- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
All photo credits: Christa Joyner Moody
Day two of the festival broke a bit cooler and cloudier, but with really no threat of rain. Given the rushed start the day before, we took a little more time to explore and took a shadier path to one of the main stages as we entered. Unlike some other festivals, there are a lot of huge oak trees in pockets throughout the park and some of the hills make for good far back viewing stages for the main stage. One of the largest grove of oaks also has food vendors and plenty of picnic tables scattered about, so there is escape to the shade when needed. But let’s get on to the music for the day. In viewing the lineup for the overall festival (which was outstanding by the way), I didn’t really think the days were themed at all. That being said, Saturday definitely had a harder bent to it as it rolled out and contrasted with the variety of Friday and a decidedly more laid back lineup for Sunday. The heaviness of Saturday’s lineup, or song selection, got to be a bit much to bear after a full day, but there were definite highlights and some variety as well.
The second largest stage, Piedmont, seemed to cater to all caps bands this day, with BRONCHO (not reviewed) showing up here a bit later. Mackenzie Scott’s alter-ego/band took the stage early in the day and upped the weirdness factor of the festival in a good way. The entire band, though not costume coordinated, shared the same blue lipstick which looked more like they had raided the popsicle cart pre-set vs a team make-up session. TORRES’ electronic and bass heavy approach had things booming early on. Scott was also wearing a Nike halter under a blue silk jacket leaving you wondering if clothing sponsors may be a way for indie artists to get a little more remuneration for their efforts (Parquet Courts’ Sean Yeaton was also donning a Champion shirt later on furthering the theory). Leading with ‘Skim’ from last year’s excellent Three Futures album, the drums and keys carried the song until Scott added heavily treated guitar over the top. Though launched in Brooklyn and now in Nashville, Scott noted her local roots in Macon as she introduced the autobiographical ‘Sprinter’ about her upbringing that she seems to have come to terms with. Her individuality was further cemented on ‘Three Futures’ and ‘Righteous Woman’ with the latter’s references to being an “ass man” and man spreading. Gloriously reveling in her own complex persona, Scott is one to watch and set herself apart with this set.
I don’t know much about the Alicia Bognanno led band Bully, but they made the most of their early day main stage performance with a good size crowd on hand. Bognanno was also one of the more engaging artists of the day, quipping she was not worthy to be standing on the piece of stage tape labeled David Byrne left from the day before. The opening strains of ‘Feel the Same’ had a retro drony energy with Sonic Youth-style twists and turns over it’s brief life. Bognanno was in strong, strained voice throughout the set and confident as band leader. The hookier ‘Guess There’ evidenced a soft to loud approach without ever breaking from it’s slower cadence and was a clear highlight. ‘Running’ showed a little more breadth and the older ‘Milkman’ allowed the band to evidence their muscular best. The band has a solid 90s guitar based sound that while a little same-y over the course of a full set still shows a lot of promise. Given Bognanno’s off-the-cuff charisma and talent there will clearly be a lot more to come from her over the years whether in the band context or otherwise. I also understand she has a solid grasp of the technical side of the recording business making her a force to contend with.
I wandered over to the smallest and most relaxed stage which sat under a canopy of massive ivy wrapped oaks to catch part of Charly Bliss’ pop/punk set. Thinking they might be a dark horse pick for a festival upstart, they were that and more. No regrets on my part for missing out on the buzz of the festival of Greta Van Fleet that was playing at the same time on the main stage. Easily winning the “happiest to be here” award and with only one album under their belt Charly Bliss left nothing on the table in bringing full energy to bear and making the most of their appearance. Though vocalist/guitarist Eva Hendricks has a magnetic personality and bounds all over the stage, the band is too locked in not to mention the contributions of Spencer Fox (lead guitar), brother Sam Hendricks (drums) and Dan Shure (bass). Leading with the rubbery ‘Westermarck’ from last year’s catchy as Hell Guppy album, the band’s exuberance matched with tight playing and harmonies clearly transitioned the day to later afternoon. Whether singing of having a big crush on ‘Percolator’ or Hendrick’s hilariously inserting that the song ‘Ruby’ was about her therapist the band seems incapable of not writing a hook filled pop perfection every time out. Hendricks seemed truly stunned by their warm reception which was authentically charming and led to the band testing out a few new and solid sounding songs. I had to leave early to secure my spot in what turned out to be the middle of the Parquet Courts’ mosh pit but could hear Hendrick’s high register vocals sweetly floating over the air as I walked away. A great set from a band with a retro sound, but plenty of future promise.
Rating: A+ (Kentucky Derby Day dark horse champions!)
In full disclosure, Parquet Courts are one of my current (and longtime) favorite bands and their new album is a monster (see recent Album Review here on the site). So I made an effort to arrive early and stand to the left of the split viewing area where A. Savage (pictured above) holds court. Even being thirty minutes early I was “relegated” to being five deep in the crowd. This band only continues to get stronger and more varied as they have jelled and bassist Sean Yeaton (though always excellent) has upped his game tremendously. I guess no one passed on the memo to him and Mike Watt that bass is not meant to be a lead instrument! Leading with the balls out ‘Total Football’ from the upcoming Wide Awake! album, Savage was in full on scream right from the outset with Yeaton noodling out the structure of the song like a man possessed. Multi-instrumentalist Austin Brown took the next lead turn on a muscled up and protracted version of ‘Dust’ somehow playing keys and guitar simultaneously. In the first of several unique moments, and even though I’ve seen the band before, I thought someone had thrown a smoke bomb into the front of right hand side of the split field. That was until it came to light it was a dust cloud kicked up by the mosh pit breaking out on recent single ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience’. The pit was quickly replicated on our side and the band was engulfed in a cloud of dust thicker than any stage smoke could muster up. The roller rink vibe of ‘Freebird II’ from the new album should cement itself as a live set staple.
Uncharacteristically, the band took a break to promote their merchandise which included a t-shirt and soccer scarf. Brown was going to take all proceeds to bet on Kentucky Derby up and comer My Boy Jack, which in hindsight wouldn’t have turned out so well. The back to back early tracks ‘Master of My Craft’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ had the pits churning up again and one old punker totally out of line violently targeting non-moshers and taking running shots to people’s backs. I guess I’m not tolerant of that these days, so a couple of us alerted security but the guy faded away somewhere into the crowd. (Just to note, at this festival and most I have gone to 99.9% of the crowd are a pleasure to hang with for three days. Though you shouldn’t be allowed to mosh in a Beach House t-shirt). The title track from the new album had a timbale player up on stage for the call and response rhythms, Yeaton in overdrive, and Brown blowing a playground whistle into the mic - a fun and funky departure for the band. Brown and Savage pretty well had equal time leading the set and the stretched out ‘One Man No City’ towards the end of the set was an unexpected highlight. An intense, varied and brilliant hour of music which had the band rounding the bases playing on top of an actual baseball field. I loved every minute of the set even if my wife up in the photo pit insists Yeaton’s bass has given her permanent arrhythmia.
Rating: A+ (Rating for violent idiots at music festivals: F)
This was an interesting set and there are maybe a few things accountable for that. A few theories: the day overall just seemed to have a harder edge to it, which may have had something to do with a huge draw for retro hard rockers Greta Van Fleet; Parquet Courts’ Savage who preceded Manchester Orchestra made a crack that the later band would be playing a full Prokofiev suite; or simply that playing to a huge hometown crowd that they were going to bring the pain of their earlier sound. Regardless of reason, the Andy Hull (pictured on Gig Review main page) led band brought a crushing set led by the decade old ‘Pride’ and rarely played ‘April Fool’ to set a heavy tone. Unlike their recent concerts, they didn’t play a song from last year’s softer A Black Mile to the Surface until four songs in and at that it was the heaviest from that album, ‘The Moth’. By the time Hull got to the gentler couplet of ‘The Sunshine’ and ‘The Grocery’ there were streams of people walking away (in fairness it was a huge crowd so it was probably meager attrition but noticeable). It was unclear whether the departing were newer fans put off by the emo opening or hardcore stalwarts not on board with their more current music. Either way it must be a nearly impossible chasm to cross for the band that was clearly trying something different on their new album and to solid success. I am a late comer to the band and with the newer album and similarly focused live set last year what is most known to me, the dichotomy would be a lot for any crowd to contend with. The hardcore emo sound just isn’t for me, so I hope the band has a solid enough base that will follow them down their latest path as well. Rating this one primarily based on their daringness to try to play to both sides of the coin, while clearly catering to their older local fanbase at the outset of the set.
The War on Drugs
After a brief rain delay that barely sprinkled the crowd, but sent techs scrambling to cover instruments, Philly based Grammy winners The War on Drugs took to the elegantly stripped down stage. After the harder rock edge of most of the day (not just based on who I saw), the more relaxed song craft of the Adam Granduciel led band was appreciated. The band’s songs are guitar and keyboard driven and honestly for someone only familiar with their hits, they do tend to blend together a bit. But if there is a sameness to the sound, it’s a good sound and was a welcome one as the day was coming to a close. They opened with ‘Holding On’ off of last year’s A Deeper Understanding and Granduciel’s plaintive almost Dylan-like vocal is a perfect match for the band’s mid-tempo tunes. ‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’ with its motorik drumming and the faster paced ‘Nothing to Find’ did add some variety to the set. And to the other direction, the slower pace of ‘Knocked Down’ was an introspective highlight. Granduciel relies on the strength of his songs to carry his set and it would be hard to describe him as an “entertainer”. The most animated thing I caught was a sprint to the mic stand when he realized a foot pedal needed to be pressed at the last minute. With The War on Drugs having provided the soothing antidote to the day’s heavier acts, we opted not to switch gears back to overdrive for Queens of the Stone Age and ventured off into the city on Cinco de Mayo in search of margaritas - they weren’t hard to find.