Local favorite Morningbell hits Atlantic

Published: Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 12:08 p.m.

In Gainesville, we don't have rock stars. We have wannabes and imitators. We have those who never ask for a spotlight, who prefer the comfort of a house party or a silent bedroom, and we have those who ask to shine it front and center, brighter and brighter. But we don't have rock stars.

Every so often some artist or a band will come close. They will garner whispers when seen in Flaco's at 1 a.m., or a double take when seen in Satellite or Insite magazine.

They'll draw a packed house at Common Grounds for a hometown gig and they can probably hold their own across state lines. Often words like Bonnaroo and MTV aren't in the vocabulary of a Gainesville band, unless you are Morningbell, one of those bands that at this moment is as close as we get to rock stars.

Over the years, Morningbell has been the most recognizable name in Gainesville music. Their albums rank among the top in the Sun and Gainesvillebands.com's "best of" lists, they have played every venue countless times and even built a Clark Kent-like alter ego in The Shoddy Beatles. Only recently has their local fame blipped lightly on the national radar.

The group shared a stage at Bonnaroo last summer with Solomon Burke and Broken Social Scene and appeared in MTV's Real World, Blender Magazine and The Washington Post.

It's only fitting that Morningbell are the torch-bearers for the biggest music weekend in early 2009 in which over 60 bands will take the stage.

On Friday at The Atlantic, they will headline a show with The Quadrophones, one of Gainesville's best neo-pop bands. The spectacle is clear, though. People will come to see our town's best talent and our town's most prominent musical fixture.

Morningbell remains firmly entrenched in the indie-sound, while exploring the best parts of every genre - from McCartney-esque pop to psychedelia to modern country by way of Weather Channel jams. If you can't check them out Friday, then make your best effort to see them Tuesday night at Common Grounds.

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If organic indie-rock isn't your bag, Oh Fortuna can synthesize your world Saturday at Common Grounds. It's difficult to say whether Oh Fortuna is better known for their electronic epics or the seemingly arbitrary number of members that they trot out on stage. They are a band whose membership is constantly growing but their sound is still rooted in a mixture of synthesized looped beats and choral vocal work.

The incorporation of traditional instruments like violin, accordion and mandolin are sometimes bullied by the artificial noise they use to create their backdrops. Few may understand Oh Fortuna's style and message (togetherness, love conquers all) and that plays nicely into their moments of crescendoing, electro-pop genius.

Fans of The Polyphonic Spree and late Flaming Lips will enjoy this band, just don't expect to hear everything you see. They will play with Umoja Orchestra.

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Friday night at Common Grounds, local singer/songwriter and former Big Sky lead singer, Mark Gaignard, will play with his backing band The Also Ran. He is a power-pop artist with the occasional twist of baroque. At his best he channels the early-'90s band Jellyfish, and excels in more upbeat songs like "Parade" from his album "We All Need Lies." His lyricism weakens on ballads like "One by One by One," but again he will likely base his show on his catchier, fast-paced work.

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For a more outlandish option, world music fans can head to Common Grounds on Sunday to close out the weekend with the Chicago Afrobeat Project. According to a press release, Chicago Afrobeat Project emerged from an industrial, urban Chicago art community and established themselves as leaders of the non-traditionalist side of the Afro-beat movement.

Typically I associate Afro-beat music most with Cuban Afro-beat because of my Cuban-American heritage, but this band exemplifies a more West-African approach mixed with experimental elements Afro-American art forms like jazz, funk and blues. Gainesville is beginning to develop a taste for alternative world music and Chicago Afrobeat project should fit in nicely.

Unlike the Gainesville Afro-beat veterans Spam All-Stars, they are all soloists in some form and use percussion and a full horn section to drive their songs instead of DJ mixed beats. It's more of a jam sound than a danceable one, but it's still genuine to the genre.

Accompanying the Chicagoans will be the Lower 13th Street Jazz Band.

Other notable shows for the week are The Blue Caimans' CD release show with The TJ Kelly Band and Wait Wait at Backstage Lounge on Saturday and Badge's CD release show at Tim and Terry's also on Saturday.

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