There aren’t many albums that capture what it’s like to grow up and live in Charlotte.
Among the few: Jon Lindsay’s “Escape from Plaza-Midwood,” Benji Hughes’ “A Love Supreme,” Junior Astronomers’ “Body Language” and much of Elevator Jay’s work; all bubble with local references and wrestle with small-town/big-city conflict, as well as inner turmoil and the push and pull between youth and maturity.
And then there’s Charlotte rock veteran Leisure McCorkle’s latest album, “5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound.”
“I love all the Charlotte hometown lyrical references scattered throughout,” says fellow veteran Charlotte musician Hope Nicholls, who fronted nationally known bands Fetchin’ Bones and Sugarsmack and recruited Leisure member Mike Mitschele for her second record with new band It’s Snakes. “It’s part nostalgia, part declaration of bittersweet pride for being here before it was hip, when the Milestone was our CBGBs, when all the cool kids had moved to Chapel Hill or somewhere, but we were left to make this place on our own.”
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For the band’s leader (singer-songwriter Lee McCorkle), the last few years have meant looking back and moving forward. Though he usually tours as a solo act, he and his longtime band mates will reconvene Friday at Visulite Theatre to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their debut album “Nappy Superstar.”
Back then, McCorkle regularly peddled it from behind the counter at Record Exchange, talking it up to customers enamored with its silver-sparkle cover. There were real chops behind the talk, though. McCorkle had cut his teeth in the bands Misguided Youth and Funkenstein, and opened for Frank Black.
Songs like “God in a Box” (a tribute to Black, in fact) were alt-rock/power-pop gold, with McCorkle donning a sort of early Elton John-inspired glittery stage persona.
But McCorkle hasn’t spent the last two decades living like a rock star. He got his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Belfast and worked as director of a research center in the Czech Republic before returning to Charlotte in 2013 as his grandmother began losing her sight. She died a year later.
After her estate was settled early this year, McCorkle hit the road, touring out West and taking two treks across Europe.
As for why he recently moved to West Asheville? “Charlotte’s too expensive, too crowded,” he says – and expenses are a concern if he opts not to re-enter academia. He’s able to do more with less in a live setting, and he can book tours himself.
“Technology is light years away from what it used to be,” he says. “By adding electronic beats and sampling and looping, I can do it as a one-piece (if) I have to. (But) I’d always rather have the band.”
The Balsa Gliders and Leisure McCorkle
Like clockwork, the indie-rock throwback to Chapel Hill’s glory years – whose members manage to make time for a rock band around day jobs (doctor, minister, etc.) – celebrates the release of its latest album. The band is teaming with the original lineup of Leisure McCorkle, which also has a new album and is marking the 20th anniversary of its debut.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizbeth Ave.
Details: 704-358-9200; www.visulite.com.