Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A FreeFest Recap

FreeFest. When I first heard about it, I thought, "This is too good to be true." But no. It was true. A free, one-day festival at the historic Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland, somewhere between Baltimore and DC. Donations ($10 a piece for Jorje and I) made to a local charity. And it's super legit.

A little about the festival:
Three stages, shows from noon-11pm (Sept. 21st), a ton of booths and food vendors, and random things like Waterfall Swings, heart-shaped foam machines, and free suckers.
So Jorjette and I really enjoyed the day. I don't think either of us could have done more than a day (especially if there was camping, etc. involved) but it was a super solid chunk of shows and we would totally go back next year if we could score tickets again.

One quick story: We got "stuck" at the Pavilion Stage (the main stage) once we realized that if we left, we probably wouldn't be able to get back under the pavilion... and it was down pouring... and two of the main bands we came to see were on the docket. So we stuck it out for a solid six hours. It was a miracle we didn't pee our pants or eat an arm or something.

Oh, the only artist we wanted to see but didn't get to was Robin Thicke. Mainly because it was raining and that stage had zero shelter.

I could go on for a while so I'll just give a couple thoughts on each band.

Ghost Beach
Dance Forest
This new group from NYC started the day off with a lot of energy. Poppy, an electronic bent, and some great hooks. The lead singer was intent on making sure the crowd was 100% into the show, demanding "hands in the air" about four or five times throughout the show. But the band was tight and put on a good opening show.

Washed Out
Dance Forest
I've been grooving to Washed Out through the last few albums, loving the general vibe they set. Front runners of the chillwave genre, they know how create a mood. With that said, I wasn't sure what the live show would look like, especially as it's a heavily produced album. I was happy to see a full band (drums, electric, acoustic, bass, synth, plus a number of mixing boards), a surprise considering many bands in their genre rely solely on prerecorded tracks. So, good vibe, people were excited to be there, and they weren't quite as pretentious looking as I would have expected them to.
West Stage
Perhaps one of the most hyped bands of the year, I've been trying to avoid liking this band. But they've got something about them that just sticks with you. We missed the start of this set but, what we saw of it, they sounded great. They relied primarily on tracks and synth (not a favorite of mine) but they had a lot of charm and their vocals were on point. Also, the crowd was eating it up.
Icona Pop
West Stage
I only know this Swedish band through their radio single, I Love It, a sugary, easy-to-forget summer hit. To be honest, their live show felt about the same. Two female vocalists, occasionally playing an instrument here and there. They sounded decent but primarily came across as a parody of a European pop group.

City and Colour
Pavilion Stage
Shortly before the festival, I checked out City and Colour's album on Spotify and was loving the lead singer's raspy, soulful lead vocals over the band's full sound. Their live set showcased this very well. With that said, their genre of music may not have the most energy for a live set. Very glad to see them. Note: this was the first of four shows we saw at the Pavilion Stage, never leaving our seats. Also, how great is this venue?
Pavilion Stage
Hmm, how to describe MGMT's live show? They're holding strong to their acid-rock vibe, politely ignoring the success of their two or three hit, pop singles. They sounded good, backed by their trippy computer-generated insect-men type videos playing in the background. It was a sitting concert... except for Time to Pretend and Electric Feel. 

The Avett Brothers
Pavilion Stage
Wow, the total highlight of the day. These guys brought an hour and a half of energy and passion to the stage. They were so excited to be there, performing and doing what they love. While their recorded albums sound great, they come across as relaxed and soothing folk. Live, they sing with so much conviction and emotion that it's hard to even reconcile the two. The stand up bassists wouldn't let his instrument touch the ground for whole songs, due to so much energy. The next song, three of them would gather towards the center of the stage, slowly singing a folk-ballad of theirs. They could have gone all night and I would have been entertained.

Vampire Weekend
Pavilion Stage
Modern Vampires of the City is my front runner for best album of the year. Although Jorjette and I have seen Vampire Weekend live before, I was psyched to catch their new material performed. I wasn't disappointed with how great they sounded live. And they hit all my faves off their new album: Diane Young, Step, Ya Hey, etc. For that, I was thrilled. Besides that, following The Avett Brothers is difficult. VW are masters of producing incredible sounds in the studio, yet performing their smart, preppy, world-music influenced rock with a lot of energy doesn't seem to be their top priority. I will say, since seeing them last, the crowd-response has become much more enthusiastic. Note: this is the fourth show we saw in the Pavilion Stage, a solid six hours without food/bathroom - we're diehards.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Alt-J / Lord Huron Show Recap

This past Wednesday (9/18) I had the chance to catch the Alt-J and Lord Huron show at the 9:30 Club in DC with my buds Ben, Jeremy, and Taylor. Alt-J has always held a place of intrigue in my mind though I wouldn't count myself a super-fan. With that said, their music is so full and unique that, when given the chance to catch them live, I jumped at the opportunity.
Front row!
As Jeremy did all the organizing/purchasing, it was only a few days before the show that I found out that Lord Huron was opening. Their latest (only?) album has been a favorite of mine over the last year, commonly creating a perfect atmosphere of smooth, folksy goodness.

As their music has a relaxing vibe, I thought the show might sound good but be a little bit of a bore, especially as the guys came out in their J. Crew / Levi gear. Yet I was surprised by how exciting of a show these guys put on. The lead singer lost his cowboy hat a number of times due to rocking out or playing percussion in addition to his guitar (something I absolutely love). We were able to nab front row spots, giving us a great view of the electric guitarist's fantastic skills in creating a great sound. All in all, they sounded great and put a ton of energy into making an engaging show. Check them out sometime if you get the chance.

Onto Alt-J. These guys just exploded with their first and only album. We were catching them on the first night of two sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club. The crowd was psyched to be there. And we could feel the energy up front.
The four piece band came out arranged in a neat row and started right into their song, Intro. The word "calculated" was mentioned many times in describing their show and I think that's fair. They enjoyed playing their music for their fans but they weren't necessarily intent on creating incredible stage presence, perhaps an indicator of the specific *ahem* culture their music creates.   
The lead singer, big red beard, all black outfit and floral shoes, sounded great both with his super distinct vocals and guitar picking. Bleached-hair bassist and pizza-delivery-boy drummer were on point. And put-together keyboardist created just about every distinct sound to fill in the gaps. While their album has some super creative sounds on it, it's always a little disappointing when the interesting parts are created solely by a synth... I guess my desire for a live show is to see something I wouldn't see elsewhere.
When performing off of just one album, filling a headlining setlist usually requires some additions. Perhaps the anecdotal highlight was Alt-J's cover of College's "A Real Hero" (the standout track from the Drive soundtrack). That, in addition to the pretty dynamic light-show that accompanied, made for a real good show. Again, check them out live and, perhaps more importantly, check out their album.