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.