This is late getting posted. It stormed (briefly) on the venue on Sunday, which knocked out the wi-fi over at the Bunbury media tent. Hopefully, it was worth the wait. If not, I obviously I hadn’t been drinking enough when I wrote it. I blame nargles.
Right then. On to the scribbling.
The rigors and responsibilities of crack journalism (*snicker*) delayed my arrival to Bunbury on Saturday. I didn’t even start down to Sawyer Point until 2 pm or so. After Friday’s access challenges, I was nervous that I would miss the sets through five o’clock. Turns out that concern was unfounded; flow was better organized. I bit the additional cost to park on the Ohio side of the river and got right in.
I met up with my radio co-host, Alicia Inman, to take pictures for her interview with Imagine Dragons. Caught a bit of Jukebox the Ghost’s set on the Main Stage. The crowd was into the show and farther back along the field than they were at comparable shows same time the day before — attendance seemed up on Saturday.
Cincinnati’s trio The Sundresses are equal parts straight rock, punk and psychobilly — Stray Cats, in heat. They played on the aliveOne Stage and delivered as expected – searing, uptempo, engaging tunes. For my part, they’re a candidate for Top 5 up-and-coming band in the Cincinnati area, if not the Midwest. Word is they are putting together a new record; I’m eagerly looking forward to it. The crowd was dancing near the stage and they drew well. It shouldn’t be long before they’re scooped up by a label.
Beer break. I know, I was on the clock, and I said I wouldn’t. But I’m weak. Come on, I’m a writer. You think this is easy stonefaced sober? I’ll give you some time to name great novels written by teetotalers . . . see how quick that went?
One thing I’ll say about Bunbury – they got food vendors, merch vendors, ATMs, water stations and restroom facilities right — and out of the gate. With a bigger crowd yesterday, the lines for some food vendors were slightly longer, but they weren’t ridiculous. Beer was flowing quickly and at reasonable prices. A little high, but not Live Nation high.
The twitter buzz was right – there were NO bathroom lines. Plenty of portables and such. Well managed. They even had two charging stations for cell phones. They filled up quickly, and turnover was naturally slow, but they were attended by staff. I took a bit of a risk and walked over to catch a set yesterday while my phone took a charge, but there it was, safe and sound, when I got back. Bravo. A suggestion for next year – maybe more chargers? This is a stellar idea – it allows people to build buzz for the event on Twitter, via text and Facebook, allows continued usage of the free downloadable Bunbury app (I’ve used this quite a bit to find out where various bands are from, and to listen to Bunbury Radio (playing all Bunbury acts – great for sampling and planning my listening experience) and, ultimately, is good for patrons’ safety (if you’ve been tweeting and Facebooking all day, and run out of juice, what happens if you have an emergency in the parking lot at 11:30 pm? A little planning and no problem). Big kudos to Bill Donabedian and festival staff for providing these.
A little bit of rain rolled in. We got lucky – most of the storms went south of Cincinnati. Forecastle, down in Louisville, was not so lucky – some set times were pushed back, according to our colleague Joe Long, over at EachNoteSecure.com. No worries here.
There were worries at the Landor Stage. Sound problems delayed English pop outfit Graffiti 6′s set start, dismaying hundreds of middle school-aged girls who filled the Serpentine Wall and endured sog to see them. Those sound problems continued during the set – the band was going back and forth with the sound tech, even during songs. This was reportedly not the only sound issue yesterday on Landor. According to Alicia Inman, Alberta Cross was experiencing difficulties as well. I stayed with it for five cuts, then bugged out. When bands are uncomfortable on stage, I get empathetic discomfort. Besides, Manchester Orchestra was about to go off and the barometric pressure change was giving me sinus trouble.
It’s more than you want to know, but trust me: after two surgeries and many allergy shots, living in Cincinnati is, with increasing evidence, the root of the problem. If you’re one of the legions of out-of-towners who read my articles (*more self-derogatory snickers*), Cincinnati’s summertime allergen prevalence is so notorious as to have bred a local, grammatically-ridiculous idiom, “I have sinus,” the reply to which is inevitably an empathetic sigh and extended account of the other party’s own struggle with this dread condition.
Enough of swollen upper respiratory mucosa talk. One hopes that the same sound tech won’t be running the Wussy or Good Old War shows on Sunday, or at least that he’ll be more on his game. Maybe he just had sinus, too.
At Inman’s suggestion, I joined her to check out Atlanta, GA’s Manchester Orchestra. I’ll admit my ignorance – had never knowingly heard them before. They were heavy and Cincinnati loved them. The audience was hopping through most of their set on the Main Stage.
People in this town seem to like their music the way they like their sex – hard and fast. Me? I’m the sentimental type. I like to break things up with some melody, with lyrics, with synth. Manchester Orchestra was decent enough, but they didn’t grab me; that is, until they played a slower, more melodically rich song called “Simple Math.” And while I saw some listeners bugging out (ostensibly for a Hudy Light run – it’s a Cincy thing – or to stage up for Bright Light Social Hour), I fell in to their set here.
“Clapping doesn’t work for this song,” frontman Andy Hull stopped an intro and warned from the stage, laughing. “It’s not you, it’s us.” He paused. “Eh, fuck it, we can try it. We like to keep it real.” He grinned. We all ate it up.
Inman moved on to check out Bright Light Social Hour. I headed off to catch some of Cincinnati’s 500 Miles to Memphis. I didn’t get there. I was arrested by strange sights. On the Bud Light Stage, acid rave jokester (and Ninja Turtle t-shirt clad) Dan Deacon, of Baltimore, MD, was organizing his audience into competing dance halves. He chose one person on each side to be team leaders – each side had to follow their leader’s moves, and with a characteristic subversive twist, he encouraged tap-out coups d’états. To stage right, in the middle of a human pyramid construction, he warned:
“I think you guys may be building an unsustainable system, but that’s you guyses decision.”
Deacon was the surprise of the night. He’s hilarious. He’s fast. He’s electro goodness. It’s just he, his board and two backing drummers. They were in perfect synch.
“OK, when we start playing this one, I want everyone to run away from the stage as fast as you can.”
And they did. For 45 seconds. He stopped again.
“I like the spread out feeling. OK, now on this one, I want you all to come back toward the stage. But slowly. Really explore the space.”
I’m now a Dan Deacon fan. He even had the audience doing a giant Virginia reel, building a human tunnel. Politicians and CEOs take note: if you want people to do things, making it seem fun works a lot better than fear, threats and money. Not that money matters to Deacon.
“So we’re on the Bud Light stage. Don’t drink it, they’re evil. Sorry, I know we have to subsidize costs, but still,” he cajoled. “And I know this is the Proctor and Gamble stage and they built it, but that company does nothing but destroy the earth . . . go to hell, Proctor and Gamble.”
I’ll nominate Dan Deacon for co-Surprise of the Festival thus far. I’ve never had so much fun.
Caught a little bit of Gaslight Anthem, who I was really excited to see coming into the festival. But I find I’m suffering from a curious disease endemic to journalists covering music festivals: Transient Audio Attention Deficit Disorder, the inescapable feeling that one is missing something huge just over on the next stage. It’s pervasive. I love Gaslight Anthem. But I’ll admit it: I forsook them. I’m ashamed. Headed over to RJD2. Caught part of DJ Spider’s set on the Red Bull stage – first time I’d encountered a crowd paying attention to a DJ set this weekend. He was busting it out.
Left my phone at the charging station and headed over to the Bud Light Stage again fordowntempo Ohio native RJD2. The set started out a bit muted – almost demure. The audience were tentative. But darkness having drawn nigh and down, RJD2 picked it up. “The Horror” and “1976,” sure pleasers had the trip-hoppers in gear. The glowsticks came out. The audience was chanting.
Then, a skip.
“Sorry, that got a little clusterfucky for a second.” A sheepish grin. “Records do weird things sometimes. You take your chances with this shit.” We loved it. More dancing. The crowd surged.
Set finished, still chanting.
“Thanks. It’s great to be back in Ohio. I appreciate you all sticking with me,” he gestured toward the Main Stage, where headliner Weezer had started 15 minutes prior.
Most people left then, satisfied. Then, unexpectedly, graciously, he came down from the stage and greeted the remaining people. Individually. Took pictures with everyone who asked. Spoke for 10 minutes or so with a DJ hopeful.
RJD2 was happy to be home. We were happy to see him.
All week long, people had been telling me Weezer was rather notorious for putting on a boring show. “Weezer? I don’t care about Weezer,” one punter told me, as we talked on my way over to the Main Stage. He was on his way out.
Evidently someone cares about Weezer. The field was packed back to three-fourths of its length. Rivers Cuomo, dressed as a dead-ringer for Woody Allen, according (aptly put) to one Twitter user, was in capital voice. The band was on. People were jamming.
Whereas the audience seemed disengaged the night before during Jane’s Addiction, Weezer and the people were in synch. Heads were bobbing. People were climbing trees to get a better look. They sounded great. This is the Weezer I remember – the blue album-era, not “Beverly Hills” pop-schlock (although they would play it in their encore).
That’s right – Weezer gave us an encore. They played past Perry Farrell’s curfew. Noise be damned. Ordinances be damned. One-percenters in adjacent high-rise condo buildings be damned. Rivers was wearing his sweater vest. And a cowboy villain’s hat. And it’s July.
Weezer played all their hits. And say what you want about that, but for a band at this stage of their career, that’s what I want to hear. I cut my teeth on “Buddy Holly” and “My Name is Jonas,” when I was 15, impetuous and just learning what music would define my life’s soundtrack. We got both. We got “Say It Ain’t So” (which, two cents, I believe is in the conversation for Gen X anthem, every bit as much as “Piece of My Heart” or “For What It’s Worth” would be to my parents’ generation).
If they played “Undone (The Sweater Song),” it came before I wandered in. But I didn’t miss it. They were spot on. They came off at 11:00 pm sharp. We wondered, “Is it over?” – Jane’s Addiction had, after all, not graced us with an encore. But Weezer and the audience were locked in. Few left. And Weezer stayed.
“This was a song from when we were young,” Cuomo said, taking the mic. And they launched a driving cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me.”
I love a complete circle. It is beautiful, it is symmetrical. It is perfect.