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The Sights & Sounds Of Record Store Day At Criminal Records In Atlanta

I awoke on the morning of Record Store Day 2014 in the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, GA to the sound of excited voices milling around outside. In my AM fog, I briefly became perturbed at what I figured to be a band of the local homeless gentlemen and women that frequent the area congregating in the alley behind my apartment, huddled around the warming amber glow of a crack pipe. It was however, not a roving troupe of drug zombies, but a line around the block of excited folks eagerly clutching record totes and coffee cups while saying things like “B-Sides,” “180-gram,” and “German import.” In short: these were my people (the record buyers, not the drug zombies).

The Little Five Points area of the ATL is known for its alternative culture and the bohemian nature of many of its residents, and is the kind of place where you can find three independently owned and very cool record stores: Wax n’ Facts, Moods Music and Criminal Records (Each is rad in its own way, you should go immediately to their sites and empty your wallet). Criminal Records owner Eric Levin was one of the founding fathers of Record Store Day, so you’d expect quite a showing from the store…but this was something above and beyond. Nine (!!!) hours of live music, a “swag bag” with every purchase (t-shirt, coffee cup, record tote, button, sticker, free cds, awesome) and coffee discounts made for quite an afternoon in Little Five, and we certainly had a blast.

I also feel that I absolutely must call attention to the amazing art work that was on the stickers/shirts/coffee cup/record tote bags that Criminal Records gave out, as it’s simply amazing. Behold.

Photo credit: Caitlin Webb Photography

The Whigs, a fantastic, straight-up rock n’ roll band from up the road in the Southern musical oasis known as Athens, GA opened the festivities and wasted zero time launching into a set consisting almost entirely of material from their brand new record Modern Creation. I’ve seen The Whigs going on 10 or so times, and the consistent quality of their live shows never waivers. The new songs sounded great (as does the record, which you can stream right here), and when a kick drum broke mid-first song the band hardly skipped a beat as soon a cardboard pizza box was quickly brought into remedy the situation. Ah the beauty of winging it at a mid-day rock show…

The Whigs – “Right Hand On My Heart”

Despite the foggy skies and the continuous light rain, Findley Plaza soon began to fill up again (the line outside of Criminal Records was still going strong) as 3PM and the eagerly-anticipated set from Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings rolled around. From the first note Dylan Baldi struck, the now-packed plaza had folks passionately bobbing, shaking and shouting along to tunes like “Stay Useless,” “I’m Not Part Of Me,” and “No Thoughts” (video below). The band was seriously on point and their mini-set was a testament of a group actually being worthy of all the internet hype they’re getting. Cloud Nothings newly released Here and Nowhere Else is excellent and my first live experience with the band did not disappoint; I highly recommend getting your ears blown at one of their shows.

Cloud Nothings – “No Thoughts”, live at Criminal Records’ Record Store Day 2014:

I returned to the festivities after grabbing a bite to eat and was pleasantly surprised to find Little Tybee pinch-hitting for Sadistic Ritual. Not sure exactly what happened there but it’s always a treat to see Little Tybee live. The band is filled with fantastic players and it’s pretty jaw-dropping to watch them play together live. A quick Youtube search of the band brings up brings up more than a couple of videos that are just guitarist Josh Martin “explaining” his techniques, and that’s generally a testament to a high level of skill and unique talent, something the whole band possesses.

After Cloud Nothings’ bone-rattling set, the homeless people/drug zombie contingent had reclaimed the area in front of the stage of as their own at this point (they gather in the plaza on regular, non-live music days) and were very much enjoying themselves. I overheard a young (?) woman we dubbed Whiskey Sally ask one of her associates (Crack Rock Mike) what the hell Martin was playing in-between whiskey gulps, due to his unique style. I too, was impressed and the day’s MC, Atlanta music scene leader Cousin Dan said it best after the show when he exclaimed to the crowd, “Little Tybee! Whew! They can play their instruments better than the rest of us!”

Little Tybee – “Castle” & “Left Right” live:

I went into Spirits and the Melchizedek Children’s set knowing literally nothing about the band and was very pleasantly surprised. The Atlanta band’s psychedelic, ethereal and otherworldly music sounds like the soundtrack that should be playing while you read Cormac McCarthy’s violent and hauntingly beautiful masterpiece Blood Meridian. The band creates eerie, swirling soundscapes that evoke the feeling of an outlaw on the run in the Old West, who is maybe hiding out in a cave…and has a great deal of peyote on his person.

Of particular interest to me at this point was watching the homeless people/drug zombies interact with this Old-West-meets-psyche-music sound and attempt to “dance” to it. My old pal Whiskey Sally had a look of utter and complete veneration on her face, and to say she was enraptured as she lay strewn about the front of the stage like a model in a Renaissance painting is not an exaggeration. From the aghast and swept-away look on her reddened face, I believe she thought for a moment that she would be using these haunting guitar tones to ascend directly into the heavens. Meanwhile, Crack Rock Mike had completely ceased his “dancing” in favor of standing directly in front of the lead guitarist with his mouth agape in complete and total reverence.

Both the homeless people/drug zombies and I were very impressed, and I certainly plan on checking out Spirits and the Melchizedek Children again.

Spirits and the Melchizedek Children – “Novo Somnia”

The final act of the night was another Atlanta band that’s been making a lot of noise nationally as of late, Mood Rings. At this point I was pretty bushed, but was glad I stuck around as Mood Rings definitely caught my eye a bit more with this set than when I’d seen them previously. The recent signee to Mexican Summer Records seemed a tad more laid back than when I’d seen them open for The xx a couple of weeks ago. Maybe that’s because this was such a celebratory event, maybe it’s because the homeless people/drug zombies had now joined forces with several drunken artsy types in a combination of embracing and dancing, but either way it was a fitting way to end a remarkable day spent celebrating the timeless art and beauty of music, and more specifically: music on wax.

Mood Rings – “The Line”

Criminal Records is certainly to be commended for their efforts on Record Store Day 2014, and from the looks of the long lines that went around the block and lasted for hours, they were handsomely rewarded with incredibly high sales. Independent record stores around the country should be celebrated and cherished as an oasis for regular folk and “music people” alike to hear new sounds, trade ideas, share passions and of course: glorious, glorious records. Raise a glass and drop a needle in their honor tonight folks, if we keep it up, they might not all disappear.

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