After closing its doors at 1913 Poplar Avenue back in February, Midtown music institution the Hi-Tone had a soft opening in early May at a new location at 412-414 N. Cleveland in the resurgent Crosstown Arts District. It has been hosting occasional shows in a smaller, secondary performance space for the past few months while work has been ongoing to convert the previously empty space into a full-time music venue.
Last Saturday night, however, the main room at the new venue was christened with a headline performance from recent Hi-Tone regulars Dead Soldiers, an increasingly impressive six-piece Southern rock and alt-country band.
First-time visitors to the new space, owned and operated by Jonathan Kiersky, encountered a slightly bigger stage and slightly larger and leaner main concert hall, with a bar to the side and bathroom and entrance at the opposite end from the Cleveland storefront. Even in a mostly full room on an August Memphis night, it was comfortable inside — unthinkable in the old space and a testament to the improved air-conditioning system at the new Hi-Tone. Parking was also much easier, with a full back lot, adjacent to the entrance, and additional spaces out front. (Not to mention the mammoth Sears Building lot across Cleveland.)
Construction was still ongoing. A proposed smoking lounge beside the main room had a bar, television, and couch, but it was still unfinished and was doubling as the band's green room. There's no signage out front as of yet. But the interior was functional, already more spacious and more user-friendly than the previous location.
Now, as Kiersky moves toward putting the finishing touches on the space, the club's bookings are again ramping up, starting this weekend with the band that bid the old building adieu: the Oblivians, with the living-legend Memphis garage-punk trio playing their first local show since the release of their 16-years-in-coming reunion album Desperation. The Oblivians will play the club on Friday, August 9th. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $12.
After the Oblivians this weekend, Kiersky has about half a dozen shows booked for the rest of August, with bigger shows already lined up for September: Outlaw country icon Billy Joe Shaver (September 18th), roots fave Hayes Carll (September 19th), singer-songwriter James McMurtry (September 24th), and the return of the multi-day Gonerfest (starting September 25th). If the new location isn't broken in by Gonerfest time, that should pretty well do it.
Lucero's Little Rock Picnic
Memphis stalwarts Lucero take their annual "Family Picnic" big show to Little Rock's First Security Amphitheatre this weekend, on Saturday, August 10th. For the show, the band will be performing their second (or third) album, 2002's Tennessee, from front to back, along with a second set of "Lucero classics." Five hundred copies of the out-of-print Tennessee will be sold at the show. The musical undercard includes rockabilly icon Wanda Jackson, Little Rock artist John Moreland, and Lucero guitarist Brian Venable's local musician father, Guy Venable. Most interesting, perhaps, is a Q&A with Lucero frontman Ben Nichols' filmmaker brother Jeff Nichols, who has emerged as one of the most significant new filmmakers in the medium via his three features, Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and this year's Mud. Celebrity tattoo artist Oliver Peck (of Spike TV's Ink Master and owner of Dallas' well-known Elm Street Tattoo) is hosting the event and will give some fans Lucero logo tattoos. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets range from $27 to $47. You can find more info at luceromusic.com.
The band — which embarks on a European tour next month — also has new a four-song EP out, titled Texas & Tennessee. Produced by Cody Dickinson and recorded at the Dickinson family's Zebra Ranch Studio and self-released via the band's own Liberty & Lament Records imprint, it's a marking-time product in between last years' Women & Work and an as-yet-unstarted next full-length album. But it's a good one.
Sonically, it's a little softer and more acoustic-based than the band's recent norm, but it retains the soul touches Lucero has become increasingly adept at. The lead/title song references "Otis" and "Memphis soul," and the song "Breathless Love" represents the band's attempt to live up to that mantle, blending Stax-style R&B and swamp rock while highlighting, in succession, the band's two-man horn section (Jim Spake and Scott Thompson), Rick Steff's piano, and Ben Nichols' vocals. After three new songs, the EP concludes with a rollicking leftover ("Other Side of Lonesome") from the band's 2009 album 1372 Overton Park, built on bluesy guitar and accordion interplay.
Sunflower Blues Festival
The annual Sunflower Blues Festival, in Delta blues capital Clarksdale, Mississippi, is back this weekend, running from Friday, August 9th, through Sunday, August 11th. The Friday night headliner is chitlin circuit legend Bobby Rush (9:30 p.m.). Saturday, the acoustic day stage will include Robert Belfour (9:45 a.m.) and Shardé Thomas & the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band (1:30 p.m.) before a nighttime main-stage lineup that will conclude with the North Mississippi Allstars at 10 p.m. Sunday, the festival takes a gospel turn for most of the day but will also include Stax Music Academy performers at 8:30 p.m. For a full schedule and more info, see sunflowerfest.org.
Valerie June Debuts
After more than a decade poking around the margins of the Memphis music scene, a "best kept secret" gets all the way out with the Tuesday, August 13th, U.S. release of idiosyncratic roots/folk singer Valerie June's 11-track debut album, Pushin' Against a Stone, on the venerable Concord label. The album was recorded primarily in Nashville and Los Angeles under the direction of heavyweight producers Kevin Augunas and Dan Auerbach. June has been conquering Europe since the album's overseas release earlier in the year. With this release, she's getting quite a homecoming. You can preview the album this week via a "First Listen" at npr.org, where the stream is accompanied by a rave review from critic Ann Powers. We'll have a lot more on June's breakout in next week's Flyer.