As the beautiful fall weather finally sets in here in Macon, I’ve been spending many weekend nights at a new hang. Well, new for me. Grant’s Lounge is, in fact, legendary in this sleepy city. From Poplar Street, its battered facade, and retro sign attest to its longevity, and add weight to the popular assertion that it is the spiritual Mecca of southern rock. In the seventies, Grant’s was a showcase for groups like the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Charlie Daniel’s Band, and if you need a reminder of that, check out Grant’s Wall of Fame — an impressive collection of photos, records, and letters from the glory days — that adorn a wall behind the bar.
Aside from the Wall of Fame, there’s little inside the current-day Grant’s to set it apart from the legions of dank, smoky bars that dot Macon’s streets, but that may be changing. In the last two months, Macon Noise — an organization that promotes genre bending local and touring acts — has presented four showcases at Grant’s that have been both musical and logistical successes.
Last Friday, local groups Chu Feng and Re:Peter, and two out-of-town acts, Adrian Orange from Portland, OR, and Manray from Athens, GA, took the stage at Grant’s for an evening of music that ranged from trance-pop to deafening math-metal.
I arrived a little late, and missed Adrian Orange, but was in time to catch the first notes of Chu Feng’s set. Chu Feng — the nom de guerre of visual artist and songwriter Drew Kitchens — blends elements of folk, no wave and punk in a way that comes off sounding like the auditory equivalent of outsider art. At Grant’s, Kitchens strummed liked mad on an electric guitar while delivering wry lyrics, or alternately puffing on a kazoo, while Ben Vance followed on drum set.
As far as I know, it was the first time the two played together, but the duo worked surprisingly well. I know Ben as a guitarist, singer, but he sounded great on drums. Taking cues from Kitchen’s vocal line, he followed, but also took liberties with an idea to the point where the two would end up in different places altogether. It didn’t matter to me. I have seen some great performances in Macon by bands that customarily come to a performance well rehearsed, and I have come to miss the element of the unknown in a performance. Kitchens and Vance didn’t always seem like they were on the same wavelength, but it had the counterintuitive effect of focusing the music in a way that surprises performer and listener alike.
When I first heard the term “Math-Metal” used to describe music, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be my thing. I was doubly skeptical when Manray, the Athens-based band that bore the moniker, performed a deafening sound check at Grant’s, moments before launching into their set. The group was comprised of three guitarists , a bassist and a drummer, each one sporting sprawling tatoos, and a bravura that seemed barely contained.
Opening with a blast of distorted guitar, and a jarring odd-meter rhythm, Manray had the audience transfixed. Its members navigated the jaunty meters of its original compositions with well-rehearsed ease, but never in a way that seemed canned or repetitive. Odd-meter, harmonized guitar lines would ring out above the fray, then fall back behind a volley of distorted guitar chords, and the band would transition the next section or song. The feeling of unrelenting momentum lasted throughout the entire set, as the band barely left room for applause between blistering originals.
As exciting as the music was, there was an element of immaturity in the band that — to my mind — took away from performance. From the posters the band hocked from stage that featured photoshopped sex toys into the photos of the artist Man Ray, to the singer Gene Woolfolk’s onstage pronouncements, “This is a song about NYC, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I hope that place burns to the ground.”
Really? Stick to the music, guys.
As much as the music scene has changed over the years, Macon seems to have never had a shortage of cover bands, but as far as anyone knows, Re:peter is the first dedicated solely to the music of the punk band Fugazi. Led by guitarists Chris Nylund and Shawn Williamson, Re:peter ended the night with a set of raucous covers. The band sounded great, despite the fact that this was their first performance, and the audience responded by going nuts.
Things got really rough in front of the stage with at least thirty people shoving each other, and falling over as the music got more intense. By the end of the last song, people looked visibly fatigued, but no worse for wear until people noticed Clark Bush on the ground being tended to. It turned out that he had been shoved and had collided with another person’s head durning the last song.
Clark after Friday’s show.
So, if there’s a lesson here, I think it would have to be stick to the music, Macon. It keeps getting better and better, but this rough, childish stuff is just too much.