Summerfest Rundown, Pt. 3: Giant Princess + Tyagaraja + Lovie + Something Fierce + Slim Thug + Lucero + More

Next pile of bands, right here… I’m a wee bit nervous, I have to say, about the weather — if it’s pouring Saturday & Sunday, the Summerfest is going to be, um, interesting. I saw what Eleanor Tinsley Park looked like last year after a little bit of rain; a deluge is going to make things messy as hell.

But what the heck — if all goes well, I’ll still be there myself on Sunday, at least, and maybe in the later hours on Saturday, too, rain or shine. (Gotta do the family thing, y’know.)

By the by, there’re some very talented writerly-type people also doing writeups & previews & the like of the weekend’s lineup, all of which you should check out. Like I think I mentioned before, David at Houston Calling has been doing his previews for the past several weeks, and they’re damn cool, and Marc over at {Houstonist} has ridiculously comprehensive (yet still nicely succinct) previews of days one and two.

It may not be all that useful (or connected to reality), but John Seaborn Gray‘s handy-dandy guide to surviving Summerfest over at {Houstoned Rocks} is entertaining; more useful, though, are the slew of interviews over at {Pretty Riot}, a new-ish site/blog I can’t believe I hadn’t run across ’til now. Hell, they even interviewed the Cro-Mags, although I’m not real sure who they talked to, since the interviewee refers to Harley, Parris, and John Joseph like they’re other people. A.J. Novello, maybe? (Gotta love how whoever it was answered the question about who they’re looking forward to see at the festival…)

The crew over at {} have been steadily writing stuff about the ‘fest in the run-up to the big weekend, too (which makes sense, as they’re sponsoring a whole stage). In fact, the only local music-media outlet that really hasn’t been saying much (online, at least; print issues never seem to make it down here to the SW side) is the Free Press Houston, the folks putting the damn thing on. I’m guessing they’ve got a crapload of logistical stuff to take care of, though, so I can’t really fault ’em.

With that out of the way, here we go:

Giant Princess
In the not-so-distant past, I’ll admit that I’ve been up-and-down on the Giant Princess crew — live, they’ve been utterly phenomenal, a bluesy, gritty, quirky rock powerhouse of a band up there on the stage, coming off like The White Stripes if Jack White had never gone the route of James Bond theme songs and cleaner production and instead just chilled out with some buds in the back yard. In recorded form, I’ve been kind of “meh,” at least ’til now. What’s turned it around for me’s being able to check out their brand-new Mexican Easter EP, a tape-only release you can thankfully also check out online (no download, unfortunately; thanks to Michael “B L A C K I E” LaCour for sending the link my way, btw) that truly captures what I dig about the band live. The music’s raw but friendly, bluesy but indie-tinged, with songs that drift and roar in equal measure, like the aforementioned pseudo-garage-rockers crossed with the oddball-ness of The Pixies and the slacker chill of Pavement. And yep, it’s all good.
[Giant Princess plays at 1:25PM on Sun., June 6th, at the KTRU Stage.]

Meant to post something congratulatory about Tyagaraja a while back, seeing as they won(!) that Fiesta Movement competition thing to send one lucky/popular TX band to Bonnaroo, but with the relaunch & all, I just dropped it, I’m afraid. But hey, I’m very happy to be able to talk about these folks now, at least, seeing as they’re one of the most intriguing, strangely spiritual bands in town these days. The band started out as just ex-Million Year Dance singer/songwriter Jonathan Welch, who came back to Houston from a two-year walkabout with the new name “Tyagaraja,” but he’s built a shifting collective of talented musical folks around his gentle, sweet, sometimes jazzy folk-pop songs, and the result is pretty stunning. As an added bonus, this weekend marks the official release for the band’s debut full-length, Open Book — see the band, pick up the CD.
[Tyagaraja plays at 3:55PM on Sat., June 5th, at the Dos Equis Stage.]

Come See My Dead Person
Whoa. Okay, so I had these guys pegged all wrong, as in completely and totally. I could’ve sworn that when I heard ’em last, they were heavy and weird, but listening to the band once again(?), I’m wondering if I wasn’t listening to the wrong band to begin with. CSMDP is only heavy in the weighty, thought-provoking sense, honestly, spitting out this scratchy-voiced, folky blues-pop that draws in equal parts from more traditional folk music and blues and more recent soul-blues. I know this could sound bad — and I do not mean it that way, trust me — but on a few songs singer Mike Mejia‘s voice makes me think of Amy freaking Winehouse, for crying out loud. Then they throw in some crazy, eerie strings and a gang of friends yelping and howling along, though, and I’m back out in the cold, wondering what the hell’s going on. Think Tom Waits fronting a bluesy, soulful ska band, and you may be somewhere in the vicinity…
[Come See My Dead Person plays at 5:35PM on Sat., June 5th, at the KTRU Stage.]

Nice switch-up, there… Dallas band Lovie could easily fall into the trap of being too damn sweet & sappy with its take on bumping, organ-heavy, electro-tinged indie-pop, but they manage to ride that line beautifully, coming off like the insanely underrated that dog., if said band could somehow be dragged forwards in time to today (please? That’d be awesome, seriously). There’s a bit more darkness going on here, though, giving a decent edge to the otherwise high-flying, fuzzy-headed pop songs. Fans of old-school female-fronted indie-rock/pop bands like Velocity Girl, take note.
[Lovie plays at 2PM on Sun., June 6th, at the KTRU Stage.]

The Takes
Get some sloppy, sweaty, four-chord punk rawk on, people. I’m relieved to see The Takes on the bill for the Summerfest, ’cause I thought they’d broken up a while back; they’ve been awful quiet, it seems like, only playing a few shows here & there. Their sound hits all the right marks for me, swinging near to the Brit-punk sound pioneered by bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Adverts with their shouted/yelped, semi-tuneful vocals, chanted gang backing vocals, buzzy guitars, and straight-ahead drums. Close your eyes, and you’re flashing back to ’76.
[The Takes play at 11:05AM on Sun., June 6th, at the KTRU Stage.]

The Gold Sounds
Love, love, love these guys. Got to see ’em a short while back at their CD release, and they were blazing up there on the stage, all fiery, Stones-gone-Detroit riffs, swaggering, smirking bravado, and thundering rhythms. I swear to God, drummer Dee Donnelly hits the drums harder than anybody I’ve ever seen; watching him play is totally mesmerizing all by itself. The Sounds also happen to be one of those fortunate few bands that seem equally at home playing the raging, garage-rock-y stuff or the more jittery/swooning stuff (see “College Radio” for proof). For some reason, when I hear ’em lately I can’t help but think of Kings of Leon, a band I like quite a bit — like the Kings, they’re able to meld subtle country influences and insanely catchy melodies with full-on indie-rock songs.
[The Takes play at 11:05AM on Sun., June 6th, at the Stage.]

Something Fierce
There are plenty of punk and punk-ish bands in town I like these days, for sure, but for my money, nobody beats Something Fierce (sorry…) They’re not only full-fledged connoisseurs of punk rock in all its many forms, but they’re sneaky, sneaky punks, as well, using those raw, punch-your-face-in guitar riffs and snarling/sneering vocals to disguise the fact that they’re just flat-out awesome songwriters. Honest; I defy anybody to not feel compelled to head-bob and grin along when they hear “Second Son” or to run out in the street and pump your fist in the air to “Teenage Ruins” — you’ll be sorely tempted, believe it. Plus, they’ve managed to craft the single best punk rock love song I’ve ever heard in “Aliens,” a track that pretty much sums up what it’s like to feel alone and lonely, a reject in a world that doesn’t fit, and then miraculously find another of your kind.
[Something Fierce plays at 4:25PM on Sat., June 5th, at the KTRU Stage.]

Golden Axe
Never actually managed to see Golden Axe live, sadly, and going by the reports I’ve heard from folks who have, that’s a damn shame… Main Axe-man Warren Hatfield is one hell of a fine guitarist, shredding his way through tongue-in-cheek instrometal tracks that both headbang in earnest and give a sly, ironic grin at the same time, and drummer James Love stomps and crushes on ahead, clearing the path for the jagged edges of The Rock. Think The Fucking Champs but more mëtäl, and you’ll be in the neighborhood. And hey, how can you not like a metal band that’s willing to start a song with a sample from The Princess Bride? (Easy answer: you can’t. Period.)
[Golden Axe plays (a “Special Set”) at an undisclosed time somewhere between 6:30 and 7PM on Sat., June 5th, at the Main Stage.]

Slim Thug
Okay, so here’s the one-and-only Summerfest performer to’ve ever had an SNL skit written about him (or, more accurately, about his biggest hit); that’s gotta count for something, right there. Beyond that, Slim Thug also happens to be a damn decent rapper, even if his rhymes aren’t really my style these days. After re-listening to his more recent stuff, though I’m pretty surprised to hear the old-school synths lurking in the background on his tracks, and I’m liking that. I’ll admit that Fat Tony & Nosa are more my thing, but Slim’s solid, even still. Now for the bad part: uh, Slim doesn’t list the Summerfest show on his Myspace page, just a private graduation party on June 5th. Hrm. Might be Bun B up there all by himself on the stage…
[Slim Thug plays (maybe?) at 6:40PM on Sun., June 6th, at the Main Stage, alongside Bun B.]

Kid Sister
Never heard a thing by Kid Sister ’til today, so I can’t say if the stuff I’ve heard so far is all that representative of her sound in general, but it seems like she bridges the gap between funky party-hop and slinky electro-pop; the bubbling, handclap-tinged synths and dance beats of “Daydreaming,” in particular, makes me think of a less-worldly M.I.A. or maybe Estelle, but then she shifts smoothly into grimy, speedy, murky-sounding lyrics nearly worthy of (yeah, another Brit; weird, I know) Lady Sovereign.
[Kid Sister plays at 7:15PM on Sat., June 5th, at the Main Stage.]

The Manichean
I have to say, in a live setting, ever-shifting gang of art-rockers The Manichean have got to be one of the most singularly arresting bands I’ve ever seen in this city. Singer/ringleader Cory Sinclair strolls and thrashes through the crowd, alternately sweetly crooning and howling oblique lyrics that I think all tie in together somehow to some kind of a common storyline, throwing out lines with ultra-dramatic flair and a nod to some dark, foreboding play being acted out in a darkened, invitation-only club somewhere. And as he goes, band co-leader Justice Tirapelli-Jamail flails away at his guitar like a man trying to exorcise it of its demons. The end result is somewhere between the grim brutality of the pAper chAse and the music-as-theater ethos of The Decemberists.
[The Manichean plays at 12:15PM on Sun., June 6th, at the Stage.]

I’ve only heard this relatively recent trio’s debut EP, Peace Through Fear, so far, but I’m already well and truly converted. Thundering, monolithic slabs of crushing, bass-heavy doom-y metal colliding on a windswept, lightning-stroked mountain like the gods themselves are fighting, with guitarist Sam Waters & bassist Melissa Lonchambon‘s dueling male/female vocals soaring over the top. Haven’t seen ’em live, but I’m pretty psyched about what I’ve heard, at least — their set promises to be one of the best metal shows of the whole festival.
[Omotai plays at 3:15PM on Sat., June 5th, at the KTRU Stage.]

I know there’re a ton of indie-country bands floating around out there right now, but in my book the one that gets closest to the heights of Uncle Tupelo/early Son Volt greatness is Tennessee boys Lucero. Frontman Ben Nichols‘s cigarette-scratched voice rasps like Steve Earle’s, and the song-stories he spins of lost loves, bikers, doomed dreams, and boys gone off to war bring me halfway to tears and make me want a stiff drink all at once. Nobody’s Darlings and That Much Further West are bona-fide classics, to my ears, with those just-rough-enough guitars, the awesome singalong choruses, and that indie-fied roots-rock vibe; it’s good shit. I could hear “Tears Don’t Matter Much” for days, literally; take a listen for yourself:

No offense to anybody else playing, but these guys might just be the band I’m most looking forward to seeing this weekend.
[Lucero plays at 4:15PM on Sun., June 6th, at the Main Stage.]

That’s all I can right now — more to come tomorrow…

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One Response to “Summerfest Rundown, Pt. 3: Giant Princess + Tyagaraja + Lovie + Something Fierce + Slim Thug + Lucero + More”

  1. SPACE CITY ROCK » Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 2: Giant Princess + finnegan + Free Rads + Neon Indian + Nosaprise + Outer Heaven + More on June 2nd, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    […] Princess Talked about these guys in last year’s rundown, I know, but what the hell — they’re worth talking about multiple times, in my book. I […]

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