FPSF 2012 Rundown, Pt. 4: Fitz and The Tantrums + Harts of Oak + Sundress + Jody Seabody + Primus + Small Sounds + More

And here we are, y’all, back yet again with the final pile of previews/whatever-you-wanna-call-’ems for the right-around-the-corner Free Press Summerfest this coming Saturday & Sunday — which, by the by, is where yours truly will be tomorrow & the next day, so if you see a bemused-looking guy with a graying beard & a ballcap roaming around, that may be me. Say “hi,” and I promise I’ll try not to look utterly terrified, honest.

I’m going to attempt to tweet a bit from the fest this weekend, so long as my phone’s battery lasts; I kind of suck at the whole Twitter thing, but hey, any way we can keep folks updated. Follow http://twitter.com/spacecityrock to keep up…

Anyway, here we go, with yet more little blurbs by yours truly and Jason Smith:

Fitz and The Tantrums
I swear, the more I hear of this band, the more I like ’em. They apparently try to dodge around the “soul” tag somewhat, referring to themselves as a “soul-indie-pop” band, but fuck that; this is soul music, no two ways about it. There’s a whole hell of a lot of Stax and Motown on here, from Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs‘ vocals to that old-school organ sound to the impeccably funky, rock-solid drumming by John Wicks (who’s got to be the best drummer I’ve heard in quite a while).

And what the hell’s wrong with that? If these folks were just poseurs, that’d be one thing, but the band plays genuinely great, soulful, heartfelt songs, the kind that sound friendly and familiar while not coming off like simple copies of what’s come before. If a composer comes up with a piece that recalls Beethoven, is he immediately dismissed for pandering to the audience’s nostalgia? Doubtful. Fitz and The Tantrums take the music pioneered by folks like James Brown, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and (no, I’m not kidding) Hall & Oates and make it their own ferocious, beautiful, wonderful thing.

By the by, for the price of your email address, you can grab a free online-only live EP, Fatt Free, right here:

(Jeremy H.)
[Fitz & The Tantrums play at 2:10PM on Sun., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Harts of Oak
I first learned of Harts of Oak because my co-workers son, Hayden Hamilton, was in a band at HSPVA with Alex Skalany. It was called The True Value, and I really liked them. But both Hayden and Alex Skalany were headed of to Berklee School of Music in Boston the next fall, so I didn’t really expect to hear any more from them for awhile. Then all of a sudden, I’m getting Facebook updates from Alex about a band called Harts of Oak. And then, even more suddenly, they are nominated for “Best Folk” in the 2011 Houston Press Awards. All this while Alex was away at Berklee…

They won the award. And shame on me, I hadn’t even checked them out in all that time. When I finally did listen to them, I was expecting a couple of high-schoolers messing around with acoustic guitars and maybe a banjo. Boy, was I wrong. They are much more gorgeous-landscape-widescreen-Americana than folk. I am especially loving the song “Come And Take It.” I should have known what they’d sound like, because every other Facebook update I get from Alex is about how he scored some Wilco vinyl. A man after my own heart. Or, should I say, HART. Buxton, take note: Harts of Oak should be opening for you guys. (Jason S.)
[Harts of Oak plays at 12PM on Sun., June 3rd, at the 29-95 Stage.]

A Sea Es
I dunno a thing about these guys, frankly; they kind of popped up seemingly out of nowhere a few months back (on my radar, at least) and started playing shows, and I haven’t yet seen much of anything about ’em at all. After listening to a handful of tracks, though, I’m impressed — A Sea Es plays a low-key, thoughtful breed of electronic pop that cruises smoothly along over bumping, gently insistent beats while heavy-lidded vocals (which remind me strangely of fellow Summerfest artist David Garza at points) and quasi-Afrobeat guitars roll across the top. The group doesn’t burn the stage down, preferring instead to just lean back with a smile and let their languid, electronic/organic songs unspool themselves in their own time. And that’s no bad thing. (Jeremy H.)
[A Sea Es plays at 3:30PM on Sun., June 3rd, at the Presented By Chipotle Stage.]

Ume
Ume are Houstonians now living and plying their craft in Austin. They’re a classic case of The Girl (Band) That Got Away. Just like that girl, they’re just a blissful memory for many of us. Just like that girl, you see them around once in awhile and you wish they were still yours. And just like that girl, you try to think of what you did wrong to make them leave, all the time thinking of what you can do to get them back into your life. And the answer comes: get them to come to an outdoor festival! Certainly this will remind them of all the amazing things about Houston and make them decide to move back. I remember them at the Houston Press Awards, oh, too many years ago. They rocked my socks off with their finger-picking indie-rock guitars, shredding solos, Lush-esque vocals, throbbing bass, and pounding drums. And now they’re making good on that promise to take those next steps on the Indie Rock ladder. If you like Lush, The Joy Formidable, Sonic Youth, or just beautiful singers, then don’t miss out on UME. Let’s all give them a reason to wish they were back living in Houston. (Jason S.)
[Ume plays at 6PM on Sun., June 3rd, at Stage 6.]

Black Coffee
This one’s a side project of sorts, I believe, formed by Peloton main-man Halston Luna as an outlet for his more punk tendencies (something like that, maybe?). On the handful of tracks I’ve found so far (a couple of which will apparently soon be on a 7″, out on Death Exclamations), Black Coffee is packed full of breakneck hardcore rhythms, crashing, careening punk guitars, and singer Ryan Taylor‘s snarled/spoken vocals, and the end result is something like throwback California-style skatepunk, all attitude and menace, with a little bit of The Jesus Lizard or Barkmarket thrown in for good measure. Misanthropes, get your ears over here, please. (Jeremy H.)
[Black Coffee plays at 12:30PM on Sun., June 3rd, at Stage 7.]

Sundress
I’ve caught little bits & pieces of Denton band Sundress in the not-too-distant past and have always been fairly impressed, but now finally giving ’em a more serious listen, I’m even more impressed. The band does a great, great shoegaze/dreampop thing that’s fuzzy around the edges and dancey, like the best Jesus & Mary Chain songs always were; there’s a My Bloody Valentine resemblance, too, to be sure, but this has a more definitively “British” feel to it, with bits of The Verve or Primal Scream peeking in around the edges (especially with the vocals). The songs bump and roll along in a shimmery haze, with guitars edging their way skyward on overfuzzed melody lines, and…holy shit, how did we get magically transported back to the early ’90s? (Jeremy H.)
[Sundress plays at 6PM on Sat., June 2nd, at Stage 6.]

Jody Seabody and the Whirls
Man. It’s been a hell of a year for Jody Seabody and the Whirls. The shaggy-haired rockers were doing great, just playing shows and working on their soon-to-be-released full-length, Summer Us, when out of nowhere, they tragically lost bassist Matt Johnston to a heart defect. The band, naturally, was left floundering, unsure what the hell they should/could do next. Should they continue on without their friend? Should they form a different band? Should they just put down their instruments and walk away?

Thankfully, they decided on the former option, so JSATW as a band will soldier on, and Summer Us will indeed be released; that’s a damn, damn good thing, because the retro-tinged alternarock these guys blaze through is a heck of a lot of fun, just sort of grin-and-headbang music that’s near impossible to resist. Here’s hoping they keep on rolling. (Oh, and check out a very cool interview with the band over at {Pretty Riot}, too…) (Jeremy H.)
[Jody Seabody and the Whirls play at 4PM on Sun., June 3rd, at the SHFL Stage.]

Primus
Looking back over the oeuvre of Primus, I’m realizing that so many of these songs are deep in my psyche. All those years ago, I was a faithful 120 Minutes viewer, and Primus seemed to be on 120 Minutes every week, with songs like “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,” “Tommy the Cat,” and “My Name Is Mud.” Someone made me a cassette of Sailing the Seas of Cheese. And I bought their covers EP, Miscellaneous Debris. For that reason, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they do kind of a “greatest hits” set at Summerfest. As a bass player, I must pay my respects, despite the fact that my bass-playing style could not be much further away from Les Claypool’s! (Jason S.)
[Primus plays at 8PM on Sun., June 3rd, at the Budweiser Stage.]

Quintron and Miss Pussycat
Quintron is the inventor of quite possibly the most amazing noise maker of the 20th century, The Drum Buddy. I can’t do it justice trying to describe it. Just go check it out on Youtube:

Just to see this thing in action is worth the price of the whole festival. But on top of that, Quintron and Miss Pussycat play fun party music in the arena of the old Elephant 6 record label. I can imagine Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal being a huge fan of Quintron. Quintron is an exceptional organ player and rocks out some old swampy blues that sounds like it could only come from New Orleans. Put this in the ?you-just-have-to-be-there? category. (Jason S.)
[Quintron and Miss Pussycat play at 4:20PM on Sat., June 2nd, at Stage 3.]

Danny Brown
Detroit rapper Danny Brown is one of those artists I completely missed out on in 2011, only hearing him after I started seeing him in all kinds of top-ten lists of the best releases this past year. And now that I have heard him, I’m even more mystified and confused than I was beforehand. I mean, I like it, definitely — the guy’s weird and fun and clever and subversive, like The Pharcyde if they recorded in a crackhouse that was steadily being surrounded by undercover cops, and listening to it makes me laugh and shake my head while I’m bobbing along to the claustrophobic, paranoiac beats. But how in the hell did a guy like this get to this point, to the point where he’s become known nationwide, even outside underground circles? Hip-hop in America today is a weird, schizophrenic beast, y’all… (Jeremy H.)
[Danny Brown plays at 5:40PM on Sun., June 3rd, at Stage 3.]

The Riff Tiffs
Yes, yes, yes. As far as I was aware, excellent, excellent, excellent psych-haze-rockers The Riff Tiffs were dead & gone — buried, even. First bassist Althea Topek suffered some kind of accident at work (or so I was told, at least) that made it extremely difficult for her to play her instrument, and then all the members graduated from high school and scattered to various colleges and cities, with Topek heading off to Olympia, drummer Sean Hart & guitarist/singer Chris Rehm ending up in New Orleans and forming Caddywhompus, and guitarist Curran Rehm going to Fayetteville to study architecture (he’s since ended up back here in newish band Cadre). I figured the band was toast for sure.

Recently, however, apparently Topek migrated over to N.O., as well, and somehow, things clicked all over again, because lo and behold: The Riff Tiffs have arisen from the dead to charm us all once again with their hazy, fuzz-soaked tunes. They’re not only playing again, but they’re even recording, it seems, trying to finish up some tracks they did waaaaay back when. Holy hot damn; color me excited.
[The Riff Tiffs play at 6:30PM on Sat., June 2nd, at Stage 7.]

Zorch
I’m having a hard time getting a grip on Austinites Zorch, frankly; the last time I heard these guys, they came off like a ’70s-style retro-ified synth explosion, like the bastard children of Tangerine Dream and Frank Zappa. With their most recent Cosmic Gloss/E.M.F. release, though, the duo is far, far, far more out-there than what I’d remembered, with less of a rhythm anchoring the chaos floating over the top. The newer stuff is full-on psych-rock mess, without the LIMB-esque structure of the older stuff, and I have to say, I’m kind of missing that. That said, it can be neat stuff, in a spastic, sprawling way — Zorch come off like a cheerier, less paranoiac, fuzzy-edged Parts & Labor, especially on tracks like “Moris the Loris,” and y’know, sometimes it works.
[Zorch plays at 3PM on Sat., June 2nd, at Stage 6.]

The Small Sounds
Got some good, good news on this one, news I’m damn glad to see/hear: roots/country rockers The Small Sounds just released 12the followup to their stellar 2008 debut, after four years of working on the damn thing. Halle-freakin’-lujah, y’all. The band will reportedly have copies of the CD on hand, so come prepared, because it sounds utterly great. The Sounds still have that awesome, heartfelt, countrified Son Volt-gone-pop feel, but this time it’s leavened by more straight-up pop/rock sounds, as on “Oh Dear” and “16 Bombs,” which works a hell of a lot better than I would’ve ever expected it to. It helps, of course, that I could listen to vocalist/guitarist Holden Rushing pretty much sing the phonebook — the guy’s voice is warm and honest, and country enough to effortlessly evoke backroads and wooded hills.
[The Small Sounds play at 3:30PM on Sun., June 3rd, at Stage 7.]

Alright, people — that’s it for this year’s writeups. The next you hear from me regarding Summerfest, it’ll be from Eleanor Tinsley Park


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