The second day of the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival was moved outside to its originally-intended venue, a vacant lot down the block from Market Hotel, just under the train tracks. And despite the trains rumbling by overhead and the echos off the buildings, the space was great acoustically and aesthetically.
I arrived later than I'd planned to and missed Brilliant Colors, who I heard were outstanding. I'm really bummed about that, since they live way over the West Coast and there's no telling when they'll be back.
I did arrive in time for the Fresh & Onlys, a band whose name I've heard around a lot lately. I was disappointed - their music was generic and unmemorable, just your typical semi-sedated lo-fi punk with listenable but not catchy melodies and unchanging, standard guitar-drum-bass arrangements. There was a synth/sampler but it was often hard to pick out of the sound, since it often played exactly the same part as the guitar and bass. Yaaawn. [MySpace]
One thought that crossed my mind while watching the Fresh & Onlys: at least in the 90's, we let the girls play bass. Now, I understand that sometimes you want a female vocalist or find one who is good and the rest of the people in the band happen to be guys, and that's fine. But in this scene (beyond the scope of this festival) women are disproportionately relegated to backup or co-lead vocals and tambourine, and they're often not even good at that. It may not be anyone's fault, but it's still a bad sign that girls aren't encouraged to pick up instruments or aren't encouraged to join bands. Something is wrong.
Next up were Dum Dum Girls, who at first glance may appear to fall in that same troubling pattern. But there's a huge difference: in both Dum Dum Girls and the Mayfair Sect, Kristin "Dee Dee" Gundred is a phenomenal singer and a solid songwriter. And it seems she has creative control over the music in both bands, unlike many of the tambourine-shaking ladies around. Crystal Stilts' Frankie Rose also joined in on drums, but even if Gundred had been the only woman on stage, I couldn't fault the band. Strong melodies, well-delivered, with a masterful instrumental back-up from Rose, Crocodiles' Brandon Welchez (Gundred's husband, in fact) and Blank Dog/Mayfair Sect's Mike Sniper - definitely one of the highlights of the festival. [MySpace]
Sadly for all attendees, Michigan's excellent punks Tyvek were forced to cancel because (rumor has it) their bassist, Shelley Salant, landed in the hospital this weekend. The good news is that she's OK and that the band will be in New York on July 24 (@ Silent Barn) and July 25 (@ Cake Shop). [MySpace]
Both Woods and Kurt Vile played louder, more aggressive sets than I expected. Perhaps it was the acoustics, perhaps it was the spirit of the day, but both seemed to crank it up. This is really neither good nor bad - I like things loud and distorted but both these bands have such great songs that volume and distortion are irrelevant - their songwriting outshines everything else.
Woods played a thrilling set of many of their best songs, sounding, as always, like an oddly distant, distorted version of Neil Young or the Byrds. Their melodies are sweet folk pop, but their sounds are subtly unsettling. One of the best. [MySpace]
I can't get as into Kurt Vile - he has some good songs, but ultimately, I found the whole thing a little dull for my tastes. That said, if you're into folk and not looking for constant hooks and uptempos, you'll probably love him - he's doing a lot right, for sure. [MySpace]
My dislike of the Vivian Girls is no secret, despite how much I want to like them. Given my lowest of low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. Their delivery was punkier than I'd anticipated and they have actually started moving when playing. The fast, loud, crashing drums helped immensely. However, after a couple songs, I did reach my usual state of boredom. The band's "melodies" are rarely more than three or four notes and their "solos" or "jams" or whatever they are meant to be usually consist of a single chord and go on way too long. If the Vivian Girls made songs clocking it at a minute or two instead of five, I might actually enjoy them. [MySpace]
I had high hopes for Thee Oh Sees, but my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, they followed the whole mediocre-female-singer-with-tambourine concept and there wasn't anything special about them to set them apart from the rest of the bands - they sounded kind of like a recap of the festival, but not in an interesting way.
On the other hand, their delivery was lively and engaging and their arrangements well-conceived. They put their heart into playing and it showed. They also had better vocal lines than many of the day's bands. Still, though, there wasn't enough substance to hold my attention for long. They were fun, but as far as I saw, nothing to write home about and certainly a big creative step down from Woods, Blank Dogs and even Crystal Stilts. [MySpace]