Catfish Haven at the "Live at the Brothel Music Festival"
Friday · East End Café
Catfish Haven guitarist George Hunter looks to his life to provide more than a little inspiration for his musical activities. As a child growing up in rural Southern Missouri, Hunter met his future bandmates — bassist Miguel Castillo and drummer Ryan Farnham — and in deference to the place where they all came of age together, Hunter eventually named his band after the trailer park where the trio lived. After a succession of basement Punk bands, the post-high school friends boxed up their lives and moved to Chicago in 2001 where Catfish Haven shimmered into existence.
As the band's sonic direction began to emerge in rehearsals and gigs, it was apparent that Hunter's songs were drawing on his old rural upbringing as much as his new urban exposure, a mixture of the band's passionate, punkish foundation and the newfound influences of a box of Soul and Rock albums given to Hunter by his father. The resulting hybrid has ultimately displayed the feel of long-lost Paul Weller/Jam demos, tossed with hints of Van Morrison and Otis Redding and reinforced by Hunter's honeyed-gravel voice — a raspy plea that suggests Paul Rogers with a Midwestern sensibility — as well as the sinewy swing of Castillo and Farnham.
Catfish Haven's self-recorded debut EP, Good Friends, was distributed around Chicago by the band until interest among indie labels was at a fever pitch, with Bloomington, Indiana's Secretly Canadian coming away with the contract. The band's debut for the label came early this year with the EP Please Come Back, a disc that was roundly praised for its soulful vibe and Rock & Roll heart. For Catfish Haven's full-length debut, Tell Me, Hunter once again draws on his life experience (in this case, a particularly painful break-up) as fuel for his creative engine and the trio once again creates an incredible song cycle of urgency, passion and conviction.
Catfish Haven's show Friday is a part of the three-day "Live at the Brothel" music festival at the East End Café, featuring numerous other touring and local bands. See Spill It, page 48, for more info.
The Melvins with Big Business and Ghostdigital
Monday · Top Cat's
Long before some wiseass media/label spud came up with the term "Stoner Rock," The Melvins were writing the sludgy songs that made the whole world nod and becoming legends in the process. What else can you call a band that used to count a pre-Nirvana Kurt Cobain as one of their roadies and Shirley Temple's daughter as a bassist?
The Melvins roared to life 22 years ago, when guitarist Buzz "King Buzzo" Osbourne and a couple of high school chums from Montesano, Wa., assembled to play Who/Hendrix covers, then switched to Hardcore Punk. Osbourne named the band after a despised co-worker at the grocery store where they worked. When the original drummer quit, Dale Crover joined and has been a Melvin ever since. Crover's friendship with Cobain resulted in a long relationship between the two bands (Crover drummed with Nirvana on demos and early tours, Osbourne steered friend Dave Grohl to join Nirvana and Cobain produced portions of The Melvins' major label debut, 1993's Houdini).
From the beginning, The Melvins have concentrated on a certain atmospheric sonic density in their presentation, sounding like Black Sabbath playing in a vat of honey. The band's penchant for experimenting with their sound and direction has led them through a succession of labels, including their three-album major-label tenure with Atlantic, a direct result of their ties to Nirvana. Through it all, Osbourne, Crover and a Spinal Tap-ish parade of bass players have been an uncompromising Punk/Metal force in music, influencing and challenging many, catering to none.
For their latest album, (A) Senile Animal (coming on the heels of Houdini Live, released earlier this year), and in the spirit of their constant quest for the edge, The Melvins have added second drummer Coady Willis and new bassist Jared Warren, both from the band Big Business. Two decades after Kurt Cobain humped equipment for them, The Melvins' legend continues to grow. (BB)
Tuesday · Taft Theatre
After nearly 25 years on the road and in the studio, Widespread Panic remains one of the shining lights of the Jam scene. Beginning as an acoustic duo with vocalist John Bell and guitarist Michael Houser during their early days at the University of Georgia in Athens, the band grew a member at a time over the next few years until the sextet was settled and complete (Bell, Houser, bassist Dave Schools, keyboardist John Hermann, percussionist Domingo Ortiz and drummer Todd Nance). The Panic's frequent appearances around Athens drew larger and more fervent crowds and the band finally documented their original songs in the studio with their 1987 debut, Space Wrangler.
As the band's base widened to the rest of Georgia and into the rest of the South and their reputation grew, they attracted the attention of Capricorn Records, who signed the Panic and released their eponymous sophomore album in 1991. WP really made a splash on the H.O.R.D.E. tours of the '90s, and they quickly parlayed their regional fame into national status through relentless gigging. Often spending eight to nine months a year on the road, Widespread Panic became one of the most popular bands on the Jam circuit, accruing a relatively large audience without the benefit of radio play or retail promotion. The band still holds a number of sellout records at venues around the country, including an astonishing 23 sold-out shows at Denver's Red Rocks and 20 more at San Francisco's Warfield Theatre.
A testament to the power of Widespread Panic as a live band is the fact that the band has released almost as many live albums (seven) as studio albums (nine). Certainly the band's darkest hour came with Michael Houser's unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing four years ago. Adhering to Houser's wishes, WP stayed together, finishing Houser's solo acoustic album, Door Harp, and bringing longtime friend of the band George McConnell into the Panic family. After three long touring years (that yielded four of the band's live releases), WP ended their studio drought with this past summer's excellent Earth to America. But in August, the band announced that McConnell would be departing to pursue other musical interests and would be supplanted with renowned session/touring guitarist Jimmy Herring, a great choice considering his impeccable resume (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Allman Brothers, The Codetalkers, The Dead).
Widespread Panic has persevered through adversity and tragedy for two-and-a-half decades; there's no reason to think they'll be stopping anytime soon. (BB)