Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Breaks

I’m not sure what everyone else did during our time off although this is what I’ve surmised from casual conversation. Joe constructed a trestle for the Turkish Roses he’s hoping to display at next years Home and Garden show, John was busy filming moodily lit tubes of toothpaste, Lisa unfortunately was called back to (successfully) defend a key point in her dissertation connecting altruism to vaccines, and Chuck played several rounds of skin tag or melanoma? (Skin tag by a nose! Whoo Hoo!) As for me, other than playing parental taxi cab every day I also found myself at several music festivals.

Please be advised that from here on is just a review of all the bands I saw at three different music festivals. Nothing about Wussy until the Albany post.

I got a ticket hook up around 5:00 on the last day of Bunbury – a really well run rock festival that skewed towards bands I’d never heard of. Sunday night’s headliner was the Flaming Lips, whom I had never seen. Now I like the FL’s as much as the next guy and somewhat less than the two guys behind him, but I was looking forward to the show. And in a nutshell it left me cold. I like spectacle quite a bit and still think confetti is neat. If I had been able to afford tickets I really wanted to take my future step-daughter to Katy Perry and I would’ve loved it I’m sure, with it’s big sets, costume changes, and huge tracts of land. Plus, the Lips played several of my favorite songs. So what went wrong for me? It felt like the Wayne Coyne show. There was no sense of it being a band.  Kind of like a cult of personality vibe with not enough humanity or real connection. The Flaming Lips are supposed to be a band. There were two dudes wearing wigs who looked miserable in them and none of the backing players seemed to be experiencing any observable joy. A band moves together and has distinct personalities that contribute to a greater than the sum situation. Also their keyboard heavy songs just sat there dynamically. I saw Yo La Tengo on the same stage last year and they played several of their long songs that never got boring because they were always growing, always going somewhere. That said, I know several people who had a blast and saw many kids whose eyes were wide with wonder.

The next weekend the same organizers put on an Americana/Country festival at the same location called Buckle Up. I played on Friday in the pouring rain to eight people in ponchos. I stuck around for Marty Stuart and it was delightful. His guitar playing was awesome and melodic with the sweetest tone. He was genial, entertaining, sang like a bird, a total pro.

The next day I ponied up the dough for a ticket because the line-up was epic. I started with Spirit Family Reunion who were energetic and pretty good. It’s been a week and I can’t remember much but have a generally positive feeling. I don’t know if they’re part of the Mumfording of music but over these festivals the energetically strummed, primarily acoustic, hyper-harmonized, somewhat overwrought songwriting of the Mumfordians became fairly ubiquitous. The Buckle Up version however was a bit more old-timey, which is a distinction I guess. Next was Emmylou Harris who is a goddess and for whom I will always be a little in love. Her voice sounds great even if she can’t maybe hold out the notes as long as before. Just like Marty she was a pro, and I stayed for the whole thing. That’s notable because I’m too hyper to stay for all of almost all shows.

Next I watched The Drive-Truckers, who I had missed during their glory days. It was a good rock show, probably improved if it was in a smoky club after dark rather than outside in the daylight. I can’t imagine what it was like when Jason Isbell was with them because Southeastern is my favorite album I heard in the last year. (better than Withered Hand) He’s a hell of a writer.

After them was Allison Kraus and Union Station. Obviously she sings like an angel. Wonderful clear tone and I love hearing her play fiddle too. Still, it was too toothless and suburb-grassy. Plus, her stage banter was so stultifying as to render me insensate. I’m sure she’s a fabulous conversationalist one on one, quite possibly qualified in neo-natal feline CPR, and regularly voluntarily offers skin grafts to burn victims, but damn I finally had to leave when one sequence of words went on so long I had time to travel inwards in my continuing journey to see whether one can actually feel their own fingernails growing. And yes I’m aware of the kettle black here seeing as Wussy is a fairly chatty band onstage, but we’re funny so just get off your high horse.

I wandered off and listened to the Sugarland guy do some solo stuff and then went to hear the Old Crow Medicine Show. It was so mobbed I never saw the whole band at once, just little slivers. It seemed cool and they sure can play and harmonize. High energy show and the crowd loved it. I wouldn’t mind seeing them for real.

Last but not least was Willie Nelson. His voice is timeless. The man is 81 years old and put on an hour and a half show. Which granted I only stayed for an hour of but he is one of those guys I wanted to make sure I saw. I’m not going to claim it’s a riveting show and his harmonica guy got on my nerves, but I really enjoyed his guitar playing and it was cool to hear him play around with his vocal phrasing like a jazz singer. I heard a ton of classics but was tired and went home. See what I meant though? That was a helluva line-up.

The next day I took my children to Forecastle in Louisville. Like Bunbury it’s a music festival on the Ohio River. The reason I spent a king’s ransom on tickets was so my kids could see the Replacements. I don’t make any great claims on my parenting but I am proud that the first big ticket shows my kids have ever seen in this order are: Devo, Iron Maiden (with Alice Cooper), They Might Be Giants, and now the ‘Mats. This will be the first time where they weren’t already in love with the band, but that’s OK, they will be. I’ll try to keep this brief because I feel like this post has veered into tedium more quickly than most.

Sharon Van Etten: I’ve seen her before and I always react the same way. Some songs are gorgeous and blow me away and then some songs are boring standard singer-songwriter affairs.

Brett Dennen: Never heard him before but his music made me angry. First off, he wasn’t wearing shoes. It sounded like he was polishing the rough edges off the Spin Doctors for a new generation.

Trampled By Turtles: I listened to a bit from a Bette Midler and they seemed all right. Mumfordy.

Sun Kil Moon: Came out and called the crowd a bunch of hillbillies and then used the classic douche-bag get out of jail card, “Aw I’m just fucking with ya!” I like his records, or at least the one I have, but having also seen him live before I was dubious. And yes he is the most aggressively boring performer on the planet. I’d rather watch a retirement home’s production of “A Chorus Line,” or a time-lapse movie of a healthy limb slowly turning gangrenous than ever hear him live again.

Jenny Lewis: I don’t know, it was pretty cool. I read an interview once where she came off as a jerk so I had to let that go. I liked her band, she brought out the Watson Twins which was a great idea. I think if you’re a fan she put on a great show. I just fall on the luke-warm side of the fence.

Reignwolf were awesome, ridiculous, and over the top. Heavy blues rock with tons of distortion. The lead dude gave an homage to Johnny Winters that had him singing and playing solo guitar where he would strum with the mic in his hand and eventually moved to the drums all the while still creating a squall with his guitar. It was a needed palette cleanser after all that middle class earnestness.

The Replacements: I know it’s only half of them but when I saw them on the “All Shook Down” tour it was already down to Tommy and Paul, so considering Chris Mars doesn’t play any more this is the best way to hear that wonderful catalog. The ‘Mats rank at number three on my all time favorite band list after Springsteen and the Who. (Superchunk is #4) It was almost a shock to be at a show where I loved every single song and where I jumped up and down and sang along. The fellas they have playing with them are swell and the drummer in particular is probably the best fit of any I’ve seen Paul with. They played a similar set to the other sets of late, which was just fine because it covered their whole career, even the early fast and loud ones. They argued, mocked each other, attempted songs that fell apart, and played most brilliantly. I don’t know if it’s shtick or not but the shoot yourself in the foot culture of the band seems to be entrenched. Part of it was awesome because no one doesn’t give a fuck like PW, but it’s also a little frustrating because I kind of want to see them come out and take everyone’s heads off and triumphantly claim their place as the best rock band out there.

Beck: A good friend of mine said she was having trouble relating to him onstage after reading a book on Scientology. I can see that. For my part he looked worryingly thin and moved like a veteran, much different than the kid feeling his oats on the Odelay tour, which is when I last saw him. Mostly I was just glad he wasn’t focusing on the clinically somnolent material from his last record. It was a big bright spectacle and he played the songs everyone wanted to hear. My kids were tired and wanted to go so I don’t know if I had gotten a few beers in me and snuck up close if it would have achieved booty-shaking levels. I'm thinking yes. I’d recommend seeing the show.

Ok. That was my break. Well my kids and I went to the National Corvette Museum and admired the sinkhole but that’s it.

Next post is Albany.

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