Monday, April 15, 2013

A-Bones amaze during Atlanta return

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 8:43 AM

A-Bones singer Billy Miller and sax player Lars Espensen wow an entrused fan.
  • Bobby Moore
  • A-Bones singer Billy Miller and sax player Lars Espensen wow an entrused fan.
The A-Bones' first Atlanta appearance since 1998 highlighted a solid night of rock 'n' roll traditionalists at the Earl on April 11, with opening support provided by local garage all-star band the Gaye Blades and Florida-based guitarist Charlie Pickett. Not even the absence of Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan, advertised to make a rare outside of New York appearance with the A-Bones, ruined the big-show feel of what truly may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a legendary act.

Since the mid-1980s, spouses and A-Bones bandmates Billy Miller and Miriam Linna have served as pop and rock archivists through Norton Records, preserving garage and rockabilly's past while releasing records by current acts as well. One of the younger bands they've taken under their wings within the last few years is the Gaye Blades, featuring Jared Swilley from Black Lips, multi-instrumentalist John Kang, resident go-to drummer Mike Beavers, and the "Bearded Gentleman" Jesse Smith. Swilley and Smith are seasoned performers who work well together as a songwriting and Rickenbacker-slinging duo, backed by a solid rhythm section. While many bands today borrow a lot from '60s pop, the Gaye Blades never stray from that sound or bury doo-wop songs under a wall of noise like so many of their peers. Though they are local, any chance to see them should not be passed up, as the Gaye Blades for years have been a band that rarely plays out, partly due to Black Lips' busy tour schedule. Seeing the band open for veteran acts that have a similar sound shows how the timelessness of early rock overcomes generation gaps.

Charlie Pickett
Next up, Florida's Charlie Pickett was joined by a veteran backing band. Unbeknownst to many in an audience primarily made up of dedicated record collectors, Pickett's bass player was none other than Eddie O'Brien from legendary Florida Killed by Death punks the Eat. Pickett also has quite a resume, making a name for himself in the '80s with bands like the Eggs, Psycho Daisies, and the Peter Buck-produced MC3. His long but entertaining set had a Southern blues-rock feel, with Pickett displaying his guitar skills and stage presence without hamming it up. Having no prior knowlege of Pickett's music, I had high expectations simply because Miller raved about Pickett before a recent interview. I trusted the man who has turned a lot of us on to some real Southern gems, ranging from Hasil Adkins to the Mighty Hannibal, and he did not let me down.

The main event of the evening didn't disappoint either, as the A-Bones killed it with their fiery take on early rock 'n' roll. Whether covering a little-known garage nugget or tearing through an original number that comes across like a time-tested outtake from someone else's Norton album, the band kept the audience captivated with every sax- and guitar-driven song. What makes the A-Bones' live experience even more fun is seeing the group, a five-piece for this show, appear to be having a blast on stage, though they've all played live in different bands for decades, including Linna's stint with the Cramps. Plus, the two Norton bosses' lives and income revolve around rock 'n' roll, and there's no sign of their love for what they do waning the least bit. Long live the A-Bones, and please don't wait 15 years to come back to Atlanta.

Billy Miller, center, with Gaye Blades members Jared Swilley, left, and John Kang.
  • Bobby Moore
  • Billy Miller, center, with Gaye Blades members Jared Swilley, left, and John Kang.

Clockwise from top: The A-Bones' Billy Miller, Lars Espensen, and Miriam Linna hanging backstage with Jesse Smith, Cole Alexander of Black Lips, and Deerhunter's Bradford Cox.
  • Bobby Moore
  • Clockwise from top: The A-Bones' Billy Miller, Lars Espensen, and Miriam Linna hanging backstage with Jesse Smith, Cole Alexander of Black Lips, and Deerhunter's Bradford Cox.

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