Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cursive, Minus the Bear, and Moogfest

After losing my music festival virginity to Warped Tour in 2008, it took four years for me to warm up to another. Daytime summer heat and mediocre outdoor venues aside, I got to see two bands I really wanted to see—and cheap. For the price, I couldn’t expect Moogfest.

Moogfest, for me, started two days earlier, in Atlanta. At the Variety Playhouse, I met up with my friend Paul and caught the beginning of opening fodder Girl in a Coma. Sounding something like Karen O-meets-Alanis-Morisette’s-odd-vocal-twang over energetic all-girl punk I doubt I’d pay to see again, they still kept me distracted until Cursive hit the stage.

Cursive covered the hits and then some from their eight full-lengths, many from their best known “The Ugly Organ,” regrettably all I’d heard in full. Hearing more, I knew I had to hear the rest, if only to join the hardcore fans who knew all the words to their other songs. Fans like my friend Paul.
So it was, if only for “The Recluse,” their biggest hit, that my tongue joined theirs (metaphorically speaking). Tim Kasher sang as an overnight lover more attached than intended as “I wake alone in a woman’s room I hardly know.” Uncharacteristically catchier and more melodic, it capped off a slew of other songs spanning relationships, philosophy, art, and religion.

Not quite, alongside Minus the Bear, with their layered guitar loops, danceable drums, and often uninspired vocals. Two songs into their first set, I was more concerned with whatever smelled of ganja and piss. Then, I remembered a drunken douche bag who’d, moments earlier, pushed his way to the front because “my friends are up here.”

Not to be outdone, another drunken burnout shoved his way to the front—directly in front of me. After Paul and I politely convinced him to move, I stood assertively shoulder-to-shoulder to the guy for twenty minutes before he finally turned and curtly related, “I’m going to make your day, man,” then disappeared.

Behind me, a mother and daughter thanked me. So ended the only really exciting part of Minus the Bear’s first set. The second set ushered in some of their older work more familiar to me. I danced a little. Then came a crackling, high-pitched voice in the crowd calling for their breakout single “The Fix” between every next song until the band finally caved.

As we all sang along, even the bowels of hell couldn’t keep angry burnout from rejoining us. Only this time, I wasn’t the only one pushing him back and this time, he left for good once he’d had his fix, the song ended. “We should kill that guy,” I overheard another fan say after the show.

The next day, Paul and I caravanned by car to Asheville, North Carolina. Paul watched electronic act Justice that night while I got a taste of downtown Asheville by myself. We convened at Asheville Music Hall for a free concert.

We caught the underwhelming Levek and a two-person instrumental group called 2PPM (Two People Playing Music). 2PPM’s jazzy drums, groovy bass lines, and distorted piano so entranced me I later went to buy their record only to realize I was talking to Levek’s merch guy. I felt awkward long enough to find out 2PPM’s music is free online anyway, and it’s hard to argue with free.


Especially if you’re the $3 waters I bought the next night at Moogfest, in the U.S. Cellular Center. Enough fuel to run from venue to venue, catching a few songs each from Nas, Pantha Du Prince, Bear in Heaven, and Miike Snow before learning a lesson about music festivals. You can’t catch all 19 bands playing 5 venues, often at the same time. If you want even a decent spot anyway.

 El-P (right), his hype man (left)

So I walked 20 minutes to The Orange Peel venue where I waited in front of the stage for nearly half an hour. But I got my spot. El-P made it worth my time, with only a hype man and two multi-instrumentalists, one playing guitar/drums and dressed in just a bathrobe, sunglasses, and a captain’s hat. El-P said it was his guitarist’s preferred outfit; he joked, in turn, that he wore it for El-P.
El-P performed mostly his latest album—solid but not my favorite—and dedicated a song to his recently deceased friend Camu Tao. Later, he brought out fellow rapper Killer Mike, who’d played a set of his own there earlier that night.

You know I had to get a shot of Killer Mike's shirt.

Afterward, I jetted off for the second half of Primus at the last venue only to find myself the worst crowd position of the night. So I walked right back 20 minutes to catch Black Moth Super Rainbow 30 minutes early to ensure a good spot. Though I’d only heard a few of their songs—older songs—I’d loved what I’d heard and loved them even more live.

Solid musicianship, especially tight, ever-pulsating drums turned hazy vintage-synth-driven songs into an indie dance party. Meanwhile, wall-projected videos played, music videos where appropriate and for the rest, trippy visuals of odd locations with randomly appearing-and-disappearing people. The crowd, too, was fun to watch, especially a guy in a rhinoceros mask who went crowd surfing and a guy wearing a creepy surreal orange-shaped mask from BMSR’s “Windshield Smasher” music video.

"I hope my friends didn't misunderstand me," I told several strangers in the packed crowd. "When I told them I was going to GZA." I paused. "But really, how could they? It works either way."

As GZA took the stage, he showed us how relevant a rapper in his mid 40s can be, moving the crowd with only a DJ behind him and decades-worth of charisma. He ran through his entire classic “Liquid Swords” album alongside numerous other songs and guest verses he’d written over the years. In between songs, he humorously engaged the crowd, calling out one fan who couldn’t identify the rapper on the kid's own Wu-Tang Clan shirt he’d worn to the show.

After the show, Paul and I walked to a vegetarian-/vegan-friendly restaurant open late, literally the last two customers that night allowed into a crowded Rosetta’s Kitchen. We loved it so much we came back the next day for lunch where he happened to run into and get a picture with The Magnetic Fields. Before I started home, I confessed my love for Asheville, my desire to be inside it forever. I would have to wait in line, Paul reminded me, with all the other people with the same idea, in an already overcrowded local job market. Guess there’s always next Moogfest.

- Daniel J DeMersseman

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I wrote an actual Christmas song this time

An actual Christmas song. Guess there's a first time for everything.

- Daniel J DeMersseman

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Am I Writing About Against Me

The face of my indifference!

I was indifferent to the music of Against Me and the only orange camo-fox t-shirt, plaid shorts, and fedora in a sea of black tees, save for a few white ones, with only our collective lack of melanin in common. But an alcohol-infused mosh pit can swallow you whole—your personal identity, personal space, and possibly your fedora to a sudden thrust, your eye to another—though I left with them all intact, if just barely. Not that I came for any of that.

“That drummer looks like a mix of [two different people we know from Valdosta] and that guitarist is a dead ringer for Bobby from Valdosta,” I told my friend Daniel. Turns out it was Bobby. And that the drummer was a mix of the two different people we knew. Still, we didn’t talk to Bobby—we thought it’d be weird to tell him he looked like someone we knew—and we didn’t talk to the drummer because of our policy of not talking to clones made of spliced genes (pretty good drummer though). Bobby, an ex-Valdostan, had joined their ranks in Gaineseville, Florida, as a guitarist for The Future Now, luckily not also the Future Now we knew from Valdosta, same in name only.


No, this was more of “a harder-edged Foo Fighters with a different singer,” to paraphrase my friend. “We’re going to do something real rock and roll right now and put our capos on,” they told us at one point—and, in even truer rock and roll fashion, rang in our ears long after.

Even as the Rivernecks replaced them on stage—the bandleader in a “Grabass is for Lovers” t-shirt, along with numerous other members, including one with a banjo. There was even a guy who looked like a mix of Chad Kroger and John the Baptist or Jesus, on banjo—who was, luckily, just “a fisherman,” Grabass is for Lovers eventually told us.

 Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (or is it Ooooooh?)

But even that and a decent drummer really just meant country songs with half-interesting intros. Otherwise, I could barely tell the songs apart until the last one. Something about "Get me to the porch. I wanna drink my life away”—it was memorable, if only because it felt like they were reading my mind.

Then, someone in the crowd capped off the set with a courtesy fart, and a girl behind me spoke up: “It sucks being short. I wish I were tall.”

“No, you don’t,” I told her. “Then, you’d be more worried with whose ass to stuff a stick of Big Red into.”

Bring the one who dealt it to the stage! We will spank him as one!

But I thought about what she said, too. In an ideal world, the crowd would’ve formed more of a mullet—not a literal one but short people in the front, taller people toward the back. But no, in true punk rock fashion, it was more of a devilock, short people forced to its outskirts and tall people front and center, some hanging over the stage in the singer’s face only a few songs into Against Me’s set.

While I wasn’t really familiar with their music—though more than the other bands—I couldn’t help but feel it, thanks to the crowd. That human-devilock-of-a crowd forcibly replaced me upfront, and I decided not to fight it—because I probably would’ve literally had to fight them—being pushed and hit enough where I now stood, I thought. But what might not always have been enjoyable was certainly never boring, progressively more so as the set raged on. By the end of it, a large portion of the crowd, led by a large shirtless man, had joined the band on the small stage. Though never directly inviting it, Against Me seemed to eat it up, their vocalist hanging from the rafters by the end.

That smell! There is no escape! Let us make our escape!

Okay, so I came for Against Me after all or rather, the experience of Against Me. And I came for the spectacle of quasi-celebrity Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gable, and I wasn’t let down. Grace was friendly enough when Daniel asked for a picture and, when we mentioned we were from Valdosta, asked us if we liked Ninja Gun, too. Plus, she still sounded like Gable, still looked like Gable, if slightly more glam rock; clearly enjoyed herself, and proved her showmanship from start to finish. If anything, she seemed more in tune with herself mid-sex change than beforehand, not that I knew her beforehand.

More importantly, my friend was a big fan of Against Me, and I was here to hang out with him and for the opportunity to get out of town. I wasn’t let down either. St. Augustine’s CafĂ© 11 proved a nice, if smallish, venue with delicious sandwiches and local microbrew beer. Hopefully, I’ll be back for that and David Bazaan in November. And while I won’t likely be back at another Against Me concert, I felt inspired, if violently so, to believe in my own passions. And to hope away the days straight of ringing in my ears.

- Daniel J DeMersseman
different strangers since May 2009
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