Scion Garage Fest presented by Vice Magazine: Do.
The autumn air--crisp. The location of the venues--centralized. The hipsters--dirty, dressed in leggings and gauzy scarves. (Random notebook jot: "It's like an Urban Outfitters catalog was fucked by the "Do" section of Vice.")
As I mentioned in my wrap-up of the Pitch Music Showcase, the question one faces with a festival like this is: do you follow the tried-and-true acts, or take your chances on those you haven't heard of? And this year's line-up featured an impressive roster of acts that you'd be lucky to pay money to see, like King Khan and the Shrines or the reformed legendary New Zealand indie rock band the Clean. I stuck to the tried and true this time around, avoiding bands such as the Oblivians and Happy Birthday.
This was mostly due to the fear that venues might get overpacked and organizers would have to start turning people away, and I would miss the really great act playing next. ("Early Arrival is suggested as space is limited. Entry is NOT guaranteed.") There were two must see bands: Thee Oh Sees and King Khan. Old-timers can argue about the Gories or the Clean, but I knew Thee Oh Sees and King Khan and his Shrines would be the ones to beat, the ones to draw a huge crowd. Luckily the two venues I stuck to -- Liberty Hall and the Bottleneck -- are only a block apart so going between them was easy, and honestly, with the exception of maybe the Gories, I don't feel like I missed much.
But I did miss hometown heroes Rooftop Vigilantes (sorry Oscar), so the first act I saw was Gentleman Jesse and His Men, only catching the last half of their set. The Gentleman, Jesse Smith, led his men through a slew of ruff-and-tumble power-pop, lifted from the rumbling soul of '70s muscle car. I wish I could say more about them other than they were really well put together, playing their fast, stacked music while wearing their Canadian tuxedos and cowboy shirts.
Times New Viking is a great band bungled by their choice to record in what sounds like a cheap aquarium. Rip It Off is great despite of the choking noise that covers every song on the record, and Born Again Revisited makes small steps to remove this opaqueness of noise. Live, the game is different. Times New Viking are spryly melodic and utilize one of my favorite instruments, the Farfsa, which gives their music a shrill depth. The last time they were in Lawrence, opening for Yo La Tengo in January this year, they were heavy. This time they were disappointingly in pop-punk mode. For the first half of their set the band members seemed a bit distant, perhaps because of their gig-packed weekend. But toward the end, they mustered up energy, and the songs became more massive and weighty.
Like 'em or not (I don't like them), L.A's Best Coast surprisingly translates well live. Singer Beth Cosentino was clearly high, letting out stunted nervous giggles between a couple of songs. She seemed slightly numb, yet her voice was clear and focused, especially on "Goodbye," a better track from the band's overpraised debut. (While Crazy for You isn't nearly as good as people are making it out to be, it does have one of the best album covers of the year.) The slightness of that album is improved in the live setting because the simple songs seem to have blood behind them. Instead of facile music that epitomizes indie-rock's fetishization of beachy good-times, Cosentino's sentiments feel much more earned and accessible.
Midway through the set, Cosentino gave a high five to a nine-year-old girl standing in the front row. "You tweeted about me?" Cosentino asked after the girl sheepishly said something unintelligible, probably about Twitter. We're through the looking glass here. It was painfully adorable and illustrated that a good portion of the night's concertgoers were young-uns. There were children as young or younger on the outskirts of the mosh pit at Thee Oh Sees.
Thee Oh Sees were in Lawrence only a week ago, and when I told Jon Dwyer that I had missed them then and also the last two times they came in town, he joked that they would be back again in a month. Really, I asked. "No," he said, shaking his head, more focused on getting outside for a cigarette. This was after Thee Oh Sees stunning performance at the Bottleneck, where Dwyer, famous for singing into a deep-throated mic, led his madcap group of musicians through rareified garage-rock psychedelia.
Thee Oh Sees basically played a full song for their soundcheck and when they were informed that they still had nine minutes before start-time, Dwyer said "Fuck it, we're going." What was funny about this was the PA was still playing, so when the band ended a song, you could still hear the warm-up music. For his outlandish gestures, his high-pitched yelps and screams, and his nervous tantrums of jittery energy Dywer was worthy of a Tex Avery character. "Enemy Destruct," from their fantastic 2009 album, Help, was both twitchy and mountainously heavy, highlighting the band's neurotic take on garage rock.
"That was rock'n'roll incarnate," someone said after the show. "If Keith Richards were to die -- which he won't -- he would come back as that."
With an hour and fifteen minute set, King Khan and The Shrines closed the night with raucous and absurd energy. Set in motion by the Shrines' ominous, shrill horn intro, King Khan's performance started with him walking out like a heavyweight world champion, complete with a swanky jacket and pretty girl on his arm. In an instant the crowd exploded. His arm candy danced like she was on cocaine.
For a band steeped in classic soul and classic garage rock, King Khan drew more of a hardcore crowd. Maybe it was all the angry kids hopped up on mind-altering substances, but there was good swath of the floorspace devoted to moshing, which pissed off those of us who just wanted to throw down and dance. Nevertheless, it showed the commanding force that King Khan had, which he relinquished midway to Detroit R&B legend Gino Washington. The music went from over-saturated and smeary to more restrained. The music was not subdued, however, as the sixty-four year old Washington belted out fiery classics like "Gino is a Coward" and "Puppet on a String." King Khan stepped to the sidelines to watch this master work. It was fitting end for the night; ridiculous, astonishing, absurd, and classy all at the same time.
Kind makes you want to buy a car, right?