Live: BuzzFest 2013
CYNTHIA WOODS MITCHELL PAVILION — 11/2/13: My reason for going to Buzzfest, aside from photography, stems from an interesting summer I had this year learning Stone Temple Pilots basslines. I became a Rob DeLeo (bassist of STP) fanatic during this time, getting down about 18 songs of theirs note-by-note. I briefly joined a Stone Temple Pilots tribute band and actually even played in it the night before this show.
I have a lot of respect for Rob and his music and was interested in what STP would sound like with a new singer, Chester Bennington, who as many know is the singer for Linkin Park, a band I’ve managed to avoid all these years, so I have no feeling one way or another if it was a good move by the rest of STP, but I do understand why they would drop Scott Weiland after all the headache and heartache he has caused with his addictions.
Buzzfest starts at about 1PM. I didn’t have time to get there that early, but there was a band at 3PM that piqued my interest, so I took care of the home chores in the morning so I could get out there just in time for them.
They’re called New Politics. They hail from Denmark. I found my way to the “photographer’s tour guide,” my buddy Levi Johnson, and he took me to the main stage to meet the rest of the photographers and start shooting. I was running…I didn’t even have my earplugs in yet! Visually, New Politics were a lot of fun. The band’s dancing and later flipping (naturally, I left the pit right before he started doing backflips — I’ve managed to be very unlucky in this regard) frontman, David Boyd, led the group through their songs, and guitarist Soren Hansen and his bleached-blond hair rocked out to the delight of all camera holders.
Musically, they had a bit of Matt & Kim flair (Boyd even looks a bit like Matt), but without Kim, they were missing that crucial element. There’s just enough ’90s Britpop flair to keep my head bobbing and enough new-technology sound to get the younger kids hopping. They made for a good start to the day.
Up next was my first band on the sidestage. My first thought upon reaching the side stage was that the photographers had so much more room to roam in the side stage pit, as compared to the main stage. I could take wide-angle shots of the whole band! Los Angeles’s The Mowgli’s were the next group up to the plate. These guys and a gal were completely opposite of the “Buzzfest Mold” that we’d be seeing most of the day.
In fact, I had to wonder why they weren’t invited to FPSF, as they would have made a perfect addition to the bill — maybe next year. Musically, they’re akin to Of Monsters and Men and other similar bands that yell out the shouted choruses and have a ton of fun on stage. They definitely were infectious. Add to that, they had a sexy redhead woman shaking a tambourine. Yes, this photographer’s day was made already!
The other thing that became clear at this point was that the sets at the side stage were much shorter than those at the main stage. That made sense, but it meant if you didn’t care for a band’s music on the main stage, you were stuck for awhile. That’s what ended up happening more than once.
Up next on the main stage were another Southern California band, The Dirty Heads, but this time instead of the “happy rock” of The Mowgli’s, it was a reggae/rap act that seemed to gather its influences from 311 and Sublime. Yeah, that’s as far away from my interest as it gets, but there were still a few good photos to be had with them, so click away I did.
As I’ve blogged before, when I’m not into a band, I find myself actually concentrating better on the photography. Funny thing about this band, the singer reminded me so much of a guy named Craig who I used to work with when I was a television opinion phone survey interviewer. So I pretended for a few minutes I was taking Craig’s photo. Too bad it wasn’t him. One more thing, let me leave this part of the review with some positivity: that bass player jammed.
Back over to the side stage for a ’90s band I should’ve known from my days in Sacramento, called Oleander. Yes, I spent a couple of emotionally-tumultuous years in my mid-20s in Sacramento, California. After I graduated college, my then-fiancée wanted to live near her parents just outside of Sacramento.
Actually, they lived in Folsom. Most people only know that name because of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Well, I found myself with some Folsom Blues myself… Within four months of living there, my lady dumped me for her boss at Carrows Restaurant. I had just joined a band with some great power-pop music but the worst name of any band ever — yes, it was called Taint. I decided to stick around for awhile. Man, we had some great times.
We never played with Oleander, but we got some radio play, which was crazy because I would hear our music on the music in the electronics section while I was working at Wal-Mart. Oleander definitely still has that ’90s Sacramento sound. And their singer has the bluest eyes. If you have ever seen the Seinfeld episode about “The Wiz” — well, that’s how it was taking this guy’s photograph. He just made you want to take a great photo of him.
Up next on the main stage were some Houston connections. It was definitely interesting for me that I was photographing Blue October after Oleander. I knew when I got into photography that I would spend some of my time dealing with musician’s jealousy. This is a feeling that creeps up on most musicians; for me, it happens when I see a band that I don’t find to be anything special. When that kind of band is playing, and I’m photographing them, I’m thinking “THAT SHOULD BE MY BAND UP THERE.”
This happens to me more than I’d like to admit. Hopefully this is a very natural feeling — whether it’s healthy or not is another matter – but it’s something I deal with all the time. I don’t understand what people get out of Blue October, but they do seem to have some kind of connection with people, especially here in Houston, their hometown before moving away like most Houston musicians. It was fun getting some photographs of them.
I was trying to get shots that my buddy, Jeff Crowder of Deep Ella and his wife Ashley might like. Jeff goes way back to the early days with Blue October. In fact, I think Blue October stole Jeff’s vocal sound, as to me they sound more like Deep Ella than Deep Ella sometimes. After our three songs photographing, I realized I was quite hungry and in need of a veggie-burger. That fact alone lets me out of having anything else to say about Blue October.
Ten Years was announced as the band that has played the most Buzzfests. That alone made me glad I don’t go to all of them. To be honest, I think I’ve only been to one where I wasn’t a photographer. I remember Smashing Pumpkins and Chris Cornell headlined. What an amazing show that was.
Ten Years were decent. They reminded me of a less interesting and therefore more naturally Buzzworthy version of Dredg, a band I will love to the end. I spent most of the three songs we had to photograph them trying to get a good shot of the bass player as he whipped his dreadlocks back and forth.
Chevelle came up on the mainstage next. I had photographed them for the Weenie Roast last year, although I’m not sure what the difference between Buzz-fest and the Weenie Roast is. Chevelle made it difficult to get a good photograph of them because they had these LED lights glaring up at them. Lighting like that tends to wash out everything in the photograph and make the faces all red or bright purple. Hence the black and white shot and the silhouette probably worked out as the best ones I got of them.
After we were done taking their photos, I had a good hour to kill. I went up to the lawn to get a feel of where I’d be spending the majority of the Stone Temple Pilots set.
The last act on the side stage was Cage The Elephant. I was unfamiliar with this band, but along with The Mowgli’s, they won the day as far as new bands go. Their singer had a moves-like-Jagger appeal about him that kept my camera moving. Unfortunately, he darted too often out into the front of the stage where the lights weren’t shining, but that didn’t stop me from getting a few interesting shots. Soon our time was up, and it was on to the main event, but I tried to get a good feel of the group. It says something that I’ve been checking out their new album on Rhapsody since the show and have been enjoying it.
Finally we come to Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington. Like I said, I have a very special place for Rob DeLeo. Not even in my heart, but in my fingers. My fingers have learned a lot of his basslines. Seeing him up close was every bit as striking as I thought it would be. I spent almost the whole first song just photographing him. He seemed to notice my camera was fixed on him, too. He smiled my way a couple of times and played it up for the camera.
Of course, the rest of the band was not to be ignored. Each one of them is an icon. Even Chester Bennington from Linkin Park is a multi-platinum rockstar. So there’s not much for me to add here. I will say Chester’s voice didn’t quite have the baritone quality I wanted to hear on some of the more “grunge” songs of the repertoire.
He was in tune, though. And he had a command of the songs, especially the high notes. And to be able to sing all those songs, one after another, night after night… Wow! Listening now to the new STP with CB on Rhapsody, I’m finding I really like their new stuff. It’s super-poppy, a lot like the STP side project Talk Show from the mid-’90s. And right through it all is my boy Rob DeLeo’s killer basslines! Enjoy the photos! END
(Photos [top to bottom]: New Politics; The Mowgli’s; Ten Years; Stone Temple Pilots; Rob DeLeo. All photos by Jason Smith.)