Summerfest 2011 Rundown, Pt. 2: Giant Princess + Finnegan + Free Rads + Neon Indian + Nosaprise + Outer Heaven + More
Next installment of little mini-writeups for Free Press Summerfest, right here; sorry, I meant for it to go up last night but ended up staying up late with a sick munchkin… To make up for it, I’ll be attempting a magical, amazing trick and trying to post multiple installments in one day.
I have to say, btw, that I’m pretty psyched about this weekend — Saturday & Sunday are going to be pretty epic. The Free Press Houston folks sent around a cool little list of “10 things other than great music” that’ll be going on at the festival, and some of it sounds pretty badass:
- The skate area sounds like it’ll be bigger & more of a real skate park this year, for one thing; supposedly the Select Skate people are building it, and the FPH is calling it “massive.”
- There’s also some kind of video game area called the Sony Playstation Experience — expect gigantic lines, in part because, hey, it’s shelter from the blistering sun, right?
- There’ll apparently be more local craft-y type booths set up, which is very cool by me; I don’t recall seeing as much of that last year, and weirdly enough, I was kind of missing it.
- Fireworks. Seriously? Nice.
- They’re also promising performance art exhibitions, although I’m not really sure how that’s defined. Does the weird dancing Asian kid from 2009 count as “performance art”? Or maybe Joe from Clockpole giving out free hugs?
- Four words: Giant. Human. Theremins. Whoa.
The whole thing’s expanded on down the bayou this year, as well —& see how freaking huge it’s going to be. My legs already ache just thinking about hiking from one stage to another. Dammit, I’m old. Anyway, here goes for this batch:
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 know uniqueness is an attribute that gets thrown around a hell of a lot when talking about music in general, but in this town, at least, Giant Princess are their own special breed of animal, unlike anybody else going. They mash together tripped-out psych-garage messiness with distorted guitars and bluesy riffs just this side of The Grifters, frontman Collin Hedrick‘s frenzied, country-boy yowl, and shambling, shuddering rhythms that take sudden left turns exactly where you’d least expect ‘em to. A few months back, the guys in the band were kind enough to send a sweet copy of full-length Zip Zop Wow our way, and I, sadly, have sat on it like a dumbass. Look for a late-coming review at some point, I swear. Also well worth checking out is the band’s more recent online-only EP, Mexican Easter — very freaking cool.
[Giant Princess plays at 1:35PM on Sun., June 5th, at the 29-95 Stage.]
Vivian Pikkles and the Sweethearts Über Allës
Been meaning to check out Vivian Pikkles and the Sweethearts Über Allës for a while now. The band’s pedigree alone is pretty impressive — singer April Patrick‘s been in a ton of things, notably the now-dead Guitars and neato gang Prairie Cadets, Anna Garza‘s been involved in stuff since I’ve lived here, it seems like, and drummer “Captain Boner” is actually Niki Sevven from Something Fierce, who rule. And yeah, Pikkles & the Sweethearts are pretty damn fun, all slinky, grimy, back-to-basics, garage-y rawk ‘n roll, the kind you’d be psyched to dig up in some obscure record shop in London’s Camden Market. Messy, dirty, raw, and cheerfully tongue-in-cheek.
[Vivian Pikkles and the Sweethearts Über Allës plays at 11:10AM on Sun., June 5th, at the 29-95 Stage.]
Defending the Kingdom
Seen these guys a couple of times now, and it’s been just about a completely different band each damn time… Even with that, though, they’ve been pretty surprisingly great all along — I liked ‘em at the Lost In Space Festival, liked a different incarnation at the “Metal at The Mink” mini-fest thing, and dug their side of the split they did with Ghost Town Electric. Heavy, sludgy, bass-y, somehow “war”-/”battle”-sounding metal that moves slowly but methodically in for the kill, bludgeoning you to the ground with a massive battleaxe of sound, Neurosis-like screamed vocals, oblique lyrics about mysterious machines and such, and occasional Refused-ish electronic touches. Onstage, they’re an unassuming-looking bunch, but trust me, the music that comes out of the speakers is pretty badass.
[Defending the Kingdom plays at 2:20PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Night Owl Stage.]
Another band I’d been meaning to check out, in part because (again) I like the other stuff the folks in the band — Taylor & Darin Lee (who are also integral pieces of The Literary Greats) and Sara Van Buskirk (who is awesome all on her own) — have done before now. And now that I’m listening a bit more closely…holy shit do I need to see these folks live. “B Team Squad Leader” is freaking brilliant, no two ways about it; Lee and Van Buskirk’s voices play off of one another beautifully, spiraling up and up in a surprisingly bitter, sharp-edged chunk of roots-folk-rock with an unrelenting, almost military beat to it. Then there’s “What happened to Jacquiline?”, which makes me think — in the best way possible — of The Swell Season, with its swirling, lush strings and delicate, fragile vocals. Utterly beautiful.
[Finnegan plays at 3PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Warehouse Live Stage.]
An intriguing band of (relative, anyway) youngsters, The Escatones‘ sound belies their age somewhat; listening to the woozy jangle and whoa-oh-oh choruses, I can’t help but think of ’60s psych-garage bands or revivalists like the fuzzy-edged Dutchess & the Duke. They’re surfy and raggedy when necessary, bright and Beatlesque when that’s called for, and yes, they apparently wear muu-muus (or something like ‘em) when they play. You can download three songs’ worth of smiling, jangly, loopy, surfiness on over here, in the form of free EP Owls in The Headlights of the Sulfur Digging Bulldozer. It’s fun, bright-sounding, nonchalantly goofy stuff, and I’m liking it.
[The Escatones play at 3PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Super Happy Fun Land Stage.]
It’s crazy to think about, but these days the Free Rads are pretty much elder statesmen in the rarefied world of Houston music-making. I’m old enough to remember when they first started, believe it or not, after the legendary Sprawl came crashing to a halt, and while I was initially somewhat resistant, I’ll admit — I was a big Sprawl fan, at that point, so anything beyond Sprawl seemed like blasphemy, stupidly — but over the past decade-and-a-half, they’ve won me over. In part, I admire ‘em for their unrepetantly DIY, who-needs-a-label? aesthetic, with the massive, wide-ranging “collective” just breezily recording and releasing these awesome albums (1998’s The Rising Tide Sinks All Ships is my fave) all on their own long before everybody and their brother could do it. They get pegged as “jazz” in award categories and whatnot, but that’s really just because they don’t fit anywhere, not fully. The Rads take jazz, funk, prog-rock, salsa, polka, raga, hip-hop, cumbia, gamelan music, ska, reggae, dub, soul, and most anything else you can name, and dump it all together into one gigantic, awesome-smelling (er, sounding) stewpot of noise. Get there early on Sunday to catch their set.
[Free Radicals play at 11AM on Sun., June 5th, at the Main Stage.]
I’d talked a bit about these guys late last year, actually, and then totally forgot about it ’til earlier today; in the meantime, though, I’ve had a handful of Neon Indian songs floating around on the stormy, murky sea that is my iPod, and I’ve been enjoying ‘em when they bob up to the surface and make themselves heard. Most of their (his?) music’s not really for dancing, it seems to me, so much as it for just chilling out and staring at the colored lights with a blissed-out grin on your face — which, hey, definitely has its place, at least in my world. And then there’s the chirpy, insanely upbeat bump of tracks like “Terminally Chill,” which sounds to me like Daft Punk if they were shanghaied and forced to come up with music for Sesame Street…and no, I don’t mean that as a bad thing.
[Neon Indian plays at 6PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Budweiser Stage.]
Call me a heretic if you want, but I’d gladly trade Nosaprise (or Fat Tony, or The Niceguys) for any big-name H-town rapper that’s broken out of this city in the past decade. Seriously; these guys represent, to me, the best things coming out of this city in terms of hip-hop — it’s not all about grills and screwed beats, believe me. In Nosaprise’s case, I love that the guy lets his conscience shine through in his lyrics and flat-out doesn’t give a shit if you don’t want to hear it; “They Don’t Care About Us” is like the best, smartest, most forward-thinking song The Pharcyde never came up with, and “Seasons” is partly a bitterly clear-eyed look at the intersection of hip-hop and commerce, married to an emotional shoutout to rappers long gone. He’s smart, he’s clever with his rhymes, he crafts these weirdly-layered beats to go underneath ‘em, and he seems to like & pull in all kinds of sounds, not just hip-hop. All of that is a microcosm of the coolest things happening in H-town’s rap scene today.
[Nosaprise plays at 12PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Budweiser Stage.]
Okay, so I have no who or what The Annoysters are, really; one link I found for ‘em took me to the Organ Failure page, but it sure seems like this is a separate entity all its own. I think that they’re one of a number of shifting, all extremely, intensely strange “house bands” for local venue/performance space Super Happy Fun Land, and that picture there sure looks a lot like Poopy Lungstuffing and Flakey, alter egos of two of (maybe the only?) the owners of SHFL, both of whom are also in Organ Failure (and Poopy performs solo, too). I can’t claim this is really my cup of tea, but if songs built entirely of kazoos, bubble wrap, and squeaking styrofoam, with occasional chirpy, Tiny Tim-like interludes about oysters sound appealing to you, have at it.
[The Annoysters play at 1:30PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Super Happy Fun Land Stage.]
DJ Czech 1
First off, I have to confess that yes, I love this guy’s name — DJ Czech 1 cracks me up, appealing to my childlike sense of humor every damn time. Unfortunately, as with every damn DJ I’ve run across so far while doing these rundowns, I can’t find much at all online to actually listen to that the guy’s done; dammit, dammit. The closest I’ve been able to come is this live collaboration with DJ Dey One, and I have to say, it’s pretty cool, even if it looks like they’re not doing a whole lot of anything up there beyond drinking their beers. Be warned, though, that I’m not sure this is representative of what he usually does; I’d swear I read somewhere that he’s a big ’60s head more than anything else (but don’t quote me on that). Memo to all DJs: please put stuff you’ve done online, okay? Please? Otherwise I have to wade through videos and attempt to parse reviews of past shows you’ve done, and that’s never a good thing.
[DJ Czech 1 plays at 1:45PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage.]
Alright, c’mon — how can I not like a band that names itself after a base in the Metal Gear games? (And yeah, they name Metal Gear as an influence, so I’m guessing it’s intentional.) I can’t help but at least chuckle, folks… Sadly, it appears they’re not the only ones; I’ve so far stumbled into Websites for an “Outer Heaven” based in Berlin and an “Outer Heaven Project” based in Turkey. Hrm. So I’m stuck trying to get a sense of what the band’s like from a handful of videos posted on their FB page, which ain’t exactly ideal. sigh. What I can hear is interesting, to be sure — it’s sprawling, busy, angular, and jazz-y all at once, like DC post-rock with skronking, squawking saxophones and ethereal keys nailed on to its frame.
[Outer Heaven plays at 11:05AM on Sat., June 4th, at the Rudyard's Stage.]
The Dead Revolt
Interesting; I’ve been hearing of these guys for a little while now but hadn’t really given ‘em a listen ’til now. There’s a definite prog-rock thing going on here, but The Dead Revolt are more ballsy than that might imply, with a heavy emphasis on the “rock” part of the equation over the “prog”; it gets noodly at points, but frontman George Baba‘s voice grounds it nicely, and the bro-duo rhythm section (Spencer and Dylan Golvach) keep things thundering along. The band also seems to head off in a bit of an alt-rock direction at times, too, which kinda makes me shrug, but I’m liking it once they bring it back in and get those tight, intricate-yet-loud passages going again.
[The Dead Revolt plays at 11:05AM on Sat., June 4th, at the Warehouse Live Stage.]
That’s it for the moment; more to come tonight, unless everything explodes or something.