Scion Garagefest Aka
"The Running of The Hipsters"
I had timed my arrival in Lawrence, Kansas, perfectly. The first show
of Scion Garagefest 2010 would not begin for another hour and a half,
so there was ample opportunity for my customary visit to Lovegarden
Sounds to pick up some vinyl and to stop by Rudy's Pizzeria
for a nice, cold beverage. From my seat at Rudy's I could see the
would-be attendees to the festivities walking along Mass Street: skinny
jeans, technicolor Vans, plaid shirts, black horn-rimmed glasses and
dudes with Zach Galifianakis beards traveling in packs. Yes,
it was painfully clear, the "uniform" told the story. With
3 dozen bands scattered over four venues, this was not Garagefest,
this was to be "The Running of The Hipsters."
The Rooftop Vigilantes were the lone local representatives
in the festival and quite possibly one of its best bands. The four
piece came on strong straight out of the gate; they played catchy
power pop numbers with the get in, get out modus operandi of punk
rock. In spite (or perhaps because) of cantankerous equipment, tuning
issues, an unforgiving sound man and a space too large for their burgeoning
sound, the band played with an urgency that translated to a high energy,
quality set even though the crowd was quite small. I enjoyed every
number in their unfortunately short time on stage. And for their final
feet of selling me on the band, they referenced their most obvious
influence with a cover of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly
Wait." When the organist played the opening chords then the rest
of the band tore into the tune like a hungry dog destroying a steak,
I knew that The Rooftop Vigilantes would be a band to watch in the
coming months. What a way to start the day.
p.m. After dinner
After some brief schedule gazing and a beverage, it was time for me
to witness my second act of the day, Ohio's Times New Viking.
Though I went into this jazzed after The RV's, shortly into the New
Times Viking set, my hopes were dashed as problems again reared their
ugly heads. The three piece (drummer/singer, keyboards/singer and
guitarist) battled against a bad sound mix that caused everything
to bleed together into a wall of sound sludge. Though the crowd was
bigger this time with fans and potential converts, Times New Viking
could not seem to win the battle against boredom. I surveyed the room
to see it full of people still as statues, minus the six people yawning
and one drunk guy in the front row dancing even between songs. Though
the guitarist and drummer were quite good, it wasn't enough to save
this sinking ship. If you can only move an obviously wrecked dude
and half a dozen people to yawning with your music, then brother,
you are in trouble.
Best Coast, recent darlings of SPIN Magazine and every other
"cool" publication in the known Universe get my vote for
the most fun, cohesive band and performance I witnessed at Garagefest.
The three piece - two girls and a guy - brought quality noise pop
that made me just a bit nostalgic. They blended 60's girl group Wall
of Sound effects with an underlying feel that seemed to mix Belly,
The Sundays and the transcendent vocal beauty of Hope Sandoval.
Best Coast's Ali Koehler's compositional drumming brought the
too cool for school members in the room out of their coma long enough
to get involved, sing along and dance to their songs about the classic
themes of boyfriends, missing you, love, the beach and wanting something
you don't have. Not original themes or mind expanding revelations
mind you but good nonetheless.
Lead singer Bethany Cosentino welcomed a nine-year-old girl
from the audience on stage to play tambourine, dance and sing during
"Boyfriend." The little one knew every word, and that helped
illustrate a point: Best Coast was appealing to all in the audience.
They kept it fairly simple and gave the crowd good songs without stumbling
toward absolute corniness while guitarist Bobb Bruno gave the
girls a wall of lo-fi fuzz to bounce around on.
Though I am a known disciple of punk and bands with a heavier sound,
I will admit this: I would love to see Best Coast again. And most
importantly, they made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That's tough
to do. Kudos, Best Coast, you have a new fan.
After the peaceful beach lovin' of Best Coast, I was ready to cleanse
my palette and change speeds, so I headed to The Bottleneck to catch
Thee Oh Sees' show already in progress. And, boy oh boy, did
they ever help me change speeds. Upon entering the sweatbox that was
the packed Bottleneck (and standing in line next to Jack Lawrence
of The Greenhornes/Raconteurs/Dead Weather),
I was hit smack dab in the face by Thee Oh Sees' total psychotic/psychedelic
Their set, leaning heavy on their latest release Warm Slime,
vibrated with pure energy. Taking many cues both musically and stage
presence wise from legendary Detroit rock bands like The MC5,
The Flamin' Groovies and The Stooges, they were absolute
rock and roll.
That absolute rock did turn into annoying rock at times, thanks to
"singer" John Dwyer's yells, yelps and nondescript
sounds while deep-throating a microphone (severity lessened by the
flighty harmony vocals of Brigid Dawson) and a high end assault
that shredded my eardrums. But with their wanton disregard for the
norms of music and complete physical abandon, they were rock in its
purest form. They may or may not have enough juice to stay around
very long (their wildness doesn't translate well to CD), but that
didn't matter on this night because once they got in a groove Thee
Oh Sees were unstoppable. Who cares about the future when you can
drive the present into a frenzy, right?
My photographer/wife commented shortly after Happy Birthday
began their set, "I like them. The songs are kind of girly."
She was right, they were kind of girly and, in this case, it was a
good thing. The Brattleboro, Vermont, based band mixed great 1970's-like
power pop with the drugged-out attitude of punk to make for quite
an interesting show. Happy Birthday was able to interest the crowd,
many of which were smiling, and to put together songs that had melody,
chord progressions and even (GASP) a guitar solo or two. They were
aggressive without beating you over the head, mellow with being boring
and leaning more toward the ballads without being schmaltzy. They
were a well rounded band that most importantly was entertaining. Plus,
they had a great drummer
a very common trait that ran through
every band I saw.
Thus ended my night at the Second Annual Scion Garagefest. For the
most part it was a great day of music. Only one band let me down,
so four out of five ain't bad. I got to see some friends, buy a great
record (The Black Angels' Phosphene Dream...buy it now!),
saw a band or two that hold a lot of potential in their hands and
witnessed the masses collecting free SWAG from countless record labels
and the event's corporate sponsors. Was I let down by the absence
of more local acts on the bill? Absolutely... but what can you do?
I'm not the expert. Besides, who knows more about putting together
a music festival than a car company, right? Thanks to the quality
of music at Garagefest I'm going out and getting some new records
and who knows, maybe even a car.
-Danny R. Phillips
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