Birmingham, Ala., is not a city most of us would care to visit, let alone grow up in. Unless you count F. Scott Fitzgerald, the residents are predominantly known for blowing up anyone who rubs them the wrong way. However, if you head out onto the southeast interstate toward Montgomery, you run smack into the town of Verbena, named for a sweet-smelling purple flower.
The town was formed in 1860 as a sanctuary of sorts for families fleeing a deadly yellow fever epidemic. One hundred thirty-seven years later, this swaggering southern rock band that bears the town’s name was formed in Birmingham. They soon got their self-released 7-inch re-released on CD format by Merge Records, run by the good ol’ North Carolinians of Superchunk. “Souls for Sale” attracted the attention of some fancy-pants Yankees, including the Foo Fightin’ David Grohl. Grohl was so taken aback by the melodious racket he eventually offered to produce their major label debut, “Into the Pink,” in 1999. Critics from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line immediately fell over themselves to draw comparisons to Nirvana. Eager to free themselves from the yoke of grunge, the band enlisted producer Rob Schnapf, best known for his work with artists such as Beck, and reinvented themselves as punkified Delta bluesmen. The end result: “La Musica Negra.” Taking on their hometown’s history of Bible Belt racism via sexual and chemical excess, the record plants one foot firmly in the pagan and the other tentatively in the spiritual. “It’s alright, its okay ‘cuz Jesus told me so,” lead singer Scott Bondy warbles. George Wallace is probably spinning in his grave.
Verbena will perform on Thursday at the 400 Bar. Friends Like These and Leolo Ferone will open. Tickets are $7.