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.