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2004: A Vote for Rock

Local, national acts push Charlotte closer to limelight


Every year has its own musical personality, defined by moments that emerge in stark relief as a new year approaches. 2004 will be remembered as the year Ray Charles, one of the few remaining musical giants, passed away; as the year musicians across genres united to get out both the vote and George Bush; the year college rock icons like the Pixies and Mission of Burma rediscovered their muse and learned that they, too, had an audience to grow old with; the year Apple increased its stranglehold on digital music, despite a host of new competitors; the year a nationally televised nipple and lip-synching exposure drew more attention than the release of Brian Wilson's long-anticipated SMiLE.

Luckily, the local scene was defined by much more positive events. So with no further ado and nary a bared nipple, CL's music staff takes a look back at 2004...

Timothy Davis' Highs and Lows for 2004:

Highs: Seeing artists like Modest Mouse, Richard Buckner, The Shins and Death Cab For Cutie carve out a niche for themselves via movie marketing (Garden State), TV placement (The O.C.), and television commercials (Volkswagen, Apple). In lieu of radio play, many artists are finding new ways to get their music to potential listeners. Sniffing an opportunity, more and more radio stations are latching on to these artists' coattails. I heard Modest Mouse in a Goodwill ad the other day, for crying out loud. . . Bernie Brown's eclectic booking, effectively giving a chance to mid-tier acts and alt.rockers who might otherwise skip straight on up to Asheville's Orange Peel. . . The re-opening of the venerable Milestone Club on Tuckaseegee -- now booking shows almost every day of the week, the grand dame of Charlotte alt.rock is once again making a name for herself. Who might the next Nirvana or R.E.M. be?. . . The marriage of The Evening Muse's Joe Kuhlmann and Lea Pritchard. . . The wonderful, make-it-up-as-we-go "Night of Improvisational Music" held at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre. . . MoRisen Records' push for national recognition. . . The reformation of an old friend, Lou Ford. . . The rise of bands like Horse Thief, Calabi Yau, Unalaska, and Bullship. Their combined efforts are some of the more inventive local art (musical or otherwise) in years. . . Live shows of note: Yo La Tengo's energetic and well-received show at the Visulite (so good I drove to see them two days later in Chapel Hill), The Zombies and J. Mascis (albeit not together) at Amos' SouthEnd (The first show shocked the crowd into silence -- a reunion show that not only didn't suck, but rollicked along like a runaway freight train. The second was the single loudest show I've ever seen in my life, not withstanding other Mascis shows), the White Stripes at Grady Cole Center, and Alias and his Anticon posse at The Room. . . The reopening of Manifest Discs on South Boulevard.

Lows: The initial loss of Manifest Discs. . . The continuing struggle for rap/rock supremacy at The Room. . . Penny Craver calling it quits at Tremont Music Hall. . . Fat City officially, officially, this-time-we-mean-it officially calling it quits (for now). . . The lack of another quality music venue in the burgeoning Elizabeth/Plaza-Midwood district. . . Three dollar Pabst Blue Ribbons everywhere you look (it's not that damn good, OK?). . . the mind-numbing preponderance of jam band bookings at area clubs. . . (Addendum: for a group of people who claim peace and open-mindedness, I've seen more fights and drunken, idiotic debauchery go down at "jam band" shows than in any 10 punk shows I've taken in this year. And does your "spiritual quest" always have to sound like frigginí Widespread Panic?)... Lastly, Yours Truly's power of recall. I'm sure some 234 other gripes/gleans will come to me any day now. Stay tuned for a "Slipped Through The Cracks" story any day now.

John Schacht's Look Back at '04

Charlotte's reputation as a venue-less pit-stop for touring bands on the road from the Triangle to Atlanta took a solid hit this year, as several acts made a point of dropping by to check out the scene and, by most accounts, left town with a far more positive impression. There were, of course, plenty of acts that deserved bigger crowds, but attendance at live shows is down nationwide, a common refrain among many of the out-of-town musicians rolling into the Queen City for a show. . . 2004's most impressive show had to be Yo La Tengo's three-hour set at the Visulite in early October. With the exception of a couple of short comedic breaks, Hoboken, NJ's ambassadors worked their tails off for 400-plus appreciative fans, offering up extended versions of classics like "Sugar Cube" and a raucous cover of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War." Ira Kaplan and Co. were called back for three encores, and could have had more. . . Califone headlined for the first time in Charlotte at the Room on a Saturday night in May, doubling their audience from the night before at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill and the night after in Atlanta. They left plenty of people at The Room in awe after a two-hour set contrasting gorgeous melodies with ethereal crescendos and plenty of well-placed dissonance; percussionist Ben Massarella later called it one of the best shows of an extensive US tour. . .The re-formed Zombies and J.Mascis displayed their vastly different but equally impressive skills in front of packed crowds at Amos' Southend, proving that tribute bands aren't the only powerful draws at the centrally located venue.

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