OH, MY SWEET (NORTH) CAROLINA
Ryan Adams changed my life. In fact, he's had such an enormous influence on it, that it's been almost impossible to resist writing about him until now.
A Ryan Adams gig - in a rainy, gloomy Manchester - was the first concert I ever went to.
Although his very first solo record was 2000's 'Heartbreaker', and his very first release PROPER was with his band 'Whiskeytown' in 1995, the first album of his I heard was actually 2001's 'Gold'.
A magnificent, sonic and emotional tour-de-force, 'Gold' is essentially perfect. Home to some of the greatest ballads of Adam's career such as 'La Cienega Just Smiled', 'Wild Flowers' and 'Sylvia Plath', along with uptempo numbers such as 'New York, New York' and 'Firecracker', the album is a thing of magnificent beauty that almost brings me to my fucking knees every time I hear it.
As perfect as it is, though, 'Gold' is arguably not even Adams' finest work. That accolade may instead go to 'Heartbreaker'. In a career of unparalleled excellence, 'Heartbreaker' is Adams' masterpiece. This record is a thing of deep, profound and romantic sadness, yet also wit and humour. It's a true 'bottled lightning' piece of work, and it will stay with me for a lifetime. As will he.
And he's also the reason I'm here, in North Carolina. In 1994 Adams formed alternative country band Whiskeytown in Raleigh, NC, and played many memorable shows here. Unfortunately so many of Adams' old haunts are no longer here such as 'The Comet Lounge' and 'The Rathskeller' where Adams worked for so long, but it's nonetheless remarkable to walk down 'Hillsborough St' where so much of the man I revere was made.
I'm also very excited to see what the music scene here is like today, in 2016. So, I head to Hillsborough Street, find myself a bar, and settle in for a night of live music. 4 bands, free entry, and $2 PBR cans. I'm in.
Unfortunately, though, I only actually catch ONE of the bands. EVEN more unfortunately they're incredibly outspoken, heavy metal, and most unpleasantly annoying.
So, I've never been a massive U2 fan, right? Sure, they've achieved a lot, but I can't STAND preachy bands or solo artists. U2 I think, are the worst of the worst. Especially Bono. Personally, I just don't think it is a bands place to get involved in politics, the issue of poverty, or homosexuality. I listen to music to listen to music, not to hear Bono ordering me to 'get real' on Africa.
And that is my main problem with the band in front of me now. I'm watching a male drummer, a female bass guitarist, and a female singer on lead guitar shout and preach at me. They dedicate their first song - 'Bitch' - to 'all you hoes out there' who have ever been stabbed in the back by their best friend. Their second song 'Wank Me Off' is dedicated to SOMEONE, but to be honest at this point I'm already zoning out and I completely miss who it's for. 'Sex' comes next, and at this point a really odd, old, and toothless man wonders up to the stage to get a better look (leer) at the singer gyrating against her microphone stand. For a woman that has - so far - moaned about nothing but sexism in between every song, she seems to be getting an awful lot of enjoyment out of deep-throating her microphone.
The gig (yes, it is still meant to be a gig) gets even less enjoyable - and more political - next, when the band dedicate their final three songs to Pat McCrory. McCrory - Governor of North Carolina - had previously signed into law a bill that forces transgender residents to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex at birth, which turned out to be an incredibly backwards and unpopular move. The band's female lead brings out a series of cardboard boxes with McCrory's face stapled to the side, and begins to rip the biggest one up into tiny pieces. The music starts, the remaining boxes are thrown into the crowd who proceed to stomp and kick them, before our band begin to actually eat parts of McCrory's cardboard face in front of my very eyes.
The silliness dies down soon after, however, and I hastily make my way to the exit. 'They were different, I'll give them that' I think. My main problem with the gig, though, was that I came just to see some live music. The music, it turns out, was completely pushed to the side in favour of political brainwashing, and I got no enjoyment out of that fact.
Now, 'brainwashing' may seem a little overzealous to many of you, but let me put forward my point. Those in the crowd that I spoke to had NO IDEA who Pat McCrory was. After the gig, though, EVERYONE had the same opinion of him as the band. In this case, sure, there wasn't particularly another side to the story, but what if there was? This, unfortunately, is how crackpot conspiracy theories can start. One day Pat McCrory is the enemy, the next 9/11 was an inside job because Matt Bellamy told 50,000 people at the O2 the same thing. I just think - in an age where musicians are idolised more than ever - they should stay away from politics and stay away from influencing such loyal devotees. Allow your music to do the talking, and allow people to make up their own minds.
But - thankfully - as little as I enjoyed this gig, the band I saw the next night completely blew me away, and there wasn't a cardboard box in sight. The band I'm referring to is 'Dorothy', and I've actually written about them before.
'I have begun to lose faith in the music industry. I have begun to believe that I will never, ever hear anything that truly grabs me by the throat again' I wrote.
'Then, at my lowest ebb, I hear a song called 'Gun In My Hand' and I feel something stir inside me. Fuck. THIS is what I've been waiting for; I've been waiting for DOROTHY'.
From Los Angeles, Dorothy form a sound of dirty, bone rattling riffs with equally attitude filled vocals from lead singer - and namesake of the band - Dorothy Martin. Transfixing to watch on stage, Martin and her band appear a hybrid of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and maybe even have a little of old school hip-hop about them, and they show the effectiveness of a stripped back, simple composition for a band. There's just a vocalist, drummer, one guitar and one bass, and it really, really works.
I'm watching Dorothy as a support act for main headliners 'Halestorm', but they completely steal the show. Although at this stage I've only heard four songs from Dorothy; 'After Midnight', 'Wild Fire', 'Wicked Ones', and 'Gun In My Hand', it's all I need to hear to know these guys are ready to shake up the whole industry. In the age of 'Soundcloud', 'Youtube' and 'Spotify', it has become very easy to take new music for granted, our ears growing tired of the same old sounds from artists, and that's why Dorothy need to be heard, and need to be treasured. Their sound is new, and it is edgy as fuck. Seriously, stop reading this and go Youtube them, download their record, buy their merchandise - Anything. Everything. If the public do not appreciate a band such as this, I feel sad.
And with that, my two nights in Raleigh, North Carolina come to an end. My time here was filled with eye rolling, tutting, cardboard eating, perverted leering, toothless grinning, and that was just me.
But it was ALSO a genuinely life affirming experience. That is GENUINELY how I saw seeing Dorothy live. That is also GENUINELY how I will always look back on these three days. Dorothy - for all the lack of awareness around them that currently exists - have shown me that thrilling, different, and exciting bands CAN still exist out there, and that music can STILL make me feel like...I don't know...Very little else. Music can make me feel nervous. Music can make me feel angry. Music can make me feel sad, ecstatic and everything else in between. Long may that continue, though, mother fuckers. Long may that continue...