Tag Archives: Underbelly

All GUTS, All Glory: Alachua’s finest femmes, planting their flag in Duval’s urban core.

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Summer Goodman/GUTS/Mouth Mouth/Flat Land

Underbelly–Wednesday, April 1

Courtesy Medusa Productions

Back when I was a college freshman, attending the University of Florida, way back in the Year Of Our Lord 1995 (it wasn’t that long ago, really, but it feels that way sometimes), the best band in Gainesville was called the Crustaceans, but there was nothing crabby about their sound. It was a trio playing guitar, bass and drums; they switched instruments and lead vocal duties repeatedly during their sets, seamlessly. They were a garage band in the true mattresses-on-the walls, un-ironic-clove-cigarette-smoking kind of way.  Their leader was Samantha Jones, already a local legend long before I’d ever palmed my first bottle of Boone’s Farm.

Samantha Jones was the very first girl I ever met with a tattoo on her arm—just ponder that, for a moment—and her energy lit up the room like Magneto running through airport security. From those first bars, at those first bars, her voice installed itself in my permanent Top 5, all-time, anywhere. Her swag was prototypical, and now, with a quarter-century’s experience in upwards of a dozen bands, all of which were good, she is an established leader in the Gainesville community.

Jones married her colleague in Crustaceans, became a mother, massage therapist and yoga teacher, but she still wields a voice more soothing than shiatsu, and she has aged even less over those years than I have. All the while, Jones maintained her presence in the music scene; her band Cassette recorded several nice things for Bakery Outlet Records and played the old Lomax Lodge back in the John Peyton era. The Crustaceans were my introduction to the deep and dense indie-rock scene here in Florida, the first music I bought from people I actually knew, the first of thousands in almost every conceivable medium—but I lost their recordings 12 years ago, and have never been able to replace them, which irks me to no end. (But it’s ok, because I memorized it all.)

But the good news is that my the singer/guitarist for my favorite Gainesville band back then, in 1995, is also the singer/guitarist for my favorite band working that region today—the fabulous female foursome GUTS, whose debut in Duval County debut happens at Underbelly during the First Wednesday ArtWalk, as part of a free show that also includes Flat Land, Mouth Mouth and Summer Goodman, all of which can be counted among the new generation of indie acts rising out of the Sunshine State.

Jones and her colleagues—bassist Kara Smith, guitarist Rebecca Butler and drummer Kentucky Ultraviolet—are touring in support of their debut album “Lucky All Over”, released last December. Their sound is spare, a sensory delight, all shimmering guitars and multi-part harmonies, anchored by one of the signature voices of the modern era. If Jones’ singing sounds like others you’ve heard, bear in mind that she was first—and, if the new stuff is any indication, she will also be the last. It’s happy, refreshing music, rendered in fine detail, translucent and stocky at once, like Rapidograph on vellum. The video for “Sugar”, recorded at Medusa Studios last year, was my introduction to their work. It’s still my favorite track, but songs like “Lucky” and “There’s a Chill” are standouts, as well.

The Duval connection was formalized just recently when Tomboi worked a bill with GUTS at A Space on March 1. Their singer, Alex E. Michael has a resume similar to Jones’, in that pretty much every band she’s in is really good, from Tomboi today to Ritual Union, Wild Life Society and the legendary Fruit Machine. When Jones noted on Facebook that “Tomboi’s gonna be the NEXT BIG THING, mark my words”, that’s about as close to definitive as an endorsement gets in this region.

Such is Alex E’s reputation that Underbelly’s tasked her with running their new gimmick for ArtWalk, where they’re always busy, by default, like most venues around The Elbow tends to be. It starts with open-mic for singers, poets, magicians etc. earlier in the evening, followed by a free keg at 9 and featured band thereabouts, with free admission throughout. The venue, the night and the audience are all ideal for GUTS’ arrival in the River City. The only April Fools are those who miss this show.

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Random links to recent Folio Weekly stories…

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Folio Weekly logo

As you know, I took most of the first half of the year away from print journalism, for various reasons best saved for a podcast elsewhere (thanks, Meggybo!). But I’ve been back in the saddle this summer, returning to Folio Weekly, where I’ve been writing on a regular basis since summer 1997. Just wanted to take a quick moment to post links of the recent stuff I’ve done, for the benefit of all my little Hull-A-Maniacs who aren’t in Jacksonville and can’t read the print edition. So, here ya go…

*Canary In the Coalmine (june 26): http://folioweekly.com/Songbirds,5663

*“Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” (July 10): http://folioweekly.com/There-Will-Be-Blood,5915

*Black Kids (August 14): http://folioweekly.com/Not-Just-Kids-Anymore,6544 

*Mick Foley (August 21): http://folioweekly.com/A-Hardcore-Humorist,6681

Album review: Screamin Eagle, “Her Kingdom”

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Her Kingdom is the second full-length album by Christopher Alan Nanney, age 24, who performs as Screamin Eagle. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting alias. The sound of his voice—at once high-pitched and nasally, yet also guttural and sonorous—can at times evoke calls from birds of prey, and his musical style could be described as “quintessentially American”, to the extent there is such a thing. His own personal vision is fully-illuminated on his website, with essays and scanned pages from his own hand-drawn chap-books.

Nanney’s a native of Jacksonville. He worked serving sushi at a local café in Riverside over the past year when he wasn’t out performing, but with the onset of autumn he’ll be heading down to Gainesville, where’s he is enrolled in the prestigious Florida School of Massage (FSM). I’ve seen him perform a bunch of times over the past year or so, at places like Underbelly, Dos Gatos and Burro Bar. He was also a regular presence at the now-defunct Thief in the Knight building downtown during ArtWalk, right near where the sumptuous vegan vittles from Dig Foods were offered, and he also performed at the first big CORK event.

The album cover shows him sitting at a table in a dimly-lit restaurant somewhere. He’s wearing a blue t-shirt and placid smile, with silverware and a glass of water nearby; he looks mellow, composed and controlled. It wasn’t always that way: He was arrested for breaking into First Baptist Church in April 2010. The episode is reminiscent of recent incidents involving the Russian band Pussy Riot and MMA fighter/”Bully Beatdown” host Jason “Mayhem” Miller. A report by First Coast News claims police found him “standing on top of a water fountain. He had no shirt or shoes, was wearing a piece of purple cloth like a cape, and was holding a wooden club. Those items are listed in the arrest report as being stolen from inside the church. Police also noticed Nanney had several pages torn from hymnals [specifically, ‘A Hymn For Mother Nature’] stuffed down his pants.” A six-month stay in a mental hospital was followed by the recording of his debut album, Hurricane.

Certainly, it was an unconventional way to worship, but ultimately harmless. In fact, it may have been to his ultimate benefit. As noted on Nanney’s website, he credits the incident with helping to cement his commitment to music, a process that has led right up to the new album, which is excellent. Overall, Nanney’s crafted a collection of several excellent songs that all fit together nicely as a unified whole; there’s little fat, and almost no gristle. The 14 songs on Her Kingdom represent just a fraction of Nanney’s recorded output, which by his estimation may exceed 50 tracks so far. His work has already drawn praises from outlets like Movement, EU and Void. He usually performs as a solo act, using just his voice and acoustic guitar, but the album adds a few dimensions to that sound.

Nanney’s skills on electric guitar are used to nice effect—driving, anthemic—on the opening title-track, then entirely differently on the proto-blues “Rich Man”; it leads right into “The Gift”, which sounds like a cross between early Lou Reed and new Hamell On Trial. “Holy Ground” has a very Led Zeppelin III feel to it, a feeling reinforced by his slide-work in the album’s middle section on “Built To Last”, “King” and “The Meaning Of Life”. “Kundalini Rising” is an instrumental digression running five minutes-plus; it sounds like what a rising kundalini might sound like, if indeed it made a sound at all—and maybe it does, but that’s beyond the scope of this record review. “Pack Your Bags” resumes the electric-blues motif, while the brevity of “Like An Angel” and its repetitive pattern makes it sound like a lullaby. “The Drinkin Song” could, too, especially with its improvised chorus, recorded live at one of his shows. It should have been the last song—13 is an appropriate number, given the elements that combine to make the album—but “To Resist” ends it nicely.

He’s got just a few more shows booked in Northeast Florida before he leaves in September. They include gigs at Underbelly on August 18, Casbah on the 27th and Nobby’s in St. Augustine on the 30th. The reader will have probably missed all of those shows by the time you read this, but that’s fine. Without question, we’ve only seen the beginning of Nanney’s career; he’ll be playing around Gainesville’s always-interesting music scene, and he’ll be back in Jacksonville for the occasional set. The Screamin Eagle has only begun to stretch his wings.

Notes on Brian Hicks (1970-2010)

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The first time I ever saw Brian Hicks was a couple years before I actually met him, when his old band Gizzard opened for the Rollins Band at the Milk Bar in 1996. It was my first time writing a concert review, and my only time in a mosh pit. Hicks was probably the first professional musician I’d met in Jacksonville—the first on many, almost all of whom were friends of Brian. If you ever met him, he was your friend. When Brian died on Independence Day, the memories rushed back like floodwaters.

That summer night, not too terribly long ago, I remember being crowd-surfed from the front of the stage all the way back to the bar. I landed next to a fella (here un-named) who was then writing about music for one of the local rags, recognizing him, I humbly solicited advice for getting established in local journalism. I’ll never forget the half-smirk/half-sneer on his face as he turned his back, dismissing me, and I vowed at that moment to always do business the right way.

Brian did his business the right way, too. He played bass and guitar here and there, but his creative legacy resides mostly with wind instruments—Hicks was one of only a handful of musicians playing flute in a modernist setting. His was arguably the alto saxophonist of his generation, much like the way that Eric Riehm currently defines the tenor. Hicks’ natural versatility was a function of his openness to life, to new people and new experiences. I can’t imagine how much practice it took to make it look so effortless!

Brian was basically the first good friend of mine to die by some means other than murder. But then again, when I think on what he had to endure during last few years among us, the word “murder” seems to jump out. Cancer is one of those things you just can’t control; it seems to be different for every person who faces it. It would be simplistic and presumptuous to say that Brian, who beat cancer at least once before, might have beaten it again and still been alive if he were rich. The truth, of course, is that when it’s your time, it’s your time, and no amount of money or power can obstruct that course. But money remains a factor—the stress, the uncertainty.

I remember sitting and talking with Brian a couple years ago, outside the Starlite, which is now Birdie’s—a place where Tropic of Cancer played regularly for years. I saw that band perform more than any other musical group. It was mid-afternoon, or what musicians and reporters call “time for breakfast”; I drank whisky, he drank water, and he talked about what he was going through. The physical stuff was terrible, of course, but I was struck by all the other ancillary matters on his mind.

It made me so mad, I never spoke of it. I found it hard to even attend the various benefit shows held on his behalf over the last few years. A guy like that should have never had to worry about anything but feeling better, and if this was a country that had any respect for the things that really matter—like truth, love, beauty, the joy of family and friends—then a guy like that, who provided so many people with so many happy memories, would have never wanted for anything.

But the lesson of living in this city is that, time and again, it is the very best of us who get it the worst. It’s never the rapists who get raped, never the bullies who get bullies, and it is almost never the true cancers of society who get cancer themselves. Brian Hicks’ death came just two days after another friend was viciously attacked out in Riverside. I was giving thanks to God two days earlier, and now I’d reverted back to my usual skepticism. Better, I think, to be thankful for having known him at all.

Brian’s courage throughout his long battle with cancer was truly amazing and humbling for someone like me, and I’m hardly alone in feeling this way. He was the kind of man every parent prays their son may become some day. A teacher, a leader, a friend to pretty much everyone he ever met. He used to work at Starbucks, where my aunt gets her morning coffee. She knew him only in passing, and he hadn’t worked there for years, but he left enough of an impression that she often asks how he’s doing.

Brian’s memorial service was held at the Five Points Theatre on Saturday, July 10. A standing-room-only crowd shared in music and memories all day, and well into the night. For all the tears, there were more laughs, more hugs, more reunions of old friends and colleagues. Members of his old bands Gizzard and Helm played together for the first time in years, while Tropic of Cancer opened the event, playing together for the first time without their leader. They played hard—drummer Colin Westcott was especially good—with the elegiac grace of a “Missing Man” formation.

Jon Bosworth did yeoman work from the MC spot—surely one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do, but he manned up admirably. I regret not taking the mic to offer a few words; I have some mental block formed against public speaking, and I’m not sure why or how it exists. Probably the highlight was the spontaneous standing ovation given Brian’s mother during her turn on the mic—I’ll never forget that!

Tropic of Cancer didn’t record nearly enough, and that fact for me amplifies the sense of loss, like it’s the end of an era. Maybe the worst thing about Brian Hicks dying is that there are so many out there who will never know how good he was, because he chose to live and die in a city sorely lacking in respect and support for all the incredibly talented artists and musicians working here. Hicks, who was also a highly skilled audio technician who produced probably dozens of albums over the years, was working on the new Tropic CD at the time of his death; its posthumous release will stand as a mini-monument to his talent, but the real monument is a scene that is stronger than ever, and easily on the verge of some truly explosive growth in its national profile.

The only consolation to be had, however small, is this: Tropic played at Birdie’s once more, celebrating the band’s 10th anniversary on March 12, and he sounded as good as he ever had, and he knew it. His last performance was at Underbelly, just a few weeks before he died, and even then his alto sound rang with that sweet clarity of tone that was as much a part of this city as the river itself. We’ll all carry that sound in our hearts and minds forever, or at least until we can hear it again. RIP