I saw thirty-three acts in all during Treefort but none of the big headliners. No Built to Spill, no Of Montreal, no nothing. That wasn't a conscious decision on my part; it just panned out that way. This show excited me, then, because it gave me a chance to see one of that select company.
Not too surprisingly, I encountered a fairly substantial crowd when I made it to the Reef. It wasn't anything like the crowd at the Treefort main stage, of course, but definitely respectable for a modest venue such as this. I counted myself lucky that I could find a seat at the bar.
First up this night was Chicago-based hip-hop act Serengeti. His rough timbre and flow reminded me a bit of Method Man initially, but as his set progressed, his warmth and dorky-like-a-fox charm felt much closer to Jonathan Richman. He seemed to pick up speed, smoothness and power with each rap, and his lyrics kept it real for real--his sharp, funny rhymes about crappy relationships and un-beautiful losers certainly struck home for this broke, thirty-something nerd/wastrel. Meanwhile, DJ Tony Trimm supplied some effectively spartan, old-school-honoring beats.
After Serengeti came WHY?, whose set left me wondering WHY in God's name I didn't see this group back when they played on Treefort's main stage. (Answer: I was watching Cheyenne Marie Mize at the Red Room. Well, OK, that's a reasonable excuse...) Anyway, I'm at a bit of a loss to describe this Cincinnati group's music. "Indie-rap-rock" just doesn't have the right ring to it (makes me think of Fred Durst wearing a fake mustache), and it feels too immediately accessible and pleasureable to be dubbed "avant-garde." Whatever you choose to call it, WHY?'s cool, slinky, quirky music came packed with hooks galore: rumbling dual drums, etherial guitar, elegant basslines, cute girl harmonies, bubbling keyboard and xylophone lines. Frontman Joni Wolf rapped/crooned the irresistible tunes and the sly, eccentric, detailed, incisive lyrics in a shy deadpan whine that only underlined his humanity. The crowd pressed in close and danced and sang and clapped to the beat. Cheers filled the room when the band launched into the audience's favorite songs.
"We're starting to gain a real love for Boise," Wolf said at one point. Pronounced "Boise" with an "s," not a "z." Very nice.
You can find info about WHY? and Serengeti on Facebook and elsewhere online. Special thanks to Eric Gilbert and Duck Club Presents.