Monday, November 30, 2009

Spanish Mosh: The Fest 8, Gainesville, Oct. 29-Nov2 (Day 3)

After a fitful night of sleep, we headed over to Bagels Unlimited on University Avenue for coffee and fuel. It was full of sleepy Fest attendees and band members who had tickets for free food. It's a pretty good place to ditch a hangover, and a good place to eat even if you lack one, and none of us were suffering too much. Full, we headed to The Venue, since Ninja Gun's drummer Jeffrey Haineault would begin his double-duty day as the Ship Thieves' drummer. We arrived early, before the doors had opened, the line already long, but we were let in soon enough. Male and female Festers in black clothes, black boots, and glinting steel studs strolled up and down the Ave. searching out the sounds they wanted to start their "morning" with. At the dark, cavernous Venue, the first band, Broadway Calls, set up their gear while the sparse bleary-eyed attendees bellied up to the bar to beer away their hangovers. BC started their teen-movie-friendly punk, gently waking us into familiar bouncy-bouncy and a decently congenial crowd. Probably a good idea to start the day without anything too challenging.

Off With Their Heads was next and Matt was expectant; I, on the other hand, didn't know what to expect from these Minnesotans. The crowd milled, but the feeling was surprisingly mellow and we just kind of stood around and talked next to the stage. The band set up without hurry, but, finally ready, they launched into their first note and I was instantly paninied into the stage-front crowd as the beer showered from above. The mosh pressure was instant and omnipotent up front, and I couldn't move. It's best to go with whatever shape they press you into so long as it's not crushing any limbs or organs, and so I did, while overhead crowd surfers climbed the stage or up the backs of anyone handy and surfed until they fell. It's Darwinism, pure and simple, and since this wasn't an activity an injured (bad shoulder) nearly fifty year old would naturally select, I was ultimately expelled slowly through the seven circles of mosh until I was finally on the periphery of the heavy action. Still, I held my good arm up to support a few surfers and, before I was expelled to the margin, I served as involuntary ladder for three or four surfers. The music? It was loud, raucous, punk for the executioner in all of us.

Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves, up next, would provide a marked contrast in styles and would challenge the expectations of the crowd assembled. They set up slowly, with more elaborate instrumentation (including keyboards, computers) than the punk outfits before them. I noticed the guy prepping his guitar was the nice guy, Chris, from the night before. I'd been chatting with Chris Wollard, legendary member of Gainesville punk icons Hot Water Music, recently disbanded, and hadn't known who he was exactly. He looked almost too scholarly to be a punk icon--tall and lanky, with a slight beard--but then again, his new music moves him decidedly away from punk into more standard Americana-tinged rock territory. They opened up with "Dream in My Head," a song that announces Wollard's departure from HWM and that punk milieu. Their sound is tight and sophisticated, as Wollard places his raspy, plaintive vocals in a register between Springsteen and Westerberg, and the driving rock rhythms followed suit, through "Sick, Sick Love," "Long Wave," "Modern Faith," and "No Exception" ending the set repeating, "This is not a test." Many in the crowd seemed to expect them to play some Hot Water style thrash, and they even started an impromptu mosh during "No Exception," which seemed very odd given the music, but it felt like a good-natured tribute to Wollard's past, if not outright denial that one can outgrow punk. Yet Wollard seemed at ease in the new music, and the band was tight, and watching Jeffrey keep the rhythms mathematically fluid was especially pleasing.

We left The Venue to close out The Fest at Rumrunners, a small bar with lousy acoustics. The Terror in Tiny Town, a self-proclaimed Gainesville "supergroup," was already playing a fast, pumping set of energetic indie-punk songs embellished by some deft keyboard work. Heavily tattooed and exotically lovely Heather handled the heavy vocals duties; they sounded a little like Rainier Maria with extra caffeine. They finished up soon after we got there, but I enjoyed their work.

Towers of Hanoi, whom I've reviewed before, was up next. I'm always glad to hear them play, as their music challenges easy description. They blend math, metal, and indie elements into a sonic pastiche that powers through simple genre definitions. Rachel climbs primal vocal mountains while her husband Travis articulates intricate guitar riffs that contain the music perfectly. Jon on drums and Dru on bass underpin it all with forceful, relentless rhythms. The crowd was relaxed and friendly, and we enjoyed their short set that featured a strong new song, "Heart of Reason," to go with their signature works, including "Danger, Danger," and my favorite, "Empty Chapels." which gives Travis a chance to step out and sing in calm counterpoint to Rachel's theatric style. Coyote Throat followed up with an urgent set of punk songs in the Gainesville mold.

But I was there to hear Valdosta's Trailer of Tears, up next (Jeffrey's second show of the day, this time as frontman), and their unique blend of psychadelic punk doo-wop that they refer to as "trailer pop." After their obligitory round of tequila shots for good luck (after a day of beer), they played an exuberantly Replacements-esque set about love and loss, from the new and catchy "Don't u be Afraid," through TOTs classics like "Oh Baby," "Go Home" (in which Jeffrey channels Bryan Ferry as if he were fronting the Toy Dolls while Taylor, smiling the whole set, hammers the drums into submission), and "Not My Baby Anymore, " a truly inspired, 50s-flavored pop complaint. "Lonely Eyes" continued the nostalgic doo-wop relationship woe-ooo-oh-ooo-woes, and they finished their originals with the excellent "Family Values," which allows Jason on ringing lead and Bobby countering on bass to step out and rescue us from relationship hell with power and even some unpretentious majesty (Think of the opening of "In a Big Country," but the beat is heavier). They closed appropriately with a fun cover of "My Little Runaway," and the set ended in lots of laughter and a very pleased crowd. Their live shows are about fun, but check out the web site to hear the sophisticated blend of pop influences, from Beach Boys to Kinks to Todd Rundgren.

Thunderlip played their final gig. Technically fine neo-Zepplin rock, but Wolfmother has apparently stolen all that thunder.

West Palm Beach boys Surfer Blood kept us at Rum Runners despite headliners Youth Brigade and the Samiam reunion at The Venue. They pulled in from an all day drive at the end of the Thunderlip set and set up quickly. They look very young (the eldest is 24), but their music is a precocious blend of Pet Sounds and new wave that surprises with its unabashed musical righteousness. The played most if not all of their debut release, Astrocoast, beginning with "Floating Vibes" and lighting on the percussion heavy "Take it Easy," the Pitchfork-praised, "Swim (to reach the end)," "Harmonix," both "Jabronis," and "Twin Peaks," among my favorites. Any band who can reference David Lynch all bouncy calypso like and who lists Flannery O'Connor as an influence appeals to my biases. They don't sound live exactly like they do on the cd with all its distorted, washed vocals, but the raw effort appeals because the band has so much fun. They paired very nicely with Trailer of Tears in exuberance and influence, and they finished the Fest 8 perfectly for me, as we headed home after the set. Overall, Surfer Blood and Lemuria were my best new finds of the Fest, though I worry that Surferblood could get overheated given the hype they're already generating.

We straggled tired and spent into the Waffle House in a late night assault, talking about what we'd heard and seen, met by a sudden chill that chased away the Indian Summer and woke us slowly back into our South Georgia lives.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spanish Mosh: The Fest 8, Gainesville, Oct. 29-Nov2, Day 2

Taylor, the Captain (both of No More Analog, Taylor in Trailer of Tears), and I headed up Saturday and convened at a building housing a number of local musicians, and a Valdosta refugee or two, to hook up with various gentlemen from Ninja Gun, Trailer of Tears, and the Ship Thieves. We were hearing tales of long lines and waits outside the most popular venues, so, once we had our wristbands, the Captain and I left Taylor and headed to the Civic Media Center to check up on Andrew Jackson Jihad, but the line was infinite and the space was minute, so we gave up and headed to Common Grounds, where the line was manageable and moving and several good bands were to play.

After grabbing some coffee to amp up for the evening, we waited. We waited patiently. We waited patiently, even when the three attractive girls in front of us magically gained immediate admission. Morgan from Hard Girls saw us and joined us in line and we conversed pleasurably about bands, the Fest, etc., and then we finally made it into the venue. The Measure (SA) was up on stage playing some affable, energetic punk, closing their set with "Drunk by Noon," which tends to be the raison d'etre for many Festers. Of course, to be fair, many are still drinking from the night before.

Cheap Girls of Lansing, MI, was up next, one of the two bands I wanted to see at Common Grounds, and it was terrific to see them on a full stage this time. Ian wears nerdy, thick glasses and writes great, crunching pop songs with smart lyrics. "Her and Cigarettes," always a crowd favorite, provokes spontaneous crowd singing ("I love her and cigarettes so much/We took the long way so we could have another"), but all the songs are raucous twenty-something anthems: "I lost my keys, but then I found them/ I lost you too, but that was kind of on purpose." Ben and Adam keep the songs driving, and they would all make Bob Pollard proud.

Buffalo's Lemuria was up next and their indie/punk set layered sweet frosting on the cake of my ears (I know. Kinda gross). Sheena plays guitar and sings with energetic, not-quite-twee but not-quite-riotgrrrl urgency, while Alex provides the deep vocal counterpoint, especially in "Wardrobe." "Lipstick" with its hints of early Liz Phair, Rilo Kiley, and Sleater Kinney alone sold me the album Get Better, which makes me want to wear lipstick to cover my morning coffee breath. Can music be both delicate and muscular? Lemuria answers yes.

The jolt of estrogen pushed me out of Common Grounds and I needed more, so I went to The Atlantic to catch up with Athens' Madeline, whose house show here made me a big fan. She was fully banded for the Fest, and it was great to hear the fleshed out songs live. More girls graced the audience here, and they were clearly appreciative of Madeline Adams' beautiful voice and her lucid observations. But it's for her songwriting I think White Flag is one of my top ten albums of 2009. Songs like "Shotgun Wedding," "Belly of the Beast," drip with that weird southern blend of sin, gin, and the scary bible brought down to earth in a way that lets us all know we've been left behind and it ain't gonna stop, and she manages to weave unusual words into images that make it hurt all over again and forever. When she broke out into "Shotgun Wedding" I was made whole by the poetry even as the song takes you apart in all its gorgeous exploration of falling. Her relationship with the audience was intimate, and when she finished her set and found out she had two minutes left, the audience cheered when the band left the stage and she soloed us out with "I Left the Light On" from Kissing and Dancing, which she self-released when she was only 17.

I left refreshed and on to the Market Street Pub, commandeered that night by Suburban Home Records acts, and had a bite in the restuarant (ih), and then headed in, where The Takers were playing straightforward honkytonk--good sad drinkin' and fightin' music. Waylon Jennings may be dead, but he's certainly not gone as songs like "Curse of a Drunk" and "Friends in Bottles" "celebrate" fuel for outlaws, and "Drift" knows love is a gamble and the house always wins.

Tim Barry was up next, but I was out at the Ninja Gun merch table with Jessie and Dottie. Barry plays what amounts to country emo, baldly autobiographical, and you'll either love the ambitious honesty or find it a little over the top. But in the lobby, all the Ninja Gun and Trailer of Tears guys were hanging around and so we compared notes and drank cheap beer. Chris walked up and said hello. Jeffrey and Coody had introduced me to him at the Atlantic before, and I remembered him as a warm, intelligent guy then, and we reconnected. It wasn't until the next day that I found out who I was talking to, but I'll leave that for then.

Tim Barry finished up his set early, but nobody told Ninja Gun, so they set their gear up and started before their scheduled time slot, which meant some of their crowd hadn't arrived yet and they arrived steadily through the set and filled the room. I've written a lot about this band and these guys have become friends over the last few years, and it has been amazing to watch them grow from the first time I saw them grinding out a good-natured set at a shitty haunted pizza pub with a shittier sound system here in town, playing songs from their first cd (Smooth Transitions), and finishing up by covering "Hey Ya" and "Twentieth Century Boy" while the kids jumped and shouted. But tonight was prime time on a big stage and Coody, Thad, Jake, and Jeffrey played a tight set, mostly from their second cd, Restless Rubes, including the rocking but plaintive "Eight Miles Out" and the wonderfully satirical "Darwin Was a Baptist," and they previewed a song that should anchor the next album, "Time and a Half," which could just become the next anthem for the working class. They articulate the "Red State Blues" better than anyone born and raised in the South, and, while the lyrics can bite and snarl about everything that's wrong with smalltown south Georgia, the guitars ring optimistic, as though some essential goodness down here can come out and "start shinin' again." My only complaint was that they played the minutes scheduled instead of the minutes afforded by Tim Barry's brevity, but nobody told them until they were done. Two more songs would have been awesome.

Whiskey & Co. were up next, and I love their enthusiasm for drink and bluegrass-flavored country, but Matt and Taylor wanted to shed the country sound for some essential hardcore punk, so we headed to the 1982 to hear the Brainworms. Unfortunately, we arrived to a lengthy line because the club was already at capacity, and no one got in until someone left, so we waited and heard this girl complain vociferously that she PAID ALL HER MONEY AND DROVE SIX HOURS JUST FOR THIS SET AND THIS IS A FUCKING BULLSHIT RIPOFF, but unfortunately the city council wasn't in line to vote to change the fire codes just for her. We finally were allowed in about twenty minutes later. Brainworms were last and went a little long, so we were in for about a half dozen, mosh-insane songs. Greg handles vocals and bears the signature great red beard and beer belly and a great coat of sweat halfway through the show and he looks like a mad giant hypermotive leprechan. Moshers attempted to crowdsurf despite the low ceiling and surged toward the stage and threw beer. You'd think it was mayhem in there, and one guy lost his glasses, but somehow they made their way hand-t0-hand out to the periphery safely as the mayhem continued. The music was loud and relentless and unapologetically punk like they really don't fucking care if you think they suck, and that's their strength because they are loved. The crowd knew all the words to songs like "Sunrise Dudes" and "Born with a Beard" and the energy was a good way to close the evening. Taylor, Matt, and I stepped into the warm evening and tried to figure out if we could make it to catch the end of the Textbook Committee, a Bob Pollard approved GBV cover band, but it was too late, and so Matt and I went back to unwind in the cheapass motel room with some cheapass red wine while Taylor went out to find just one more party, but that's his story, not mine.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Spanish Mosh: The Fest 8, Gainesville, Oct. 29-Nov2 (Day -1)

Gainesville's Fest 8, one of the biggest punk-flavored festivals in the country, drew close to 350 bands and thousands of music lovers from around the world. Sure, many are from the area, and many wouldn't be labeled as "punk" in the contemporary sense, but if you consider the more generous definition that counted people like Patti Smith and even Gainesville's favorite son Tom Petty as punk rockers, it's definitely a punk fest and a legendary annual celebration of the virtues of PBR.

I've extended the dates beyond the three days of the festival, because, well, all those bands gotta play somewhere on the way in and out of town, and five of the bands played in Valdosta before and after, so the Fest festers beyond the armpit Gainesvillers represent the town as and we begin here with Fest: Day -1.

I went to the Bleu Pub here and was disappointed to find that having dinner at home after my evening class made me late for Ninja Gun, who was loading out their gear when I arrived. Amy T. came up, gave me a hug, and raved about their set. I'd mentioned them to her a few hundred times before, but she finally popped her NG cherry and was awash in post-sonic bliss. No surprise there.

Carson was back in town and the bar was full of beery people, so, while it wasn't the Fest, we were all feeling extra festive. Ready the Jet, a trio out of LA, set up next. Live, the punk influences, Misfits and Black Flag, prevail at the front of the sound, but their late-Guided-by-Voices hooks and Replacement's/Husker Du sympathies come through the noise enough despite the pared tour instrumentation and open brick acoustics (the album New Record Highs is, in fact, an enjoyable listen for anyone who misses 80's Minnesota/90's Ohio indie or for anyone who wants to hear it translated into SoCal themes, e.g "Normandie," "Butane Vistas," and "Mile of Miracles").

Hard Girls of San Jose continued the positive infusion of west-coast, Fest-ready sloppy-joes indie punk. Songs like "Quinceanera," "Strange Carafe," and "Beach Party!" drip all over your shirt and make you want to lick your fingers. Max hit the skins so hard that Jay from Ready the Jet had to get on the floor and anchor his kit. They had fun and said after the show that Valdosta was the best place of the tour so far. It was fun to catch up with folks from that part of California, too, as I spent about a year there and my daughter was born there. Morgan, Max, and Mike are mercilously fun, super-nice guys, so if they're in your neighborhood, go see them.

V-town's No More Analog closed the show with a raft of new songs and a fuller sound that enthusiastic bands are comparing to The Replacements. Sure, they've been listening to a lot of Big Star and the Zombies, so it's no surprise that they're underpinning their punk tendencies with a strong sense of pop melody and incisive writing. This is clear in new additions "Been So Good," which breaks out a celebration against all the whining haters of our fair little city, and "Big City Dreams," which is about a girl with higher aspirations. The new songs deliver sharp observations packed into short, tight compositions with plenty of fuzz and feedback to go perfectly with that next PBR and pub fries, and they don't feel at all out of place with all our NMA favorites, like "Fresh Romance," "Field of Diamonds," or "Anasazi." Get that record done, gentlemen.

This was as close as I would get to Friday's Fest, as I couldn't go until Saturday, my ears were primed nicely for what was to come.