Hitting Musical Home Runs in Missoula (VIDEOS)

By BOB WIRE

You know, I often use my little bully pulpit here to complain. What can I say? Seems the older I get, the more stuff rubs me the wrong way. Like the way the box boy at Safeway seems determined to put each grocery item in its own plastic bag. Or how the restaurants with the dimmest light seem to have the tiniest type on their menus (“If you need punctuation on the prices, you can’t afford to eat here”).

So I thought I’d share a couple of Missoula musical moments I experienced this week that buoyed my spirits, kindled my hope, and shined a strong beam of light through the fog of malaise and banality that dominates popular music.

First, I have to cop to the fact that I am my own biggest hurdle when it comes to finding a worthwhile musical experience. I don’t really go out a lot. I could blame my Velcro-covered couch, but it’s not that. Typically I’m just not feeling social enough to deal with people out in The World. I’ve been called “moody” and “introverted.” I think the word you’re looking for is “misanthropic.”

Sometimes, though, there’s an event that piques my interest enough to get me out of my bubble. Enough to spur a shower ‘n shave. Enough to make me slide a full load of quips into my small talk magazine. Enough to break the evening routine and go out there and get some music on me.

This week featured two such events. Normally, that’s about six months’ worth, because most of my weeknight outings involve meetings with teachers or coaches, or involuntary socializing with other parents where, depending on the time of year, the subject at hand is “how was your summer” or “I don’t know about you but I’m ready for summer.”

The first event was a screening at the Top Hat of “Sound City,” a documentary by Dave Grohl that tells the story of the iconic L.A. recording studio. I’d been looking forward to seeing this, but it was only available as a stream. No thanks. I already knew a little about Sound City Studios, and I own many of the classic albums that were recorded there (Damn the Torpedoes, Harvest, Nevermind, etc). The prospect of seeing the movie on a huge screen with a killer sound system was catnip to me. Plus they served beer.

Barb gamely accompanied me on this date night, even though her own interest in rock and roll history and the evolution of the recording process is right up there with the invention of the pneumatic drill.

The appeal of Sound City Studios is well-known within the music industry. Their fabled Neve 8028 recording console (of which only four were built) combined with an acoustically (accidentally) unique room to create a perfect storm of recording goodness. It produced a unique sound that made good bands sound great, and great bands sell 40 million albums. The rest of the place was a piss-stained, shag carpeted dump, but nobody cared. It was all about that magic room.

The documentary was fascinating. And loud? Dave Grohl, a man who holds his drumsticks backward in order to hit harder, likes it loud. The soundtrack came roaring out of the Top Hat’s magnificent new sound system, assaulting our eardrums like a, well, pneumatic drill. It was thrilling to hear the meaty sound of just a drum kit being played in that legendary room. And not just played, but beat like a perp at the hands of the LAPD.

I loved it. But what I loved even more was the way Grohl used the eventual demise of Sound City—courtesy of the proliferation of ProTools—to issue a warning and a challenge: how do we maintain the human aspect of creating music? How can we battle the cold sterility of digital recording? At Sound City, music was made by musicians who learned and practiced their instruments and knew how to play with—and listen to—other musicians. The dynamics and electricity that flow between the players during a performance cannot be manufactured by some button pusher who makes beats.

That’s the point Grohl so enthusiastically makes with this movie, and it’s also a point he drove home in his widely-cheered acceptance speech at the Grammys this past February. Learn to play an instrument. Write songs, not beats. Play music with people. Play music for people.

ChrisTravisPhones

Chris La Tray don’t need no digital. Travis Yost don’t need no digital. Jimmy’s dog, he just wantslove.

I speak from experience: it’s one of the most powerful, deeply moving ways to be involved with other human beings, and sharing the inspiring thrill brought on by Sound City with others in the Top Hat that night was one of those unique, emotional group moments that’s hard to explain.

It’s not often that a movie receives a raucous round of applause at the end. We cheered. We clapped. I got something in my eye.

The second event came a couple of days later, when Barb and I agreed to fulfill our recent vow to see more live music. Baby & Bukowski were opening for the Shook Twins at the Missoula Winery Wednesday night.

A few years ago, Mari Wolverton and Kaylen Krebsbach rocked us back in our chairs at the judges’ table when the duo auditioned for First Night Star, the New Year’s Eve singing competition for high schoolers. I believe they were sophomores. They ignored the karaoke aspect of the competition and played guitar and drums. Their harmonies, inspired by Simon and Garfunkel, launched them into the finals three years in a row. In  a field of equally talented performers, they were edged out each time, although they deserved the trophy as much as anyone. (Judging that competition is one of the most difficult things I’ve done.)

But they left First Night Idol (Now First Night Teen Star) in the dust, taking their show to the streets of Missoula while they were still in high school. They recorded an album of original music. Then, after graduation, they moved to the epicenter of hipsterhood, Portland. Swimming pools. Movie stars. Sideways haircuts. Their bohemian adventure was documented on Facebook, and a lot of us here in Missoula were pulling for the girls to get a toehold in the scene. They wound up moving back to Missoula, though, and many of us who champion the band were even happier about that.

So Barb and I settled into our seats Wednesday night with a couple of glasses of wine that cost about what I usually pay for a whole bottle at Albertson’s, and got caught up with Baby & Bukowski. They played with the musical fire of a pair of punk rockers, and Mari pounded on her little acoustic guitar like it was a percussion instrument. The communication between the two was fascinating to watch, and it’s clear they are speaking their own language, one that involves no speaking.

Their songs are rich and heartfelt, and their charming stage presence is just a joy to watch. These 20-year-olds have the command and confidence of local musical warhorses three times their age, but lack a sense of irony that might keep their fans at arm’s length.

At one point Kaylen handed over her guitar pick to Mari, laughing that she’d already lost the handful of picks she’d bought that afternoon. They had one pick between them. I checked my pockets. I almost always have a couple of picks on me, but not that night. No matter, they soldiered on with their stratospheric harmonies and whisper-to-a-scream dynamics. The hometown crowd was in the palm of their hand by the second song. (Check out a little sample of their sound:)

As we added to the cheers and applause, a warmth of sentimental pride blossomed in my chest and my eyes welled up. These two woman hit the stage as girls five years ago, with the confidence and swagger that made it quite clear that this was what they were going to do for the rest of their lives. I saw it then, and seeing it coming to fruition was beyond gratifying. At the First Night events I tried to praise the duo and encourage them as much as I could, telling them to ignore the critics and follow their muse. I’ve been pulling for them ever since, and seeing them knock it out of the park in front of an adoring home town crowd was almost as good as seeing one of my own kids reach a major milestone.

I hope it doesn’t sound creepy, but I felt like a proud daddy.

Lesson learned. Missoula might be awash in music that doesn’t appeal to me, but floating around in that sea of bluegrass and jam bands are some inspiring, interesting, rewarding musical offerings that offer a great experience to anyone who’s willing to change out of the sweatpants to go seek it out.

I’ve decided to have my couch reupholstered with Teflon.

Sometimes enjoying music involves vast amounts of silliness

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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