Music » Music Stories & Interviews

Our music columnist gets down to the Business, Johnny Marr and Angel Olsen

This Little Underground

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That most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, was stormed this year by a little British invasion. But, at least with regard to the Business concert (Nov. 27, Will’s Pub), we kept our own spice.

The Beat

How did you work up a turkey appetite? Me, I was out with the boot boys the night before, downing beers and knocking heads. And though the Business is as English as it gets (unfortunately prompting lots of really bad British accents from the assembly), this is Florida, and their first-wave Oi! call was answered loudly here by Latino skins (a significant improvement from the bonehead scene that permeated Orlando when I was coming up). And when the Business hit the stage, the party got nice and old-school rough.

The area openers I caught were the Rawtones, whose anthemic brand of hearty street punk could’ve easily come from Boston instead of Melbourne, and Orlando’s Moral Decline, who do clean and thrashy hardcore with some guitar heroics, if you like that sort of thing in your punk rock.

Now the Business may be heroes in their genre, but Johnny Marr (Nov. 25, the Beacham) is English royalty when it comes to contemporary music in general. No doubt, the guy’s got hall-of-fame cred. But none of those laurels were earned on his own. The legendary Smiths guitarist has done time with star groups (like Electronic and the The), done good guest work (Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Talking Heads, etc.) and even rode with hip youngsters (Modest Mouse, the Cribs). But having made nary a dent solo, poor fucker is perhaps indie rock’s greatest second fiddle. Maybe that’s why he waited one whole song into his Orlando performance before dropping a Smiths smash (“Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before”). However, against all odds and history, Marr made a notably good record this year with The Messenger.


Click to see photos from Johnny Marr's show at the Beacham.

His set was joyously stocked with Smiths classics, answering the indie fan’s what-if proposition of how the band would sound with the trade-out of losing Morrissey’s iconic voice to be spared his overwrought drama (a bit flat, actually). Marr and band even played Electronic’s “Getting Away With It.” But for all Marr’s relatively unremarkable singing, the concert was really quite good. What is remarkable is that his performance had much more vitality than the washed-up throwback reunion vibe it could’ve been. And, these days, that’s something most of his peers can’t claim.

Although comprised of only two guitarists and no rhythm section, the voice and ringing songs of Massachusetts opener Meredith Sheldon (aka Alamar) fared pretty well with such a stripped setup, the rawness capturing a lot of the passion of her alt-pop songs and acting as a good foil to her clear, elegant vocals. They were occasionally flawed and a bit too wet with reverb to fully honor her melodic ability, but it was an effective enough sample for opening duties.

Nostalgia-laced indie-folk Midwesterner Angel Olsen (Nov. 30, Will’s Pub) – whose credits include the Cairo Gang and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and who will be releasing her next album on respectable indie house Jagjaguwar in February – is one of those singers who bears her vocal imperfection as a signature, a mark of character. My personal list of favorite singers abounds with unorthodox vocalists. And perhaps you’ve been able to glean this from my tastes, but perfection in music, to me, is very secondary to idea. But the best unconventional singers land in the right places. Even if they’re places never before imagined, they immediately feel right. Others, however, are acquired tastes. Perhaps Olsen is one of them. Or perhaps she’s just a little off. Right now, it’s not entirely clear whether she’s letting her freak flag fly with her oddly bent singing or just in transition with her vocal evolution.

But Olsen’s recent solo performance, which mostly stayed in a zone that flattered her singing virtues and didn’t push the acrobatics too far out there, affirmed some promising things about her. She’s a memorable songwriter and a sometimes-captivating singer who handles her own melodic sweetness with interesting subversion. And even with the above questions looming, that makes her worth watching.

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