And then, back again. I headed home Saturday night determined to plan a bit better for my foray back to the Free Press Summerfest, so I jammed a cooler full of icepacks into the bottom of my backpack, spent $4.50 on a 24-pack of water bottles at Walgreen's by the house (the singles were $1.25, so I couldn't pass the megapack up -- 19 cents a bottle, woo!) and put as many in the bag as I could, sneakily hid some granola bars (which I didn't even end up eating) down inside the pack, recharged the Solio solar/USB charger, and slathered sunscreen on my already-reddish toes.
I forgot to mention in the last post that I'd originally planned to liveblog this thing, both days. Yep, I was going to be Bigshot High-Tech JournoMan, liveblogging furiously away on his iPhone (hence me bringing the Solio charger along) with up-to-the-second coverage of Houston's biggest music festival in, hell, I dunno how long.
However, as you can doubtless tell from this post & the one before it, it didn't happen. Honestly, there was just too damn much going on all around, too many bands to see, too many folks to say "hi" to, for me to be able to take the time to type in anything more than some basic notes to myself. Plus, as anybody who reads this thing knows, I don't tend to the short-form when it comes to blog posts. I get a weird twitch in my left eye just thinking about trying to type what I'm typing now while sitting cross-legged on the grass. It would've taken me hours, seriously.
Instead, I just went with the flow, bouncing from one stage to another and back again and staring with my mouth wide open at the whole spectacle. Late in the day on Sunday, I confided to Aaron Echegaray, cool-ass guitarist for the equally cool-ass Roky Moon & Bolt, that I could hardly believe this was Houston, and he laughed and agreed whole-heartedly. I mean, c'mon -- did we not just fall through some hole in space/time or something? I've been showing pictures of the crowds to people all week, and some of 'em just plain don't believe me when I say the thing was right here in town.
The whole festival felt like something that should by all rights be happening somewhere else, somewhere less...well, cool, I guess. I've always enjoyed the sort of obstinate uncoolness of this city, so seeing hordes and hordes of people come out to see bands I figured only a handful of people here liked was eye-opening, to say the least.
And good. Did I mention that? Because this was fun as hell, and I dearly hope it happens again. Any chance of it, Free Press crew? Hopefully this didn't break the bank and/or sour the organizers on doing a second/third/fourth one of these things.
As before, the ridiculously huge pile of photos from Sat. & Sun. are over here for your OCD-fueled enjoyment. On to installment #2...
The second day out at Eleanor Tinsley Park looked ominous before I even left the house -- thunder was rattling the windows even then, although we hadn't yet seen the rain -- and it got even more so as I took the 59 spur towards downtown. Thick clouds of black smoke billowed up from somewhere in Midtown or the East End (turned out to be a power station in Midtown that blew up), drifting across the downtown skyline and making it look like I was driving straight into a war zone. Better still, I could see the line of rain clouds that had opened up, and they looked to be dead ahead, as well.
And naturally, when I saw the rain and thoughts flashed back to the day before, it hit me: "rain + grass trampled into dirt by several thousand people == huge amounts of mud." Oh, fuck. What the hell was I getting into, here? Not only was I headed out to roast myself in the heat a second time (I'm in awe of all the people who soldiered through the whole damn thing; I'm not sure I could've done it), but odds were that the whole place would be a gigantic mud pit by the time I got there.
Plus, I knew going in that Sunday would have to be a bit of an abbreviated festival-going experience. I'd promised the wife I'd be home for dinner, which meant I was going to have to bail around 4:30PM and head back out to the wilds of Westbury. Which was okay, really -- the folks I most wanted to see weren't the headliners, but the people playing beforehand. Once I got inside, I'd need to bounce pretty quickly from one stage to the other to catch all the folks I wanted to see.
I had trouble finding parking my second day out, the cheapo garage I'd used Saturday being closed on Sunday, so I went for the one garage I knew would have spaces open, the Theater District parking next to Bayou Place. Unfortunately, it was even more of a hike than the day before, and I quickly discovered that while it had indeed rained on downtown and the park shortly beforehand, the rain did zero to cool things down -- if anything, it made the heat worse. I'd always blown off the whole "ah, but it's a dry heat" thing in the past, but this time, "dry heat" sure seemed preferably to "death by sauna."
Hiking over to the park once more, I was surprised to see a crowd already building inside, despite the fact that it was barely 12:30PM on the second day of the festival. I'd expected there would be a dropoff from one day to the next, but I sure didn't notice one. The crowd built steadily throughout the afternoon, growing nearly as large as it was on Saturday afternoon by the time I had to leave.
And naturally, as with Day One, I wasn't entirely sure what to do about the pass/wristband situation. I marched myself up to the tents (one of which had morphed into a combo ticket-purchase/guestlist tent, with an ATM wisely moved into the other), told 'em my name and showed the wristband from the day before, and was met with blank stares. Uh-oh. "I'm with Space City Rock. I was on the list yesterday, and here's the wristband they gave me." The lady checked her list, and apparently found my name, because she started to hand me a new wristband.
"Is that a VIP pass?," I asked. "That's what I was told I had yesterday." The woman called in on her walkie-talkie, then very politely told me they didn't have me on the VIP list.
"I think I was on the press list," I said, immediately cringing. I always, always, always feel utterly ridiculous calling myself "press" -- yeah, like I write for Rolling Stone (or, hell, the Houston Press) and not some half-assed music e-zine/blog thing.
Another blank stare, then, "Who are you with, again?" Whoo, boy. I probably would've been fine just shrugging, taking the offered wristband, and saying, "Nah, never mind; I'm cool with this, no worries," but I'd been told I definitely had two VIP passes and had only used the one, so I figured I'd see how far I could get.
The woman sent me over to the Will Call line, so I hitched up my pack and headed over there, wondering again how I'd completely missed its location on Day One. Like I said before, I really lucked out getting into what was technically the wrong line. When I reached Will Call (where there was no line, thankfully), the folks there called in again on the walkie, then had me sign a piece of paper confirming that I'd received the pass, and I once more had a VIP wristband, only this time I was the real, color-coded variety. In I went...
CHASE HAMBLIN: I wasn't sure what to expect from Chase Hamblin this time around; when I saw/heard him last, he was kind of an awkward, high-voiced folkie playing jangly-yet-baroque pop songs with a psychedelic tinge, and truthfully, it didn't work all that well for me. The songs felt too cluttered, and his vocals too strange for the "folk" thing to really fly. This time, though, he was backed up by a real-live band, consisting of fellow singer/songwriter Robert Ellis on drums, Geoffrey Muller of the Sideshow Tramps on bass, Corey Power on guitar, and a guy whose name I didn't catch on keys.
And it worked far, far better than Hamblin solo. His songs sounded like they were meant to sound, I think, fleshed-out and in vibrant, paisley-edged color. The Sgt. Pepper flag was flying high, particularly when it came to Hamblin's vocals (the guy sounds like Lennon; can't help it), and reached its peak with closer "Bye Bye", which did a nice "Hey Jude"-esque thing.
In an odd bit of coincidence, I happened to receive Hamblin's brand-new EP, A Fine Time, just this weekend (after hearing him, that is). Definitely going to have to give it a good listen...
THE SMALL SOUNDS: I was very glad I was able to catch these guys again; I knew they'd be going on soon, so I was hustling down the hill to see their set as they got ready to kick things off. I've only caught The Small Sounds live once before, although their self-titled debut has spent considerable time in my CD player. Beyond that, they're a band that's somewhat off the Hipster Radar, so I'd bet a lot of even the more scene-savvy folks in attendance hadn't heard 'em play. I think they surprised a few folks who happened to be passing by on their way to the second stage.
Which is a good thing, because the Sounds truly deserve the attention. Their melding of country, rock, and folk works ridiculously well, particularly considering the thoughtful, surprisingly poignant lyrics to a lot of their songs (I was sad not to hear "Leave Virginia Girl" this weekend, but glad they played "John C.C. Hill", at least). For the most part, they manage to play countryish music that comes off less like capital-C Country and more like Uncle Tupelo or Gram Parsons -- and I mean those comparisons in the best way possible -- although they did throw in some of their newer, more "rock" stuff this time, including the Britpop-ish song I heard 'em play at Walter's a while back but don't know the name of. It worked a whole lot better here, for some reason; very cool.
The only bad part of the set, for me, wasn't the band's fault; it was that that the bass in the front-of-stage speakers was cranked up so damn loud that I could feel every bass-drum hit in my freaking chest. I got a funny picture at one point of a puddle of water in one of the handles of a speaker "bouncing" with the beat. I don't know if the sound got tweaked from band to band, but I definitely didn't notice it as much later on -- paired with music as delicate and rustic as the Small Sounds', it was a little distracting.
THE MATHLETES: This one was a nice surprise -- I headed to the side stage to see Elaine Greer, but spotted The Mathletes, instead, loitering off the side of the stage with instruments in hand. It wasn't clear if they'd always been in the lineup but got left off the official schedule or if they were a late-late addition, but hell, I'm all for bonus Mathletes when I can get 'em.
The guys played a good set of their trademark sweet, shy/nerdy pop about robots and whatnot but seemed a bit distracted, possibly because of some issues with the scheduling and the sound, and they all four (including one of the guys from Giant Princess on keys) looked like they were roasting up there in the post-rain steambath.
ELAINE GREER: And then on came Elaine Greer, who I always seem to catch bits-and-pieces of at various Block Parties and shows. I think this may've been the first time I caught (almost) an entire set, and I was glad for it. Her voice has this awesomely pure, sweet, girl-next-door sound to it, the closest thing I've heard lately to Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis. Add to that the jangly guitars, side-man Austin from News on the March's accordion and electric guitar, the delicate xylophone(?) thing that was up there on the other side, not to mention Greer's nicely quirky songwriting ("Under the Radar", in particular, is a fine, fine song), and she's pretty hard to ignore. I think I'm going to have to find a copy of her new EP, Making Plans and Going Places, somewhere...
GRANDFATHER CHILD: Whoa. These guys were near the top of my list to begin with, but holy...wow. Just "wow." No offense to the other folks playing, but the Grandfather Child crew ripped the damn roof off. At times the band -- a supergroup with Lucas Gorham (Satin Hooks/Sad Gorilla), Ryan Chavez (Super Unison/The Smoking Popes/Panic In Detroit), Geoffrey Muller (Sideshow Tramps/I am Mesmer), & Robert Ellis (a bunch of bands) -- played like a bluesy soul-gospel thing, Gorham with his eyes closed, playing his slide guitar Stevie Wonder-style, and the result was gorgeously painful and uplfiting.
The rest of the time, the band played all-out, blazing-fast blues-rawk, like the Black Keys gone Dirty South, with Gorham wailing and frantic, Ellis grinning and throwing his long hair around, and Muller and Chavez seemingly so focused they didn't even know anybody was watching. Simply put, it was mesmerizing. I literally could not look away, could not stop taking damn pictures. And going by the roar of the crowd after every song, I'm guessing I wasn't the only one.
The band's reportedly got a 7" in the works (for the awesomely soulful "Waiting For You," which the band tore the hell up live), but screw that -- I want a real-live album, and I want it soon. Please?
THE EASTERN SEA: And here's another of the bands I really-truly-truly wanted desperately to see this weekend, Austin/Houston crew The Eastern Sea. I was completely bowled over by the band back in the late winter/early spring, when I saw 'em play Walter's with Piano Vines, Earnie Banks, The McKenzies, & The Riff Tiffs, so I was looking forward to seeing if that awesome first impression would still hold up.
And yep, it did. The show was a bit different -- less fervent tent-revival, more grinning party-down -- but the band was just as phenomenal as before, blazing through singer/guitarist Matt Hines' intricate, beautifully-written songs one by one, sounding like a mashup of The Arcade Fire and The Polyphonic Spree, with the murky, lurking darkness of the former and the exuberant screw-it-all glee of the latter. They won bonus points for starting off with a brilliantly-done, sharp-edged cover of The Mountain Goats' "Going to Marrakech" (can I put in a request for "Going to Georgia" next time, y'all? I'd love to hear that one done Eastern Sea-style...), and things continued nicely from there. At one point, Hines and percussionist Zach Duran were out on the speakers in front of the audience, dancing back and forth and getting the crowd to do some syncopated clapping, and even the usually jaded H-town audience was getting into it.
Smart, yet fun, all at the same time. Not too many bands can really ever pull that off. Next up? A new EP; I hear one's in the works. Sweet.
ROKY MOON & BOLT: I never thought I'd say it, but I'm enjoying the resurgence of '70s-style rock-n-roll, probably more than I really should. With folks like Roky Moon & Bolt around, though, I can't even bring myself to feel guilty about it. These guys (and now girl, with the addition of the excellent Cassie Hargrove on keys) play rock that's so unashamedly over-the-top and retro-'70s, and do it with such uncaring style, that I can't help but love it.
They're like what David Bowie would've sounded like, back in his Ziggy Stardust days, if he'd played with Jerry Lee Lewis and Ted Nugent in some backwoods East Texas honkytonk bar. The music's grandiose and bombastic, but down-and-dirty, too, driven along by guitarist Aaron Echegaray's raw, Rolling Stones-esque riffs, drummer Jeoaf Johnson and bassist Chad Pinter's heavy rhythms, Hargrove's Rocky Horror-sounding piano, and "Roky Moon"'s strangely compelling, larger-than-life stage presence. It may not be for everybody, I'll admit, but from where I'm standing, these folks can truly do no wrong.
SIDESHOW TRAMPS: Only caught a bit of the Sideshow Tramps' set, as they were winding down, but what I saw looked and sounded pretty damn good. I'd heard for years now about how awesome these guys are, and watching frontman Scott haranguing the crowd while the band meandered along behind him made me think maybe those rumblings were correct. Wish I'd seen more of it.
THE WILD MOCCASINS: And last but not least... The final act of the day for me before I had to head back to the near-'burbs was H-town scene darlings The Wild Moccasins, who I have to hand it to for being the band I see fairly regularly that consistently gets better & better each time. They've transformed themselves from a bunch of cute kids playing smiling, happy pop songs into a tight-as-hell band that happens to be young and fun and plays smiling, happy pop songs. And yeah, I mean that as a serious compliment.
I think they played some of the new songs this weekend, which is a good thing, because from what I've heard they're a bit "meatier" than the stuff off the Microscopic Metronomes EP -- love it though I do, a lot of those tracks are lighter than air, and I think they're ready to start channeling that youthful energy/abandon of theirs into something a bit more down-to-earth. Not less poppy, mind you, just...I dunno. More solid.
And "solid" is what their set Sunday afternoon was, definitely. They were playful, sure -- telling the crowd they had "lots of water" if anybody wanted some and then proceeding to pelt people with water balloons was sneaky fun -- but still locked down tight, playing probably the best I've seen 'em yet. I know a few local writerly-type people haven't entirely warmed to the Moccasins yet, but I suspect it'll be coming soon.
With the Moccasins' bright, shiny harmonies and sweet guitar melodies ringing in my ears, I headed back on up the hill, stopping only briefly to take a couple more photos (see below for one) of the festivities below as they continued on without me. I definitely wish I could've stuck around for the rest of the folks playing, but Real Life was calling, so... I'm not sure I would've been able to survive a full 10 hours' worth of the madness, either way.
I marched on out the gate with a smile on my face, though, happy to have been able to experience a day and a half (day and a third?) or so of this amazing thing, and made the long slog back to the car.
NOTE: Apologies, by the way, for the slowness in posting this -- there was a lot to take in, and I wanted to be able to do it justice. There're plenty of other fine, fine writeups also floating around out there, so between all of 'em, hopefully you'll get some idea of what the Summerfest thing was like. See y'all next time.
I should note, by the way, that everybody involved in the exchange about the wristband/pass at the start of Day Two was extremely polite & friendly about the whole deal. Just recounting it for the sake of completeness, not to say, "Man, those people were jerks! Gimme my pass, mufuckas!" Because that was definitely not the case. Even in the confusion, everybody was cool.
I was, and still am, seriously fucking appalled, folks. Would you casually throw empty bottles on your lawn, 'cause you're too lazy to put 'em in the can right inside the kitchen door? Would you be cool with it if people walking past your house tossed their empty beer cups on your driveway? I'm betting not. And yet, apparently a shitload of you were perfectly willing to turn a beautiful city park that should belong to everybody in Houston into a goddamn landfill. Houston, I'm telling you, as a whole: Clean. Up. Your. Shit. Otherwise, you've got nobody to blame but yourself if the city refuses to let things like Summerfest happen again in its parks and green spaces.
Turned out that Joe's tired of playing live, and fellow Mathletes Ryan Goodland and Jeff Goodyear have other stuff going on, so the "band" form of the Mathletes is collapsing in on itself, black hole-like. Well, sorta. The "band" will continue on as Joe himself, mostly, and will go back to being the recording project it was back in the beginning. So, new music will indeed be produced, probably still at Joe's typically ridiculous pace, but the live shows are over & done.
Which is a shame, really, because I've enjoyed seeing the guys play when I've managed to catch 'em. I can't fault Joe, Ryan, & Jeff for being tired of the whole live-show rigamarole thing, but it still makes me somewhat sad. And it sounds awful permanent, esp. considering the followup post on the band's Myspace, where Joe declared, "This is our last show as a band and I have no intention of playing any Mathletes shows afterwards." That's awfully final, seems like.
So, if you want to finally see what the hell I & other folks have been talking about with those crazy Mathletes, now's your last chance to do it in a live setting. They'll have a bunch of their previous, notoriously hard-to-find releases on hand, plus the new release (an MP3 CD-R entitled Unpronounceable Hieroglyphic) and recent cassette-only EP release Freshly Scrubbed and Still Weak in the Knees. See the band, grab some CDs, feel your heart light up just that little bit.
Some other newly-converted Eastern Sea fans stopped by to chat, too, and started an interesting conversation about the Houston scene vs. the Austin scene. When one of the ladies asked him about the Houston-Austin "feud," Hines called bullshit on the whole thing, saying it was completely fabricated and pointing out that his own band drew bigger crowds in Houston than in their current hometown (he said they'd sold an insane number of copies of their EP just that day). Then he grinned and declared that it was mostly Houston people trying to provoke the rivalry, although he may've meant Houstonians who've moved to Austin hating on their old hometown.
Labels: H-Town News, Live Reviews, Musical Crap, Pseudo-Reviews, Public Service Announcements, Summerfestgaijin || Link || E-mail || 1 comments
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