Tim Sommer, while working for MTV in the ’90s, once described Athens as “red clay, all night parties, loud bands and cheap, cheap rents.” While housing prices have since skyrocketed, the local bands have kept the spirit of its famous music scene alive and kicking through their idiosyncratic sounds and inescapable energy.
The Asymptomatics opened Nuci’s Space Jam, a fall student-organized concert series, performing some of their most popular songs with a few unreleased tracks mixed in. The group began with the quirky “We’re Calling About Your Extended Warranty,” which through its screaming lyrics and clashing instrumentals allowed lead singer Maxwell Mahieu ample opportunity to flex his vocal range and superhuman stage presence. Mahieu had enough energy for all the other members combined, who seemed to loosen up toward the end of the set, but most of the lyrics were difficult to understand when Mahieu had to compete with his band to be heard.
The members often switched instruments, allowing each other to experiment with the toy box of maracas, guitars and tambourines. Instrumentally, the group sounded even better live than recorded, but Harris Greenbaum, the saxophonist for the night, was drowned out by the cacophony of music and seemed underutilized. I waited the whole set for Greenbaum to rip a killer Kenny G-esque solo and was utterly disappointed when it never came.
The highlight of the Asymptomatics’ set was the song “GTFO,” or “Gerald the Friendly Orangutan.” Cute, isn’t it? With hooting animal noises and a barrage of musical racket, the song perfectly encapsulates The Asymptomatics’ tongue-in-cheek, chaotic yet contagiously energizing spirit. Despite the band’s incredible energy and thrilling raunchiness, however, the crowd — which came out on a rainy Wednesday night in October — needed convincing to fully participate. At one point, music business students (with little success) had to wave the motionless pack of about 125 student-aged attendees closer to the stage. Call me a degenerate, but I’d vouch for a mosh pit at the Asymptomatics’ next gig.
The second act, Josh Bennett Band, had an easier time winning the crowd’s affection. The five members put on such a lively performance in their hour-long set that they were able to move the crowd from stock-still to a light sway. With a no-frills approach, Josh Bennett Band relied only on its musical talent and charisma to deliver a shockingly engaging show.
To attempt to categorize Josh Bennett Band into just one genre would be a difficult task for anybody, but it would also be a reductive way to think about the band’s Southern, bluesy yet metallic, folky yet hardcore style. The banjo, played by lead singer Josh Bennett, was an unexpectedly wicked companion to Chase Washington’s ability to pull a striking guitar solo seemingly out of thin air, such as in their songs “Endless Race” and “Dirty Blues.”
Josh Bennett Band is everything Luke Bryan wishes he could be: In a pair of sunglasses and work boots with mismatched socks, Bennett is younger, cooler and more authentic than all the big country stars of today.
Unlike the Asymptomatics, who seemed to crowd each other both musically and onstage, Josh Bennett Band struck a perfect balance of variety without congestion.
Although the crowd dwindled to less than half its original size by the time Josh Bennett Band completed its set, their last song, a “Superstition” cover, was arguably their best. All five members were dripping in sweat, but pulled out one more forceful, explosive anthem just to leave the crowd wanting more before the night ended. At just $5 a ticket, Nuci’s Space Jam — produced by students in the UGA Music Business Certificate program — showed that the Asymptomatics and Josh Bennett Band are well worth supporting, and both are emblems of today’s Athens music scene.
Josie Lipton is a fourth-year majoring in journalism and art history.
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