Monday, April 30, 2012

The Very Most, Spondee and Sleepy Seahorse @ the Flying M Coffee-Garage (4/28/12)

I was excited about this show for a handful of reasons.  First, it featured Spondee, a wonderful Boise band that I hadn't seen in a little over two years.  Second, this would be my first show at the Flying M Coffee-Garage, which has been putting on some intriguing stuff for a while now.  Finally, it gave me an opportunity to explore Nampa, which I'd never really done before.

I showed up a couple of hours before the gig and wandered around.  If I'd grown up in Nampa, I imagine that I'd have been bored out of my mind.  Coming to it as a visitor, though, I found it surprisingly picturesque.  All of the circa-1910 brick buildings made me feel like I was in They Live By Night or Bonnie and Clyde.  I took a few pictures while I was there.  Here are the best ones:

I found that Nampa's Flying M shared with its Boise counterpart the same pleasant, mellow, thrift-store hip feel: big windows; warm, earthy tones; slightly ratty old couches; mismatched wooden tables and chairs.  Once I stepped inside the garage, I deduced fairly quickly that it really had been an auto garage once upon a time (the place had a big red plastic Firestone sign on one wall as well as a faint scent of oil and grease).  There were some more charmingly mismatched tables, chairs and benches set up, and on the wall around the entrance were autographs of musicians who've played there.

First up this night was Sleepy Seahorse a.k.a. Boise musician Joey Corsentino.  If the balance that he struck hadn't been just right--if his voice was just a little whinier, his delivery just a little less earnest, his guitar strumming just a little less assured, his ruminative lyrics just a little less well-observed, his melodies just a little closer to their sell-by date--Corsentino could have proved annoying if not unbearable.  As it stood, though, his music perfectly captured that point in life where youthful dreams and ambitions meet hard realities and compromises.  I'll have to keep an eye (and ear) out for this guy in the future.

After Sleepy Seahorse came Spondee.  An incident early in their set illustrated why I like this band so much.  After they finished their first song, you could hear a buzzing sound.  Frontman Clint Vickery called to the soundman and calmly told him that smoke was coming out of one of the speakers.  The soundman proceeded to rush about and swap out the burning speaker for a new one.  While he was doing this, Vickery asked the audience to give the man a round of applause for his good work.  "I do sound," he said.  "It's not his fault."

You hear that same mix of sweetness and savvy in Spondee's music.  Their bouncy beat, clean guitar jangle, warm New Wave synth, friendly lyrics and irresistible melodies and harmonies always guaranteed a good time whenever I saw them previously.  I don't know if their absence had just made my heart grow fonder, but they seemed to have gotten even better since they've been away.  Considering the new material that they played, which maintained their tuneful standard yet rocked hard enough to make their Built to Spill cover not sound out of place, that may well have been the case.  It's good to have them back.  And kudos to the new guitarist, whose sharp fills and soloing added a little extra spice to the band's sugar.

By the time that headliners The Very Most took the stage, the show had taken on an intimate, familial feel.  I looked around and saw a lot of parents, grandparents and young kids in the audience.  The Very Most's super-catchy indie-pop-rock suited this crowd perfectly: it sounded sweet and light enough to make it appropriate for children but was tough enough rhythmically and lyrically to keep Mom and Dad engaged.  Leader Jeremy Jensen's gentle, boyish tenor belied his slightly gruff appearance.  Holly Wallace provided some pleasant harmonies.  Lindsey Lloyd got off some good vibraphone solos.  Elijah Jensen's guitar, Jake Hite's drums and especially Brion Rushton's bass reminded me of all those Beatles and Motown songs that my parents played me when I was a kid.  Another local band I'll need to watch out for.

Going back to families, I have to share the most heart-warming moment of the entire concert.  After a few songs, the Very Most's throats started to get a little dry.  Jeremy Jensen asked if someone in the audience could bring them some water.  A few seconds passed, and then a little girl that Jensen identified as his youngest daughter walked up to the stage and handed him a cup.  Awwww.

You can find info about all these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online (Myspace,, etc).

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Manimalhouse @ Grainey's Basement (4/27/12)

This post is gonna be a little short because it's only about one (really awesome) band.  Some more substantial posts will be coming soon!

It's hard out here for an unemployed, music-crazy blogger.  Lately, I've been trying to drum up support for a worthy local band, working on a couple of different posts and, oh yeah, looking for a job that'll help finance my show-going and writing and that won't make me want to smash my head against a wall.  Last night, I decided to take a break and just wander around downtown for a bit.  I was not prepared in any way for what I found when I stepped inside Tom Grainey's and went down into the basement bar.

It can no longer be ignored: I am calling for a full-scale investigation into the astonishing rise in funkiness in the Pacific Northwest.  The eight-person band Manimalhouse said that they were from Portland, OR, but they sounded like they could've hailed from Memphis or Augusta.  They served up some slick, tight, hot buttered soul and funk with a dash of disco and a side order of cool jazz.  Petite, sexy Reyna Mallare belted out the songs in a gritty, sultry voice that evoked both Etta James and Donna Summer.  Nattily dressed Brody Lowe backed her up on vocals and moved to the beat with some sly, restrained, James Brown-derived footwork.  Bassist Jeff Tummond, saxophonist Reid Neuman, trombonist Jon Ramm, guitarist Dan Lee and keyboardist Dave Dernovsek each got off at least one mind-blowing solo apiece.  Last but most definitely not least, drummer Mark Blanding provided the backbone for the group, pounding out the rhythms with spot-on precision and unflagging energy.

The concrete bunker that serves as the concert space for Grainey's Basement was simultaneously too small for Manimalhouse's massive sound and just the right size: stepping inside, it felt like I'd wandered into the Chicago/ Southern juke joint of my dreams.  The band blasted through one song after the next with unmistakable enthusiasm, and the steadily growing crowd responded in kind by dancing their asses off.  The setlist was a combination of playful, rock-solid original material and inspired covers--En Vogue/ Salt N Pepa's "Whatta Man" and TLC's "Waterfalls" sounded right at home next to "I Can't Stand the Rain."

You can find more info about Manimalhouse on Facebook and elsewhere online.  And for those of you in the Boise area, I should mention that they're playing again at Grainey's Basement tonight.  Trust me: you won't regret it if you go see them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Hands Black Feet, Stargaze Unlimited and Fountains @ Neurolux (4/25/12)

Heavy winds tossing around sand and litter.  Grey clouds that made good on their threat of rain around 6:30.  Not exactly my ideal spring weather, but appropriately dramatic for a Red Hands Black Feet show.

I was stoked to see how this gig would turn out.  The band has headlined a couple of shows before, but they've been on a roll since they finished recording their first album (which they say will hopefully be out sometime this summer).  They'd also played three of their songs live on Radio Boise earlier in the day, so I was curious to see what kind of crowd would turn up.

When I got down to the Neurolux, I saw some of the usual wastrels and idlers, a handful of folks that I recognized from other RHBF shows and a decent number of unfamiliar faces.  The place was far from jam-packed, but it still held a pretty respectable crowd for a Wednesday.

First up this night was Fountains, a guitar-synth-drums trio from Caldwell, ID.  They're a young band (their Facebook page says that they formed last spring), and from what I heard, they're off to a good start.  Between Mason Johnson's skipping, cascading guitar riffs, Brandon Mills' chirping, squeaking synth parts and Matt Stone's lightning-fast drum fills, their catchy instrumental tunes split the difference between Gary Numan and the music from the old 8-bit Nintendo games.  Their playing sounded a little stiff at times and didn't quite seem to mesh on some subliminal level, but I think that just means that they need to play some more live shows.  Once they really get into their groove, they'll be darn impressive.  They're already 75-80% of the way there.

Next up was Stargaze Unlimited, another instrumental trio from Caldwell.  This band formed even more recently than Fountains did (they played their first gig last October), but their groove is already stronger.  They go for a heavier, grungier sound with their music--I heard a little Pixies, a little Built to Spill, maybe a little Melvins.  Kurtis Beckwith's trebly, surf-tinged guitar rode atop Travis Gamble's stolid, twangy bass and Richard Metzger's solid, Sabbath-style drumming.  They may have  sounded kinda loose at times, but as with Fountains, that should clear up with some more gigs.  Regardless of that, their alt-rock molasses went down just fine.

After Stargaze Unlimited came the headliners.  I chatted with some of RHBF's members before the show.  They griped a little about being tired, being slightly injured or having to work later that night.  Once they took the stage, though, none of that seemed to matter.

It did my heart good to see people move right up to the front of the stage once RHBF started to play and some more move closer as their set progressed.  I sat a few feet back and watched with a friend who hadn't seen them before.  She told me how lovely their clean guitar tones were, which I'd already noticed, and how they sounded "kinda jam-bandy," which I hadn't quite put my finger on before.  She had a point: I've noticed in their more recent shows how each member has tried something a little different each time out.  This night, for instance, Jake Myers slipped a sharp little solo into one song, and Jessica Johnson's extra fills throughout showed off the increasing fluidity of her drumming.  Regardless of who does what in a given show, though, these four musicians are all growing confident enough in themselves and their material to experiment and still slam it home.  It's very exciting to watch and to hear.

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook.  And when RHBF do release their album, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The One: The Life and Music of James Brown by RJ Smith (2012)

I remember reading an essay by my favorite music critic Robert Christgau quite a few years ago.  He described a poll that he and his fellow critics had taken.  They were asked one question: who did they consider the greatest musician of the Rock and Roll era?  Nearly every single person gave the same answer: James Brown.

If you want to better understand how all those guys could reach that decision, I strongly recommend reading RJ Smith's magnificent new book, The One: The Life and Music of James Brown.  In just under 400 pages, Smith delineates the many tribulations of Brown's life and makes clear that without him, a huge portion of popular music as we conceive it today would not exist.  Superbly paced and focused yet brimming with vivid analyses, incidents and characters, this is the biography that this titan of American music deserves.

James Brown's musical career began in the chitlin circuit in the 1950's.  It took off with the evolution of soul in the 1960's and helped give birth to funk, fusion jazz and disco in the 1970's and hip-hop in the 1980's (and that only covers American music; Smith notes briefly in a later chapter Brown's influence on reggae and the music and culture of numerous African and South American countries).  Brown attributed much of his success to his discovery and embrace of "The One," a concept which had historical and even mystical significance for him.  In purely musical terms, it means emphasizing the first and third beats or "upbeat" in a measure rather than the second and fourth beat or "downbeat."  He describes it this way in his 2005 autobiography I Feel Good:

The "One" is derived from the Earth itself, the soil, the pine trees of my youth.  And most important, it's on the upbeat--ONE two THREE four, not the downbeat, one TWO three FOUR--that most blues are written in.  Hey, I know what I'm talking about!  I was born to the downbeat, and I can tell you without question there is no pride in it.  The upbeat is rich.  The downbeat is poor.  Stepping up proud only happens on the aggressive "One," not the passive Two, and never on lowdownbeat.  In the end, it's not about music--it's about life.  (p. 72)

Starting with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," James Brown made the One the rock upon which he built his music.  It gave almost everything that he recorded from 1965 on its relentless, hard-driving beat.  It became the eye of his hurricane of bass, guitar, keyboards, horns, shouts, screams, raps, chants and, most of all, drums.

Smith seems to take a cue from his subject, turning loose a tremendous amount of information and centering it all around the one and only Hardest Working Man in Show Business.  He takes the reader to northwest Siberia in the 1890's and describes a persuasive archetypal precedent for Brown's cape act (i.e. the part of the show where Brown collapses and a guy rushes over, covers him with a cape and starts to lead him off-stage only to have Brown toss it off and stagger back to the mic).  In the book's introduction, Smith links the power of Brown's funky drumming to the largest slave rebellion in the eighteenth century.  Of course, these passages would seem like mere flights of fancy without Smith's detailed depictions of the people who helped make Star Time possible.  This group includes not just musicians like prototypical hype man Bobby Bird, dynamic-duo drummers Jabo Stark and Clyde Stubblefield and freewheeling bassist Bootsy Collins but obscure figures like Brown's boyhood idols, 30's boxer Beau Jack and preacher/huckster Sweet Daddy Grace.

While Smith eloquently describes the progression and power of his music, he doesn't shy away from the less savory aspects of Brown's life and character.  He shows that the same drives and instincts that fueled Brown's audacious, groundbreaking recordings and stellar live show also led him to run his band like a tyrant, brutalize his women, fight or shoot people at the slightest provocation, develop an addiction to PCP that went unchecked until his death and support such less-than-charitable political figures as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Strom Thurmond.  However, without excusing or apologizing for anything, Smith also enables us to see how Brown's drives and instincts stemmed from growing up dirt poor in a volatile, violent, segregated society.

Probably knowing that a dry, scholarly tone would go against the spirit of James Brown's music, Smith writes in a conversational, sharp-witted style that belies the prodigious amount of work that went into the researching and crafting of The One.  He makes it look so easy, so effortless.  In this too, Smith seems to take a cue from the man himself.

The One is available now in hardcover.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Finn Riggins, Pontiak and Red Hands Black Feet @ the Linen Building (4/20/12)

Here was a no-brainer.  Possibly my two favorite local bands playing on one bill?  Of course I'm gonna go check that out!

You couldn't have asked for a better day to go see a live show (or do anything else that involved getting out of the house)--clear skies, weather warm enough to make you break a sweat but not enough to get oppressive.  I spent a few hours before the show walking around downtown, taking pictures, people-watching and rereading part of Michael Azerrad's superb 80's indie-rock study Our Band Could Be Your Life (seemed appropriate).  Finn Riggins say it best in one of their songs: "Thank God it's Springtime."

First up for the night was Red Hands Black Feet.  Their performance didn't reach the Valhalla-storming level of intensity that their Treefort set did, but that's just as well: if they tried for that every time out, they'd probably give themselves heart attacks.  Anyway, the mellow, casual feel of their set this night both established the party-like tone of the show as a whole and gave them a chance to display their ever-growing assurance and rapport.  Jake Myers and Eric Larson added some nice little flourishes to their guitar lines and stretched out occasionally into some Thurston Moore/ Lee Ranaldo noise.  Joseph Myers' basslines sounded more impermeable than ever.  Jessica Nicole Johnson tempered the primal force of her drumming with an impressive grace and finesse.

Next up was Pontiak, an alt-rock power trio from Virginia.  I must confess to a small chuckle as I watched them go through their soundcheck.  These guys looked so much like each other, it was downright trippy: they had the same slim build, the same pale complexion, the same thin brown hair with the same bald spot and beards with varying lengths but the same polite scruffiness (they are all brothers, actually).  Once they started to play, though, any cheap cracks about Southern inbreeding were washed right out of my mind.

Listening to Pontiak's music was like wandering around in a classic-rock radio DJ's subconscious: hard-driving drone flowed into Black Sabbath sludge flowed into funk flowed into Zeppelin-esque stomp and on and on.  It was hard at times to tell where one song ended and the next began, which was probably the point.  Amazingly, Pontiak's shifts in tempo, groove and riffage never felt forced, which was a testament to their skill as musicians.  As were their simple, solid melodies and elegantly rough guitar solos.

This was Pontiak's first show in Boise, they announced at the start.  They certainly made a good first impression.  Hopefully, they'll come around these parts again.

Headliner Finn Riggins closed out the show with a playful, sometimes flat-out goofy set that included an early song I don't think I've heard before (good stuff--sounded just like the Minutemen) and a jokey birthday tribute to a friend in the audience (punchline: "Stephanie came out of a vagina.").  Their playing was relaxed but not sloppy: drummer Cameron Bouiss stayed firmly on point, Eric Gilbert sang and tinkled his synths in evident good spirits and Lisa Simpson tossed off her usual killer riffs, vocals and distortion-drenched vamps.  It was almost like they were just hanging out and jamming in your living room, only without the cops breaking down your door because of the noise complaints.

So, there you have it: one darn good discovery and two great local bands doing their thing.  Not a bad way to start the weekend.

(Sidenote: Manning the Linen Building's soundboard this night was Clint Vickery, the leader of the utterly charming local indie-pop band Spondee.  They're playing at the Flying M coffee-garage out in Nampa on 4/28.  Go see 'em if you can: as far as I know, this'll be their first gig in at least two years.  Cover's only $5, show starts at 8 pm.)

You can find info about all of these groups on Facebook.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Like A Rocket and Eternal Fair @ Tom Grainey's (4/19/12)

Unemployment doesn't really bother me too much (aside from that whole lack of income thing), but it does wreak havoc on one's procrastination.  I mean, how can you put something off when there's nothing else to do?

Such was my dilemma as I sat up at my place last night.  I asked myself, "Is there nothing to distract me from writing this review of RJ Smith's The One: The Life and Music of James Brown?"  Luckily, I checked Facebook for the 20th time in the past two hours and found my deliverance: a free show at Tom Grainey's starting at 10 pm.

Playing on the main stage of Grainey's was Like A Rocket, a Boise-based roots-rock power trio.  I like to think that James Brown wouldn't be too bothered by my setting aside a book about him to see this band.  Considering Max Klymenko's rapid-fire, funky drumming and Z.V. House's fluid, propulsive bass, it was almost like I'd never left it.  Meanwhile, Speedy Gray could've almost been Drive-By Trucker Mike Cooley's brother with his slim frame, shaggy black hair, pleasant sprechgesang croon and undulant, stinging guitar solos.  They played a combination of strong original material and fantastic covers (Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," Wanda Jackson's "Let's Have a Party," an "I Fought the Law" that struck a nice balance between Bobby Fuller and the Clash).  I gather that Like A Rocket will be playing Thursdays at Grainey's for a while.  I may well go see them again sometime soon.

Playing downstairs in Grainey's Basement was a group at once heavier and lighter than Like A Rocket: Seattle-based power trio Eternal Fair.  While drummer Daniel Nash, bassist Chris Jones and lead singer/ guitarist Andrew Vait's tenor harmonies reminded me a little of Crosby, Stills and Nash, their roiling, muscular "neo-psychedelic" rock called to mind Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies.  These guys have some serious chops, but they don't take themselves too seriously: in addition to playing a couple of pretty good Jeff Buckley covers and jamming out on what they said was a Stevie Wonder song ("Too High," I think), they busted out a cover of Toto's "Africa."

You can find more info about these two bands on Facebook and hear their music on there, Myspace or Bandcamp.  Oh, and I will finish my post on RJ Smith's book soon.  I promise.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lacuna Coil and Otherwise @ the Knitting Factory (4/14/12)

Lacuna Coil
photo by Katja Kuhl

If you were to look at my music collection, I'd imagine that one of the more eyebrow-raising sections would be my five CD's by Italian rock band Lacuna Coil.  I don't count myself a member of what is affectionately known around Idaho as the "Metal Mulisha"; aside from this group, the only metal or metal-affiliated bands that I actively enjoy are Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead.  "What is it about them?" you may well ask.  Are they as iconic and as undeniable as those other three bands are?  Well, no, I wouldn't go so far as to say that, and I doubt that they would either.  Nonetheless, thanks to the way that they blend European, metallic hard rock with an unpandering pop accessibility, this group has won me over.

Exemplifying this blend first and foremost is Christina Scabbia, whose clear, beautiful voice breaks through and soars above the music's tumult like a dark angel.  I suspect that, for most of the group's fans, her singing provides their main point of entry into the music (that's true of me, at the very least).  She wouldn't be nearly as effective, though, without the counterpoint of Andrea Ferro, her vocal partner.  Ferro's rough yet approachable singing can shift from croon to howl wherever it's appropriate.  Paired together, the two singers fuse the heavenly with the earthy with the infernal.

Scabbia and Ferro's singing suits their words perfectly.  Because English is clearly their second language, some of Lacuna Coil's lyrics can be a little hard to understand at first.  That's rather appropriate, though, because confusion is their great subject.  In their songs, intimations of spiritual (lapsed Catholic, I'd guess--they're Italian, after all) temptations and dissatisfactions fuel depictions of dysfunctional relationships and anthems to defiance and perseverance.  Enthusiast of old-school American gospel and soul music that I am, this dynamic strikes a very familiar and welcome chord with me.

Last but not least, there's the music itself.  Marco Coti-Zelati's bass and Criz's drums infuse the typical heavy metal battering-ram rhythms with a lithe, body-friendly groove that has only grown more pronounced since their 2002 U.S. breakthough album Comalies.  Meanwhile, Cristiano Migliore and Maus' guitars emphasize droning, hypnotic, bone-sawing riffs over preening solo noodling (the few solos that they do essay take care of business and don't overstay their welcome).  When you add up these various elements and top them off with some comforting synthesizers, you get a rousing, solidly tuneful, metal-identified band that can plausibly cover Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" and R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."

Very fond memories of their 2009 concert here persuaded me to go see them again at the Knitting Factory last Saturday.  "Metal Gods" by Judas Priest played as I entered the venue.  As I looked around, I observed that, aside from a few 30/40/50-somethings sprinkled around, much of the audience looked to be in their mid-20's or younger.  Not a bad sign, I thought: if the show goes well, the crowd's youthful energy could help knock it up a few more notches.

Opening for Lacuna Coil was Otherwise, a five-man group from Las Vegas.  They got the show off to a fine start with some melodic, midtempo, radio-ready hard rock that kicked ass even on the power ballad that kissed off an ex-girlfriend.  Friendly and energetic, Adrian Patrick crooned, belted and growled like a born frontman.  The rest of the band backed him up with monolithic bass, fluid drumming and grinding guitar riffs.  Their closer, "Soldiers," had the audience clapping to the beat before the drummer started urging them to do so.  Patrick dropped down into the pit in front of the stage to sing with the crowd.  The sound of the sing-along chorus filled the entire venue.

Otherwise would've been worth the price of admission by themselves.  Lacuna Coil--who, as they mentioned a couple of times, are marking their 15-year anniversary with this tour--was even better.  They blazed through new and old material like a well-oiled machine.  Scabbia and Ferro traded vocals and almost never stopped moving to the beat and working the crowd.  The band's matching gothic-medical outfits and the moments where all the members (except the drummer, who had to keep the train moving) lined up in a row at the front of the stage made a clear point: this is not just a singers-and-backup organization but a unit, a family.

Mid-concert, Coti-Zelati and Criz got to take a breather while their bandmates played a five-song acoustic set.  Instead of being boring or self-important, this part of the show had a similar effect that Nirvana's Unplugged album did: it exposed the solid craftsmanship, spiritual yearning and emotional power at the heart of the group's songs.

By the time that they played their encore ("My Spirit," which they dedicated to their departed friend and inspiration, Peter Steele of Type O Negative), the show had almost taken on the feel of a religious experience.  At the end, the band's six members lined up, bowed together and waved goodbye for now.  As the audience headed for the exits, I saw a couple of younger folks staggering away from the pit.  They looked dazed, delighted.  I smiled to myself and nodded.  "Yeah," I thought, "that's about right."

You can find more info about Otherwise and Lacuna Coil and hear samples of their music on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Treefort Top 10

It's been about two weeks since Treefort (funny, it feels longer than that, somehow).  I've spent a good deal of time re-listening to the music of the different groups I saw.  Upon repeated plays, some bands/musicians stood out from among the 33 acts that I caught.  That's where this list comes from.  I was gonna go all in on the Nick Hornby/High Fidelity nerd bit and do a Top 5, but that proved far too constricting.  Similarly, I decided to exclude Boise groups because their inclusion would muscle out some worthy non-locals.  I might devote a post to my favorite local groups later.

Anyway, for your reading and musical enjoyment, here are my ten favorite Treefort groups.

10)  Tartufi

Whether it's Youth Lagoon or amelodic screamo metal, a certain regressive strain seems to run through a lot of recent indie music.  The music of these various groups evokes an inchoate, almost childlike state that overpowers whatever meaning their lyrics may have (if any at all).  You could possibly reach back and find the roots of this in Whitman's barbaric yawp or the English Romantics' idealization of emotion and childhood.  If you wanna get socio-cultural with it, maybe it's the product of people like me who were Reagan-era (or Bush Sr.-era) babies and are wrestling with some memory of that mirage of "Morning In America" (yearning for it, decrying it or doing some mixture of both).

In any case, Tartufi would seem to fall squarely within this trend.  What makes them distinctive for me is how they bring together the opposite ends of the spectrum.  While the New Age atmospherics and filtered, androgynous vocals call to mind singer/guitarist Lynne Angel's namesake, the brute force of their rhythms and riffs honors the Black Sabbath that they played before their Treefort set.  In the end, they hit me in much the same way that pre-Document R.E.M. does: their music is so effective, it suggests rational meanings that may or may not be there.  It's good stuff, though personally, I've always preferred post-Document R.E.M. (i.e. music that kicks ass and takes names).

9)  Pickwick

In a way, Pickwick reminds me of a group that I really liked, the Darkness: they tweak the nose of their chosen musical tradition, but they emulate that tradition so well that they could play it totally straight if they wanted to.  While the Darkness favored 70's/80's hard rock and hair metal, Pickwick taps the much richer vein of 60's/70's R&B and soul.  Singer Galen Disston's ironic-yet-ecstatic soulfulness is the stuff that Mick Jagger's dreams are made of, and the musicianship suggests a cooler, more streamlined Swampers.  Their lyrics about grisly murders and channeling the dead both draw upon soul music's blues and gospel roots and slap them in the face.  I found all of this irresistible for the first dozen or so listens to their EP Myths.  After that, though, it started to feel a little cold and mean.  Maybe they could do like their man Lou Reed (or the Darkness, for that matter) and mix a little heart in with their brains.  If they could pull off a "Sweet Jane," a "Rock and Roll" or a "Coney Island Baby" (and the energy and good humor of their live show suggest that they could), I could go all the way with this group.

8)  Tennis

Tennis' oldies-music sources run a bit more vanilla-flavored than Pickwick's do--I hear some folk-rock, some British Invasion pop, some Beach Boys, some Phil Spector.  Sometimes, the sweetness of their sound and the occasional awkward phrase and rhyme on their album Young and Old get on my nerves.  Something always sets me straight, though--the way the music can shift suddenly and suggest the Pixies or Sonic Youth, for instance, or the big stick that seems to lurk behind the softness of Alaina Moore's singing.  As for those awkward phrases and rhymes, they lend a journal-poetry intimacy to the lyrics' intimations of dysfunctional relationships and of young women learning to stand up and speak out.

7)  K Flay

It doesn't seem right, in a way, to place K Flay so low on this list.  As I wrote in my post for Treefort Day 2, her socially conscious raps satisfy the part of me that loves the Clash and Public Enemy, and that's a VERY big part of me.  Maybe it's that, after a few plays of her EP's K. Flay and Eyes Shut, the detailed despair and anxiety of her lyrics, the fearsomeness of her flow and rhymes and the harsh catchiness of her hooks and samples strike me as less Clash and more Gang of Four (i.e. powerful and incisive but sorta low on warmth and charity).  Don't get me wrong, I love Gang of Four.  Not as much as I love the Clash, though.

6)  Koko and the Sweetmeats

Husband Garett van der Crimp plays loud guitar and sings, wife Laura van der Crimp plays primal drums.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking--like the White Stripes.  And yeah, Koko and the Sweetmeats do kinda sound like them. They're lighter on their feet than the White Stripes tend to be, though, and more sophisticated lyrically.  My favorite song of theirs, "My Brain Came From a Factory" (off their most recent release, Sacrifice) lays bare industrialized society and its discontents with a rough-hewn eloquence worthy of the Minutemen:

My brain came from a factory
Along with the rest of my anatomy
Built to last some seventy odd years
Built to live and die in fear

Thanks to the lyrics and touches like the gutbucket sax that spices up "Factory" and a good chunk of their other songs, Koko and the Sweetmeats feel less like pure formalists and more like the real postmodern folk blues.  "Are we moving forward?/ Are we breaking ground?" they ask in another song.  Yeah, I'd say that they are.

5)  Cheyenne Marie Mize

Cheyenne Marie Mize's blues/jazz/country-infused songs pull off a neat trick: they're arty, catchy and commonplace all at the same time.  Lucinda Williams, one of my favorite artists, does something similar in some of her more recent work (Essence, West).  While Mize's plainspoken lyrics aren't quite as sharp as Williams' plainspoken lyrics can be, they connect anyway thanks to her clear, strong vocal delivery, which retains plenty of guile and bite even on her slow songs.  Rock and Roll animal that I am, though, what really get me going are Mize's fast songs: the all-percussion "Wishing Well," the strutting rocker "Keep It," the gospel-piano rave-up "Going Under" (all of which, incidentally, are on her download/vinyl-only EP, We Don't Need)  Taken as a whole, she shows more promise that almost any other act that I saw at Treefort.

4)  The Soft White Sixties

I half-thought for a while about moving these guys down to the Honorable Mention category below because I already knew about them before Treefort.  In the end, though, I said screw that--they're two for two on the live shows I've seen, and their recorded music effectively captures their high energy and good-times vibe.  The Soft White Sixties may not break a lot of new ground on the MC5 psychedelic hard rock/soul template, but hey, who says you gotta reinvent the wheel every time out?  The tough, hooky songs on their self-titled EP honor their influences rather than just imitate them, which is accomplishment enough.  It's worth noting too that, unlike the MC5, they can actually pull off a slow, soulful ballad.

3)  Janka Nabay

If I based this list solely on live performances, Janka Nabay would be #1.  No other set that I saw at Treefort matched Nabay's for excitement, joyfulness and warmth (the Soft White Sixties came in second).  While I'm a little disappointed that a lot of the stuff that he sang live isn't on the CD that I bought at his show (it's all stuff he recorded before moving to the U.S.), it should hold me over just fine until Nabay and his Brooklyn-based band release their new album in June.

After reading a little about Janka Nabay and his history, I'm even more amazed and grateful that he actually played at Neurolux, the modest hipster bar that I frequent.  In his homeland of Sierra Leone, this man single-handedly led a revival of bubu, the country's indigenous music.  He played sold-out stadium concerts there, and his recordings blasted out everywhere from big cities to tiny villages.  The decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone forced Nabay to flee to America, where he had to start over at the very bottom.  Eventually, he managed to build some connections and got together with the musicians who play with him now.

"I will play this music to my last breath," Nabay said in a 2010 Village Voice article.  That passion and dedication come through loud and clear in both his live show and his recordings even though I don't know what he's saying most of the time.  The rapid polyrhythms, the elements of jazz and hip-hop and the spirited call-and-response vocals of his Treefort set bespoke celebration, outreach and community (they retain a good amount of their power on his most recent EP, An Letah, which you can hear on Spotify or download cheaply at Amazon).  I'm also encouraged by the English-language song "Good Governance" from his Sierra Leone recordings, in which Nabay speaks out in favor of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and women's education.

2)  Lost Lander

Man shall not live by the Clash alone.  I like to have some softer, mellower stuff around when the right mood strikes me.  Unless it's something like Miles Davis' In a Silent Way or Sketches of Spain, though, that part of my music collection typically falls into my guilty pleasure section (Donovan's Greatest Hits?  Really?).

Some elements of Lost Lander's music--the cute little celtic/oriental-sounding riff on one song, the bogus British accent that leader Matt Sheehy affects here and there--would seem to mark their album DRRT for that very section.  However, if their live performance hadn't clued me in already, listening closely would've made me realize that this group isn't as soft and mellow as they may seem.  In fact, they manage to satisfy both the part of me that likes Donovan and the part of me that loves the Clash.

For starters, there's Matt Sheehy's singing.  Although that fake accent makes me wince a little, I don't hear much of the self-involved swoon that afflicts so many moony, folky types.  He doesn't sound like he wants you to feel his mood; he sounds like he wants you to PAY ATTENTION.  Likewise, the album's production doesn't wrap the voices and instruments in gauze but polishes them to a fine shine.  The opener "Cold Feet," for example, compliments Sheehy's lyrics about turning the world off for a while with some blaring synthesizer and some punch-you-in-the-ear-and-sternum drums.  Finally, Sheehy's suggestive, imagistic lyrics are more akin to R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" or Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels On a Gravel Road" than they are to "There Is a Mountain."  Thanks to these strengthening agents, the songs' lovely melodies feel restorative rather than narcotic, their cute touches funny and rousing rather than simpering.  Here's hoping that Lost Lander can maintain their edge, because DRRT has earned a spot in my Grade-A section right next to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter.

1)  Snake Rattle Rattle Snake

Some voices just do it for you.  For some people, it may be David Bowie's.  For others, it may be Christina Aguilera's.  For me, it's Al Green's.  And Aretha Franklin's.  And John Doe's.  And, now that I've listened several times to Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's Sineater, Hayley Helmerick's.

This doesn't mean that Helmerick sounds like any of the people I just named.  Her contained, low-pitched singing places her more in the company of Nico, Kim Gordon and Shirley Manson.  Unlike those three, though, I don't really hear much ice-queen in Helmerick's delivery.  It's more like she wants to tell you a secret, but you need to come closer to hear it.  She might open her heart to you, or she might knife you in the stomach.

Helmerick's lyrics match her singing.  Lines and images stick in your mind, suggest explanations and stories that seem tantalizingly close yet never fully reveal themselves.  The words are made flesh by Snake Rattle Rattle Snake's music, which manages to be at once ominous and entrancing.  To my ears, SRRS's songs are like Bauhaus without the archness or Joy Division without the suicidal despair.  Not only will I take them over groups like Interpol and She Wants Revenge (a group that I actually like quite a bit, incidentally), I might even take them over Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Honorable Mention

The Shivas
Wild Ones
Dude York
Mr. Gnome
Dinosaur Feathers
Hot Bodies in Motion
Buffalo Death Beam

You can find information about all of these groups and hear their music on Facebook, Spotify and their various websites.  I highly recommend doing so.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan (1965)

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jams!

--Walt Whitman

Ah, Bob Dylan--the most celebrated, questioned, analyzed, criticized, influential popular songwriter of the late twentieth century.  What more could I possibly add to the millions (if not billions) of words written and spoken about the man?  Nothing, probably.  But hey, it's my blog and I'll write what I want.  So there.

If you look at it a certain way, Highway 61 Revisited could seem like an awfully depressing album.  All of its songs involve confusion, alienation, dislocation, social chaos and humiliation.  As anybody with at least one functioning ear can tell, though, there's a big difference between this album and, say, Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures.

That's partly because the songs' themes have their flipside in the album's overall spirit of exploration and discovery.  Bob Dylan was only 24 when he recorded and released Highway.  He'd already penned plenty of great songs, of course, but he was really firing on all cylinders on this album--there's the zany title track; the dissipated "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues;" the two-guitar, eleven-minute opus "Desolation Row;" and the opener, "Like a Rolling Stone," which would've proved revolutionary as a single on length alone.  Those are just my personal favorites.  Throughout the whole album, you get the sense of an artist reaching constantly and delighting in how much he can grasp.

The musicianship shows a similar advance.  While the backing is solid on the electric side of his previous album, Bringing It All Back Home, it really takes off on Highway.  There's a heedless, chaotic excitement to the playing, with Mike Bloomfield's guitar and Dylan's crude piano leading the charge and Al Kooper's organ heralding the approach.  It doesn't really generate much of a groove (not when compared to, say, the Rolling Stones, let alone James Brown).  Instead, it holds together while sounding as if it might fall apart at any second.  I find that punk-like tension energizing every time I listen to this album.

Highway's exuberance and tumult reflects not only Bob Dylan's artistic growth, I think, but his reaction to how the times they were a changin'.  Anybody reading this most likely knows already how tumultuous a time the 1960's were in America's history--the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the ascendance of Rock and Roll, assassinations, the Vietnam war, feminism's second wave, etc.  The uncertainty and exhilaration of those times seems to seep into Highway.  When you add that to the sense of Dylan feeling his oats, it makes sense that this album would resonate so strongly with me when I was eighteen and scared but eager to get out into the world.

Songs on the album:

"Like a Rolling Stone"--Possibly my favorite Dylan song.  A hoity-toity rich girl gets shoved out of her castle and into the big, ugly, boisterous, scary, exciting real world.  I love the way Alan Kooper's organ floats in the air over the jumble of the other instruments while Mike Bloomfield's guitar darts in here and there.  The album starts off with a bang.

"Tombstone Blues"--Mike Bloomfield's high-voltage guitar fills power a surreal, cartoonish portrait of 60's America.  There's still a certain relevance to the image of Jack the Ripper sitting on the Chamber of Commerce, I think.  I've even developed a certain fondness for those ever-so-slightly-off-beat drums; they just add to the excitement now.

"It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry"--A simple, quietly ominous song that I've always really liked.  The acoustic guitar, piano, bass and drums lay down a blues shuffle while Dylan sings spare, elliptical lyrics that stand out in effective contrast to those of the preceding two songs.

"Like a Buick 6"--After the relative calm of "Train," it's back into the firestorm.  A ramshackle rocker with acid-fried blues lyrics.  I've listened to this album for twelve years, gone through four years of literary study and poured over page upon page of rock criticism, and I still have no idea what "She walks like Bo Diddley and she don't need no crutch" means or looks like.  Incidentally, a line from this song inspired the name of this blog.

"Ballad of a Thin Man"--I had my light-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment with Bob Dylan when, at sixteen or seventeen, I heard this song on the car radio.  Beforehand, I'd thought that he was so-so--I liked "All Along the Watchtower" and Nashville Skyline but hadn't really warmed to Blonde On Blonde (part of me never has, but that's for another post).  When I heard this song, I said to myself, "Wow!  This guy's amazing!"  In fairly short order, I joined the ranks of the Dylanologists (my membership's still active, but I don't go to nearly as many meetings as I used to).

You could consider "Thin Man" a kind of companion piece to "Rolling Stone."  This time, a well-schooled guy finds himself in a carnivalesque series of situations that go far beyond the scope of his narrow education and experience.  Dylan's stomping, dirge-like piano and Al Kooper's ghostly organ guide the confused Mr. Jones on his journey through this netherworld.  I remember reading an interpretation of this song as the story of someone slowly recognizing his latent homosexuality.  Considering the sword-swallower who borrows the protagonist's throat and the one-eyed midget screaming for milk, that doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility.  It's certainly not the craziest interpretation of a Dylan song that I've read (trust me: there are some real doozies).

"Queen Jane Approximately"--This warm, mellow, jangly folk-rock number provides the listener some respite after the first five tracks.  You could think of this song as "Rolling Stone" down the road apiece--the singer's telling the girl that she can look him up on her way down.

"Highway 61 Revisited"--It's worth noting that, back in the 60's, U.S. Highway 61 (a.k.a. the "Blues Highway") ran though Bob Dylan's birthplace of Duluth, Minnesota and down into such famed musical hotbeds as Memphis and New Orleans.  Indeed, he writes a bit about that in his autobiography Chronicles:

Highway 61, the main thoroughfare of the country blues, begins about where I came from... Duluth to be exact.  I always felt like I'd started on it, always been on it and could go anywhere from it, even down into the deep Delta country.  It was the same road, full of the same contradictions, the same one-horse towns, the same spiritual ancestors.  The Mississippi river, the bloodstream of the blues, also starts up from my neck of the woods.  I was never too far away from any of it.  It was my place in the universe, always felt like it was in my blood.  (p.240-1)

From God and Abraham to ground zero for World War III, you can find it all on Dylan's Highway 61.  It's appropriate that this track features the most locked-in playing on the album: the galloping rhythm into which Dylan and his band settle makes it feel as if we're speeding down the road and looking at all this stuff through the windows as it zips by.  "Highway" makes me think of what Eddie Muller wrote about Sam Fuller's movies: "The world is a madhouse, but goddamn it's a thrilling ride."

"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"--After zooming down the highway, we head south of the border for a little hell-raising.  The band downshifts into a nice, steady groove so we can take in the street-corner girls, the dealers, the crooked officials and the fresh-meat tourists.  This track's disoriented, drugged-out vibe points toward Dylan's next album Blonde On Blonde.

"Desolation Row"--About a year or so before I started listening to Highway 61 Revisited, I picked up the book Meditation In Action by Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa.  In the book's second chapter, Trungpa writes about the "manure of experience" out of which enlightenment can grow.  That's pretty much what Desolation Row is for Bob Dylan: a rubbish heap from which we can observe and meditate upon the self-destructive absurdity of Western civilization.  It ain't glamorous or comforting, but it's where you can go for the truth.  If you look at it that way, "Desolation Row" becomes emblematic of the album as a whole.  The perfect closer.

Bob Dylan: A man way ahead of his time

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Godcrotch, Death Songs and Point Juncture, WA @ the VAC (3/31/12)

Out of all the venues in the Boise area, the Visual Arts Collective out in Garden City perplexes me most.  They've set up some fantastic shows over the past couple of years, but hardly anybody besides me attended some of them.

Take last Saturday's show, for instance--three solid bands (well, more like two bands and one really good joke) and only a $5 cover.  How many people showed up?  About twenty, a chunk of whom didn't stay for the whole show.  I don't know.  Maybe everybody was burnt out from Treefort.  Maybe nobody wanted to take the trek out to Garden City.  The latter would be understandable, admittedly.  For those readers who may not have had the pleasure of going out there, you can simulate the experience in your own home.  First, start playing the banjo-and-guitar theme from Deliverance.  After that, play a recording of a police siren at the same time.  Finally, just sprinkle a bit of your controlled substance of choice around.  Methamphetamines and ultra-cheap beer are always popular choices.

Anyway, main point: I really dig the place.  I hope that it and the folks who get booked there get a little more love.

First up on Saturday night was Godcrotch a.k.a. local musician/stand-up comedian/Boise Weekly "New Media Czar" Josh Gross.  You haven't lived until you've heard him bust out some 70's/80's hard rock on his amplified ukulele--Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" is an audience favorite, and I'm pretty sure I heard him do "Anarchy in the U.K." once.  This night, he started off with Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love," and he followed that up with original material just as funny.  In all seriousness, though, the guy's a damn good musician (click here to see a clip of him playing drums in the excellent local band the North End Snugglers, now sadly on hiatus while their guitar player does a stint with the National Guard).  In addition to his ukulele, Gross employed electric guitar, drum synthesizers (which seemed to have some issues), loops, a second guitar player and my buddy Keesha Renna on harmony vocals, tamborine and maraca.

After Godcrotch came Death Songs a.k.a. Nicholas Delffs from the apparently defunct Portland, OR band the Shaky Hands.  I didn't get to see him play at Treefort, so I was glad to catch him here.
"I usually have a band with me," Delffs said at one point in his set.  "This is kinda weird."  From what I heard, he did fine all by himself.  The word "timeless" gets thrown around a lot, but Death Songs' music genuinely invites that description.  Armed with a kick drum, a keyboard, a guitar, a good sense of rhythm, a spooky falsetto and a honey drawl laced with a hint of nasality, Delffs played steady-rolling art-songs that, at times, seemed possessed by the ghost of Skip James.  According to the Treefort website, Delffs has relocated from Portland to Boise.  Hopefully, this means that I'll get to see Death Songs again soon.

Last up for the night was Point Juncture, WA, a five-person band that actually hails from Portland.  After seeing this group and bands like Pickwick and Hot Bodies in Motion, I have to wonder: when did the Pacific Northwest get so darn funky?  Amanda Springs' cool, breathy singing reminded me a little of Kim Gordon (but with better pipes and pitch), but she drummed so on-the-one that she could've auditioned for Curtis Mayfield.  Add on some driving bass, some jazzy vibraphone and trumpet, some moody keyboards and some Sonic Youth guitar mayhem, and you've got a band playing at the VAC that made me wonder yet again: "Why are there so few people here to see/hear this!?"

You can find info on Death Songs and Point Juncture, WA on Facebook and on the website listed.  And for the love of God, people: if you're in the Boise area, stop by the VAC sometime.

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.