A town’s music scene is complex and ephemeral. It takes a cooperation between artists, venues, audiences, and assorted business interests. Traditionally, in towns like Wilmington, a scene needs a center of gravity to coalesce around. Up until five years ago, that Center of Gravity was the Soapbox. The two-story multistage venue/laundromat/bar brought national touring acts and local bands side-by-side. With a stable venue, and a large audience, bands thrived in Wilmington -- there was a scene that was constantly evolving with the times, giving us great bands like He is Legend, Museum Mouth, Astro Cowboy, and many, many others. But then, in 2013, the Soapbox closed down. Being there on one of its last nights, I can say that there was a feeling of uncertainty pervading the air -- where would the scene go from there?
Five years later, I walked into Modern Legend to see some newer local bands, as well as some old friends (Raleigh’s Ghostt Bllonde, friends from back in my band days), and I felt that powerful confluence of audience, artists, and venue in which a music scene thrives. You see, with the dissolving of the Soapbox (thereby eliminating the Center of Gravity), I assumed another singular, monolithic institution would need to be set up in order to accommodate the indie scene here in Wilmington. But what instead happened, is multiple little gravity wells were set up around town, from Bourgie Nights, to the resurgence of Reggie’s, to us downtown record shops (Including the aptly named Gravity Records). There didn’t have to be one center force to hold everything together, just a variety of places for eager young artists to sculpt their sounds and hone their stagecraft.
First up came Nonchalant Shotgun. Besides sporting a phonetically pleasing name, these three guys cooked up some very efficient, groovy surf-punk to please the ears as well. Focusing on tight rhythms and chugging baselines, complemented by bright guitar tones and occasional blues-tinged solos. For a band so early in their stages of development, it was a pleasant surprise to see an authentic musical vision already shining through. Though a more perfunctory performance, you get the sense that the band is one or two sets away from really opening up on stage, and that will be something to look forward to.
Next up on the roster, came the good ol’ boys in Ghostt Bllonde. Coming up out of the vibrant indie-rock scene of the Triangle, Ghostt Bllonde has had years to hone their Brit-pop meets surf-rock sound which proves to be ever-infectious. Driven by chugging power-pop chorus and staccato, danceable verses, Ghostt Bllonde may be the best landlocked beach band I’ve come across. Front man Kuzio’s powerful voice stood out despite the intentional grainy effect on his microphone, but his stage presence was by far the most magnetic part of the show. You can see the years of practice in how this band comfortable plays off each other on stage. Allowing for moments of embarrassing sincerity, awkward jokes, and then moments to laugh at the awkward jokes, followed by raucous songs of early-20’s life-lust with all the flailing and dancing Kuzio could physically pull off in the small space. It’s great to see this band back in a town they’ve grown up playing in.
Rounding out the night was The Snowmobiles, a curio of a band. Now look, it’s not that I’m jealous of the lead singer’s hair. Of course I’m fucking jealous of the lead singer’s hair. What really sets the band apart, however, is their joyful interplay of genres and instruments. At times sounding like an alt-country version of Mac Demarco’s slacker rock (And no, it doesn’t sound like Pavement’s “Range Life”, but you can definitely draw a line between the two), while other times resembling the shit-kicking rock n’ roll of bands like NC’s own Last Year’s Men or Detroit’s The Dirtbombs. The band knows how to use its multitude of players, and crafts songs that have a distinct feel and movement to them. Though this was my first experience with the band, I’m excited to hear what else they’re going to bring to the table. Also, goddamn that dude’s hair is magnificent.
Saturday night proved that a town doesn’t need one center of gravity for its music to thrive. I saw two newer local bands who have been crafting their own sounds and playing it eagerly to audiences all around town, and it’s showing. Seeing how well they fit as bookends to an older, more road-tested band making their return to Wilmington, it was clear that our town is experiencing a renaissance of talent, one that will happily fit along with Wilmington’s history of artistic and scenic evolution.
Photos by Haley Smith (@smaleyhaley)