4:40 pm: Main Stage
Back on the scene after not much sleep. Stayed up until 6 am going over my notes and culling the most halfway decent photos from yesterday. I knock back a large coffee from the Flying M. I imagine that there'll be more of those as the festival progresses.
I see some ominous gray clouds off to the north. A few snowflakes fall. I sigh. Well, hopefully, the weather'll clear up later on and not get too cold. But screw it; I'm ready for anything. Have thermal underwear, will travel.
4:45 pm, Main Stage: Deep Sea Diver
First up on Treefort Day 2 is Deep Sea Diver, a four-person band from Seattle. In these troubling and uncertain times, one must find comfort and hope wherever one can. Me, I take heart in the Pacific Northwest's apparent embracing of R&B, funk and soul, particularly with regards to rhythm sections. This group's pulsating bass and hard-swinging drums make me think a little of the Funk Brothers, which adds a nice twist to their winsome tunes, tender synth, grungy guitar and strong, slightly androgynous vocals. The crowd builds during the set and gets some nodding and bobbing going. A good start to the day.
5:50 pm, Main Stage: Pickwick
Speaking of embracing R&B, etc., next up are blue-eyed-soul dynamos Pickwick, who killed it both at the last Treefort and at Neurolux back in June. The snow picks up while they're soundchecking, but when the music kicks in, it's hot enough to make it melt. The set emphasizes gospel-fueled stomps and rave-ups, which is just the thing to get the crowd moving. The ladies scream as Galen Disston's astonishingly soulful voice booms out of the speakers. The rest of the band hits it just as hard: I can feel the kick drum in my chest. I'm a little disappointed when Disston says f*ck it at the start of "The Round" and the band plays another number instead (hey, I still like that song). However, I can't complain when I see everyone freaking out to one of the most obscure songs in the Lou Reed canon.
7:00 pm, Tom Grainey's: Aaron Mark Brown
I feel like heading to a warmer clime after Pickwick wraps up, so I walk over to Tom Grainey's to catch the set by Nampa singer-songwriter Aaron Mark Brown. His performance at Neurolux last August had impressed me greatly, and I'm curious to see how I feel another time around.
It takes about two numbers for me to conclude that I was right: this guy really does have some serious talent. His warm, friendly voice makes both his absurd, goofy, profound lyrics and his pop/ragtime/folk/country/rock tunes feel as homey as your grandma's slippers. His band, which includes Nathan Walker from Mickey the Jump and Nampa's Flying M, is on it too. Their Skynyrd-esque guitars, slippery basslines, lean drumming and charming harmonies add just the right shadings and colors. The dance floor fills up as the set goes on, and the people give the music the dancing and applause it deserves. I hope I get to hear more from Brown later in the year.
While I'm watching this, Jenny Bowler's over at Neurolux checking out Seattle psychedelic group Kithkin.
8:00 pm, The Crux: Hey V Kay
After Aaron Mark Brown finishes, I'm off to the Crux to see one of my favorite new(ish) Boise acts.
It makes me happy to see so many people here to see Hey V Kay. They get plenty to hear.
She goes on to her other songs--"Can Be Wrong," "Pause," "The Kite"--and does equally well with them all. Owen Havey backs her up throughout with some jolting keyboard here and some elegant, stinging guitar there. A new song matches the older material for melodiousness and tops them for rhythmic intricacy (dig the lyrics too: "Middle-class sweetheart,/ you never try too hard..."). Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" becomes the latest pop hit that Karen Havey remakes in her own image (she needs to do an all-cover album). The crowd applauds wildly, and rightly so. An outstanding performance.
8:50 pm, Main Stage: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Quasi's set to play at the El Korah next, but as I'm walking over, I can hear Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings playing on the main stage. It sounds so good that I just have to stop by for a little bit.
When I get there, the scene's like something straight out of those James Brown concerts I've watched and dreamed about. The band's playing slick and tight and on the one, and the crowd's pressed in close and grooving out. Sharon Jones shimmies across the stage and lets rip with her hot, muscular voice. She invites a guy from the audience up onstage and dances with him. "If you can take the cold," she tells the people, "I can take the cold!" Surprisingly, though, it doesn't feel that cold right now. All the body heat probably helps.
It's REALLY hard to pull myself away from this, but I want to hear Janet Weiss demolish her drum kit again. I leave after about twenty minutes.
(Sidenote: somebody will tell me later that Sharon Jones does James Brown's cape routine. Sigh. Just not fair.)
9:13 pm, El Korah Shrine: Quasi
A brief reminiscence:
I was/am a huge fan of drummer Janet Weiss's old band, Sleater-Kinney. I own all of their albums and treasure the memory of seeing them live in Ventura back when I was a senior in college. Somewhere along the line, I started fantasizing about S-K covering Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?". Between Corin Tucker's massive voice, Carrie Brownstein's slashing guitar and Weiss's surging beat and gorgeous harmonies, I thought that they could nail that one but good.
Guess which song Quasi's playing when I get to the El Korah.
Sam Coomes isn't Corin Tucker, but his high, plain voice does right by that New Wave chestnut and by his tuneful, sharply worded originals. He pounds the notes out of his keyboard and carves out some bluesy riffs and glorious slabs of noise on his raw, fuzzed-out guitar. Meanwhile, Janet Weiss shows that, except for Charlie Watts, she may well be the greatest rock drummer alive today. I can't think of anyone who beats the skins as hard as she does and with such swift, almost jazzy fluidity at the same time. Even before their atonal, playfully brutal breakdown finale, the music is so loud and powerful that it makes my teeth ache (it probably doesn't help that I stand directly in front of the speakers for most of the set).
10:00 pm, The Red Room: Andy D
I stagger away from the El Korah after Quasi's set and head down to the Red Room. I'm eager to catch Bloomington, IN joke-rapper Andy D's set. I enjoyed his sets at last year's Evil Wine Carnival but didn't write about them (I was suffering from some burn-out problems at the time).
He's already started his set when I arrive. I get there just in time to hear my favorite of his songs, "Angels on the Dancefloor." A small excerpt of the lyrics:
I like my movies like I like my women:
short, low-budget and independent.
I like my films like I like my ladies:
funny, action-packed and made in the Eighties.
He's got plenty more lines as clever and funny as these. He delivers them in a slyly cloddish flow over bouncy beats as knowingly cheesy as his outfit (cut-off blue jean vest, African print pants). The set includes such irresistible party anthems as "Angels" and "Hey Tina! (Pick Up the Phone)" as well as a selection of songs from his latest release Warcries, a concept album about travelling to a post-apocalyptic future and teaching humans how to dance and defeat their robot overlords. Throughout, his wife Victoria D's pretty coo supplies the hooks on the choruses. Smart, shameless, pure fun.
I don't know how I resist buying one of these.
10:36 pm, The Crux: Gentleman Surfer
Andy D's set wraps up a bit early, so I go back to the Crux to make sure I get a good spot for Red Hands Black Feet's set. I get there in time to catch some of the set by Gentleman Surfer, a five-piece outfit from Davis, CA. What I hear sounds pretty good: agreeably snide vocals over a jerky, humorous mix of metallic riffs and robotic funk. Like Devo on steroids and bath salts. At one point, the band thanks the crowd for skipping Built to Spill to see them.
11:00 pm, The Crux: Red Hands Black Feet
You know a band is beloved when even their soundcheck gets a roar of applause. This happens while Eric Larson's checking his guitar. It gets a priceless WTF? look from Jessica Johnson.
Anyway, the massive crowd doesn't stop there. They cheer for intros. They cheer for climaxes. They cheer for tempo shifts. They cheer for Eric Larson's condolences that they couldn't get into Built to Spill or Typhoon. It seems like they only stop cheering to headbang, dump heaps of praise on the band ("JAKE, YOU'RE MY BOY!") and scream, "SINK THE BISMARCK!!!"
Not that I can fault them for any of this--I don't know how many times I've said that this is one of Idaho's best bands, and this set finds them in roiling, graceful, pulverizing form. It also finds them in a period of transition: their heretofore go-to set-capper, "Sink the Bismarck," comes in the middle and serves as a bridge between their old songs and their new ones. Their latest creation features some interesting shifts between time signatures and sounds like a victory march through a barren wasteland. It seems to say, "We can go anywhere and do anything we damn well please." In this context, even the rough edges of the band's performance feel invigorating. They show that these four are still growing, still learning.
While I'm getting my face melted off here, Jenny Bowler's over at Neurolux waiting for one of her favorite bands, Typhoon (their set apparently starts late).
I don't even like this band, and I gotta admit: these are some cool pictures.
12:10 am, China Blue (Main Room): Natasha Kmeto
As I was planning out my Treefort schedule, I found myself saying something that I never thought I would: "Hey, this act at China Blue sounds interesting. Think I'll go there." This Portland-based DJ--who, quoth the Treefort site, draws "on rich musical backgrounds in jazz, r&b, dance and hip-hop"--is one of said acts. I'm split at first between her and the Thermals over at the Linen Building, but in the end, I figure that I already get enough indie-rock in my diet.
The main dance floor is packed with bodies when I enter. Natasha Kmeto mans a laptop and a beat maker on the stage. Her sultry, curvy voice coos lines like "Come on, baby boy, take me home tonight" while her waves of slinky beats and shimmering synth hooks lick my ears. The music isn't all softness, however: amp it up a little more and you could almost have industrial. Robust, sensual bliss.
12:45 am, China Blue (Electro Lounge): qp
I could use a cold shower or three after Natasha Kmeto's set, but I press on and check out qp, the joint project of Boise DJ Peter Schott and Seattle DJ James Stevens. This music goes for a more cerebral feel than Kmeto's: its jittery polyrhythms, quirky old-school noises and gradual tempo shifts make you pay close attention if you want to stay on the beat. Less accessible but still pretty enjoyable. I buy a Maker's Mark (it's expensive, but when's the next time I'll be back here?) and watch the dancers for a bit.
Here it is. Recorded for posterity.
I wander back into the main room and listen to a bit of Los Angeles DJ Baths' set. His wall of sound features some neat little whirrs, crackles and pops, but it doesn't interest me as much as the previous two acts. I have another Maker's Mark, take a few minutes to tally all the people here whom I never thought I'd see in China Blue (Eric Larson, Eric Gilbert, Stephanie Coyle, Sam and Catherine Merrick, Thomas Newby, Ben Kirby...) and head out.
1:45 am, The Crux: Boy Eats Drum Machine
My second day of Treefort ends at the Crux, where I catch the tail end of Boy Eats Drum Machine's set. Now this is a bit more my speed: Portland DJ Jon Ragel deploys turntables, saxophone, drums, samples and video projections in the service of quirky, catchy songs not tracks. A crapload of people are still here and getting down. If I weren't so friggin' tired, I might even join them.
You can find info on these acts on Facebook and elsewhere online. Very special thanks to Jenny Bowler for the use of her photos. To contact her and see more of her work, go to www.facebook.com/jennybowlerdesigns or jennybowler.com.