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

1 comment:

  1. Ben, good luck with your blog. This was fun to read. From your friends at When You Motor Away.