Great Scott, let her eat cake; come to their Senses

Jun 19, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Friday, June 22
Scott Miller and the Commonwealth play Phoenix Hill Friday night. If you want a preview of this fine, heartland bar band, pick up their new disc Reconstruction. It’s a live set, recorded in an appropriately non-chi-chi location (Johnson City, Tenn.). Miller’s tunes of struggling through the everyday grit of life and love in the Shenandoah and beyond (he’s a great one for sly details that stretch out into both travelogues and history lessons) are pumped with classic bar-band guitar energy. The set is also buoyed by a pair of covers that outdo their originals (Tom Petty’s “Spike” and Neil Young’s “Hawks & Doves”) and a rowdy sing-along (“Drunk All Around This Town”) that received effusive praise in a magazine piece written by Stephen King. On the phone, Miller dryly recounts how he responded to having a drinking song recommended by the world’s most-read author … who also happens to be an alcoholic. “I sent him a typed thank-you note — like he doesn’t get a ton of those!”

Touring to promote a live album would seem to place demands on the musicians — the disc gives evidence to how an audience likes to hear the songs. But Miller isn’t having any of it. He says there are never any obligations to how the material should be played. “I just think you should get onstage and find your smile — if you’re not having any fun, then the crowd sure won’t.”

As hinted at by the title, Reconstruction demonstrates Miller’s songwriting strength for times and places in the South, and for personal responses to trying times. A knowledgeable source like this should have a valuable opinion for this question: As time goes on, how will America’s music portray the war in Iraq?

“I kinda see a change already. At first it was all pro-war stuff — Toby Keith and that. And … was this an urban legend? I heard Clear Channel had a list of banned songs! But now the songs are starting to switch over to the soldiers themselves. I guess that happened before, like in the early 1970s, after Vietnam had gone on, you heard ‘Sam Stone.’ And then Kate Wolf. And later on, we’ve got songs like ‘Copperhead Road.’ So, yeah, maybe 15 or 20 years later, the view is different.”

The current lineup of the Commonwealth has outlasted most of its peers who partake in such a hard-touring lifestyle (Miller’s obviously proud — it’s a giveaway when he says “must not be working ’em hard enough”). Your chance to see ’em in action comes at 8 p.m. Friday at Phoenix Hill (644 Baxter Ave., 589-4957), with $13 tickets day of show. Anne McCue, who’s been dubbed Australia’s answer to Lucinda Williams and has been compared with Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde), opens.

Friday, June 22
When the Vibrolas join Dead City Rejects at Third Street Dive (330 S. Third St., 587-0706) Friday night, there’s reason to celebrate: It’s bassist Leila Coppala’s birthday. LEO gave her a call to find out what kind of present she wants, and we got two members of the trio: Guitarist/singer Chris Hosner, who’s married to Coppala, picked up first. When asked if they’re mixing covers into their current sets, he cites three songs, including one by Mudhoney, that make up the totality of Vibrolas numbers that have been written outside of the band. “It’s all originals these days. Our philosophy is to just belt it out at the audience. We want to throw our own brand at them.”

This band is known for the members’ relationship with all things automotive, and soon the talk turns to the “Noah’s Ark of cars” on Hosner and Coppala’s property in Waynesburg, Ky. Chris points out the old Chevy van on their MySpace page: “Our old tour van. I’ve changed every component of that —including the transmission twice. Always worked with the parts we had with us, except … once I had to buy ramps at the Autozone. You can change oil without ramping up, but when it’s the trans, you need an extra 10 inches.”

When Leila gets on the line, the vehicle she wants to discuss is her 1975 AMC Hornet Hatchback: “If you know what it’s like to have all-disc brakes … takes about a mile and a half to stop. So we’re slowly changing them all to rotors. And we’re changing it to a V-8.” Ah, there’s nothing like wanting to change the one you love. No wonder her nickname is HornetGirl.

On the road, these two fans of stoner and punk rock prefer selections far removed from old-school favorites like “Radar Love” and “Highway Star.” Chris’ preference is for “anything off of Fu Manchu’s King of the Road. Or ‘Tour Spiel’ from the Minutemen.” As for Leila, her favorite road song offers rewards right from when you first hear the title: “Hotter Than a Docker’s Armpit” by Budgie.

Since the show ($5, 10 p.m.) marks Leila’s birthday, she’s got to make a wish. And she’s got several: “For the Vibrolas to do a tour and actually make money. Gas is so expensive. It’s dicey as to when you’re going to break even. And I want a packed house that loves us … more full crowds when we play bigger houses. We do great with small clubs — especially near home, or in places we’ve been at often enough to build up a fan base. I feel like people who come to see us have become more responsive. Used to be we were more of a musician’s band.

“And cake — I hope someone brings some to the show. I love cake. My favorite is pineapple upside down. But … that’s a lot to ask for — I also love chocolate cake.”

Upcoming for the Vibrolas: recording in Lexington with Brian Pulito (of Nine Pound Hammer) producing. Leila’s got another wish here: recording and then releasing much quicker than with their previous disc, which got tied up on its way to the store racks and merch tables. But in a classic case of making your own luck, the Vibrolas connected with a new record label by putting on a kick-ass show at SXSW in Austin this past March.
Wednesday, June 27
Senses Fail have constantly grown in popularity, and in their ability to deliver the hard-hitting musical goods. Viewing screamo and pop-metal as the sideboards on which they rest their oeuvre, this quintet is shaking the bedsprings like mad as they graft the styles together into new forms of propulsive anthem (best recent result: “The Priest and the Matador”). These Jersey boys are promoting their third album, Still Searching, as they tour with From Autumn to Ashes. The local stop is Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) next Wednesday. It’s an all-ages show with tickets $16.50 and up, and doors open at 7 p.m.

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