Sometimes we get 'em, sometime we don't. The Charleston club scene bristles with more bands now than ever before ... but the road trip is still a major part of the dedicated music fan's routine, whether it's a jaunt to Myrtle Beach, over to Atlanta, or up the coast.
Recently, I enjoyed a phone conversation with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, Portastatic, and the Merge Records label in which we veered the subject from his current band activities to the regional music scene in general. I remembered something I heard him say years ago when Superchunk were playing a show in Athens, Ga. ... something along the lines of "well, we almost always tell our bands who go out on tour to try and hit Georgia and North Carolina, but don't even bother with South Carolina at all; there are no decent clubs to play and barely an audience anywhere to play for." He mildly remembered possibly saying something to that affect.
For established out-of-state bands touring through the South in the 1990s and early 2000s on an itinerary assembled by a booking agent usually put them in Atlanta, Chapel Hill or Raleigh, maybe New Orleans or Nashville ... and that's about it. Major label bands and up-and-coming indie acts would haul ass through the Southern corridor on the way between Texas and the rest of the East Coast, or en route to Chicago and the Midwest. Aside from seasonal festivals or the occasional radio-sponsored concert, rarely would a smaller, slightly out-of-the-way city like Charleston confirm a major act. Word-of-mouth is an effective phenomenon, and the lousy reputation of some rock clubs in the S.C. upstate (anyone remember Rockafella's in Columbia?) and in town (anyone remember Club Dog Alley on King Street?) hurt local fans' chances of catching a great show, too.
Of course, that's not the case so much now. Buzz-bin bands from the college radio charts have found their way into the Music Farm, Cumberland's, the Windjammer, the Village Tavern, and elsewhere. Heavy-touring jam bands doing the big circuit make it down to Charleston more often than before, thanks to the efforts of the bookers at the Pour House and other venues.
Unfortunately, most international rock bands who make it to the States for a few weeks -- many of whom are actually worth the high ticket price and travel expense -- zip through the South even quicker than others (perhaps with the exception of those noisy Japanese acts Redux seems to snag!). One such band currently on tour is the Super Furry Animals, from Cardiff, Wales -- truly one of the most theatrical and musically ambitious rock bands I've seen in recent years.
The mighty Furries -- lead singer/guitarist Gruff Rhys, drummer Dafydd "Daf" Ieuan, guitarist/singer Huw "Bunf" Bunford, bassist Guto Pryce, and keyboardist Cian Ciaran -- started a tour across the U.S. and Canada last week in support of their seventh studio album, Love Kraft (Beggars), a wonderfully congested, melodically lively disc that finds frontman Rhys in his usual smart-aleck/romantic mode, but also features other members of the band on lead vocals, as well.
The quintet first started poking their heads around the corner of the official Britpop establishment with an oddly aggressive power-pop sound that's still at the heart of what they're up to this year. Worth the gas and time? You betcha. Maybe we can get 'em to town next year ... (Read more about the band and see what guitarist Bunf Bunford has to say online at www.charlestoncitypaper.com).