I knew it was going to be cold; I mean, the forecasts all said it'd be chilly. But from when co-organizer Marcus Gausepohl (also of Esotype Records & Golden Cities) told me a couple of months back about this "Lost In Space" festival thing he wanted to put together, with a bunch of spacerock/psych-rock bands playing together at this bar in the Vietnamese part of Midtown, on the roof of the place, I couldn't resist. "Spacerock under the stars" -- how the hell do you beat that?
Of course, plans don't always run smoothly with these things. H-town got hit by the most snow I've seen since I've lived here (at my house, anyway), and when it wasn't snowing or sleeting, it was cold, cold, cold. So yeah, the rooftop thing went away, and I was a little bitter/sad about that, but eh, it was still a damn good lineup. Although the LIS crew had by then opened their arms somewhat wider than the initial plans, scrapping the "psych" thing in favor of bands they, well, thought were cool. (Which, honestly, is a much better yardstick.)
At any rate, yours truly headed out into the cold last Saturday, foolishly wearing only a sweatshirt for warmth (I'd originally planned on bringing a full-on Marmot jacket & be toasty and warm), over to Khon's Bar in Midtown and straight to a parking lot full of smoking, smiling hipsters waiting for the next band to start.
The show was technically next to Khon's, to be perfectly accurate, in a half-finished space one door over with bare walls and not much else. The rooftop, it turned out, was the top of the shopping center's parking garage, but rather than go up there, I figured I'd be better off catching as many of the bands as I possibly could. (Oh, and the space next to Khon's now officially has a name -- it's "The Husk," which seems fitting given the state of the room.)
I missed the first couple of bands, unfortunately, including the one who actually did play upstairs, Forests -- apparently they showed up, shrugged, and said, "what the hell, we don't need a PA, so we'll play up there anyway." Which would've been neat to see, esp. since I've heard good things about the band...
(Pics from the show are all up here, btw, for those who want to see 'em. I chickened out on the flash, as usual, but some of 'em came out decent.)
DEFENDING THE KINGDOM:
This one was probably the biggest surprise of the night, mostly because at the time, I hadn't yet twigged to the whole not- necessarily- psych thing. About all I knew about Defending the Kingdom beforehand was that at least one of the guys in the band used to be in well-regarded metalcore(?) outfit Tana'ri, and that didn't help much, seeing as I totally missed that band when they were around.
They were even more of a surprise due to their sheer metal-ness -- they were heavy as fuck, with crunching, punishing guitars, screamy/roaring vocals, and slow, thundering, bass-heavy, head-rattling beats. The whole thing reminded me at points of Isis, Helmet, pre-melodic Cave In, or even Jawbox (I swear, I caught some nicely math-y bits lurking in there), all welded to a solid metalcore spine.
I didn't have high hopes when they started off, honestly, but the sludgy, heavy-yet-atmospheric sound and impressive musicianly skills won me over. I had to bail before their final song, unfortunately (I've tried making a phone call while standing in the same room as a metal band before; doesn't work so well), but I dug the hell out of what I saw/heard.
THE WEIRD WEEDS:
Wow. Just...wow. Before I say anything else, I feel like I need to declare that The Weird Weeds are the best all-round musicians I've seen in a long, long while. (Seriously.) I'm told guitar experimenter Sandy Ewen (who I hear lives here in Houston these days) does a lot of the singing on the albums themselves, but for this show, at least, drummer/singer Nick Hennies was the main focus, singing the bulk of the songs and drumming, and he was pretty damn impressive. He played fast and folky and offbeat, but with what almost looked like a jazzman's technique; it made my jaw drop.
In fact, the whole evening -- what I caught of it, anyway -- seemed like the Battle of the Mindblowing Badass Drummers, with Hennies throwing down the gauntlet to start things off. Plus, Ewen herself did things with her guitar that were both freaky and understated, guitarist Aaron Russell played appropriately low-key and mellow, and stand-up bassist Lindsey Verrill (who apparently mostly plays in folky neo-backwoods bands when she's not with the Weeds) danced and jumped while playing like she was attending a tent revival.
She wasn't the only one, naturally; it seemed pretty clear from the start that a fair chunk of the crowd had come out primarily to see the Weeds, and they camped out in front, smiling and swaying beatifically. A trio of hippie kids cheerfully waved people to scoot in closer to where they sat, one of them draping herself ecstatically over the monitor as the band played. At one point, a female friend got behind her and hugged her as she swooned, looking weirdly like she was giving her the Heimlich manuever. It was entertaining as hell to watch...
Shameful confession time: I didn't really see much of co-headliners My Education. I was fairly focused on the Weird Weeds right 'til they finished, and didn't clue in that I should slide quickly over to the second stage of the place for ME's set. Bad move, as it filled in quickly with people, to the point where I couldn't really justify barging through to the front.
So, instead, I sat. I sat and watched the projector play out bits and pieces of old movies on the walls and the heads and backs of the people standing, able to occasionally catch a glimpse of the My Education members standing near the front; at one point a woman projected on the wall appeared to be about to eat one of the guitarists.
And y'know what? Honestly, it wasn't a bad way to absorb the band. In the end, it really felt like they were more of a sit-back-and-absorb sort of deal anyway, so it seemed fairly appropriate. Just sit back, close your eyes, and let the music swirl and crash, crescendoes spiraling upwards and upwards into the sky; they very nearly made me want to quit comparing 'em to Explosions in the Sky and instead refer to them on their own merits. Damn -- it would've been very cool to watch that set sitting up under the stars.
Yes, yes, yes. Golden Cities, more than any other band playing, were who I came to see. I've known drummer Lance Higdon and guitarist/festival-runner Marcus for a little while now and was heartily bowled over by the band's self-titled debut from last year. The roaring/surging guitars, the threatening, foreboing feel, the complex, avant-garde drums -- it all worked, y'know?
So, with that in mind, I was a little surprised when the band set up not only drums, guitar, and bass, but, um, congas? I knew the lineup had expanded from the original trio of Higdon, Gausepohl, and original guitarist Nathan Heskia, but this seemed a little off-kilter even for that.
But nope, the congas were in there, most definitely, and they served to ground the whole thing nicely, bringing what could've been overly math-y, cerebral (mostly) instro-rock down to a more "human" level. Percussionist Scott Ritter kept pace admirably with Higdon's wild-yet-controlled drumming, the combination further upping the ante in the aforementioned Battle of the Mindblowing Badass Drummers (sorry, Hennies, but they've got you outnumbered).
The end result was like a jazzier/more prog-rock version of instro-metal dudes Pelican, but with far, far better drumming and an oddly world music-y vibe snuck in on the side. Then there was the funky, nu-New Wave groove thrown onto the track Higdon announced as a new song, and the tribal abandon when the band dragged "auxiliary" member (and other festival organizer) Meghan Hendley up to pound away at a drum in front of the "main" kit.
To sum it all up: my favorite performance of the night, from any band. The Golden Cities crew played like their lives depended on it while having a blast, and they definitely expanded my own estimation of what they could do.
Yeah, I got stuck at the back for this one, too (okay, I probably could have shoved my way up there, but I'm just not that guy), due to hanging out and shaking hands/high-fiving the Golden Cities guys.
When I could stick my head over the crowd & peek at Solanae's set, I was absolutely intrigued. I knew singer/keyboardist Meghan Hendley (who, as hinted at above, used to be in Golden Cities herself) had a classical piano background, so I wasn't too surprised by that part, but her backing band, composed partly of Mike Blackshear and Jeff Price of Tambersauro (plus drummer James Diederich), made things extra-special interesting.
The effect was kind of like a Chicago post-rock band backing up Tori Amos, with Hendley's semi-operatic vocals soaring and swooping over spooky, Exorcist-like keys and murky, brooding (but not too loud or rough-sounding) guitars and bass rumbling beneath. Or maybe Evanescence if bred on a steady diet of Tortoise and Slint. Something like that, anyway -- whatever the oddball combination, it worked quite well...
SLOW MOTION RIDER:
So, right before these guys played, I did something stupid. While hanging out in the parking lot, I decided that what the hell, I wanted to see what the Khon's rooftop was like, bands or no. So I stuck my hands in my sweatshirt pockets and made my way up the unassuming concrete steps to the big metal door at the top -- up and out.
Bad, bad, bad idea. Holy fuck, was it cold up there. The wind cut right through my flimsy sweatshirt, the cold immediately started seeping upwards through the soles of my sneakers, and I felt my body temp drop like an anvil off a cliff. I got a couple of nice photos of the Houston skyline, but I was only able to endure it for about two minutes before I started shivering uncontrollably and had to run for the stairs. I got some weird looks when I burst out of the stairwell, shaking like a leaf.
Sadly, that was the beginning of the end of the evening for me -- no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get my core warmed up again, not even standing around in the actual bar (which was heated; "The Husk" ain't). Which really sucks, because the whole time I watched Slow Motion Rider rock out, I was focused less on the music and more on how fucking cold I was.
And that's a shame, because I liked their heavily retro, '60s-styled retro-rock, all swirling guitars, laidback bass, and thundering, pounding drums. The lava-lamp lightshow behind worked even better for them than it had for the Weird Weeds (apparently the lights belonged to Slow Motion Rider), backlighting guitarist Alan and too-cool bassist Tava (no last names with this band, it seems) in a psychedelic haze. The only bad part? They were loooooouuuuud. Really, head-rattling, chest-vibratingly looooooouuuuud.
GHOST TOWN ELECTRIC:
The last band of the night for yours truly, unfortunately, but at least I went out on a bang. In stark contrast with the Brian Jones vibe of the previous crew, Ghost Town Electric headed down a squarely metal road -- sludgy and heavy-as-hell, a mishmash of breakneck hardcore tempos and bluesy, down-and-dirty Southern metal, all with shredded-throat vocals. They came off like an H-town version of Northwesterners Federation X, or maybe ultimate badasses Priestess.
I couldn't stay for the whole thing, but I loved what I did hear -- weird as it sounds, I feel like I really need to see these guys in a "proper" venue to appreciate 'em fully. And yes, both these guys and Slow Motion Rider continued the whole Battle of the Mindblowing Badass Drummers, although I'll withhold judgement for a sec...
All 'round, I had a ball (even with the self-inflicted near-frostbite). Hopefully this won't be the only Lost In Space fest; keep it up, folks. Please?
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