The Bug House hosted one of the wildest night of music in Richmond this Fall as dozens of people packed tightly into the living room and rocked out to Richmond’s Thunder, Navi, Age of Asparagus, a new act with members of Tungs and Heavy Midgets, and local favorites Eurotics.
While it was Wolf//Goat’s album release party for In Watermelon Sugar (available on Bandcamp), the cops heard the noise and chilled out the celebration before they even hit the stage. While the show lost some steam and quite a few fans, we still got a whole album of polished tunes from Wolf//Goat and a haphazard but intimate set (sadly lacking Ben’s closing nudity).
Navi came on first, and I unfortunately got in too late to secure a view. I only get in as far as the hallway outside the show room as the floodgate opened to welcome the duo’s fuzzed-out grooves. Navi’s damn popular, and definitely a band to see in a large venue such as the occasional Strange Matter show or earlier Cellar Door romps. People are jostling past me pretty aggressively up and down the hallway between the chaos inside and the solace of the back yard.
Finally made it in. The house is crazy. A mass of bodies slamming between each other. People in the front are spraying their beer backwards on the crowd with reckless abandon. This is what house shows were meant to be.
With Jon Hawkins (ex-Field Day) on guitar and Kyle Flanagan (Eurotics, a whole bunch of new bands) on drums, Navi was destroying their delivery above the wildest expectations. It’s really incredible. They have opened every show I’ve seen them play, and yet the crowd interaction always seems to be the wildest. Not tonight, though. The show is a rising tide, and Navi’s set is only the kindling.
Despite what I said earlier, I had never seen Navi in a house before, but it’s definitely the best way to experience their music. Definitely.
Age of Asparagus wowed the crowd with their debut show, featuring an interesting contrast between groove and punk rock, with vocal reverb and computerized harmonies. Watching them craft their tones and perform was pretty engaging in and of itself.
Age of Asparagus features Ben Miller on guitar/lead vocals, Charlanne McCarthy on bass/vocals, and Jenn Hall (she is also Heavy Midget‘s new drummer and she’s really good). They definitely kept the wild vibe Navi established with fun stage presence and well-executed drumming. At one point Miller threw about fifty balloons into the moving crowd. It was awesome.
I’m definitely excited to hear more about Age of Asparagus playing out soon. They really turned my head and had me listening.
Cops show up and leave between Age of Asparagus and Eurotics set. Show goes on.
The house was a sweaty, swaying mass when the Eurotics started playing. As their set progressed, several people crowd-surfed and the living room was alive. The air was hot, energized and free. There was no difference between the house and any venue by this time, as listeners and performers fed off one another into a frenzy.
The Eurotics have a really cool retro Brit-rock aesthetic (considering the leather gloves, leather jacket, and dark skinny jeans as well). Lead singer Josh (?) commands the stage with confident vocals and great presence. Instrumentalists Kyle Flanagan (Navi) on drums, Sean O’Dell on bass and Paul (?) on guitar provide a great punk backdrop for Josh to lay his vocals over. They were certainly a band worthy of the crowd that they performed to and drove the celebration even further.
After the Eurotics finished their set, the cops showed up again. This time, they were serious.
They came into the backyard and started telling people ‘The party is over, leave.’ A majority of people left—the rest went inside and locked the doors. Before I left Wolf//Goat was trying to start their set but Ben Wolf, their front-man, was missing amid the chaos. Low and behold right after I left he was found and Wolf//Goat delivered their set to a much smaller but still festive crowd to close out the evening.
I think the circumstances with noise, neighbors and the police raise some important questions about Richmond’s youth music culture that are worth addressing, such as: why are youth, music and the Richmond community/police forced into continual conflict? The sad answer is that money and alcohol have a whole lot to do with it.
First, before addressing any other part of this web, it’s understandable that noise is an issue of neighborly concern. A house can’t simply ignore the wishes of its neighbors to live quietly in a residential zone. It certainly isn’t beneficial for bands or houses to have shows that get broken up by police. Yet, somehow, youth music must be able to find a niche that allows them to perform and enjoy one another’s music.
Bands play in Richmond’s commercial zones — the same bands that play house shows in the Fan and Jackson Ward play Strange Matter, The Camel, and Nile with frequency. These options have deterrents, however. Most venues have cover charges to make up for the lack of alcohol sales from under-21 customers. Many venues only allow customers 21 and up most of the time, removing any possibility of attracting younger listeners, which is a serious demographic of the youth music scene.
I don’t know what the solution to the problem is, but I think it lies somewhere in the intersection between drinking law and residential/commercial zoning. Eliminate drinking laws? Change residential/commercial zoning regulations? It’s a hard bargain to drive to say the least.
Bands can sometimes get around drinking laws by playing in restaurants, but because the food industry is so competitive it’s hard to see restaurants doing anything substantial to help the youth music scene while struggling to stay afloat. Many of the larger venues attempt to support local music but never seem to drive beyond the barricades that divide the stage from the audience, defeating the ethos succinctly. Not to mention pay-to-play shows that some of these venues book, which aren’t really the best profit-scheme for bands (essentially – come play at our swanky venue while we milk you of your hard earned money and time).
Perhaps young musicians could take over a block and create a residential zone near campus that is comfortable with house concerts; however, such cartels are difficult to keep intact because if one piece falls, the whole business goes down with it. Anyways, such a sheme would draw enough attention from local activism groups seeking to snub artistic culture in Richmond that the police would shut it down quicker than a Kanawha Plaza campout (maybe even in a similar fashion).
Though the feasibility of such a venture is spotty at best, let’s start a dialogue about how we can fix the problem of the ‘illegality’ of house shows that satisfies all sides. I believe firmly that Wolf//Goat’s Release Show, like 99% of other house shows, was neither meant to annoy or disrupt neighbors nor directly encourage any kind of illicit behavior. Despite these pure intentions to share music with one another and celebrate the release, there is no system whereby such an event can occur without miles of red tape.
The Gift: In Watermelon Sugar Reviewed
Wolf//Goat’s new album on Bad Grrrl Records, In Watermelon Sugar, is a psych-folk trip that will rock your socks off and inspire your emotions. Lead singer Ben Wolf emotes and howls about dirty Richmond life laden with Appalachian metaphors as Brad Wolf (banjo), Tim Wolf (keys/violin), Julius Wolf (drums), Mallie Wolf (vocals and percussion) and Maria Wolf (viola) craft beautiful layered string melodies and jam into raw, anthemic hooks. Hell, they even invited Eurotics in the studio too!
Hello Richmond radio! We have a hit on our hands called “Madness Is Sanity.” This song rocks folk. Hand claps and banjos bring in the song, then it switches to a Cold War Kids-esque piano line with lyrics about The Nervous Ticks, another popular Richmond group. It doesn’t stop with cool changes and verses. The song builds into a powerful climax with a chorus we can all sing along to, ‘We all hit the ground.’
Check out the official music video for the demo version on YouTube. Predatory bird sending a mountain goat off of a mountain and eating it? Works perfectly with the music. You Hear That?? did a review of the video in August that sums it up perfectly. Also check out Wolf//Goat performing the song live from this April. May seem like a lot, but this song totally warrants checking out a few times and would’ve certainly marked a high point for their set had it all worked out better.
“Flesh Tones” opens with a piano riff that is swallowed by a heavily overdriven electric guitar. Then the guitar cuts out and Wood weaves his lyrics masterfully into the mix over a tight drumbeat. “Come closer in the dark you’ll see/It won’t hurt as much as it used to/Nothing now, we are nothing at all” As the piano rocks a somewhat atonal riff, a group yells “Oi! Oi! Oi!” Such crowd interaction is a trademark of Wolf//Goat’s music, furthering my despair for their lost release set.
In “Cellar Door” (a tribute to now-defunct Monument Ave mainstay The Cellar Door) Wood proclaims, “Now it’s time to fuck around!” The song opens with a catchy banjo hook. Piano, guitar, and drums slam in, and a violin plays a folksy melody. Everything but the piano, banjo and drums then drop out, and Wood sings, “It’s all gone, the water is far too long/The ship sink, the waves crash down/You’re beautiful, faster than we can go.”
The song climaxes with the words, “And one day, we’re gonna build, we’re gonna build a better boat/And the ashes and the water from our ladies of a door/For the life, full of love, from whisky from above/To the day we’re gonna sail, we’re gonna sail away”, and a riot of guitar, piano and drums takes the stage.
The metaphor is of a ship sinking in a violent sea storm, but the sailors overcome their situation, build a new boat, and “sail away.” It’s as if they want to escape and come out into the light as the raucous anthem comes to a close.
Wolf//Goat can be compared to big international acts like Mumford & Sons or Margot & The Nuclear So & So’s, but I think their aesthetic fits more neatly in with much folkier and rousing act Wilderness of Manitoba. Because of their array of banjo, guitar, and strings they catch nods to more conventional acts, but their addition of psych-folk elements, Buddhist singing bowls for Wilderness of Manitoba and dark-sounding bells in Wolf//Goat, sets them apart and adds to their depth and individuality (listen to Wilderness of Manitoba’s song “Summer Fires”).
Wolf//Goat is an incredible live band. Ben’s stage presence is of the most charismatic I’ve seen in Richmond. He wheedles, shouts, sings quietly and roughly. He rallies the band together at build sections, making for a nonstop awesome live performance. His instrumentalists provide indispensable backing and songwriting, but when Wolf//Goat performs, Woodward is the star of the show. He’s an incredible man to watch, and the band is raucous and fun before considering their talent and delivery as well.
In an interview with Cocaine and Coffins in September, Ben talked about the lyrics in “Lobacabra” saying, “That song came from a couple cases of PBR, some whiskey and a dose of life. Lyrically I just kept shouting things until I remembered what I said or at least the guys did. Then once the song started to take form it became an ode to letting go of the things that bring you down and coming to the realization that you can get caught in a carousel and it’s time to jump off and run. People die, things change but your eyes are still open so go feel something somewhere anywhere with anyone. At least you’re still here and you’re still feeling — So go.” (See the full interview here)
Ben’s own words I think sum up the meaning of the album truthfully. Times get rough, but situations change. The power of the human spirit can build a new boat on the stormy seas. Once the bullshit’s dealt with, just sail away.
While that may not directly solve the predicament of house shows that pervades our whole conversation, I do agree with his sentiment and feel it is time we build our own ship and sail free.
In Watermelon Sugar was
Recorded by Lance Koehler at Minimum Wage Recordings
Released on Bad Grrrl Records
Album art by Mallie Wolf, Maria Wolf, and Brenden Preddy
Album cover by Michael Damon.
You can buy Watermelon Sugar on Bandcamp: $3 digital, $4.44 cassette, $6.66 CD
Wolf//Goat performs at Strange Matter November 1st
with Brooklyn’s Woods (psych-folk)
and Windowspeak (indie/shoegaze)