ON THE MUSICAL RADAR
In 2011, the dreams and musical potential of new club/concert venue The Pyramid Scheme were huge. Many hoped it would become a sought-after destination for local bands, as well as national touring acts. As the club celebrates its two-year anniversary this month, many say that's precisely what happened. Staff and management "really take care to make sure the bands, local or touring, are treated with respect," says Jaymes Pyne of Grand Rapids noise rock band Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, which returns to The Pyramid Scheme April 9. "I can only imagine that most touring bands are leaving Grand Rapids and telling others about how great it is to play here, and that's enormously important for the local music scene. Almost any small-to mid-size venue in the city is a bar first and a venue second. But when you walk into the back room of The Pyramid Scheme, it's clear where their priorities are."
Pyne's brother/bandmate Jeremy said the club with a showroom capacity of 425 fills a void as a mid-size venue – attracting independent touring musicians which allows "local bands to jump onto those shows and open their music to people that have never had the opportunity to listen." Of course, as with any business in the music trade, it hasn't always been a smooth ride, although it's turned a profit. "The first two years have been a roller-coaster of ups and downs," said Tami VandenBerg. "We have had some hugely successful shows and we have had quite a few shows that have been poorly attended. My biggest surprise has been just how challenging and complicated it is to run a successful music venue. It is a constant balancing act. But overall, Grand Rapids has been very, very good to us." To commemorate its two-year anniversary, The Pyramid Scheme hosts the return of hip-hop's Dead Prez on April 27.
Weekly blues and jazz jams have come and gone in Grand Rapids over the years, but anytime local legend Jimmie Stagger gets involved, it's a sure bet audiences will listen and a who's who roster of West Michigan blues icons will drop by. Stagger, honored by WYCE-FM with a 2013 Legacy Award, recently kicked off a Sunday night blues jam at HopCat after owner Mark Sellers asked him to give it a try. "I'm excited about it," said Stagger, who hosts the sessions with a three-piece band; select musicians rotate in for a few songs at a time. It represents a return to Sunday jams at HopCat, which hosted drummer Randy Marsh's jazz for more than year before those sessions moved to SpeakEZ Lounge.
Even when the volume gets cranked up in rafter-rattling, heavy metal fashion, it's still all about the songs and hooks. That's what sets Deadwood Stone apart, evidenced by the Grand Rapids hard-rock band's first full-length studio CD, recorded over two years with David James at Double D Productions. It also helps to have blistering guitars, a full-throated lead singer and a thunderous rhythm section when navigating the soft-to-loud dynamics in this 10-track release from the four-year-old band. Singer Chris Phillips, guitarist Dave Droski, bassist Fred Droski and drummer Nate Bishop put passion into their product, which is likely why they've been tabbed to open for a host of national acts. Deadwood Stone hosts a CD-release show at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at The Intersection, with Uncommon Road, Bled Life, Society Kills and Gunship Radio ($5 advance, $7 day of show).
Balancing the sweet with the poignant, melancholy with atmospheric, Kalamazoo's Elisabeth Pixley-Fink has crafted a spellbindingly eclectic and lush Earthwork Music release propelled by grief at the death of a close friend and, as she puts it, "faith in life's persistence." With a vibe ranging from Regina Spektor to Feist to Tori Amos, the classically trained Pixley-Fink – who plays keyboards, guitar, "sycamore logs, jar and spoon" – calls on Ian Gorman and the Red Sea Pedestrians, Macpodz, Seth Bernard, Carolyn Koebel, Andru Bemis and others to help create the rich sounds on Bloodroot (recorded in a Kalamazoo home studio and Ann Arbor's Backseat Productions, co-produced by Patrick Carroll). It's a touching, triumphant solo debut, aided by a Kalamazoo Arts Council grant that also financed a music video for her compelling song, "Red Clover." Elisabeth Pixley-Fink stages a CD-release concert, with special guest Luke Winslow-King, at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at the Division Avenue Arts Collective, 115 S. Division Ave. ($7).
Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at localspins.com (Spins on Music), spotlighting artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live at News Talk 1340 AM.