Thursday, April 4, 2013

Treefort 2013 Day 4 (3/24/13)

1:10: The Crux

In the home stretch.  Survived three full days of Treefort without too much wear and tear on my mental and physical health.  Got a fair amount of sleep (being completely exhausted helped with that).  Still, I'm grateful that my Day 4 starts at a place where I can get coffee.

There aren't a lot of folks out and about yet (or they could just be over at the main stage watching Le Fleur).  Anyway, I do see Eric Gilbert, Ben Kirby, Amber Pollard and my friend Matt Wildhagen from the dearly departed Ratings Battle when I get here.

1:10 pm, The Crux: Sour Boy, Bitter Girl

Day 4 gets off to a fine start with the Fort Collins alt-country-ish act Sour Boy, Bitter Girl.  Benjamin Buttice croons smart, bracingly bitter lyrics in an impressively rich, strong baritone.  His elegant guitar jangle finds support in some propulsive bass and deft drumwork.  His backing musicians also played in AM Pleasure Assassins and Hallowed Oak.  Colorado boys look out for their own, I guess.  The only sour note of this set is a belligerent drunk who won't stop hollering at the band (though it's nice that he seems to appreciate the music).  The man starts hassling Matt after he politely asks him to calm down.  This action gets him promptly 86'd.  "That was my biggest fan," Buttice quips.

2:00 pm: Main Stage

I head over to the Main Stage after Sour Boy, Bitter Girl finishes.  I can hear Like a Rocket blasting off next door at Alefort.  Let's see the beer-drinkers talk over those guys.

2:15 pm, Main Stage: Social Studies

San Francisco band Social Studies's set hits the part of me that drooled over Snake Rattle Rattle Snake last year.  Natalia Rogovin's aching moan floats over moody, well-crafted tunes, eerie keyboard drones and sly, undulating grooves.  This would be enough, but guitarist Ben McClintock's piercing solos and some roaring distortion pour gasoline on the fire.  Interpol meets Crazy Horse or Television.  Very cool stuff.

3:20 pm, Main Stage: Bad Weather California

The mood lifts most agreeably when Bad Weather California follows Social Studies.  I remember liking this Denver group when they opened for the Meat Puppets, but that doesn't prepare me for the rowdy wit and good cheer of this set.  They may look like slackers on the outside--and, to some extent, they probably are--but scrape that layer of grunge away and you'll find hard-working tunesmiths and showmen.  Their songs slyly quote Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Iggy Pop, the Champs ("Tequlla") and probably some other guys I can't ID (one riff sounds a lot like "Sweet Jane").  Chris Adolf sings the songs in a winning, slightly Cobain-esque sneer and engages in some good call-and-response with the crowd.  He and Adam Baumeister trade ripping, Van Halen-esque solos while Joe Sampson's bass and Logan Corcoran's drums keep the bus zooming down the road.  To top this all off, the lyrics are crammed with great lines.  My personal favorites: "You're not a f*ck-up, you're my friend," and "Fallin' in love is cool."  Definitely a high point of my Treefort experience.

4:00 pm, The Crux: Grandma Kelsey

After Bad Weather California finishes, I head back to the Crux to see Grandma Kelsey.  This is gonna be her last set in town for quite a while--she's headed to Montana and then Kenya soon--and I want to give her some support.

Looks like a lot of other people had the same idea: the place is absolutely packed when I arrive.  I see Josh Gross, Louis McFarland, the Dedicated Servers, Bronwyn Leslie (Lionsweb), Blake Green, guys from First Borns and Junior Rocket Scientist.  At some point, I just start wondering who isn't here right now.

Grandma Kelsey is her usual lovable, captivating self.  Her warm, breathy, aching croon sounds in strong form, and so does her steady, rippling guitar.  She dedicates one song to "all the punks out there" and lets out the cutest yelp you've ever heard.  I almost feel like crying when she plays the song about Gregory Rawlins's son and I see all the children wandering around.  The crowd is completely silent while she plays and explodes with applause after each number.  Man, I'm gonna miss this girl.

4:45 pm, The Record Exchange: Camper Van Beethoven In-Store

I decide to swing by the Record Exchange next and see a little bit of Camper Van Beethoven's in-store performance.  I see quite a few familiar faces here as well, including Sam Merrick, Stephanie Coyle, Cameron Andreas (CAMP) and Geno Lopez (the Sneezz).  What I hear sounds good: terse, twangy guitar licks and pleasantly weathered, slightly nasal vocals deliver pretty tunes that mix some bits of folk and classical music into their indie-rock base.  I don't want to spoil my appetite, however--I plan on seeing these guys at the El Korah later--so I listen to just a couple of songs and head out.

6:00 pm, The Red Room: Minot

I take a little break from the music, chat with Jenny Bowler at the El Korah media area and plan out my schedule for the rest of the evening.  My next stop is the Red Room, where I catch the set by San Francisco post-rock outfit Minot (which features Tartufi's Ben Thorne on bass).

Now here's some music worthy of the horns.  Whirlwind, metallic riffs slug it out with rubbery bass and muscular, jagged, funky drums.  The crowd nods, grooves and roars.  Quoth one gentleman I speak with: "It's like massaging my stomach."  Lean, powerful RAWK.

Between Minot and some Dessert coffee from the Record Exchange (which is absolutely delicious, by the way), I'm good and pumped.  I imagine that I'll need this energy for my next stop.

7:00 pm, Main Stage: Youth Lagoon

Over the past couple of years, I haven't made much of a secret of my befuddled disdain for Youth Lagoon's popularity.  Indeed, depending on how much I've had to drink, I've been quite vocal about it.  Still, I resolve to see them here because it just makes less and less sense not to have really written about the hottest music group from Idaho.  I'm also curious to see how they sound on the big stage with the augmented lineup.

(DISCLAIMER: The following is entirely my opinion and NOT that of Jenny Bowler.  She likes Youth Lagoon's music, and I think she knows most of these guys personally.  If you don't like what you read, beat on me, not her.)

Honestly, if it weren't for the hype, Youth Lagoon's music probably wouldn't bug me so much.  I revisited The Year of Hibernation recently and found that it wasn't quite as toothless and bland as I'd remembered.  Listening to the chiming guitar here and the percolating beats there, I even found myself thinking in spots, "Hey, this is pretty good."  If you took out Trevor Powers's precious, malnourished vocals, I might be happy to have that album in the mellow-out section of my music library (though I still wouldn't play it nearly as much as I do Lost Lander or Sera Cahoone).

But the hype.  Oh my God, the hype.  Where does it come from?  What exactly do the people at Pitchfork etc. hear in this music?  Because, with a few exceptions, what I hear are the same solemn intros, the same solemn synth chords, the same solemn tempos, the same insufferably thin vocals and the same strangely joyless whimsy over and over and over and over.  What makes this worse is the thought that some people in this town may read these reviews and believe that this is the best or only thing happening in Boise music-wise right now.  I won't deny that Powers has his modicum of talent.  I wouldn't even put it past him to do something really good down the road (I'll note too that the weird noises and textures and the more emphatic beats on Wondrous Bughouse seem like steps in the right direction).  But this is NOT the best music to emerge from Idaho.  Not by a very considerable margin.

Anyway, the crowd's about as large as I expect when I get to the main stage.  They act about the way that I expect too: those closer to the stage nod, bob and sway.  I note, however, that the enthusiasm level tapers off significantly about ten yards back; past that, people focus much less on the music and much more on socializing.  That might be just how it goes with most big shows, but I dunno.  The applause also seems a bit tame, but that could be me as well.

In any case, my reaction's about what I expect too.  I find the music pleasant enough for one or two or even three songs, but after that, my eyelids start to sag.  While I appreciate the extra muscle of Jake Warnock's bass and Eric Rogers's drums and Logan Hyde's guitar chimes prettily, the songs still sound too faceless.  And since everything still hinges on Trevor Powers' singing, which I still find too precious etc., the whole shebang feels entirely too ingrown or withdrawn for my taste.

Still, I stay for most of the set in spite of the reverb and other sound effects giving me a slight headache.  While I'm here, Josh Gross tells me a little about the insane Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt set last night.  Dammit.  I KNEW I shoulda seen that instead...

8:00 pm, El Korah Shrine: The Hand

I leave Youth Lagoon and head over next to the El Korah, where the Hand are already in the middle their set.  I'm grateful to catch as much of it as I do: Dustin Jones's massive, twangy bass, Andy Viken's machine-gun drumming and Scott Schmaljohn's friendly shout and shrieking guitar all sound in good form.  I'm even more grateful to catch what happens next.

"Ladies and gentleman, Muhammad Ali," Schmaljohn quips as Doug Martsch steps out and plugs in his guitar.  The four men then launch into a surprise series of five songs by Treepeople, the band that Martsch and Schmaljohn were in together back in the early 90's.  Martsch and Schmaljohn take turns on lead vocals and trade scorching solos.  Meanwhile, Jones and Viken soldier manfully through the melodic, idiosyncratically constructed material, which sounds like a combination of Built to Spill and the Hand.  The crowd nods to the beat, sways and whistles.  I hear people shout stuff like, "BOISE LOVES YOU, DOUG!" and "GO SCOTTY!"

9:00 pm, El Korah Shrine: Camper Van Beethoven

Wow.  So this is how you get from Neil Young and Television to Built to Spill.

Camper Van Beethoven play next after the Hand/Treepeople's set.  I'd never really listened to these guys before, and the experience is illuminating.  Between their agreeably limited vocals, their jangling riffs, their fierce solos, their surprising folk/country patina, their oddball song construction, their resilient tunefulness and their goofy, absurd, snarky, homey lyrics, these alt/indie-rock pioneers come off as the crucial bridge between Zuma or Adventure and There's Nothing Wrong With Love.  Of course I like "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and the hardcore satire "Club Med Sucks."  My favorite song, however, might actually be one from their latest album: "Northern California Girls," a luminous, wistful evocation of home and family life.

10:00 pm, Neurolux: Emily Wells

a.k.a. Belle, one of my favorite Boise bands, is set to play Pengilly's after Camper Van Beethoven finishes.  As much as I'd like to see them, however, there's an act at Neurolux that I absolutely cannot miss.

Emily Wells stole the show when she opened for Dark Dark Dark at the VaC.  I predicted that her set would be one of the highlights of this year's Treefort.  Damn if I'm not right.  Wells's smart, sultry coo, blues/gospel-infused tunes and intricate tapestry of beats, riffs, drones and harmonies sound as audacious and irresistible as they did last October.  The capacity crowd goes wild: they dance and roar with applause for the entire set.  Indeed, when Wells stops, they cheer so loud and for so long that she gets the only encore I see in all four days of Treefort.  It gets hot as hell being shoulder to shoulder with the grooving people on the dance floor.  But, like Wells sings in her set-capping cover of Peggy Lee's "Fever," "What a lovely way to burn."

11:00 pm, The Crux: Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars

The audience isn't nearly as big when I get to the Crux (Built to Spill's doing a set at the El Korah while THEESatisfaction's up next at Neurolux).  That's a shame--a lot of people don't get to see/hear Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars pull out all the stops.

During this set, I express my frustration to a couple of people.  What, I ask rhetorically, do I have to do to convince people that this is a great band?  They have their own look, they can rock as hard as almost any group in town and if anybody's writing sharper lyrics or catchier melodies, I haven't heard them.  Their set opens with three songs I can't remember ever hearing before, all of which sound just as beautiful and fierce as their more familiar material.  Storie Grubb and Luna Michelle's vocals sound stronger and more assured than ever.  The same goes for Storie Grubb's blistering guitar and Dustin Jones and Bruce Maurey's pulverizing rhythm section.  Mathew Vorhies's accordion gets drowned out a little, unfortunately.  Still, from their first song to their inspired Violent Femmes/Bangles closer, they all but scream out for better recognition.  If there's any justice in this world, they'll get it soon.

12:00 pm, El Korah Shrine: Karaoke from Hell

When some of my friends see me down at Neurolux on karaoke night, they'll joke, "Geez, Ben--you're even writing reviews about karaoke now?"  So as a joke of sorts, I decide to do exactly that for my very last Treefort 2013 set.  Seriously, though, if any karaoke deserves a write-up, this does.

When I get to the El Korah, Grant Olsen is doing a pretty good job on Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire."  People get up after him and do a nice selection of classics--"House of the Rising Sun," "White Rabbit," "TNT," "Ziggy Stardust," like that.  The five-piece band handles them all with equal aplomb; they really can play.  The mood in the room is warm, loose, joyous.  Everything's winding down, so now's the time to just let it all hang out.

Unfortunately, Sam and Catherine Merrick leave before she can do her number.  On the other hand, I do get to see Doug Martsch get down to "Werewolves of London" and throw up the horns during Pink Floyd's "Time" (The Gunfighters' Katie Vant sings that one, incidentally, and does quite well).  I also take some good pictures of a couple of friends rocking the mic.  I think for a while about mentioning them and sticking their pictures up in my blog post, but I finally decide to show mercy and not embarrass them like that.  I do note, however, that blog posts can be edited later.

After a while, I wander with some people down to the Red Room.  The place looks pretty good, considering that Teens played the last set of the night here.  When closing time rolls around, we go our separate ways.  Before I lurch my way home, I stop by the main stage area one more time.

Coda: The Day After (3/25/13)

I start the day late, but at least I sleep off the effects of last night's booze.  I go down to the Record Exchange and buy a copy of Emily Wells's CD.  I really need to conserve money right now (I've been unemployed for two months, and the tank's running low), but I figure it's worth it.

I've got a lot of work to do.  I need to do my write-ups for the past four days, and I've got a bunch of shows coming up.  I decide to let all that sit for now, however, and wander around downtown for a while.

All the main stage stuff (tents, equipment, fences) and the food trucks are gone.  Grove Street is open again.  It's almost like the past four days were just a dream.  I do see, however, that the arrows pointing to all the different Treefort venues are still up.

I walk by 8th and Main and see the progress being made on the Boise Tower.  Looks like they're finally gonna fill in that big hole.  Didn't think that would happen.  Thought that that emptiness, that nothingness might be there for as long as I live in this town.

I think back to how I felt about Boise when I was a teenager.  I'd walk around or drive around for hours just itching to get out of here.  Back then, it felt like there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.  It felt that same way for the first couple of years that I was back here from college.

But then I started going out to more and more shows.  These people whom I'd see around all the time (these two guys who work at the Pie Hole, this girl I see at Mulligans and the Flying M) would get up and make really good music.  So when I finally get around to starting a blog, I suppose it's almost inevitable that I'd write about it.

But then people read what I write.  And then more people read it.  Almost before I know it, I'm doing these exciting things and getting to know all these wonderful people.  The whole city seems to open up and come alive all around me.

Nothing lasts forever.  Waves crest, tides ebb.  Tastes change, people change, scenes change, fortunes change.  Still, it's incredible: I've lived here off and on for over twenty years, but only now does Boise feel like home.

You can find info on the acts covered in this post on Facebook and elsewhere online.  Very special thanks one last time to Jenny Bowler for the use of her photos.  To contact her and see more of her work, go to or


  1. This coda is the best thing I have read by you. keep it up.

  2. Thanks Speedy! That means a lot. Really wanted to get that part right.