Dance Down the Rain: Surviving Summerfest 2011, Day Two
[UPDATE: Argh, argh, argh. I just realized I left some excellent Summerfest-related writeups & photos off the list below, notably from excellent music-and-other-stuff site The Loop Scoop, which I've been reading more & more lately. Sorry about that, y'all -- I've added some new links to the list...]
Damn. First off, yes, I do realize it’s been two freaking weeks since the end of this year’s Free Press Summerfest, and a week-and-a-half since the first installment of my writeup of the festival. Apologies for that, y’all — sometimes, life intervenes, and it’s done that with a vengeance these past couple of weeks. Beyond that, there was a lot to take in from the second day of the fest, and I wanted to make sure I got it all as right as I could in my head (and in this writeup).
It seems a little crazy now, but yeah, I went back. When I collapsed into bed that Saturday night, after leaving early from Day One of this year’s Summerfest, I honestly wasn’t sure I would be. I was sunburned to hell, dehydrated, exhausted, and feeling older than I even am, by that point; spending the next day inside, with air-conditioning and an endless supply of (free!) cool drinks sounded like the best plan ever.
And yet, when I woke up the morning of Sunday, June 5th, I didn’t feel that bad anymore; I was still sore, sure, and definitely still (stupidly) sunburned, but I was feeling at least somewhat ready to go. I have no idea how, but physically I’d managed to bounce back somewhat, a lot more than I’d figured I would.
It helped that I was pretty psyched to finally be able to see headliners Weezer, a band I’ve wanted to see for years and years, ever since college, but somehow always seemed to miss out on. And hey, here I was with a pass to do just that — if I didn’t at least give it a shot, I knew I’d be kicking myself later on down the line. Hell, I’m still kicking myself for bailing very, very early into The Flaming Lips‘ reportedly-epic set from last year’s FPSF, so I definitely didn’t want to do a repeat.
So I grabbed my backpack, attempted to fix it with Gorilla Tape, re-stuffed it with all the crap I’d brought the day before (about 75% of which never got used, although I did end up not feeling stupid for bringing a surfer’s drybag; that comes later), and headed out once again. Back over to Downtown, back to the same parking garage as the day before, and back down Allen Parkway to the festival. At some point, I will have this shit down to a science, I swear.
As I was meandering down Allen Parkway with a foolish, what-the-fuck-am-I-doing? smile on my face, I spotted a guy up ahead who looked like he was pacing back and forth in the (blocked-off) street, like he was trying to decide if it was worth continuing on or better to go back on into the skyscrapers and get the hell home. As I got closer, he stopped in the middle of the road, and I realized he had on a Dap-Tone t-shirt with a dapper little hat. And he looked kind of familiar, like I knew him from somewhere. It didn’t hit me ’til I was about to pass him that I’d seen him up onstage the previous afternoon.
“Um, excuse me? Aren’t you in the Dap-Kings? You’re Binky Griptite, aren’t you?”
Yeah, yeah, I did The Fanboy Thing — hey, at least I didn’t pester him for a photo or something, alright? I’ve got that much self-respect, at least (although I did regret not asking the rest of the damn day). And he was the nicest guy, willing to chat with a total stranger out in the street in already 100-plus-degree weather; very, very cool.
It turned out that he, Sharon Jones, and the rest of the band were due to leave town in a few hours, and he’d been going back and forth trying to decide whether he had time to hike down to the festival, see a friend, and then come back up to Downtown without getting left behind. (Sadly, in the end he decided there just wasn’t enough time.)
That was pretty much my sole brush with non-Houston celebrity this festival, and yep, I’m aware that most people have no clue who this guy even is, but screw it — I freaking love the Dap-Kings, and the guy’s one of my musical heroes. I rode the goofy grin I had after the unexpected meeting all the way into the festival; it seriously made my day just a little bit brighter.
Right after I passed through the gates, triumphantly flashing my wristband at the security folks (who then pulled me over to check my taped-up backpack, naturally), it hit me yet again: holy shit, it was hot. It may’ve been because I was already pre-fried from the day before — my sunburn’s only now healing, finally — but it sure seemed like Sunday was hotter than Saturday. After a while I found myself having to just take a step back and do the method-acting stunt where you remember the last time you were okay with being drenched in sweat, dirty, and exhausted for hours on end, and try to be like that.
And then, it rained. Oh, God, it was freaking wonderful. I was sitting watching HEALTH play down the hill at the Budweiser Stage at the time, so I tore open my backpack and quickly stuffed anything electronic and/or rain-damageable into the drybag so it wouldn’t get wet like all my stuff did last year (it still kills me that the then-brand-new Tyagaraja CD I’d bought got soaked and warped), then closed my eyes and leaned my head back. It didn’t last long, it’s true — 15 minutes at the most — but it worked beautifully to cool things down and bring my near-sunstroked self, at least, back into the realm of sanity.
Without the rain, honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve made it. When it finally hit in the late afternoon, I was already pretty exhausted, not sure whether I’d be able to stick it out for Weezer or give in to the screaming of my dehydrated, burned, tired body and go the hell home. After getting cooled down, though, I felt amazingly reinvigorated; I still grumbled to my friend Jowell about being tired & sore, sure, but I was feeling lightyears better than I had been, by that point…
I was absolutely bowled over this year not just by the music, by the way, but also by the food. On Saturday I had some excellent General Tso’s-sauced beef skewers from Styx Stand for a late lunch, after searching in vain for the barbecue stand I’d seen promised on a sign somewhere further up the road. As was pointed out to me in the middle of that search, eating meat in general that’s been outside in the heat for several hours probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do — I could’ve ended up trapped in a port-a-potty — but hell, it was pretty good.
Later on, as I mentioned in the last post, I stopped by the booth set up by those ridiculously friendly Austin folks from Juicebox and had some awesome cherry-limeade, and towards the end of the day, I had a really great root beer (which remained the only soda I had the whole damn time; I did see sodas on the menu in the Fancy Pants Tent, but I couldn’t be bothered to wait in that long freaking line) from a stand I didn’t catch the name of.
On Sunday, I ended up going whole-hog, food- and drink-wise. I wolfed down lunch at home beforehand, but on Marc Brubaker‘s recommendation, I hit up the Wally Wally booth early on for some damn good samosas.
I talked with one of the guys running the booth, and he explained that their plan is to hit the H-town streets in a food truck, but for right now they’re kind of testing the waters — he said the first batch of samosas they’d brought on Saturday actually got them in trouble with the cops, since they’d cooked ‘em before the festival and then brought them to sell. Sounds like that’s a health code violation of some kind, and they were warned about it. They’d changed things around by Sunday, and I’m seriously hoping they’re able to get things together & do the food truck, ’cause that’ll be very cool…
Hit a couple of darn decent lemonade stands later on in the day, and then stopped off at the Mom & Pops stand for a very, very tasty, all-natural strawberry popsicle.
Then, around dinner time, Jowell & I opted to hit the decidedly DIY-looking booth run by thefolks. I’d heard of the place from different people, but I’ve never been to the actual location over in the old Warehouse District east of Downtown, and I’d been seriously enticed by the board advertising pheasant and elk “hot dogs.”
And holy shit, were they good. Mine was, anyway — I got the “Ghetto Bird,” which was pheasant and cognac, and it was so good it felt weird to call it a hot dog; what it was, really, was a primo sausage on a nice French bread-ish bun. Jowell had the “Elkis Presley,” which had, duh, elk in it, and he was pretty darn impressed, too.
While waiting for Weezer to hit the stage, we roamed a bit more, and I attempted to break a twenty (so I could get my car back out of the parking spot) and try out the cake pops from the Jolie’s Cakeballs booth at the same time. Sadly, being somewhat late in the day, it turned out that Ms. Jolie(?) didn’t have enough change, so she gave us a cakepop to try, free of charge — which was very sweet, and the cakepop itself was excellent, although it kinda derailed my dual-purpose thing completely. To the Jolie’s Cakeballs folks: I owe you, um, $4. I think? And thank you!
Now, before I get into the actual bands I saw playing on Sunday, I want to point folks elsewhere to take a look at all the other coverage from various places of the Summerfest festivities; there’re a lot of people out there who wrote about it more coherently (not to mention in more of a timely way, but eh) and took much, much better pics than I happened to take. Read these:
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: Day 1,” 29-95.com
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: Day 2,” 29-95.com
- “Summer Fest 2011: First Images of Day 1,” 29-95.com
- “Summer Fest 2011: First Images of Day 2,” 29-95.com
- “photo recap: houston summerfest (june 4+5, 2011),” weworemasks.
- “Summer Fest Saturday: A Sizzler With Beirut, Big Boi, Black Joe, Fucked Up, Sharon Jones, Ween & More,” Houston Press (Rocks Off)
- “Summer Fest Sunday: Peak Fun With B L A C K I E, Hayes Carll, Guitar Wolf, Yeasayer, Robert Ellis & More,” Houston Press (Rocks Off)
- “Last Night: Weezer At Free Press Summer Fest,” Houston Press
- “Music Monday: Free Press Summerfest round up,” cat5/Beamont Enterprise (yeah, you read that right; it’s a pretty glowing review, too)
- “Another successful Houston Free Press Summerfest,” Burn Down Blog
- “Summerfest June 4th and 5th 2011 – Anthony Rathbun photography (all rights reserved),” Free Press Houston
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: A Weekend Rewind,” The Loop Scoop
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: A Saturday Photo Essay,” The Loop Scoop
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: A Sunday Photo Essay,” The Loop Scoop
- “Free Press Summer Fest 2011: A Weezer Photo Essay,” The Loop Scoop
There you go; there’s probably more coverage out there, too, but that’s the stuff I’ve found, anyway. And hey, just like with the Day One post, feel free to take a look at the pics I took during the thing, both Saturday & Sunday, hosted over on Flickr. Apologies for any unflattering photos…
SUN HOTEL: I tried very hard to get down to the festival in time to catch Louisianans Sun Hotel, and against all odds, I did indeed make it; and in the end, I was very, very happy about that. I’d listened to & liked the band’s latest, Coast, so I was curious to hear and see what they were like live. What I heard was awesomely shimmery and overdriven, but also surprisingly animated and wild — frontman/guitarist Tyler Scurlock and second guitarist Alex Hertz literally threw themselves around the stage while blazing through their Death Cab-gone-Southern rock, playing like a much louder, more “rock” band. The band ran into some severe equipment problems towards what turned out to be the end of their set, but they seemed to take it in stride, just getting crazier and crazier as the sound deteriorated, to the point where Hertz and drummer Devin Hildebrand were cracking up on stage. One of the best things I saw at this year’s festival, period.
OMOTAI: Finally, finally got to check out Omotai live, after loving Peace Through Fear and wanting desperately to see what they were like in-person — and happily, they didn’t disappoint. The band is heavy, heavy, heavy, like a giant grinding your skull into dust with his massive foot while you howl and do the metal horns with your hands. And my favorite part of it all is that while the band can (and does) crush you like a bug, they’re laidback as hell about it, just kind of chilling out on the stage as they burn through spiraling, thundering, occasionally proggy riffs. On Sunday, though, what (well, who) really blew me away was drummer Anthony Vallejo — that guy is a fucking monster, I swear. Vocalist/guitarist Sam Waters and bassist/vocalist Melissa Lonchambon are great, don’t get me wrong (and genuinely cool people, to boot), but for this performance, at least, Vallejo was the star. He was like a machine, churning and pounding away at his kit in spite of the brutal heat. Wow.
Anybody know who smashed the guitar that was lying in pieces in the gutter in front of the Night Owl Stage while Omotai played, btw? Just curious…
AMERICAN FANGS: Damn. I ended up feeling somewhat bad for the American Fangs crew, stuck playing in the hot-ass early(-ish) afternoon down at the Budweiser Stage bottom-land to a relatively sparse, somewhat disappointing crowd. The kind of band these guys are — raw, don’t-give-a-fuck, genre-less alternarock — is honestly more at home in front of a mass of people going apeshit; instead, they were playing in front of a bunch of woozy, already sunburned people tried to stay vertical.
Even still, though, they really tore up the stage, blasting out tracks from their self-titled EP as well as newer stuff like (I think) “The River You Bought.” In-between songs, frontman Gabe Cavazos bantered cheerily with the audience, coming up with the flat-out best takeaway line from the whole damn fest: “All the half-naked people walkin’ around…I’m not gonna lie: boner, all weekend long. I had to tape it down.” Later on he asked people in the crowd if they’d ever seen anybody go in or out of the Federal Reserve Bank a few hundred feet further down Allen Parkway, declaring, “It’s like Willy Wonka’s factory without the Wonka.”
THE EASTERN SEA: I very nearly ran all the way back across the fest after the Fangs set, just to catch The Eastern Sea for the third(!) Summerfest in a row. Goddamn, these guys are the perfect smart-pop band, bar none; they create these intricate little mini-symphonies that bridge the gap between The New Pornographers’ full-color pop and Northwestern melancholy, and frankly, they’ve steadily risen to become one of my favorite bands anywhere. Each time they come up with something new, I’m nervous, wary that maybe this time they’ll finally drop the ball and disappoint me.
And yet, it never, ever, ever happens. (Fingers crossed.) Instead, they effortlessly blow my doors off each and every freaking time, including this one — they played mostly new stuff, which was great to hear, but they dragged out some oldies, too, like awesome track “The Menu,” off their first EP (which served as their finale on Sunday), and a possibly-even-older song that I’d never heard before (that I can recall, anyway) but that a decent-sized chunk of the fans whooped and cheered to hear. A truly great band, seriously.
THE BLACK ANGELS: I’ll admit it without shame — for The Black Angels Main Stage set, I hung out under the footbridge over Allen Parkway, trying to cool down in some little chunk of shade after baking myself during the previous two bands’ sets. And from that vantage point, I just listened…and, weirdly enough, it seemed to work. The band’s head-nodding, overfuzzed, desert sun-like psych-rock rolled out from the stage like a cloud of purple/black smoke, washing over even me sitting there up on the hill. It was the perfect soundtrack for a hazy, semi-conscious afternoon spent stumbling around in a blast furnace.
THE BEETS: I only caught a little of The Beets, I’m afraid, mostly at a distance while hanging out & chatting with Marc, but what I heard & saw was quirkily neat, jangly, bare-bones folk-pop. I have to admit, I was as entertained by the band’s elaborate stage setup as I was with The Beets themselves — the banners they had strung all over made me chuckle (and hey, there was never a second’s doubt who it was you were watching/listening to), and I liked all the little knicknacks strewn around (yay, half-sized cigar store Indian!). I love the drummer’s two-drum (or was it three?), stand-up “kit,” too — I haven’t seen a drum setup that minimalist since Junior Varsity broke up & move to the Pacific Northwest…
KYLESA: Ah, yeah; I needed some more metal in my weekend, I seriously did, and Kylesa ended up impressing the hell out of me. I’d liked 2009′s Static Tensions, and I’d meant to slide in a review of this year’s Spiral Shadows (which is very cool, btw) before the fest but ran out of time; even still, though, I’d been a little worried that the live should would be too oddball and noodly and just leave me shrugging.
Thankfully, I was wrong. Kylesa are pretty damn weird for a metal band — and in more ways than just, “whoa, dude — they’ve got two drummers!” — but they make it work amazingly well. I absolutely love that they don’t give a fuck for the supposed “rules” of metal, but instead throw in whatever the hell they feel like doing and make it fit. Does metal really need synths, dual drummers (I’m tempted to call ‘em dueling drummers, but since they’re essentially playing the same beats, that doesn’t really make sense), and a freaking theremin? Maybe, maybe not, but in these folks’ hands, I’m all for it.
Guitarist/singer Phillip Cope roared and bellowed, alternately hammering out Mastodon-like riffs and working the aforementioned theremin like a T-shirt-clad dark wizard, while guitarist Laura Pleasants nonchalantly shredded on the other end of the stage, Corey Barhorst switched between meaty, rumbling basslines and spacey keyboards, and side-by-side drummers Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry stomped their way through these intense, hypnotic, nearly tribal-sounding rhythms. Kylesa’s sound was utterly solid — weighty and heavy and massive — yet still melodic and surprisingly, well, catchy. Recommended.
COMMIE HILFIGER: Didn’t catch all of this one, in part because the goofy “we’re a Communist rock band from Russia/Cuba/wherever!” shtick wears old after only a few songs (although I do have to give the members of Commie Hilfiger a hand for being so damn dedicated to their chosen motif; nobody broke character once onstage). The weird part, though, is that beneath the jokey songs about “Commie Burger” — where the food is free but you have to wait in line, apparently — and fake-accented banter lurked some decent songs. Stripped of all the faux-Communist/Russian trappings, the songs were remarkably catchy and well-put-together. And what was with the gang of sign-carrying people “protesting” the band’s set? I’m assuming they’re actually friends of the band doing some sort of sarcastic in-joke, since some were singing along, but it still creeped me out to see signs about killing Commies. Felt like I was at a Tea Party rally, briefly…
WITHOUT A FACE: Without A Face was Sunday’s biggest surprise, by far. I was walking by the stage on my way to try to catch some of Yeasayer’s set and ended up getting completely sucked in by one-man-band Henry‘s infectious, jangly, sometimes-goofy, ultra-personal folk. His songs veered back and forth between silliness and more serious stuff, even occasionally morphing into hip-hop, like during a song about the guy’s lactose intolerance, which shifted smoothly from mock(?)-outraged strumming and singing about not being able to eat dairy into heavy political rap and back again without missing a beat. Best line? “I been cursed by a cow!” Who the fuck is this guy, and how did I never hear him when he (apparently) used to live here?
YEASAYER: Because I got pulled in by Without A Face, I missed the bulk of Yeasayer‘s set on the Main Stage, but eh, I think the tradeoff was worth it. I had heard the band before, but I honestly couldn’t remember what the hell they sounded like and was blindsided a bit when they turned out to not be as dancey as I’d mistakenly thought. Instead, what I heard was trippy, quasi-psych, half-Afrobeat-sounding pop with plenty of electronics and, erm, songs about lesbians (I think?). They weren’t bad, definitely, but it was apparent that the band was feeling the relentless heat.
HEALTH: I’m not sure what I’d expected from HEALTH, but as with Yeasayer, what happened definitely wasn’t it. After trudging back over to the Bud Stage (and crashing out on top of the hill this time, rather than heading down into the bowl), what I witnessed wast was loud, raw, quasi-tribal noise with bursts of chaotic guitar and weird mouth-sounds. And yeah, it was pretty neat.
And then, the rain hit. Once the drops started to fall from the sky, steadily getting harder and harder, the music worked perfectly, transporting everybody in the suddenly-soaked mass into an ecstatic bunch of head-nodding, grinning fools. I might’ve been influenced by that sudden, brief downpour, but HEALTH immediately sounded way, way better than “pretty neat.” I think I’m going to have to go back and dig up 2009′s Get Color, so I can see what I’ve apparently been missing…
MUHAMMAD ALI: I’ve seen Muhammad Ali a few times now, but I’m still never quite sure what it’ll be like; some times they’ve been tight & incredible, and other times they’ve been, well, drunk off their asses, sloppy, and still pretty decent (how that happens, I have no idea). I was also curious how wild it might/might not be, since frontman John Zombrano‘s now a real-live dad & all that… Anyway, Sunday’s set ended up in the former category, with the band seemingly pretty sober and focused — no bad thing, really, considering the heat. They played most of my favorites, with a different, somewhat sharper-edged version of “I Believe” being a standout; the song lost a bit of its fuzzy-headed intensity, but it was very cool, nonetheless.
As a band, by the way, I’m learning that Muhammad Ali works weirdly on two levels — there’s the up-close, sweat-flying, pump-your-fist noise assault you get right next to the stage, sure, but if you step back a bit to somewhere where the volume’s not quite high enough to cause rupturing and bleeding and whatnot, there’s also the sneakily smart lyrics and surprisingly, deceptively simple pop-song arrangements. If you’ve only seen the band live, you might not fully get the latter aspect, but trust me, it’s there. I’m glad to see that even with the joys of fatherhood piled on Zombrano’s shoulders, these guys remain one of the best damn bands in town.
MARIA TAYLOR: I dunno what the deal was, but Sunday felt like a day full of “gee, that’s not what I’d expected”‘s, and Maria Taylor was no exception. I’ve always loved her work with Azure Ray, and the little bit I’d heard of her solo stuff had been intriguing, as well, all dark and folky. In stark contrast to either, though, her band’s performance was less Saddle Creek fragility and prettiness and more flat-out country-rock, complete with nicely-distorted Son Volt/Creedence guitars and Taylor’s own understated-yet-gorgeous vocals.
CHROMEO/ROMULUS ATE: Call this a twofer… I sat up on top of the hill between the Main Stage and the Super Happy Fun Land Stage (which I just realized I basically missed completely on Sunday), saving my strength for the final push of the day, and while panting frantically and dreaming of the A/C in my car, I managed to catch some of both Chromeo‘s and Romulus Ate‘s sets, albeit from somewhat far away. It felt like a collision of two very different ’80s-influenced synthpop experiments, with Chromeo on the funky, get-down side and Romulus Ate on the more theatrical, glam-y side.
For their part, Romulus Ate were wild, crazy, and seemingly choreographed down to each single step and pose (and yeah, I know, that kind of conflicts with the “wild” & “crazy,” but hey, that’s how it hit me), playing and dancing like they’d never done anything else. Watching them was almost like coming into a bizarre rock-opera halfway through, unsure of the storyline but kind of intrigued, even still.
Chromeo, on the other hand, are less about a story or a performance and more about making music to bump-n-grind to, and yep, they’re damn good at it. They managed to make utterly cheeseball, synth-heavy pop that owes a big debt to Hall & Oates sound somehow cool, against all odds. And hey, their keyboard stands have legs, for crying out loud. How do you beat that?
B L A C K I E: Holy. Fucking. Shit. I would freaking guarantee that the bulk of the crowd had no clue what was going on, even while it was actually happening. After Chromeo left the Main Stage, gigantic (and yet seemingly homemade) letters spelling out B L A C K I E‘s name went up along the front of the stage, and people streamed away, back up the hill. Maybe they were headed to grab dinner, sure, or maybe they did have some inkling of what was about to happen; I’ll admit it, I have no idea.
Once B L A C K I E took the stage and dove headlong into an (abbreviated) set of head-crushing, mind-fucking, no-rules hip-hop, though, I definitely saw jaws drop throughout the crowd. I was heartened to see heads bob and fists go up as one-man-show Michael LaCour stomped menacingly across the stage, throwing himself into the crowd at least once and playing for thousands like he was playing for 100 of his closest friends.
I can’t say his repetitive, near-hypnotic lyrics and triphammer beats won him a lot of new converts, but it was definitely cool to see, either way. And then…well, I don’t know what the hell happened, honestly. The rumor floating through the crowd was that B L A C K I E had gone over his time limit or something, but it sure didn’t seem like he’d been performing for very long, and definitely not as long as a number of bands I’d seen earlier in the day. Whatever the reason, after only a couple of songs, a guitar tech for either Cut Copy or (more likely, given that it was a guitar) Weezer came on behind where LaCour was stalking back and forth and started prepping the guitar for the next band.
Really, y’all? Granted, it didn’t take much away from the spectacle, B L A C K I E’s set being what it is/was, but still, it seemed awfully tacky — if Weezer had been playing earlier in the day, how well would it’ve gone over to have techs from a subsequent band come on and start sound-checking? Not real well, I’d bet. It’s called simple freaking courtesy, people.
GRANDFATHER CHILD: We trudged back up the hill after that, shaking our heads and cracking up at what we’d just seen. I was hoping to catch Grandfather Child‘s late-in-the-day set up at the Rudyard’s Stage, and we lucked out, rolling up just in time to see Lucas Gorham, Robert Ellis, Geoffrey Muller, & Ryan Chavez slow-burn their gritty, lap steel-heavy, almost gospel-like blues in the just-setting sun.
I love these guys every time I see ‘em, definitely, and this performance was no exception, but I ended up feeling a bit distracted. We’d made our way up close to the stage before they started playing, and not only did the sheer volume feel like my ears were going to implode, but the stoned/drunk dancers up near the front kept bumping into us. Shrug. We shifted a bit further back in the crowd, and amazingly, it sounded even better from back there, with a little more space for the band’s sound to “expand” out.
WEEZER: And then, there was Weezer. Okay, so they didn’t take the stage for another hour-and-a-half after we wandered away from the Rudz Stage, but after a certain point in the evening, there was nothing left but Weezer — to kill time, we even meandered all the way to the western end of the festival and watched a crew disassembling the Budweiser Stage. And the whole damn time, people were still pouring in to the festival.
See, I suspect — although I’ve got no real data to back it up — that some insane percentage of people at Summerfest this year (on Sunday night, at least) were there solely to see Weezer, period. Why? Well, for one thing, because there were people camped out as early as 3PM on the hill in front of the Main Stage, and several of the groups I saw did not freaking budge throughout the day, ever. They didn’t go see anybody on any of the side stages, didn’t wander around, none of it. They may as well’ve been Star Wars diehards camping out the night before just to see Lucas’s latest attempt at emasculating his classic first trilogy (well, except that they were doing it under the hot, hot afternoon sun).
I’m not condemning these people, mind you; hell, if you want to come to a two-day music festival and only really see, say, six bands max (assuming they’re paying attention to all the Main Stage bands before Weezer), eh, it’s your time and money, not mine. I’ve seen people do weirder things, and the Weezer-waiters certainly weren’t hurting anybody, so there’s not much to complain about. It does make me a bit sad for ‘em, considering all the other awesome bands & musicians playing, but if you’re going to go to a festival packed with bands and make a conscious choice to see almost none of them, then there’s not much I can do for you. You’re the horse that’s been led to water and still refuses to drink. shrug.
Anyway, tangent over. My friend & I at first attempted to find a spot on the hill from which we could see the band, but by the time we started looking, about 40 minutes before showtime, we were largely out of luck. We ended up on a patch of dirt far, far, far off the left side of the stage that let us just barely make out teeny-tiny figures of people soundchecking and moving equipment around on the stage. It wasn’t great, but it was the best we could do.
When the band came on, just a little while past sunset, I was psyched but nervous; how the hell was this going to possibly live up to expectations built up off-and-on over 16 freaking years? I was also somewhat nervous because I’m not a big fan of the band’s more recent albums, having stopped paying much attention after 2001′s The Green Album — the two of the band’s albums that really impacted me the most have always been the very first Weezer album (aka The Blue Album) and followup Pinkerton, and considering that the band’s released six other full-lengths after The Green Album, it seemed like a fair assumption that I wouldn’t know a lot of what the band was playing.
I was a little off, as it turns out. Of the songs I heard/saw, Rivers Cuomo and company played no songs (as far as I can tell, at least) from 2010′s Hurley or 2009′s Raditude, and one apiece from 2005′s Make Believe and 2002′s Maladroit. I’m told they played “Pork and Beans,” off of 2008′s really?-yet-another-eponymous-release “Red Album”, but I had to take off by then, so I can only really talk about the part that I did see, which was a big ol’ pile of songs from The Blue Album, one from Pinkerton, and a couple from The Green Album. From where I stood, at least, it felt like the band wanted to shrug off most of the last 10 years of its existence. (Which, to tell the truth, I’m okay with.)
Weezer opened with “Undone (The Sweater Song),” prompting my friend to remark, surprised, “Wow — that’s what they’re opening with? Isn’t it a little early?” The song’s probably the one I like least off of the album, but even still, it made for a hell of a flashback and made the oldtimers like me in the crowd sit up and take notice. They proceeded to rip through “Perfect Situation,” a track I’d never heard but that fit in nicely with the older stuff, before exploding into “Say It Ain’t So”…and boom, I was gone, back in that crappy house in the then decidedly un-gentrified Montrose where my lame-ass band practiced, playing that one damn song over and over just for fun and howling our lungs out ’til the landlady came to tell us to turn it down (but that she “like[d] our Weezer,” which made us crack up all over again).
They did a Radiohead cover after that, “Paranoid Android,” which, while done well enough, left me kind of shrugging. It didn’t improve on the original — barely even modified it, really — and since to me that’s the point of doing a cover, it failed to impress. Moving on, they hit “Dope Noise,” which I’d heard but never liked all that much, and then the excellently wistful “Island in the Sun,” which pretty much solely made me go back and crack open The Green Album after the show.
Cuomo threw out a B-side for the fanboys after that, “Susanne” — another I’d never heard, sorry, and then (finally) hit one of my favorite tracks from Pinkerton, the creepy-yet-sweet love poem “Across the Sea.” After that, they dove back into the full-on heavy/fast stuff, with an appropriately speeding “Surf Wax America” and one of my all-time favorites, in spite of the sometimes-clunky lyrics, “In the Garage.”
At that point, sadly, I had to go. We’d weaseled our way down from the hill into the crowd, which greatly improved our vantage point and ability to hear what the fuck was going on, but the wife called, wondering when I’d be home, and I was sore, and, well, I’m old, dammit. So up the hill we hiked, wandering out the gates as the challenging roar of “Hash Pipe” blasted after us (again, had to go reacquaint myself with Green after that). Back out and up the road into downtown.
In a painful bit of irony, it turns out the band played my absolute favorite Blue track, “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” right after I left, and followed it up with another classic, “My Name Is Jonas” — which I could’ve sworn I could hear, very faintly off in the distance, as I reached my car in the parking garage. Fuck.
(Thank you, btw, to photog Marc Brubaker, currently of the Houston Press, for snapping a pic of the setlist, and to Craig Hlavaty, also of the HP, for including it in his very cool writeup of the show. Otherwise, I honestly wouldn’t have had any idea what the name of “Perfect Situation” was, or B-side “Susanne,” for that matter…)
So…was it worth it? Sure, it was. I had fun, and it was great to be able to cross it off my list — “yep, seen Weezer; check!” It’s just that it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it’d be. Cuomo and his gang played just fine, definitely, and he actually came across as a fairly entertaining showman, roaming around the stage at one point with a giant fake mushroom he’d found somewhere and bantering in a friendly way with the crowd.
It’s a matter of unrealistic expectations, I think. I went into the show bracing myself for an onslaught of new, not-so-great stuff, sure, but in the back of my mind there was still a part of me that wondered, “Is this going to be an epic show, one I’ll remember forever and ever? I mean, it’s fucking Weezer, for crying out loud…”
And the reality is that it wasn’t that. It was good, and fun, and cool to finally see, but I can’t say it’s changed my life. I still love the same two “classic” albums I loved beforehand, with a rekindled warmth for The Green Album, which I probably didn’t appreciate as much as I should’ve back when I got it, but I’m not planning on rushing out and buying everything the band’s done since then. The band’s set closing out Summerfest was a neat little window in time back to when I was a kid, and again, I am glad I got to hear those songs live, but it was also a reminder that the past’s the past, done and gone. Looking back at it now, I’m not sure the Weezer of 2011 could have played a show that would’ve lived up to those deeply-buried college-kid dreams of what they’d be like. To put it much more briefly: it’s not them, it’s me.
- Have I mentioned how hot it was? Yeah? Okay, good; didn’t want to forget about that.
- Bands I Didn’t Get to See/Missed — Just like with Saturday, Sunday had a crap-ton of bands/musicians I really wanted to see but couldn’t, because I was either already watching/listening to somebody else, running from one place to another, or, um, eating. Sorry, y’all. I was especially bummed I didn’t catch local boys Featherface, Rivers, and Robert Ellis, all three of whom I’ve dearly wanted to see for a while now. I caught a teeny-tiny bit of Peekaboo Theory on my way past, and I wish I’d caught more; same goes for the Hell City Kings, who I tried to see but caught only the tail end of their final song. Damn.
There was also the set by the reunited By the End of Tonight, which I missed but was told was incredible, and a bunch more, besides: Caddywhompus, Born Again Virgins, Eternal Summers, Darwin’s Finches, Linus Pauling Quartet, Defending the Kingdom, Amplified Heat, Arthur Yoria, Vivian Pikkles & The Sweethearts Über Alles, Giant Princess, and — pretty much for novelty value alone — Harry and the Potters. sigh. Maybe next time, folks…
- I want to give the FPH/Summerfest crew extra-special kudos for running the whole festival seemingly like one big-ass, tight ship, at least in terms of set times. A few stages were a little off, time-wise, on Saturday, but on Sunday it sure felt, at least, like everything started exactly on time (with the exception of Weezer, but hey, I’m not gonna blame the FPSF people for that). So a hearty hell-yeah to everybody involved for making it run so smoothly — I’m sure it was utter madness behind-the-scenes, but from the perspective of the guy on the grass, watching things unfold, everything sure looked like it was right on time, which is a rarity at festivals I’ve been to.
- Forgot to mention it in the Day One writeup, but I think I actually got ogled on Saturday, by a cute (and way, way, way, way too young for old-dude me) girl. I can’t be positive — because I’m pretty sure it’s never happened before — but it sure seemed like she gave me an up-and-down look and then a smile, and it wasn’t even a “what-the-hell-is-that-thing?” spit-take look. Of course, the smile might’ve been meant to say, “Aww, good for you, Old-And-Obviously-Brought-His-Kid Guy, sticking it out in the heat!”, but I’m choosing to pretend it’s the other option. Either way: I’m sorry, ladies, but I’m taken. (Just sayin’.)
- Regarding the merch: I love, love, love the Merch Booth and Poster Art Booth set up along the street; as I’ve said before, I think one central location to go to for merch from whoever’s playing is a brilliant idea. This year, though, when I went past the table (only on Saturday, I’ll admit), it sure looked like it was only the out-of-town bands taking advantage. C’mon, local folks — put your shit out there, so that people who happened to wander by during your set and caught nothing beyond the end of one intriguing-sounding song and “Hi, we’re The Blahbityblahs, thanks for listening” can maybe actually pick up a CD/CD-R/cassette/LP/whatever and actually hear you. Please? Thanks.
- Along similar lines… Next year, people, we need signs. I mean at every freaking stage, saying who’s currently playing; doesn’t have to be anything fancy — just a name scrawled on the backside of a pizza box in black marker would do just fine. See, because while I at least know somewhat what most of the folks playing the festival look like (with a few exceptions), I’d bet that most festival-goers don’t. Which means that if your band tears up the stage and you either don’t bother saying your name once (which I’ve seen) or not all the people watching are there when you do, then people watching may not have a clue who you are. And if they don’t have a clue who you are, they’re not going to try to find you on Facebook, or come see you play at Rudyard’s, or buy your stuff on BandCamp, or any of a million things they could do if they knew what your damn name was.
I’m not putting this on the festival organizers, by the by — they’ve got enough crap to worry about. It should be really damn simple for the aforementioned Blahbityblahs to put their name up there somewhere on the stage with ‘em, in some form, whether it’s the old band-name-on-the-bass-drum thing, a simple banner, or just a piece of cardboard. Seriously, I’ve seen this issue with every festival I’ve been to (except maybe Lollapalooza; I don’t remember much about that one), from the Warped Tour to Summerfest, and it should be Band Publicity 101. See here for other ideas on the subject…
- Well, holy crap — the wristband does survive me taking a shower with it on. ‘Cause c’mon, after Saturday, I had to.
- Didn’t run into a whole lot of folks I knew on Sunday, unfortunately, but I talked briefly with Marc Brubaker in the late afternoon, and as the rain pelted down during HEALTH‘s set, I happened to run into friend, horror movie composer, & musician (ex-Radio Pioneer/The Tie That Binds/etc.) Dwayne Cathey hiding out under a tree with his girlfriend & about a hundred other people. Very cool to see you, man — it’s been too damn long…
- I should note that while did attempt to tweet about a few things, I didn’t even bother attempting to liveblog the thing this year — after last year’s deluge, there was no way I’d bring a laptop, and although I do love my phone and consider it the most useful tool I own, it gets too fiddly to have to pull it out, open Evernote, and hope the signal’s not dropped while it’s syncing my notes upwards to The Cloud.
This year I went old-school, using just a pen and a teeny-tiny black book (that my wife made fun of me for…’til she realized it used to be hers and had the number of some guy she used to know in it) and plunking down under a tree or bridge or wherever periodically to scribble down notes in probably the least legible shorthand in the universe. The laptop thing wouldn’t have really worked, anyway, since I never was able to find the apocryphal press area various people told me about (I suspect they meant the Fancy Pants Tent, honestly, but again, it was only marginally cooler in there than outside under a tree).
- Chatted a bit with the now-beardless Matthew Hines of The Eastern Sea after they finished their set, and damn, what a cool, friendly, down-to-earth guy he is. Just goes to show that you don’t have to be halfway insane or a raging asshole in order to write amazing, amazing music… Anyway. When I was about to bug him about the forthcoming album, Plague, a couple of fellow fans beat me to the punch, asking if it was true that the studio they’d been recording in had really been condemned. The hell?
As it turned out, it had. According to Matt, it wasn’t just the studio but the entire complex in which it was located — the city of Austin had decided the building was old and dangerous and needed to be knocked down, and dammit, no piddly little indie-pop band was gonna stand in their way. (Or something like that, anyway.) Without a studio, obviously, the whole process has been derailed, to the point where Matt had no clue when the long-awaited full-length would be released. sigh. In the meantime, you can check out the utterly heartcrushing “Wasn’t For Love” over on the band’s Website; that’ll have to tide you (and me) over ’til the recording stuff gets straightened out…
- Oh, and while he’d already walked off before I realized who he was, I at least got to finally see Matt Hines’s dad, who read the interview I did with Matt back in 2009, following the first Summerfest and then, several months later and totally out-of-the-blue, sent me copies of everything Matt ever did with his old, Houston-based band Alaska Is For Players, plus some early-early Eastern Sea stuff. See, in the interview I mentioned how I’d love to hear the old stuff; apparently Matt’s dad took it upon himself to provide it. I was (and still am) totally bowled over, seriously. I hope, hope, hope that when my kids form their own bands — and no, I have no doubt at all that they will — I am as cool and sincere a parent as Mr. Hines. Thank you, sir.
- Is there anything better than a spontaneous dance party popping up in the middle of the street? No. There really, really isn’t; it’s like a reminder that there actually is joy in the world, and it’s awesome. Those Juicebox folks know how to party.
- It occurred to me partway through Weezer’s set that my wristband might have gotten me closer to the stage, or maybe even in that backstage area I’d seen media types wandering into. Would it? Or would the press credentials I never ended up getting? No clue, but I slapped myself pretty hard in the forehead right in the middle of “Surf Wax America” for at least not trying…
- Those umbrella-selling guys were everywhere on Sunday, out in far greater numbers than the previous day. Which, honestly, is kinda a genius move for whoever sells those things, although I can’t say I saw tons of people walking around wearing/carrying ‘em — I mean, c’mon, we’re Houstonians; if there’s anything we are as a city, it’s pigheaded as fuck, especially when it comes to weather… The best moment, though, was when it started to rain; one vendor over near the Warehouse Live Stage started trying harder to hawk his wares to various people who were getting rained on, and everybody turned him down flat-out, with one guy declaring: “Are you crazy, man? I want to get wet!”
- While I applaud the Summerfest organizers for thoughtfully expanding the festival every year with new and different things, walking past the games area way down at the fest’s western end made me kind of sad. I never actually saw anybody ride the mechanical bull, only saw a couple of people dare the rock-climbing wall on Sunday, and never saw a soul go near the two zorbs floating in the inflatable pool of water. For the latter, in particular, I totally get it — I mean, in 105 degrees, what could be better than climbing inside a suffocating blow-up plastic hamster ball that most likely doubles as a convection oven? But still, those were some melancholy, lonely-looking games.
- What the fuck is up with the ’80s wear? I mean, I know some of those fashions have been back in for a while now, but dear God, people — some of ‘em went out of style for a reason. Pastel-pink short-shorts? Light blue t-shirts with dolphins on ‘em, worn totally un-ironically? There were moments where I would’ve sworn I’d fallen through a time warp back to 1983.
- I feel like a chickenshit for admitting it, but I never got brave enough to go over & chat with the folks at the Ask an Atheist booth; I’m not sure why, because it’s not like ol’ heathen-like me is going to get into religious/philosophical arguments with ‘em. It’s just that every time I strolled by, they looked, well, mean, y’know? Everybody sitting, arms folded across their chests, ready to fight…which, I’m guessing, probably happened quite a bit, at least verbally. Given that this is Houston, home to some of the biggest megachurches in the U.S., I can’t fault ‘em for being on the defensive, but my quasi-deist self didn’t want to get yelled at, so… I had to content myself with giving ‘em a thumbs-up from across the street, which I think may have taken them by surprise. I could swear that the burliest, toughest-looking dude over there gave me a smile and a wave the next time I went by, but sadly, I was hustling to get over to one stage or another in time to see a band play. But AaA folks: kudos to y’all for being out there…
- From my on-the-ground vantage point, some of the stages at the fest were decidedly worse than others, at least if you were performing up on the stage. And this year it wasn’t strictly a matter of how far the stage was from the Main Stage that made it less, er, “desirable,” so to speak; it had more to do with elevation, at least in the case of the Budweiser Stage, which was the absolute most painful area I found for watching bands play. As I mentioned in the previous writeup, the Bud Stage had zero shade (beyond the awnings of a couple of tents selling water & beer, at least, and a very off-to-the-side tent that was packed every time I went by). Worse still, the bowl-like area it was situated in made any breeze nonexistent — I could definitely feel the wind up on the street-level above, but it seemed to bypass that little valley completely.
Beyond all that, while it was sorta-kinda on the same tier of the park as the Main Stage, it was impossible to walk directly there from the Main Stage area — going from one area ti the other meant going up one steep hill, hiking a long-ass way, and then going back down another steep hill…with the knowledge that you were going to have to do it again in just a little while or fry in the sun while the next band set up.
So, while the Budweiser Stage did have some fairly major acts — Kylesa and HEALTH, for two — the crowds I saw there never came close to those at the Main Stage, or even some at the Warehouse Live stage right up the hill. I’m betting a lot of folks who played down there, especially in the early afternoon each day, were really, really wishing they were playing elsewhere in the festival…
- Speaking of small(er) crowds, did anybody actually go to the Gritsy/Reprogram Music Stage? I made a point of swinging by a few times, and damn…there was nobody there any of those times. It was pretty bleak, and I felt bummed for the DJs doing their respective things up there on the stage to, say, four people. sigh. Maybe it was just bad timing on my part, though — anyone know if there were crowds earlier/later in the day, or for somebody in particular? I do wish I’d remembered Fat Tony was playing over there on Saturday; I missed him completely this year. double sigh.
- Because I’m a big, big dork, I got my picture taken with the Mayor of Montrose, aka Chris Hutto — I’d met him before, very briefly, through friend Toni Brown, and when I saw him heading into the festival wearing his official purple-and-gold “Mayor of Montrose” sash, I figured, “hey, why the hell not?” He is, obviously, a very nice guy.
- From the Yes, Sometimes People Do Suck Category, I hate to have to report that apparently some asshat swiped a bunch of Tyagaraja‘s stuff while the band was loading in on Saturday morning. Per Tyagaraja’s Twitter feed and , he had a black shoulder bag mysteriously walk away, I’m guessing because some waste of skin thought it contained a laptop and not an effects pedal, an Indian statue, and a trio of books of handwritten poetry. Whoops… At any rate, this seriously, seriously sucks, folks, especially happening to such a gentle, kind-hearted, mellower-than-thou guy; I’m betting he’s pretty crushed at the loss. So, if you’re the person who took the bag, just give it back, okay? You can email me about it, and I’ll get him the info; hell, I’ll even apologize for calling you an asshat if you do.
(All photos by J. Hart.)