South French Broads – April 29, 2009 @ Caledonia Lounge, Athens, GA
One of my best friends, Alex, plays in a band from Asheville, N.C. called South French Broads. I met Alex while in college at UGA from 1988-1993. In addition to becoming a great friend, we played music together, alot. He is one of those people who has music oozing from his soul, itching to turn anything into an instrument, as he often did. I just played guitar and occasionally banjo, but he played bass, guitar, harmonica, and percussion, including pots and pans, congos, and other things. We played a lot of blues and pretty heavy rock stuff, both with ourselves and sometimes with other people. We had a short-lived band with Spencer Frye but we never played out in a club, and there were several others that we would jam with, but nothing serious. We never really tried hard to get in shape enough to play in front of an audience – at best we would have impromptu jams at parties. (I’ve often regretted not trying harder at music while in Athens so that I could’ve at least played in a club a few times).
Alex has been playing in South French Broads for several years now, and I had yet to see them. It’s a two-piece, with him on bass, harmonica, slide whistle, and vocal, and Radix on drums, vocals, and other sounds. They sometimes incorporate recorded sounds into their music.They were the opening band in a bill that also included Jeff the Brotherhood and Ham1 at the Caledonia Lounge in Athens, so my wife and I went. Athough I’ve heard of it for a while, I had never been to the Caledonia Lounge. However, the Caledonia is located behind the 40 Watt Club where the old 40 Watt used to be – at least this was the 2nd location of it, as I remember hearing people talk about the original location. Probably about halfway through my stint in Athens, they moved to the current location.
Walking up to and into the Caledonia Lounge brought back a flood of memories from my time in Athens. I spent many, many hours back then in this old 40 Watt Club watching incredible, and often less so, bands and musicians. I used to see Vic Chesnutt here every Tuesday night of my freshman year; I would go see Todd McBride play solo and with his band Dashboard Saviors (actually, I ran into Todd this very evening downtown); just a few other bands that come into mind that I remember seeing there include Fugazi, Roosevelt, R.E.M., and Billy James. (I really wish I could remember all of the acts I saw there – another regret I have is not keeping a list of the bands that I have seen during my life, along with some notes from each). The place is very small, a single rectangular room with the stage at one end of the room and the bar and bathrooms at the other – I would guess that the room measures 15′ wide by 60′ long. It is a great place to see a show.
Apart from Alex playing on this stage where I had seen so many great shows, I was really excited to see him play as he has a very unconventional style of playing bass, and a quirky and lively personality that permeates his song structures. As a bassist, Alex likes to play repeating melodic pairs or trios of ascending and/or descending notes in quick time. I recognized many of the song structures that Alex had originally developed and modified from when we played together years ago, and I couldn’t help but smile and play along in my head. Relatively early in the show, I thought how Alex had found a perfect partner – Radix – for his music; I always felt that I simply could not come up with guitar parts that synced with his bass lines, as I have never been a particularly fast nor technical guitarist. Radix sings, plays drums, or scats to many of these faster bass lines, creating a wonderful complement that fits very well. Alex also sings, something that he did not do when we played together. And his harmonica – something I’ve always loved. Man, he blows that harp with all abandon, very bluesy but totally original.
The South French Broad’s music is generally fast-paced, with a lot of time changes. The singing mostly complements the music rather than being a focus in itself. Typically short songs, very punkish, very high energy. At times during their set, I thought of the Minutemen, Frank Zappa, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Roosevelt. I was impressed with the tightness of their show, for a two-piece band has very little to hide any mistakes behind. Seeing Alex up on that stage, I had this sense of living history, of destiny, of things that have been and should be.