Big ambitions arise from house-show scene

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by Jordan Green

The bill shared by T0W3RS, Daddy Issues and the Three Brained Robot at a house show in Greensboro provided evidence of a new symbiosis in the North Carolina music scene, with the Triad finally finding its gear between the strong poles of Asheville and the Triangle.

It’s thanks to the Tills, an Asheville garage band signed to Winston-Salem-based Phuzz Records, that Daddy Issues sprang to life eight months ago for a bar show in Greensboro. And Phuzz label mate T0W3RS — based in Chapel Hill and en route to Asheville for a show — wound up making his Greensboro debut as a result of snagging a fill-in date.

Daddy Issues, an all-female garage-punk band, formed in January so that they could open for their friends, the Tills, at New York Pizza. They played all of five numbers, lead guitarist Lindsey Sprague recalled. Over the ensuing months, the band has gained notice across the state thanks to a batch of songs that smartly marry melody and ragged inspiration, an instantly graspable concept and uncanny knack for networking.

Derek Torres, as T0W3RS, has been gathering acclaim over the past year after shedding his band and transforming into a mesmerizing solo performer. His use of pre-recorded instrumental tracks affords him the freedom to seize ahold of songs in live performance through a fulsome velvety tenor and grand gestures to match. He dazzled audiences at Phuzz Phest in Winston-Salem in March, and more recently at Hopscotch in Raleigh.

T0W3RS’ forthcoming CD TL;DR, with material that has been receiving a live workout over the past year, promises to be a major leap forward for the artist when it’s released on Nov. 11. Daddy Issues is also making moves, having recently recorded a four-song EP with Kris Hilbert at Legitimate Business and working up a small tour of the Southeast in October.

The proceedings started about an hour after schedule with a set by Greensboro-based Sam Martin as Three Brained Robot in the dining room of a spacious bungalow known as the Hellraiser Haus on the fringe of downtown. Clots of newcomers drifted into the house and huddled around the performers throughout the evening, spilling out onto the porch for cigarettes during breaks between sets. A handful of people maintained a vigil on the porch, prompting Martin to direct part of his performance through the front window.

Through a steady stream of appearances in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, Martin has developed a loyal following for his EDM-cum-performance art act, typically stripping down to sweat shorts during the course of a concert while psychotically raving over pre-recorded dance tracks. Outwardly confrontational, Martin’s show somehow has disarming quality that elicits laughter and encouragement from his audience. His use of fake blood for a rant about sweatshops was suitable for the venue. A dialogue with a prerecorded satanic voice offering suggestions on the “act” was greeted with hilarity.

Daddy Issues throttled into its set with attitude, skill and sheer energy. Their rudimentary playing gives them a unique sound that cohabitates elements of ’60s girl-group pop, garage and punk. On “Sex on the Beach,” Sprague’s chord progressions suggested the Velvet Underground stripped of ennui, while the loud, fast and melodic supercharge of the Misfits came through on “I Can’t Control This Feeling.” Madeline Putney’s propulsive bass and Hannah Hawkins’ locomotive drumming gave the rhythm section a lean, restless and hungry feel. Lauren Holt’s ordinarily winsome vocals were buried in the mix, but her melodic delivery carried through. Crackling mics and other acoustical challenges added to rather than detracted from the overall effect. Add the irreverent attitude and assertive sexuality (see “So Hard”) embodied by the band, and you have an instant impression.

The dual guitar attack by Sprague and Holt on the new “Babehammer,” recalling the Patti Smith Band at its most raw and joyful, was particularly delicious, and Sprague’s well-placed screams on the Pleasure Seekers’ ’60s Detroit garage classic “What a Way to Die” made the song sound current.

T0W3RS demonstrated how to create theatric staging with minimal props; he’s not only a one-man band, but also a one-man crew. Yellow and red floor lights crossed against each other creating warm lighting against a raised platform created from a road case. He changed into his customary tan suede jacket and billowy white shirt in the kitchen before beginning his set.

The tricky acoustics in the room seemed to throw him off at first and it took awhile for the audience-performer chemistry to gel, but by the end of the second song the crowd came through with enthusiastic applause.

T0W3RS’ music sounds almost as if a scientist were tasked with creating the most pleasurable sound possible through a synthesis of glam, disco and ’80s arena rock. What comes out is a streamlined groove that carries a through-line from Roxy Music to Duran Duran.

A consummate professional, he gave props to the other acts and excitedly related how he had told his girlfriend that a place called the Hellraiser Haus existed in Greensboro, adding, “This is a dream come true.”

His set built in strength, culminating in four songs that cinched the leave-’em-wanting-more principle, beginning with the sensuous “Elasticity” and leading into “The Situation,” a wistful confection of heartfelt synth-pop. As the set progressed, the uninhibited gyrating among members of the audience demonstrated one of the many virtues of a T0W3RS show — an ambisexual, communal, even spiritual atmosphere that, if only momentarily, erases caste and clique distinctions.

The populist, revolutionary “Ours,” a crowd favorite, did not fail to excite. T0W3RS’ cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” streamlined the song into a rapturous dance remix and boiled it down to its essential vocal phrasings, seducing the audience into a chanted call and response.

It was all right.