Review of Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s

Despite our romantic notions, creativity does not result from the effortless endeavors of heretofore unknown mavericks operating on some vast bohemian fringe. In reality of course, creativity is a byproduct of the sort of mastery that is cultivated through prolonged practice, through first submission to, and then understanding of, a certain set of strictures that can then be manipulated in different ways.

For this reason, the new album Buzzard, by Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s is their most promising yet. While not as focused as previous releases such as The Dust of Retreat or Not Animal, the release immediately evidenced a new depth of creativity from this young band and their leader Richard Edwards. It showed that they had grasped the fundamentals of making songs and records, and were now ready to move further.

After having listened to this band for the past couple of years, and especially in light of the recent release, this reviewer was excited to see their recent performance at Stella Blue. The show began with an energetic and inspired set by The Enemy Lovers, a new band that has been (deservedly so in my opinion) touted as the next big thing on Asheville’s music scene, and they were followed by two other opening acts before our headliners took the stage just after midnight to an enthusiastic reception from the crowd.

Considering the aforementioned progression of their releases, I expected to see a band caught up in the exultation of finding themselves, feeding off the kinetic energy of performing music that sounded so obviously rewarding to create. Instead, what they portrayed was a distinct disaffection, especially on the part of Edwards, that betrayed not even a simulacrum of getting carried away by performing, or even enjoying the music.

Five songs into the set, Edwards had yet to show even the slightest hint of a smile, or give even the most perfunctory “thank you” to the audience (the latter of those eventually happened, but it was exactly that: perfunctory). Even the most exciting songs from the new album, such as “New York City Hotel Blues” and “Will You Love Me Forever,” were delivered with a rote calm, an impression of being relegated to the task.

The evening was not without its high points — a nearly solo version of “Broad Ripple is Burning” by Edwards was mesmerizing, and the band was joined by musicians from the opening groups for a (comparatively) lively version of “As Tall As Cliffs,” but even those were undercut by Edwards’ manner, which didn’t come across so much as discomfort (which has a certain empathetic appeal) but disinterest.

The last songs of the evening were some of the best, and just as the show began to gain steam it ended, leaving the predictable detritus of a rock and roll show at a small club — empty cups and bottles, dirt and grime, paper scraps swirling in the wake of a car passing on the street, and the knowledge that all of us there will be back again, to see this show or a different one, and that we can always hope for more next time.

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