Toronto – I will be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a rockist at times. Sure, I enjoy a good electro/dance tune as much as the next guy (and I saw quite a bit of electronic stuff at this past weekend’s Lollapalooza), but I’m less likely to go out and see that stuff live. I had heard good things about DVAS however, and wanted to check them out. So even though it was a Friday the 13th, I figured I’d try my luck and see what they were all about. I was impressed.
Playing a brand of music heavily influenced by the ’80s and full of lots of hot synth action, they were a little reminiscent of Chromeo, but definitely had their own thing going on. Jered Stuffco is an engaging frontman with a strong voice that almost veered into falsetto territory on occasion. I found that he referred to the crowd as “y’all” a few too many times, but that can be forgiven when you introduce songs with lines such as “This song is about sex addiction!” Lo and behold, the song was about sex addiction. And it was an awesome song. DVAS played more than a few awesome songs, my favourites being “Questions” and “Watching You.”
Up next were New York’s Designer Drugs. Appropriately enough, some guy in the crowd approached me before their set and tried to sell me drugs – probably not designer ones though. “Yo bro, you lookin’ for anything?” “Um .. no. Please go away now.” Back to the music: Designer Drugs spun a great set of tunes that had the whole room going crazy. At times, it almost felt like I was partying with the cast of Jersey Shore – there was a lot of fist pumping going on. I’m not sure how many people in the audience caught the sample of Refused’s “New Noise” that they slipped in there, but I certainly did and it was appreciated, as was their use of Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” later in the set. All in all, a good night of music.
Warren Hildebrand a.k.a. Foxes in Fiction at his show in Rochester, N.Y.
I have a very soft place in my enlarged heart for start-up musicians (and I suppose at some point, everyone is a start-up). Call me the equivalent of a patron-of-the-arts Flo Nightingale — there is something I can’t quite resist about people fiddling around in their parents’ houses, eventually graduating to blogosphere public release, and a gig at a dive bar. They might be the next big thing, and they might not. Life is full of randomness, and the thing I like about these music makin’ kids is that such successes or failures seem irrelevant, because either way there is some force within them that is compelling them towards creative expression. There’s a purity in that goal that I find refreshing because it is the very definition of artistic innocence.
Foxes in Fiction‘s Warren Hildebrand fits this bill to a tee, so it should come as no surprise that I was willing to slug it out on a late Thursday night. I wanted to see what this kid was all about, seeing as he’s garnered some attention from Pitchfork (an accomplishment that the relentless show promoter would not let go, but hey, he bought me a beer, so maybe I should let go of the fact that he sounded like he was promoting a liquidation sale in Brampton), and seems to be an all-round nice kid.
I have to admit though, I very much lamented the space that he had to play in. I don’t know if any of you have had the pleasure of going to Tiger Bar (whose name seems counterproductive, seeing as the upstairs part has a bar as well, though at least the bartender here actually responds to you when you call–more than I can say for the dickwad upstairs), but it evokes the feeling of standing in someone’s dodgy basement. Plastic lawn chairs are scattered everywhere, there is garden latticework stapled to the ceiling, and a smell that competes with the Boat’s overwhelming mustiness. On top of that, there is the serious design flaw of having the bar’s supply room smack dab in the centre of the stage, a feature that poor Warren had to compete with throughout his set.
As for the set itself, it started off pretty rockily. Warren is a one-man show, and I sincerely hope he reconsiders this set-up as he progresses, because as our friends from Zaza have commented, requiring one person to play a bajillion different band instruments eventually becomes akin to, “dancing around like a clown onstage”. The first song in his set started off with an oddly long sample that I think was supposed to sound like the beach, but maybe it was wind blowing (there were a couple of instances in which his sample was offbeat his actual guitar playing). Either way, I wasn’t sure what I had committed myself to despite liking the three songs I had skimmed beforehand. But soon after he started in on his guitar, I quickly realized that we had a homegrown next generation Bradford Cox (Deerhunter, Atlas Sound) on our hands.
You would think that I of all people would be receptive to any musician overly derivative of Coxy, and I am. It’s just that so many of the songs I had heard played on the du-woppy flavor of songs like Walkabout (Atlas Sound’s collaboration with Panda Bear), I was left wondering if the kid had any individual musical range whatsoever. He proved me wrong with his last couple of songs, though. One called Rainfall particularly stood out, which he awkwardly dedicated to his friend Ryan. His entire family was in attendance as well, and boy were they ever conspicuous. His mother, grandmother, and siblings attended with a carafe of red wine they were all sharing. Warren even dedicated a song to his “Nana”, and I can’t lie. That warmed the cockles of my heart (the support he enjoyed from his family almost made up for the fact that the band that went on before him were obnoxiously talking throughout his entire set).
I generally give a thumbs-up to the music. You can listen for yourself by downloading the album for free here, but as the Pitchfork review brings across, this is basically more or less an extension of Atlas Sound’s Logos. In terms of the actual stage presence / connection with the audience, I felt the kid was shortchanged. There were only about 15 people in the audience, many of whom I’m certain were personal friends, acquaintances, or blood relatives. In spite of his incredibly stilted awkwardness, he did make some attempts to reach out and touch something only to be met with a fistful of air.
All I can say to young Warren is that I see a lot of potential here. Keep your nose clean, keep making music you love, practice in public, stay humble, and give everyone reason to believe in what you’re doing beyond riding the Pitchfork wave. I want to see another B. Cox, not another Nathan Williams (Wavves).
Chicago – What’s a music festival without a little rain? Well … it’s a nicer day, for one thing. Luckily, the rain ended by 1:00 making the rest of the day pleasant and sunny, albeit a bit muddy. However, being a guy who wants to get the most out of a music festival, I was there bright and early … in the rain.
The Antlers got the Budweiser stage going for the day. Having seen them once before at Massey Hall, I wondered beforehand how their lush, moody music would go over in an outdoor festival setting. Of course it went over perfectly … because of the rain, not in spite of it. Frontman Peter Silberman put it best: “Thanks for coming out in the rain. We’re from New York so we’re used to it. We’re not really a surf pop band so this is probably better.” They played to a smallish but rapt audience, some with umbrellas, some without, but even those without didn’t mind getting a little wet. The Antler’s set led to the only real scheduling mix up of the day. As they finished playing “Two,” I figured their set must be done as they had like 2 minutes left in their set and The Antlers definitely do not play two minute songs. As they launched into “Wake,” I thought, “Hmmm… how will this play out?” They continued to play, going slightly past their set and into that of The Dodos, who were playing the stage right across from them immediately afterwards. The Dodos, not wanting to lose out on their alotted time, just started playing at the same time. I’m sure this wasn’t an intentional snub on the part of The Antlers, and for all I know they had to start their set late, but it was a bit of a blemish on an otherwise well organized schedule.
I wanted to check out The Cribs for one primary reason – to see Johnny Marr play. Not being overly familiar with them, I figured it would be a good set, but it turned out to be really good. They won me over with their high energy performance. Definitely one of the highlights of the day.
The other big highlight of the day as well as a pleasant surprise was X Japan, a Japanese metal band formed in 1982 who play an interesting mix of power metal, prog, glam metal and old school speed metal. In other words, they stuck out like a sore thumb on the bill.
They broke up in 1997 and are currently on a reunion tour. This was their first ever American show. I knew very little about the band going in and was a little bummed that they were on opposite Yeasayer, who I really wanted to see, but I figured I can see Yeasayer again and I’m fairly certain I won’t get a chance to see X Japan again. And what can I say? This band was glorious. They pretty much match Lady Gaga and Empire of the Sun for over the top theatricality. As they entered to some piped in intro music, a small group of dedicated hardcore fans cheered loudly. Shortly thereafter, many more of us were instantly converted into fans. My favourite bandmember to watch was drummer Yoshiki, who entered wearing some sort of robe, wore a neckbrace throughout the show, and switched between drums and piano. He also performed on the 1994 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass. I bought that album on cassette back then and thought, “Who the hell is Yoshiki?” Now I know. Rather than say too much about their performance, I’ll just let thesevideos of their performance do the talking. “We Are!” “X!”
After X, I figured I’d stay in that vicinity and check out Erykah Badu. Big mistake. While I was interested in seeing her and while she sounded good when she finally came out, little did I know that she wouldn’t even grace us with her presence on stage until 15 minutes into her set! Those 15 minutes were filled first with her DJ playing other people’s music to warm up the crowd (which is fair enough since the Japanese metal that preceded her probably didn’t fit the mood she wanted to create, but still…) and her backup band jamming on some tune for awhile. Had i known she would take this long, I probably would have gone to check something else out (which I eventually did). Badu would later reappear onstage with Cypress Hill during their set, and Cypress Hill put on a great show. Opening strong with “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” they played a mix of old and new songs, including classics like “Insane In The Brain.” “I Wanna Get High.” and “Hits From The Bong,” the performance of which actually involved them taking hits from a bong onstage.
MGMT played just before Cypress Hill at the other end of the park to one of the largest crowds of the day. While Sarah wasn’t overly impressed with their performance at Coachella, and Ricky echoed those sentiments after seeing their most recent Toronto show, I would have to say that my opinion differs slightly. Looking a bit like mid ’60s Bob Dylan, Andrew VanWyngarden led the band through a selection of songs from their latest Congratulations, plus a few older tunes. The songs sounded good, and the band was tight. I couldn’t see anything wrong with their performance … but I do agree somewhat that it was still a bit of an underwhelming performance for me at least, probably partly because I was looking forward to Cypress Hill, Soundgarden, and Arcade Fire and partly because they weren’t as over the top as X Japan.
I split the rest of the night between Soundgarden and Arcade Fire. Both bands delivered solid sets that satisfied for different reasons – Soundgarden primarily as nostalgia. As I watched them play I had forgotten how heavy songs like “Jesus Christ Pose” and “Gun” sounded. Sadly, I left to catch the last part of Arcade Fire before they played Black Hole Sun, but there’s a whole bunch of videos of it on youtube anyways, so I guess that’ll do. Arcade Fire sounded great too, closing out with a few classics like “Rebellion (Lies),” “Keep The Car Running,” and “Wake Up.” You guys are great,” said Win Butler, clearly impressed with the response he was getting from the crowd. “Usually at the end of festivals, people are burned out, but you guys must have been pacing yourselves.” It’s all about moderation I guess.
Chicago – Festivals are a bit like running a marathon for me – a marathon that involves damaged hearing and drinking beer. What I’m getting at here is that I like to catch as much music as possible. So there I was, on the second day of the festival, bright and early at 11:15 am. I caught a band called MyNameIsJohnMichael, who I knew nothing about, but who apparently have a song featured on Gossip Girl. They’re from New Orleans and they have a pretty good sound. The band started when John Michael Rouchell decided he was going to write a song a week for a year, so I guess they’ve got a few songs in the can already for their second album. After playing a slower song near the end of their set, Rouchell thanked the crowd for not taking off as often might happen if a band is too mellow during a festival set. “Actually, they have nowhere else to go” said one of his bandmates in reference to their very early time slot.
Next up were The Morning Benders, who impressed me with their early afternoon slot. As I watched them, I thought, “Ricky was right, these guys do look really young.” They closed out their set with “Excuses,” urging the crowd to sing along even though it was pretty early. Of course, festival crowds are a lot more susceptible to singalongs than regular crowds so they complied.
Next was a band who was on my list of must sees, having missed them twice during NXNE – The Soft Pack. The San Diego band delivered a set of tight, poppy, garage rocky tunes that livened up the early afternoon and was probably the highlight of the day for me. Singer Matt Lamkin has a voice that’s at times reminiscent of both Julian Casablancas and hot Snakes/Obits singer Rick Froberg. As Lamkin introduced their last song, a new one, drummer Brian Hill interrupted – “A new song, you never know what you’re gonna get.” “It’s side A of Rubber Soul – in two minutes” replied Lamkin. “It’s all blastbeats,” said Hill. “I used to play in Carcass … just kidding, it was Deicide.” I’d like to see these guys again in a smaller club setting.
It was during the first half of Grizzly Bear’s set that I learned an important lesson – Lollapalooza is not my living room. While Grizzly Bear sounded good, their performance seemed a little bit too laid back for my tastes, especially after checking out The xx’s similarly laid back (and ridiculously packed) set. While Grizzly Bear may sound just fine at home, they left me a bit cold – I just wasn’t in the mood for it, and besides, I knew there was zero chance that Michael McDonald would join them for “While You Wait For The Others.” So instead, I checked out AFI, a band I have not listened to much over the years and whose post-hardcore screamo-ish alt rock is certainly not something I would listen to these days (though I will admit I kind of liked their 2003 album Sing The Sorrow). This counterintuitive move paid off as they were just the jolt I needed to wake me up from Grizzly Bear hibernation.
After a little bit of Metric and a little bit of Spoon (I only saw one song, but it was “Got Nuffin’,” which is one of my faves from their new album), I figured I had to check out Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a band that’s been getting a lot of positive buz these days. A lot of other people had the same idea too, as it was so packed at the smaller Sony Bloggie stage that people were climbing into trees just to get a better view of the band. Even though I was way in the back, I saw enough to know that the buzz is well deserved.
As the time approached for Green Day’s headlining set, it was a choice between a guy in a bunny costume dancing to YMCA and The Ramones warming up the stage for them or Slightly Stoopid on the adidas MEGA stage. Truth be told, I had to watch the guy in the bunny costume for a bit, but i checked out Slightly Stoopid as well, and well … they weren’t as stupid as I thought they’d be. In fact, their reggae rock sound was kind of fun in a way. They ended their set with a Nirvana cover, which brings me to a recurring theme for the weekend – cover songs. These ranged from quite good (The Big Pink doing Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine”) to acceptable (the aforementioned Nirvana cover) to perplexing (Blues Traveler doing Sublime’s “What I Got” – not that I minded hearing it, but it seemd kind of like “Hey, we had a couple hits in the mid ’90s and here’s another song that was a hit back then.”) to kind of annoying (Green Day peppering their set wih little snippets of classic rock songs … still, it was kind of cool to hear the crowd sing along with “Sweet Child O’ Mine”)
Green Day definitely knows how to work a big crowd – they’ve got the big rock moves down. I never really gave their last couple albums that much of a listen and really only wanted to hear them play their early ’90s stuff (and after I’d heard enough hits I did go over to check out the end of Phoenix’s set in time to hear a few songs including “1901,” which made me happy), but I’ve got to admit that those newer songs work really well in a big venue – there’s a reason American Idiot got turned into a piece of musical theatre. They even followed Lady Gaga’s lead and had a fireworks display as part of their show. In terms of theatricality though, perhaps the most visually interesting band of the weekend was Empire of the Sun, who played opposite Green Day and Phoenix. With crazy images projected onstage, dancers and elaborate costumes, they certainly put on a great show. Speaking of musical theatre, why weren’t the cast of Glee invited to play Lolla this year? I’m sure that shit would have gone over huge.