Live. Now.

Events and venues that are bringing it.

by John D

I find it helpful to listen to music when I write. It gives me inspiration and helps set the tone for the column. Sometimes this can be a bad idea (it is hard to write coherently when rocking out to Queens of the Stone Age or being assaulted by John Coltrane from his free-form period), but the album I am listening to right now seems to be a perfect fit.

The album? Norah Jones Broken Little Hearts. And before you roll your eyes, you have to give it a listen. The album, produced by and co-written with Brian Burton, a.k.a Dangermouse (who’s worked with Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells The Black Keys, and just about everyone else being talked about in music today), is the continuing evolution of Jones’ musical aesthetic, and it works. Burton seems to have a golden touch and does not stumble in his effort here. Give it a spin and see if you don’t catch yourself humming along at the first listen.

Now that I have set the mood, let’s talk about what will have already happened by the time you read this. First, The Hangout. In its third year, The Hangout’s lineups get stronger with each passing year, and with the Gulf of Mexico as your backdrop, it is hard not to enjoy the multitude of acts you will see. Second, Wilco at Sloss Furnace. All I can say here is you hear Wilco and either like them or you don’t, but either way, these guys are professionals and know how to put on a show. Finally, Secret Stages. This is the second year for Birmingham’s fledgling music festival, which brings 75 local, regional and national acts to Birmingham over the course of two days. The idea here is “discovery,” which is to say that you may not have heard of many of the bands, but the organizers think you should. The organizers, people who love music, are not trying to get rich here. They are trying to expand your (Birmingham’s) musical horizons. It is an interesting take on the festival idea (gone is the big budget and even bigger debt-ridden City Stages festival model). Secret Stages deserves to succeed, but as we all know, deserving and doing are worlds apart in the arts and cultural life of the Magic City.

The music venues in Birmingham are also experiencing changes. The Oak Mountain Amphitheater returns to its original name (no longer to bear the name of a certain wireless provider), and management is refocusing its energy on bringing back the amphitheater’s former glory. One hopes Oak Mountain will no longer be the mandatory venue for mid-level nostalgia acts but instead draw current acts that are moving from the clubs and music halls to the larger crowds that Oak Mountain can accommodate.

The much-lauded and nationally recognized Bottletree Cafe begins stage renovations along with some smaller renovations around the club (such as new outside signage). The stage will be larger, for the benefit of the bands, and taller, which will benefit the crowd. If you have seen a show at Bottletree and suffer from the affliction of hating crowds as I do, standing in the back of the club makes it very hard to see the performers. The stage additions are long in the making, but as a small business, it has been hard for the folks at Bottletree to make the capital commitment necessary for the renovations.

Under construction as we speak, just a block or so from the Birmingham Mountain Radio offices, is Birmingham’s newest music venue, the oddly named Iron City Live (it would make more sense if it were Magic City Live). Either way, it appears the group behind Iron City Live is sparing no expense on the build-out of the venue, as evidenced by the 15 to 30 construction workers visible as I head to lunch each day. The official address is 513 22nd Street South, but the building actually faces 22nd Street and also has a face on Sixth Avenue South. A large venue, Iron City Live will also serve food and is rumored to be able to accommodate 600 to 1400 people. Although I have spoken with several people “in the know,” none of the details I have heard so far are confirmed. One thing, unconfirmed mind you, is the ability for Iron City Live to record shows (in analog or digital formats) and provide the crowd with their own “keepsake” copies of the show they just saw. That, along with a state-of-the-art dedicated sound system, might make it an attractive venue for artists on the national level, and frankly it would be nice to not have to drive to Atlanta to catch certain shows.

Until next month, listen local and listen often. •

What to See.

Fitz and The Tantrums; hand-clapping hip-shaking revival of soul – WorkPlay 6/5

Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival; Something for EVERYONE, Manchester, TN 6/7- 6/10

Jason Isbell; former Drive By Trucker Isbell doesn’t worry about the rock-alt country label and distinction, he just makes good music – ASC 6/15

Counting Crows; touring after releasing an all-covers album, but the minute you hear “Mr. Jones” you start singing along – Tuscaloosa Amphitheater 6/28

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