Monday, April 2, 2012

Treefort Music Fest, Day 4 (3/25/12)

A brief observation:

As I review my notes and my previous posts on all the musicians and bands I saw at Treefort, I realize that I didn't see any of the big-time headliners.  I saw four of the names featured more prominently on the posters--Janka Nabay on Thursday, K Flay and Talkdemonic on Friday, Tennis on Sunday--but no Built to Spill, no Why?, no Blitzen Trapper, no Of Montreal.

Does this bother me?  No, not really.

As awesome as it would've been to have seen Built to Spill rock out for the hometown crowd, I don't think that they or any of those other groups were the true point of the festival.  Not in themselves, anyway.  I think that these groups would agree with me (or Doug Martsch would, at the very least) that the real stars are the bands and musicians you may not have heard of before.  The big names get the public's attention, but the unknowns and the up-and-comers make festivals like these worthwhile.  After all, why shell out $80 of your hard-earned money for four or five bands when you can see ten or twenty, some of whom may well become headliners soon enough?

(Sidenote: I tallied up how many groups/musicians I saw during the four days of Treefort.  Grand total: 33.  And I could've seen more.  Whew...)

Okay, enough editorializing.  On with the show!

3:00 pm

I make my way downtown, fresh from some much-needed rest.  I get here too late to see Atomic Mama play the main stage.  That's too bad: they've become one of my favorite local bands since they became a trio (what a difference a drummer makes).  Oh well; I'm sure I'll get to see them again some other time.

The skies are pretty cloudy today.  I've brought my big coat with me in case it rains.  I won't mind much if it does--rain's part and parcel with Springtime here in Boise.  I get an iced coffee, walk around for a bit and look at the budding leaves on the trees.  This town's gonna be absolutely gorgeous very soon.

3:30 pm, Main Stage: Wild Ones

My final day of Treefort starts off nicely with Wild Ones, a six-person group from Portland, OR.  They describe themselves as synth-pop, which sounds much better than the possible description I write in my notebook: folk-disco.  Lead singer Danielle Sullivan and harmony singer Lauren Jacobsen's charming, high-pitched, childlike vocals would sound right at home over some mellow, mildly swinging acoustic guitar.  Instead, they sit atop cheerfully robotic keyboards and synths, chicken-scratch electric guitar and turbo-charged drums.  The group's unlikely yet immensely satisfying combination of cute and funky enlivens their songs of innocence turning into experience.  This is the soundtrack of a lively, observant girl who'll grow up to find that right guy and become a pop star.  Or an engineer.  Or an astronaut.  Or anything else she may want.

5:00 pm, Linen Building: Lost Lander

After Wild Ones finish, I walk around for a bit and ponder my show-going options.  I settle on Lost Lander over at the Linen Building.  The audience isn't too big for this show.  That's too bad--you don't come across pop perfection every day.

It seems so easy when you hear it, but people who try for it almost always fudge the recipe somehow.  They go for emotional and wind up mawkish or mushy-minded.  They fuss over tunes and arrangements but neglect their lyrics.  They fuss over lyrics (and/or tunes and arrangements) but neglect their sense of shared human experience.  From what I see and hear, Lost Lander manages to get it just right.

The band's four members come onstage dressed completely in white.  I cock my head for a moment and wonder if this is a Devo-type thing.  After a few songs, I realize that it's much more of a Beatles-type thing.  Their music proves to be as clean, sharp and well-assembled as their outfits.  Lead vocalist/guitarist Matt Sheehy sings indelible melodies and simple, evocative, well-wrought lyrics in a clear, strong voice that sounds ten years older than he looks.  The rest of the band pitches in with celestial harmonies and keyboard work, melodiously fluid bass and rock-solid, take-all-comers drumming.  Ultimate message: while we may have to travel through the belly of the beast, "We have such a wonderful world."  When it comes to dream-pop, I'll take this over Youth Lagoon any day.

6:00 pm, Red Room: Dark Swallows

As wonderful as Lost Lander is, the tortured Byronic hero in me starts craving something a bit darker after they finish.  I check my schedule and decide on Dark Swallows over at the Red Room.

You could think of this local four-person group as something of a sister band to Le Fleur: Ivy Meissner plays and sings lead in both.  However, Dark Swallows, while just as hypnotic, is more straightforwardly tuneful than LF.  Their steady-rocking rhythm section and rousing guitar riffs make them more immediately accessible, and while Meissner and her bandmates may be rather limited vocalists, they don't hinder their songs' melodic appeal.  A good change of pace.

7:08 pm, Main Stage: Tennis

After Dark Swallows, I decide to take a chance on both the weather and the music and head over to the main stage again.  I get there in time to catch most of the set by Tennis, a four-person indie-pop-rock group from Denver, CO.

Tennis' bright, trebly Fender guitar, dreamy keyboards and nimble rhythm section evoke a variety of 60's music: Motown, girl groups, British Invasion pop, a little Beach Boys.  It's like manna from Heaven to a guy like me who grew up adoring the Supremes and the Temptations.  It helps, of course, that they mix some protein in with their sugar.  The band rocks plenty, they've got a firm grip on the old three-minute popsong formula and singer Alaina Moore sounds sweet and fluttery up top but packs some heat and muscle down below.  She could be Christina Aguilera if she wanted to (or at least make a go of it).  Bless her heart (and brains) for choosing Dusty Springfield instead.  And for singing tough-minded lyrics that Aretha Franklin would approve of.

I get sprinkled with a few raindrops during the set.  I check the skies and figure it's gonna get worse before it gets better.  When Tennis wraps up, I applaud warmly, go back to my car and swap my light jacket for my coat.  I decide against braving the weather for Of Montreal and head to the Linen Building.

8:00 pm, Linen Building: Sauna

Midway through their set, Sauna thank the audience (which probably doesn't even number fifteen people) for coming to see them rather than Of Montreal.  In my case, the thanks aren't necessary--this band and I have clearly been listening to the same albums.

This two-guy, two-gal group from Denver sounds like the pop band the Ramones always said they wanted to be.  They play well-schooled, surf-seasoned, irresistible 2-to-3-minute songs with titles like "Glitter Party" and "Beachball."  Bassist Ethan and drummer Sammi do a fine job with the sturdy punk rhythms, lead singer/synth-player Molly suggests a friendlier Debbie Harry and CJ sounds like a guitar hero in the making.  As much fun as Dude York was last night (probably more, thanks to touches like the Kate-and-Cindy-esque banter on their 3 1/2-minute epic "Croctopus").

After Sauna finishes up, I step out for a bit to get some air.  The streets are slick with rain.  I hope the folks who checked out Of Montreal found it was worth it.

9:00 pm, Linen Building: The Shivas

Next up after Sauna is another group with very audible and laudable influences: four-person surf/garage/psychedelic-rock band the Shivas.  This Portland-based group sounds as if it could've time-travelled here straight from the 60's (lead singer/guitarist Jared Wait-Molyneux accentuates that feeling even more with his neat red sweater and mop-top haircut ).  Drummer Kristin Leonard lays down an unstoppable mid-tempo 4/4 beat, Wait-Molyneux and Rob Mannering's twangy guitar drone delights the ears of this Velvet Underground and Dick Dale fan, and Eric Shanafelt's lightning-fingered work on the bass might get a nod from John Entwistle himself.  Very groovy.

10:00 pm, Linen Building: Koko & the Sweetmeats

Geez--have all the bands tonight been raiding my CD collection or something?  After the Shivas come arty, punky garage/blues/R&B trio Koko and the Sweetmeats.  Josh Gross cited Black Sabbath in his description of this Seattle group in the Boise Weekly, and while I can hear them, I'd add the Velvet Underground as well.  Laura van der Spek beats her drums like Maureen Tucker amped up on caffeine and Motown singles while her husband Garrett belts out the tunes in his high, piercing voice and slashes out riffs and licks on his gloriously loud, raw guitar.  The cherry on top is Andrew Houle, whose gutbucket sax both adds some bottom to the group's sound and takes the lead on many of the songs.

11:00 pm

I leave the Linen Building after Koko and the Sweetmeats finish their set, go down to the Pie Hole for a couple slices of pizza and check my schedule.  At 11: Blasted Canyons back at the Linen Building or Salt Lake City rock band Max Pain and the Groovies at the Crux.  At 11:30: The Brett Netson Band at the Red Room.  As intrigued as I am by the name Max Pain and the Groovies, I settle on the BNB--they and Microbabies will be the last two shows of the entire festival, and I want to be there at the very end.

Like on every other night of Treefort, the Red Room is jam-packed when I get down there.  I manage to squeeze my way in and stake a spot near the back of main room.

11:30 pm, Red Room: The Brett Netson Band

"What the heck does this remind me of?" I ask myself after a couple of brooding, distortion-drenched dirge-jams.  The Melvins?  Nah, not quite sludgy enough.  Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused?"  A little closer, but still not right.  Then, all of a sudden, it hits me: Zuma-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  This is only appropriate, I suppose, since Brett Netson's other band, Built to Spill, has been known to cover "Cortez the Killer" on occasion.

Though his brief anti-corporate rant and his cover of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" give me an idea, the spacey reverb on Netson's mic makes it hard for me to figure out exactly what he's growling about up there.  Then again, Netson's words don't seem to be the main point of this music.  He leaves most of the real talking to his guitar.  Netson's straight-ahead drummer, bassist and rhythm guitarist set up a platform upon which his grungy lead guitar can yowl, cry, vamp and contort.  Since I'm a huge Neil Young fan, I can go with it.  For the length of his set, Netson's soloing maintains interest and pleasure--he never starts to feel long-winded or low on ideas.  It helps too that his band's got some solid, simple, meaty riffs to chew on.

I guess it's fitting, in a way, to close out Treefort with a good jam band: it may help convey the idea that this can go on forever.  Who knows?  Maybe, in some spiritual sense, it can.

The Brett Netson Band finishes their set to massive applause.  We're all about to discover the nice little surprise that Eric Gilbert has up his sleeve for the very last show of the first Treefort Music Fest.

12:50 am, Red Room: Microbabies

The tip-off comes when one member of the Boise guitar-bass-drums trio Microbabies quips, "Microbabies--100 mistakes guaranteed!  Practice is for bands that make money!"  That's when I know for certain that their tuneless, plodding dirges and bone-headed, temper-tantrum blitzkriegs on the eardrums are jokes.

After about five minutes of Microbabies' seemingly method-free madness, people start clearing out of the Red Room in droves.  A stalwart few remain for the rest of the set to mosh, heckle and throw crap on the stage.  The band heckles the audience back, grinds out the noise and seems at times to just make up "songs" on the spot.  For my part, I sit back on one of the Red Room's leather couches, watch the whole spectacle and have a good laugh.  It's as hilarious as "L.A. Blues" (the last track on the Stooges' album Fun House).

1:30 am

The rest is silence (well, not quite: the bartenders put their music back on the PA system).  I finish my beer and head out.  I walk over to the Neurolux just to see if some of my friends are still hanging out.  The bartenders and doormen look exhausted, ready to go home.  I find my friend Malorie standing by the bar.  She's beaming, still buzzing from the energy of the festival.

"This can't end now!" she tells me, still grinning.

I feel the same way.  These past four days have been everything I'd hoped they would be and more.  I have no idea what effect this'll have on Boise.  I know one thing, though: I'll remember this for a long time.

You can find more info about most of these bands on Facebook and their various websites.

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