OAKLEY HALL, MIKE WEXLER, BLACK TAJ and ENDLESS BOOGIE at Mercury Lounge, 7/21/06

Fuck yeah! What this blog needs is more crappy, blurry pictures! In fact, that’s what all blogs need, amirite? Er, yeah, I guess not. Anyway, Friday night, after an incredible catfish dinner (complemented by potato salad, mac n’ cheese, cole slaw and beer) with my friends in Titan at Pies and Thighs under the Williamsburg Bridge, I raced back across to catch this show – sort of an Amish Records showcase with guests – at the Mercury Lounge. Endless Boogie had the rare first-opener slot, and I was worried with all that great Southern-style cookin’, I might have to be late. But I got there right on time, and proceeded to rip into some more beers while the Boogie ripped into their set. And what a set it was: new stuff, front-loaded at the beginning, that sounded fresh, while the last song (always forgetting or making up the titles) was an oldie but goodie. Mike “Miighty Flashlight” Fellows was behind the soundboard, and that led to one of the better vocal performances by wildman Paul Major. Score.

Second up was Polvo/Idyll Swords/many-other-NC-bands-I’ve-never-heard-of veterans Black Taj, whose self-titled album on Amish contains many sublime moments. Maybe it was just the grease congealing, but live they carried much more of a Southern swagger than the record. Then again, maybe it was just the volume, too. Dave Brylawski, one of Black Taj’s guitarists and its only NYC resident, has been one of my favorite guitar players since seeing Polvo way back when (memorable show: when they played at Bard, it was under two gigantic papier mache’d joints – gotta love those college kids!) (also at the same show Stephen Malkmus was attending in disguise, so as not to be recognized by same college kids). Black Taj, while definitely being more prog than Polvo with changes and instrumental sections galore, still have some rockin’ numbers filled with that special sort of twisted melodicism that made the latter band so great. Except the curried lamb and tabouli has been replaced with fried catfish and slaw.

By the point Mike Wexler hit the stage, I was getting a bit lit. Which didn’t detract from the music at all, but I did find it a bit hard to concentrate on Wexler’s reedy vocal tones. Don’t get me wrong, I like that particular style, but I have to be in the right mood. Wexler’s band is whip-sharp, though, and the songs are pretty damn good. I had a better time watching him play in Austin last March, drinking nearly-free Pabsts under a tent with my buddy Cliff, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recommend his tunes.

Headliners Oakley Hall, back in town on a rest between tours with Calexico, M. Ward and the Constantines, are every bit of deserving of the great press and turnouts they’ve been getting. Consistently one of the best and most-hard working bands in New York, Friday night’s set was a psychedelic barn burner, complete with almost incomprehensible (to my drunken eyes, anyway) projections. Totally rad, almost makes me wish I’d been a bit more sober for it. Next time, then.

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