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Soundbites: The Autumn Defense, The Radiator, James Kolchalka Superstar, The Zambonis

Not too long ago we ran a letter from an impassioned music fan named Matt Bushlow, who wondered why he hadn't read any live music reports in Seven Days lately. We figured that, since his missive was so spiffy, he might wanna whip one up for us. The following is his review of last week's concert with The Autumn Defense at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. Look for items from other guest contributors in the coming weeks.

Pat Sansone and John Stirratt, a.k.a. The Autumn Defense, channel sunbleached summer romance and earnest heartbreak into 4-minute pop songs that are the aural equivalent of faded, soft-focus photos from the early '70s. You know, the kind you might find in your folks' photo albums if you happened to have been conceived on a free-spirited California road trip.

It's somewhat unfair to reference Stirratt and Sansone's other group when writing about TAD (they're both full-time members of Wilco), but it's both inevitable and appropriate. Like their regular boss Jeff Tweedy, these guys have an uncanny ear for harmony and pretty songwriting. Still, there was something missing from their March 22 performance at HG.

Most of TAD's songs are warm and yearning, featuring acoustic guitars, lush arrangements and easygoing grooves. The blend works well in controlled doses, such as on the bossa-nova soft rock of "Canyon Arrow" or the slow burner "Where You Are," during which Sansone moved from guitar to piano and crooned away. But after a while the show began to feel like a self-conscious genre exercise.

Actually, TAD's music is a lot like Sansone's haircut: meticulously arranged, perfectly styled and nearly flawless. Maybe too flawless. You want to buy this band's T-shirts because the design is so good; their CD packaging is luxurious, and musically they're seasoned and professional. Not a lock out of place, but few chances taken. Perhaps that's fine. I'm not saying these guys have to play anything other than what they do. Sansone and Stirratt are both gifted pop writers and performers; they've chosen their path and they make beautiful music together.

But for all their fine songcraft, the feeling of real sorrow and longing was somehow absent. Sure, there were fleeting moments when they communicated some depth of emotion, but it hardly seemed enough.

Even the sweetest stories need a sour turn or two to hold your attention. Sansone and Stirratt would do well to learn a few more of Tweedy's tricks: a crack of the voice, a tumble off the wagon. After all, no one is sunny or dreamy all the time - no matter what the pop songs would have you believe.

MATT BUSHLOW

STRANGE TRANSMISSIONS

A super-freaky music event is set to take place this Saturday at Burlington's Factory Studio on 208 Flynn Ave., featuring a bunch of acts you no doubt already know and love. The show is for a good cause, too - it's a fundraiser for the Queen City's long-gestating, low-power community radio station, "The Radiator."

Though it's taken time to get up and running, it looks like the station is almost "fully operational," to quote Star Wars' creepy Emperor. Or so claims organizer and Radio Bean proprietor Lee Anderson. "We've already got the antenna and transmitter," he says. "This show is to raise funds for an in-studio computer." But which variety? Mac vs. PC - the ancient rivalry continues.

The concert also serves as a CD release party for Anderson's heavy-as-hell shock-blues outfit, Cccome? (see review on page 15B). They'll share the stage with plenty of other local talent, including Activists/Dictators, Anna Pardenik, Sons of Dawn, El Paso, The 78s, The Cripples and Tell No One. If that lineup doesn't rock you silly, nothing will.

Showtime is at 9 p.m.; tickets are $10. See you there?

KIDS WANNA ROCK

Sunday is traditionally a family day, a time to relax and kick it with your closest peeps. But if you've got children, you know that it's often tough to keep 'em entertained while you battle the Times crossword puzzle. So why not take a breather and catch a kid-friendly musical matinee with James Kochalka Superstar and The Zambonis?

The two bands will rock the tots at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge on April 1. That's right, it's April Fools' Day - the perfect time to get a little wacky.

Kochalka recently released an online album geared toward young 'uns. Called Why Is the Sky Blue?, the record collects JKS' non-pottymouthed numbers, of which there are a surprising few. If you wanna sing along at the show, you should probably download it from iTunes. Like, right now.

The Zambonis perform songs exclusively about hockey. And they've yet to run out of material, which frankly blows my mind. Though the real-life sport can get pretty violent, The Zambonis have promised to keep it clean in the "rink." Here's a cool bit of news about the group: One of their ditties, "I Wanna Drive the Zamboni," will appear on the soundtrack to Blades of Glory, an upcoming skate-comedy flick starring Will Ferrell.

The HG show costs $8 advance, $10 day of show. Puck drop is at 1 p.m.

And maybe the older kids can stick around for the hardcore and metal showcase that gets under way at 6 p.m. It, too, is all-ages, but hardly soft 'n' fuzzy. Appearing on the bill are loudsters Blinded By Rage, A Vicious Cycle, Beyond These Walls, Half Past Human and Brother Through Glass. I betcha none of those dudes do crosswords, but they no doubt scream a few. Visit http://www.HigherGroundMusic.com for more info.

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About The Author

Casey Rea

Casey Rea

Bio:
Casey Rea was the Seven Days music editor from 2004 until 2007. He won the 2005 John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.

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