Last Saturday's first-ever Bleeding Kansas Festival could have been the showcase of the year, if (a) the Pitch Music Showcase two nights prior hadn't been so great (imho) and (b) it hadn't been so gol-darn hot.
My friend Wes and I arrived at Burcham Park around 5:30 to the strains of Mates of State beating out their pretty angst on the main stage. After getting our VIP and drinking wristbands, we walked onto the grounds, which contained a local stage (unfortunately in the blazing sunlight), a second stage under a large tent and the main stage, situated in a shady area that was easily the most comfortable part of the encampment. Old-fashioned water pumps filled plastic bottles and soaked hot heads, leaving puddles of mudd at their bases.
We crawled into the VIP area, a covered concrete slab equipped with picnic tables, coolers of water, stacks of chips and salsa and guacamole from Chipotle, an empty Red Bull cooler and direct access to the adjacent beer tent ($5 a drink). I saw Star music critic Tim Finn wandering among the throng; his paper's pious policy is not to take free tickets or VIP passes to shows but to pay and move amongst the groundlings. To that I say: "Noble...SUCKER!" Wes and I took a seat on the tables, gave a yell to Record Bar co-owner Shawn Sherrill and his two hot escorts as they entered our enclosure and watched Canadian group Broken Social Scene kick out the jams. Wes, being a musician, observed that the song "Shoreline 7/4" is, in fact, in 7/4 time. He didn't know the name of the song — its title dumbed-down for the amusical — he's just a genius.
I knew the festival worker who was driving BSS around that day. Her name's Rae, and not long ago I made her a mix CD, which I titled "Celestial Spank Mix." I used this for its cover. She told me she was playing it while BSS were in her car, and the guys in the band complimented her on it. Score one for the Harpman. The band itself was in good form, busting out the horns and warbling harmonies and driving, light-footed rhythms. It wasn't exactly a crowd-slaying performance, but that was probably due to the heat.
I cruised over to the second stage, a breezeless sweathouse in which Chromeo was setting up about half an hour behind schedule. I got enthusiastic praise on the band from people at the festival. Shawn described it as "perfect '80s electro-pop." But when they finally started, all I heard were shades of the Escape Club plus a vocoder and minus the disembodied limbs. My opinion was justified, I thought, when they covered "I Don't Want to Lose Your Love Tonight" by the bloody Outfield. They didn't lose any fans, though, and my Crapio-loving friends continue in their unenlightenedness to this day. (NOTE: "Thees one's called the OutlaaaawOW!" — The Escape Club)
After that, we were going to watch the ghost of Cris Crisci lead the Appleseed Cast in a posthumous concert, but it was just too hot at the local stage. (Crisci, by the way, is alive and well and didn't even attempt suicide. He did, however, push a retarded kid into the mud when he was 8.) So, it was back to the Royal Picnic Area to wait for Keane, currently the most reassuring band alive. Lose your keys? Call Keane. Top scoop fall off your ice cream cone and splat on the sidewalk? Keane will buy you another. Cat get run over? Keane understands. Fat piece of shit and no one loves you? Keane might be able to help. And all they need is drums, keys, and a singer who dresses like Neil Diamond and asks the audience to shine their cell phones into the air. All that said, I actually kind of like them. I'm a sucker for reassurance.
As the sun went down, the breeze died, the humidity rose and the mosquitoes came out. I pulled an empty water bottle out of the trash and filled it from a pump and promptly contracted Dengue Fever, which really helped me enjoy the monotous, psychedelic slaughter of the Black Angels, who are from Austin and sound like the Warlocks but not as catchy and with fewer drummers. (NOTE: "Oooooooohhhn...shake, shake, shake the doop out." — The Warlocks)
The highlight of the evening — and damn close to the highlight of my entire summer — were the Secret Machines under the small tent. Of course, the Dengue Fever helped, but even without that, it would've been impossible for me not to enjoy. The band consists of three motherfuckin' badasses — a flailing guitarist, a drummer who channels Vulcan and a keyboardist who sometimes plays bass and helps the drummer by adding killer fuckin' synth booms on a lotta beats. And the lights — oh, the lights. The band was backlit the entire time, from dim red to grocery-store-fluorescent brightness, the three of them standing in silhouette as if General Zod and his sidekicks had just crashed through the roof at Sun Fresh at 4 in the morning. Somehow — likely through sheer savage bombast -- the Secret Machines make repetition exciting. Urgency, that's what it is. Also — I almost forgot — Hearne Christopher was totally there. I turned around once and saw him standing and looking willowy and shambly and old in the flashing lights. As I was wondering if maybe he and Tim Finn were actually the same person, an alien being able to take different forms, he looked at me, his eyes became giant, black bulbs, and he transmogrified into a 16-foot praying mantis, galloped down to the river and mutilated a horse with his sword-like pincers.
I was brought back to reality by a cold splash of beer, fired at me accidentally from behind. An old, skinny drunk dude came up apologizing and offering me $5, which I accepted gratefully. As I was thanking him, he began pulling off his shirt and freaking out. The Machines busted out "First Wave Intact" and my face melted down the front of my shirt, mingling with sweat and beer.
I woke up at the sick tent with an IV in my arm. Death Cab for Cutie was still going on the main stage. I began singing along to the ba-nap-bap-bap-ba-ba-ba-baaaa part to "Soul Meets Body." The nurse slapped me and called me a faggot. I began crying and she gave me a lollipop and called my mom to pick me up, but my mom's with her boyfriend in Mexico, and -- is it not painfully clear that I don't know how to end this?
So yeah, Bleeding Kansas. I hope they* do it again next year, and I hope they force the Star people to take VIP passes so I can solve this Hearne/Finn mystery once and for all.
*"They" are Jacki Becker and her crew at UptoEleven Productions. Good work, kids!