force in organizing local showcases.

Somewhere past the haunted and psychedelic sounds of Nevada lies AgroLola. The group’s sound is both cleverly tuneful and agressively angular, striking a strange and delicate balance. It’s the kind of music that seems too disjointed to stand on it’s own for long, but AgroLola never seems to loose footing. The songs are tight and concise works, playing out on an ever-shifting landscape that seems like it could dead end at any moment, and yet they also somehow manage to hummable.

Although the band has been together for two years, AgroLola hasn’t quite reached the level of recognition that it’s looking for. As a result, the band has taken on an organizing role, putting together a number of showcases for themselves and other up-and-coming bands.

“I feel glad that we’ve gotten to do this,” says vocalist James Carson. “And if we can bring in a lot of people, hopefully we can bring other bands in and get people involved.”

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.


who: Jeff Santiago, Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work, Nevada, and Agro Lola
what: A night of local music
where: Orange Peel
when: Saturday, Nov. 17 (9 p.m. $9. www.theorangepeel.net or 225-5851)

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