Chatham County Line
No one at Chatham County Line's gig at Iota on Thursday night should have had any trouble figuring out where the bluegrass quartet calls home. They draped a North Carolina state flag behind them, mentioned their home town of Raleigh at least four times and, well, they're even named after one of their burg's newspapers.
Tarheel pride didn't swamp their hour-long set, though, mainly because their rich harmonies and churning acoustic energy were stirring, strong enough to even overcome the lingering happy crowd.
Producer Chris Stamey has given both CCL records a warm, old-time bluegrass sheen, and the group furthered that vibe onstage, gathering around a single microphone, leaning together, in and out, to blend their voices. Bassist Greg Readling and Chandler Holt's banjo were solid if unspectacular; the band's real propulsion came from the mandolin and fiddle of John Teer and Dave Wilson's lead vocals. The show's crackling numbers -- "Nowhere to Sleep," "Make Some Pay," the spiraling instrumental "Butterwheel" -- found them locked in the kind of melodic accord that might've earned them an audition for the Bluegrass Boys. The slower numbers tended to sink into the barroom din, but a sly arrangement of Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" and Wilson's sharply drawn "Route 23" surfaced nicely.
Mainly known as frequent opener for alt-country sweetie Tift Merritt (Wilson and Readling played in her band, the Carbines), CCL is rapidly developing the chops and songs that could make them a contemporary bluegrass force.
-- Patrick Foster
The Gris Gris
It was B.Y.O.T. -- bring your own tumbleweed -- for those who arrived early enough to catch Bay-area quartet the Gris Gris Wednesday night. Opening for the Warlocks and the BellRays at the Black Cat, the band appeared unstymied by the lousy attendance. It quickly drowned out any chirping crickets with refreshing passages of drippy psych-rock, clanging guitars and roadhouse-worthy romps.
Unlike the acid-burnt sound of their neo-psych peers, the Gris Gris take a majority of their cues from the buoyant work of Roky Erickson and his pioneering Texas psychedelic rock troupe 13th Floor Elevators. Like Erickson, Gris Gris singer-guitarist Greg Ashley is a gifted songwriter with an ear for trippy textures. The band's vintage sonic swirl ultimately answered Ashley's hooks, inviting the small audience to sing along, stomp along or maybe just twirl around in a fashion that could get one hauled off to the medical tent at a larger concert.
Ashley is surrounded by an equally talented squad. Oscar Michel culled a growling bass tone from his flat-wound strings, keyboardist-guitarist Lars Kullberg kept things buzzy-'n'-fuzzy and drummer Joe Haener managed to drink a beer and take a drag from his cigarette while tapping out the beat to "Raygun." Combining their efforts on more than a few over-the-top rave-ups, the Gris Gris evoked the image of a band and all their instruments falling down the stairs. They made a righteous racket along the way.
-- Chris Richards