Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 1: American Fangs + Romulus Ate + Sour Notes + LIMB + + Black Congress + Grass Skirts + More

It’s almost that time again, y’all — the Free Press Summerfest is very nearly upon us, less than a week away. And trust me, June 4th & 5th will be pretty epic, just going by the lineup for the damn thing.

I’ve already babbled quite a bit about the festival itself, and while I severely dropped the ball last year, I’m still pretty proud of my writeup from the inaugural ‘fest — check parts 1 & 2 over here and here.

Since we’re coming close to the big day(s), I wanted to try again what I did last year and give my brief take on a pile of bands who are playing one day or the other of Summerfest. Thanks to the magic of, I’ve grabbed a bunch of ’em completely randomly, so some of these folks I know well, some I’ve heard of, and some I’ve never run across ’til now.

Before I get into that, though, I wanted to point y’all over to Houston Calling and {Pretty Riot}, both of which are doing some very, very cool (and much more in-depth) writeups/interviews with bands playing the festival. Check ’em out, seriously; Pretty Riot’s guide to how to prepare for the damn thing is especially cool.

There’ve been some lineup changes in recent days, btw — it looks like Danish metal dudes Undergang, San Francisco death metallers Acephalix, and iconic post-punks Killing Joke have all three dropped off, and I’m seeing some new names on the official schedule (notably Peelander-Z, Peekaboo Theory, and L.A.X.), so be sure to check it before you make your plans.

Anyway, here goes the first batch:

American Fangs
Ah, yes. I had actually wanted to catch these guys at the very first Summerfest, but they ended up having to drop off the schedule to do some out-of-town stuff. Can’t really fault ’em for that, but I’m damn glad to see they’re back on the schedule, because these guys are really-truly one of the best flat-out “rock” bands this town’s got right now. Their self-titled EP is pretty mind-blowing, particularly now-classic track “Le Kick,” and the American Fangs guys recently released a handful of new songs — check out the utterly badass snarl of “The River You Bought” over there in the Mixtape. (They were available on the band’s Website ’til not too long ago, but they appear to be gone now; sorry…) Raw, loud, ballsy, yet still amazingly melodic & catchy guitar rock, without frills or makeup or any of that other unnecessary bullshit. Awesome.
[American Fangs play at 1:40PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Romulus Ate
Alright, I’ll be honest: I have no idea what/who Romulus Ate are. I’d initially assumed they were a real-live band, but everything I’m finding about ’em online makes it sound more like they’re some kind of strange performance-art piece come to life, with dancing, music, costumes, and whatever else thrown in. Supposedly they performed at SXSW this year and seriously blew minds, but I’m a wee bit skeptical. Live they may well be amazing, but I’m not bowled-over just yet by the music, which is sort of like ’80s-tinged electro-pop with occasionally sweet, gorgeous melodies, tinny beats, and bumping/skronking synths. It’s not bad, but it’s not doing all that much for me, I’m afraid (although “Nucleogenesis” ain’t bad). Still, I’m interested in seeing what they’re like live.
[Romulus Ate plays at 5PM on Sun., June 5th, at (appropriately enough) the Super Happy Fun Land Stage.]

Ani DiFranco’s Dick
Yup; ladies & gentlemen, I give you The Band the Largest Number of Festival-Goers Will Be Snickering About, guaranteed. No doubt about it; Oakland’s Ani DiFranco’s Dick has pretty much everybody else playing beat for that particular honor. (And no, there is no way in Hell I’m clicking “Like” on these guys’ Facebook page. It ain’t happening, y’all.) Unfortunately, the music these folks play doesn’t make me do much more than shrug — it’s basic, raw, female-fronted California-style pop-punk that brings to mind a less-awesome Distillers at points, or maybe Tilt minus the character. Your mileage may vary…
[Ani DiFranco’s Dick plays at 1:55PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Warehouse Live Stage.]

The Sour Notes
I caught these Austin/ex-Houston folks at last year’s Summerfest, and I have to say, they ended up being one of the best bands I caught throughout the festival. I’d seen them previously at The Mink with just three members, playing subdued, melancholy-yet-melodic, electronics-heavy indie-pop, so I wasn’t expecting the full-on indie-rock roar they cut loose with up on the stage. Hell, I didn’t even realize it was the same damn band ’til partway through their set. Since then I’ve been able to check out their most recent full-length, Last Looks, and was extremely impressed — they come near to the New Pornographers in terms of being able to stack layer upon layer of lush, power-pop-y sound to create these damn-near-perfect gems of songs. They throw in everything but the kitchen sink, and holy crap, it works.
[The Sour Notes play at 6:45PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Warehouse Live Stage.]

Of all the various offspring of the whole collapsed-but-now-back quartet By the End of Tonight, I have to say that LIMB has (so far, anyway) been the one that’s hit me the hardest. Which is a little weird, really, because it’s not generally my thing — they (he?) are less a “band” than an electronics/live instruments “project” that crafts these shifting, psychedelic, gorgeously noisy squalls of skittering drumbeats, blown-out synths, and buried (but still swooping and M83-like) melodies. And while most of that sort of thing leaves me cold, the group’s 2010 release, The Shape of Punk for Some, fucking blew me away with its sheer, fuck-the-rules abandon. I have no clue what they’re like live, unfortunately, but dammit, I can’t wait to find out.
[LIMB plays at 6:10 on Sat., June 4th, at the Main Stage.]

I will freely admit that I’m totally, completely ignorant when it comes to the DJ scene in this city. Sad, I know, but it’s true — I’ve seen a handful of DJs that have impressed me (the only one that comes to mind right now being Young $quaddy), and that’s about it. What’s worse, I can’t even find anything to listen to from Dayta, in spite of having heard about the guy for years now… To make matters worse, there are at least two other “Daytas” out there, one of whom is a German DJ (the other’s a producer of some kind). Argh. So, other than a crappy, in-the-dark snippet from YouTube, I got nothin’. Damn, man. What I can hear I like, but I’m hoping to hear more one of these damn days.
[Dayta plays at 2:30PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage, along with Squincy Jones.]

The Wild Moccasins
I really, really, really love these kids; I do. Rag on ’em for being easy-on-the-ears pop if you want, but what they do works awesomely well for me, at least. I love the back-and-forth boy/girl vocals, the chiming/jangling guitars, the busy, layered arrangements, the sugary-sweet melodies, and lately, the sarcastic, eyes-rolling sense of humor lurking beneath it all. They’re like The Anniversary without the emo trappings and overwhelmingly bitter melancholy. In my book, The Wild Moccasins are currently the reigning kings and queen of pop in these parts; there’ve been a lot of challengers lately, but nobody quite hits the mark like they do.
[The Wild Moccasins play at 11:40AM on Sat., June 4th, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Black Congress
Ah, Black Congress. I think part of the reason I like these guys as much as I do is because they’re so damn unpredictable; they’re one of those don’t-give-a-fuck bands that do what they want and couldn’t give a shit what anybody else thinks, and that’s a beautiful, beautiful thing to see. They’re raw, abrasive, loud as hell (seriously; the first time I saw ’em, I walked away halfway deafened), and utterly misanthropic in the best possible way. Think of all those classic mid-’90s bands that managed to be metallic and heavy and noisy and bassy all at the same time, people like The Jesus Lizard or Cop Shoot Cop or Barkmarket, and you’ll get close; check out some of their more recent tracks here. Just watch your face if you get up near the stage.
[Black Congress plays at 2:25PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Budweiser Stage.]

John The Third
Dammit, what’s with the DJs, y’all? Would it kill you guys to put some music up where ignorant folks like me could maybe find it? sigh. Like with Dayta, above, I’ve heard quite a bit about John The Third over the past couple of years — I know he’s got something to do with the Gritsy dubstep party crew, but I’ve only got a hazy grasp on what “dubstep” actually is, so that doesn’t help me a whole lot. So far all I’ve been able to dig up is this one anniversary mix he did last year, and it’s definitely interesting; I’m pretty unfamiliar with everybody he’s mixing, but it drags you along nicely, sounding like some sort of funkily hypnotic dance party for robots that’s held in a deserted warehouse district somewhere no human would dare go after dark. Take that however you will.
[John The Third plays at 7:15PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage, along with Upgreyed & Suraj K.]

Robert Ellis
Talked a bit about Robert Ellis recently, but hell, I’ve got no problem praising him yet again. Over the past year or three, he’s really-and-truly stepped out from the shadows to become one of the leading lights of Houston’s surprisingly substantial indie-folk/roots-rock scene, both on his own as lending his talents to folks like Grandfather Child and listenlisten, to name just a couple. Most crucial of all of it is his songwriting ability — with The Great Rearrange, he proved ably that he can write any damn thing he feels like writing, tossing out these great, loose-limbed, breezily emotional songs seemingly without breaking a sweat. And through it all he’s got that rough-edged Southern-boy croon… I am seriously psyched to see this guy getting his due; he deserves it. See him now, while you can.
[Robert Ellis plays at 12:35PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Main Stage.]

Damon Allen
Okay, so I grumbled & bitched about not knowing a thing about DJs and not being to find any actual music they’ve released, but I don’t really have an excuse when it comes to Damon Allen. I’ve followed the guy (albeit from a distance) since the late ’90s, back when we were both in indie-rock-ish bands playing ’round town, and I’ve always been fascinated with his story. In the hazy, long-ago days of yore, Damon used to front a hardcore band called Refuse To Fall, one that very nearly hit the big time (in hardcore terms, anyway) before shattering and spawning about two dozen subsequent bands.

When I talked to him last, about a decade after that, he was coming off of fronting a rootsy rock band. Since then he’s spent the last decade-plus diving headlong into dance music and has become one of the city’s better-known DJs, most recently (I think) with his group Kollektive. And thankfully, he does actually have a few things online, up at Soundcloud — it’s beat-heavy and funky, with a seriously clicky, UK-sounding vibe that makes me think of Bentley Rhythm Ace, and that’s never a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned.
[Damon Allen plays at 6:30PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage.]

Instro-metal fans and folks who dig smart, prog-y riffs, take note: Cavernous is that band you hear in your dreams, spiraling over those World of Warcraft-esque battlefields you have to fight your way through, leaving death and destruction in your wake. Seriously, these guys are one of a handful of bands (Mastodon, Pelican, and fellow local boys Scale The Summit being others) that make me want to travel back in time just so I can hand their albums off to my younger, D&D-obsessed self and say, “here; this is what you need to be blasting the next time your party heads off into the wastelands.” Which isn’t to say, mind you, that Cavernous’s music is only suited to being a soundtrack for role-playing games — it’s just that that’s what pops into my head. These guys are mindblowingly cool, rolling through track after track of murky-yet-sharp, prog-rock-influenced, thundering/stuttering instrumentals that are intelligent and atmospheric but still ferociously metal; frankly, they’re what I’d wished Pelican would sound like. Check out their BandCamp page to see what I mean.
[Cavernous plays at 11:05AM on Sun., June 5th, at the Rudyard’s Stage.]

The Roller
I caught Austin dudes The Roller not too long ago at the epic “Metal at The Mink” show I reviewed on over here, and they were by far the loudest, heaviest thing I heard that night; it was bassy beyond belief, sludgy and crushing, with death metal-y yowling vocals, all of it emanating from a quartet of guys who looked like the scariest-ass members of my Uncle Bill’s old biker gang. I can’t claim that it’s really my thing, unfortunately — the music pummels you down more than anything else, and I’ve got to be in a pretty specific mood to enjoy that feeling, y’know? But hell, that might’ve been the closed-in venue more than anything else; I’m thinking that unleashed from the four walls of The Mink, the band might well flatten parts of downtown Houston.
[The Roller plays at 6:35PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Rudyard’s Stage.]

The Grass Skirts
And now, for something completely (and I mean completely) different… Like their name suggests, The Grass Skirts play cheery, sunshiny, ukelele-heavy (duh) island-pop, like The Beatles gone Don Ho; some of the tracks are classics, some of which even I know, like Ho’s own “Tiny Bubbles,” but it’s the original (or at least, more obscure) stuff like “Peaceful Pearl Harbor” that really gets me. And no, these guys aren’t from Hawaii themselves — the two main guys behind the band are apparently both natives of our sweaty, landlocked city — but hey, I can’t fault ’em for wanting to escape from our urban-sprawl environs and imagine themselves someplace greener and more “island” tropical than “heatstroke on pavement” tropical. Beyond that, I’ve got a blind spot when it comes to steel guitar; can’t help but like it, y’all.
[The Grass Skirts play at 2:15PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Super Happy Fun Land Stage.]

That’s all for now; stay tuned for more to come in the next few days…

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4 Responses to “Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 1: American Fangs + Romulus Ate + Sour Notes + LIMB + + Black Congress + Grass Skirts + More”

  1. Ani DiFranco's Dick on May 31st, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    California-style pop-punk! Woo-hoo!

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