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Wednesday, March 4,2009

Turn it down

A survey of Lansing’s musical landscape

by Rich Tupica
Deep Impact


Lansing bands have an advantage that many music scenes lack access to: the FM airwaves. “The Basement,” a radio show on The Impact 88.9-FM WDBM, Michigan State Univeristy’s student-run station, offers local bands airtime in Lansing and beyond.

Every Thursday from 8-10 p.m., Impact listeners can hear interviews and live performances from local acts.


While The Impact celebrates its 20th anniversary, the practice of student DJs promoting the underground scene dates back further than 1989.


College radio has been a fundamental element of indie music since the late ’70s, when KAOS-FM (an Olympia, Wash., college radio station) formed a policy of playing 80 percent independent music.

In 1977, KAOS hired a young, would-be indie icon named Calvin Johnson (Beat Happening front man/ K-Records owner) to spin records. The rest is college radio history. Johnson and the other KAOS DJs at Evergreen State College set the groundwork for many college stations. They introduced an assortment of soon-to-be legendary bands to the airwaves. Nirvana played its first in-studio there in 1987, before the band even had a single.


While The Impact plays more than its share of pop radio acts (Pearl Jam, Weezer, etc.), its programming also includes fresh sounds that aren’t heard on run-of-the-mill rock channels. "The Basement," in particular, follows the same principles that made KAOS-FM a landmark in underground music. Who knows, perhaps "The Basement" will do for a local band what KAOS- FM did for Nirvana.


We are fortunate to have The Impact here. Locals should take advantage, of it and tune in Thursdays to hear what the region has to offer.


While you’re at it, stop in to a venue and check out the local noise live and on-stage.

For a lighter night of lyrically driven folk, stop by Mac’s Bar on Thursday, March 5. Headlining the night is the hip bluegrass mastery of Frontier Ruckus (West Bloomfield). While the band plays everything from pedal steel to banjos, songwriter Matthew Milia’s lyrics are often the focal point of the music. Elle and the Fonts opens the show with the stripped back setup of an acoustic guitar and a microphone. While Elle’s songs are great, she is also an expert at between-song banter. 2700 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing $7, 18 , 9 p.m., www.macsbar.com


If Lansing has one thing musically, it’s a solid metal scene. Whereas some cities are overflowing with cheesy Jägermeister-sponsored joke bands, the capital city has a surplus of raw, thrash metal acts that could have toured with Metallica 20 years ago (when they still rocked). An early show on Saturday, March 7, at Mac’s Bar will showcase this talent, along with some touring acts. First on the bill is Satyrasis. This band could easily be Slayer’s kid brother. The guys play tons of shows and word ‘round the campfire is they have a second album in the works. Sharing the stage is Lansing head bangers, The Plague Years. This duo is a pleasant band who mainly write songs inspired by the end of the world: loud, fast, devil-horn jams. Beast In the Field is a Michigan stoner-rock that sludges along slowly without lyrics — doom and darkness galore. 2700 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing, $7, 5 p.m., all ages, www.macsbar.com.


Hands down, Basement 414 hosts more experimental (and sometimes downright odd) bands, and Tuesday, March 10, is no exception. Lansing’s most underappreciated band of loonies, The Meercats, opens the show and should be a highlight of the night. While the band doesn’t seem to take itself seriously, it has some catchy hooks and wanders between old school rock’n’roll and punk. Also on the bill is Lansing’s own Danger Society. This is a crew of screaming punks that obviously still love ‘90s ska and hating the man. Check out the band’s MySpace to hear the tune “City of Lansing.” Saddle Pup is a new Lansing area band made up of five men who mix bursts of noise, guitars, trippy keys and strange vocals into one abnormal ball of sound. The Toxic Ska-Vengers (Grand Ledge) will also take the stage, performing songs inspired by the Toxic Avenger and, you guessed it, ska. 414 E. Michigan Avenue, Lansing (enter through the alley behind the Nut House) www.myspace.com/basement414.

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