Visiting town behind the new album Trippin' with the Howlies, Atlanta band the Howlies resembled The Who on Beat Club, Ready Steady Go, or Shindig! as the guitarists assembled around drummer/vocalist Aaron Wood for most of the show. There was plenty of musical call-and-repsonse between them. Twangy guitar lines (on pretty banged-up guitars) zinged and panned from either side of the stage. Nervously calm and loosely tight ... they balanced the extremes.
The military snare beat of "Angeline," a hometown favorite off Trippin', reminded us of the Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere." Other heavier and faster songs applied the repetitive grind of the early Fall tunes, the boom-pow snare/kick patterns and reverb guitar of the first Wall of Voodoo album, and the casual stiffness and sneer of Wire's Pink Flag. "Aluminum Baseball Bat" — a slow-dance/prom song in 6/8 time — could have segued right into the Stones' "Time is on My Side" or the Miracles "You've Really Got a Hold on Me." The collective "Whoahs," "Aah-haaaahs," and "Oh-ooo-ohhs!" during the raving rendition of "Sea Level" resembled those of the best They Might Be Giants songs. It was unexpectedly high-action fun. (www.howlies.com) —T. Ballard Lesemann
Thurs. Feb. 26
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Just a little begrudgingly, Ben Folds rocked Charleston's suburbs. Charming, polite, witty, and even nerdier in person, Folds and his four bandmates started things off with the dramatic "Way to Normal," and the first half of the set they played a lot of newer rockin' stuff, as epileptic lights flashed, and Folds hunched over his keys a little maniacally. After several songs, the band left the stage and Folds took things down a notch to play some solo songs. When someone yelled for him to "just play the piano" when he was in the middle of telling a story about hitting a bear while on tour, he climbed on top of his baby grand and proceeded to tell a much more drawn-out version of the story to spite the bitch. The second half of the show featured a lot more of his classic stuff, like "Zak and Sarah," "Army," and "Rockin' the Suburbs." Folds wrapped up by conducting the audience in a beautiful, angelic sing-along. (www.benfolds.com) —Erica Jackson
Fri. March 6
House of Blues, Myrtle Beach
As always, former Smiths singer Morrissey's pre-show montage of vintage footage of '60s bands and films treated the audience to an array of pompadours, leather jackets, and sequins. There were unnamed Robert Shaw movie clips and scenes of the New York Dolls (one of Morrissey's idols) performing "Looking for a Kiss."
An unforeseen illness caused the Manchester-born vocalist to cancel the first four shows of his March tour (Florida's dates were hit the hardest), so anticipation and concern in the crowd was piqued. What was initially planned as the fourth or fifth show of the tour was now to be the first.
"Something Is Squeezing My Skull," he opening track from his new album, Years of Refusal, kicked off the set. "This Charming Man" (the first of four Smiths tunes), the new "Black Cloud," and "How Could Anyone Know How I Feel" followed. It was the halfway point of the night, "Seasick, Yet Still Docked," off of Your Arsenal, marked the point of the night for the show to reach full stride.
Morrissey took a break for a brief shirt change before playing fan fave "The World Is Full Of Crashing Boors" (from You Are the Quarry) not long before ending the abbreviated set and launching into the finale of "How Soon Is Now," the evening's fourth and final Smiths cover, complete with gong. Morrissey walked off stage. Clapping, clapping, clapping. No encore; he can't do it. Cue the house lights. One hour and 10 minutes. (www.itsmorrisseysworld.com) —Derek Judson