Saturday, March 19, 7:30 PM
Michael Formanek Drome Trio, Brian Jones Quintet @ Spacebomb Studios – $20 (order tickets HERE)
There’s a lot of perspective you can call upon when you’re 46 years old and you’ve been doing music journalism since you were 15 (no, you don’t wanna see the zines I made in high school. Or at least, I don’t want you to see them). A good example is this: when I got started, rock music had such a hold over the world of music in general that people used the word “rock” almost as a synonym for “music.” Nobody was a “music journalist” or a “music critic” back then; without fail, you were a “rock journalist” or a “rock critic.” I was around for the big change in the early 00s, too, when a movement against “rockism” gained steam and, within a few years, changed the world of music journalism entirely. But I must admit, I often think the way we all just ended up writing about the profundity to be found in million-selling pop records constitutes somewhat of a missed opportunity.
After all, if you’re able to free your mind from the cultural paradigm of seeing “rock” as the most valid form of music, and you can then do the same with “pop,” there’s a whole ton of other music still to be discovered out there. This week, we’re going to push the boundaries a little. It starts with this show, taking place at Spacebomb Studios on Saturday night, and featuring the Michael Formanek Drome Trio. Michael Formanek is a veteran of the jazz world, a double bass player and composer who has played with heavyweights like Tony Williams and has led a variety of different bands over the years. This time around, he’s joined by tenor sax player Chet Doxas and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza, both of whom have a decent amount of jazz credentials in their own right.
The trio are currently on tour to celebrate the impending release of Were We Where We Were, an album inspired by the uncertainty of pandemic quarantine times and based on a series of what Formanek calls “musical palindromes.” These are reflected in the titles of both the album and songs like “Is It What It Is,” and result in some Sketches Of Spain-style post-bop experimentation that gets pretty far out at times but always retains a melodic, emotional foundation. It’s a long way from Top 40 pop or 90s alternative music, but if you can open your mind to its charms, you’ll find a lot to love here. Local jazz drummer extraordinaire Brian Jones will be opening the evening with a five-piece combo that also includes local leading lights JC Kuhl (Modern Groove Syndicate), Cameron Ralston (Spacebomb House Band), Devonne Harris, and Marcus Tenney (both of Butcher Brown). Whatever they have in store, it’s sure to be enlightening.
Wednesday, March 16, 7 PM
Adam Hopkins’ School Work (Photo by Peter McElhinney) @ Artspace Gallery – $10
Let’s stay in the jazz bag for a few more minutes here, folks, because tonight at Artspace Gallery will bring you another evening of fine music that’s decidedly outside the norm. If you’re aware of jazz bassist Adam Hopkins, it just might be as the co-owner of Out Of Your Head Records; a label best known in Richmond for their release of local jazz drumming genius Scott Clark’s 2021 album, This Darkness. They’ve also released more than one record by Michael Formanek — so you see, it all ties together.
Hopkins started School Work as a way to pay tribute to the legends of mid-20th century free and experimental jazz; they perform tunes by jazz legends like Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, and more. To accomplish this, he drafted some of the best jazz players Richmond has to offer, including the aforementioned Scott Clark on drums, as well as JC Kuhl (who you’ll remember from the previous blurb) on tenor sax, John Lilley (Afro-Zen All Stars) on alto sax, and Bob Miller (Bio Ritmo) on trumpet. So yeah, some really heavy hitters. If you can understand the beauty of the peak hard bop and free jazz era, you’re certainly going to want to hear what these formidable talents bring to it. And if you don’t get it yet, this is the perfect way to increase your understanding. Be a cool jazz cat and bop down to Artspace on Forest Hill Ave tonight. It’s the right thing to do.
Thursday, March 17, 7 PM
Zombi, Hex Machine @ The Camel – $15 (order tickets HERE)
OK, OK, I hear what you’re saying out there. “This jazz shit is fine and all, but do you have anything weirder?” Yeah, I just might. Because Thursday night at The Camel, our city will be graced by the presence of Pittsburgh duo Zombi. Consisting of synthesizer wizard Steve Moore and drummer A.C. Paterra, this group has been on the scene and blowing minds for quite a while, layering loops of synth, bass, and other sounds overtop of Neu-influenced motorik rhythms to generate a (Tangerine) Dream-scape worthy of a really great early-80s sci-fi movie. Their most recent release, 2021’s Liquid Crystal, uses psychedelic soundscapes to create a fantastical narrative landscape in your mind, one that allows you to fly through the mental stratosphere even as your feet remain planted on terra firma.
Not exactly your typical rock show, huh? Well, on the off chance you’re feeling some form of withdrawal from loud guitars and the inimitable sound of the human voice, this Zombi performance will be opened by local noise-rockers Hex Machine, who last graced our ears with new music back in the pre-pandemic times of 2019, when they released their LP Cave Painting. As weird as it is to say out loud, that was four entire years ago. So does Hex Machine leader Trevor Thomas, never the sort of fellow to keep a steady lineup together for years at a time, have a new crew of backing musicians? Do they perhaps have some new material to drop on us all? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, but I do know that all the previous incarnations of Hex Machine have delivered Barkmarket/Jesus Lizard-style noise-core grooves with equal aplomb. So whatever you get from this set, it’s definitely gonna be good.
Friday, March 18, 6:30 PM
Rosette presents: Kenji Bunch Is… So Hot Right Now, feat. Danielle Wiebe Burke @ Candela Books + Gallery – Free!
And now for something completely different. Rosette is a local string quartet that features members you could potentially recognize from a variety of other local musical endeavors: chamber music collective Classical Revolution, the Richmond Symphony, indie rockers Goldrush, the liner notes of many different Spacebomb-affiliated releases, and more. As Rosette, they have collaborated with Latin soul group Miramar and Indian classical vocalist Saili Oak, among others. Their current project, So Hot Right Now, sees them dedicating a series of concerts to a particular classical composer. This month, joined by guest violist Danielle Wiebe Burke of the Williamsburg Symphony, they’re focusing on Kenji Bunch, a composer based in Portland, Oregon who is known for integrating elements of bluegrass, funk, hip hop, and other genres into his works for chamber ensemble, ballet, and orchestra.
Seems like the perfect pairing, really: a genre-hopping classical composer having his work brought to life by four stringed-instrument players who are themselves comfortable in a variety of genre settings. At this show, as with all of the Rosette “So Hot Right Now” performances during the month of March, the program will begin with Wiebe Burke playing a version of Bunch’s “The 3 G’s” as a solo piece, followed by Rosette doing “Apochryphal Dances,” which brings Bunch’s modern, genre-bending aesthetic to Baroque-era music. Finally, the five musicians will all come together to play “String Circle,” which incorporates everything from Appalachian old-time music to modern funk, all within a classical string-quintet format. It’s not only a unique musical prospect, but sure to broaden your horizons. And hey, unlike some of the other performances Rosette and Wiebe Burke will be doing over the course of March, this one is free. I think you know what to do.
Saturday, March 19, 7 PM
Sean Barna, Abby Huston @ Gallery 5 – $10 in advance, $12 at the door (order tickets HERE)
And now, since not even I can stay totally weird over the course of an entire week, let’s talk about a recognizably conventional indie show, which takes place this Saturday night at Gallery 5. I don’t know about you, but I miss the days when Gallery 5’s mission was able to include multiple rock shows per week, and while I know they’ve gone in a somewhat different direction, I’m always going to celebrate the moments when an indie artist takes their stage once again. Seán Barna’s the artist in question this time, and I am more than good with it.
Hailing from New York and heralded by a strong endorsement from Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz (who is a genius, don’t @ me), Barna backs up all the advance praise he’s received with 2020’s Margaret Thatcher Of The Lower East Side, a release that somehow manages to combine the Springsteen-isms and the punk swag of Titus Andronicus with the dramatic heights of the best David Bowie and Queen material. Barna’s sure to light up the former fire station with his incandescent stage presence, even as talented local singer-songwriter Abby Huston, who shares the bill, brings a quieter yet just as intense vibe through her own subtly hypnotic songcraft. These two great musical tastes will taste great together, and the fact that they’re playing together at Gallery 5 only makes this occasion that much sweeter. Get there and see for yourself.
Sunday, March 20, 7 PM
Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir, Amity, The Judy Chops Duo @ The Camel – $10 (order tickets HERE)
After several days of unusual, dramatic sound shifts, Sunday night’s a good time to re-center your mind and mentally prepare for another week of work by taking in something soothing and uplifting. And rest assured, this gig by Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir will be just what you need. Calling themselves “a country band that doesn’t play country music,” Wiley and co. bring together Mellencamp-ish heartland vibes and an undeniably southern feel. On their new album, The Longing, the group tells tales of doomed dreamers and heartbroken everymen, and manages to repeatedly hit you right in the feels.
So yeah, expect this one to be moving and to touch your heart — and not just due to your headliners, either. Minimalist folk duo Amity create a memorable wall of sound with only two voices and one acoustic guitar. And of course, while you may know the Judy Chops from around town as a sextet, you’re sure to get just as much of their excellent Americana sound from this stripped-down duo version, in which Bill Howard and Molly Murphy, along with their guitars, will focus on the songcraft and let the music stand on its own. Let it wash over you.
Monday, March 21, 9 PM
The Wind-Ups, Bummers Eve, Shawnis And The Shimmers @ Fuzzy Cactus – $8
Monday night is always a little tough. First day back at work after a weekend in which — if you’re lucky — you got some time to relax… just enough to make your return to work a bitter, bitter pill. As a general rule, the best way to wash away that bitterness is to have a really good time Monday night. And of course, you can count on Fuzzy Cactus to bring you that good time, in the form of some rip-roaring rock n’ roll. This Monday night, the rock n’ roll comes from The Wind-Ups, a California-based project centering on the efforts of Jake Sprecher, who has previously backed Jonathan Richman and played in Terry Malts, among others. During the pandemic, Sprecher acquired a Tascam 388 eight-track recorder, and that was all the impetus he needed to make the most of his quarantine boredom and put together an album all by himself.
The result is The Wind-Ups’ debut, Try Not To Think, a power-pop powerhouse full of overdriven guitars, hard-hitting riffs, and catchy choruses that is sure to please fans of both Guided By Voices and Jay Reatard, as well as anyone who enjoys lo-fi versions of 60s style garage pop. I for one am way into it, and that’s true even before I imagine how great it’ll sound being recreated by a full band in a live environment. That’s what you’ll get at Fuzzy Cactus on Monday night, and it’s sure to be a great time. Local garage-rockers Bummers Eve (whose internet presence still says they’re based in Cincinnati, but I don’t buy it) are also on the bill. The evening will be opened by Shawnis And The Shimmers, the latest project from the former Nightcreature/The You Go Girls frontperson, who just dropped their debut EP, Wasteland, last month. It’s another catchy slab of lo-fi retro goodness, which only sweetens the pot for this entire evening. Dive in.
Tuesday, March 22, 7:30 PM
Soccer Mommy, Peel Dream Magazine @ The National – $22.50 in advance, $27.50 day of show (order tickets HERE)
The last half of the previous decade brought us quite a few talented indie singer-songwriters who made a big splash with their early work and then managed to get even better on their follow-ups. Local heroine Lucy Dacus is certainly one, but Nashville’s Soccer Mommy is definitely on an equivalent level where formidable musical talent is concerned. One listen to 2020’s Color Theory is all you need to figure that one out; as brilliant as their debut full-length, 2018’s Clean, was, Color Theory really ups the ante with a succession of gorgeous tunes that are sure to put a smile on your face… that is, if you don’t pay much attention to the lyrics.
It’s true; as with the previous album, this one is somewhat of a depression epic, and the moments when distorted guitars and walls of synthesized haze overwhelm the melodies make this clear. As someone who’s always been a depression baby, though, that kind of thing only pulls me further in. If you can relate, you just might be the perfect audience for Soccer Mommy’s performance at the National, where you can stand in a crowd of strangers who are all feeling the words Sophie Allison sings on the deepest and most intense level — just like you are. The great communal feeling of post-millennial angst and ennui: it unites us all. But hey, at least the music is great.
Email me if you’ve got any tips for me about upcoming shows (that take place after the week this column covers -– this week’s column has obviously already been written): [email protected]
Top Photo by Michael Patrick Kelly, via Michael Formanek Drome Trio