Totally Slow, a Greensboro punk band of 2012 vintage, had launched into a bracing confection of sonic fury and vocal sincerity in the middle of the floor of Local Honey, Jay Bulluck’s downtown Greensboro salon, at 8 p.m. sharp.
The full lighting should have been a giveaway that it was a soundcheck, but even with a 9 p.m. start time and three bands relaying to the finish line before 11, the show made for a fairly punctual ritual of mature punk-rock communal entertainment. Considering the seasoned stature of many of the people in the scene — fellow musicians, grad students, web designers and community organizers, all with considerable adult commitments — the timeframe made sense. Add kids to the equation and it’s a relief to not have to wait until after midnight to see the headliner. As Totally Slow frontman Scott Hicks noted in Facebook updates in advance of the show: “Family friendly if you are a punk family,” and, “Kids should be fine, just make sure their ears are protected — things will get loud.”
The occasion — a release party for Totally Slow, with the Bronzed Chorus also backing a new album, and a pop-up performance for the sporadically active Trashettes — on Nov. 4 felt more like a backyard party full of old friends than a proper rock show. A merch table set up near the entrance holding a glass “honor bowl” with a suggested $5 donation bespoke the high level of trust and fluid line between performers and audience. This is a scene where no one has any illusions about making it big or getting rich. The economics are right-sized to the measure of the effort: the kind of folks you might bump into at the post office, writing songs, rehearsing, working hard to make music they love and sharing it with friends, asking for only enough in return to sustain the enterprise.
Bulluck greeted newcomers with a smile and a handshake.
“I’m not making any money off this,” he said. “I just want to support these guys. I’ll be selling their merch here, so I guess I’m giving people some exposure to it tonight. I’ll be here when people need to find a last-minute gift for Christmas. And maybe I’ll throw in a free record with a haircut.”
As venues go, the Nov. 4 triple bill was a rare event. The last time Local Honey hosted a show was on Valentine’s Day of 2015 with the defunct Daddy Issues headlining. So it was fitting that the opening act was the Trashettes, an edited version comprised of half of Daddy Issues, with Lindsey Sprague on guitar and Hannah Hawkins on drums. The band only performs a couple times a year, but radically upped their quotient by following their Greensboro performance with an appearance the following night at FemFest in Winston-Salem.
The Trashettes’ rudimentary but catchy songs — garage rock with a pop sheen — sound pretty close to what anyone reasonably familiar with Daddy Issues’ output would expect. Dressed in matching blond bouffant wigs, Sprague and Hawkins bashed out a winsome cave-lady stomp. Working through a set that included staples “Sucker Punch” and “Do the Wild Thing,” along with a tossed-off cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Hawkins matched Sprague’s minimalist rhythm guitar with a pared-down rig consisting of a tom and snare drum that she played standing up.
The Bronzed Chorus, a Greensboro duo that has been dazzling audiences for the better part of a decade with a varietal of instrumental kosmiche post-rock, performed its new album, the Sept. 23 release Summering, start to finish in sequence. The first song, “Don’t Go to the That Pool Party,” immediately established the band’s value proposition. Adam Joyce’s textured playing creates the illusion of a guitar orchestra, sounding both epically heavy and impressionistic at the same time, while Hunter Allen’s double-time drum workout endows the band’s performances with a kind of shamanic rigor.
Joyce and Allen are musicians’ musicians. There are no trappings, themes, narrative elements or costuming attached to the band, just two guys deeply invested in their music. Joyce approaches his instrument with a craftsmen’s concentration, fitting for someone who actually makes a living as a furniture maker, his one concession to the public responsibilities of his job being an appreciative wave in response to the audience’s applause. Allen tackles his part with utilitarian understatement, giving the impression of a NASCAR pit crew member breaking from his drumming only to take a quick swig from a water bottle or twist a knob on a keyboard.
Totally Slow played a surprising angle with their presentation of Bleed Out, the singularly excellent album they released on Sept. 16, opening their set with the reprise of the title track. Similar in feel to Loaded-era Velvet Underground song “Ocean,” “Bleed Out (Reprise)” is an atmospheric antidote to the loud and fast approach predominating on the rest of the album. In keeping with the communal feel of the night, the band accepted assistance from friends, including Sprague and producer Kris Hilbert, on a battery of augmenting instruments, including trumpet, keys and lap steel. Then the auxiliary musicians slipped back into the audience, leaving the band’s four core members to level the place.
As a band committed to honest, straight-ahead punk, Totally Slow could easily come off sounding derivative or even nostalgic; it can’t be easy to sound fresh in a genre that’s pushing 40 — roughly the same age as its members. Like good writing, good music often takes hard work to sound easy. In Totally Slow’s case, the propulsive sonic barrage of guitarists Scott Hicks and Chuck Johnson, bassist Greg Monroy and drummer Andy Foster works because their riffs imperceptibly change texture, thinning into a lean jangle and shifting with a strategically placed drum accent before re-coagulating in renewed ferocity. Other touches, like Monroy’s smart pop backing vocals and Hicks’ abbreviated, mercurial leads enhance the experience without diminishing any of its power.
The album and the band’s live performance both work as a thematically coherent body of music because of variations and surprises that create a transfixing experience. “Free Hugs,” a gently surging instrumental, gives the album room to breathe, providing a break in an otherwise relentlessly paced set. It also must be said that Bleed Out soars with some really good songs, like “BADBRX,” which opens with Hicks’ stoic, almost folky vocal and then leaps several octaves higher into near screaming as the band revs beneath him.
Music like this doesn’t happen every week in Greensboro.
“Don’t ask to play here, because you probably can’t,” Hicks said, after thanking Bulluck and Local Honey. “It’s a once-a-year kind of thing.”