Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Treefort 2014 Day 1 (3/20/14)

5:30 pm: El Korah Shrine

A new record of sorts: it's the first day of Treefort and I'm already tired. I had a fair amount to drink at last night's History of Boise Rock Showcase and didn't get much sleep. No matter--I'm a professional. Or something like it. I'm experienced enough to know the value of a cup of coffee, anyway, which I knock back at the Flying M before heading down to the El Korah.

This Treefort, I'm writing for two blogs--Boise Weekly's and my own. The Weekly hooked me up with a press pass this year and told me to pick out a highlight from each day of the festival for a small write-up. It should leave me with plenty of material for HCTD, which has been sorely neglected these past few months.

A very friendly trio of middle-aged folk come up to me while I'm hanging out in the main hall. One of them is a lady named Rebecca, who compliments me on my big Treefort feature in this week's Weekly. I'm grateful to hear this; when I turned it in, I honestly thought that the Weekly'd never let me write for them again. She also says she's been reading my blog since Treefort 2012. I'm very grateful to hear this too, and amazed--never thought I'd hear someone tell me that when I started this deal.

6:00 pm, El Korah: Finn Riggins

This band just keeps racking up "firsts" for me. They were the first local band which I took an active interest in, and they were the subject of my first Weekly music feature. And in a way, they made my first main feature possible because, in a way, they made this festival possible (I know, there's more to it than that, but still...).

Anyway, I'm excited to see them again--it's their first set since Eric Gilbert and Lisa Simpson had their kid. They sound a little hesitant at the start, but they shake off more of the cobwebs with each number. Lisa Simpson's voice sounds as strong as ever, as does Cameron Bouiss's drumming. The sound on Eric Gilbert's keyboard conks out on the outro to "Wake," but he and his bandmates power through it. They get help from some friends on other numbers--namely, Andy Rayborn, whose saxophone provides some nice rhythmic counterpoint on the deathless "Benchwarmers"; and Ivy Meissner and Phil Merrell from Dark Swallows, whose bass and guitar add some extra menace to the ominous "Arrow" (which, now that I think about it, does sound like a Dark Swallows song).

"Hey everybody, turn around!" Lisa Simpson cries. "The monsters are here! The monsters are here!"

Sure enough, they are. People come in carrying the Treefort monsters and groove with the rest of the audience. TV news crews film the monster-holders and interview them. It occurs to me that these creatures are a great idea. The childlike whimsy of them exemplifies the spirit of Treefort (i.e. a sense of wonder, of going out and experiencing new things).

7:00 pm, The Crux: James Plane Wreck

I'm eager to go out and hear some new music after Finn Riggins finishes, but I stop by the Crux first to catch a bit of James Plane Wreck's set. It's been a good while since I've seen this band too; they've spent the past few months working on their album.

To my surprise, these guys almost sound like a new band. Their arrangements and playing sound more fluid and intricate than before. There are a couple of rough spots, but what's a JPW set without rough spots? But best of all, the old speed and brute force are still there--Andrew Bagley hits so hard that he breaks the metal connecting his crash cymbal to its stand.

The crash cymbal destruction halts the set's momentum, so I head over to the Linen Building, hoping to catch some of King Brat's set (I'll hear later that JPW kills on "F*ckin' With Ghosts"). Anyway, KB's one of the new(-ish) projects of Jessica Johnson's, ex-drummer for Red Hands Black Feet.

Unfortunately, I get there too late; the set's already over. So I walk with Erin Nelson from the Rediscovered Bookshop and her friend to the El Korah. Erin's doing a lot of volunteer stuff with Radio Boise (recording sets, etc.) and checking on the library in the Treefort artist's lounge, which Rediscovered set up. I'll just say this: the festival owes a lot to people like this lady.

8:00 pm, Tom Grainey's: Coastwest Unrest

I part ways with Erin and her friend and head over to Grainey's to see Coastwest Unrest. I saw my Record Exchange co-workers/superiors Chad Dryden and John O'Neil enthusing over this Las Vegas band on Facebook earlier today. If these guys love this band, I figure they'll be worth a listen.

I listen to the twangy guitar, country trot/swing, bourbon-warmth vocals and ruminative, sardonic lyrics of the group's opener and peg them as JPW's mellower brother. Then I notice the tricky time signatures, the offhandedly intricate drumming and the fragmented song structures of their other numbers. Then I notice how, for all of their arty eccentricity, the band's rootsy, blue-collar feel still doesn't feel like a hipster affectation--how they sound like they could stay in and reread Ulysses or go out honky-tonkin' and be happy either way. Then I start thinking of them as the Minutemen's (slightly) mellower nephew.

The crowd, possibly realizing that this ain't your standard boogie/rockabilly band, stand along the edge of the dance floor. They cheer plenty throughout the set, though, and do some polite grooving near the end.

9:00 pm, The Crux: Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars

After Coastwest Unrest finishes, I walk back to the Crux. I've seen and written about Storie Grubb and the Holy Wars plenty of times (even have a Weekly feature on them that should run in a couple of weeks), but various members have told me they've got something special planned for their Treefort set. That's enough to make them a candidate for some more coverage.

I see Jeremy Jensen (The Very Most) and members of the Blaqks (whose drummer, Bruce Maurey, also plays with Storie Grubb), Dark Swallows and Virgil hanging out when I arrive. Two big, white sheets hung on poles conceal the stage. The lights go down, and projections start to play on the sheets. This should be interesting.

The band can only be seen in silhouette, but they can be heard loud and clear. Storie Grubb snarls and his guitar shrieks while Bruce Maurey's drums bash and rumble and Dustin Jones's bass zooms and weaves. Mathew Vorhies's accordion--soothingly droning here, jaunty there--lends an ironic sweetness to his bandmates' tumult.

There's a huge cheer as the sheets are pulled away. The band thunders on as the people up front dance. This continues as the sheets are put back a few songs later. The set gets cut a little short--earlier sets ran long, apparently--but hopefully, some more people now realize how great this band is.

There's a table loaded with zines outside the Crux. I drop some money in the tip jar and grab a few. I'll have to read them later, though--I got more music to hear.

10:00 pm, Pengilly's: Hip Hatchet

I head back over to the other side of Main Street to catch Hip Hatchet at Pengilly's. I'd missed his set here a few months back and liked what I'd heard of his songs enough to resolve to see him this time around.

The Portland musician's grainy baritone and detailed, thoughtful lyrics sound just as good live as they do on record. His nimble finger-picking is impressive too: as a lady I chat with briefly says, he sounds like he's playing a 12-string guitar. Not that he boasts about it or anything--he punctuates his set with plenty of funny, self-deprecating banter (asks how much time he has 10 minutes into the set, describes how Portland's strong coffee can hinder attempts to pick up women).

I talk a little with Sam and Catherine Merrick after the set. I tell them I might miss a.k.a. Belle's set, but considering how many times I've seen them, they give me a pass. I also talk with Ten Gallon Cat promoter Heather Roberts, who's overseeing the volunteers at Pengilly's (she organized tonight's lineup too). She asks me if I'm going to see her band The Jackalope Saints on Saturday. I like her and all the stuff she's been doing in the Boise scene so much that I have to say yes. Mentally, I cross my fingers that they don't suck.

12:00 am, Linen Building: This Will Destroy You

I head out around 11, hoping to see Duck Little Brother Duck at the Linen Building. I don't get ten feet away from Pengilly's, however, when I bump into two good buddies I haven't seen in a while. They're on their way to check out a.k.a. Belle, whom I have praised at great length to them. However, we all agree that the occasion calls for an unscheduled pit stop at 10th St. Station. We walk over there, and I encounter two more friends. A couple pints later, we go our separate ways. DLBD is done when I reach the Linen Building, but This Will Destroy You is soundchecking.

And after 25 minutes, they're still soundchecking. Oh well, I think; they're the last set of the night here anyway. Besides, this gives me the chance to chat with a bespectacled security guard in his 50's or 60's. He loves working Treefort, he says--lets him hear all kinds of music and see all kinds of people. The place has been near-capacity since 5 pm (when he came on), and they've had no problems whatsoever. He's happy that people are coming out and that the weather's better this year (amen to that, I think).

He's worked a bunch of festivals and events, he adds. Did security for Lady Antebellum at the Revolution (nicest people ever). At some point, he also mentions listening to Def Leppard and Kiss back in the day.

As he talks, the thought crosses my mind that I could do a blog post for the Weekly on this gentleman. But I figure he's probably busy enough, so in the end, I just shake his hand and let him get back to work.

Early on in This Will Destroy You's set, I think that their ominous drones, cannon-shot drums and waves of crushing yet airy distortion are pretty dandy--nay, beautiful, even. But as one number after the next thunders solemnly on, the music starts to sound a little like muzak, nifty dynamics and sonic curlicues notwithstanding. On another (possibly related) note, this stuff just feels so serious, so joyless after a while. Speaking of which, what kind of rock band, post- or otherwise, instructs their audience to "treat this place like a movie theater"? Would you hear Red Hands Black Feet or Wolvserpent talk that sh*t? And the locals have a better sense of drama too.

1:15 am, The Crux: Sword of a Bad Speller

The crowd thins out pretty severely as TWDY's set progresses. I head out eventually too; I want to see Sword of a Bad Speller, local musician Adam Showalter's mock-hip-hop act. (Incidentally, Adam gave me some great info on the house show scene for my Treefort feature)

This is just the thing to pick me back up. Showalter's absurdist, slyly stoopid raps get me laughing so hard that I need to sit down. Partner-in-crime Isa Soubrette plays her mock-chanteuse role to the hilt; she coos the hooks, mugs at the crowd, wields a toy pistol, pours beer down her blouse and gives a shout-out to her dad, who's in the crowd somewhere. Packages of string cheese get chucked out into the audience. The crowd whoops, hollers, crashes into each other and sings/shouts along. In the back, I see the Treefort volunteers dancing like crazy. A shambolic "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover--for which Showalter picks up a guitar and gets help from a backing band--stumbles its way to glory. All told, the most fun set of the day and one of my favorite sets of this or any other Treefort.

Plastic and the five-second rule be damned. No way am I eating this.

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

History of Boise Rock Showcase @ El Korah Shrine (3/19/14)

As readers of this blog or my Boise Weekly stuff may have surmised, I've grown interested in the history of Boise music over the past couple of years. So of course I wanted to check out this show, which was organized by Todd Dunnigan and featured seven Idaho acts from the '80s and '90s. It was just fortuitous that the Weekly hooked me up with a Treefort press pass and said they wanted a small write-up on this deal.

I counted about 50 people inside the El Korah's main hall and some others outside when I arrived. Among these folks, I spotted Todd Dunnigan, who was an invaluable source for my big ol' Treefort feature, and Record Exchange manager John O'Neil (aka my boss). There were so many people by the last set that I didn't bother trying to count them. The audience had a high percentage of mid-30's-plus people, which you might have expected, and some younger kids (the children of the middle-agers, maybe?).

Acts who played:

Splinter: At first, this trio's country-flavored tunes, jangling guitar, tuneful basslines and steady drums made me think of Gin Blossoms. However, my friend Annie Berical thought they sounded more like Uncle Tupelo. Since she heard later that deceased drummer Andy Capps was a big Uncle Tupelo fan, I'll defer to her judgment. Smart gal, Annie. Pretty too.

Anyway, Annie also said that she wished this band were around on a more regular basis. Given their catchy melodies and their increasingly confident groove, I wouldn't have minded either. In any case, it was nice to see Mike Rundle, formerly of aka Belle, behind the drum kit again.

"We're surprised we're playing Treefort too."--guitarist Trent McNair

The Melting: Now THIS was a group I wish I could see more regularly. Their ringing guitar hooks, snarling solos, propulsive rhythms and sweet, high vocals somehow managed to fuse New Wave, disco and metal. The fact that lead singer Deidre Rodman had to rehearse with the rest of the band via FaceTime rendered their tight groove doubly impressive.

Was this group this great back in the day? I wonder, but I guess it doesn't really matter. I just hope I get to see them again. It could happen: Rodman mentioned that they'd play another show in Portland soon.

"So Mom, there's still a chance this band will ruin my life," quipped guitarist Joe Davis. "There's hope for me yet."

MC Shake: Ice-T and Eric B. & Rakim fan (not to mention James Brown obsessive) that I am, I was primed to dig MC Shake's steady flow and his band's nice, nasty '70s-style funk (chicken-scratch guitar, rubbery bass, strong 4/4 beat, sultry backup vocals). A song from the Rotating Tongues anthology had an oozing Dr. Dre-esque groove, but Shake's anti-violence, anti-racism lyrics elsewhere were much preferable to your standard blunts-and-bitches shtick.

"Just a funky little crew out of Caldwell," Shake rapped. That wasn't no joke. No, really.

El Dopamine: Another person might be wary of reviewing his/her boss's band. Me, I know John O'Neil to be a wise, kind, unfailingly gracious individual. Oh, and did I mention how handsome he is? (Please don't fire me, John.)

But seriously, knowing John outside of music--well, outside of his band, anyway--I suppose that I could've expected his smart, acerbic lyrics. The same goes for the touches of Neil Young and grunge in the music (ambling rhythms, buzzsaw guitars). But the catchy tunes and the raw solos, maybe not so much. Thomas Paul's melodic basslines were a good addition as well. When combined with O'Neil's rough but not unpleasant whine, the music occasionally called to mind a more emotionally balanced Nirvana.

The surprises that an old curmudgeon will throw at you. I mean that fondly, of course. (Please don't fire me, John.)

Haggis: When I interviewed him, Todd Dunnigan told me that Andy A (Raid, Demoni) was surprised at the demand for his old hardcore band. "Where were these people when we were actually playing?" the punk stalwart reportedly said. "It just seemed like no one came to our shows then."

There was certainly a sizable crowd this night to hear this band's full-speed-ahead hardcore, which was as thunderous as you could want and had some melodious touches too (hey, harmonies). Andy A delivered some searing guitar solos. The lead singer sounded a bit hoarse, but that could've been because of the dry Idaho air. The only thing a little odd about the set was the fact that it was at the El Korah--probably woulda suited the Shredder or the Red Room/Crazy Horse better. Still, the audience did some good moshing for the last number.

Graveltruck: I don't think it was just Jake Hite manning the drum kit that made me think of this group as a more rough-hewn Very Most. The sweet melodies and glittering guitar undoubtedly helped. Their groove sounded a little disjointed at first but congealed as the set progressed. Quirky, charming stuff.

Caustic Resin: The big-ticket item on this bill. I forget who, but I recall someone telling me he wanted to catch this set just to see how big a train-wreck it was. Actually, it really wasn't bad at all. Yeah, there were more than a couple false starts due to Brett Netson needing to re-tune his guitar (took him a while each time too). However, Tom Romich/Tommy Dirtweed's oddball banter and Netson's drier remarks helped smooth these rough patches over. Besides, when the band was on, they were ON: hypnotically droning riffs, tripped-out distortion, muscular drumming. Roiling, primal stoner rock. Some weird-ass projections courtesy of Jason Willford and a guest spot for Trevor Netson were nice touches as well.

Brett Netson: "Hey Tom! Thank you."
Tom Romich: "Thank you! I still wanna see everybody cut your hair, though."

You can find info on these groups on Facebook and elsewhere online. Special thanks to Boise Weekly and Treefort Music Fest.