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Millennium Music Conference Recap, Night Four
February 20, 2009 - Jim Price
The 13th annual Millennium Music Conference took place in the Harrisburg area this past weekend, February 12-15. This is a continuation of my reports from the event, concluding with Sunday night’s showcases.
The business portion of the conference concluded on Saturday; all that remained were three closing showcase events on Sunday night. One was an all-ages event at Championship in Lemoyne, and the other two were over-21 events at Molly Brannigan’s Irish Pub in downtown Harrisburg and Gullifty’s Underground in Camp Hill. I split the evening between the latter two.
Having heard their respective CD’s, I was already familiar with all three bands on the Molly Brannigan’s bill: 39 Goodbyes, Nate Myers & the Aces and Lakeherst.
A trio from Easton, 39 Goodbyes started the evening. Comprised of lead singer/guitarist Lorenzo Bubba, bassist Billy Voight and drummer Tim Walter; 39 Goodbyes performed a mixture of original song material and select covers. Their original songs introduced a hard-driving, melody-geared, modern pop-rock style with a slight nod to Live. Lorenzo exhibited a strong and passionate singing style with good intensity and range, and the band as a whole was tight and energetic. In addition to original songs such as “Letters In Audio,” “Lights Out” and “Gone Away;” 39 Goodbyes offered their own spins on songs by Dishwalla, Counting Crows, Don Henley, REO Speedwagon, and by audience request, a robust read of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” to end their set. But 39 Fingers didn’t merely cover this song material; they incorporated these covers with their own style and flavor, making for a consistent-sounding and flowing set. Applause from the Molly Brannigan’s crowd grew as 39 Fingers’ performance continued, and their enthusiastic delivery made a good first impression on me as well.
I was most anxious to see the second band on this bill, Harrisburg’s Nate Myers & the Aces; as the group’s latest CD, Persist, has been a frequent occupant of my CD player in recent weeks. Namesake Nate Myers sings lead vocals and wails on harmonica; flanked by Chris Purcell on guitar and vocals, Pete Netznik on bass and Mike Noll on drums. Rooted in blues, the CD showcased a blend of sounds ranging from delta-flavored blues to J. Geils-styled blues-based rock; and Nate Myers’ live show elevated several of these tunes to exciting heights. As he did on the CD, Myers displayed a strong and soulful voice and a gritty and passionate delivery on the harmonica, which further communicated his emotions on each song. He was also an entertainer as well, engaging the jubilant crowd with friendly banter between songs, and even pimping the other two bands’ CD’s before his own. Nate’s Aces were rock solid, backing Myers with tight and solid rhythms. Chris displayed a fiery and gritty voice on the J.Geils-flavored number from Persist, “Just Wait.” The group also performed “When Are You Coming Home,” “Please Forgive Me” and “The Untouchable” off Persist. The energy level between band and crowd escalated throughout the set; culminating in the feisty last number, “That’s What You Got,” which featured Nate joining Mike behind the drum kit for a percussion duel, before the song integrated portions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” and “Amazing Grace” to lead to its rousing finish and ecstatic rounds of applause. Nate Myers & the Aces delivered above and beyond my expectations; if Altoona ever gets another live blues venue going, I highly recommend bringing this band to town!
Left with the daunting task of following Nate Myers & the Aces was southeastern Pennsylvania-based indie rockers Lakeherst. Having heard their debut CD, Euan Aura, I was wondering how Lakeherst’s brand of exploratory, alternative-flavored rock would go over after what the Molly Brannigan’s crowd had just witnessed. Although a few of the most fervent Nate Myers fans departed the venue during Lakeherst’s set, a number of folks remained and gave Lakeherst supportive applause as the group introduced their unique sound. As they did on their CD, Lakeherst presented a variety of sonic textures through their performance, establishing various grooves and powering them with a crunchy finish. The tones of the songs ranged from vibrant to melancholy; Lakeherst did songs from the CD such as the title song “Euan Aura” and “Fall Back to Me (Foreign Flower),” and introduced some newer material as well. Singer Dan Gratton gave a focused, intensifying delivery on each song, and each band member stepped up the intensity on his respective instrument as each song progressed. The end result was a stirring performance that sold Lakeherst’s distinctive style and sound to this new Harrisburg audience.
With the Molly Brannigan’s showcase now concluded, I headed to Gullifty’s to catch the remainder of that venue’s showcase. I arrived as New York City’s Ionia was partly into their set. Four members strong, Ionia performed a hard, jarring brand of modern rock with a slight hint of an early U2 presence. Their tempo was generally faster and aggressive, with charging rhythms and a jangly guitar signature coloring the moods of the songs. Ionia did songs from their self-titled EP and other original numbers; the standout song during the portion of the set I saw was the slower-tempo, intensifying number “Gasoline Rainbow.” At least from what I saw, Ionia offered their own slant and sound, and I plan to listen to entire EP to discover more.
The final showcasing band of Millennium weekend was York’s Render. This turned out to be one of the most interesting and unpredictable bands I witnessed during Millennium weekend. Their style blended elements of Sonic Youth-styled alternative rock with Primus-styled precision, and Mike Patton/Fantomas unpredictability…in a nutshell, Render is one of those bands who throws out the rulebook and establishes their own parameters. Their sound was hard-driving and busy, never staying put in one place; varying chords and time signatures. This erratic soundscape was topped by manic frontman Crazy J, who offered a wildly expressive and intense vocal style combined with constant movement. Crazy J immersed himself in Render’s song material, often darting back and forth on the stage, crouching and laying down on the floor, and suddenly darting out onto the floor in front of the stage. Erratic and unpredictable as their sound was, Render still managed to house discernable melody lines within their compositions, and their execution was tight and powerful. Render defined their own rocking world over their 40-minute set, and proved they were in full control of that world. Their set provided a strong close to Millennium weekend.
As far as the success of this year’s Millennium, attendance appeared to be slightly down overall; not surprising, given the economy. Still, musicians are looking for ways to earn a living through their art, and a number were in attendance to learn strategies for surviving and even thriving during this period of uncertainty. As was established during some of the panel discussions I reported on earlier, the business models for music industry success have been turned upside down in recent years. If there was a central theme or message that came out of this year’s conference, it may have been that musicians and music-minded folks who can think outside the box and do the needed research and homework on marketing strategies, promotion, networking and operating their music enterprise as a business – may be best equipped to survive in this ever-changing music, economic and business climate.
Easton's 39 Fingers, kicking off the Sunday night showcase at Molly Brannigan's in downtown Harrisburg.