Fair warning: before the end of this write-up, you will brand me a heretic and a madman. So be it.
Sean Hickey, 30, of Cincinnati, who is of no (known) relation to Rick Hickey, gets the award for T-Shirt of the Weekend. I love an obscure “Saved by the Bell” reference.
I arrived to the venue with rain threatening. I thought I was prepared – plenty of plastic bags in my backpack to protect computer, phone, various chargers and digital voice recorder. I grabbed a hot cup of coffee and settled in at a table near the aliveOne Stage to finish up my Day 2 wrap-up and listen to Black Owls, due on at 1:30 pm.
The sky started to spit; at first, it was manageable. I pulled a few garbage bags out, built myself a rainproof computer fort and ducked my head under black plastic to type. I endured odd looks from folks every time I came out from under for a peek around. It was hot, but I was getting the work done. The weather had other plans. At 12:45 pm, lightning – big, nasty, forked, cloud-to-ground lightning. I looked to my immediate left: metal light pole. I looked to my right: wires and soundboard. LZ was hot It was time to di di outta there.
I was glad I had paid extra and parked close. 45 minutes in the car with full-blast air-conditioner turned to the warm setting dried my hair, socks and shoes. The sun would take care of the rest. I felt like steamed cauliflower.
I made it back in to the venue and found, to my dismay, that Belle Histoire had managed to get on, albeit late – my original itinerary saw me splitting sets between Black Owls and this up-and-coming Northern Kentucky outfit – and they were just finishing up. Schade.
A few quick calculations and phone calls found me rearranging an interview time and starting over toward the media tent to file my story while listening to Maps and Atlases. I scribbled to a finish and kept an ear on the band, only to find the storm had knocked out the wireless. Filing would keep. The lesson in this: if you cover a music festival, have alternate objectives pre-planned. Mine was a date with Wussy.
Chuck Cleaver (left) and Lisa Walker (right) of Wussy. Do yourself a favor: go get a copy of “Funeral Dress II,” their acoustic re-recording of 2005′s “Funeral Dress.” Put your Neil Young hat on when you listen to it. Revel in the abandon.
Following the rain, Bunbury organizers rearranged a few set times and pushed out the changes to festival-goers via the Bunbury smart phone app. That was handy. Wussy had been scheduled to go at 3:00 pm; they were rescheduled for 3:15. I got there ten minutes later, and they still hadn’t gone on. Once again, problems with sound on the Landor Stage; they repeated over the weekend like a bad refrain.
The sun was out and I was baking dry when Chuck Cleaver, Lisa Walker and company launched “Funeral Dress.” Just returned from an extensive West Coast tour, Wussy are darlings of the Cincinnati music scene for good reason: Cleaver and Walker’s songs live between intensive storytelling and mischievous lyric wit, complemented by well-crafted hooks.
Wussy’s stage banter matches the dark humor of their compositions. Walker made a Ludditesque rant about phone apps. Bassist Messerly cajoled the audience at stage right – well-covered in tree shadows – for leaving their fellow Wussy watchers out in the pounding sun.
“The had an app that told them where to sit,” Walker chimed in, with a grin. “It said, ‘the shade.’”
Wussy was able to fight through more microphone SNAFUs during “Pulverized” to deliver a reasonably satisfying, if abbreviated set, which included crowd pleasers “Airborne” and “Don’t Leave.”
“Man, I don’t know what cartoon you’re feeling like, but I’m feeling like Jem and the Holograms today,” Walker deadpanned to Cleaver.
My own feelings on the set were mixed. Wussy, I believe, is at their best when they forget rocking an audience and focus on their more emotionally-charged songs. This performance, they settled for loud, leaving out “Motorcyle,” “Waiting Room,” “Little Miami” or “Shunt” – for my money, their four best. Maybe the shortened set time had more to do with their decision than a desire to enlist the audience; I hope so. In an instance when Wussy could have shown the out-of-town crowd who they are and what they’re about – on their own turf, with a friendly audience – it seemed a missed opportunity. People should know them for who they really are.
Margaret Darling (left) and Joe Frankl (right) of the Seedy Seeds.
Over on the Bud Light Stage, another Darling of the Cincy scene was playing – one Margaret Darling, with fellow Seedy Seeds Mike Ingram and Joe Frankl. Sporting the first installment of a new light display, the Seeds played to a crowd that started off thin, but rapidly built as their set continued. As a longtime fan, I was happy to overhear multiple instances of people in the crowd asking others, “Where’s this band from?”
I split my set here – Ume was playing concurrently over on the aliveOne stage. Whereas I was happy that I didn’t recognize many faces over in the Seeds’ crowd, I was just as enlivened to see many I did recognize checking out Ume.
Herein is the promise Bunbury offers – going forward, one hopes it will remember to invest itself as much in promoting Tristate artists to visitors, as it seeks to showcase national touring bands to the locals. A good festival is an open radio channel.
It was hot. I bought some Dojo gelato. Vanilla and churro, mixed. Well done, Jared Bowers, well done. I got my Tillers on at the adjacent CMC Stage while I sugared up. Just as the cinnamon in the churro flavor complemented smooth vanilla, so too did the sweet pickings of the punkgrass Tillers back up well to the Seedy Seeds’ electrofolk.
My computer bag being heavy, and my poor back being tired after a long weekend on my feet, I bugged out early for the car. The plan was to stash my pack in the trunk and book it across the venue to Main Stage for one of the acts I was most excited to see: Good Old War. I made the drop, headed back in and waited. And waited. And waited.
Remember that pack I left in my car? Well, hellfire if it didn’t have my itinerary folder in it, containing one critical tidbit: I was at the wrong ever-lovin’, cotton-pickin’, chicken-pluckin’ stage. Good Old War was playing on Landor.
Keith Goodwin, of Good Old War, threw up his arms in disgust. He was all like, “Where the hell have you been? We’ve been singing this whole time. Yeesh!”I hung my head, deeply chagrined.
Now, I’m not a tall guy – only 5’8″. My stride is accordingly shallow. But had you been standing between the Main Stage and Landor at about this time, you would have seen one quick streak and heard a blue other. I was moving quick and cussing hard. Basically, I’m an idiot and I was letting myself know so in concrete terms.
I caught the last song in Good Old War’s set. They sounded great. I wish I could say more. I would plead heatstroke or sleep deprivation, but in the bush, a soldier is accountable for his actions even under duress. I fell asleep on watch and I paid for it. I could only gnash my teeth and swear never again.
Off to conduct an interview.
Guided by Voices. There were giant balls.
I had always heard about Dayton’s Guided by Voices. They’re legends of the regional scene, usually mentioned in the same breath with early ’90s contemporaries such as the Ass Ponies, the Breeders and the Afghan Whigs (who, incidentally, reunited to replace GBV on the 2012 All Tomorrow’s Parties lineup back in May).
I was underage in GBV’s heyday, so I was eager to wipe away my ignorance of their live show. I was frenzied for it. I got back to Landor early and took a seat. Festival staff brought in a stable of giant, yellow beach balls – they were corralled to one side of the stage. Things were surely going to get lively.
“People always throw beer at Guided by Voices shows,” a friend assured me. “Their rider actually includes having a puke bucket on stage for Bob Pollard.”
The crowd was undeniably GBV-friendly. Cheers were intense when they took the stage. The Serpentine Wall was packed. Drum roll, please.
I promised you heresy. Having now seen GBV, I can say it:
I don’t get Guided by Voices.
There. It’s out. Can’t take it back.
Guided by Voices sets are almost entirely comprised by 45-second songlets. I’m told this is their MO. But they are lyrically nonsensical. Bob Pollard’s gimmick is tired: beer-drinking, faux English accent, Who-esque microphone twirling, abortive high kicks. He’s made a living out of it since the early ’80s. But their guitars were far out of tune. Pollard was off-key. I didn’t see the attraction.
“They’re prolific songwriters,” my friend advocated. “Bob turns virtually anything into a song.”
That’s exactly my problem.
It’s true – I wasn’t witness to their locally-legendary club shows. Maybe the great outdoors isn’t their venue. And maybe if I’d been standing elbow-to-drunken-elbow in a dark, sweaty room, maybe if I’d been completely FUBARed, maybe if I hadn’t been a journalist with the mantra “Writers Make Choices” etched indelibly onto my brain . . . well, we could maybe this thing to death.
I submit that being “prolific” does not “talented” make. I’m not saying that Guided by Voices doesn’t have their place – I happen to like their track “Hold on Hope.” But I found their live show befuddling, boring and anticlimactic. I don’t see the attraction.
Go ahead – I can take the heat. I can hear you now. “Who are you, man? You just don’t know.”
I challenge you to enlighten me.
I take my rock the way I take my bourbon: straight up, honest, without pretense.
Now here is the moment you will fancy me mad:
I didn’t see Death Cab for Cutie. I was lying on my back, in a grassy field, looking up at the night sky, listening to the cosmos. One star was particularly bright.