Mirah photo by Heather Cox
After so many acts running a little late on Friday, I figured I’d show up a little after three and still catch some of PWRFL Power’s opening set Saturday, but Kaz was on time and, from what everyone says, on point. I showed up at maybe half past three, and Mirah was already playing on the Main Stage. She was supported by the same live band she’d had at Sasquatch a couple months ago, but their arrangements were still delicate and wispy enough that they were twice overpowered by the racket coming out of Neumo’s, first by the Sunday Night Blackouts and then again by the Whore Moans. Even when those bands weren’t playing, Mirah’s music just drifted through the warm afternoon air. It was the only set I saw all weekend with anything less than perfect sound. But if they didn’t overwhelm in terms of volume, Mirah and her band were still impressive. In between You Think It’s Like This, But Really It’s Like This and Advisory Committee, Mirah started adding spectral layers of sound to her recordings, the same kind of multi track studio backing that Phil Elverum used with the Microphones. But it was only recently, when Mirah began performing with Lori Goldston, Bryce Panic, Kyle Hanson, et al, that her live shows began to reflect that sound. While there was a real charm to Mirah’s old solo performances, her songs definitely benefit from the fuller sound, especially in an outdoor festival setting. Also, those turquoise stretch pants are awesome.
Cribs photo by Peter Kearns
The Cribs seem to have washed up on American shores without the kind of sensational buzz that you expect with brash, young British rock bands, let alone ones produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and boasting a virally popular NSFW music video. But the Cribs, for whatever reason, have escaped the usual critical hyperbole, which is a shame, because if you’re going to be brash, young, British rock band, you could hardly do it better than the Cribs. I was only familiar with the persuasive single “Men’s Needs” as of yesterday, but their entire set was full of the same kind of catchy guitar, hard, energetic drumming, rubbery bass, and cool vocal interplay. They win major points for having a Kill Rock Stars sticker on the bass guitar. They might lose some of those points for having too nice of a band logo on their bass drum.
Jeff Kirby’s take on Gabriel Teodoros, especially the crowd-moving, for-the-sisters anthem “Warriors,” is pretty right on, as is his frustration with the muggy heat inside Neumo’s. I would only add that Teodoros’ tight backing band’s light, summery funk would have made so much more sense outdoors. It was total sunny day music, unofrtunately crammed inside a hot, black box. I skipped the rest of the day’s excellent lineup at Neumo’s, including Cave Singers and Grand Archives, because it was just too damn much in there. Standing in the direct sun was actually cooler. This is what, like the fourth summer in a row we’ve all been joking about Neumo’s getting AC, right? I guess maybe if we had more than two warm months a year, then maybe they’d make the investment, but damn it gets hot in there.
Aesop Rock photo by Heather Cox
I had no idea that Aesop Rock was like eight feet tall, but that’s cool—it made it much easier to watch him from the beer garden next to the stage. Live, there’s not as much threatening, busy psychedelia as on some of his recordings. Instead, there’s just him, a big hypeman, and a DJ playing pretty straightforward backing tracks. But even without the intense production, Aesop Rock is a powerful performer. I got out into the crowd for “None Shall Pass,” the amped up title track from his forthcoming album, due out in August. The crowd had hands in the air, and did about as much of a call and response as you could want from a Seattle festival audience. Aesop Rock’s set got me thinking about what an odd job, or artistic calling, it must be to be a hypeman. You hang around on stage, wave, pump your fist, and rap along to the occasional line for emphasis—and that’s it. Maybe you also drive the van, but probably these guys fly from one place to the next on the festival circuit. Anyway, maybe it’s a sweet gig, no stress, free beer, or maybe it’s super stifling and still just as stressful as anything on stage. Who knows?
Update: Commenters know. The hype man in question is Rob Sonic, an MC in his own right. I missed a lot of Aesop’s Rock set in that beer garden apparently, including a guest appearance by locals Grayskul, some Rob Sonic songs, and a serious DJ solo. Damn.
I missed Against Me! because I left to go eat sushi. So much for anarcho punk street cred.
Spoon photo by Peter Kearns
I still don’t really get Spoon, but that’s okay. I think the reason they get to headline shit like this is just that they have the most appeal for the most people—it’s totally competent, not too challenging, middle of the road rock’n’roll, and that’s just fine. And they have some serious indie rock seniority. And “The Way We Get By” is a really fucking catchy song. After that tight number though, they seemed to drift into some dragged-out jamming, and I split.
Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground made a fine headliner for the Vera Stage, although they looked like they were going to topple the thing with eleven people crowded onto it, including three violinists (one electric, two traditional), a cellist (also electric—so simultaneously cool and lame looking!), and a trumpeter. If that weren’t enough, the band also decorated the stage, hung a bouquet from the microphone, strung lights up, and had the Pretty Parlor’s Anna Banana fussing with a film projector in the back of the stage. The band sounded great—they’re serious and talented musicians—and Kirk Huffman’s a charming front man with a sweet voice. They did a surprising little dub breakdown in the middle of “Hey Momma” (though not that surprising if you know how much reggae Huffman listens to). Jonathan Zwickel once described the band’s old-timey sound as something like the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and I objected on purely personal grounds, but he’s kind of right, although Kay Kay thankfully don’t have anything near as annoying as that band’s “hit” song.
After the official music wrapped up, the Comet played host to some unofficial partying with the Pleasureboaters, Das Llamas, and Big A Little a. The Pleasureboaters are fucking awesome! Who knew? Ari Spool’s been basically keeping them a secret from the rest of the Stranger staff, supposedly due to some “conflict of interests.” What the fuck, Ari? The Pleasureboaters ripped through a set of ragged, smashing punk rock, reminding me a little of a pre-“House” Rapture, when that band seemed as likely to go agitated post punk or boozy garage as disco. Das Llamas are in their prime right now, with the four piece lineup creating a dark, anxious backdrop for Kerry Zettel’s moody, affected vocals.
But the real highlight of the show, and of the day for me, was Brooklyn’s Big A Little a (or Aa—I’m still not sure which is the preferred usage). The band’s swirling sampledelia, baffling, quasi-tribal polyrhythms, and skyward vocal chants sounded great—surprising, because I figured they would be a really complicated band to run sound for, but the sound guy told me it’s all just drums and a single stereo out from the keyboard, simple. I think a lot of the crowd was dancing, but I’m not really sure. I was kind of tranced out and flailing around in my own little world by that point (sorry for hitting your cymbal, Big A Little a, but I think Imostly hit it on the beat). The band’s vocalist/keyboardist/effector John Atkinson joked that they’d be back in another two or three years—they’re in that awkward spot between wanting to do the band more seriously and having to get decent jobs—but I sincerely hope they make it back sooner than that. Maybe next year they can play the Block Party proper.