Music » The Hum

Post-Vocal Symphonies

Plus: snow on the Plaza, benefits galore and bye-bye Rubberneckers



My co-worker Heidi asked me a question at the office the other day, something along the lines of "Do you know anything about a band from Canada coming to town? I can't remember the name but my friend says they're good."

"Are they Quebecois?" I wondered. I'd heard about that show. She didn't think that was it. She promised to forward me the e-mail from her friend, Lisa. Subject: "good concert coming your way." It got straight to the point: "hi Heidi - you should see this band when they come to Arcata."

What followed was a band list letter from Moira Smiley saying, "Hi everyone! moira smiley & VOCO have shows up & down the West Coast comin' up! Exciting things happening here, and we'll keep you posted when it comes close to you!"

A MySpace link followed and an itinerary showing a North Coast jaunt, including a show at the venerable Freight and Salvage followed by one on Thursday at the Jambalaya sponsored by Humboldt Folklife.

I clicked on the MySpace link and listened to a couple of songs. I liked what I heard. The first, "Dying Californian," begins with a choral group using harmonies?† la The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir, but run backwards. Moira comes in singing a sad song reminiscent of an old Appalachian ballad; before it ends, there's some subtle banjo picking. Subsequent numbers show off a Sweet Honey in the Rock gospel style, almost a cappella, something they call, "post-folk vocal symphonies and dancesongs," with low key bass and mysterious percussion. Moira Smiley provides accordion and banjo; Jess Basta and Christine Enns supply "body percussion"; Jessica Catron cello/electronics; John Ballinger banjo, clarinet and percussion. Everyone sings.

I don't know what it shows, but Luminescent Orchestrii is on their "Friends" list, and I love that band. With that additional recommendation I sent Moira an e-mail with something like a virtual interview. She responded almost immediately.

Who are you*?* Moira Smiley

Where are you from? Originally Vermont, now Los Angeles.

What do you do? Sing, write music, play accordion & banjo, arrange strange old music.

Why do you do what you do? Always have — better'n laying carpet, I guess. Really, is there any better job than to do what you love?

What are you working on? New songs, arranging old American hymns, writing new body percussion, thinking about clowning.

When will you be here? I'm bringing my band, Moira Smiley & VOCO, to Jambalaya, for a 7:30 p.m. show Thursday, Nov. 15th, sponsored by Humboldt Folklife Society. We're also going to sing live on KHUM radio at 3:30 that same Thursday!

Who's that? VOCO is my five-piece band doing sweet stompin' rebel harmony soaked in Eastern Europe and Appalachia. Cello, banjo, accordion, percussion and body percussion.

What's next? Bartok arrangements of the "Mikrokosmos."

Anything else you want to add? That's kinda fun — like a quiz! — Moira."

And I'll add one more thing. There's no Canadian connection; Heidi miss-remembered. The band is from Los Angeles. Don't hold that against them.

Pay special note to the start time. Most Jambalaya shows start after dinner; this one is during, and it's one of two separate shows that night. Later on it's one of Humboldt finest hip hop outfits, Subliminal Sabotage. They help close out something called Snow Day, a big to-do around town that starts with Pro Sport and the Outdoor Store hauling in a whole bunch of snow, and not like when people come back from winter trips out 299 with snow in the back of a pick-up so they can throw snowballs. This is a huge pile, five tons, enough for pro snowboarders to strut their stuff. They call it a "Rail Jam," whatever that is. (I'm sure snowboarders know.) That's in the afternoon on the Plaza. There's also a couple of snowboarding movies at the Minor in the evening, then the "D.C. VIP Afterhours Party" with Sub/Sab ending a wild night at the Jam.

You might expect the NoHum/SoHum Sub/Sab to be part of Homegrown Hip Hop Vol. 4, Harvest Edition 2007, the all-ages thing Saturday at the Mateel, but they're not. Representing the homegrown side are Eureka rappers Nac One and Lil' Sic and crews from Mendo, the funky North Coast Underground from Point Arena, Some of the Truest from Mendocino (the town) and the Mendo Green Team, plus the Humboldt Rockers breakdancers. The headliners are imports: Planet Asia, aka King Medallions (born Jason Green) is from Fresno via San Fran. I'm pretty sure he's not Asian, but Haji Springeris. He's a hyphy-style dude outta Oakland who lays down comical raps often mocking his Indian descent (that's India Indian, not Native American, BTW).

The Mateel is jumping this week. Friday night Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir plays for a KMUD/Feet First Dancers run benefit/charity auction for The Igoma Project, supporting some sort of clinic in Tanzania. Old timers might remember Tillery from her days with The Loading Zone, a kick-ass blues/soul outfit that played around the Bay Area in the '60s and '70s. Now she's into gospel, again?† la Sweet Honey. Tillery calls it "survival music." "This music, particularly the spirituals, has kept Black people alive through slavery, night rider's raids and segregation," she explains. "This is the music that has been used as a support for just about every political movement in this country. People take spirituals, reword them and march together in the name of freedom and justice."

Also in the benefit vein: an Arcata House Benefit Dance Party Saturday evening at the Bayside Grange with Cajun music by The Bayou Swamis and eclectic dance music by The Joyce Hough Band. As Joyce points out, this is the first public performance by the band in more than two years, and who knows when you'll get to hear them again. Plus it's a good cause — helping to house families down on their luck.

And there's yet another benefit: A Sunday noontime show with stringy jams by The Bucky Walters supporting the Arcata Educational Farm.

Remember last week I mentioned the return tour of Capillary Action, the guys who played at the Jambalaya with that crazy Czech band? As noted they're back at the Jam Friday, this time with former Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, who as far as I can tell now plays solo with bass and laptop. Local support comes from The Rubberneckers, and I'm sad to report, this is going to be one of the band's last shows — ever. A fan list e-mail from Clay tells the tale: "OK kids, here's the scoop. There are [four] 'Neckers' shows left and that be all. Burton is leaving with his family for Thailand on Jan. 6 for an unknown amount of time, and we couldn't consider replacing him. We're playing as much as we can to get in all the rocking and raging that's possible. Then we call it quits. It was fun while it lasted. Get to one/all of these gigs cuz there won't be no more."

That's four gigs to go: Friday at the Jam, a Dec. 14, all ages thing at Big Pete's with Ghostwriter, and two January shows at the Jam. More on them later.

Ready for some holiday cheer? Noonanight Productions presents Pagan Christmasat Arcata's Portuguese Hall Saturday, Nov. 17, with Subliminal Sabotage, Space Cowboys DJs, funk/soul from the Bay by Monophonics, and The Glitch Mob, a crunky alt. hip hop/electronica crew that rips it up. Showtime @ 9, 20 bucks at the door, 21+ only.

Reggae? How 'bout three shows the same night? Friday Indigo Lounge has Jamaican dancehall from Norrisman, Jah Thunder and Stevie Culture. Meanwhile locals Juce mix reggae and hip hop at Six Rivers, and the Red Fox brings in Cali reggae, a band called Rebelution from Santa Barbara. Saturday at the Red Fox: Soul Majestic, a white dread band from Santa Cruz who played RotR a few years back. Not bad as I recall.

It doesn't sound possible, but a note from Afromassive bassist Aaron Bortz confirms it: The truly massive band will crowd onto the stage of Muddy's Hot Cup Friday night to blast some killer Afrobeat. Last time I saw Afromassive they filled the huge stage at the KBR with a line of horns, many percussionists and some seriously funky dudes from various local outfits, all of them laying into tunes from the Fela Kuti songbook or similar fare creating a really big, really funky sound. Incidentally, this is the second Muddy show that night: Touring Americana-ish songwriters Mike Press (from San Diego) and Jeremy Moses Curtis (from Rhode Island) play earlier.

Also at Muddy's, a Tuesday, Nov. 20, show featuring Scottish singer/guitarist Alasdair Roberts, who plays something you might call alt. Celtic. The roots are evident, but his songs tend toward skewed dirges. He records for Drag City, and has worked with Jason Molina and Will Oldham, facts that mean little to the Celtic folks, but speak volumes to the alt. crowd. Also on the bill, Charalambides, one of those alt. guitar duos that came to town in the past to play with the Starving Weirdos.

Hey, turns out there is a band coming from Canada: Montreal noise rockers AIDS Wolf play a Wednesday, Thanksgiving eve show at the Vista with thelittlestillnotbigenough opening. You can get an idea where A-Wolf is coming from by studying their "9 Principals." The last one: No. 9. "Become the Weird Punks. Remember when punk was weird and when weird was punk. Destroy genre straight jackets and move out of the comfortable. Confrontation with norms and expectations is where the AIDS Wolf family is most at home."


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