Saturday, March 30, 2013

Treefort 2013 Day 2 (3/22/13)

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.

I'm not entirely certain, but the recorded tracks on their opener, "Never Mine," seem faster and more forceful here than they do on Gut Wrenching.  I also think I hear some new little beats (they could've always been there, though: even after several listens to my CD, I still find things that I hadn't noticed before).  Anyway, one thing I'm sure of: Karen Havey's voice has never sounded stronger or more confident.

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 or

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Treefort 2013 Day 1 (3/21/13)

5:23 pm: El Korah Shrine

It's already been a busy day for me.  I spent three hours at Radio Boise co-hosting Mothers Ruin with a.k.a. Belle's Catherine Merrick (a.k.a. my favorite singer in Idaho).  Even before Catherine had told me that Sage Francis would be stopping by for an interview, I'd been nervous.  I'd had nightmares of sounding like this on the air.  Happily, aside from mistaking B. Dolan for Brother Ali, I don't think I made any major screw-ups.  Plus, I got to play some Lou Reed, Al Green and Joe Strummer.

photo by Jenny Bowler
The exceptionally talented local photographer Jenny Bowler stopped by for a little bit to pick up a photo pass from me, eavesdrop on the Sage Francis interview and take a few pictures.  I look like crap in the pictures, but Jenny's skills can only do so much.  Catherine fares much better, but you'd expect that.

photo by Jenny Bowler
At least Jenny caught my good side here.

photo by Jenny Bowler

I gotta say: Jenny does pretty well on both sides of the camera.

Anyway, I feel great afterwards.  I stroll around downtown for a bit and get some coffee from the Flying M (I'd only gotten about five hours of sleep the night before).  In the midst of my elation, I realize, "Oh yeah, I need to write about Treefort now!" and head over to the El Korah Shrine.

I see folks wandering around with TV cameras inside the ballroom.  Lisa Simpson is over by the merch table while Eric Gilbert is talking with some dudes to the side of the stage.  I think back to the challenge that I'd set for myself at Treefort last year.  I'd resolved to see every set that I possibly could and write about it all in this dinky blog I'd set up a couple of weeks prior.  Who woulda thought...

I stop by the media area before the music begins and help myself to some free Pie Hole pizza.  I chuckle as I hear a couple of people singing the praises of the downstairs Ladies' Room.  I'd been let in on the secret myself just last week.  (If any of y'all haven't seen it, stop by sometime.  It's really something.)

6:00 pm, El Korah Shrine: Finn Riggins

A brief reminiscence:

Two Finn Riggins performances served as light-on-the-road-to-Damascus moments for me with regards to the Boise music scene.  The first of these was at the VaC.  I'd seen them once before at Neurolux (I think) and thought that they were okay, but as I heard them tear into that badass instrumental rave-up that they always do, it hit me: these guys are REALLY good.

The second performance was their opening slot for Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis at the Knitting Factory.  As they were doing their thing, I glanced off to stage left and saw Jenny Lewis watching.  Her posture and the look on her face seemed to say, "Wow, these guys are good."  That got me thinking: if a band like this is gigging around Boise now, what else could be out there?

So even if their keyboard player hadn't spearheaded the whole damn thing, I'd have thought it fitting that this band plays Treefort's kickoff set.  They sound in fine mettle here.  Lisa Simpson's voice soars while her guitar glides, scratches and roars.  Eric Gilbert's keyboards groan, burp, blare, ripple and ring.  Cameron Bouiss's swift, sure drum-work lays down the foundation and hammers the music home.  Their new song sounds as tough, surging and lovely as "Arrow" and the inexhaustible "Benchwarmers."  The "Thank God it's Springtime" line in "Hraka" sounds a bit ironic, considering the weather (it's supposed to drop into the 20's later tonight), but I appreciate the sentiment nonetheless.

The crowd builds as the set progresses.  The people sway, bounce, cheer.  Some balloons materialize, and the crowd bops and pops them.  Some playful Tyler Walker montages of fuzzed-out film footage and flashing lines and shapes play on the screens over the stage (I laugh when I see Torgo appear once again).  The set closes on this most fitting image:

7:00 pm, El Korah Shrine: Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band

Next up is Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, a four-piece band from Seattle (I learn later that they actually have five members, but Traci Eggleston-Verdoes apparently couldn't make it for this gig).  Anyway, this group keeps the ball rolling after Finn Riggins' set.  Eerie synth drones, glittering guitar and high, faint vocals combine with sinuous basslines, howling distortion and lean, propulsive drumming.  Their songs fuse elements of blues, folk and country with angular indie-rock.  Creepy yet beguiling.

8:00 pm, Pengilly's Saloon: Kris Doty

After Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band finishes, I walk over to Pengilly's to check out Kris Doty's set.  I remember hearing the name--she lived here in Boise for quite a while--but I can't recall ever seeing her before.  Now seems like as good a time as any.  Better than most, actually.

The bar isn't packed when I get there, but the crowd's decent enough for a Friday or Saturday night.  At least I'm able to find a spot close to the stage with no trouble.

For some reason, I'd gotten it into my head that Kris Doty would play some oh-so-delicate, Joanna Newsom-type stuff.  It doesn't take her long to relieve me of that misconception.  If she had a drummer to go with her stinging riffs, somber tunes, aching vocals and tough-minded lyrics, she wouldn't sound too dissimilar to my beloved Sleater-Kinney.  Jenny Logan plays Carrie Brownstein to Doty's Corin Tucker, supporting her with some sly, understated basslines and sly, understated harmonies.  She takes the lead on a couple of her own numbers with no drop-off in either tunefulness or tough-mindedness.  After they're done, I find myself hoping that these two won't become strangers to Boise.

While I'm over here, Jenny Bowler's down at the Linen Building checking out Hollow Wood.

9:00 pm, Linen Building: Terrible Buttons

Part of me's tempted to hang around Pengilly's and catch Eternal Fair's set, but I'd resolved to see sets in as many venues as possible.  I walk over to the Linen Building to see Terrible Buttons, a Spokane group whose description on Treefort's webpage had intrigued me.  A band who sings about "topics ranging from the evils of marriage to loneliness and the absence of God" and who "challenge the bounds of today's often-tired folk paradigm"?  Sounds like just the thing for a guy who's listened to Townes Van Zandt and watched The Proposition much more than is probably good for his mental health.

As it turns out, Terrible Buttons sounds less like Nick Cave and more like Hollow Wood if they'd developed a sudden obsession with Tom Waits.  Their vocals lay on the corn syrup a little thick, but their smooth groove and airily massive sound (fiery guitar, trotting basslines, jazzy trumpet and keyboard, intricate beats) more than compensate.  So does their self-deprecating banter and hellzapoppin' stage act (screaming into the electric guitar, bluesy belting, etc.).  And besides, I can't dislike a band who closes their set with a sing-along entitled "Weed and Whiskey."  Whose lyrics are as follows:

Oh, I was raised on weed and whiskey.
The THC and bourbon set me free.
And if I die before I'm fifty,
It'll be weed and whisky buried me.

The crowd sings along good and loud on that one.

9:43 pm: The Red Room

A couple of punk acts I'm curious about are scheduled to play the Red Room soon, so I head there next.  The crowd, while certainly not bad, is a bit thinner than I expect.  I imagine that more of the hipster-ish set are checking out the mega-heavy lineup at Neurolux (Brett Netson and Snakes, Wolvserpent, etc.).  I hope that, at the very least, they're not just staying home.

10:00 pm, The Red Room: Stickers

When I get a look at the lead singer's stringy brown hair and bushy armpits, I think, "Hey, this lady kinda looks like Patti Smith."  Then, when I hear her swooping moan, I think, "Hey, she kinda sounds like Patti Smith."  Her ear-wrenching saxophone parts sound more like Fun House, however, and her bandmates' searing drones and pounding, relentless drums sound more like Joy Division on meth.  The songs start to blur together a little about three fourths of the way into their set, but other than that, their hook-laden atonality goes down just fine with me.

"Is anybody being brutalized by Troy [the guitar player]?" the lead singer asks.
"I hope so," the drummer says.

11:00 pm, The Red Room: Digital Leather

I think about wandering around some more after Stickers finish, but enough people had recommended Digital Leather to me that I decide to stay and check them out.  The crowd presses in close and grooves out to this Omaha trio's Ramones-ish mix of buzzsaw guitar, hard-charging rhythms, smartly blunt lyrics and rough, catchy tunes.

I glance to my right during the set and see a slim, striking blonde sitting on the side of the stage.  Her cool, bored demeanor shoots right to the part of me that ate up all those Hitchcock movies when I was a teenager.    "Is she in White Lung?" I wonder.  I imagine that I'll find out soon enough.

"I think we got one more!" the lead singer shouts.  I check the clock on my phone and laugh.  They've only played fifteen minutes.  Very Ramones, that.

While I'm watching this set, The Last Bison are playing back over at the Linen Building.

11:42 pm, Neurolux: Earth

A benefit of Digital Leather playing such a brief set: it gives me time to sate my curiosity about the crowd at Neurolux before White Lung plays.

As I imagined, the place is hipster central.  I arrive as Earth is in the middle of that one song where they drone on at the pace of a snail for two weeks.  Don't get me wrong, I love droning much as the next guy (probably more).  I'm just not in the mood for droning this slow right now.  Anyway, since I can now say that I've seen the band led by the guy who bought the gun that Kurt Cobain used to kill himself, I consider my hipster cred replenished.

12:00 am, The Red Room: White Lung

I get back to the Red Room not long before White Lung's set.  I see the blonde take the stage and step up to the mic.  Sure enough, it's Mish Way, the lead singer.

A friend introduced me to this group a few months ago.  I listened to their stuff on Bandcamp and thought, "Whoa, this is intense."  Turns out they're even more so live.  Grady MacIntosh's bass and Anne Marie Vassilou's drums hit the eardrums like artillery fire.  Sonic napalm shoots from Kenny McCorkell's guitar.  The crowd goes berserk, careening into each other and colliding with the stage (at one point, I get knocked off the chair I'm standing on to take pictures).  In the eye of the hurricane stands Mish Way.  She grips the mic and howls out the lyrics, a cold fury in her gorgeous blue eyes.  It isn't all noise and brute force, however: once my ears have adjusted to the barrage, I note the discernible tunes and hooks and the well-oiled rhythms.  Similarly, Way thaws a bit as the set progresses; she calmly strolls up to the edge of the stage to get closer to the crowd (she just as calmly steps back when they crash forward like a wave), and she even cracks a smile when she thanks everybody for coming.  Easily the high point of my night so far.

12:49 am, The Reef: Sage Francis

Since White Lung shows mercy on the crowd and ends their set after a mere twenty-five minutes, I head over to 6th and Main to see if I can catch Sage Francis's set.  There's a line of folks outside, but I flash my press pass at the security guys and they wave me in.  Good to be the press.

When I get inside, Sage Francis is going strong.  Detailed, incisive, ear- and mind-bending rhymes flow out of him like a torrent.  He's got the capacity crowd eating out of the palm of his hand: they dance, jump, chant along, wave their hands in the air.  Francis almost loses them when he dedicates one song to all the Boston sports teams (didn't know Boise had so many Beantown haters), but he gets them right back when he dedicates it to the ladies too.  Of the many jokes that he cracks, my personal favorite might be his explanation of why he won't do the breakdancing routine he did at the Venue back in 2007: "I've gained a lot of... experience... in the past few years.  I'm more well-rounded..."  Other highlights of the set include a couple of intricate, infectious numbers with B. Dolan (never again will I mistake him for Brother Ali), a shout-out to oddball Boise rapper Curtis Plum (check out his stuff; it's good), a big f*ck-you to Vibe magazine (they published an article recently on the greatest beards in hip-hop, and Francis's magnificent facial growth didn't even make the list) and his keep-ya-head-up finale "The Best of Times."  All in all, a damn fine finish to my first night of Treefort.

You can find info on these artists of Facebook and elsewhere online.  Very special thanks to Jenny Bowler for the use of her photos.  To contact her or see more of her work, go to or