Cat's Cradle Presents

The Connells

Dillon Fence, Johnny Irion's U.S. Elevator

Friday, July 19
Doors: 5pm : Show: 6:30pm

Long heralded as one of North Carolina’s most successful indie rock bands, The Connells carved out a niche for themselves in the early ‘90s alt-rock scene with their special brand of introspective jangle pop. The band was formed in Raleigh in the early to mid-80s by brothers Mike Connell (vocals, guitar) and David Connell (bass), and soon expanded to include Doug McMillan (vocals), Peele Wimberley (percussion), and George Huntley (guitar, vocals). They played their first show ever in September of 1984, and in 1986, the band released their debut LP, Darker Days, followed by the Mitch Easter-produced Boylan Heights (1987). They continued to build momentum, entering the Billboard 200 with 1989’s Fun & Games and 1990’s One Simple Word, and scoring a string of college radio hits like “Something to Say,” “Stone Cold Yesterday,” and “Get a Gun.”

After three years of steady touring, the band (which now included keyboardist Steve Potak, who joined the band in the Fall of 1990) entered Woodstock’s Bearsville Studios with producer Lou Giordano – whose future credits would include the Goo Goo Dolls, Paul Westerberg, and Taking Back Sunday – to record their fifth LP, Ring. Building upon the success of their earlier albums, The Connells delivered a supremely catchy collection of radio-friendly songs, blending power pop, bittersweet lyrics, sweeping harmonies, and rootsy guitars – particularly on favorites like “Slackjawed” (a Top 10 hit on Billboard’s Alternative chart), “Doin’ You,” “Carry My Picture,” and “New Boy” (also issued as an EP).

Released in the fall of 1993, the album is perhaps best remembered for its pensive breakout hit, “‘74-‘75.” Steeped in nostalgia, the song finds Mike Connell reflecting on failed relationships, and the fleeting nature of time. The single’s poignant video, directed by Mark Pellington, was inspired by Michael Apted’s Up documentary film series and focused on graduates of Raleigh’s Broughton High School Class of 1975 (attended by several members of the Connells), juxtaposing new footage against their yearbook photos. In 2015, to commemorate the class’s 40th anniversary, nearly everyone involved reunited to shoot an updated visual. In celebration of the reissue of the album, the video has been remastered from the original tapes and is available to view now in HD for the first time ever.

While “‘74-‘75” has long remained an underground favorite in the US, it became a massive hit abroad nearly two years after Ring’s release, landing in the Top 10 in 11 European countries, including Sweden and Norway, where it hit No.1. In the UK, meanwhile, it peaked at No.14, while it ranked at No.23 on Europe’s year-end chart for 1995. The album found success as well on the charts – breaking the Billboard 200 and landing in the Top 40 in the UK and across Europe. After the release of Ring, the band embarked on extensive international touring, including a show in Rome supporting the legendary Def Leppard, before a crowd of 100,000.

Over the decades, The Connells and Ring have frequently received fond words from the press, including Trouser Press, who hailed the album’s “brilliant pieces of pop songcraft.” Reflecting on the record, AllMusic praised Ring as the band’s “strongest effort to date,” adding that it “established the Connells as the forerunners in the group of jangle pop bands that had previously lived largely in the shadow of R.E.M.” In another retrospective, American Songwriter declared, “The Connells are a thinking person’s band, flush with a sobering attitude even in the midst of spawning their rock and roll revelry. Theirs is a mostly pensive perspective, one that adds extra emphasis to each of their songs.”

In the years following Ring, The Connells released three more albums (1996’s Weird Food and Devastation, 1998’s Still Life, and 2001’s Old School Dropouts) before taking a hiatus from recording. In 2021, the band – which currently includes the Connell brothers, MacMillan and Potak, plus guitarist Mike Ayers and drummer Rob Ladd – returned with their first album in a decade, the acclaimed Steadman’s Wake.

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DILLON FENCE

The core of Dillon Fence today is the same group of friends that formed the band in the late 80s as UNC and Wake Forest students, singer/guitarist Greg Humphreys, guitarist/singer Kent Alphin, and bassist/singer Chris Goode.

Their self released debut EP, influenced by southern jangle and British alternative, was a hit on southeastern college radio and heralded a new Chapel Hill, NC music scene. Drummer Scott Carle joined the band and they soon signed to NC based indie label Mammoth Records. By the time their shimmering pop rock debut LP Rosemary was released in 1992, Dillon Fence had become the biggest draw on the southeastern college circuit.

Their more alternative rock leaning follow up LP Outside In and the classic rock influenced third LP Living Room Scene took the band on multiple tours across the U.S. and Europe, supporting The Black Crowes, Weezer, Lemonheads, and Hootie and The Blowfish.

Since 2000, Dillon Fence has reunited from time to time, to visit with each other and play shows for their appreciative fans. For many, Dillon Fence music is a big part of the soundtrack to their lives.

LOVE TRACTOR

It is no act of misguided hyperbole to declare the genre-bending, art rock pioneers, Love Tractor one of the most influential bands of the past 43 years. As one of the inadvertent architects of the Athens, Georgia scene and sound, Love Tractor along with Pylon, The B-52’s, and R.E.M. were essential in staking out the jangly and disco-driven rock that would have — and still has—a huge influence on subsequent generations. Of those bands, Love Tractor always stood out as the most artistically brave and willing to fail in order to succeed.

Love Tractor was founded in 1979 by art students Armistead Wellford, Mike Richmond, and Mark Cline as a vehicle to entertain their art school pals in the then backwater college town of Athens. Love tractor first performed at a house party in 1980 at the infamous “Pylon Park” — a rambling and decrepit Victorian house buried on the back of two acres of land and inhabited by members of Pylon, (hence the name) and Love Tractor. Rocking, drunken, drugged house parties were par for the course with Athens’ art students and fitted nicely with the conceptual art movement popular at the time. Kit Swartz (the Side Effects) and Bill Berry (R.E.M.) Shared drumming duties.

Love Tractor’s innovative debut self-titled album, released in 1981 (while the band members were still in university), was an instant classic, 100% instrumental. Alfredo Villar, of the seminal Atlanta band The Fans, was brought in to add synths, pianos, and string arrangements. it received critical acclaim from music journalists describing it as “a unique blend of rock, post-punk, and art-rock.” The album’s mix of angular guitar riffs, hypnotic rhythms, and funky bass lines, coupled with the band’s art-school sensibility, established Love Tractor as the band to watch. The album featured the classic tracks “Buy Me A Million Dollars,” “Sixty Degrees Below,” and “Fun To Be Happy.” Bill Berry left for R.E.M. and Kit Swartz came on for the first two albums. R.E.M.s Mike Mills sites Love Tractor’s debut album as “a go-to for me when I need to be reminded that there is a reason to listen to music.”

In 1983, Love Tractor released their second album, “Around the Bend,” which was accompanied by a popular MTV video for the song “Spin Your Partner.” The album showcased the band’s growth and evolution, incorporating vocals and other experimentations to enhance their sound. Again, Alfredo Villar was brought in to add synths, pianos, and string arrangements. “Around the Bend” was well-received critically and commercially— topping the college charts, and solidifying Love Tractor’s place in the alternative music landscape. At the same time Love Tractor began 10 years of dedicated touring, gone were the days of one-off shows and mini tours.

In 1984, Love Tractor released ‘Til the Cows Come Home,’ an EP which featured the alterative chart-topping song Neon Lights. The EP showcased the band’s ability to create catchy, danceable tracks that were still rooted in their post-punk and art-rock sensibilities. The song was a radio break-through garnering the band international attention. Andrew Carter took over on drums when Kit Swartz left for grad School.

‘This Ain’t No Outer Spaceship,’ Love Tractor’s first fully vocal album, produced by Pat Irwin and released in 1986 on Bigtime/RCA records was a major departure from the band’s earlier post- punk, art-rock sound. The album featured a new focus on song craft — evident on the popular tracks “Beatle Boots,” “Small Town” and “Cartoon Kiddies.” The album further showcased Love Tractor’s ability to evolve their sound and incorporate new influences, such as R&B, folk and narrative driven lyrics. The album received rave reviews and helped cement Love Tractor’s status as one of the pioneers of the Athens music scene.

Love Tractor was Featured in the 1986 documentary film: ‘Athens, GA Inside/Out.’ The film has been described as “the definitive portrait of the city’s world-renowned music scene.”
Love Tractor’s fifth album, ‘Themes from Venus,’ was produced by, famed producer and musician (Let’s Active), Mitch Easter and released in 1988. The album featured the hits “Venice,” “I Broke My Saw,” and “Crash.” It is a multi-layered album known for its complex arrangements, imaginative instrumentation, and a move towards symbolic lyricism. The album was well-received critically and commercially. “Themes from Venus” was a sonic tribute of sorts to the band-members’ childhood musical crushes: T REX, Bowie, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, NEU! early Brian Eno and even progressive rock.

Music writer and critic Annie Zaleski stated: ‘Themes from Venus’ presaged the future: Tame Impala’s blissed out electro, thrumming 90’s post-rock, the success of freewheeling pop- merchants such as The Pixies.” Love Tractor toured extensively in support of ‘Themes From Venus’ including a 60-date stint on the B-52’s Cosmic Thing tour.

In 1995, Love Tractor emerged from a three-year absence from touring and embarked on ‘The Sky at Night’. Like a Proustian madeleine, this album became a means of rekindling memories and refining their signature sound. The project quickly expanded beyond its original scope and became a journey of rediscovery. Doug Stanley (The Glands) became a member of Love Tractor in ’95.
After numerous revisions, ‘The Sky at Night’ was finally released in 2001 on Razor and Tie. The album showcased the band’s continued relevance in the alternative music scene with a more mature sound still deeply rooted in their post-punk and art-rock sensibilities. Like a long-awaited taste of a perfectly baked madeleine, the avant-garde album provided a satisfying and nostalgic experience for fans, while also serving as a testament to Love Tractor’s evolution as a band.

Love Tractor is currently at work on an album of new material and is in the midst of rereleasing their back catalog on Propeller Sound Recordings. Love Tractor has played live periodically since 2016 with Andrew Carter and Joe Rowe (The Glands) on drums and Bill Berry playing Keyboards and acoustic guitar on a few songs. In January 2023, Love Tractor rejoined their pals The B-52’s for the final show of their final tour in Athens.

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