You were thinking City Stages would be perfect if only Wes McDonald and the Fizz would get back together? Perhaps we could interest you in a swim with Vulture Whale.
Comprised of the aforementioned Mr. McDonald, Les Nuby (once of Verbena), Keelan Parrish and Jake Waitzman, Vulture Whale come to the stage with only two mandates: a) rock and b) rock hard.
As befits these hometown heroes, they have put out on an eponymous album on Skybucket, the hometown record label, which garnered good notices from publications nowhere near this area code, like Jersey Beat and Spin. Critics have also praised the band’s live act, in terms such as “rough and raw” (Static), “sonically thick” (Skope) and “my envious and vicarious enjoyment thickens with this album in my arsenal”(Citizendick).
Judging from their frenetic schedule, these guys play all the time, but they don’t take an audience for granted. In front of a Magic City throng, they will likely add another option to their mandates, namely c) rock extra hard. Remember, Whale is their name and wail is their game.
38 Special • Friday • 7 p.m.
38 Special are 20th Century Masters. A&M put out a CD that said they were, so it must be true. Nevertheless, in the 21st Century this band of veteran musicians is still up for the challenge of Southern-frying audiences with high cholesterol rock.
Known to some as the second greatest Southern rock band ever to come out of Jacksonville, 38 Special, co-founded and fronted by Donnie Van Zant, have always had a hard time convincing critics to take them seriously. Luckily, they haven’t had to live off accolades, since for more than 30 years they’ve been putting out crowd-pleasing albums, with songs like “Caught Up In You,” “Back Where You Belong,” and that staple of classic rock radio, “Hold On Loosely.”
With two guitars, thundering bass, power piano and a new drummer named Gary Moffatt who can actually play a listenable solo, 38 Special bring you both the Yee and the Haw that makes Southern Rock a quantifiable classification. Their motto: “Loud and Proud.” They excel on both counts.
REO Speedwagon & STYX • Friday • 8 p.m.
They can’t stop rockin’ and they’re on a tour of the same name to prove it. Once big enough to headline individual bills, the savvy stars of REO Speedwagon and Styx first toured as co-headliners in 2001 to considerable acclaim, and are in the middle of a national tour that’s already spawned a collaborative single called, well, “Can’t Stop Rockin’.”
Playing all their hits would take a couple of hours, so Styx and REO will have to choose carefully for their City Stages set. (In case you haven’t got Rock 99 or The Eagle on your car radio, those hits would include “Time for Me to Fly,” “Keep On Loving You” and “Take It On the Run” for the Speedwagon and “Lady,” “Come Sail Away” and “The Best of Times” for Styx.)
Alabama boasts a special connection with Styx, whose singer Tommy Shaw is a Montgomery native inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame last year. In truth, though, both groups have always been well received here in the Heart of Dixie, which likely explains their headlining at City Stages.
You youngsters who want to know what all the fuss was about in the era of Album Rock just may want to saunter over to catch this set Friday night. Get there early though; otherwise, your mom and dad are already going to have the good spots down front.
Corey Jones • Saturday • 1 p.m.
Yes, yes, he’s the guy who does those ubiquitous Fox 6 commercials, but Corey Jones has rather more on his musical resume. He’s sailed the bounding main entertaining on cruise ships, constitutes half of the duo Big Town Run and plays venues all over the state. Plus, he won an Emmy for those Fox 6 commercials.
Justin Moon will join him onstage to kick off Saturday’s doings at the Miller Stage. It would be presumptuous to assume that he will indeed sing one of his award-winning commercials, but you won’t want to tune out of the rest of his set.
Roddie Romero and the Hub City All Stars •
Saturday • 2 p.m.
With a name Ray Stevens would have been proud to come up with, this ensemble is anything but a novelty act. Steaming out of Cajun country with an extra spritz of hot sauce, the Hub City Allstars excel in that wonderfully unclassifiable genre known simply as Louisiana Music.
Their front man, Roddie Romero, serves it up on slide guitar and accordion, instruments he’s been playing since he was a kid and which he mastered sufficiently to be playing juke joints in the backwoods while still a tyke. (His unique situation led to legislation with his name on it that permitted underage performers to perform in Louisiana bars as long as a parent or legal guardian makes the gig, too.)
Roddie had had three hit albums by the time he turned 21, but Romero’s only one of the Allstars. Eric Adcock started playing piano at five, though he didn’t start laying down the boogie-woogie till he turned six. Dudley Fruge learned drumming from his older brother and gigged with Zachary Richard and Jimmy Buffett before his current booking. (Chad and Chris — put something on the web site if you want us to write about you in glowing terms as well, OK?)
They’ve been nominated for Grammies and are destined to win ‘em as well, on the strength of albums like The La Louisanne Sessions, named after the legendary recording studio in which many of the all-time south Louisiana classic sides have been recorded.
If you can’t get to the Rock’n’Bowl in Mid-Town NOLA to see these guys, bring your dancing shoes to City Stages Saturday. You’ll have a good time, I guar-on-tee.
Shirock • Saturday • 3:30 p.m.
“It’s like a rock sound with a heavy emphasis on keyboards.” That’s how Chuck Shirock described the music of the ensemble that bears his name to ABC 33/40, and who are we to quibble? Chuck and wife Pap, joined by Derek Blank on bass, Adam Gatchel on drums and Jason Bynum on guitar, have an ambitious objective for their artistry. Shirock are trying to put idealism to music.
Their CD, Everything Burns, dropped earlier this year, several songs from which have already made their way to television show soundtracks. What’s more, there’s a fashion line and a non-profit organization to channel the energies of the fanbase, all of whom had better be front and center Saturday to welcome the local heroes to City Stages.
Meiko • Saturday • 4:30 p.m.
She’s got more than one name, but Meiko is the only one she wants you to remember, and she’d rather you pronounce it the way they do back home in Georgia, where she hails from: MEE-koe.
She moved to Los Angeles and made friends with MySpace, through which she was able to render superfluous a stage fright that otherwise would have nipped her musical career in the bud.
Heartfelt she-songs made their way into the queues of assorted TV show music coordinators — Grey’s Anatomy turned “Boys With Girlfriends” into an iTunes hit — and before long Meiko had become the singer-songwriter of choice in the greater Hollywood vicinity.
Reg fell hard for her in his weekly Coffeehouse so there’s no reason you should not follow suit Saturday afternoon.
Eric Hutchinson • Saturday • 6 p.m.
Why does this guy’s name look so darn familiar? Oh, yeah, he’s the guy Meiko’s opening for on a current cross-country singer-songwriter tour, so, quelle surprise that he should be playing on a stage not too distant from the comely monosyllable.
Eric Hutchinson knows both rock and roll, hence the success of his single of that name from his CD Sounds Like This, but it’s clearly pop that fires his imagination, judging from the variety of influences bubbling throughout his music; a little bit of Billy Joel, some Ben Folds and do we hear some Stevie Wonder there, too?
He’s no deep thinker, if his blog is any indication, but he’s adept at writing innocuous ditties that leave a delicious aftertaste, and if that’s what America craves these days, we should be glad to be served by a current master of the oeuvre. As he imparts on his website, “The live show has never been better, we keep reinventing it - the songs have really evolved, and we throw in a few surprises. It’s really about taking the performance wherever the audience wants to lead it that night.“
Want to have a good time at Eric Hutchinson’s set? Reckon it’s all up to you.
Jonny Lang • Saturday • 7:30 p.m.
One of the pleasures of following music over a period of time is watching prodigies fulfill their promise. Two such in the blues category have been Derek Trucks and Jonny Lang, and since Mr. Trucks won’t be here this weekend, let us extol the virtuosity of Mr. Lang.
Hard to believe he was only 16 when he released his major label debut hit album Lie to Me (and perhaps harder to believe that it was a dozen years ago). He was already a seasoned guitarist then, having begun his touring days as Kid Jonny Lang when he was, well, a kid of 13. His uncanny mastery of electric blues stylings with a preseasoned voice to match earned him the respect of gunslingers like Buddy Guy, who gave him an album cameo in 1998.
Despite the sales and the success, Jonny refused to be pigeonholed as a twelve-bar picker. He sought out situations to expand his range, recording with Herbie Hancock and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He kept in touch with pop, working with Hanson in 2000 and the Jonas Brothers this year. Most importantly, he introduced other textures into his own songs, working his gospel influences into the Grammy winning CD Turn Around.
He’s played the White House and now he’s made it to City Stages. Inarguably, Jonny Lang’s got chops enough for everybody.
The Neville Brothers • Saturday • 9 p.m.
Not many acts can summon up an entire musical history merely by name, but the Neville Brothers can. Princes of old New Orleans, Aaron, Art, Charles and Cyril, plus their talented kinfolk, constitute a dynasty in exile when they take the stage outside the 504.
Tied to the first wave of New Orleans pop music — Art and the Hawketts cut “Mardi Gras Mambo” in 1954 — Nevilles have been part of every breakout from the Crescent City, be it Aaron’s ’66 solo hit, “Tell It Like It Is,” Art’s participation in The Meters, or the family’s 1976 group effort on behalf of Mardi Gras Indian legends The Wild Tchoupitoulas.
When the Neville Brothers formed in 1977, it seemed only a matter of time before the whole world embraced their fusion of funk and fun. However, perhaps because they were unwilling to compromise their heritage, they never had a breakthrough hit. Beloved by audiences around the world as groove masters, mass stardom has eluded them.
They continue to pursue solo projects like Funky Meters and the Uptown All-Stars, but when the family comes together, ephemeral things like gold records and fame magically surrender to the power of the voodoo that they do so well. No group on earth can replicate the funk majesty of the Neville Brothers, and you are urged to render obeisance Saturday night.
Charlie Wilson • Saturday • 10:30 p.m.
This Charlie Wilson ain’t the one who fought the war, though he did once drop the bomb on you.
As a founder of the Gap Band and a best-selling solo artist, he has single-handedly dispelled the notion that nothing funky ever came out of Tulsa.
That Oklahoma oil town is where Charlie and his brothers Ronnie and Robert developed their musicality, starting in the Pentecostal church and gradually moving into mainstream R&B with the Gap Band.
What set the Gap apart from all the other super-tight funk outfits of the ‘80s were Charlie’s mellifluous vocals, summoning the fun-filled to party as a muezzin would the faithful to prayer. Though the party band trend began to wane in the late Eighties, the influence of the Gap Band continued through a new generation of R&B singers who took Charlie Wilson as an inspiration, among them R. Kelly (who produced Charlie’s 2005 solo album), Keith Sweat and Aaron Hall.
As a solo artist, Charlie has collaborated with Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake and the Platinum Brothers. Now he’s touring behind not only a hit CD (Uncle Charlie), but also the revelation that he’s gone one-on-one with prostate cancer. Thanks to early detection and treatment, his prognosis is excellent, as should be the show he brings to close out Saturday night at City Stages.
Alice in Thunderland • Sunday • 1 p.m.
One of the best band names at City Stages this year belongs to Philip and Austin Blevins, their cousin Jaclyn Wint and their friend Andrew Bobulinski. As might be expected, they bring the noise with Thunderland, but they bring a sharp sense of performing as well.
How sharp? They lost in the annual City Stages Battle of the Bands, but the judges invited them to take a slot at the big show nevertheless.
They’re just kids, but so once were the classic rockers they strive to emulate, so belay that ageist prejudging. Alice in Thunderland will do their level best to win you over and we surmise that that level will be around 120 decibels.
Flat Cat • Sunday • 2 p.m.
If you’re ready to venture into high concept with a low-fi ethic, then Flat Cat’s where it’s at. Cross culturalizing Alabama boys Chuck Brittain and Lance Starr with Georgia’s Michael Thomas Roe and damnyankee Amy Rollinson, Flat Cat offers power pop straight out of the Butler building in the back.
As performers, the members of the ensemble have adopted cat names, so Chuck is Britt Cat, Lance is Starr Cat, Mr. Roe is Mit Cat and Ms. Rollinson Catfish. “It’s whatever cat style feels good at the moment,” their website avers.
Nomenclature notwithstanding, Flat Cat likes to claw out the sort of raucous fun Paul Westerberg used to have, and if they can in fact perform a cover of Lally Stott’s “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” as they hint they can, then ‘twill be a purrfect Sunday afternoon.
Hill Country Revue • Sunday • 3 p.m.
City Stages attendees will instantly recognize the names Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew — two-thirds of the power trio North Mississippi All-Stars — from previous appearances at the festival. These days, Dickinson and Chew front Hill Country Revue, torchbearers for the next generation of Mississippi blues. The quintet, rounded out by Kirk Smithhart, Ed Cleveland and Dixie Dan Coburn, released the CD Make A Move in May of this year. The album features material written by Garry Burnside, the youngest of legendary Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside’s 14 children. Dickinson – like his brother and fellow All-Stars bandmate, Luther — continues a family musical legacy forged by his father, famed producer and musician Jim Dickinson. This summer, Hill Country Revue will tour extensively in support of Make A Move.
The Whigs • Sunday • 4:30 p.m.
Not to be confused with The Afghan Whigs out of Cincinnati, the garage rock rulers known only as The Whigs hail from the long shadow of the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA, having climbed the ladder of success rung by rung with the likes of Drive By Truckers, Elf Power and Franz Ferdinand.
They started in 2005 with the ultimate DIY album, Give ‘em All A Big Fat Lip (recorded with gear they bought on eBay and then sold again after the sessions to pay for the post-production), which caught the ears of Dave Mathews’s people at ATO Records, where 2008’s Mission Control was released.
The Whigs have toured with everyone who matters, appeared with Letterman and Conan, played Bonnaroo and got one of their songs featured in a video game. The only career objective remaining is to play City Stages, which you will be fortunate to witness Sunday.
Wham. Bam. Thank you, man.
Guster • Sunday • 6 p.m.
It’s hard to imagine that Guster is closing in on its 20th anniversary. Formed in 1991 by three students at Massachusetts’ Tufts University – Adam Gardner, Ryan Miller and Brian Rosenworcel – the band has been labeled “Alternative Rock,” “Geek Rock” and “Christian Rock.” All labels aside, the quartet (multi-instrumentalist Joe Pisapia joined in 2003), Guster is simply a band that has consistently released intelligent, melodic songs while steadily growing its fan base. In recent years, the band’s songs have been placed in a number of films and television series including Wedding Crashers, The O.C., Life As A House and Disturbia. Guster is also known for its environmental activism and taper-friendly policy at live performances. The band’s most recent full-length album – Ganging Up On The Sun – was released in 2006 and a new release is set for later this year.
Doobie Brothers • Sunday • 7:30 p.m.
There have been several bands to find success with different frontmen – Van Halen and AC/DC to name two – but the Doobie Brothers managed to successfully change musical styles at the height of their popularity. Blending guitar-driven rock (“China Grove,” “Long Train Running”) with a rootsy Americana sound (“Black Water”) in its early days, the band turned in a Blue-Eyed Soul direction when keyboardist/vocalist Michael McDonald entered the fold. Megahits including “What A Fool Believes,” “Minute By Minute” and “Taking It To The Streets” soon followed and the band widened its audience while broadening its musical scope. Reforming after in 1987 after a hiatus of several years, the band continues to tour on a regular basis. The current touring lineup includes Doobies stalwarts Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons and John McFee. With 22 million records sold and multiple Grammy Awards to its credit, The Doobie Brothers remain a pop music institution and an FM radio staple.
Lynyrd Skynyrd • Sunday • 9 p.m.
If we have to tell you who these guys are, City Stages may not be your best entertainment option this weekend.