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Rocking the Radio Room: TC Costello, Black Iron Gathering, The Menders, Drumnado

Ever see “Holiday In Cambodia” covered by a dude in a kilt playing an accordion? Or a four drum kit act? Or the best folk-punk this side of The Dropkick Murphys? I did, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of it.

I’d have been damned if I was going to sit at home on a rare Saturday night off work without seeing some live music like I was originally planning to do. BRMC was supposed to play a show at the Fillmore, and I was supposed to be covering it, but the band came down with the flu so the show was rescheduled to May 9th. There would have to be a show somewhere in the Charlotte or Upstate SC area that would satisfy my desire for a rocking night out with the wife. A quick search on my iPhone’s “Local” app and I came across a show scheduled at The Radio Room in my hometown of Greenville, SC featuring TC Costello, Black Iron Gathering, The Menders, and Drumnado. I’d heard of The Menders, but none of the others. It was enough to get my moping ass out of bed, get the wife ready, and hit a few local fun spots before the heading out to the show. Turned out, and I mean no disrespect and hope BRMC get well soon, I ended up pretty freakin’ happy the band I was originally scheduled to cover got sick.

Knowing a little about The Menders, and after spending the whole afternoon listening to their and Black Iron Gathering’s iTunes and ReverbNation available offerings, I was pretty stoked to finally be getting around to seeing The Menders live and discovering more about BIG.

The Menders’ sound is a brilliant mixture of outlaw country, folky melodies, and hard rock coated in the glee and gloom patina that lingers on every work of art created in the Deep American South from Faulkner’s novels to every song by Ryan Adams. The obvious headliner of the evening’s set, they were everything I envisioned they would be live. Accomplished musicians all, with multiple lead vocal rotations, their performance was a mix of chosen genre bending tracks as smartly sequenced as their albums are. Two particular highlights of their performance were “End of The World” and “Howlin’ At The Moon” (which closed out their set) and both come from their latest album Nina.

The band’s secret live weapon though, much like Flea is for the RHCP, is guitarist Wes Forbus. Every one of the band’s members is an accomplished and captivating live performer, but Wes just has that crazy punk energy that really gets the crowd going. He’s also one hell of a nice guy, as I found out after the show when he hung out and chatted with me before Drumnado hit the stage. The whole band seemed to have a special energy about them that night though as bassist Garin Hyde rejoined the band after a brief absence to be with his mother who is suffering from cancer. Garin lead the crowd in a chant of heartfelt support for his “Mama Dukes,” where I, along with all of us here at Shutter16 in spirit, joined in to wish Gavin and his mother the best at this difficult time. Garin played with a joy and humor that was nothing short of celebratory and full of life from the very outset of the band’s performance, and it became even more inspiring after learning about his situation later in The Menders’ set.

As great as The Menders were live, it was Black Iron Gathering that really took the entire evening to another level, for me at least. How awesome is it that we live a world of connectivity and digital discovery that allows us to find a show worth seeing, then look up the bands playing, then stream their music immediately, then go out and see them live ALL IN THE SAME DAY?

There is nothing more invigorating than discovering a band, streaming their music, and then seeing them live. Doing it all within 24 hours is nothing short of amazing. This is what happened between BIG and myself that Saturday. I ended up discovering a great band with a phenomenal live presence that has me as hungry to see them live again as I am to Jaggermouth every time they play.

“Full speed Celto-folk punk rock” is pretty much both the perfect and absolutely imperfect way to describe BIG. Another rather imperfectly perfect way to describe their sound is as “The Dropkick Murphys without the bagpipes.” Honestly though, I’m going to settle on fast, furious, and folky punk. BIG really do bring to mind The Dropkick Murphys, but they strike their own path musically which sets them within the same genre-scape as The Murphys, but with enough of their own personality and energy that would allow them to open for The Murphys without overloading the crowd with too much Celt-punk. This comes from their obvious slant towards bluegrass in their songs, which is itself a descendent of Celtic music, which in turn adds a Southern sound to their music that is absent from The Murphys’ sound.

Plus, BIG’s music is faster than even The Murphys’. It’s was the emotional elevation in their live performance and lyrics, as well as singer Billy Ray’s delivery, that really sets them apart and makes them something special to behold. Their latest offering, “Heart Song,” proved to be a showstopper for them and easily highlighted everything that is great about Big Iron Gathering.  

Rounding out the evening were two eclectic and art leaning acts: TC Costello and Drumnado. Costello opened the evening with his accordion originals and an awesome cover of The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia” and Drumnado closed out the evening, in what felt almost like an after party type performance, by causing a small, localized seismic event.

Drumnado, comprised of Jared Burger (Hugger Mugger), Drew McConnell, Troy Wolf, Tom Goss (Shit Karate), Lin Young, and Brandon Wooten, is a four drum kit, electric guitar, electric kazoo, and saw and bow (yeah, you read that right) performance piece that makes a rhythm and drone sound that you’ve probably never heard the likes of before. I seriously doubt that you’d see something as interesting, and well thought out artistically and musically, at a BRMC after party show.

I still love and plan to see BRMC on the May 9th reschedule date, but sometimes a butterfly flaps its wings on the Serengeti, etc. etc. and you end up at a show that really introduces you something new and you’re better off for getting up and shaking off the cancelled show blues and making the best of it. Again, with all the musical talent in the region, there’s more than enough great live music to choose from on any given night. To a list including phenomenal local/regional acts like Venus Invictus, JaggerMouth, Michael Tracy, Pam Taylor, and Stella Rising, I can now add The Menders and Black Iron Gathering to my list of must sees… all thanks to a case of the flu.

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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