August 19, 2009: Carbon Leaf
Being from the West End area of Richmond’s suburb, Carbon Leaf is a big deal to a lot of people. The band started to get known just as my age group was looking for bands outside the scope of the corporate radio. With them living down the street from where we went to school, they were easy to latch onto. It only helped the process that they had a radically different sound than other bands at the time & that they even played a benefit concert for us. Keeping that in mind, when my friends & I heard there was a free concert on August 19th at Virginia Beach’s Neptune Park, it wasn’t the question of would we go, but who would drive?
Getting there early to get a good spot, it was nice to take in the sight of the venue before however many people showed up. It became apparent quickly why it was named Neptune Park as a gigantic statue of the Roman God loomed over the venue with his hand on a turtle, almost as if he was ready to throw it at the stage if the band sucked. Tents were already set up for food & charities and some people were already camped out. Interestingly, arriving there a bit early before we grabbed dinner, we got to hear some sound check going on as a guy belted out the lines to Green Day’s “Know Your Enemy.” I thought to myself, “Man, I hope someone doesn’t cover that tonight. If I wanted to listen to it, I could just turn on the radio.” The phrase “just turn on the radio” pretty much summed up the opening all-cover band, Vinyl Headlights. They started off hot with Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” but their set did not remain hot after that. From what I can remember, their set contained “Paralyzer, Sweet Child O’ Mine, All Summer Long, Boys Of Summer, Know Your Enemy, I Want You To Want Me,” & “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Now, it’s not that I think they did a bad job at any of these songs (except Know Your Enemy) and they were talented save the bassist who seemed more concerned about jumping around & throwing his hands up than playing. My problem was they really did just cover songs you can hear on the radio on any day. Had I listened to the radio driving up to the beach, I guarantee you I would have heard the entire set-list save one or two songs which begs the question, “Why?” Why construct your set-list around songs people can just listen to on the radio by the original artist? It’s not like they sounded better live by the band or got the crowd really moving too. Even more, as one of my friends said, why would you call yourself Vinyl Headlights and play stuff that’s not on vinyl? Lucky for them Neptune didn’t chuck that turtle at the stage.
Thankfully, their set went fast & after a long amount of stalling, Carbon Leaf took the stage and played for a little over ninety minutes. I’d have seen them before this summer at The National in Richmond so I knew what to expect going in. The band played what I would think is their usual set-list with the bulk of it split between material from their new album Nothing Rhymes With Woman (my pick as the number four album of the year so far) and their most popular album, Indian Summer. A couple songs here and there from other albums filled out the set-list, but the band knew to give the audience what they wanted to hear as well as promote their new album pretty well. They opened with the rocking tune “Indecision” which name-drops Virginia multiple times to the delight of the crowd. They couldn’t have picked a better opener in my eyes as it got the crowd pumping for the rest of the show and didn’t give away their best or most famous songs at first. Sound problems seemed to plague the band in the first half of the set as the lead guitar overpowered nearly everything for at least the first song and then the feedback monster reared its ugly head while the lead singer Barry Privett tried to play his penny whistle for “Desperation Song.” It obviously had an effect on the band’s demeanor too as Privett looked like he was about to smash his whistle on the ground multiple times. Like pros though, they overcame the frustration as Privett seemed to go overboard while having fun to the next tune “X-Ray.”
Throughout all of this, the crowd stayed exuberant & literally hanged on every note whether it was from Privett’s mouth or from Carter Gravatt’s guitar. As to how many people were there, I couldn’t even fathom a guess to be honest. Standing in the front by the guardrails and looking back, all I could see was a sea of people and with it being an open venue, I’m sure the crowd went back into the beach to some degree. Privett mentioned the crowd being around a couple thousand at one point in the show and I’d have to say his guess was probably right. Moving on with the set though, the band also brought out talented singer Rianna Pellino to sing two songs she helped with on the new album and that also seemed to inject a new life into the band at that point in the concert. They continued on playing all their big hits like “Life Less Ordinary” before wrapping up with their breakout hit “The Boxer.” What followed could have been called from the start of the concert as they left the stage to the back as the crowed kept roaring away like Neptune’s waves. So after maybe thirty seconds of hanging out in the nice, air-conditioned room backstage, they came right back for an encore of “Let Your Troubles Roll By” which is what they closed with at The National. In my opinion, this is exactly what they should close with for every show. It’s such a good note to go out on and a tune they can manipulate from three minutes to ten if need be. Helping to cap of the night properly were fireworks going off from down the beach somewhere towards the end of the jam which certainly illustrated how Carbon Leaf’s performance went.
After grabbing some drinks from a local gas station since I was melting by this point, we got to talk to some of the band members and by talk, I really do mean talk. Sure, my friends got them to sign the set-lists they snagged, but they also sat there and talked to us for a while. Guitarist Terry Clark reflected on about their run-in with The Jonas Brother’s tour bus and about his home in the West End of Richmond literally a five minute walk from where we live. Drummer Jason Neal chatted to us about how they pick covers as well as some of his favorite shows. Gravatt then talked to us for a long time about everything from the band’s placement in the new Curious George film to a Poughkeepsie show I had listened to on a leak. I know it’s common place to talk to a lot of bands after the concert and get autographs, but the fact that we actually had conversations with them instead of just “here, sign this” really stuck with me. After talking to them for what seemed like a half-hour, we all hit the highway for a long ride back after a great show.
And it was just that: a great show. Did it go on without a hitch? Not at all. I already mentioned the sound problems and the band also seemed crunched for time at different points in the show. Hell, we could see on their set-list that they were going to play “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith after “Let Your Troubles Roll By,” but I think the sponsors had probably told them to keep the show to as close as ten as possible. For these reasons, I’d have to say The National was a better show, but that’s not an insult at all. Most people I talked to said The National concert was the best they’ve ever seen from the band and it’d be pretty hard to top that. It’s not like the band gave anything less here either which is saying a lot as it was just a free show. They could have easily phoned it in and not get soaked in sweat from the August weather. In the end though, the band performed with their signature eclectic electricity that I’ve come to love and the crowd literally just immersed themselves in whatever the band did, even if it was kicking beach balls into people’s heads.