FPSF 2016 Rundown, Pt. 1: Mac Miller + White Denim + Matt and Kim + Father John Misty + Walker Lukens + Thee Oh Sees + ILL Faded + Sir the Baptist + Preservation Hall Jazz Band + Big Gigantic

And now, with less than a week to go before Free Press Summer Festival 2016 hits, here we are with our annual bunch of randomly-ordered writeups of as many of the 66 or so bands/musicians playing as we can pack in over the course of the next several days. Some of ’em we already know and love, and some we absolutely don’t, but hopefully by the time FPSF kicks off, you (and us, too) will know who to make sure to catch and who you can skip.

This is a collaborative deal, mind you, with yours truly, Jeremy Hart, and fellow SCR writer/contributor folks Jason Smith, Creg Lovett, and Tracy Lyall each throwing our respective two pennies in there.

The full schedule is up online over here, by the by, and in case you didn’t catch the news previously, this year’s festival has once again been moved from Eleanor Tinsley Park on the edge of Downtown to NRG Park. The downpour these past several weeks and the further downpour that’s forecast to hit later this week made Eleanor Tinsley too damn soggy a proposition, apparently, and the FPSF organizers can’t safely set up the stages and whatnot on ground that’s that saturated with water.

That means this thing’s a little bit closer to home for me, and I’m absolutely good with not being washed off a hillside by a flash flood in Buffalo Bayou. Back to the Land of Blisteringly Hot Concrete it is, folks…

Anyway, here goes the first pile; enjoy:

macmiller1Mac Miller
We start off with a guy I wasn’t familiar with in the least, but who I’ve come to like a whole lot more quickly than I would’ve expected. Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller almost feels like he’s two rappers at the same damn time: there’s the heavy-lidded, mush-mouthed guy who sits and rambles hazily about the spot he’s fought his way into and can’t seem to believe he’s really there, even though he earned it; then there’s the fast, sharp-edged, downright smart rapper who slides up next to you and starts hissing in your ear until you realize he’s actually spitting some really cool shit. Oh, and then there’s the heart-on-his-sleeve dude who plays piano, apparently, and lays out some of the most poignant, honest verses about love you’re likely to find this side of a P.O.S. album.

The guy’s a walking contradiction, seriously, and hey, I’m very cool with that. It helps, mind you, that his tracks weave together old-school soul and jazz samples with head-nodding, candy-colored weirdness that sounds like something The Pharcyde might’ve come up with, but really, it’s the lyrics and the delivery that grab me. I’ve seen the Eminem comparisons pop up multiple times, but nah, I’m not buying; Miller is a unique animal all on his own. (Jeremy H.)
[Mac Miller plays at 4:40PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Mars Stage.]

whitedenim1White Denim
I’ve been a fan of Austin’s White Denim fan for about 5 years now, but my fandom really picked up with their 2013 album Corsicana Lemonade. Before that album, it seemed to me like the band was trying too hard to be virtuosic (think along the lines of mathrock meets The Allman Brothers) at the expense of songwriting. But they put it all together for Corsicana Lemonade. Since then, they have had some distractions, with a couple of members playing in recent super-sensation Leon Bridges’s band and lead singer James Petralli taking time to do a solo project, Bop English. I’m playing catch-up with White Denim now, trying to digest their new album, Stiff, in time to enjoy their set this Saturday (or Sunday). (Jason S.)
[White Denim plays at 6:50PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Venus Stage.]

mattandkim1Matt and Kim
Okay, so I saw Matt and Kim a couple of FPSFes ago. Well, I say “saw,” but really, all I could do was hear them, because there were SO MANY GODDAMN PEOPLE WATCHING THE BAND PLAY. I mean, seriously; it was a mid-afternoon set, which isn’t usually that crazily packed, but the Brooklyn-dwelling duo rocked the fuck out to a throbbing sea of wide-smiling, sweaty, madly-dancing people, so many that I could get absolutely nowhere near the freaking stage and had to settle for listening from a far distance.

And I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan; some of Matt and Kim’s music makes me shrug and go “eh,” despite by best attempts to love it. That said, when they’re on, they are on, like, say, on the noisy, driving “Please No More,” off this year’s We Were the Weirdos, which comes off like the best Japandroids song you’ve never heard, only with vocals that are more mid-’90s indie-pop quirkiness and less indie-rock bombast. And hey, that ain’t no bad thing. (Jeremy H.)
[Matt and Kim plays at 7:10PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Saturn Stage.]

fatherjohnmisty2Father John Misty
I’m pretty fascinated by Father John Misty; not so much by Joshua Tillman himself, the man behind the moniker, or any of his other musical projects (although I do like some Fleet Foxes, from time to time). But this persona Tillman’s adopted these past few years is just brilliant, to me, all sharp-edged snark and literate emotional sabotage, like a bitterly mean, Twitter-era Leonard Cohen with the voice of Jackson Browne.

Father John Misty, to me, is ’70s folk-rock filtered through a completely truthful, no-bullshit lens, stripping away all the pretense and saying all the ugly things people aren’t supposed to actually say, even when they think it all the damn time. It’s mesmerizing and addictive, with these songs that are basically laughing in your face while you’re singing along; Misty is the perfect postmodern troubadour, and I freaking love it. (Jeremy H.)
[Father John Misty plays at 8:30PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]

walkerlukens2Walker Lukens & The Side Arms
Another superb Austin band who thankfully see Houston as a home away from home, Walker Lukens & The Side Arms is at its core a blue-eyed soul pop band. On top of this solid foundation, Lukens adds sythesizers, vocal effects, and digital loops to modernize the band’s sound. Like I mentioned, Walker and friends are hot hot hot in Houston these days and should have a large group of fans ready to rock and dance with them, so drop by and join the growing throng of fans (including yours truly) who claim them as a Texas favorite! (Jason S.)
[Walker Lukens & The Side Arms play at 11:30AM on Sat., June 4th, at the Neptune Stage.]

theeohsees1Thee Oh Sees
Here’s a San Francisco (recently relocated to Los Angeles) band that takes the sound of the best of early British punk acts (think Buzzcocks, early Joy Division) and then psychedelifies it with vocal and guitar effects and extended jams. The trick to a trio being able to pull off a band like this and not come off as just average is to assemble a band of awesome players with almost ESP senses that collectively know what each musician is going to do before they do it – and that’s exactly what makes The Oh-Sees a great live band. Personally, I won’t be getting too close to the pit during their set, but for some of you, it might be the chance you’re looking for to get everyone else’s sweat all over you! (Jason S.)
[Thee Oh Sees plays at 3:30PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Venus Stage.]

illfaded1ILL Faded
If you’re a fan of H-town hip-hop in general, you may already know ILL Faded, even if, uh, you don’t know it. (Wow, that got confusing.) The guy’s been around for years now, but it’s mostly been back behind the decks as the DJ for Fat Tony, behind the boards doing production for folks like Devin The Dude, Guilla, or Kirko Bangz, or behind the camera directing music videos; odds are pretty good you’ve heard or seen something he’s done. He’s one hell of a versatile dude, and this April saw him proving it further, stepping out from behind and into the spotlight with No Big Deal, his first solo release as a producer and rapper.

Thankfully, he’s damn good at all of it. No Big Deal is a charmingly low-key, backpack-rapper-ish release, all confessional lyrics, self-doubt, and struggle; Faded raps like he’s pleasantly stoned the whole damn time, and it makes it all loose and rowdy, which is cool by me. And hey, Ill Faded fans, if his FPSF set isn’t enough for you, head over the night before (Saturday) to Arlo’s Ballroom to see the guy do his DJ thing alongside Fat Tony. Just throwing that out there… (Jeremy H.)
[Ill Faded plays at 11:10AM on Sun., June 5th, at the Mercury Stage.]

sirthebaptist1Sir the Baptist
I’m not exactly sure what I thought Sir the Baptist would sound like — quasi-sarcastic indie-rock? sincere Appalachian folk? — but yeah, this wasn’t it. Although given the name, it does make some sense. See, rather than being all ironic or poser-y, Sir (real name William James Stokes) makes music that merges together the secular world with the spiritual while dwelling fully in neither one. He’s gospel and hip-hop and pop and jazz, all rolled up with a voice that’s somewhere between Aloe Blacc and Bruno Mars, singing and pseudo-rapping about the lures of the mundane world while he’s aiming for something greater. And the whole time, he’s doing it with this beatific, sly-yet-sincere grin on his face. (Jeremy H.)
[Sir The Baptist plays at 12PM on Sat., June 4th, at the Mars Stage.]

preservationhalljazzband1Preservation Hall Jazz Band
I love New Orleans. I seriously, truly do; it’s a place that’s mythic to me, where reality’s not quite what it is in other parts of the world. I’ve experienced some strange, amazing, wonderful things in that city, and it’s got a special place in my soul. And when I think back to my first-ever visit, the night my friends and I ended up at Preservation Hall, watching the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (well, one incarnation of it, anyway) play, it feels like a pivotal moment in my life.

See, I’d mostly dismissed jazz, at that point, having decided that most of the genre was either boring as dirt or pointless, aimless noise masquerading as music (yes, I was young, and an idiot); it’s fitting, really, that it was a visit to jazz’s birthplace that turned me around. I couldn’t help but smile as the Preservation Hall band nonchalantly, easily rolled through their timeless brand of Dixieland jazz — melded with other things, to be sure, but Dixieland jazz at its core — in that surprisingly small, unpretentious venue, taking the whole place seemingly back in time to a different era. I haven’t looked at music of any kind the same way since. (Jeremy H.)
[Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays at 12:40 on Sun., June 5th, at the Saturn Stage.]

biggigantic1Big Gigantic
I almost didn’t give these guys a chance; I nearly stopped listening six or seven times the first time I heard one of their tracks, off 2009’s Fire It Up, ready to just put ’em off to the side as yet another EDM act. Being the OCD weirdo that I am, however, I felt compelled to keep trying, so I could at least write something about Big Gigantic for these little preview things. And now, I’m glad I did.

Calling the duo (which expands to a larger full band at times, apparently) an EDM act doesn’t really do justice to what they do, honestly — there’s electronics involved, sure, but there’s also impeccably-played live drums and saxophone on top of that, and Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken merge the live elements with the synths and beats so seamlessly you can’t tell where one stops and the other begins. Musically, this is party music, no doubt, swiping elements from a half-dozen EDM subgenres and incorporating them into a booty-shaking, foot-stomping explosion of, well, fun. Imagine M83 if that band were less into ’80s pop and more into ’80s techno, plus a side helping of ’90s G-Funk and some dubstep noise as a garnish…oh, and then throw in some sultry saxophone. And I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, it does work, enough that I’m shifting my schedule for Sunday around so I can make sure to see these guys play. (Jeremy H.)
[Big Gigantic plays at 3PM on Sun., June 5th, at the Mars Stage.]

Alright, y’all — that’s it for now. More to come soon, so check back, yeah?

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