The Connells are one of North Carolina’s most beloved indie rock bands. Through the mid-80s and well into the 1990s, while riding the College Radio airwaves, the band earned a cult following with fans while garnering a level of critical acclaim and commercial success that never quite hit the breakout heights that the band deserved. Over the course of their career The Connells released eight albums, culminating in 2001’s Old School Dropouts. Despite not releasing a new album since 2001, The Connells never really broke up. Founding member and guitarist Mike Connell continued to write songs, and while the lineup changed a bit with guitarist Mike Ayers joining in 2002 and drummer Rob Ladd in 2012, the band has continued to find time to get out there and play the occasional show.
Now, after two decades, the new music drought has ended and the Connells have released their ninth studio album, Steadman’s Wake, on Black Park Records. Originally set to be released last year, but held up due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Steadman’s Wake was recorded at Overdub Lane and Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium studio. It features eight new songs and 3 re-recorded versions of previously-released demos. The album manages to distill the classic Connells jangle pop and indie rock sound into something that feels both familiar, yet fresh and distinctive.
With a batch of new songs to celebrate, the band hit the road for an early Fall mini-tour covering 5 dates in the Southeast. We caught up with the Connells at the last show on the current run on a Friday night at a packed Cat’s Cradle.
The room filled in with a mixture of friends, family, and fans both young and old. There were parents who brought their kids, kids who brought their parents, college kids, high schoolers, retirees. It truly was a crowd that seemed to transcend demographic identity. The one thing everyone had in common was a palpable feeling of excitement… Excitement at being out of the house, excitement at being part of a gathering, and most importantly, excitement at the pending performance from The Connells.
Luckily for everyone, the band did not disappoint. Despite having more than a few miles under their tires, the Connells, consisting of brothers Mike and David Connell on guitar and bass respectively, Doug MacMillan on vocals, Mike Ayers on lead guitar, Steve Potak on keys, and Rob Ladd behind the drum kit, sounded every bit as tight and powerful as they did more than twenty years ago.
The setlist was a solid balance of new music and old school favorites, with songs from Steadman’s Wake and Ring getting the most attention followed closely by selections from Boylan Heights and Fun & Games. The band were clearly in good spirits, with a smile never far from Mike Connell’s face. Despite a few sound issues toward the end of the set that were quickly reigned in, the performance was solid, meeting and often exceeding the expectations of the hometown crowd.
The evening was opened by Jphono1, the artistic moniker of Carrboro NC-based John Harrison. With at least 15 releases under his belt, the prolific and criminally underrated Jphono1 played a set that pulled from across his varied influences, but seemed to focus mostly on fuzzy meditative folk-pop and rollicking psychedelia.