Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Live: Woodsist Festival Recap (Day 1)

A couple of days at the Woodsist/Captured Tracks Festival is all it takes to illustrate how inbred the DIY scene truly is. There were so many members shared between bands that the event simply seems like a quick run-through of all the three-to-five person permutations possible with a dozen core members. (OK, math nerds, settle down. Permutations, not combinations, because sometimes they just rotate instruments.)

Some of the Woodsist bands are outstanding and several (Wavves, Woods, Crystal Stilts, Little Girls, etc.) number among my recent favorites, but with such a closed circle, it seems like the musicians and the small movement they've created is hurtling towards an artistic dead end. The festival was the culmination of a year and a half of well-deserved success, but seeing so many of the bands play in short succession was just watching them paint themselves into a corner.


The first band I caught was the Mayfair Sect, the debut of a collaboration between Kristen Gundred, the sole member of Dum Dum Girls, and Mike Sniper, the sole member of Blank Dogs - joined by members of Woods to round out the live band. Since Sniper also joined Gundred for the (also first-ever) Dum Dum Girls set on Saturday, the whole thing seemed a bit redundant. But in any case, Gundred has a powerful voice, one of the best of the festival, and Sniper's baritone is not far behind. The songs and performance were solid, but unremarkable - it seems like we've heard this all before.

Little Girls followed, a band "Jasper" recently recommended. Having seen them live, I can stand behind that recommendation even more confidently. The sound in Market Hotel was awful, and almost every band of the night sounded off-key. Little Girls were no exception, but their performance was far less aloof than many of the other bands and the dark tints in their music set them apart from the pack.

Similarly unaloof, Cause Co-Motion! gave an outstanding performance, tearing it up (literally, tearing up some of the stage's paper decorations) and jumping around like fourteen-year-old hardcore punks. However, the venue's poor sound, combined with the band's decision to deliver their songs in extra fast, extra messy punk fashion, ruined the set. I like extra fast and extra messy, but CCM aren't a punk band, they're a lo-fi pop band, and with their melodies falling flat, there was little to listen to. I had fun watching, but my ears were just plain bored.

I was glad to finally catch Psychedelic Horseshit, a band that's managed to generate some publicity simply by being arrogant and rude. Not all that surprisingly, the music sucked. The band seems out to destroy, and while I'm all about destruction, the secret truth is that you've got to do more than tear things down. No harmonies, no melodies, no songs, nothing but vocal snarls, guitar noise and primal drums. The most interesting part of the music were some dual rhythms with no apparent alignment; that was pretty cool, but the novelty did wear off eventually. I found it difficult to listen to the rest, which lacked bass or any low-register notes besides the bass drum. I do have some respect for the band and their willingness to negate everything. Still, making ugly noise to piss people off isn't exactly original.

Though I didn't like Blank Dogs last time I caught them live, their recorded material has really grown on me over the last few months, and I was excited to give the band another chance. Unfortunately, I still didn't like what I saw. If Sniper surrounded himself with other musicians who shared his dark vision, Blank Dogs could be a great live act. However, those who joined Sniper on stage didn't seem hip to his music's murky, gothic undertow. The band played as though they were playing with any other Woodsist band, confusing and obscuring the elements that make Blank Dogs unique.

Headliners Crystal Stilts delivered the most energetic performance I've seen from them to date - though that's not really saying much. They did do far better than the rest of the day's bands (Mayfair Sect possibly excepted) in overcoming the acoustic difficulties - their melodies were clear and in tune and their instruments distinct and balanced.

Despite a few changes (drummer Frankie Rose finally sitting down, for one), the band is doing pretty much what they have been, and their songs still sound disappointingly alike. A few of their more uptempo songs stood out in the set and the rest were at least enjoyable. It was nice to see the band finally having some fun too, dropping their detached posturing and really playing a heartfelt show for a room full of friends.

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