Yes, Indeed! 2016 Rundown, Pt. 3: Night Drive + CHEW + Fea + Young Girls + The Wheel Workers + Islands & Tigers + Arthur Yoria + Birthday Club + Muddy Belle
Back again, as promised, for Round Three (aka The Final Round) of SCR‘s happy little preview/writeup things for Yes, Indeed! Music Fest 2016, which will be unfurling tomorrow, September 17th, over on the eastern fringe of downtown. 25 damn cool bands/musicians, from here and elsewhere, will be doing their thing at four stages, two inside Warehouse Live, one at Neil’s Bahr, and one at Ahh, Coffee!, and yes, I like the latter two places already based on their names alone.
It’s $20 to buy a wristband for the whole thing, which is freaking peanuts (especially in music-fest terms), so get on over there tomorrow evening and roam around, bouncing from stage to stage like I do so you can soak up as many different acts as possible. (Or, y’know, just find a spot to camp out in and watch whoever happens to be playing, either way. I won’t judge you.)
There’s not a lot else I can say in general, except that I’ve been to several of the Yes, Indeed!/Madness on Main festivals that organizers Jason Smith (who, yes, also writes and takes pictures for this here website) and Phil Peterson (aka Bassman Pep) have put on, and they’re always, always a good time. Everybody’s laid-back and friendly, just hanging out, more like a big-ass party with a whole bunch of your friends and acquaintances roaming through — oh, and there’re bands playing, too.
By and large, I’m not a big fan of the ’80s. Nostalgia-wise, sure, it’s fun to listen to songs I remember from back then, but most of the actual pop music of the day never really did much for me, then or now. It took a very long time (and, well, Interpol and The Anniversary) to finally learn how to appreciate a good synth, and even now, I’m picky as hell when it comes to stuff like that. It takes a damned talented synth-pop band to break past my arms-crossed defenses. So I was genuinely surprised when I first heard nighttime-sounding, shiny-dark, heavily ’80s-influenced band Night Drive and actually liked it almost immediately. They’re just that good at what they do that my own prejudices don’t matter one bit.
I mentioned Interpol a second ago, and really, that’s the closest touchstone you’ll find to these guys, both in terms of the sound and the songwriting — both bands (well, early Interpol, at least) are driving and intense while remaining pretty and sleek, and singer Rodney Crowell has a clean, suave style that makes me think of Paul Banks at his best. Plus, there’s the obvious New Order resemblance, and a bit of Bowie, and it all works together to make a really, really great sound.
I also like these guys because when it comes to visual style, they seriously go all-out. Take the video they did last year for “Easy to Lie,” for one thing — it’s got a downed spaceship, mysterious motorcycle riders, alien tech, a dude in a biohazard suit, and a tense chase through the darkened woods, and it’s as polished and well-done as anything by, say, M83. Take a look, below…
[Night Drive plays at 9PM at the 8th Wonder Stage (Warehouse Live Studio).]
Atlanta band CHEW were a complete and total mystery to me going into this thing, but yeah, I’m already pretty good and hooked. They’re an instrumental rock trio where I honestly find myself not giving a shit that there’re no vocals, because they might distract me from everything else that’s going on. And that “everything else” is a hell of a lot. There’s a psychedelic core to CHEW, but that doesn’t come close to defining them completely — there’s also a lot of jazz, a lot of noise, a lot of alternarock, a lot of drifting, ambient music, and even some hints of doom-y metal lurking in the background (listen to “Bianca Vasquez (Trash Hump Island Adventure)” if you don’t believe me), all of which melds together into these strange, heavy, amazing, very cinematic little musical scenes.
It’s hard to listen to the band’s latest release, 3D, and not want to see it used as the score to, I dunno, some grim Netflix detective series where things are hidden just outside of plain sight, lurking right on the edges of your (and the characters’) vision. Guitarist Brett Reagan, bassist Brandon Pittman, and drummer Sarah Wilson have crafted a masterpiece of experimental, intelligent, murky music that moves like a freaking tidal surge, shifting and changing beneath your feet just when you think you’ve got your feet firmly on the rocks below. Wilson, in particular, is phenomenal, playing these insanely complex, jazzy fills and rhythms while still making sure everything holds together at least loosely, like it’s meant to.
[CHEW plays at 5:30PM at the Frank’s Pizza Stage (Neil’s Bahr).]
I’m damn glad to see Fea on the bill for Y,I!, after catching part of their set at last year’s Madness on Main and being blown away. Despite the relatively small space, the band absolutely owned the crowd, winning them (and me) over with their Chicana punk rock roar, burning like they were trying to set the place on fire. The band’s since released their debut self-titled full-length, and what I’ve heard of it captures the live show really damn well, channeling the band’s defiant, fist-in-your-face sound.
As I noted with La Sien yesterday, I can’t speak Spanish, so I don’t know what singer Letty Martinez is singing about on some of the songs, but I can get the gist, even still. The music speaks loud enough on its own, raw and fast and not giving a fuck what you (or I) think, blending street-level, SoCal-style punk and hardcore with some rockabilly and New Wave sounds to keep things interesting. That said, the lyrics are definitely worth paying attention to, taking on misogyny, discrimination, stupidity, conformity, and all the other shit women in general, and gay women in particular, have to deal with. I want to hear more from these folks, and quick.
[Fea plays at 11PM at the 8th Wonder Stage (Warehouse Live Studio).]
First, a little cautionary tale. See, there’s this thing called Facebook, which you probably use if you’re between the ages of 28 and 50, where you post things and “like” things and “friend” people, and people you’ve friended can see what you post and like and whatnot. A few years ago, I was at work at my previous company, where I had (and still have, happily) a bunch of friends that I worked closely with, and I got bored during the afternoon one day and started listening to Young Girls‘ debut EP. I knew the band had their own Facebook page, so I went there, saw the big “Like” button staring me in the face, and said, “hey, why not?”
Then I saw it pop up on my Facebook feed, “Jeremy Hart likes Young Girls.”, and my mouth dropped open. It took all of a minute for people in cubicles nearby to start cracking up and posting oh-so-witty responses, because what are friends for, after all? The moral of the story, obviously, is to make sure you find better friends; no, wait, it’s actually pretty much what we tell our pre-teen daughter on a regular basis: be very careful what you post online, because it can bite you in the ass.
Note, however, that the moral isn’t to not like the awesome, gorgeously summery, fuzzed-out indie-surf-pop of Young Girls — no, that would be a step too far in the opposite direction. I’ve been a fan since the trio’s self-titled debut, and every song I’ve heard since has made me grin like an idiot; they’ve discovered the perfect merging of bouncy, New Wave-ish retro-pop, echoey surf-pop, and smart, sharp-edged alternative rock, and they’ve bundled it all into one concise, speedy, wide-smiling little ball of excellence.
[Young Girls plays at 8PM at the 8th Wonder Stage (Warehouse Live Studio).]
The Wheel Workers
Oh, man. Much like Jealous Creatures from yesterday’s writeups, The Wheel Workers are one of those bands I feel like I talk about all the damn time, because dammit, people need to realize how fucking incredible they are. I mean, it takes a special kind of songwriter — in this case, one named Steven Higginbotham, frontman, guitarist, singer, and Wheel Worker Numero Uno — to write a pop song that’s overtly political and pull it off without coming off as trite or sounding like they’re lecturing the audience. I know, because dammit, I’ve tried, and everything I came up with sucked ass in a big, big way.
Not so with The Workers, though; the songs they write are simultaneously sharp-edged and catchy, making you smile and bob your head along right before you realize that — oh, shit — they’re singing about something really damn serious, aren’t they? Coasting over those cheery, primary-colored melodies and irrepressible rhythms, Higginbotham and company tackle income inequality, saving the environment, militarism, gay rights, right-wing media, consumerism, corporations, occasionally veering off into more personal territory (see “Dream,” off last year’s amazing Citizens). It’s like a Dead Kennedys album, except that instead of spit, vitriol, and loud guitars, The Wheel Workers get their message across with big smiles, shiny-pretty melodies, and group harmonies. And yeah, that’s a really good thing.
Oh, and I’ve been extremely remiss in posting about it til now, but around this time last year the band did a great, great, truly well-crafted video for “Whole Other World,” directed by now-expat H-towner Jerry Ochoa, who’s a good dude, a great musician, and an even better filmmaker. Enjoy…
[The Wheel Workers play at 10PM at the 8th Wonder Stage (Warehouse Live Studio).]
Islands & Tigers
Another San Antonio band like Fea, above, and one I’d never heard of ’til now, but I’m extremely glad I now have. They caught me very much off-guard, and in a really, really good way — halfway through listening to their self-titled full-length, released in April of this year, I had to shut things down for a while…and suddenly realized that I was really bummed to have to do that. I desperately wanted to just keep on listening for as long as I could, despite not know who Islands & Tigers were before today.
It’s hard to put a finger on why, honestly, but there’s just something there that clicks for me. While listening, I kept thinking of Reptar, not because I&T sound like Reptar — maybe they do a little bit, sure, but that’s far from the whole story — but because they have that same unstoppable energy and who-gives-a-fuck? vibe that sucked me into Reptar’s first EP. In terms of actual music, it’s surfy and bright, but melacholy and self-effacing at the same time, with songs that utilize some truly classic pop song structures (think the Beach Boys, the Beatles, The Four Seasons, Fountains of Wayne, Weezer, The Strokes, The Killers, maybe even Guided By Voices), buzzy guitars, sugary-sweet vocals, and insanely catchy hooks. These guys may be young, but holy fuck do they know how to write a song, the kind you never want to get out of your head.
[Islands & Tigers plays at 5:15PM at the Lynchpin Audio Stage (Warehouse Live Green Room).]
I’ve said it already very recently, but I’ll say it again: damn, I’m glad Arthur Yoria‘s come back home. He’s roamed the highways and byways of America for too long, and we need him back here. The man is an excellent songwriter, and one of the most versatile I’ve ever seen, bouncing from style to style so fluidly that you don’t even necessarily realize he’s doing it ’til it’s all over.
He can do damn near everything, it seems like — on one album, he’s a folk-ish troubadour, on another he’s blasting heavy guitar rock, on a third he’s fully immersed into sunshiny power-pop goodness, on a fourth release he’s a suave, debonair ladies’ man, and I don’t even fully comprehend what the fuck happened to him on his 2009 release, (281), except to say that a whole lot of weed was involved. These days, he seems more grown-up, however, more sure of himself than he’s been in the past, and maybe more aware of where he’s gone, musically speaking, in the past, too.
He’s a little more serious, a little grayer, a little more intent on what he’s doing, a lot cleaner-living. I guess that can happen when you hit the road like he has, spending time in various cities across the country. I’m seriously looking forward to seeing what comes next.
[Arthur Yoria plays at 5:45PM at the Heights Guitar Tech Stage (Ahh, Coffee!).]
Dammit, dammit, dammit. One of the bands I’ve been most looking forward to seeing, and it turns out they’re going to be onstage before I’m going to be able to get over there tomorrow (at this point, anyway). I was thoroughly depressed when Featherface called it a day, having really thought they’d be one of the handful of H-town bands to make some major waves outside of Texas; alas, it wasn’t to be.
And looking back, that’s okay. Because with Birthday Club, ex-Featherfacer and Club singer/guitarist Stephen Wells has found maybe even better footing, so to speak. He’s assembled a talented crew for the band’s forthcoming EP, Lighten Up, which includes keyboardist Valeria Pinchuk, who I know used to play in Trio Musette, drummer Travis Peck, and bassist Josh Cobb (Ruiners frontman Shan Pasha was in the band for a brief while, to boot), and the result gives my favorite Featherface tracks a serious run for their money.
Obviously, we’re talking about two different bands here, and Birthday Club isn’t Featherface. It’s cheerier, for one thing, and less heavy on the psychedelic side of things; from the little bit I’ve been able to hear, it’s rather more of a throwback pop album, something that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on college radio back in the late ’80s. It bounces and jangles its way along over a quasi-funky beat, while Wells’ vocals make me think of Fleetwood Mac, for some weird reason. Again, I’ve only heard a little bit so far, but what there is sounds promising as hell.
[Birthday Club plays at 4:15PM at the Lynchpin Audio Stage (Warehouse Live Green Room).]
Heard a heck of a lot about these guys recently, so I’ve been wanting to catch Muddy Belle sometime soon — looks like Yes, Indeed! may be my chance. From the name, you can probably guess that these guys can get swampy and blues, digging some old-school blues out of the muck down in Houston’s bayous, and yes, that the certainly do. That’s not the end of it, mind you, because the Belle boys can also get funky and gritty and soulful as all hell, not to mention jazzy and strident and gloomy.
They just released a new album at the start of this month, actually, although all I’ve been able to find is the supremely funky “Come On In,” with guest vocals by Kam Franklin of The Suffers, a great, great bumping bassline, and some killer horns, and the live performance below of “Better Not Lie,” below. They’re both gems in their own right, and it’s making me very interested in seeing what the rest of it sounds like, y’know? Fingers crossed.
[Muddy Belle plays at 9:45 at the Heights Guitar Tech Stage (Ahh, Coffee!).]
Annnnnnd that’s all we’ve got, folks. No more writeups necessary — now just get your ass out of the house tomorrow and over the Warehouse Live ‘hood.
(Photos: Birthday Club photo by Ryan Francisco Photography.)