Sunday, August 28, 2011

LouFest Day Two: Band-By-Band Reviews

Posted By on Sun, Aug 28, 2011 at 11:07 PM

  • Photo by Todd Owyoung

Old Lights Noon| Blue Stage By Kelsey Whipple

You can't just casually listen to Old Lights. You have to really listen. Buried beneath the charming stage banter and the neat, occasionally adorable melodies and the surf guitar and the joint poptastic choruses and frontman Dave Beeman's maroon stage pants are desperately sad lyrics born from past relationship disasters and gorging on an awareness of their own inner workings. This is a band rooted, at least lyrically, in heavy drama, and that alone finds it wading drastically different waters each show.

This one, the opening set of LouFest's second day, was not the group's finest. Despite some early technical difficulties, the band's lyrical content achieved an immediate eerie allure in the empty sun. Still, the set lacked the charm and finesse typical of Old Lights. Awkward stage banter transitioned into commentary on the band's recurring issues with broken guitar strings and empty spaces between songs. Lyrics such as, "I ain't singing 'Hallelujah' anymore," typical of Old Lights' beautiful sentiments, felt almost bitter when sung by a noticeably upset Beeman.

This isn't to say that the members of Old Lights didn't recover their fine-tuned rock chops in time to rally the troops. About 40 minutes into the band's hour-long exploration of new and old material, songs such as "Death Came," a gentle crooner focused heavily on Beeman's emotional content, found the band focusing on its performance instead of commenting on early technical flaws. "Apparently it's my first day ever tuning a guitar," Beeman commented at one point. "The Hold Steady didn't have this problem."

Drummer John Joern and keyboard darling Beth Bombara operated as the musical and emotional glue of a set that crossed both high and low points. When, after taking a turn on guitar, Bombara also managed to break a string, the group's previous problems became a joke rather than a frustration. And at no point during the group's set was any sound more consistently solid than that of the drums. When the day's first band ended, it was met with rowdy whistling from the 40 or so people gathered to see it. The six people onstage appeared less enthused.

  • Photo by Nick Schnelle

Jumbling Towers 1 p.m. | Orange Stage By Zach Noland

The early Sunday crowd, sprinkled shadowless on the battered fescue, stood calm and attentive for the quasi-homecoming of LouFest's final quasi-local act. The crowd greeted the proceeding 38 minutes of what had to be the most purely danceable music heard to this point (granted we're talking here about Talking Heads danceability, whiter-than Good-Humor-white danceability, prepare-yourself-for-a-sidelong-scowl-should-you crump-into-my-tote-bag danceability) with polite applause. Then they poked at phones, fingered shirt hems, adjusted shoulder straps, fondled desquamating shoulders, swallowed accreted saliva, and otherwise observed basic concert-going decorum, suggesting receptiveness but an ultimate unwillingness to do little more than that twitchy heel-stomp thing where the foot bends at the tarsometatarsals and the toes stay planted.

Clearly sensing the crowd's passivity, the band simply ripped through a short set of old ones and new ones, self-consciously amusing themselves and altogether eschewing the earnest, audience-embracing attitude projected by all of the preceding local acts. In return they got the golf claps, a few obligatory "woos," and, at the very most, the sort of bemusedly amused looks that passed through the crowd at odd intervals.

Whether a matter of some perceived betrayal at the band's quasi-departure to Chattanooga, Tennessee, or a general and totally understandable reluctance to indulge the band with the bizarro Brit-speak vocals and the freaky synths and Adrian Belew guitar solos at 1 p.m. on a Sunday, it simply wasn't a love connection at the Orange Stage.

  • Photo by Nick Schnelle

Ume 2 p.m. | Blue Stage By Kelsey Whipple

Ume frontwoman Lauren Larson is the perfect new lead singer, chief guitarist and rock & roll model for the many thousands of us still stuck on Kim Gordon. The three members of the Austin, Texas, band might actually still be stuck on Gordon themselves, but when that later-years noise lust comes packaged in an overwhelming rush of no-frills, all-thrills sound, no one's complaining. There's no reason to: Aside from a timid introduction that seemed almost ironic about 30 seconds into the set's sonic bedlam, the band's show became a quick lesson in underrated uproar.

Ume (pronounced "ooh-may," which was a constant LouFest debate until Larson spoke the name onstage), is a small band considering the heights its stage buzz can reach. For this reason, it's important to note the strengths each of its three petite members bring to their intentionally disparate roles. Early on, it's easy to suspect that Larson pulls all the weight: Hidden under Courtney Love hair with bangs almost down to her nose, Larson spent the entirety of the set in constant, frenetic motion, flipping that 'do, shredding the guitar like a Tasmanian devil and causing a general ruckus as she served as the propeller for waves of acerbic but cathartic sound. How can someone so small produce so much noise?

If you can take your eyes off of her, however, you notice that neither the band's bassist nor drummer spends a single moment of the set without both hands moving at super speed. The two tend to fade into the background while Larson wails at the mic and on guitar, but the effect is that of a perfect storm of attitude onstage while the tunnels of biting noise travel in and out of focus. This is a band that breaks both hearts and hearing aids. And somewhere in between a raucous (and female-dominated) front row and the toddler blowing bubbles in an NPR shirt closer to the back, the level of crowd surprise alone proved this as one of the strongest shows this weekend.

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