I received two supremely deluxe birthday presents yesterday. One was totally unexpected, and the other one went far beyond any expectations I had.
My son, Spencer, the computer wizard, and I have been talking for some time about how I would go about creating a blog to post and consolidate all of my reviews. I assumed we would get together this summer to make some plans. He sent me a message yesterday to check out a new website titled tieyourshoesreviews.com. OMG! It is more than I could ever have imagined. I am so proud of him and truly honored that he spent so much time making this look so awesome.
That was the total surprise. This was not: I had been giddy with anticipation ever since I saw the announcement of the Heavy Pets and Big Something, two of my favorites, playing at my favorite Tampa venue, Skipper’s, on my birthday. I just didn’t realize they were going to BLOW. THE. PLACE. UP!
My gold standard is when music takes me to that magical place, when the music is, for me, as good as it gets. Both bands got to that place early and often last night, and the packed Skipperdome crowd agreed. (And this was a tough weekend, because the superb Bands on the Sands fest was throwing down on Treasure Island.)
North Carolina’s Big Something have been touring on their self-titled sophomore studio CD, which is a monster, a great listen from start to finish. It had been two years since I last saw them, sounding great both times. Right before the set, I asked singer and guitar player Nick McDaniels if “Illuminated,” my favorite song from the new disk, was on the setlist. He nodded and smiled, and I knew we were in for a great show.
What an understatement! They delivered a rousing 90-minute set that continued to spiral higher and higher. “Illuminated” was off the charts, and they tossed in great covers of “Making Flippy Floppy” and “Sledgehammer.” This was their third night playing with the Heavy Pets, and there were numerous sit-ins in both sets. Doug Marshall and Ben Vinograd were rock-solid anchoring the rhythm section (a recent theme of mine), with tasty keyboard work and the occasion trumpet interlude from Josh Kagel.
There are some many brilliant guitar players on our scene today, and Jesse Hensley demonstrated that he belongs squarely in any such discussion. And the evening’s crowd favorite was Casey Cranford, adding great saxophone work to every tune. When Jeff Lloyd of the Pets joined them at the end for “My Volcano,” it WAS an eruption! This was simply a superior performance, a whole new level since I had last seen them.
The Heavy Pets have been on fire for quite some time, especially at festivals at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park (Bear Creek, AURA, Wanee and more). And they always rise to the occasion at Skipper’s. They wasted no time jumping right into the groove. Once again, the rhythm section is the backbone supporting this collective musical beast, and Tony D’Amato and Jamie Newitt come up huge EVERY time. They really knock me out. And there is just something about the musical colors Jim Wuest gets on his keyboards. I hereby accuse him of listening to some of those great old disco tunes with great synthesizer and clavinet and you name it (and, no, ‘great disco’ is NOT an oxymoron!).
Which brings us to the guitar side of the stage. Mike Garulli and the aforementioned Lloyd work so well in tandem, chunky and funky and blistering and downright dirty, offset by their two huge grins. Lloyd in particular has been playing like a man possessed, and I will block any exorcist who dares to come near!
Their joyous set ended with a truly wicked encore that at some point morphed into “Hedi Sigismondi” and then out; at least, I think so. Whatever, it was a truly glorious night for two great bands who continue to improve their game show after show. Both belong front and center on the national stage.
[Check out The Big What?, Big Something’s festival in Mebane NC June 26-28, their latest CD, and the two recent 7” vinyl releases and digital downloads from the Heavy Pets: “Two Horses” and “Rags and Aces.”]
BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER.