Desdemona Festival: The Fiery Furnaces
Sawyer Point; Cincinnati, Ohio
of them abbreviated from their recorded counterparts. The band climaxed after
about 45 minutes when it transformed the new tune "I'm in No Mood" from the
toy-piano opera found on this year's Bitter Tea to an enormous, urgent
maelstrom akin to an Assyrian war march. The band also victoriously navigated
the complex musical turns of last year's polarizing "The Garfield El."
Songs aside, two overwhelming things became apparent during the set. First was
the band's courage and ability to innovate and reinterpret their own music,
trading patented, electro-studio piano magic for guitars and with
rearrangements of Eleanor's Keroacian vocal rhythms. Second was Matthew's
striking guitar work. At times he seemed every bit a young Thurston Moore,
bending his strings into zany effects one minute and playing out roaring blues
progressions the next.
Returning, perhaps, to its roots, the Furnaces, with this set, paid homage to
their garage-rock debut, Gallowsbird Bark. This aspect, when merged
with the uncompromising creativity of their subsequent work, was truly a
spectacle. The results, not always beautiful, were each stirring. The audience
collected at the stage seemed alienated and inspired, all in the same moment.
As some rolled their eyes and left, others raised their arms and joined. While
after the festival's conclusion, I heard comments like, "We Are Scientists
slayed," or "Annie was a babe," it seemed that everyone pondered the Furnaces
silently. And I have an inkling that they wouldn't have wanted it any other
Police Sweater Blood Vow
My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found
The Garfield El
Benton Harbor Blues
Teach Me Sweetheart
I'm Waiting to Know You
I'm in No Mood
Radiohead / The Black Keys
Auditorium Theater; Chicago, IL
hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since the release of OK Computer.
In 1997, Radiohead was just barely warmed-up to the obsessive fandom that has
since plagued them. Ironically, it was OK Computer's
paranoid, albeit disjointed critique of human interaction in a "postmodern"
technological landscape that engendered the very conditions it was lamenting — alienation, disconnection, simulacrum — which
nearly suffocated the band on its OK
Computer tour. In 2006, it seems as though Radiohead has finally
reconciled its tumultuous relationship with being the center of attention, the
spectacle. This is not to say, however, that the members of Radiohead are
adhering to the absurd standards and expectations of stadium bands. While
enormously popular, Radiohead is no U2. It's nearing the opposite, in fact:
Radiohead is considering signing to an independent label, Thom Yorke's new
album was released on independent label XL, and rather than letting their
popularity dictate the venues, Radiohead booked a modest tour consisting
primarily of theaters.
Despite not romanticizing over Radiohead since Kid A, the prospect of
seeing them live in a theater was enticing. My last Radiohead concert
experience (at the HUGE Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI) pretty
much shattered the illusion that "transcendence" could happen in any context
if Radiohead's music was playing. The gigantic TV screens, the Budweiser
advertisements, the overpriced merchandise – it was all too much. This Chicago
show, however, was very refreshing, at least by Radiohead standards. True, it
was sad to see hardcore fans outside the venue giving metaphorical handjobs
for tickets, but it'd be sadder to see Radiohead make concessions for
something that could be whittled down to cultural capital.
When the band finally stepped on stage, the applause and cheers from the crowd
drowned out the elongated intro riff to "Airbag." Nostalgia flowed through my
body, and I was transported back to a fantasy world where Radiohead meant so
much to me, a time when they signified something much larger than life.
Despite this sort of static, unrealistic perception, the illusion was
thankfully punctured every now and again: there were at least two obvious
fuck-ups, and every time the roadies came out to tune instruments, swap
instruments, or even end songs (e.g., turning off the amps after "Everything
in Its Right Place"), I couldn't help but smirk, somewhat endearingly, at the
I was ecstatic when they played my two favorite Radiohead tunes: "Kid A" and
"The Tourist." And songs I've never really warmed-up to 100%, like "2+2=5" and
"Myxomatosis," were thrilling in a live setting. But most of all, I was
excited to hear the new songs. Surprisingly, the songs were accessible and
many of them danceable. With all the proclamations of reinventing themselves
and Hail to the Thief being their last "rock" album, you'd think the
band would go strictly "Treefingers" on us. But perhaps that'd be too easy for
Radiohead. Even the unreleased "Nude," which was once moody in the vein of
"Exit Music" and later more akin to "The Tourist," was somewhat danceable in
its latest manifestation.
What surprised me the most, though, was Thom Yorke. Not that I ever questioned
him as a performer, but it has been admittedly a long time since I've seen
such a huge rock band perform, and Thom reveled in the spotlight. His solo
performance of "I Want None of This" and his animated gestures during "The
National Anthem" reminded me of just how captivating he can be. Although he
coasts on a different wavelength than some of us, Thom was definitely feeding
off the energy of the crowd, and this sort of relationship is usually either
minimized or transparent when the role of artist and audience is so clearly
It's surreal watching Radiohead live, nowadays. The disseminated images I've
seen of Radiohead performing far outweigh the number of times I've actually
seen them in "reality," so this disjunction makes for a somewhat bizarre,
insular experience. All attempts at an "objective" account aside, I believe
Radiohead is doing a tremendous job coming to grips with their fame, and
they've handled their popularity with a reticent wink. Although their music is
no longer my cup of tea, per se (three days later, I went to the experimental
music fest End Times that truly blew my mind), Radiohead will still likely be
one of the main loci where my aesthetic biases, political allegiances, and
cultural critiques will be measured and articulated. As such, Radiohead has
once again truly opened my eyes in inspiring ways, and I've started listening
to their music with a new sense of vigor.
3. Where I End And You Begin
4. 15 Step
5. Kid A
8. Climbing Up The Walls
9. Street Spirit
11. I Might Be Wrong
12. No Surprises
13. All I Need
14. I Want None Of This
15. The National Anthem
16. Bangers 'n Mash
17. Everything In Its Right Place
18. My Iron Lung
19. The Bends
21. How To Disappear Completely
22. Down Is The New Up
23. The Tourist
Band of Horses
Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY
On the evening of June 16th I
ventured down to the Bowery Ballroom, friend in tow. I warned him before the
show that he would be helping me to review the show. I just didn't tell him
how. My friend's name is Workweek. Let me introduce you.
Workweek is an Architect, Graphic Designer and DJ living in Greenpoint,
Brooklyn. Two of his all time favorite musicians are Bjork and Fabolous. He is
25 years old and waiting for his time to shine. That time is now – on Tiny Mix
What follows is a serious of 15 questions I made up for him a couple days
after the show, you know, so he had some time to think about it.
1. Do you like the Flaming Lips?
Is this the new Lindsay Lohan slang? Shit, I need to read Gawker more...
2. Do you like My Morning Jacket?
I've never listened to them. :(
3. How familiar are you with their catalog?
4. How familiar are you with the new Band of Horses album?
My roommate forced it into my iPod, and I have been enjoying it in the
mornings, and early evenings on the subway.
5. Did you enjoy the performance?
6. "James," a commenter on Brooklyvegan.com, had this to say about the show:
"don't know about you, but that show at the Bowery was boring. Too much reverb
on the vocals, too jam-bandy, and an "ah shucks, you guys are great, I love
you New York, ah shucks!" was kinda old when it began..."
But then "Nineteen-ninety-never" had this retort: "I disagree. I thought the
show was great. I don't think his happiness to be in NY was contrived at all.
It's a young band playing their first sold-out gig at the Bowery Ballroom, how
can you fault him for being psyched and appreciative? The reverb on vocals is
part of their sound, same as on the record. "Too jam-bandy"?? I don't think
any of the songs lasted more than 5 minutes and there were no segues. Maybe
I'm missing your point."
Who's side are you on, if any?
I feel The Ninety Never homie. I like that name too, being from the class of
99, and beginning to feel kind of old and all, but yeah. What's James talking
about being all "Jam Bandy," like, do those people still even exist? I totally
liked the live show. It was different sounding than my morning commutes, it
was more dancey, and yeah, I loved the energy and the vibe — fuck hating on
the dude for being stoked to be there — SHAKAH BRO!
7. If you could change one thing about the show what would it be? (you can
pick two or three if you want) It would have been nice to come out of there
with a phone number or two. I can imagine the girls who like BOH would be
totally cool. Especially if they liked that TI album they played during their
8. Do you like jam bands? Why or why not? No, I never really liked them, and
especially now that they're passé. Yeah I went to some Phish shows, but
whatever. I never collected
tapes — HA!
9. Would you rather be associated with Jam bands or Christian rock? AHAHAHAHA,
Some Christian rock is aiight. Like, I feel like Jam Band is a much more
pigeonholed genre than Christian Rock.
10. To your knowledge, what instrument was the lead singer playing? He started
with a LAP GUITAR and then played different guitars.
11. How did the music play out live compared to the record? Too alike? Too
different? It came out totally different than the record, and I really liked
that. The NYU Hip-Set was dancing too! I didn't know you could dance to BOH.
You're not going to catch me doing that, except for when the band came out
rapping to Chamillionaire's "Ridin." I like that music SOOOO LOUWWD.
12. What did you think of the reverb on the vocals? Got Old or Got Tingles? I
don't know what that dude was stressin' about. I'm pretty sure it's supposed
to sound like that. Regardless, it was seriously on point. The sound, the
aesthetic, the shaka-ing. I'm not going to say I got tingles or anything, but
yeah, it was tha' shiiiit.
13. Did this show prove to you that Band of Horses have what it takes to stick
around in the new blogged-out-internet-hate/love-two
seconds-of-fame-before/after-the-backlash music industry and world at large?
I'm still trying to figure this shit out. I feel like these bands are always
forced to come up big on following albums, with flipped-scripts and all that,
in order to survive. So yeah, this show kind of proved they had all this
energy and different style that is kind of absent on the album... maybe they
can use that to blow bloggers' minds on their next recorded go-around.
14. Did you find the show meaningful to you? Umm, like some born-again?
15. Being a party DJ you are probably familiar with the type of reaction music
elicits from the crowd; how do you react differently to this type of music
live as you would to say, the Juan Maclean, Rick Ross or Lightning Bolt?
Live it did kind of get to me, but their album doesn't. But like Juan Maclean
and Lightning Bolt rattle my bones in their recordings almost as much as they
do live. I've never seen Ricky live, but I hear he's not afraid to spit
Husslin' more than once in a show which I would be sure to pump ma' fist to.
BOH just elicits a pumped 'shaka' from my rating scale, but a burly one, ya
So, in the constantly evolving, genre spanning, internet-fueled music
industry, the underground has now successfully created its own specific 15
minutes of fame. Whether these 15 minutes lead to a major label contract or a
video aired on MTV is irrelevant. Besides, Sub Pop is practically a major
label at this point sales-wise, right? These 15 minutes are the (let's not kid
ourselves) 'Pitchfork 15.' The modern day Rolling Stone is now lofting
artists to a level of notoriety during the fledgling years which immediately
exposes them to a wider audience, but could potentially create overexposure
and a subsequent backlash. It's like in the mid-'90s when people got all
pissed that Built to Spill signed to a major label, but now you don't even
have to "sell out" to be hated; you just have to be liked by a larger
population of people (see: The Shins). Who gives a shit about the show; should
I like these guys? How do I stay cool? -Rezound
Buzzcocks / The Adored / The Choke
Irving Plaza; New York, NY
Going to see a band that hit its
prime over twenty-five years ago is always a dicey venture. No matter how good
they were once upon a time, you can't help but wonder whether you should just
spend your hard-earned money on a few re-issued LPs instead of shelling out
for tickets to a show that very well might forever ruin your enjoyment of said
band. As I entered Irving Plaza to see the Buzzcocks, I worried that I might
never be able to play Singles Going Steady again.
The first two bands, The Choke and The Adored, highlighted the contrast
between what punk music meant in the late seventies and what it means now.
Though both bands could be described as competent, I'm confident that they
could also have been restyled and repackaged as pop or metal bands, depending
on the preferences of focus groups and record executives. I missed most of The
Choke's set, and aside from the lead singer's throaty, powerful voice, the
band didn't make much of an impression. They seemed like they'd be at home in
a second-stage slot on the Warped Tour.
The Adored were no musical revelation either, but I've got to admit that their
set was fun, complete with harmonizing vocals, jubilant microphone twirling,
and hand claps. These guys were clearly living out their pretty boy punk rock
fantasies, but they were just so goddamn catchy and high energy that they
managed to win over even little, old, cold-hearted me. I don't think I'd
bother to pick up their album, but their set certainly kept my attention and
even made me dance. I was kind of sad for them when some frat party refugee
behind me yelled, "You suck!" as they walked off the stage.
After 20 minutes of listening to the same guy periodically scream, "Let's go
Buzzcocks!" as though we were at a high school football game, the band came
on. Though it was touching to watch how genuinely thrilled Pete Shelley and
Steve Diggle looked to be on stage, performing for a whole new generation of
fans, I just couldn't get into the first few songs. They opened with the title
track from their new album, Flat-Pack Philosophy (Cooking Vinyl), and
played about seven new songs in a row. While this new music is unmistakably
Buzzcocks and therefore not completely devoid of value, it just isn't perfect
the way the old stuff is. I blame the lyrics, which seem pilfered from vintage
Gang of Four: modern relationships are mechanical and consumerism is turning
us soulless – full of references to Marx on worker alienation. Twenty-five
years later, this stuff just feels trite, and besides, the Buzzcocks were
always at their best singing about the little indignities of romance and the
lack thereof. It seemed like even the band themselves were half-assing these
I was starting to despair when, finally, I heard the opening riffs of "I Don't
Mind." The band immediately seemed to hit its stride, as the old-timers and
teenage skate punks alike went wild, and the first few songs began to feel
like nothing but warm up. These were the Buzzcocks we had all come to see, and
we were overjoyed to find that they could still rock. They treated the
audience to about ten more of their favorite songs, among them "Fiction
Romance," "Ever Fallen in Love?," "Autonomy," and the sublime "What Do I Get?"
All of Irving Plaza sang along to "Why Can't I Touch It?," a phenomenon that
seemed to delight Steve Diggle. Often overshadowed in the band's mythology by
Shelley and Howard Devoto, Diggle was undeniably the star of this show. While
I sometimes felt like Shelley was rushing through his vocals (perhaps his lung
capacity isn't what it used to be), Diggle was just completely in his element,
bopping around the stage, oozing even more energy than those plucky kids in
the opening bands.
Though they'd already played for an hour, the Buzzcocks returned to the stage
after only a short break to play a generous, six-song encore. The highlight of
this last group was what I like to refer to as everyone's freshman year of
college anthem, "Orgasm Addict." Strangely, during this song and no other, the
entire audience began either pogo-ing or moshing. I could only guess that the
sexual intensity of the song was unconsciously encouraging complete strangers
to rub up against one another.
By the time the show was over, the band had played at least three-quarters of
Singles Going Steady and I had forgiven them for making us sit through
the new material first. It's obvious that the Buzzcocks know their best albums
are behind them, and if Flat-Pack Philosophy is nothing more than an
excuse for them to get out and perform their late-'70s classics, that's good
enough for me.
The Walkmen / Mazarin
The Showbox is perhaps the most
spacious venue Seattle has to offer. The layout is perfect for bar patrons and
young music fans alike to enjoy their favorite band without encumbrances or
blockades. Hell, even the bathrooms are nice for an indie venue.
It just so happens that I was able to take in just how spacious and nice The
Showbox is during Mazarin's set. When I walked in, I questioned whether I was
early, as the venue was not even a quarter full. Making my way to the bar to
grab a beer with my friend, I realized we were in the most populace area of
the venue. Further inspection noted that the other bar side was blacked-off. I
thought The Walkmen were far more popular than this, but it dawned on me that
it just so happened to be high school graduation weekend for most of the
Seattle area. I've encountered this phenomenon before, and while it may be a
downer to bands blowing through town, it makes the concert experience that
much more enjoyable for those of us not graduating from anything (unless you
count graduating from one beer to the next).
Philly's very own Mazarin were just taking the stage as we settled into the
bar area for our first drink. These guys have blown through town three times
in the past 7 months. The truly odd occurrence: I've been to every show
they've played but have missed out on them due to tardiness or show-hopping.
This time there was no avoiding Mazarin. Suffice it to say, after watching
them play to 100 people like they were 100,000 people, I'm sad that I've
missed them. Their set was a nice counterbalance to what the evening had in
store. Mazarin's greatest strength is taking catchy indie rock suitable for
the recording studio and making it as raw as possible in the live setting.
There's a crunch and a fervor many indie clichés can never deliver in a live
setting. It's one trick to make an album catchy; it's another to make a
concert even catchier.
A few beers and 20 minutes later, The Walkmen came out to a crowd that had
doubled (though that's not saying much). I fully expected a dud from the band,
considering the low turnout. What I got was one hell of a rock show. Nothing
was held back. Hamilton Leithauser belted out each and every song as if he was
a punch-drunk lounge singer expecting his big break. The new songs were
passionate and intense, something that does not translate throughout A
Hundred Miles Off. "Good for You's Good for Me" and "Emma, Get Me a Lemon"
transformed live, turning lifeless recordings into monumental anthems of piss
and vinegar. Old favorites such as "Wake Up" and "Little House of Savages" had
a crunchier, angrier tone that made them seem more sincere than ever. The real
surprise of the evening came when the band unveiled a new song and claimed it
was from an upcoming fall album (if it's from Pussycats I do not know)
The track itself had the same, south of the border blasé that makes
What did we learn from this? Don't miss Mazarin next time they come through
town, take note that The Walkmen are turning into an indie mariachi band (and
I like it), and consider that not fighting for your plot of floor during a
show makes for a more pleasurable concert.
Band of Horses / Mt. Egypt
Schubas; Chicago, IL
Considering the fact that this was
an all-ages show starting at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night, the crowd there to
see Band of Horses for their first of two sold-out shows was a surprisingly
older, more mainstream crowd. I guess the idea of getting home at 10:00 p.m.
to get good night's sleep before getting up early the next morning for work
appealed to more than just me. I must be getting old.
With such an early start time, opener Mt. Egypt, a one-man band from
California that plays melancholy folk in the vein of Will Oldham (with the
beard to match), kicked off to a mostly empty room that gradually filled
throughout the set. Backed by the bassist and drummer for Band of Horses, Mt.
Egypt's music was generally engaging and at times very beautiful. Band of
Horses' frontman Ben Bridwell eventually made his way onto the stage for their
last song, a more rollicking number, to sing back-up vocals. He later
professed his love for Mt. Egypt's music by saying, "Mt. Egypt is amazing. His
music makes me want to cry. So you should all check it out. If you like
Meanwhile, Band of Horses is a brand-new band playing their first tour ever.
While it's true that Bridwell has been in the scene a long time (previously
with Carissa's Weird), it's still a new sound with a new group of players. As
a result, the band definitely played like it was their first time on a stage,
and it was clear they had many kinks to work out in terms of their live show.
The band spent countless minutes in between songs tuning and changing
instruments, from lap steel to guitar to bass to a different guitar.
Unfortunately, all that tuning didn't always pay off, like when Bridwell felt
forced to put his bass down altogether during "Our Swords." Their playing at
times seemed rough, and the band blew all the obvious encore material during
the set, leaving the audience with a slow solo ballad so brand new that
Bridwell needed to bring out a sheet of lyrics to help him through the finale.
That being said, I still really enjoyed the show, even though everything I've
described so far might normally have me heading for the door. This was
primarily due to one reason: the fantastic stage presence of Ben Bridwell. His
personality and energy were so engaging it was impossible not to like him and
everything he did, especially when he threw his fists up in the air after each
song, seemingly victorious that they'd made it through. He could spend too
much time tuning the guitar, but the effortless jokes he told while we waited
made it bearable. When he gave up on the bass during "Our Swords," I laughed
with him rather than sigh in frustration. Instead of seeing a band that had
trouble getting it together, I saw a band just getting started. And regardless
of the roughness of the show, everything still sounded good. Bridwell's voice
rang out clear and crisp across the small venue, stronger than the album might
imply; opening song "Monsters" especially showcased his voice as he sat behind
his lap steel, spastically tapping his foot while the band waited to join in.
About halfway through the set, the band asked each other, "Should we do the
cover? How about we do the cover? Let's do the cover!" and then broke into a
slowed down version of Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True," which
was hilarious and awesome at the same time. The majority of Everything All
the Time made its way onto the set list, including "The Great Salt Lake,"
"Wicked Gil," and set-closer "The Funeral," with Bridwell's enthusiasm shining
through them all the way. And even though the new songs seemed unfinished or
ill-placed, they still provided a glimpse into future material that most
likely won't disappoint.
Great, memorable shows need three things: good source material, good execution
of that source material live, and a good stage presence by the band. Band of
Horses put on a good show because they got two out of three; with so much time
ahead to refine their ability to bring those great songs to the stage, there's
potential for a great show yet.
The First Song
Great Salt Lake
You Make My Dreams Come True (Hall and Oates cover)
Hopewell / Saints & Lovers
Pianos; New York, NY
Believe the hype. I don't find
myself uttering those words too often, but when it comes to Hopewell, I speak
without reservation. Cheryl Waters, whose KEXP radio show is beloved to all of
us 9-to-5ers who spend our days in front of the computer with headphones on,
named their last album, Hopewell and the Birds of Appetite (Tee Pee),
her favorite of 2005. Listening to that record, you see what she's talking
about – songs that are catchy and powerful, with sprawling, orchestral
instrumentals and a subtle bird theme that's more Hitchcock than Audubon
Society. The live show highlights and improves upon all of these elements
through the band's immediately contagious energy.
In their second Pianos show in as many weeks, Hopewell was fresh from the
studio, testing out new material for an audience of friends and hometown fans.
Many of the songs they performed were still untitled – frontman Jason Russo, a
witty and genial host, even asked the audience to suggest titles for one –
and, according to the band, unfinished. While there may be some tweaking left
to do, I could see where they were going. The formula hasn't changed, but the
songwriting has become tighter and perhaps even more experimental. While
Birds of Appetite was full of swirling instrumentals and wispy vocals,
reminiscent of Russo's last band, the wonderful Mercury Rev, the new stuff
seemed to herald Hopewell coming into its own. There is something intense and
ecstatic about this band, that rare element that could make them wildly
popular while still pleasing their loyal fanbase – and they are really
starting to own it. One new piece, a vocals-heavy, space-rock love song that
the band had never played for an audience before, made me especially excited
for the new album. When, towards the end of the set, the band dove headfirst
into their anthemic single, "Calcutta," the audience just exploded. In
retrospect, I feel kind of bad for having so much fun with a song about living
in extreme poverty.
This performance convinced me, once and for all, that Hopewell exists purely
to save audiences from having a bad night. It was something of a miracle that
I came out of this show happy, as it was prefaced by a boring, '90s
rock-flavored set by Saints & Lovers and twenty minutes of commercial hip hop
provided by some sadist on the Pianos staff (quoth my similarly frustrated
friend, "If I hear the words 'pussy' or 'bush' one more time..."). And the
first time I saw Hopewell, they were opening for
self-destructive/brilliant/fill-in-the-tragic-genius-blank labelmates The
Brian Jonestown Massacre. After some frat boy threw a cup of ice on stage and
Anton Newcombe pitched a hissyfit that essentially ended the show, Hopewell's
performance justified paying the price of admission.
So imagine my surprise when, at the end of the set, Russo plunked himself down
on a barstool that had been dragged to the middle of the dance floor and said,
"That was awful." Well, if this is high school and he's that skinny, popular
girl who always talks about how fat she is, I'm going to be the brownnosing
sidekick who assures her that she's beautiful. Do you hear me, Hopewell? It
was great, okay? So don't go throwing up your lunch or anything, because you
look really hot in that "next big thing" dress.
Deadboy & The Elephantmen / Wolfmother
Richard's On Richards; Vancouver, BC
Hype is a funny thing. It's the
reason I'm here tonight. The first time I took notice of Wolfmother, it was
because of a full page ad on the back of Exclaim! It's pretty hard to
ignore an Amazon serpent woman commanding you to own their debut LP on vinyl.
Some time later, about a month before this gig, I became aware that not only
was Wolfmother coming to town, but, which is more, they were already sold out.
Dick's On Dicks never sells out. I guess the Australian stoners put that WWF
funding to effective use.
But before I get ahead of myself too much, the opening act was pretty much as
equally notable. Typically a duo of former Acid Bath taker Dax Riggs and New
Orleans drummer Tessie Brunet, a touring bassist wearing a "He Love The Cock
->" shirt was added to the line-up to align themselves with the power trio
they're opening for. This effectively rounded out their younger White Stripes
indie sound, markedly improving over the more minimal live bootlegs I'd
previously been exposed to. Their tight, high energy set certainly raised the
bar for the evening in the expectations of those who made it on time (what is
it with people missing the opening act?). They had issued their Fat Possum
debut a few months ago, though, so they'll probably have a few more warm-up
gigs to go before they're top billing. Just judging from the fervour they left
the crowd in, though, I'm sure they'll get there in a timely fashion.
After several random drunkards finished choruses of "Let's Go Oilers" and
Wolfmother chants trailed by barstar woops, the thoroughly trendy, borderline
rowdy capacity (!) crowd met the Aussy burn-outs with a noise only matched by
the cheers following Edmonton's semi-final series clinching win over the
not-so-mighty Mighty Ducks, being shown on one of the TVs behind a bar (it's
Canada, folks). The "this is the last time you'll see this band in a place
like this" intro from some too-hot-for-radio Fox FM girl probably helped, true
as it is. Wolfmother's sound and stage presence can't be contained in such an
intimate setting. It's gotta be hard trying to rock out on a 15 foot stage
with the drummer practically hanging from the rafters. They did it, though,
scissor kicks and all. Dicks has never been more alive.
I wasn't even born when Black Sabbath stopped being rad, but this has to be
what it felt like when they were. Fuzz-drenched guitars, keyboard distortion,
tribal drumming, mythological imagery, grandiose solos, chantable choruses,
and relatable lyrics: this is the spectacle rock lost when it drowned in coke
in the late seventies and its cock shrivelled. Wolfmother has finally brought
back rock with cantaloupe balls. There were synchronized cheers and clapping,
moshing (especially during "Apple Tree"), and even a little crowd surfing.
Just how mean these guys sound doesn't come across on any recording. If Chris
Ross' raunchy keyboard doesn't get you moving, nothing will. Stadium rock in a
500 max capacity building... socks were melting. Indeed, the differences
between The Darkness and Wolfmother may largely be influences, but the sheer
idiocy of Justin Hawkins' persona/lyricism is offset by WM's commitment to
simple but effective classic rock. While the kitschy Darkness performs
shenanigans, Wolfmother just rocks. This means razor bladed amps, putting
women on pedestals, and blowing the fuck out of people's minds. How many
people are in The Strokes? Five? Seventeen? And they can barely muster the
strength to do an encore. Come and discover what you've been missing for the
last 30 years. Remember rock.
The Sasquatch Festival: Day Three
The Gorge; George, WA
With Day II
now nothing more than a whitewashed memory, we headed into the third day of
music at The Sasquatch Festival with a clean slate. This was going to be the
big payoff, the setting for dozens of impassioned performances and a
coming-of-age-type epiphany for a couple of young concert crashers. This was
going to make our arduous journey worthwhile and alleviate our worst fears.
Ever the types to "see where the parking lot takes us," we settled in for a
nice drinking session with some Canadians. As normally happens when drinking
with dirty, north-of-the-border brutes, they took us to task, breaking out a
bottle of Tequila with a little flourish. They were expecting us to partake.
I refrained. My last shot of Tequila almost killed me. I took it in the middle
of a Mexican restaurant after being awkwardly serenaded by a group of staff
members who were probably conspiring to pee in my pico de gallo. I forced it
down and began coughing violently, drawing the attention of diners around me.
Tears welled up in my eyes, and snot slowly oozed from my phlegm holes. After
a few minutes I realized I had a bloody nose, my face blotchy and beat-red in
the bathroom mirror. Allow me to clarify: I didn't get in a fistfight or snort
cocaine beforehand, nor had I mainlined Jack Daniels with Nikki Sixx or
headbanged with Andrew WK as a prelude. This one, lone shot was enough to
cause my body to convulse and cough up. It was the very essence of evil, the
sort of toxin that left a guy like me waking up pantsless with a sore ass in
the bed of a bearded, surly looking female midget. Bad things often
Again, I declined to take a shot, instead indulging in a bottle of my favorite
beer on Moz' green earth, Blue Boar. Or, as I like to call it when I'm on a
Fiery Furnaces kick, Blueberry Boat.
My partner in all things Sasquilla decided multiple Tequila shots would be a
great idea, especially at noon. I couldn't argue. Great things always seem to
happen when this guy ties a couple of Chilean monkeys to his belt. His
outrageousness has often made it not only possible but comfortable to approach
strange women in bars. The key? Talk about my drunk friend and what an ass-ham
he is. Works every time. Not that there isn't a dark side; if one of "his"
songs happens to pump from the jukebox he'll lunge around and break shit, and
he once covered his apartment walls with soot when he threw chicken in the
oven and fell asleep. In short, he can strap on a boozebag that'd make Tucker
Max and his entourages seem like giggly junior highers sipping wine coolers.
And now for a sanitation update: By the third day of the festival the bathroom
situation had become dire. Long lines in every direction and soggy bogs of
questionable origin to wade through, punctuated by a smell that only
two-and-a-half days of jettisoned festival food – cinnamon sugar-pies,
gelatinous pizzas, wannabe Phili steak sandwiches, suds –can furnish.
People were slowly growing weary, and not just because of the restrooms. We'd
been put through the ringer many times over. We were the living dead – burnt,
blistered, weathered... we shuddered in fear every time a cloud approached
overhead, flashing back to memories of frozen ping-pong balls that had just
yesterday rendered us nature's punching bag, thumping us on the head every
time we glanced out from behind our umbrellas (if we were lucky enough to have
The first band we saw put an encouraging spin on the day. The Arctic Monkeys'
egos are polished by the press more than silver doorknobs in a lavish mansion
with bored maids, but they can back it up. They jingled and jangled their six
string machines and never let up, picking up the many yards of slack afforded
them by a generally disappointing showing by many of the artists. On an
afternoon when many of the mid-day acts blended together facelessly, the
Monkeys had bite, energy, panache, and flat-out moxie, the sort of high-rise
decadence that we demand from our lavishly buttered-up blokes from across the
pond. We weren't "allowed" to photograph the Arctic Monkeys due to a
Cartman-esque strategy (deny people the right to something and they'll
actually want it sooner or later), but even that couldn't dull the spark.
Nada Surf and The Decemberists followed and... blended in. That's as sanitized
an evaluation as possible. Nada Surf are a nice little outfit, and I've seen
them in the past and enjoyed their straight-laced take on indie-rock, but they
made no impression at all. Furthermore, though they inspired yours truly to
walk about yelling "WOOK AT ME, I'M A BARROW BOY" for a spell, Colin Meloy and
his confederate troops dulled me. I KNOW I KNOW, if you're smart and musically
astute and in-the-moment you're supposed to drool over everything The
Decemberists do without even considering that, aside from The Tain EP
and a pretty good full length (Picaresque), they can be boring as bran
flakes. Hey, I'm not in this for the buzzbin baby; it's all about the goods,
and this Portland band didn't make the grade. At this point I must once more
question the sanity of the committee in charge of plotting out Sasquilla's
lineup, because a little juggling would have cured so many ills. Next time,
look at the bands and play to their strengths! And don't plop Headphones down
on the third stage, for crikey. What the hell was going on during the
Sasquatch planning meeting? Who supplied the whipits? Sounds like fun; can I
come next time? Cripes!
At some point between the start of Nada Surf's performance and the end of The
Decemberists', things got out of hand for the two of us. My concert partner
and I would separate randomly and I'd find him standing over by the Honey
Buckets, smoking a cigarette and circling his head around as if to ward off
bugs that might perch on his ear. Then we began weaving through the crowd to
find a spot to sit. While I walked cautiously, trying to take short, choppy
steps like a young Keith Byars, my counterpart (and on this day my
counterpoint) took a different tact: He started running. Keep in mind that
this was a crowded festival. There was barely a yard to spare on either side
of us; breaking through that barrier meant kicking people in the face or
tripping over their feet.
After miraculously making it 50 yards without incident, he slipped on the wet
grass, stumbled, pivoted, and leaned, suddenly vaulting into the air sideways,
scissoring his lanky legs and kicking straight into a young couple lying
leisurely on a blanket. The poor lovebirds lay in abject shock as my partner
muzzled with them up close. He could have lessened the severity of the
situation by simply getting up, brushing himself off and uttering a quick
apology. Instead he just sat expressionless like he belonged there, the couple
looking at each other then glancing around, trying to make sense of this
strange man with Tequila on his breath – this man lying next to them, nay,
WITH them. And not only has he slammed into and sidled up to them, he looks as
if he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon. I rolled on the grass laughing 10
feet above for a good five minutes, embracing the orgasmic, whooping, spastic
fit for as long as I could stand.
I helped him up and rattled a few conciliatory words to the couple, shuttling
my friend off before security was summoned. We settled down in a spot 20 yards
down next to a group of eight or nine young 'uns, 18 years old if they were a
day. Then the harassment started. My conspirator spit out a blubbery,
condescending, drunken laugh every time they joked with one another. Then he
heard his latest hot-button word, "Pasadena," come up in their conversation
and started yelling it over and over in a churlish Mickey Knox accent: "PASADEEEEENA,
PASADEEEEENA... OOOOOOOH" [tinkling fake piano keys with his fingers]. I don't
cotton to this sort of behavior, but in lieu of an inspiration drought I found
it a more than passable form of entertainment. Plus I dig Bukowski and Day III
at times reminded me of a few of his stories.
Following a heated discussion during which I informed my partner that I would
rip his liver out if he left the festival to crash out in his car, we moved
again and settled down to watch Matisyajew; I mean, Matisyahu. Hey, I'm not
the one writing the press releases and hype-heavy features – this group's
Hasidic frontman's ancestry has been discussed nearly as much as his band's
music. Is it really that strange to see a presumably un-circumcised male
perform Sublime-ish reggae-soul with a touch of hip-hop? Matisyahu's showcase,
short of explosive, was quite steady, and if this genre is your bag, you were
swooning like a knock-kneed schoolgirl until the last plunk-riff rippled
through the festival grounds. I came in weary and left impressed, if not
Upset that I was going to miss Queens Of The Stone Age, I nevertheless chose
to migrate to the second stage for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. DING: right
choice. Look, I'm not even going to dip into the back story of this band for
more than a sentence because it doesn't matter which website discovered whom
and whatever else. [Ah, what the hell: For the record, TMT found CYHSY
cryogenically frozen in David Byrne's meat locker with a tag attached that
read "Open in 2005; contents highly flammable." We then thawed them and
released them on an unsuspecting – and highly impressionable – public and the
rest is indie-rock-by-way-of-Encino Man history. SO THERE!]
The quintet were quite magical, and I was stuck in the way-back behind
hundreds of others. But intensity is tantamount to an affecting live
performance, and Clap Your Hands had it. "Is This Love," with its dippy keys
and frantic pace, along with the stomping chorus of "The Skin of My Yellow
Country Teeth," set the tone. From there we were all theirs, hanging onto Alec
Ounsworth's wiry wail as if it might disappear into the breeze forever. A few
duds aside, CYHSY came through on their end of the bargain. Remember how I
said that hype doesn't mean anything in Part I? The Arctic Monkeys and Clap
Your Hands, two post-Strokes cogs in the machine of death, nullified any
resistance we may have had in light of their waves of posi-press.
From there, the day began to cool into night. It must be written: Early
evenings at the Gorge = Kodak memories that will forever etch themselves in
your brain stem, and Day III upped the anty with the most striking sunset yet
and clear skies backdropping the cavernous Columbia River. I've been to Red
Rocks, and it can suck mine; that's how loyal I am to the Gorge as a venue,
weather-be-damned. With Death Cab For Cutie, the second-to-last band, about to
caress us with gentleness, it dawned on me how crucial they were to Sasquatch
2006 and the Northwest in general. As bad as Transatlanticism was,
Plans, their major label debut, was nowhere near as disappointing as I
expected at the time, complete with a supremely rewarding re-think of
"Stability" (a great EP track in its own right) as album closer.
Pulling the age-old trick, Death Cab kept the teeny boppers happy with "Soul
Meets Body" and the heavies at bay with the quiet-loud, double-guitar
pleasures of "Company Calls." I interviewed bassist Nick Harmer awhile back,
and he mentioned how impressed he's always been with Ben Gibbard's work ethic
where writing songs is concerned, and that quality shines through songs like
"Movie Script Ending," a hushed meditation that Chris Walla shouldn't have
quick-picked so haphazardly – he looked bored, likely longing to get back to
his mixing boards. As the astounding oranges, reds and purples of the sunset
tweaked our pupils, Death Cab For Cutie put in a workmanlike performance,
though I've seen the quartet close with "Prove My Hypothesis" at least four
times. Luckily they always thrash it out h-h-hard, jumping, kicking and
landing and generally acting like they aren't shy nerd-boys from a rich
Seattle suburb. As Jay might say, "Noise-noise-noise!" One couldn't help but
wonder why Iron & Wine and The Decemberists and others weren't afforded the
same sheer volume by the sound engineers, but that's another article.
Closing out the third day of a heavily populated festival event, my
expectations for Beck were high, perhaps too high. I wanted the enigmatic
style-setter to avoid playing tracks from Guero completely because it
sucks holy-hard ass, and I wanted multiple encores and at least a few cuts
from his record on K, not to mention a few from Mutations. It's
embarrassing how off I was, my instincts whittled down by burgeoning skin
cancer and chemicals. Beck entered the stage to much fanfare, accompanied by a
marionette band modeled after his backing band and him. As fun as the clip of
the marionettes poking fun at festival goers was, it didn't exactly lend
urgency to the proceedings. What we got mostly was his signature stabs at
whiteboy-gone-to-the-crossroads-and-now-he's-back-and-funky routine, but
without the spirited juke-stepping and flair I'd heard about years earlier.
This was a short, scant runt of a set. At Bonnaroo he reportedly pulled more
stops; what the shit? Does Beck hate Canadians? Does he hate the indefatigable
Gumshoe, a legend in his own mind? Does he hate Honey Buckets?
Whatever the reason, when Beck shimmied off the stage we all assumed he'd be
back with bells on, running through a different period in his discography or
bringing on a guest or two; something... anything! It didn't happen, as you
can probably ascertain, and we were banished back to our campgrounds, our RV
parks, our [shudder] lives. Lame.
And that's just about it. If this three-part tour diary from the other side of
the tracks seems a bit labored, perfunctory, occasionally funny, occasionally
scary, and often enthralling, then you've taken the first step to
understanding the levity of multi-day outdoor festivals. I've been to South By
Southwest, bitches, and came away unscathed, but I left Sasquatch a weary,
half-crazy man. Until next year... GO OILERS!
The Sasquatch Festival: Day Two
The Gorge; George, WA
As we approached the venue gates
for Sasquatch Day II: The Reckoning, we expected things to continue as
planned. We'd soak up a ton 'o' sun, check out boatloads of bands and, you
know, drink a ton of $8 cans of cheap beer, just like at home, save the
exorbitant price tag.
And that IS how things went, for about 45 minutes. After missing Rogue Wave we
tearfully trotted over to the second stage to catch ex-Pavement frontman
Stephen Malkmus' solo set. We sat on the side at first and were treated to a
magical herbal supplement that tasted vaguely like fake raspberries. YUM!
TASTE THE BERRIFIC GOODNESS! Malkmus was no slouch either, offering his best
impression of a guy that is just too laid back to give a fish-frying fuck
about being a big, shiny rock star god.
Of course, if you're a Malkmus guy you know this actually isn't an impression;
he really doesn't care. His solo CDs wouldn't even have his name plastered
across them if he had his choice. Alas, indie politics are a bitch, and
nowhere was this more apparent than at Malkmus' gig on the – mentioned again
for effect – SECOND stage. Malkmus playing runner-up to Iron & Wine, TV On The
Radio, Arctic Monkeys and – [choking/gurgling sound] Him? JESUS CORSETED
CHRIST, WHERE'S THE JUSTICE?
I watched years ago as Bad Religion opened for Blink 182, and though that
little rip in the fabric of punk-rock history will always be tantamount to
ultimate shittery in my mind, seeing Malkmus stuck on the second stage wasn't
too far removed. But remember what I said above? He doesn't give a fuck. He
and his beloved Jicks played a great little set, touching upon all our weak
spots: high, squealing guitars that make us cover our ears and take notice in
one fell swoop; verses that sound like a slightly tipsy slacker
Thirtysomething ordering a bath pillow over the phone; a sly wit those on the
outside will never fully understand; and lotsa rockin'.
Being a lukewarm supporter of Malkmus' until the sublime Face the Truth
(though I've been told I'm effectively an indie-rock invalid for not having
freaked on the self-titled debut) rocked and shocked my system, hearing "No
More Shoes" in all its squall-heavy glory was an inspirational thing, as was
watching with childlike glee as Malkmus yelled "Suck my kiss!" at the crowd,
remarking, "I've always wanted to say that … and mean it."
Now that he's a proud father – is there any other kind? – and reportedly
"settled down," it's nice to know the nearing-middle-age indie icon remains
capable of capturing his songs in a live setting, though his monotone delivery
is still good for a cringe or two after a full set.
Once Malkmus unplugged his Malkmus and exited Malkmus-left we had a choice:
stick around for Band Of Horses and a few others or head to the main stage for
Sam Beam, Neko Case, and The [gulp] Tragically [double-gulp] Hip [you get the
point; lots of gulping being had].
In retrospect our decision was a flawed one. Sitting in the nicely cropped
Gorge grass and watching as a flock of ominous clouds was herded our way, I
couldn't help but notice that Iron & Wine sounded AWFUL. Well, at least what I
could hear sounded awful; Beam and his traveling band were so quiet you could
barely hear a thing from 50 yards and beyond. And what I did hear I didn't
like. Country- and folk-crimped blues is a mighty fine persuasion if delivered
in the proper fashion, but Beam just couldn't hang, and how could I expect him
too? He's a naked, introspective songwriter trying to play to thousands, so
maybe he isn't to blame. And who's the wunderkind that slated this concert?
Does it take a genius to understand that the more intimate second stage would
have been Beam's playground? Ahhh … But, to tell it like I heard it, Iron &
Wine still sucked big, shiny, decorative balls, no matter which party was
responsible. Fleshing out his one-man songs with a band was a good move, but
his voice struggled to attain the volume necessary for a huge crowd and the
whole full band thing looks a lot better on proof paper than upon publication.
Sorry Sam; please, don't play it again.
Next it was time for some faux kuntry by crooner queen Neko Case, and she was
amazing for the entirety of her set, which turned out to be … oh, 10 minutes
tops. Too bad, Case, baby; didn't you bring your knight's armor? No? Awww,
poor, sheltered rock stars; will you ever learn …
Ok, I should clarify that this is a total in-joke, as a barrage of
bite-sized-Snickers hail rained down on the Gorge like the hand of god before
Case could even finish "My Favorite." Oh, and did I say the hand of
god? I meant a million-thousand hands of god that feel more like
quarter-sized chunks of sleet and ice than one, unmistakable hand of our
ever-elusive creator. DAMN YOU GOD, IS IT SO HARD TO SEE A SEMI-SNARKY MUSIC
REPORTER HAPPY? This was unlike any day-concert scene I've ever witnessed.
Tens of thousands of show-goers cowered under plastic tarps, $10 ponchos, and
blankets. For the first time in my life I envied those lucky souls confined to
a plastic bubble for life. Hell, they were sittin' pretty!
colleague and I attempted to outlast the outrageous storm, but it was a futile
endeavor with none of the above-mentioned forms of shelter at our disposal, so
we ran for the hills, or, more specifically, an overhead shelter. Under this
shelter were hundreds of shivering souls with little room to breathe. Things
even got kinda scary when several belligerent drunks packed into an already
dense crowd, leaving one to wonder what would happen where there was simply no
more room. Cannibalism? A tribal system in which the lesser are stomped like
dogs? Unintentional group sex?
Well, none of these seemingly inevitable eventualities transpired, and with a
knowing wink god blessed us with pelts of rain, which at this point were damn
preferable in comparison to the stinging clots of hail. Our light, sunny-day
concert had turned to a dark, third-world hellhole in a matter of an hour. The
grass, previously packed with people, was now dotted by staunch survivors of
the storm, discarded ponchos (one of which we used for a seat as not to wet
our shapely bums), water bottles, wristbands and mini food trays. It was sad.
It was dreary. It was kinda cool to finally get a good seat.
And so we decided in kind to persevere. Too tired to amble over to the second
stage, we weathered our second shitstorm of the day: The Tragically Hip.
Tragically, they actually weren't really that bad. I mean, they were bad, but
not tragically bad circa Him. They were more They Might Be Giants bad:
You're suspicious of friends that swear upon their goodness, but you'll let it
slide because the keyboards sound kinda cool sometimes and because it's not
like you have to listen to it outside of the occasional ride in their car.
I'll just leave it at that, because frankly dear, I don't give a damn about
The Tragically Hip, and neither should you.
Before I drop several semi-sweet morsels about The Shins' set, I need to get a
few things off my chest. First off, though James Mercer and co. have gotten a
HUNDRED TIMES better at reenacting their Oh, Inverted World cuts in a
live setting over the years; the chorus of "Girl on the Wing" and a few others
are just-plain-cavalier; what's more, I've heard them get it right in the
past. Why not this time? Secondly, there's this GREAT Shins song they used to
play back in the early post-millennium days (at the end Mercer scat sings,
"oh-oh-oh-oh, OH-OH," if that helps), and they've simply abandoned it. Man,
that sucks ass. Thirdly, they played the EXACT SAME songs they cranked through
at Sasquilla 2004. Fourthly, the critics that hailed Chutes Too Narrow
as superior to Oh, Inverted World should be summarily shot in the teeth
repeatedly. Sixthly, Shins keyboardist Marty Crandall looks JUST like Chris
Parnell from Saturday Night Live and no one else seems to notice. What gives?
Sixthly, the above concerns mean precisely shinola because The Shins remain an
incredible band, Mercer a once-a-decade vocalist with a rare combination of
upper-register range and songwriting smarts cum whimsy. A few lukewarm
Chutes tracks notwithstanding, the amazing pitter-patter-plunk-plop rhythm
of "One By One All Day," the slinking synth-accompanied chorus of "Saint Simus,"
and of course the rousing chant of "Hold your glass up" from "Caring is
Creepy" proffered enough sugar-sweet goodness to render the preceding
hailstorm maelstrom a dirty, drippy memory, much like that time you caught the
clap from your elementary school janitor.
At this point, the crowd was informed that Ben Harper would grace the stage
before The Flaming Lips due to undisclosed difficulties. This ended up being a
HUGE deal, as Harper's set literally took 17 years, 321 days, 5 hours, and 37
minutes to end. It folded on itself like an apple turnover; it contracted and
expanded like a temperamental blowfish; it was Eternal like KLF's 3 a.m. and
The Bangles' Flame; it was unbearable.
And I like Ben Harper. Sort of. Well, I mean, I don't dislike his music
in any severe way. But he's just one of those artists to me -- I'll admit he's
talented as long as I don't have to listen to too much of his music or too
much bantering from his "biggest" fan that once shared a nose hair trimmer
with him (!). I bought the double album Live From Mars and shelved it,
save to listen to "Alone" occasionally. A friend once told me Harper is like a
combination of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan (Bob Marlan!), but to me he's more
Wyclef spliced with Dave Matthews: technically talented, and I loved The
Carnival, but c'mon!
His performance at Sasquatch did little to deter my "meh" sensibilities. As
our drenched clothes bonded with our white, bloated bodies a cutting wind
pierced our very souls and whittled away at our resolve. It became an
endurance test, one I'm sad to say we failed: After the 72nd Harper encore, we
uttered a "fuck this" and packed it in for the night.
I figured we didn't miss much. At Sasquatch 2004 The Flaming Lips' visual
extravaganza was blighted by Coyne's failure to hit his high notes. The next
day over Tequila shots a group of rowdy Canadian roughriders told us what we'd
missed: A boy in a plastic bubble, a cover of Sabbath's "War Pigs," and lots
of fake blood. Bollocks.
Would the Third Day of Sasquilla-my-'nilla compensate for the failures of the
second? Would I find the frozen banana of life, the treat that would save me
from damnation? Would I be able to keep my best palcoholic at bay? Would the
bubbling refuse in the outhouses remain enclosed or would it explode from all
the lame vegetarians and their heavily propelled poo? Would the Oilers win and
SHUT THESE GODDAMN CANADIANS UP ONCE AND FOR ALL?
Stay tuned for Sasquatch Day III: Return of the Drunken Gimp.