Scion Garage Fest could have been a total clusterfuck. Four venues with more than two dozen bands from a genre notable for crazy antics and over-drinking could have turned into something terrible.
The whole shebang kicked off with people standing in line at Liberty Hall to pick up will-call wristbands. The line stretched from the front of the theater, around the corner, down 7th Street, and then around the corner, heading north on New Hampshire. Craziness. Once you got your wristband, however, you were just steps away from everything kicking off inside Liberty Hall.
Rooftop Vigilantes were the first band to play anywhere at the fest. They were the usual Rooftop Vigilantes: discordant and fun. The only locals on the bill, the band had the advantage of playing at the venue where everyone was getting their will-call wristbands, so they had a small, but intrigued crowd, as well as friends and fans. I left early, which means I missed their 'Mats cover, evidently. Still, there were many bands to see, and I can catch the Vigilantes with regularity around town.
However, I left Liberty Hall to go see Bad Sports at the Bottleneck. I've heard good things about the group, and missed them when they played the Replay earlier this year. A damned shame, that, as the band is very L.A. new-wave meets jangly power pop. They reminded me a lot of bands like the Plimsouls, who walked that line between the Bomp worshiping power poppers and the new wave punks like the Dils.
There were gift bags handed out that had CDs, magazines, socks (seriously), and a 7-inch. (There were four different 7-inches, so people were raiding the bags for 7-inches, and leaving pretty much everything else.)
Gentleman Jesse & His Men have a case of the whoa-ohs, and that's what keeps bringing me back to them. People were dancing like crazy, which seemed to be the most surprising part of the whole affair. (I'm so used to people standing around while infectious songs get played that it baffled me to see so many people dancing at nearly every band's set.) It helped that the five-piece kocked out infectious versions of songs like "Highland Crawler," as well as an enthusiastic rendition of their new single, "She's A Trap." Frontman Jesse Smith did seem baffled: "Are you guys ready for tonight? Why aren't you at the White Wires show? Fuckin' up, man."
After that, it was back to the Bottleneck to see Gaye Blades. The Blades have the whole Shangri-Las thing down pat -- surprising, as the band is all dudes. They were kind of Gene Pitney, too: very '60s, with hella harmonies. This was an opinion and observation made even more apt by the fact that they covered "Be True to Your School." It was sloppy and punky, but "true" to its roots. Even better than that was that the Blades played their song "My Shit Belongs to Pee," from the stellar Wild About Jenkem comp, which is "about huffin' your poop and your pee to get high."
After Gaye Blades, I walked down to the Granada and caught the last couple songs from Cloud Nothings. They were a little mellower and more indie than most of the acts I'd seen so far, which was a nice change. Sadly, the Granada was pretty dead when they played, with a handful of people scattered around the cavernous inside. Afterward, there was a nice long gap before Digital Leather took the stage, so I took advantage of the break to sit out front and rest. It wasn't quite the halfway point in the evening, but the crowd and noise were starting to build.
At first, Digital Leather sounded leaner than when I last saw them. Then, somebody yelled for "more keyboard!" When it got boosted, the band's sense of cold, eerie menace took root. The band shoved home when their bassist cranked his amp at the start of "Styrofoam," and shit got awesome. The low end hit your sternum like a kick to the chest, and the fullness of their creepiness made it seem that you had no choice but to dance, or risk annihilation. Putting them back-to-back with Hunx & His Punx was a pretty good plan: the groups seem to present different views of gay music. Digital Leather's songs are about the possibility of getting knifed in an alley by some rough trade, whereas Hunx operates more in the "let's drop E and party" end of the spectrum.
Hunx & His Punx was a SHOW, with costumes, lights, and makeup. Of all the acts I saw play Saturday night, Hunx was the only act to make use of the lighting rig available to them (their lighting guy was doing everything one-handed, with his left hand holding a cocktail the entire time). And Hunx had Shannon & the Clams as his backing band, the Punx. This was a show with harmonies for miles, and kitsch for days. People were dancing everywhere, perfectly complimenting the strut and shake Hunx had up on stage, although not coming anywhere near to his naughtiness when he stripped down to his g-string at one point in "You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll." Still, he got the line of the nigh when he told Scion, "sorry, Lenscrafters already got us."
Caught the last two songs of Tyvek, as I made way to the front of the Bottleneck. I'd seen them the night before at Love Garden, but their high-energy rock 'n' roll is worth catching, if you've not had the chance. Frankly, I was just there to get to the stage for King Khan & the Shrines. That set was a fucking party. It was evidently the place to be, as it was the only venue I noticed that had a line out the door, with it being one-in, one-out before the Shrines had even taken the stage. For those able to get in, it was a joint packed with sweaty, moving people. The soul-packed garage King Khan & the Shrines perform is party music. People get the hell down, and dance like they've lost their damned minds. It helps the band's got a dancer on stage themselves (a gorgeous young lady, not to be confused with the hipster who seemed to have gotten up there accidentally). Every song, be it "I Wanna Be A Girl" or "Welfare Bread," sounded amazing.
I wish I could say the same for Detroit soul legend Gino Washington. His voice was none too great, and he wasted lots of time on some variant of "Shout" with cat and dog noises. I bailed to catch the Oblivians. Their dirty, three piece blues-based rock 'n' roll is, essentially, pure as pure can be garage rock. It was a perfect way to end the fest, with people throwing beers and thrashing around like madmen.
Of course, it wasn't actually the end. I popped over to the Replay, where Greg Cartwright from the Oblivians took over from the Architects' Zach Phillips out on the patio, and Weird Wounds scared the shit out of people inside. After a lengthy chit-chat with some friends selling PBR tallboys out on the patio, and listening to Cartwright spin such tunes as Gino Washington's "Out of This World," I was exhausted, a little tipsy, and cold. It was with a heavy head that I called it a night, knowing that the Spits were playing a house show just three blocks away. Sometimes, though, you have to quit while you're ahead.