Let’s just get this out of the way – Nashville’s music scene is seriously underrated. Yes, Music City is world famous for Country music, and unfortunately some people never bother to look past that fact. Those that do will find a plethora of fantastic bands of the lo-fi, garage and punk varieties, along with some great singer-songwriters, pop-punk bands, and just about anything else you can think of.
Next Big Nashville, now in it’s fifth year, is the perfect showcase for Nashville’s talent. This year’s edition featured the biggest and best lineup yet – each year the fest continues to take more steps towards becoming a nationally recognized, top-tier music festival. In the first few years of the festival, the lineup comprised of almost exclusively local bands. Last year, they took an important step in attracting nationally recognized acts, as they brought in popular out-of-town acts like Alberta Cross, Phosphorescent, and the Black Angels. This year, they stepped it up even more, bringing in the biggest names the fest has seen to date in Yeasayer and Wavves.
Still, even with the extended lineup, Next Big Nashville is all about showcasing the local talent. Although I’ve lived near Nashville my entire life, I have somehow managed to miss some of the bigger bands in the thriving local music scene. The Features have recently toured with fellow Nashvillians Kings of Leon, Turbo Fruits have had increasing popularity in the wake of the break up of Be Your Own Pet, and the Pink Spiders enjoyed some success on MTV a few years back. Yet through all of their hundreds of shows in Nashville over the years, I somehow managed to miss them all. Next Big Nashville was my chance to finally rectify this and it didn’t disappoint. The weather was great, the venues were prepared, and for the most part everything ran smooth and on time – no small feat considering the festival covered 13 venues across the city. There was an almost overwhelming amount of music happening at any given time, but I made some difficult decisions, saw some great music, and, most importantly, had a great week.
Wednesday, Sept 29th
The Basement, 9:15 p.m.
Sometimes silly is a good thing. Coming out with a swordfish guitar, a fuzzy monster of an amp, an inflatable cactus and more random objects on stage, Philadelphia’s Extraordinaires played a fun set of songs inspired by historical figures – including Telsa and Columbus. Covering all types of styles from Cake to Neutral Milk Hotel, the band seemed to be having fun – especially when their trumpet player picked up a tambourine and ran throughout the crowd. All in all it was a fun way to start the weekend.
Mercy Lounge, 9:45 p.m.
Without knowing it beforehand, it’d be pretty easy to guess what label the Mynabirds currently call home. Their breezy, twangy vibe feels right in line with the rest of the Saddle Creek lineup. Formed after the breakup of lead singer Laura Burhenn’s former band Georgie James, the Mynabirds are currently touring in the support of their debut album What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood. Burhenn and the rest of her band wooed over the packed crowd at Mercy Lounge with a good mix of upbeat songs and slow, beautiful numbers. Burhenn’s voice was the highlight here, especially on the crowd-pleasing single “Numbers Don’t Lie”.
Mercy Lounge, 10:30 p.m.
When you think of singer-songwriters known for their lyrics just as much as their music, you tend to think of a single guy on an acoustic guitar singing his heart out. David Bazan is determined to break that stereotype. As the leader of Pedro the Lion, he gained legions of fans who swooned over his words. Now as a solo artist, he still has a big draw – as evidenced by the packed room at Mercy Lounge. He came out with his three piece band and played an energetic set of new and old favorites for fans. The band sounded good and so did Bazan’s voice, but after a while the songs started to bleed together. By the end of the show, I was ready to hear something new. But regardless of my thoughts, I can’t imagine that any hardcore Bazan fans left disappointed.
Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights
12th & Porter, 11:15 p.m.
Sometimes there’s just not much to say. The fact that the guys in Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights desperately want to be the Kings of Leon says it all. To be fair, they’re not a bad band to model after – at different times in their career they have been both a critical darling and a huge mainstream success. Unfortunately, Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights don’t know how to do either, they only know how to imitate. This show was filled with just about every rock show cliche you can think of, right down to the smoke machines and the lighting – not to mention the music. For the good ole boys who like their southern rock, which the crowd was filled of, this show was probably a satisfying experience. For me, it was not. At all.
Thursday, Sept 30th
The End, 8:00 p.m.
And the award for the best show seen by the least amount of people goes to… Forrest Bride. In what would become somewhat of a depressing trend, a distressingly small amount of people showed up to see one of the best shows of the weekend. When Forrest Bride took the stage, a total of eight people were in the crowd at The End, and half of them were members of the next band to go on stage. While it’s widely known that the first shows of the night (shows start at 8 p.m. nightly) will be poorly attended, that doesn’t make it right. While the crowd doubled by the time they walked off stage, it was still sad to see how few people got to experience the magic of Forrest Bride. Unfazed by the numbers, the band still gave the small crowd their all and it showed. Starting off slow and accessible with female vocals leading the way over keyboards, the set slowly morphed into something amazing. The songs got less accessible as the show went on (but not in an off-putting way), eventually becoming so minimal you could barely tell what was a song. Full of strange noises and interestingly put together song structures, my friend leaned to me and described the music as “really chill witch house”. That’s about as good of a description as I can come up with, because what I witnessed was damn near indescribable.
Bows and Arrows
The End, 8:45 p.m.
Bows and Arrows have been a band for over half a decade now, but have only recently broken though and gotten some local attention and respect in the Nashville music scene. After glowing reviews in the Nashville Scene and opening slots for Deerhunter, No Age ,and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Bows and Arrows recently released their first 7″ and completed an international summer tour and have continued playing shows in Nashville while working on their third full-length record. For their show at Next Big Nashville, they played it like they do any other show – fantastically. Bows and Arrows can shift gears better than most local bands – seamlessly moving from twee to straight indie rock to noise freakout with ease. Even in their moments of destruction, like at the end of perfect slow building set-closer “Burn It”, they never lose the melody while pounding the audience with a sonic assault. Best of all, their songs can be catchy as hell. They bring all of that together in their live performances which seem to always win over new fans. Their show Thursday night was no different. While the crowd was sparse, most everyone that was there ended up talking about the show the whole weekend.
The End, 9:30 p.m.
In terms of local music, The Clutters are elder statesmen of the current Nashville scene. Going on their ninth year as a band, The Clutters don’t mess around. Their bio states that they, “are one of the few proper rock bands playing in the city. Within seconds of seeing them live or hearing their new record, T&C, youll know that they are a band unconcerned with the fashion of the moment.” This is something that can’t really be argued. They haven’t changed their style over the years even as the local scene evolved around them. As they claimed, I could tell this was true the minute they took the stage on Thursday. But their no holds barred, crunchy rock was simultaneously refreshing and stale. On one hand, the music scene around them has changed for a reason. Your standard rock band of the days of old tend to not cut it anymore. But at the same time, seeing a band so relentlessly rebel against the current, more punk rock leaning ways is something to be praised. Their show was just what you’d expect from them - lots of big bass lines, cymbals, power chords and a lot of fun.
Cannery Ballroom, 10:00 p.m.
MillionYoung seem to have gotten lost in the wave of hype surrounding the bigger bands in last years big new music trend, “chillwave”. While Washed Out and Toro y Moi received plenty of attention from music blogs, MillionYoung seemed to fly under the radar, even if their slightly more upbeat and dancey version of chillwave stacks up with the best work done by others in the scene. The duet was chosen to open up for RJD2 at the biggest venue of the festival, and they didn’t disappoint – even if not many people were there to witness it. After frontman Mike Diaz claimed that they were “really fucked up,” the band played through songs found on their EPs. Mixing chilling and dancing produced great results, with Diaz’s soaring vocals flying above the synth & bass instrumentals. All in all it was a great set, and anyone looking for the next big chillwave band should look no further.
Cannery Ballroom, 11:10 p.m.
Finally commanding a decent sized audience (for the first time that night, even if Cannery wasn’t packed), RJD2 came out and gave songs what they wanted. Getting the Mad Men theme song “A Beautiful Mine” out of the way first, he was free to explore new and old material alike. While the mix of the volume was a little soft, it was no fault of RJ’s. He showcased his talents at the turntables as he crafted a seamless, flowing live show that got people up and dancing.
A Place To Buy Strangers
Exit-In, 11:30 p.m.
Chalk this up to yet another depressingly and criminally under-attended Next Big Nashville show. A Place to Bury Strangers were in the top five on all the Next Big Nashville posters around town, yet towards the end of the show, I counted around 40 people at the dead Exit-In. Luckily, the band didn’t care and went on to stage one of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to. Of course, noise is nothing without good music behind it, and APTBS have plenty of that too. They assaulted the small audience with cuts from their two LPs. And while having a big light show while playing in front of such a small crowd may seem silly, every person there was right up close to the stage and really into it. Strobe lights may be overused, but they’re almost never used as effectively as APTBS uses them. The end of the show was just a long, glorious wall of sound of feedback and distortion that left me blown away. While it’s got some tough competition, this may have just been the best show of the weekend.
The Hood Internet
Mercy Lounge, 12:15 a.m.
Reviewing DJs can be kind of pointless, especially ones that simply play music from a laptop that isn’t their own original music to begin with. I’ve always enjoyed the Hood Internet’s mixtapes, and by no means am trying to knock them, but since their live show consists of one person using one laptop, you have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. If you’re in the mood to dance, a Hood Internet show is the place for you. Judging by the decent sized crowd for their show, plenty of people were in the mood to dance right now, and those that went had a whole lot of fun. If you’re not in the mood to dance, you shouldn’t be at a Hood Internet show. Unfortunately, by that point I was pretty tired, so the fun dance party was lost on me. Luckily, it sure seems like it wasn’t lost on anyone else.
Friday, October 1st
Neuhoff Factory Building, 6:00 p.m.
The Features are arguably the standard against which all Nashville bands are judged. They’re a local mainstay – they’ve been on the scene since the mid 90’s. After almost breaking out in 2004 with their debut Exhibit A, they’ve teetered on the brink of mainstream success thanks to repeatedly opening for their friends, Kings of Leon. This show, which was part of a VIP party in an abandoned factory, made me wonder how they haven’t busted through that wall yet. They’ve got all the pieces – big, catchy songs with singalong choruses and solid lyrics – and they know how to bring it live. They put on a great show Friday evening that even got the stiffest of VIPs up and moving.
Exit-In, 8:45 p.m.
Diarrhea Planet: best band name, or worst band name? Regardless of your opinions of the name, if you went to one of their shows, you’d forget about it and just have a good time. Their particular brand of punk is similar to Wavves – but they have three more guitarists. So it’s no surprise that their show was a guitar heavy riff-off that had the singer flying all over the stage. The frontman had no problem calling out members of the small audience either – he repeatedly pointed out and told people to stop being on their phone or stop talking, sometimes in the middle of a song, making it part of the lyrics. Not that they’re a band that really needs someones full attention, but this was their time to shine and they sounded pretty good in the process.
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
The End, 9:45 p.m.
Since this is Casiotone for the Painfully Alone‘s farewell tour, Friday night’s show will end up being his last Nashville show ever – and it’s a shame more people weren’t there to witness it. Although, judging by the name of the tour – “Celebrating 13 Years of Obscurity” – maybe the small crowd was fitting. In front of about 40 people, Owen Ashworth and his four piece band played a short 30 minute set of fleshed out versions of his lo-fi electronic pop. In his own self-deprecating fashion, he went out of his way to point out that he messed up the lyrics to his own song at one point while the backup singer was the one that got it right. The set was solid and it’s sad to see Casiotone go, but at least he gave everyone one last chance to see him. Don’t miss him if he’s coming your way.
Cannery Ballroom, 10:45 p.m.
The biggest show of Next Big Nashville this year was unquestionably Yeasayer. They drew in by far the biggest crowd, had the biggest light show, and was the biggest get for the festival. Having them headline this year can open many more opportunities for next year. Yeasayer seemed to be really appreciative of the crowd and very aware of the history of the city that they were playing in for the first time. They mentioned going down on Broadway and finding a record shop that was like the holy grail for one of their members. Behind a fantastic light show, the band came out and opened with the bizarre and heavy album opener, “The Children”, before moving into a set of mostly Odd Blood songs. Singing duties switched from song to song between lead singer Chris Keating and guitarist Anand Wilder, but they both sounded great. At times, the new songs didn’t sound quite as good live as on record, and the new versions of old songs like “Sunrise” didn’t live up to the original, but for the most part the songs sounded great and the band was tight. The crowd was filled with all kinds of different people, and they all went crazy after just about every song. Yeasayer managed to live up to the hype and put on a great headlining set, from “The Children” to crowd pleasing encore “2080”.
Exit-In, 12:10 a.m.
Playing just after the #1 act on the lineup was the second billed artist – Wavves. For all his past breakdowns and bad live shows, Nathan Williams and his new backup band (formerly Jay Reatard’s) have stepped their game up lately. Playing for a decent sized crowd, the band played an hour of just straight up fun songs from each of his three albums, but focusing on the new one, King of the Beach. While sometimes sounding like a more noisy Blink-182, Wavves manage to find their own sound over the course of their live show. They blasted the audience with choice cuts like “Post Acid” and “King of the Beach”. The crowd responded to the band’s high energy by getting energetic themselves, and in the end it was just a really fun show for all involved.
Saturday, October 2nd
Third Man / Nashville’s Dead Showcase
Third Man Records, 9:00 p.m.
The fine folks at Third Man and Nashville’s Dead put on two nights of shows at the house that Jack White built during Next Big Nashville. The first night, featuring local favorites JEFF the Brotherhood, was a casualty of the aforementioned difficult decisions that I had to make throughout the weekend. But luckily the Saturday night showcase worked out in my schedule just fine. The show kicked off with D. Watusi, a brand new band featuring Dillon Watson, a young Third Man employee who was also in popular local band Kindergarten Circus, on lead guitar and vocals and local venue Glenn Danzig’s House owner Ben Todd on bass. Combining garage punk with a touch of surf rock, D. Watusi are a promising addition to the local music scene, especially since they’ve already won over all the right people.
Next up in the showcase was Turbo Fruits. Led by former Be Your Own Pet member Jonas Stein, the three piece band has garnered the attention of people like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who has released their music on his label, Ecstatic Peace. This rambunctious trio brought the heat to their showcase, making the crowd go crazy and started a moshpit that would remain in place the rest of the night. Stein had no problem getting in on that action, repeatedly jumping into the pit and crowdsurfing while still singing. It was a rowdy show, but that’s exactly what’s become expected of them over the years.
The third band of the night was the one with the most to prove: PUJOL. While frontman Daniel Pujol has been part of the scene for a while now, his newly formed band would normally be opening for Turbo Fruits, not playing after them. However, this was a special occasion, as the day of the show, Third Man would be releasing PUJOL’s Jack White-produced 7″ single in his Blue Label series, as well as a live album of their set opening for Nobunny at Third Man a few months ago. Daniel Pujol & co. lived up to the task and got the crowd moving. Somewhere between the Ramones and Wavves, PUJOL puts on a fantastic live show and has the great songs to back it up. PUJOL kept the audience engaged by playing crowd favorites “Mayday”, “Death Mask”, and the namesake of his 7″ “Black Rabbit”.
The final band of the night were Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys. Praised by the Miami Herald as “the most significant band Miami has produced in years”, the band also counts Iggy Pop as a fan. Managing to be both laid back and fun, the Jacuzzi Boys put on a blisteringly loud live show on Saturday night, but you wouldn’t know it from simply watching the band. They don’t go crazy or jump into the audience, but they give the crowd more than enough to go crazy themselves. Even while they were being recorded for an upcoming Black & Blue live vinyl release through Third Man, they took it all in stride and gave the packed crowd a fun show.