1:10 pm: Main Stage
I'm hurting a little today. Got only four and a half hours of sleep, drank more last night than I'd planned (ate way more snacks too--free brownies, cookies, donuts, cupcakes...). Got a long day ahead of me: the music's already started (I get downtown too late to catch the acts at the Red Room), and it goes on til 2 am.
One word throbs in my brain: COFFEE. I don't have time for it right now, though. Sun Blood Stories is set to play the main stage in five minutes.
Damn. Who needs coffee when you got this? Sun Blood Stories rocks the big outdoor stage just as hard as they've been rocking cramped, crowded venues around town for the past few months. Not only that, they do so without sacrificing any of the intimacy of those smaller gigs. Ben Kirby's smoky drawl and growl slithers down the crowd's ears while his wah-wah slide guitar breathes fire. Brett Hawkins's drum hits boom out like cannon shots. Andy Rayborn's basslines coil and weave. He can't play sax among the people as has been his wont, but his honking, shrieking solos get them screaming all the same. Last but not least, Amber Pollard belts out her backup vocals and beats her drum and tambourine like they owe her money. At one point, she closes her eyes and shakes as if she's possessed. The audience seems to feel the spirit too: they dance, cheer like mad and clap to the beat with no encouragement. One of the best Treefort sets I've seen so far (aside from some roadie's rude attempts to cut the band off).
2:05 pm, Alefort: Jan Summerhays
I feel like cooling down a little after Sun Blood Stories, so I head to the Alefort tent next to check out Jan Summerhays's set.
I've been taken with this lady's music since I first heard it back in January. I've listened to her album Ten Hundred Thousand on Bandcamp and dropped her name to James Coberly Smith and anyone else who might be interested in her work. Her murmured vocals, sprightly guitar, folk-tinged melodies and thoughtful lyrics all sound as beautiful as I remember. Unfortunately, it's hard to hear them over the din of people drinking and talking obliviously. The boom-boom-boom of the 4onthefloor playing on the main stage doesn't help matters. Summerhays strums on valiantly, though, and a handful of folks listen and applaud warmly.
That makes me smile, and I guess I could think of this whole situation as a great metaphor for how the "still, sad music of humanity" gets drowned out by the hubbub of everyday life or something. Still, I can't shake the feeling that this really kinda sucks. Oh well. At least Summerhays can say that she was part of Treefort this year. And at least I get to talk with her, give her a business card and get a download code for her album afterwards.
3:00 pm, The Crux: Hallowed Oak
My brain starts screaming for coffee again after Jan Summerhays's set. As luck would have it, my next stop is the Crux. Gotta love killing two birds with one stone.
The set by Fort Collins, CO band Hallowed Oak aids the coffee in perking me up. The good-natured rowdiness of their rough vocals, buzzing and chiming guitars, swinging bass and drums and calm trumpet calls to mind Crazy Horse or JamesPlaneWreck. The smart, plainspoken lyrics are most welcome as well. Five folks who like a good tune and a good time. Can't go wrong with that.
3:46 pm, The Red Room: Sleepy Seeds
After Hallowed Oak finishes their set, I decide to see if I can catch a little of Sleepy Seeds' set at the Red Room. The handful of songs I catch make me hope I hear more sometime. The tunes are as pretty as I expect from having heard Joey Corsentino's solo material. He and his three bandmates flesh them out with jangly riffs, fluid basslines, steady beats, pleasantly unvarnished vocals and terse, melodious soloing.
As they play, I see Z.V. House, Elijah Jensen and Doug Martsch in the crowd. That feels very appropriate, somehow.
I stick around after Sleepy Seeds wraps up and hear the first little bit of Ugly Winner's set. It sounds good, but man shall not live on surf-punk alone. I head back over to the main stage.
4:30 pm, Main Stage: Radiation City
The weather's still pretty cold, but the music's as warm and sunny as you could want. The Portland-based group Radiation City serve up ethereal harmonies, chiming guitars, sinuous basslines, misty keyboards and deft, angular drum-work. The songs draw just enough from 50's and 60's pop to give their lean, lithe dreaminess some reference points. As beguiling as Tennis. More, actually, since they don't have that band's nagging self-consciousness.
5:45 pm, Main Stage: El Ten Eleven
Before El Ten Eleven kicks off their set, bassist/guitarist Kristian Dunn gloats about being the only band to not comment on the weather. He eats his words soon enough: after finishing one number, he says, "Goddamn, that was hard to play with cold fingers."
It's worth the effort, though. The architecture of El Ten Eleven's songs is a marvel to hear and behold. Through some amazingly skillful looping, they stack layer upon layer of beats, riffs, licks and noises on top of each other. The nimbleness of Kristian Dunn's bass-playing calls to mind John Entwistle or Les Claypool, and Tim Fogarty's drum work is unfailingly propulsive and incredibly controlled and precise. It takes a lot of talent and discipline to put these songs together, but the music feels so light-hearted, so effortless, so inevitable. Definitely a high point of the festival so far.
At one point, Fogarty taps on the strings of the bass while Dunn frets. Like they need to further show how good they are.
7:00 pm, Neurolux: Grandparents
I feel like venturing out again after El Ten Eleven finishes, so I head over to Neurolux to watch the set by Portland band Grandparents. Musically, they sound terrific: their strong beat, airy synthesizer, rubbery basslines and whooshing, buzzing guitar get much closer to the spirit of their 60's influences than most of their indie-surf/garage brethren do. It helps that said influences feel less like an end in themselves and more like a means of expressing their youthful exuberance and camaraderie (i.e. less message, more medium). All that holds them back are those all-too-familiar crinkled, reedy indie-surf/garage vocals. I've heard it so often that I have to wonder: how the hell did this mannerism become so prevalent? Because I've listened to all that 60's stuff and NO ONE SINGS LIKE THAT.
Anyway, Jenny Bowler will show me photos and video of YACHT's main stage performance later on. I'll kick myself quite hard for not seeing that instead.
9:00 pm, The Red Room: JamesPlaneWreck
I take about an hour off from the music to refuel. I get a burger and fries from the Boise Fry Company truck and some kind of pastry with bacon in it back at the El Korah media area. The perks of being a bastard child of the Fourth Estate.
Anyway, after eating, I head down to the Red Room to see JamesPlaneWreck. The place isn't jam-packed (the Walkmen are playing the main stage right now), but the crowd's sizable enough to justify the band turning the knob all the way to eleven. Aaron Smith's charmingly gruff voice sounds in ripping form. His and Shane Brown's thunderous guitars and Shaun Shireman's bullet-train bass slam as one. Andrew Bagley, who already has to be on the short list for best drummer in Idaho, outdoes himself here: his lightning-fast work makes me think of Keith Moon but with far greater discipline.
The audience gives the music some appropriately loud applause. The folks working the merch table tell me they had no idea that a band like this is in Boise right now. That makes me smile.
10:05 pm, Grainey's Basement: Cloud/Splitter
I'm in the mood for something a touch mellower after JamesPlaneWreck, so I decide to check out local electronica act Cloud/Splitter down at Grainey's Basement.
Two belly dancers perform as the music plays. One whirls around gracefully while twirling a series of veils while the other has slinkier, more serpentine moves. Both make the crowd go wild. Both make it very difficult for me to concentrate on my note-taking.
While I'm watching this, Jenny Bowler's watching Brother Dan over at the Crux.
11:00 pm, China Blue: Magic Sword
A few hours ago back at the El Korah, I'd been informed that the Mallard had needed to cancel their Treefort set due to van troubles. That disappoints me quite a bit: theirs was one of the sets I was most looking forward to. On the other hand, that cancellation frees me up to check out the enigmatic local electronica act Magic Sword.
The trick of this duo's music lies not in any grand ornamentation but in simple perfection--catchy, well-crafted songs-not-tracks over forthright mid-tempo beats that even the most rhythm-deprived geek could dance to. An elaborate light and laser show and some charming Tyler Walker montages of cheesy fantasy films simply enhance this set's badass-movie-soundtrack feel. The dance floor bubbles with activity throughout. When the set ends, the crowd boils over with applause and chants, "MAGIC SWORD! MAGIC SWORD!"
A musician I chat with in the middle of the set gives me a very persuasive hypothesis about the true identities of the men behind the fencing masks. However, since I'm apparently something of a mystery around town myself (a few people have told me that they read this blog but had no idea who I was), I resolve that their secret shall remain safe with me. Besides, the guy could've been wrong.
11:50 pm, Sammy's: Treehouse of Horrors
Since I'm in the neighborhood, I swing by Sammy's after Magic Sword finishes and check out a little bit of their Treehouse of Horrors show. Local punk band Skittish Itz is hitting it hard when I arrive--fiery dual-guitar action, chugging bass, full-throttle drums. I talk with a couple friends and take a couple pictures.
I've heard talk about this show being an "anti-Treefort," but I try not to take that crap seriously. I try to focus more on the wonderful fact that Boise has so much good music right now that a respectable chunk of it didn't get into this year's festival.
I've also heard talk of squabbling between the two camps. If it's true, I hope that that garbage gets quashed quick. Bullsh*t factionalism can hurt a music scene almost as bad as rising rents.
(Fun Fact: Eric Gilbert received a Facebook invite to Treehouse of Horrors. I know this because I got one too. I don't know if he really went--he's a little busy this weekend--but I did see his name in the "Going" section. That little gesture goes a long way towards explaining why I like the man.)
12:15 am, Linen Building: French Horn Rebellion
I'm not quite sure what to check out next after I depart from Treehouse of Horrors. I flip through my Treefort trail guide and see that Little Ruckus should be coming up at the Linen Building. I've never heard of them before, but I get intrigued when I see that they hail from Ames, Iowa. I saw another group from Ames last year at the Red Room. Those guys were memorable, to say the least. I decide to see what else that region has to offer.
Things are running late, however, so French Horn Rebellion is still playing when I get there. What I catch suits me just fine--irresistibly cheesy 80's pop-tunes and lyrics, light tenor vocals, bouncy beats, dexterous synth squiggles. The crowd claps to the beat, cheers their heads off and dances their butts off. My camera isn't quite good enough to get a decent picture of the guy who gets up and dances on the speaker. Anyway, I resolve to get myself some glow-in-the-dark outfits like these guys one of these days.
12:50 am: The Red Room
A big part of me wants to just stay at the Linen Building til the end of the night. However, everybody and their grandmother has been telling me not to miss Wooden Indian Burial Ground, so I head over to the Red Room.
There's a line stretching out onto the sidewalk when I get there. My press pass gets me inside. Good to be the press.
1:00 am, The Red Room: Wooden Indian Burial Ground
You could maybe liken it to a Six Flags roller-coaster. If you're in it with a bunch of friends and getting spun and hurled around at 85 mph, it's thrilling. If you're outside looking at the blueprints and studying the careful calculation of it all, it's much less so.
I find myself in the latter position during this set. I imagine that if I were here sh*t-faced with my buddies, I might be more inclined to just switch off my brain and let this group's bang-bang-bang riff-riff-riff bark-bark-bark run me over. Standing off to the side of the stage and observing, however, the cold manipulation at the heart of this music becomes all too apparent. This is basically a more frenzied version of the studiously content-free 60's formalism that links Teens, Gayze, the Shivas and God only knows how many other groups. I can't deny that the ear-shredding guitar and relentlessly pounding drums have a certain brute, hypnotic effectiveness. I can feel it like an itch in the back of my brain for the entire set. Still, I like my sound and fury to signify more.
I will say, though, that it's fascinating to see what this stuff does to the rest of the crowd. Or what it gives them an excuse to do.
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.