LIVING TRADITIONS FESTIVAL, SALT LAKE CITY & COUNTY BUILDING, Friday, May 17-Sunday, May 19, Free
Simply put, the annual Living Traditions Festival thrown by the Salt Lake Arts Council is one of my favorite civic events in Utah’s capitol city. Bringing together virtually all of the various ethnic communities that make up Salt Lake City, the festival is a celebration of the highest order. You can educate yourself on different folk arts from around the world, eat your way through a global feast and witness an array of live performances that match any of the dance performances or concerts we get to enjoy the rest of the year. And it’s all free! This year’s headliners include the Mariachi Divas on Friday, French-Canadian roots musicians De Temps Antan and Celtic folkie Maura O’Connell on Saturday, and what I consider the highlight of the whole weekend–the Relatives on Sunday night. The Relatives (pictured) are a gospel-funk group that originally formed in the ’70s, only to disband. Now they’re back, and include members of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears among their members. Their high-energy show Sunday afternoon should make for a perfect capper on a great weekend.
JUNIOR BROWN, THE STATE ROOM, Wednesday, May 15, 9 p.m., $23
While the “one of a kind” label is thrown around a bit too easily in the music world, Junior Brown certainly fits the bill. Let’s start with his own invention, the “guit-steel,” a double-necked guitar that allows Brown to quickly move between wicked steel-guitar licks and a more traditional six-string in a flash. Then there’s his deep growl of a voice that fits perfectly with his honky tonk-meets-rockabilly songs. Throw in his cowboy hat and a wife, Tanya Rae, who plays a mean rhythm guitar, and you have a man with a distinct look and sound who will NEVER be confused for just another country pretty boy. The Hollering Pines, a local group made up of a couple Folka Dots (Marie Bradshaw and Kiki Jane Buehner), a Trapper (Dan Buehner) and guitar man Dylan Schorer, will open the show.
THE SHINS/RA RA RIOT, PARK CITY LIVE, Monday, May 13, 7:30 p.m., $62.50
Last summer, The Shins headlined the first Red Butte Garden show of the year, kicking off the summer concert season with the tour supporting the band’s then-new album, Port of Morrow. At the time, it was anyone’s guess how Shins leader James Mercer would be live with his new lineup of backing musicians. The answer–largely as he did his old band of Shins; Mercer is a fine singer and songwriter who doesn’t seem particularly comfortable on stage, while his bandmates generally bring more visual energy to the proceedings. Remarkably, a year later the Shins are still on the road in support of that album, and this time they’re bringing along Ra Ra Riot, a band worthy of headlining status in its own right. Even so, the price seems a bit steep, even for fans who will surely enjoy seeing these bands in a relatively small venue.
When Atlanta duo Outkast was at its creative and commercial peak, I attributed much of their music’s freaky fun to Andre 3000, rather than the diminutive other half of the group, Big Boi.
That turned out to be a mistake, given that Big Boi’s solo albums have proven just as fanciful and sonically expansive as anything Outkast ever did together. But my early impression might be a common one, given the disappointing attendance for Thursday’s show featuring Big Boi and his long-time collaborator Killer Mike.
Thankfully, their performances were anything but disappointing. Rather, one of them was often transcendent, while the other was a non-stop, sometimes sloppy party. But you might not have predicted that Killer Mike would be the one to really take the audience for a hip-hop ride we never wanted to end.
Killer Mike is a mountain of a man, and watching him bob and weave, shimmy and shake, during his set was inspiring to say the least. Accompanied only by a DJ, Killer Mike laced his set with political diatribes that never came across as too strident. Rather, he was the preacher and the audience a thrilled congregation as he spit out asides like “I don’t trust the church OR the government,” “Fuck the police!” or “Fuck Ronald Reagan,” a pronouncement he accompanied with samples from the GOP godhead’s speeches that were patently false, ie. “We never sold arms to Iran,” which Killer Mike followed quickly with, “That’s a lie!”
That’s pretty daring stuff to spout in Utah, but the collection of hip-hopheads and hipsters on hand certainly didn’t mind. They were too busy being mesmerized by Killer Mike’s rapid-fire flow on songs like “Untitled,” “Burn,” “Butane (Champion’s Anthem” and “Ric Flair.” At several points, the DJ dropped out of the mix completely, leaving Killer Mike to go a cappella, and those were some genuinely thrilling parts of the show. Eventually, Killer Mike left the stage altogether, joining the audience on the dance floor after tearing into “Southern Fried.”
If some of the folks in the house weren’t familiar with Killer Mike beforehand, they left as new fans for sure. The rapper even gave due props to the front rows of the floor, who largely eschewed the oh-so-annoying phones in favor of pumping their hands in the air.
Killer Mike gave Big Boi a lot to live up to, and while the man DID give a high-energy show that displayed his diverse sonic palette, it didn’t quite hit the mark the same way Killer Mike did.
Joined by a live drummer, guitarist and female backup singer, as well as a DJ and hype man, Big Boi started with a blast through a medley of four Outkast tunes–”Bust,” “ATLiens,” “Skew it on the Bar-B” and “Rosa Parks.” That’s a sure-fire way to get the crowd involved with the show, and they were from the get-go.
From there, Big Boi bounced back and forth between Outkast classics and tunes from his two excellent solo albums, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty and Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors. “Apple of My Eye” from Vicious was an early highlight, as were “CPU” and the pulsing “Shutterbugg.”
“General Patton” and “Daddy Fat Sax” gave Big Boi’s band a chance to shine, although for much of the night, the DJ was the only music source needed.
Although the Outkast songs were received well by the gyrating crowd in front of the stage, there’s no denying that Big Boi misses his partner Andre 3o00 on those songs, despite the best efforts of everyone on stage. “B.O.B.,” one of Outkast’s best, is still a killer in Big Boi’s solo hands, but it’s not quite up to the original. Same goes for “Ms. Jackson” and “Gangsta Shit,” songs that were abbreviated rather than trying to cover Andre’s parts.
Even so, Big Boi knows how to get a room’s energy way up and keep it there, and he did that no problem on Thursday. Of course, if the room had been more than half-full, we might have been for an even more inviting party. Maybe next time.
If this whole music thing doesn’t work out, The Milk Carton Kids can always shift gears, ditch the guitars and try their luck on the comedy circuit.
To be sure, at their show Monday night at The State Room, the acoustic duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan proved nearly as adept at witty one-liners as they are at stunning vocal harmonies and intricate guitar interplay. Whether bantering back and forth to discuss a song’s genesis or aggressively and hilariously chastising noisy fans, The Milk Carton Kids showed that their verbal acumen extends far beyond the songs on their albums.
The venue was about three-quarters full as the duo took the stage and kicked off the show with “Hope of a Lifetime,” the opener of their most recent release, The Ash & Clay. Listening to the tall, lanky Ryan’s high falsetto pair with Pattengale’s rootsy croon was instantly mesmerizing, and their dapper attire only enhanced the sense that these guys are something special.
Then, just as suddenly, it seemed like the show might completely go off the rails. After the first song’s completion, a fan called out a request for their song “Michigan.” Pattengale quickly responded that they would most likely get to that song at some point during the show, and Ryan joked, “If you keep yelling it out between every song, one time you’ll be right!”
Naturally, that opened the floodgates for other fans to holler out the names of their favorite songs, to which Pattengale responded, “Oh great, now you’ve set a precedent for a bunch of other people to be assholes.” It was a great line, and unexpectedly aggressive considering The Milk Carton Kids deal in music of genuine gentleness and beauty.
“Weeeeell, this is going well,” Ryan said, taking the edge off the episode and getting the show back in gear for an excellent performance of the song that gave the duo their name, “Milk Carton Kid.”
From there, the show was more straightforward (at least, for the hour-plus I saw; I had to bail before the show’s completion). The Milk Carton Kids songs, while all rooted in their voices and acoustic picking, proved more diverse that I expected. Yes, there were beautiful folk songs full of soaring harmonies, ala Simon & Garfunkel, but there were also songs that veered into traditional country and bluegrass as well. And while the between-song chatter was consistently funny, the songs themselves were emotional and heartfelt.
Among the highlights were “Charlie,” a song Pattengale wrote for a future daughter, and the bluegrass-tinged “Honey, Honey.” “Girls Gather Round” offered up some lighter lyrics and a fun, faux guitar duel between the two musicians. ”Maybe It’s Time” showed that Ryan has an excellent high-lonesome croon that can serve old-timey country songs well, and “Snake Eyes” from the new album proved a strong addition to the two-year-old band’s catalog.
Solid as The Milk Carton Kids’ albums are to date, there’s no way to capture the rapid-fire wit that is added to the duo’s live shows on any recording. Consider that a suggestion that you be sure to see them in person next time they come through town.