Michael Withrow revives The Concept

The revamped Concept is (from left) bassist Cody Gurski, guitarist Brandon Cox, singer and guitarist Michael Withrow and drummer Neil Edwards. The band plays at the Empty Glass tonight.

Reposted from The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like many young adults in West Virginia, Michael Withrow decided to leave home in search of better job prospects. For the 24-year-old, though, his employment opportunities were wedded to his musical career.

The singer-guitarist left the Mountain State for Florida in February to join up with his friends in the Orlando (via Charleston) ska band 69 Fingers. His Charleston-based pop punk band, The Concept, had played its final show the month before at The Empty Glass.

Fast forward 10 months. Withrow has come full circle, and the new incarnation of The Concept plays The Empty Glass tonight.

Withrow wasn’t the only Concept member to head to the Sunshine State. His cousin and the group’s drummer, Ross Anderson, also went there to play trumpet in 69 Fingers.

“They were in a rebuilding phase and asked Ross and I to join, so I made the move down there,” Withrow said over the phone.

But after a few fun months in Florida, he came home.

“Everything went fine. I just wasn't satisfied with the job situation in Florida. It had nothing to do with music. The work down there is scarce. I wasn't able to make enough money to live down there, so I came back up.”

At home, Withrow entered his own rebuilding phase, re-forming The Concept in August with an all-new lineup. He recruited longtime friend and Dinosaur Burps DJ Neil Edwards as drummer and added Brandon Cox on guitar and Cody Gurski on bass.

“He [Edwards] and I had talked about it before,” Withrow said. “I actually texted him driving on my way back up from Florida and got to work setting it back up.”

He says that there weren’t any bad blood or chemistry problems with the original lineup; they had just run their course.

“We were practicing and working on new stuff. It was Ross, [bassist] Dave [Cantrell], [guitarist] Bryan [Flowers] and myself. At the time, I was wanting to tour and do more things with the band, and work schedules and conflicts like that for the other guys came up, so they couldn’t do it. We never actually split up; we just kind of stopped playing.”

According to Withrow, the decision to keep the original band name, despite him being the only original member left, was an easy one.

“I wrote all the songs, so it actually never crossed my mind that it would be anything but The Concept,” he said. “The songs I’d written had that name behind it. It was already established.”

It was his experience in 69 Fingers and friendship with the guys in bands like it, The Composure and Punchline that has given Withrow a renewed focus and appreciation of being the creative force in The Concept.

“There was a time when I wasn't focused on The Concept. But I wasn’t ever going to stop writing my own music. When I was in Florida, I was just concentrating on working with 69 Fingers, but the more I worked down there, the more I worked on my own songs and the more I got excited about reforming The Concept.”

While the new Concept is reworking some old songs, they also have new songs to play. And Withrow is very excited about those, as well as the direction the band is going in.

“We’ve been concentrating on playing four older songs in a new way that, I think, sounds better,” he said. “The new material has a bit more of an edge as far as guitars and drum technicality; Neil is an amazing drummer. The newer songs are way tighter, have more ‘oomph’ and better melodies and song structure.”

The new Concept has been getting its collective feet wet playing shows locally, but Withrow is aware that the band will have to leave the state to make a name for itself.

“We’re going to be playing a lot coming up. Maybe we’ll tour a lot in the spring and summer. We’re not going to concentrate on playing Charleston and Huntington as much as playing out every two weeks, doing weekend mini-tours out of town to kind of build up the reputation.”

In the meantime, the band is building its name here, gathering fans of the old Concept and attracting new ones, too.

“I think the crowds have liked it. They have kind of a refreshed look,” Withrow said. “And the more we’re playing out with new material, I hope there will be an even bigger response.”

Dinosaur Burps, The Concept and Dennis Hopper's Army
WHEN: 10 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St.
COST: $5
INFO: www.myspace.com/theconceptwv or 304-345-3914

photo: Bill Hairston


WVRockscene gets thankful, gives thanks

It’s a slow holiday week for us, so why not have the entity known as WVRockscene present a highlight list of things we’ve been thankful for this year?

Internet access -- Duh, we need the internet to have WVRockscene!

Podbean -- Compared to the previous mp3 hosting service we used, this site has been our rock when it comes to uploading and hosting rock music and the occasional poorly recorded interview. Check out the pullout player at the bottom left of the screen and don’t worry about the mp3s working.

Bandcamp pages -- A whole ‘nother platform for bands to get their music to fans and goons like us. Whether it’s J Marinelli, Pat Pat, Spirit Night or Caustic Eye’s page, we’ve got hooked up with more than a few great CDs via Bandcamp pages. It’s a great resource for all involved.

People who do nice things for no real apparent benefit to them -- Basically anyone who’s sent us a CD in the mail this year did it on their own nickel. Sometimes band members are getting lathered up with press-related goings on and include us; we’re flattered always. But sometimes we approach people about music and they are super nice about hooking us up; Eli Pollard sending us a burned copy of J Marinelli’s Pre-Emptive Skankery before it was out, Greg Miller sending us two -- count ‘em: two! -- Whiskey Daredevils CDs this year, and most recently Jude Blevins dropping off the super awesome Satchell shirt.

Entertainment editors at The Charleston Gazette and Huntington Herald-Dispatch -- Your humble narrator is lucky enough to have a kind, receptive outlet to cover bands in these papers. It’s always exciting waiting for articles to be posted online, and it’s always great when the bands are excited about being covered.

Photographers -- Tying in with the previous item, good band pictures make bad articles look good. At least visually. Trust us. Pictures not only are worth a few hundred good words, they can stand the test of time. There’s been a few times this year where we had an article coming down to the wire with no pic and they’ve come through. It’s always the highest priority to make sure the credit goes to where it’s due.

Jimbo Valentine -- You can see our feature chat with Jimbo in our Focus on the Flyers series from last year, but like photographers (which he is a pretty good one at that) what Jimbo does making visually stunning flyers with his awesome art is as important as photographers or writers to the Huntington scene. It just takes a second to see who’s playing, and he’s done a great job for a while now helping to get the word out about shows.

Justin Johnson -- The last but definitely not the least when it comes to things we’re thankful for. At one point Johnson covered the Huntington scene for the Herald-Dispatch, now, his Aural History of 1318 4th Avenue rolls back the clock to the 90’s. His knowledge of the Huntington scene and passion for writing about it and reliving it has been great to read (and hear). It’s been great to click on WVRockscene and see something new that we didn’t even know was going to be up, realize it was his work as an invited guest blogger, and instantly know it was going to be killer. It’s made visiting WVRockscene way more exciting in 2010.


Bonfire catches on in Morgantown

Already an item, Chris Quattro and Jodi Hollingshead lead Bonfire into 123 Pleasant Street Friday

When we covered the MAYSP Benefit show back in September, we heard about a new Morgantown band called Bonfire. Comprised of Depresbyterians members Chris Quattro (guitar/vocals) and Liz Toler (drums), joined by singer Jodi Hollingshead on keys and bassist Amanda Burris, and with a few shows under their belt, we caught up with the “cupcakewave” band over email to learn more...

WVRS: You haven’t officially been together long, right? How/when did you coalesce into Bonfire? Was it the nucleus of Chris and Jodi sitting around jamming? Bank Holiday Riots?
Jodi Hollingshead: Chris has been writing the music and some lyrics of these songs for years. It’s what he’s been playing on his own throughout his time in his other bands. Add my lyrics, Liz’s stripped-down drum style, and Amanda’s minimalism and you’ve got Bonfire. We all just wanted to play music. We’ve been friends outside of the band for a bit, so it just made sense to make music together.
Amanda Burris: I joined mid-September, which makes about two months as a full band.

WVRS: How often do you get to rehearse and where do you practice at? Do you have a heater? Is it literally still cold in the practice space?
Chris Quattro: We rent a space with a few other bands in town. We can play any hour of the day or night we want, which you can’t do just everywhere. It’s cold, but it’s home.

WVRS: How did your first show at 123 way back in September go? How have you been received at shows thus far?
Liz Toler: They always want us to keep playing, so I think that’s a good sign.
Jodi: It was the best first show a band could ask for. Being a benefit show really created a fantastic energy.
Amanda: At our last show at 123, we brought more people up to the stage than any other bands.
Chris: We’re really the first pop band out of Morgantown since The Emergency, and I think people like us for similar reasons. We’re catchy, we’re fun.
Jodi: We’re positive. There’s a lot of darkness in the Morgantown sound right now, a lot of talent, but a lot of darkness. I think we bring a bright positivity to the scene, which might be part of the reason the people who like us like us. People need happy, whether they know it or not, and they respond to it.

WVRS: Speaking of how you’ve been received playing out, forgive me for asking but with so many females in the band have you had a problem with drunk dudes being at a bar being jerks or anything like that? Does having have been in other bands make it easier to get on stage as Bonfire?
Chris: More often than not, our audience is made up of our friends and acquaintances, so they know us. People who know us know that we’re an “us.”
Amanda: It still is a novelty in this town that girls are in a band, though.
Jodi: Yeah, it’s certainly one of the first things people notice and say.
Liz: I haven’t really had a problem.
Jodi: Maybe it’s the drumsticks.

WVRS: You’ve got some of the more obscure/hilarious genres listed on your Facebook page; did we miss the boat on cupcakewave or crabcore? I get quiet grrrl. Is that just because you like cupcakes so much?
Chris: It started as a tongue-in-cheek opposition to “chillwave,” to be honest. But the boundaries and labels of genres are ridiculous. Everything has to belong to a clique. We don’t sound like any one category, and who does?
Jodi: Everything is a combination of context and interpretation.
Liz: And we really like cupcakes.


WVRS: Would it be safe to say that Belle & Sebastian and Vivian Girls are some of the biggest influences for you as a unit?
Liz: As a G Unit?
Amanda: Not so much for ALL of us. I would say that The Aislers Set and Henry’s Dress would be better descriptors.
Chris: I listen to those bands a lot, yes, but that product that B&S produces is more sophisticated than what I write. I come from a punk rock background, so a lot of my philosophy and therefore sound comes from that. Bands like The Pastels, Beat Happening and The Shop Assistants are favorites. I listen to a lot of tweepop, shoegaze and 1960’s rock/pop/soul in general.
Jodi: Perhaps the inspiration to write music is what we get most out of bands like Belle & Sebastian. A goal.

WVRS: So Chris, you and Jodi are an item, right? To both of you, what are some pros and cons of being in the same band as your significant other?
Jodi: Really, it’s kind of wonderful. Why wouldn’t you want to create something beautiful with the person you love the most?
Chris: Well and, there’s a difference between dating and being in a relationship, and having been in one with Jodi for two years makes it easy. It takes a lot to throw us off course. The only real challenge is leaving our baggage at the door on a bad day, but everyone has to do that. On the other side of the coin, we avoid some of the stresses a couple might run into if one person in the couple is in a band. No, “where were you last nights?”
Jodi: I think our pre-existing individual connections with each member of the band helps, too. We’re all friends, like real, actual friends. We’re very lucky.

WVRS: You’ve got shirts? What might they be looking like for potential buyers? You’ll have ‘em on sale at the show this Friday?
Jodi: Liz was super excited to have some merchandise at this show so she really got us going on it.
Liz: One of a kind!
Chris: All handmade, no two alike.

WVRS: Even though you haven’t been playing out long, you have an extensive online presence, on FB, Twitter, Myspace and tumblr. With the videos you’ve got uploaded and all the social networking sites, wouldn’t you say it takes way less time to make a name for yourself in the digital age or is playing shows and the kind of word of mouth popularity type thing still more important to a new(er) band?
Liz: It’s easier for anything. Shows are still important, but it helps with notification. Getting people there. A band doesn’t exist without an online presence.
Chris: Sure, it was harder ten years ago. It was harder to get people to shows. It was harder to get tapes and CDs out there.
Amanda: It’s not about flyers anymore. People aren’t looking for flyers when they walk down the street, they check their Facebook.
Jodi: But I think it still boils down to the show. Facebook might get people there, but it doesn’t make your band sound good.

WVRS: What is up with potential Bonfire recordings? Making a CD anytime soon?
Chris: No CD. Our super duper friend Brian Spragg is recording tracks for a cassette tape to be released within the next few months on Crash Symbols, a cassette label co-managed by another friend, Dwight Pavlovic.

CDs are dead. Sell a CD to one person, you’ve given to 50 for free.

WVRS: You played your first show with DFB back in September and welcome The Cowboy Relics to town Friday; looking forward to the show?
Amanda: Well, I’ll play with a bearded fellow any chance I can get.

photo: Emily Iafrate


CD Review: "Thief"

CD: Thief
ARTIST: Keller and the Keels

If Keller Williams is reading this, we just want to come out and admit that we didn't pay for Thief. But we didn't illegally download it or anything like that. Judging from Williams' liner notes, we don't want to get off on the wrong foot.

But let's set up exactly how much we wanted to hear the CD first.

A few phrases we've coined here include: "The best things come to those who wait," and "Better late than never." Both describe our feelings on landing a copy of this 13-song cover CD.

Getting hooked up with the second installment of Keller Williams' collaboration with Larry and Jenny Keel seems like some sort of cosmic convergence of the most awesome kind.

It's a funny story; when Thief came out a while back, we thought about trying to scam our way out of a copy, acting like some sort of big time media outlet for new music -- you know: fiction!

But we didn't try. But still, we were definitely keen on hearing the latest collaboration between these Virginia-based artists.

Well fast forward a few months and we were contacted by the Keel's very nice and awesome PR lady about setting up an interview for his show at 123 Pleasant Street in December, and oh by the way, she'd gladly hook us up with the CD, probably not having any idea of our love of Keel and the first Keller and the Keels CD.

Having had picked up a copy of Keller and the Keels' Grass at a Larry Keel and Natural Bridge show at The Sound Factory a few years back, we pretty much knew Thief would be awesome. We actually got to meet and chat up the Keels at the show for a now long defunct local music internet show; good people.

And in case you didn't know yet, Keel, the critically acclaimed, much loved flatpicking master, shreds. It would be great to hear him play some metal. Jenny rocks the upright bass and, together, Williams (a star in his own right) and the Keels take songs -- maybe not even their favorites, exactly -- and, kind of like The Ramones did with songs from rock and roll's past, put their own unique countrified bluegrass stamp on them.

Remember when you first heard about a bluegrass cover CD of AC/DC songs, and your mind kind of reeled? Hearing Williams and the Keels cover Butthole Surfers, Cracker, Presidents of the United States of America, The Raconteurs, and yes, Amy Winehouse, might seem like a stretch, but they nail it.

They even cover "Sex and Candy" by Marcy Playground. Remember that friggin song? This might make getting that Marcy Playground tattoo seem like a good idea, which, maybe not so much.

More obvious songs for the trio to steal may include "Cold Roses" by Ryan Adams, "Wind's on Fire" by Yonder Mountain String Band, and "Mountains of the Moon" by the Grateful Dead. Bookended by a pair of Kris Kristofferson songs -- he stands to make the most money off Thief royalties, as Williams points out in the liner notes -- this is a great CD to play on a sunny day aimless drive around town, doing chores, or anything else you wanna do.

The most awesome song for us to hear was "Pepper" by Butthole Surfers. Like over a decade ago, we wore out that Electriclarryland cassette we had. Williams even does a good Gibby Haynes voice.

But the title of the CD is a slight dig on the whole stealing other people's songs to make a record, and the tendency of you people to download music for free, and not supporting the artists.

Even though we were late getting this, we are so glad to have got hooked up with it. Apparently there was a Keller and the Keels Play Your Couch type contest. Hopefully that person cleaned off their couch.

But for us, we're gonna go burn a Grass/Thief compilation CD. And of course, we won't let anyone steal it off of us.


CD Review: "Wizard of This"

CD: Wizard of This
Artist: Pat Pat

Maybe it’s the nondescript name of Pat Pat, maybe named after bassist Patrick Spragg.

But Wizard of This -- the debut CD from the Morgantown-based trio Pat Pat is one of the more surprisingly awesome CDs we’ve heard all year. This relatively new band -- Brian Spragg (It’s Birds), Pat Spragg, and drummer Evan Devine (Megatouch, Ancient Shores) haven’t been playing out as a unit long, but this effort is a more than promising debut.

We’d heard about Pat Pat, of course, in the normal course of stringing stuff together for local shows; they recently played in Huntington if memory serves, and we’d been on their MySpace, where they’ve uploaded a song to tease potential fans, but it wasn’t until Tucker Riggleman pointed out Pat Pat’s bandcamp page that we were able to get the full taste of what these guys were going for.

Nine songs of catchy, high energy (mostly) post-punk jams with math rock-sounding progressions, and assorted weirdness in parts. Is that even a sentence? It’s what seems to permeate Wizard of This. Some parts seem to even have a grunge sound, if you listen to the record online, you just might hear a kind of Sonic Youth tone or something.

“Windham” and “WOEFAS” are two standout tracks; the former’s heavy groove, fat, distorted bass intro and the latter’s catchy chorus about Abby Sunderland (?), each with some insane noodling and/or tapping in parts.

“Dup” and “Osu” (“Oh, Sue”) start the CD off nice with that rockin’ kind of post punk sound. “Osu” has a spacey, jammed out bridge part back into thrash ending.

“The Wavemaker Falters” is a great song -- near haunting strumming opens and the song branches out and grows into a great jam

One song that kind of sounds like It’s Birds is “It’s The Salt,” with its Casio keyboard drum intro interspersing pummeling rhythm section, and nihilistic-type lyrics:
“You’ve got no right to your opinion
You’ve got no rights here
You’ve got no ground to speak from
You’ve got no voice”
One of the neat things Spragg does in It’s Birds and now in Pat Pat is bring challenging progressions and changes into the songs -- the songs on Wizard are catchy, and still in a pretty much rock song structure format -- but keep you on your listening toes, as it seems like the songs could break out into extended jams at any point seemingly but pull back together and keep the song moving.

Recorded in Pittsburgh with David Klug, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of Pat Pat. We recently heard that It’s Birds is playing their last show next month in Morgantown, but Wizard of This is a great CD to start things off with. The holidays are fast approaching and a burned copy of this would make a fine gift to that local rock goon in your family. Swing by the Pat Pat bandcamp page to download Wizard of This if you’re so inclined.


Saturday's the night for Spirit Night

Dylan Balliett (above) will be joined by his good friend Pete Wilmoth (and a few others) Saturday night as Spirit Night plays 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown.

Simply put, Spirit Night's CD What We Will Be is one of our favorites of 2010. No idea was had on our end how much we'd love it. Well, for whatever reason there has been nary a Spirit Night show.

This Saturday, all that changes.

To see what is up with Dylan and Pete, we again caught up with the pair for a fun, informative Q&A.

WVRS: Dylan what is up with life for you right now? Are you living in Shepherdstown or back in Morgantown?
Dylan Balliett: I moved back to Morgantown in August with the intention of working on albums for Spirit Night and my other band, David Bello and His God-Given Right, but -- surprise! -- we haven't really gotten any work done on either. However, I think we're going to try to bang out a good portion of at least the Spirit Night album in the month or so we have left before we get kicked out of our studio. I'm going to record this one on my laptop just like What We Will Be which means I'll be mobile again as soon as we record Pete's drums and I'm not sure how long I'll be sticking around after that point.

WVRS: Are you worried they'll ban Four Loko?
DB: Honestly, yes. The thought of having to go back to being drunk on just regular beer is terrifying to me.
Pete Wilmoth: Oh, God. I'm proud to say I haven't tried this stuff yet. Call me a prude, but stimulants-plus-depressants just scare the hell out of me.

WVRS: Dylan did I see pics of you on the road with The Demon Beat and/or Tucker Riggleman? Have fun on the road?
DB: I lived with my parents for about eight months this year as I recovered from an injury and the resultant surgeries. Since my expenses were so low and I had a pretty big chunk of savings to live off of, I spent a lot of that time on tour with The Demon Beat. Honestly, I had some of the best times I've had in my life. I saw a lot of the country, heard a lot of hilarious and absurd jokes, and got to see The Demon Beat play every night. I feel really lucky to have been able to do that and I'm really grateful for the fact that they let me tag along. I love those guys and I miss them, but it's good to know that pretty much anywhere I choose to live, they'll probably be rolling through at some point.

WVRS: Dylan I thought I saw on Facebook that you recently recorded new stuff? Is that right? New songs? Have you been collaborating with any more local notables or friends of yours musically?
DB: There will be a new Spirit Night EP released before the end of the year. It'll feature three new songs (one of which is actually just a re-recording of an extremely old song of mine), one demo from the album, and possibly an alternate take of the title track. Right now, it's just me and Pete, but this time around Sean Gibat is mixing and mastering because I love his work and we've always talked about collaborating on something. I'm pretty excited about it.
PW: Dylan and I have recorded just *one* new Spirit Night song so far, although we have a handful more in the works. One reason we've been a little slow on the uptake is that Dylan has been busy recording with Dave Bello & His God-Given Right, and I've been busy recording with FOX Japan and The Overcoat.

WVRS: When we caught up for the Q&A w/you and Pete, you mentioned the possibility of shows. How did this 123 show get lined up?
DB: LJ gave us the show and then we picked some local bands we really love to open. I was so surprised that Sandra Black said yes because they don't seem to play so often anymore. We're all super excited about seeing them, as well as Juna.
PW: Oh, we had talked about it a while and finally just went ahead and pulled the trigger. We're lucky to have some great friends who are beyond capable of stepping in and fleshing out what would otherwise be a pretty bare bones operation. Dylan and I are both pretty thrilled with how it's turning out. I also can't properly express how pumped we are about the opening acts (Juna and Sandra Black), both of whom make wonderful music and are pretty in line with our aesthetic, as well.

WVRS: Are you and Pete gonna be able to practice before the show? You don't live nearby each other right?
DB: We live about a block apart now, haha. We've done about five practices so far and will hopefully be able to squeeze in another one or two before Saturday night.

WVRS: Pete how excited are you for people to see what you bring to Spirit Night live as far as percussion? Definitely richer arrangements and more instruments than what you get from a drummer in most rock bands right?
PW: Well, it's certainly more instruments, with the hand percussion and everything. I don't know that it's richer, per se, but I certainly have to think differently about it. Even in the live show, there are songs where I'm sitting at the kit, but it's more like I'm playing concert percussion.

WVRS: Can we expect the same stable of guest musicians & friends that we heard on the songs on the CD? Who all will be performing with you on stage? Are you going to be able to capture the same sound live as you got on What We Will Be?
DB: The live band for this show is going to be Ryan Hizer (Librarians, Big Ass Manatee), David Bello (David Fucking Bello), George Zatezalo (It's Birds, Single Dads), Pete, and me. All of those guys appear somewhere on the album. And yes, it should sound pretty much exactly like the album but much, much louder.
PW: More or less, yes. George Zatezelo (It's Birds, Russian Tombstones) and Dave Bello both appear briefly on the record, and Ryan Hizer (Librarians, Big Ass Manatee) was instrumental in tracking a lot of it. We're really grateful to have all three of them on board. They're wonderful musicians in addition to being wonderful people.

It's definitely going to sound different than the CD, just by necessity. We can only layer on so many weird loops and synths, and I can only play so many of the percussion parts. Same with the vocals. But there were also times during practice where we were adding instruments - bass, for example, which is mostly absent from the record - to the live performance. It's going to sound great, I think.

Related: Spirit Night Q&A Parts one and two

Photo: Brian Deery