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The WhigsThe Whigs
The Pulse is throwing a birthday party. Marking its 10th year as Chattanooga’s alternative newspaper, it will host a rock ‘n’ roll celebration at Rhythm & Brews at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 13, featuring four bands—The Whigs, The Bohannons, and a couple of great bands from the resurgent Muscle Shoals in Alabama. It promises to be a memorable evening of vintage rock—as befits a birthday bash for a local weekly created in 2003 by two young dreamers with barely a dime between them. Zach Cooper and Michael Kull started the paper because they believed Chattanooga was undergoing a renaissance and wanted to be part of it. And much of that renaissance has been fueled by the city’s passion for good music.
Headlining the show will be The Whigs, whose Who-flavored power pop anthem, “Rock and Roll Forever,” seems set to join the pantheon of songs celebrating the liberating impact of three chords and a yard of attitude. With its muscular chords, driving bass and pounding drums, it’s “a bratty little song,” said guitarist and singer Parker Gispert, whose snarling delivery gives it just the right touch of garage punk veracity. As he said in Rolling Stone interview last summer, “Obviously we’re a rock band, that’s what we do. That’s what I’ve done my entire adult life—driving around in vans, touring rock clubs, just playing in a rock band. So it makes sense to have a song about what you do and the kind of music that you love.”
It does make sense. And when what they do sounds like “Waiting,” another track on their current album, it’s clear that all that time spent listening and playing has paid off. It has the seething, barely contained energy of one of The Who’s early singles. “We talk about The Who a lot when we’re making songs, and …. I think bringing out the Keith Moon aspects in our drummer, Julian Dorio, is always good,” said Gispert. With the guitar and the bass locked into a staccato rhythm, drummer Dorio is free to play wildly wheeling patterns as Gispert sings against the beat before taking off on his own short, fiery solo. The song captures the fierce fire of those early records so well it sounds almost like a forgotten outake.
That’s how Gispert works; he doesn’t analyze the records he loves, but internalizes them. “I tend to tap into a vibe or an emotion that I’m hearing in a record,” he told me. “It makes me feel a particular way and I want to make something that makes me feel that way.” For him, rock and roll is simply “an attitude. It’s how you strike the instrument.” When he strikes one of those “Won’t Get Fooled Again” chords he embodies his belief that rock and roll is an ageless, open-ended, endlessly, joyously liberating force inviting everyone to sing along, “Aaaah, aaaah, aaaahhhh … rock and roll! For eeeever!”
Opening the show will be two bands representing the heady resurgence of Muscle Shoals. Renowned in the 1960s as the place where classic tracks by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge (and the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers) were produced, it has been undergoing a resurgence of late with the much-celebrated Drive-By Truckers, as well as Alabama Shakes and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit. And now St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Creating quite a stir in Birmingham—one blogger compared them to the Irish soul-shouters in Alan Parker’s love letter to the classic sounds of Memphis and Muscle Shoal in the 60s, “The Commitments”—they’ll be making their Chattanooga debut.
St. Paul and The Broken Bones’ lead singer, Paul Janeway, is a mild-mannered accounting major from the University of Alabama by day. But when he and his band take the stage at night, he turns into an uninhibited Wilson Pickett-style soul-shouter. “I am kind of a wild man on stage,” he told the Birmingham alt-weekly, Metro B. “Jesse and the other guys have to really stay on point while I am up to something stupid. We were playing a show at Bottletree (a club in Birmingham) one night, and I was dancing around doing my thing. For some reason I decided to stand on Jesse’s guitar amp and continue the dancing on the amp. Unfortunately, the amp toppled over. I fell on the stage and tore a ligament in my knee. I finished the show with a bad knee, but the next morning I was in so much pain I had to call someone to help me put my pants on. My father was really proud of me for that one.”