Concert Review | Yep Roc 15, Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC

Photo by Agatha Donkar

North Carolina knows how to throw a party, and Yep Roc Records threw themselves a doozy this past weekend, in celebration of their 15th anniversary. With help from their amazingly diverse line-up of artists, the Cat’s Cradle, and the Carolina Brewery (they brewed a special “Rocktoberfest” beer for the weekend), it was a weekend of shows that I’ll remember for a long time.

There was so many excellent things that it seems unfair to pick out highlights, but I did have some. On Thursday, on an unofficial “singer/songwriter” night, Eleni Mandell (whose first YR release, I Can See The Future, came out in July) absolutely blew me away. I was familiar with Mandell’s name, but not her music, and her self-professed set of songs about her “crappy ex-boyfriends” was both fun and heartbreaking. (Her best line, in introducing a song about a relationship that had failed because she wanted kids and he didn’t, was thus: “I’m here tonight. He’s babysitting my kids.”) I Can See The Future is her first label release after seven previous LPs, and I can’t wait to dig into her back catalog.

Also on Thursday, Nick Lowe closed his set of hits from his extensive catalog with “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock ‘N’ Roll)”, a song that is near and dear to my heart. It inspired a bit of a crowd shout-along, and was absolutely a highlight of the weekend.

Saturday evening was a highlight, start to finish — you can’t claim that YR saved the best for last, as no one would ever describe Fountains of Wayne, Liam Finn, Robyn Hitchcock, or Sloan, who all played on other nights, as less than YR’s best, but Saturday had a tinge of North Carolina pride that made me alternately grin and get a little weepy. After excellent sets from YR newcomer Darren Hanlon and Nashville’s country-psych songwriter Jim White, the evening took a turn for the North Carolinian with local favorites Chatham County Line, whose set included a John Doe-fronted cover of X’s “In This House That I Call Home”.

I’ve seen CCL a dozen times in my seven years in NC, and I could never have fathomed seeing a punk rock icon play that song with them; only a little part of the magic that Yep Roc quietly makes here.

Photo by Agatha Donkar

After CCL, Tift Merritt — who was just here a few weeks ago, and who’ll be here in another few with Justin Townes Earle — played a long set full of songs from her Yep Roc debut, Traveling Alone, only about 10 days released at the time of the show. Tift also brought up quite a few old North Carolina friends, including Chatham County Line, and John Howie Jr, former frontman of the Two Dollar Pistols, with whom she released a duets record on Yep Roc many years ago. Some of the heavily out-of-town crowd seemed a bit puzzled by this awkward looking man in a cowboy hat and a great shirt, but Tift cited John as one of the first people to start letting her “hang around and open for him” when she first started playing out in the Triangle 15 years ago.

I might have gotten a little weepy over that, but I’ll never tell whether I actually did.

The evening closed with a joint set from John Doe and the Sadies, and Yep Roc couldn’t have closed out their party in a better way. John Doe, established and cheerfully grumpy; the Sadies established in Toronto but only starting to gain traction in the States thanks to their relationship with Yep Roc. I like my rock and roll grumpy, cheerful, and above all, full of electric guitars — and Yep Roc does that.

They do everything, really, a label that’s defied genre definitions and expectations for 15 years now. I’m grateful they choose to still call North Carolina home, and I’m thrilled that they invited Speakers In Code to the party. Thanks for having us, guys. We’ll come to your birthday parties any time.

My full set, more than 100 photos, of the weekend is available on Flickr. Everything that Yep Roc has ever released, including that long out of print Tift Merritt / John Howie Jr record, which is seeing a vinyl re-release next year, is available at their website.

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