FPSF 2015 Rundown, Pt. 1 (& Big News!): Diarrhea Planet + George West + The Mountain Goats + Iceage + Dpat + Sturgill Simpson + Sarah Jaffe + Catch Fever + Houndmouth + The Vanity
Yes, it’s that time. Time to once again brave the blistering Houston summer heat, damage our eardrums, get our favorite t-shirts filthy (Pro Tip: Do not wear your favorite t-shirt.), spend a shit-ton of money, listen to a lot of awesome music, nearly pass out a few times, high-five friends, smile at some very cool art, and wonder where in the hell most of these people came from. In short, it’s Free Press Summer Festival (FPSF) time.
And with the date fast approaching — Sat. & Sun., June 6th & 7th — we here at SCR figured that we’d better get off our asses and do our little series of writeups/previews of randomly-chosen bands playing at this year’s FPSF.
Before we dive headling into that, though, there’s been quite a bit of news out of the FPSF camp of late, and I figured we’d better give it at least a quick mention. Firstly, there’ve been some lineup changes; both Berlin-dwelling electro artist Peaches and badass Austin metal dudes The Sword have been added to the pile, and in return, I’m no longer seeing Charli XCX, Pentagram, or Yung Lean & Sad Boys anywhere on the schedule. If you were desperately looking forward to any of those, well, you’re outta luck.
In somewhat bigger news — from my viewpoint, at least — last week’s massive flooding here in H-town swamped Eleanor Tinsley Park, which sits right beside the normally-placid Buffalo Bayou, with water as deep as 35 fucking feet in some areas of the park. As might be guessed, that’s meant some major scrambling-around on the part of the FPSF crew, but they’ve handled it remarkably well, quickly moving the whole shebang to their backup location: the Yellow Lot area of NRG Park.
Yes, so instead of being in the shadow of Downtown, this year’s FPSF will be in the shadow of the Astrodome (or, really, considering the size, NRG Stadium). It’ll definitely be different from years past, to say the least, and I’m a little nervous, given the soul-crippling heat of Warped Tours past in NRG Park/Reliant Park/whatever it was called before that. When I’ve been to events like that in the past at that location, the heat bouncing back up off the asphalt and concrete has been brutal.
That said, my hat goes flying off to Omar Afra, Jagi Katial, and the rest of the Free Press/Pegstar crew for being able to roll with unforeseen circumstances like this, especially since Eleanor Tinsley’s been FPSF’s home since its inception. FPSF is a gargantuan machine with a crap-ton of moving pieces, and to pick all of that up and relocate it to a completely different location, with a completely different landscape and requirements, is one hell of an undertaking.
I don’t have any real idea what the square footage will be like, but I’d be willing to bet the NRG Park location gives ’em a lot more space to sprawl out, and from photos posted on Facebook, there’s a fair bit more green space in use than I’d figured there would be — both good things. Plus, there are assurances being made of one or more misting tents where people can cool off, and I’m told the new venue will sit alongside the METRORail line, which is also very cool.
I’ll miss my now-traditional hike westwards from Downtown, it’s true, but I won’t miss the escalating parking garage prices, that’s for damn sure. I’ll be much, much happier dropping my car at the Fannin South Park & Ride lot and then riding the rail northwards. So all things considered, I’m very glad FPSF is still happening, and psyched for something kinda new.
In other big news, the organizers released the official-shmofficial schedule for the festival last week, which is nice, and better still, they’ve also released the official FPSF app for your smartdevicethingy. It’ll look pretty familiar if you’ve used it the past two years, and if not, trust me, it’ll come in very handy. I think I drained my battery last time using the map function to figure out where I needed to be. It’s well worth downloading.
And with alllllll of that out of the way, let’s do this thing:
Naturally, the first on the list is the one I least wanted to have to listen to, based solely on their name alone. After actually putting on the headphones, though, I’m feeling a whole lot better about it, because stupid-ass name aside, Nashville band Diarrhea Planet are actually pretty damn great. Their nicely loud without being overly heavy, instead ripping along on a stoner-rock-meets-indie-rock trail that’s packed full of overfuzzed guitars, hazy feedback, garage-rock drums, regular-dude yell-singing, and a big, big bunch of sneaky, subtle melodies. Think first-album Weezer (seriously, listen to “Bamboo Curtain” if you think I’m off the mark) if they’d gravitated more to Dinosaur, Jr. than KISS, or maybe of local retro-indie dudes Muhammad Ali, and you’ll get the idea; and yeah, anybody who can come up with songs like this that are simultaneously loose and energetic and sweet as sugar are heroes in my book. (Jeremy H.)
[Diarrhead Planet plays at 3:20PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Jupiter Stage.]
I talked up George West not too long ago, it’s true, in the insanity leading up to Madness on Main, but dangit, Vik Montemayor (the man behind the moniker) is well worth a second mention. Seriously, every time I listen to West’s/Montemayor’s shimmery, wavery/clicky, organically-building, Four Tet-gone-ambient music, I find myself loving it even more and wanting to do nothing but just close my eyes and drift off to somewhere else. Of all the EDM banging around this year’s FPSF, George West seems like the best fit, to me, for our melt-your-face Houston summer heat, blindingly-blue sky overhead, and general chilled-out vibe; it’s not going to move your feet (well, not mine, anyway), but it’ll make you stand or sit or lay down and bliss the hell out with a beatific smile plastered across your face. And after a while, when you come back to the world, you probably won’t even mind the sunburn. (Jeremy H.)
[George West plays at 1:10PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Mercury Stage.]
The Mountain Goats
First things first: I freaking love John Darnielle. The man writes these intensely literate, heartfelt songs, the kind that get people pegged as “a songwriter’s songwriter” in their later years, and he writes them about scenarios that are at once extremely personal, obscure, and esoteric. Add to that a truly talented bassist in Peter Hughes and one of the best goddamn drummers I’ve ever had the privilege to witness in Jon Wurster, and oh, how I love The Mountain Goats.
So, how could that possibly be made better? Hrm. Well, how about if said amazing musicians/songwriters came up with, I dunno, an album of fragile, warmhearted, sometimes jazzy, Cohenesque pop songs that’s actually a concept album about professional wrestling? Let’s call it, say, Beat the Champ, and we can have a funky little samba song about stabbing another wrestler in the eye and a speedy track about being choked out, and a bunch of others about the lives of wrestlers both off and on the stage, kind of like an auditory version of The Wrestler, minus the father-daughter drama. Oh, man. How freaking great would that be? (Jeremy H.)
[The Mountain Goats play at 5PM on Sun., June 7th, at the Jupiter Stage.]
And here comes the first real surprise of the bunch, with Danish band Iceage. The last I heard of these guys, they were a punk band with some Rough Trade-ish post-punk tendencies, playing fast, messy, jagged-edged songs that came off alternately like Fugazi or a very drunk Wire, and hey, it wasn’t bad. Now, though, with last year’s Plowing Into the Field of Love, they’re…well, they’re something different. The punk roughness is still there, sure, but this time around it’s applied to rootsy rock and country, with frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt‘s slurred vocals making me think of a strange, alien-eyed lovechild of Will Sheff and Shane MacGowan.
Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Plowing reminds me quite a bit of Sheff’s band Okkervil River, using chunks of roots-rock and noise and country and punk and Goth and pop and post-rock to make something that stands on its own as just this sort of thoughtful, complex art-rock, like an amped-up, drugged-out Talking Heads. Is it still punk rock? Maybe not, but it’s definitely still intriguing. (Jeremy H.)
[Iceage plays at 1:10PM on Sun., June 6th, at the Fancy Pants Tent and at 6:30PM at the Jupiter Stage.]
Cooling back down again now, with Houston’s own Dpat, who I thought was a rapper but who turns out to be more a producer, one who crafts these sublimely mellowed-out beats and layers of sound that float along like nighttime clouds over rain-slick streets. It’s cinematic, gorgeous stuff, built out of slowed-down soul and jazz samples, clicking percussion, and rubbery bassline, and damn, it works.
On the non-vocal tracks, I feel like I’m watching the city slide by at night outside darkened car windows, just driving on and on and on and never needing a destination, while the tracks that feature guest vocals make me think of The Weeknd or Aloe Blacc. Through it all, I find myself bobbing my head along with the beats, eyelids closed, just sitting in the dark and absorbing it all. There aren’t a lot of producers that can make me do that, these days. (Jeremy H.)
[DPat plays at 4:20PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Mercury Stage.]
From the first guitar lick I heard when I first checked him out (thanks to all the great reviews he was getting for his second album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music), Sturgill Simpson came across as someone who dug deep into his father’s classic country music record collection and wrote new lyrics to old songs. And what interesting lyrics he’s been writing. “Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain / Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane” and “Well, a picture’s worth a 1000 words but a word ain’t worth a dime” are my favorites. Looks like my dream of seeing him and Robert Ellis together on the same show (well, the same weekend) will come true! (Jason S.)
[Sturgill Simpson plays at 2:10PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Mars Stage.]
Well, damn. Okay, so Iceage aren’t the only band/musician to throw me a curve ball this year. See, the last time I listened to Denton-bred singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe, it was not long after her debut, Suburban Nature, came out, back in 2010 or so. Back then, she was very much a jangly, rootsy, relatively low-key folksinger, and hey, I liked it quite a bit, especially “Clementine,” which has lived in my iPod/iPhone ever since.
Catching up now, after Jaffe’s third full-length, Don’t Disconnect, and oh, how things have changed. That fragile, soft-voiced folksinger is long, long gone, apparently, replaced by a supremely confident, full-on indie-rock diva, and despite my initial misgivings, I’ve got to say, it’s glorious. There’s still a rootsy tinge to some of the songs, to be sure, but along with it there’s a heavy, heavy dose of electro-pop, a dash of Arcade Fire-/Florence and the Machine-esque orchestral arena-rock, and even a hint of Patty Smyth (although okay, that may just be my addled ears; your mileage may vary on that one). Disconnect is smart and solid, a beautiful, intricately-carved piece of futurist pop, the kind people will look back on in a few years and declare to be a bellwether for things to come. (Jeremy H.)
[Sarah Jaffe plays at 1:20PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Neptune Stage.]
The appropriately-named Catch Fever are three men on a mission totally-possible: to turn every Houstonian they come across into a Catch Fever fan. Show by show, single by single, more and more people are becoming aware of this act that I’ve been touting to my own friends since I discovered them for myself about two years ago. Musically, they remind me favorably of a streamlined, trio version of the San Francisco-area band Dredg (if you love Dredg as much as I do, then give me a shout, and we can talk for hours), with a hint of a Jimmy Eat World vibe for good measure. By this I mean to say that melody is king with Catch Fever. And melody is king with me, too. Get to the fest early and see them! (Jason S.)
[Catch Fever plays at 1:30PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Jupiter Stage.]
It could be argued fairly convincingly that this year’s FPSF is a teensy bit heavy on the Americana/roots-rock side of the musical spectrum; there’re a fair number of bands that fit the bill, and yeah, Indiana’s Houndmouth is most decidedly one of ’em. Don’t take that to mean they’re just another in the pile, mind you, because they’re something different — they’re like a band out of time, musically speaking, not just reaching back towards the country-rock sounds of the ’70s but further than that, to the rolling, rambling old-time country and rustic Appalachian folk sounds of the ’20s.
Despite their relative youth, they sing about trains and drinking and going to the pen with voices older than their years, old souls peeking out from behind the curtain and making themselves known. Oh, and they do some of the best Americana-style male/female duets I’ve heard in, well, ever. I haven’t heard much off their latest, Little Neon Limelight, just yet, but I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days with 2013’s From the Hills Below the City, and hot damn is it good. Houndmouth weren’t on my list for FPSF before, but they sure as hell are now. (Jeremy H.)
[Houndmouth plays at 3:10PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Venus Stage.]
Last on the pile for tonight is The Vanity, a relatively new band out of Austin, Texas, whose tight, arena-ready rock sound belies their recent origins. I’ve only been able to hear a couple of songs so far, off debut EP Strangers, but I’m pretty impressed even still — the band brings to mind the straight-up roots rock of Springsteen at points, the Afghan Whigs’ smirking darkness at others, and U2’s classic anthems at still others, whether they’re singing about young kids being wild and free, running drugs into Mexico, or a tragic, fragile love. They’re still young, it’s true, but there’s a whole lot of power there; give ’em a little while, and they could really become something all their own. (Jeremy H.)
[The Vanity plays at 12PM on Sat., June 6th, at the Mars Stage.]
Alright, folks — that’s it for now. More to come, and soon…
(Photos [top to bottom]: Diarrhead Planet; George West; The Mountain Goats; Iceage; Dpat; Sturgill Simpson; Sarah Jaffe; Houndmouth; The Vanity. Diarrhea Planet photo by Wrenne Evans; The Mountain Goats photo by DL Anderson; Sturgill Simpson photo by Semi Song; Sarah Jaffe photo by Melanie Little Gomez Smith; Houndmouth photo by Tyler Zoller; The Vanity photo by Julian Basjel.)