I know you're on pins and needles, having waited, both of you, so patiently for my review of day three of the Harvest of Hope festival. I arrived around 1:30, since there were few acts I'd wanted to see in the morning. I only have two ears, and I'd almost used up both of them the night before, so a quiet morning was a good way to prepare for the day and night ahead.
Canada's Tokyo Police Club was first up for me. They'd rescheduled their Friday performance due to a "minor health issue" according to their website, and I was grateful for whatever effluvium delayed them because they provided probably my most pleasant surprise of the festival, with their upbeat sound and clever lyrics. Maybe it's the English major in me, but when they sang "Give us your vote" in "Your English is Good," I was ready to. I don't know, maybe think of kicking them through the goalposts of The Decemberists on one side and Los Campesinos! on the other. Oh, Canada, indeed.
Israel's Monotonix was next up on stage one, or, rather, in front of stage one, since they're renowned for performing in the crowd, for being "chaotic." I didn't last long, though. The music was unremarkable, and watching a hairy Levi Elvis wipe his naked ass crack with the mic filled me with ennui. Junior varsity G. G. Allin schtick on a beautiful spring day was as wrong as the hype. Nevertheless, the tight donut of cultish fans morphing around the trio seemed to be enthused, malleable to every one of Levi's commands. I just hope, for the sake of the acts to follow, LE brought his own mic.
So I wandered a bit. Stage two mostly featured rap on Sunday, and I went to check out Inspectah Deck, but he was late and some guy was stalling with his own soul, which wasn't bad, but the crowd was restless. Monotonix thankfully gave way to Holy Fuck, an electro band that interestingly features live precise bass and drums to nail down all the throbbing computer riffs. The musicians around (including aformentioned fellow Canadians TPC) were impressed, but the music seemed suited to more chemical moods than my state at the time.
I wandered back to stage two briefly. Inspectah Deck had finally shown and was rapping while GZA watched and helped. It was hilarious to see the large crowd of all white suburban indie kids from St. A and Gainsville raise their skinny fists like antennas to Compton when ID said, "This one goes out to all my homies in the 'hood," as though he meant them. ID was congenial and I enjoyed watching, listening, but I needed to head to stage three, where my real homies, Ninja Gun, were going to play. I passed through the nearly non-existent crowd for Tiger City, pausing to hear what they're like. It seemed their crowd hadn't made it out from the 80's to hear their legwarmedover Duran Duran/"Mr. Roboto"-era Styx tunecraft.
Tim Version, another of Gainsville's gruff punk mainstays at HOH, was up on Stage three, likable guys with a sense of fun. Gainesville punk is essentially good, Irish-inspired drinking music, and these guys can fuel a good beer binge. I wandered from the stage to say hello to Jessie and Marie, who were "manning" the merch table with Coody and Thad (when they weren't checking in on TV) before the show. (Thanks for the T-shirt, Coody.)
In SAT analogy parlance, Gainesville style, Tim Version is to Gaslight Anthem as Ninja Gun is to:
a. Fake Problems (ok, they're from Naples. You got me, but who said the SAT was fair?)
b. Against Me!
c. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
d. Grabass Charlestons
The answer is c. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Of course, I have to qualify this some. Ninja Gun is from Valdosta, not Gainesville (even though they're bigger in Gainesville), and, while Tom Petty might be more their entree than any of the Gainesville bands I've heard, their sides would have to be the Kinks and T. Rex. Maybe some Buzzcocks or early Beatles for dessert. That is, their blend of country punk is sweet tea cool, and their songs are wryly observant and well-written. "Eight Miles Out" showed off their angular guitar-drenched driving rock capabilities, while "Darwin was a Baptist" revealed their strong sense of regional irony in its beautifully satiric chorus: "Can I get a little more church in my state?/" (and this is an enjambment to make an old poet like me jealous), "give me one more reason to hate/ everything around me/baby it surrounds me" John Coody is a bona fide, Johnny Cash lib'ral, and it's a pleasure to listen to him weave his words through classic rock and country territories, sounding both familiar and brand new at the same time. They're going on national tour starting this month. Look for them.
Grabass Charlestons and Whiskey & Co. were up next on three. Grabass is a longtime, popular Gainesville punk outfit, a little slower, grungier than most Gainesville bands, and they're good live. Whisky played a fine drunken country sprawl of a set, a nice follow-up to Ninja Gun. "Happy Hour" could be a bar anthem if it wasn't so short. Set it on loop and watch out for the floor, honey.
I stepped over to one to check out Ra Ra Riot for a couple of songs. They weave violin and cello nicely into their new-wave inspired sound. Fortunately, they refract the more interesting side of the 80's with updated, sophisticated, multi-layered pop and clear vocals. If you typically like who NPR recommends, check them out.
Heading into the heart of the evening, stage one featured Jacksonville's Pitchfork-darlings-then-rejects The Black Kids (they sold out SO FAST). They were more enjoyable than I expected, having downloaded their initial ep and, sure, it's clear they requested "Love Cats" and "Let's Dance" often on 80's dance night and they probably have tapes of Talk Talk and Culture Club somewhere in the back seat. "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You" is genuinely fun, but the next new thing? Pushing that pile of expectation on top of them could have ruined them. They're virtue, after all, was their uncritical, charming enthusiasm, and I'm pleased to say that, live, their enthusiasm still shows through as they project a nerdish affability.
But I left The Black Kids to check out KRS-One, and he was preaching the virtues of old school (90's, not 70's, the real old school) hip hop, arguing that it's not dead, showing off quick rhymes over anything. Dixie said she admired him for his experimentation, bringing any musical genre into rap, and when he freestyled over "In the Mood," I was convinced.
So when she and Camille said to check out Paul Baribeau over at stage four, I tagged along. I'd never heard of him and I knew what Gaslight Anthem was gonna sound like. PB put out some fine, amusing, observant acoustic guitar, coffeehouse music perfect for thirty-somethings who like a little wisdom and experience along with their sound. Paul would have fit nicely in Saturday's Vanderslice/Darnielson mix with his simple voice and humorous banter between songs. "Think of all the things that are wrong with your life and fix them." He makes it sound easy and fun.
We lingered for acoustic punk-folk activists Ghost Mice, and enjoyed their energy, which flowed nicely after Paul B., but I'd had enough enthusiastic acoustic and headed after a few songs back to stage one, where New Jersey's Gaslight Anthem was finishing their crunching mainstream blue-collar punk set. They've played in Valdosta and they're nice guys.
I wandered over to three briefly to check out the Young Livers, yet more Gainesville punk, maybe angrier, but I needed something slower, so I went back to one and waited for The National, the last act of the evening, while the Ninja Gun crew were headed to three to support Fake Problems, whom I'd seen in VD.
Brooklyn's The National were professional, serious, passionate, which was why I wanted to see them live. The crowd knew the songs, reflecting aging worldliness underlined by music that can ring melodic fatigue or erupt into a frontal guitar assault. They played exactly an hour, and, while it's easy to put them in the Springsteen revival pigeonhole along with The Hold Steady, these songs fit me better, since I've enjoyed that slowdive baritone style via Tindersticks and Arab Strap for some time. I nominate "All the Wine" to the top ten wino list just for its chorus ("All the wine is all for me"), and "Fake Empire" still stirs with its reflections about what we've become, those optimistic horns prophetic at the end, I hope. Unfortunately, they had to cut their set short due to the 11 PM curfew, and so "Abel" didn't make it into the warm spring air that night. I left with the image of Matt Beringer banging together two white wine bottles (which he'd dutifully emptied during the course of the set) along with the beat to one of the songs, but I don't remember which. "All the Wine?" "Squalor Victoria?" "Mr. November?" "Apartment Story?" I think it was "Apartment Story." It punctuated nicely, sounding about to shatter. I left feeling "tired and wired," somber and wanting wine myself, but red, not that white Matt was drinking.
I ran off the festival Monday at Anastasia state park, the waves my music, the white beach my stage.