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Morgan of The Pines, North By North, and Rigor Morris at The Radio Room

Sometimes you go into a show expecting a certain thing and your expectations are completely blown. It’s not that I expected a mediocre show and got a great one. Listening to the three bands scheduled to play at The Radio Room in Greenville for a few days in my headphones before the show assured me that I was going to be enjoying some talented live performances from some talented musicians. What I didn’t expect was the amount of joyful energy that exploded from the stage that night.

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Two of the bands, Morgan of The Pines (from Greenville, SC) and Rigor Morris (from Simpsonville, SC), fall into the gothic genre in music and theme. Goth can be phase that bands go through, and goth itself can be trite.

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These two are neither. Their style and sound is more in the genre of the Southern Gothic. When I first listened to Morgan of The Pine’s 2015 album New Blood, it immediately struck me as being capable of filling in for the soundtrack to a Southern Gothic novel. Perhaps as a score to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying or Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, but that didn’t seem quite right. After reading Morgan of The Pine’s facebook page and discovering one of lead singer/guitarist Rex Atkins’ influences as being Cormac McCarthy it all fell into place. That’s what New Blood sounded like: the soundtrack to The Orchard Keeper or Child of God or After Dark. Dark and moody stuff to be sure. I had a similar reaction to Rigor Morris’ sound, which I discovered through their bandcamp page.

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Moody piano melodies and mauldin themes graced their hauntingly beautiful compositions, and were punctuated by the ever odd sounds of a therimine. Both bands would definitely be interesting live, and most likely quite dark and perhaps a bit mournful.

North By North, (Chicago, IL) not exactly in contrast, but perhaps in a different vein, were just as interesting in my headphones as both Morgan and Rigor.

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More hard rocking and straightforwardly mainstream, they nonetheless build a quirky, mystical atmosphere in between the blazingly hard guitar licks and rollicking drums. Falling squarely into the early ‘naughts stripped down, Jack White pioneered guitar and drum sound, they nevertheless pioneer their own sound by mixing in daring keyboard melodies and riffs.

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Unfortunately, only founding members Nate Girard and Kendra Blank made the trip to The Radio Room so Kendra didn’t get to play keyboards for having to take the drummer role. Nevertheless, their performance was a sweaty, rollicking, and flat out exhilarating power/crunch rock performance that completely blew away the sparse, but passionate, crowd in attendance. Even though they played second behind Rigor Morris they set the tone for the evening with their energy.

“School nights suck!” laughed Kendra from the stage during North By North’s set. Again, while the crowd was sparse, it could not help but be engaged during North By North’s set, just as captively as it was during opener Rigor Morris’ set. Their bluesy, loud, and beautifully composed melodies drove the crowd to the stage and liberated them from their mid-weekday funk.

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The expectations that were to be blown started to explode with Rigor Morris’ set which was way more piano rock than gothic drone. I liked their live sound much better than their recorded one. The band that put their live and recorded sound together the best though in the live setting, and exploded my expectations most fully was Morgan of The Pines.

New Blood was a bit of an uneven, if compelling, album. The mixing of haunting acoustic guitar ballads and electric rockers, all squarely in the “Southern Gothic Folk” genre that Atkins declared their sound to be from the stage, made for a, at times, frustrating experience, from a sequencing standpoint listen.

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With their sound stripped down to acoustic guitar, upright bass, and pedal steel arrangement, every song became a fluid masterpiece of compositional listening though. Atkins’ Jim Morrison-esque howl and high energy riffing, coupled with his and his band’s stage presence and musicianship made for a performance that crossed genres between rock and folk and took both to new and interesting realms.

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Gothic, Southern Gothic, mauldin, melodic, and quirky.  Morgan of The Pines, North By North, and Rigor Morris were, and are, all that, but live they are something much, much more. They are ecstatically joyous. Perhaps that’s their secret weapon. Perhaps that’s just the natural mystic power of live music. Either way, that Wednesday night at The Radio Room was a joyous one shared by a fit, though few, audience that should have been much larger.

Carolina's based writer/journalist Andy Frisk love music, and writing, and when he gets to intermingle the two he feels most alive. Covering concerts and albums by both local and national acts, Andy strives to make the world a better place and prove Gen X really can still save the world.

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