Review – Micah Schnabel “When The Stage Lights Go Dim”
I can’t remember how it came up, but an OB/GYN doctor told me once that when you cut a pregnant woman open for a C-section, the sound it makes is the same made when a needle scratches vinyl. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but while listening to Micah Schnabel from the band Two Cow Garage , it occurred to me that his songs might be the sound you hear if you could cut open a human soul filled with a life’s worth of pressure and pain.
I had seen the name “Two Cow Garage” around, but can’t say I heard any of their music until this year at South by Southwest, when the band was booked in a slowly gentrifying east Austin bar at a showcase thrown by ninebullets.net. Because of concerns about the PA system, the whole band didn’t play. Instead Micah played solo, which gave me a good primer for this stripped down acoustic album. I promised myself before SXSW, I would write about the best non-country band that I saw, and even without this promise I would be writing Micah Schnabel, because out of the 25+ acts I experienced, nobody performed with such blinding, reckless soul.
This my friends is what music is all about. I certainly wouldn’t classify this album country, more alt-country or folk, or maybe just acoustic music. It doesn’t really matter what you call it when you can pen such masterful lyrics as these, and then deliver them with such abandon, with little regard for vanity or reception. If watching Possessed by Paul James live is like watching someone give birth on stage, then watching Micah is like watching a suicide. He screams and bleeds the pain out until all the demons are spent, then in the very next song discovers a fresh new batch of demons to expel with equal vehemence.
“Cut Me, Mick” is an absolute masterpiece of a song, as Micah rips his shirt open in mad, profuse self-righteous anger mixed with bitter, self-loathing awareness. Schnabel has the bravery to delve to places in the human soul most folks are way too afraid to go; the shit that we all push down and compartmentalize in ourselves, the ugly parts and the fears that we are unwilling to acknowledge. That stuff is Micah’s commodity. He expels it into a big bucket, and then with wide, careless swaths, paints huge, chaotic landscapes with it, working with it so deep and intimately as a medium that even when he is not performing, the genesis of human frailties and fears lingers under his fingernails like the grease and grit of a mechanic.
Micah Schnabel is not a good singer in the traditional sense. What he is, is unafraid, and his boldness and uninhibited honesty delivered with unchecked passion makes for very engaging singing.
There may be good and better songs on this album, but I don’t hear any bad ones. I give some credit it to this from the stripped down production that doesn’t get in the way of the superb lyrics and the honesty at the heart of the songs. As epic as “Cut Me, Mick” is, the song “American Static” might display the best songwriting of the album.
Well these late nights, quoting Kerouac & Wilde
We just use them to revile those who remind us of ourselves.
The other song that really struck me was a cover of The Replacement’s “Can’t Hardly Wait” which was also covered on SCM’s 2009 Album of the Year Midnight at the Movies by Justin Townes Earle’s. I am admittedly very hard on covers songs, but this is where I swallowed the hook the hardest on Micah Schnabel. He made me appreciate the song even more, both versions of it, as he slowed it down and stripped it, and forced you to really listen to the lyrics, not just the catchy beat and cadence, and really delve into what the lyrics and the theme behind the song are trying to convey.
This record is endearingly lo-fi. Not sloppy, or poorly produced, just simple and not overly obsessive about the small things. Count offs at the beginning of songs are included, and even the compu-generated click track on “Cut Me, Mick” is still there. What does it matter? These little things may scare off the passive music listener, but the radio isn’t going to play these songs anyway. The most important elements are all accounted for and captured exquisitely.
I sense a lot of similarities between When The Stage Lights Go Dim, and Roger Alan Wade’s Deguello Motel. Both men strip it down to expose the heart of the song, though Micah goes a little farther, adding some fiddle if it’s called for, but only if it will fit, and both men sing their guts out with no fear. Some will listen and feel this is too “indie” for their taste, and I can’t argue with that. But this is one you have to listen to with your guts, not your ear, and if you do, you will find enjoyment.
Two guns up!
Preview & Purchase Tracks From When The Stage Lights Go Dim
Purchase and Listen To Tracks From Suburban Home Records
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Video from above mentioned SXSW showcase:
April 29, 2011 @ 10:52 am
Great blog Triggerman. That is right at the heart of emotion. Wow!
I almost felt the blood running down my skin.
cooler than mule
April 29, 2011 @ 11:26 am
cant hardly wait is a replacements original. JTE covered it.
April 29, 2011 @ 11:45 am
Well screw me. This is what happens when reviewers don’t have access to liner notes.
Thanks for the correction, I changed it up above to reflect the info!
April 29, 2011 @ 2:23 pm
Wow, some good music is getting attention at this site instead of arguments about what the evil Nashville establishment is doing.
April 29, 2011 @ 3:51 pm
The good music always gets attention from me. Can’t always say that’s the case with the readers. People prefer the car wrecks I guess 🙁
April 29, 2011 @ 9:51 pm
Trigger, that’s not fair.
When you post an article like the Justin Moore or Colt Ford article you have to expect heated opinions and sometimes those things get out of hand. It just shows how passionate we all are about our music.
I totally appreciate what you do on this site, and the aritsts that you get out there to the public. But if I feel strongly about something, I’m gonna throw down. That’s just how I roll.
I’m not sure how I feel about this kid. He seems talented but I don’t get a country vibe from him. In all fairness though, I only listened to the video you posted…I’ll have to check him out further. Especially if you think he’s similar to Roger Alan Wade.
April 29, 2011 @ 11:04 pm
I’m sorry if you took offense to this. This wasn’t pointed at you or anybody else, I was simply stating the cold, undeniable truth. Album reviews like this get 10% of the views and comments the big pop-basing articles do, and Down South’s comments emphasizes this. One of the results is people think that is all I talk about, when in truth the vast majority of my articles are in support of artists in one way or another.
I’m glad you throw down and argue your points and I encourage this. My only point was to state my case that this is not ALL SCM is about.
I went out of my way to emphasize that I don’t think Micah is country either, but it is good music regardless, and I do think there are some country elements here, and he’s a big player in underground music that has been around for 10 years, touring with country outfits and bands, some of their songs are covered by other more country artists. I wish I could have covered a country album instead, but to be quite honest, 2011 has been a drought for good new music, but since I still want new music to be an emphasis for the site, if i can’t talk about country, I will talk about something else.
April 30, 2011 @ 6:25 am
I didn’t really take offense. Hell it takes a lot to offend me. I was just trying to say those articles are probably going to get a lot more traffic. Just because of the fact, you have a wide range of different people on this site with different views on what country music is, was, and should be.
Also, I read every article you put up on SCM. I just usually don’t comment on reviews unless it’s something I really enjoy. I have respect for anyone who puts themselves out their in an artistic way. Whether it appeals to me or not, so I try to keep any opinion that may be negative to that artist to myself.
April 29, 2011 @ 2:23 pm
When The Stage Lights Go Dim by Suburban Home Records
April 29, 2011 @ 2:26 pm
I guess the embed player didn’t work but click the link and give it a listen anyway.
April 29, 2011 @ 3:50 pm
Hey thanks for the link! I had looked for a link to Suburban Home before and couldn’t find anything. I tried to embed that player in the article about 10 different ways and couldn’t figure it out, so I just added the link.
April 29, 2011 @ 3:12 pm
totally diggin this. thanks for reviewing it.
April 29, 2011 @ 5:51 pm
two car garage is a name that keeps comin up as the band i gotta check out..nearly everywhere i go.
next day off….
April 29, 2011 @ 7:20 pm
If I didn’t find Emo so gay, I’d probably like this… My wife liked it though. Not very country at all, I’d have to say.
April 29, 2011 @ 8:12 pm
Nevermind. Your loss.
Sound In The Signals Magazine
April 30, 2011 @ 3:40 am
I can hear the emo he’s talking about vocally Micah reminds me of Matt Pryor (of The Getup Kids) at times. I don’t mind though because I like Pryor.
That being said how can you not enjoy an album like this it’s so good. Also really good review Triggerman.
Sound In The Signals Magazine
April 30, 2011 @ 3:54 am
Of course emo is a terrible umbrella term haha. It means about ten different styles of music from bands that are from various times over the years that have nothing in common with each other.
I wouldn’t say this sounds at all like what is dubbed current day “emo,” I’ll just say it reminds me of Matt Pryor vocally and not emo.
May 1, 2011 @ 4:07 pm
Well pardon this dude if he isn’t pretending he’s Merle Haggard and crooning in a fake Southern accent. Pardon him if he isn’t being called a true outlaw “with his leather vest and black bandana”.
Two Cow Garage is one of the modern bands that was doing it before it was “cool to be country”….and without one ounce of pretense or gimmick.
These are some quality songs. Great review , Triggerman.
May 1, 2011 @ 4:08 pm
PS – that comment was directed towards Shade’s comment…
May 2, 2011 @ 6:15 pm
May 2, 2011 @ 7:58 am
hell yeah, glad to see Micah gettin’ some extra love and attention… two cow is a fantastic band and have always walked along the edge of country but squarely in center of great freaking music from the heart and soul!
May 2, 2011 @ 9:17 pm
Mr Supertramp! Good to see you on this here corner of the ‘net!
May 2, 2011 @ 3:16 pm
when asked for a quote about Two Cow for the newspaper (they’re playing my birthday party in two weeks) I said; “Two Cow Garage is the kind of band that inspires children to buy guitars and adults to pick theirs back up.”
May 3, 2011 @ 7:36 pm
Fucking amazing anecdote! I love it!