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Church Music

Of steeples, marchers, farm equipment and the Angels

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The Steeple Lounge is one of the most intriguing places to open in the last year or so. Since it's part of the whole Plaza-Midwood/Thomas Avenue extended family, it's also a favorite of the police, who haunt the area like fishermen trolling for drunk drivers (all the while ignoring the feeding frenzy of uptown clubs a half-block from their station). I headed for a return visit to the reconstituted church Friday evening to catch the band Black Lagoon, a tasty mix of both the 60s and 90s Woodstocks, and Star Motor Company, the newest band from former Spite and Jennifer Strip frontman Chris Boone, and likely his best one yet. Star Motor Company took to a raised stage on the spot of the former altar, with the heavily tattooed Boone appropriately clad in a shirt with a large cross on it and the legend "I'll be back for all of you soon. Love, Jesus." However, the stage was lit from behind with an eerie orange light more apropos to, say, Anton LeVey. After a monster set, incense was lit, effectively announcing that Black Lagoon was about to start. The orange glow receded, and the area behind the stage became a sort of Salvador Dali-esque blue sky, a perfect counterpart to that group's Sabbath meets Kate Bush growl. By the time the band started with its usual habit of handing out blood-red roses to those in attendance, the ex-church was packed with enough followers that I imagine the Steeple folks garnered a nice little week's collection -- even if those gathered for this service were dressed in black and red latex, leather and miniskirts rather than navy blazers and bonnets. Hey, it's an old church, so everyone was well-behaved and seemed to have a good time enjoying the music and camaraderie, despite the differences in fashion, race and age. In that way, perhaps a few real churches could learn a lesson.Being a bit of a political animal (perhaps a small animal, maybe a muskrat or ferret), I set off Saturday to find the anti-war rally being held in Charlotte sponsored by the Coalition for Peace and Justice of Charlotte. For some reason -- perhaps the labyrinthine streets of uptown Charlotte, or perhaps I was late -- I never did find it. But I did see on TV that there was a big march in DC that drew tens of thousands of folks to protest Dubya's impending distraction from a failing economy and a continuing Al Qaeda threat. Perhaps I should have just acted globally and thought locally. Then again, maybe I should have skipped that last bit of communion at the Steeple. Not to be denied, I cursed Bush under my breath and went downtown to a Halloween festival for kids and ate a chili dog. Viva la Revolucion!Saturday night, feeling that Kerouacian itch to travel, I headed out of town. Granted, it was to neighboring Derita, but out of town is out of town, right? Playing at Puckett's Farm Equipment in Derita -- one of the little-known Charlotte-area music treasures -- were the Avett Brothers. Outside the front door sat a row of motorcycles, including a few of those Big Penis Extensions, otherwise known as Harley Davidsons. To avoid controversy, I took off my thrift store Harley Davidson mechanic's jacket with the name "Philip" emblazoned on the front and switched to an old London Fog. Feeling newly safe and uncontroversial, I paid my five clams and entered. "Thank you," they said as I walked in. We're the Avett Brothers, and we're from. . .here." And thank God they are. The band is like a cool drink of water compared to the stale beer of some of the paint-by-numbers "alternative" bands in town. Their set of bluegrass-meets-barroom roadhouse country fit perfectly in the homey little establishment that still has old original posters on the wall of the Elvis Presley/Nancy Sinatra film Speedway, which, I didn't know until last night, also starred future Incredible Hulk star Bill Bixby. There were sound problems near the end of the set, originally because the folks out front with the Harleys were revving their engines and no one could hear (or breathe, thanks to all the exhaust), and later due to some technical glitch. Undaunted, the Avetts told the crowd to hush and soared their impeccable sibling harmonies over the top of the murmuring crowd. After another break to fix the sound, the Avetts invited the crowd to grab a beer or two; most people complied, seeing as game six of the World Series was on over in the corner. After the Angels pulled off an improbable comeback, the band once again took the stage and finished the night's set with a pretty nice comeback of their own, despite the earlier sound troubles and Harley noise. What the hell -- beats trying to play over those dumb ThunderSticks they use in Anaheim.

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