Some people spent their Fourth of July watching fireworks. Others barbequed with friends. One guy spent his eating 68 hot dogs in ten minutes. Me? I hang out in an empty lot underneath the JMZ line in Bushwick Brooklyn watching a whole bunch of awesome bands on the Captured Tracks and Woodsist labels. I skipped out on the first night of the Fest after, due to threat of rain, it got moved from the empty lot to adjacent Market Hotel which by all accounts was like being in a bbq smoker. (I ended up at the Seaport instead watching Here We Go Magic and Bachelorette.) Saturday, however, couldn't be more idyllic -- upper '70s, mostly sunny and no humidity. Despite some technical and sound issues throughout the day, the vibes stay positive throughout.
I go with my friends Don and Kelly and their 5-year-old daughter Diaz, who wears pink sound-blocking earmuffs the whole day and thinks there aren't enough girls in the bands. I also try to get her to be an on-camera reporter, reviewing the show via fed lines like "I'd rather have German Measles than watch German Measles again." But she's not having it. German Measles aren't actually that bad, I just thought it would be a funny line. But they're also not very good. And that kind of seems to be the point. Shambolic is an understatement, like "why rehearse when we can just play shows?" They played a couple night before, opening for Thee Oh Sees at Glasslands and Don asked me if the songs were all improvised on the spot. No, they've got some songs and if you see them more than once you might remember some of them, like "Patty Girl" which they almost play with something approaching competence. Or maybe they're just totally wasted. The singer sure was, having finished a bottle of red wine while his bandmates set up and moving on to Budweiser by the time they first note is played.
Real Estate probably sound the best of any of the bands that day, their dreamy Greatful Dead meets New Zealand good vibe noodling that is not all that far from the Meat Puppets at times too. They play through PA problems like it's doesn't matter, and you know... it doesn't. They're good. When they stick to the a-sides, it is sunny day perfection. When they start jamming, they lose me. It's festival, you've got 25 minutes, please stick to the hits.
The Beets have bass amp problems so the other two dick around with Beatles covers till equipment is switched out. "Thankyouverymuch" mumbles guitarist Juan Wauters which is the only banter you ever get from The Beets, before he kicks his amp again to unleash a squal of reverb. The Beets don't sound that loud on their records, but they can be deafening live, with the kind of feedback not heard since the early days of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Thier songs don't so much end as stop, but they've got some really good tunes, rooted in '60s party rock, making them perfect for an outdoor show like this. Do they still make Sun Country wine coolers?
I get burgers and check out the merch table while The Great Excape play. It is some kind of reunion but I don't remember them so I didn't pay much attention. Ganglians are up next, one of many California bands in town for the fest. They've got two good new records out: An mini-LP which rocks, and an LP of lovely Brian Wilson-influenced acoustic psychedelia. We get strictly the former today, which is too bad as "Lost Words" or "Candy Girl" would sound great here, though I guess when the M train rattles by every ten minutes (with confused conductors craning their necks to see what the hell is going on down below) you gotta battle that with full-electric mayhem. Their guitarist, who kind of looks like he's 14, does some amazing things on his instrument and is like, totally into it, man. He's a lot of fun to watch. But I prefer the poppy stuff over more drony material like "Never Mine" which there is video of below. I imagine seeing them indoors is a different experience.
As all-girl, C-'86-influenced trios go, San Francisco's Brilliant Colors might just be the best of the bunch, writing songs that rival Vivian Girls' catchiest, and keeping it tight like Sweden's Liechtenstein and more attitude than either. (Check out "I'm Sixteen" for serious snarl.) They might lack a little in stage presence but playing in the heat of the sun can drain even the most charming performers. But these ladies are quality, one of the day's best. Am really hoping another NYC show will materialize before they go back.
Budweiser is delicious when drunk fast and often. Even when it is lukewarm, like it is today. Just putting things in perspective.
Next up, the band I am most excited to see today: The Fresh & Onlys. They wowed me at the Woodsist/Todd P party during SXSW and have since becoming a superfan. Singer Tim Cohen broke his wrist a couple weeks ago punching bassist Shayde Sartin in a particularly drunken and violent bit of horseplay, so here he's playing keyboards instead of guitar. Not tied to his instrument, he now makes a lot of operatic gestures with his arms, leaving the guitar heroics to slickly-dressed Wymond Miles who pulls out all the rock moves. I am biased, but they sound pretty amazing, rivaling Real Estate for best sonics of the night. I think they won for stage presence too (the only band of the day to attempt audience participation), though if I'd stayed for Thee Oh Sees I might be saying second-best. (Oh Sees were phenomenal at Glasslands two nights previous.) F&Os have three records out now, and like seven more things coming out this year on nearly as many labels. To date it's all been home recordings which gives things a vintage feel, but live they sound more in the now and less like a group in love with 1966. "Invisible Forces," which is on their upcoming Woodsist LP Grey Eyed Girls, is a minor chord stunner.
Following their performance I finally meet Shayde face-to-face -- he participated in an email-interview for this blog you may remember. "You're Bill Pearis? I pictured you as a fat, bearded 50-year-old dude." Um, thanks. I buy cassette-only release of theirs, Bomb Wombs, and then remember I don't own a cassette player anymore. I'll figure something out.
I spy Crocodiles' singer Brandon Welchez with his guitar at the grocery store around the cornerand think maybe they're going to play in the "???" slot on the schedule scrawled on a piece of cardboard that's tied to the stage. But then I remember that he's got ties to Dum Dum Girls' Dee Dee (tied the knot in fact, it turn out) so it's no real surprise to see him playing guitar in DDGs' first ever show. The band also included Captured Tracks head honcho Mike Sniper on bass and Frankie Rose of Crystal Stilts on drums. Dee Dee, is decked out in a a black dress with fringe, and black tights, which would've probably looked more appropriate in a dark club with smoke machines and strobes. Here, it seemed a bit silly but damn if the four of them don't look like a real band, not some pick-up match. Black and denim, the shades, they are classic cool. And they sound like a band too, and a good one too. Dum Dum Girls got it together. Shirley from NY Noise uses the term "twee goth" and that's pretty much right on the money. Or maybe a little like Siouxsie fronting Tones on Tails, whose hit "Go!" comes to mind during DDGs' final number. It seems a shame this may be the only show these four play together.
Woods suffer the same problem that Real Estate do: they are quick to delve into the extended jam, though their version is a little more Crazy Horse and less blissed-out stoner noodles. But like Real Estate, when Woods stick to the songs, like the great "To Clean," it's absolutely lovely. (Their album Songs of Shame comes highly recommended by me.) As singer Jeremy Earl runs Woodsist, he can do whatever he wants. It's his festival. (Well, half his.) But that doesn't mean I gotta pay close attention.
I have seen Woods now upwards of seven times and I still can't figure out what the one guy in the band does. He's always off to the side, fiddling with some piece of homemade equipment involving cassette tapes, and sings through an old pair of headphones that are put on sideways. Using phones as a mike I guess gives a tinny, "old timey" sound to the vocals but it also kind of looks like he's wearing a ball gag that is tethered to the floor. Every time I see them I think of the gimp in Pulp Fiction. Maybe this is the look they're going for but I doubt it. Still, some lovely songs.
The sun is now setting and I am losing steam. (So is my camera battery and the flash card is full.) As Kurt Vile takes the stage, I take my leave, also missing Vivian Girls and Thee Oh Sees (who I already saw this week). I'm gonna need a nap if I'm gonna make it to the afterparty.
Also there: Stereogum, PopJew, StarkOnline, The Pop Filter , The Village Voice and, of course, John Norris.
My Canon Powershot has turned out to be a much better video camera than a regular one. I shot every band of I saw, but ended up deleting German Measels for space reasons only. Video and a couple more pictures after the ol' jump.