I’ve been waiting for this to go off for eight months, now. Bunbury Music Festival. Cincinnati’s new (other) gaga rock gala. An upstart child of Bill Donabedian, one of the sires of our own MidPoint Music Festival, seeking to supplant Forecastle and other regional festivals and keep the dollars right here, downtown, in the heart of the Queen City.
Access to the venue was difficult at best. Sawyer Point’s natural choke points, compounded by traffic from the Reds game next door, normal rush hour on I-71 and I-75, and a lack of clear wayfinding for the festival made obtaining my credential and getting in the door a sweaty two-hour ordeal. Thank God it wasn’t 110° F this weekend. Consequently missed the Minor Leagues’ set and only barely caught Henry Clay People’s last song – an F-bomb laced cover of “Born to Run”( during which the band paused and ordered the crowd to one knee in a candidate moment for Misplaced Narcissism Binge of the Century).
Oddly, most of that traffic doesn’t seem to have been coming down to Bunnbury on Friday afternoon; the crowd is light. Uncomfortably light. I run into my WVQC colleague, Bree Moss.
“It’s been like this all day,” she said. “This is the peak, so far.”
True – Bunbury is aiming big. To go head-to-head against Lousiville’s Forecastle and Chicago’s Pitchfork in your inaugural year is gutsy enough. To do so while competing with big local events – the World Choir Games, the Reds-Cardinals divisional series, the Newport Sausage Festival, for goodness sakes – that’s ballsy. One wonders if it might not all be a bit too much.
The American Queen rolled up the river. She’s a big boat. Don’t see that everyday. I hope Bunbury is able to gather steam, too.
Caught Ra Ra Riot on the Bud Light Stage, situated about dead center in the long festival layout. They played well, smallish crowd aside.
Vocalist Wes Miles, in between songs, looked out at the audience. “Man, it’s hot out here.”
Should have been here last week, Syracuse. A guy standing next to me nudged his buddy.
Ra Ra Riot played well. I like the juxtaposition of Harold Faltermeyer’s long-lost synth versus cello. But strings in indie rock are the “in” thing. What they’re doing, they’re doing well. Are they catchy? Certainly. Are they decent remix artists? Yes – I don’t fault them for signing on to remix Freelance Whales’ travesty “Hannah.” (I fault Freelance Whales’ ungodly lyrics – who rhymes “lemon Now and Later” with “playerhater?” Ugh.) But are they very different? No. They live in their genre, and they don’t seem poised to break away.
FOREGROUND: Megan Saile (left), and Peter Goldstein (right), both 26, of Cincinnati, love Ra Ra Riot. And, apparently, “Duck Tales.” Quack.
Spoke with a UC grad student, Jamie Busch, 23, of Newport, about her Bunbury experience.
“It’s pretty light tonight,” she said. “I know a lot of people who went to Forecastle tonight, but they’re coming up tomorrow.”
Why did she choose Bunbury over Forecastle?
“I can stumble home,” she laughed. ”You’re right in the middle of the city, you’re close to bars. Whereas at [a festival like] Bonnaroo, you’re up until 4 in the morning and then you crawl back, you get a couple hours of sleep, get up and do it again. I’ll be here all three days – why wouldn’t I be?”
“So far, so good. I like OAR – I’d never heard them before. They were pretty fun and energetic. I’m here to see Foxy Shazam. I’ve seen them five or six times. They always ask the crowd for cigarettes and then smoke them all.”
I like the stages better at Bonnaroo – they’re a lot bigger. I’ve noticed the screens, like at the Main Stage, are small. There’s not a lot of vendors or merch tents [on the eastern side of the park] – at Bonnaroo they’re everywhere you turn. It kind of makes the atmosphere. But at Bonnaroo you camp and here, you get to go home and sleep in your own bed. There’s still after parties,” she smiled.
An Airborne Toxic Event had been detected on the Main Stage (which, note to organizers, is designated “Globili Stage” on the set time grid, but “Main Stage” on the map, resulting in wasted minutes conducting a process-of-elimination cross-reference – wayfinding has been, ah, less than easy). And I found the crowd. Now we’re talking – maybe the after-work crowd was our fifth column. People were packing into the westernmost pocket of the park.
There should be a merit badge for getting a Cincinnati audience to jump and sing along. It would be hard to earn, but this Loz Feliz, Cali-based outfit should get one. My first time seeing them — they won me over. Highly energetic, excellent stage presence. As a drummer, I tend to watch the rhythm section to evaluate how well a band is playing together. ATE seemed locked in. Drummer Daren Taylor has quick, clean hands; he and bassist Noah Harmon held it down, allowing Mikel Jollett to kick loose.
Bands: crowd engagement is tough. It will make or break you in a city (see forum comments about this past June’s Radiohead show at Riverbend). If you want to learn how to do it, go to an Airborne Toxic Event show. Take notes; remember the reaction when Jollett throws Taylor’s drumsticks halfway out into the audience, or Steven Chen perches tiptoe on a monitor and plays guitar over his head. Consider similar tactics. Carry insurance.
Drew Polk, 26, of Cookville, TN, caught one of Daren Taylor’s drumsticks during Airborne Toxic Event’s set. Lucky bastard. They’re 7As, in case you’re curious. That’s, like, half the circumference of mine. My sticks, I mean. No, really. I’m a drummer, too. That’s what I was talking about. Yeah.
Toward the end of their set, ATE also covered Bruce Springsteen – “I’m on Fire.” What Fleetwood Mac was to hipsters in 2011, Johnny Cash was in 2010, the Cars were in 2009, and Brian Wilson was in 2008 – well, that seems to be case now for the Boss. Springsteen is in this year – very in. And having a violin chick in the band is the new Clarence Clemons arms race. Everyone must have one. I don’t fault any of those fad choices – it’s just that I lived through and actually remember the Boss’ heyday. Maybe some sour grapes as I approach my mid-thirties. But you what? My back hurts when I wake up every day now. So pass me some Aleve and some rare Nirvana or Meat Puppets 7″ vinyl. Because I’m betting heavy on a Kurt Cobain / grunge echo next year, and I could use the money re-selling them on e-Bay to kids who think they found something. Sigh.
After Bruce, a Bobby Fuller cover. Sensed an anti-establishment theme. It’s good for the millennial kids; of Cold War paranoia, they know anon. Thank God they’ve found their parents’ turntables, or they might all have gone forward thinking this extended stagflationary period was the first time in history when America needed a kick in the ass.
A technical note – ran into Brandon Losacker, of the Black Owls, during this set. “I can’t hear the guitars,” he said. “It’s all keys and bass.” Agreed.
Caught a little bit of Minus the Bear. They were what I expected; nothing more, nothing less. They were technically proficient, sounded good and indie as All Get Out. Musically, nothing stood out to me, good, bad or indifferent. But I saw the kids crowdsurfing. And on the night of a Jane’s Addiction headline, dredging up the Ghost of Lollapalooza Past, it warmed my heart.
A funny moment: vocalist Jake Snider to the audience. “We were in Covington last night. We got into some shit.”
“They can cook a pork chop, tell you that,” rejoined Dave Knudson, with a grin, tuning his guitar.
Cincinnati’s darling Queen reboot, Foxy Shazam, was holding Church of Rock and Roll services and the Serpentine Wall in front of the Landor stage was packed. Much neon. My synaesthesia kicked in high gear. I finally caught a whiff or two of reefer – it had been notably absent all day, although by all accounts (and personal experience) incoming searches were virtually nonexistent.
An acquaintance tweeted that “faces were melting.” True that. Eric Sean Nally has been described as “Freddie Mercury and Noel Fielding’s love child.” I’d believe it, but only if they had had a double male-gamete conception after a coke-fueled ménage-a-tois with Ted Nugent following a Detroit special engagement.
I learned something here – at Bunbury, if you’re under six feet tall (I’m a lamentable 5’8″), get to the popular sets early. You’re going to get aced out. I almost didn’t see Foxy Shazam take their keyboard into the crowd and surf with it, or Nally’s thrown mic / Jedi-esque telekinesis retrieval act. And he did it all while wearing leather and flats. “I Like It,” indeed.
Jane’s Addicition. The show I wanted to see twenty years ago when I was but a young buck, thinking I had found something when I dusted off my dad’s old Zeppelin albums (see how I did that there? I’m not above self-reproach.)
The crowd in front of the Main Stage was packed in. More grass wafts – ah, there it is. Now we felt rock. Two giant nude female statues and video displays behind the band. Jane’s Addiction has apparently attained Rush-level performance pretension: they employed non sequitur actors on stage. Two girls in wedding dresses swinging on trapezes twenty feet above the backline, a man in a fedora walking across the stage, toting a plastic garbage bag full of baby dolls, which he subsequently empties before repeatedly punching the dolls in the face and dashing them against the raised platform onto which he climbed, odd sadomasochistic imagery – cutting, replete with fake blood – and two gagged Asian women gyrating and crawling about in mock sexplay with a shirtless Perry Farrell. Hm. Things got habitual.
I looked at the lady behind me – Jackie Dillon, 37, of Fairfield, had brought her twin five year-old daughters, Sunny and Kayleigh Dillon, to the show. They had neon necklaces on.
“Sunny, what do you think of Dave Navarro?” I asked.
“I like him.”
I stifled it and smiled at mom.
“Did you catch their ’91 Lollapalooza farewell tour ?”
A quizzical look. I think I know how people around felt when my parents took me to Paul McCartney at Riverfront Stadium. Crikey, aging’s a bitch.
Top row: Kayleigh Dillon (left) and Sunny Dillon (right), 5, of Fairfield, Ohio. Sunny loves Dave Navarro.
Bottom row: Jackie Dillon (left), 37, of Fairfield, Ohio, will have her hands full in 11 years or so, when Kayleigh and Sunny are crushing on guys like Dave Navarro. Jeff Darnell (right), 44, of Madeira, Ohio, loved it when the sound guy played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album prior to Jane’s Addiction taking the stage, although for a second, he thought he was at the wrong concert. 1977 acid flashbacks are tough.
Tracy Hooks, of Madeira, was into it. Jane’s Addiction was on her bucket list. “I just assumed Perry Farrell would OD and die. I didn’t think I’d ever see them. Ever.”
Me, not so much. This was the headliner I most wanted to see this weekend. And they weren’t bad – it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on JA’s part. Farrell did a super job of engaging the front rows of the audience – jumping down and slapping fives. At one point, he fell off the end of the stage – took a licking and kept on ticking, as they say.
But try as they might, Jane’s Addiction had trouble getting the crowd going. Farrell’s stage banter was at times forced, and seemed like a rehearsed effort to meet audience memories of him, off-his-gourd smacked out, in past years. It didn’t fly. The audience seemed muted and confused through much of the one hour, fifteen minute set. Farrell either wasn’t in good voice last night, or just doesn’t have the pipes anymore, to hit the nasally highs that made him an icon of the Alternative Nation. “Been Caught Stealing” was short and unremarkable – Farrell simply couldn’t hit it.
There were sound problems, too. During the third song, there was a sudden burst of static over the PA. The sound repeatedly cut out during the set. Dave Navarro was visibly annoyed, and I don’t blame him a bit. Another oddity – Bunbury employed American Sign Language interpreters superimposed in the lower corner of the Main Stage screens to sign the lyrics during the Jane’s Addiction set. I applaud the accessibility, but it took out ¼ of an otherwise smallish screen size, and detracted from the experience (especially of a short guy in the back.) Recommendation – separate signer screens, or larger screens entirely, with the signer on a split-screen feed. I didn’t like the picture-in-box quality especially when it covered half of Navarro’s tattoos.
That said – I give JA a lot of credit for playing well. Navarro is still on top of his game; new bassist Chris Chaney was grooving it, and Stephen Perkins did a satisfactory job (albeit giving an uncomplicated solo) behind the kit. A look around at the audience, though, revealed a mixture of child-saddled Gen X-ers whose minds may have been willing to do what the bodies or the bounds of responsibility no longer couldn’t, and kids who came to see Jane’s Addiction because, well, hell, it’s Jane’s Addiction. My youngest uncle loved those guys. I have to see them, right? I mean, Dave freakin’ Navarro! And they were twittery tweeting and faceyspacing all about it on their smart phones during the show.
The crowd was just coming alive when Farrell uttered what he called, “a dirty word, one that should never be uttered – we have a CURFEW.” This is a major limitation on Bunbury – one that I’m not sure bodes well for the future of the festival. It takes place next to the Lytle Place “Apartments for the One Percent” – where, aside, I saw no one out on their patios listening to the show. City noise ordinances, presumably, limit the time bands can play. Death Cab will have to wrap by 10 pm or on Sunday. This is a problem that Bunbury should consider, if they come back for another year. Sawyer’s Point is not kind to vibe. So, at 11 pm, out came the steel drums, and Jane’s Addiction played their signature “Jane Says” (taken down a half octave, so that Farrell could hit it without snags), for a somewhat muted finale.
I have heard it said, repeatedly and from many sources, that Bunbury’s headliners are the show you wanted to see fifteen years ago. I can’t disagree. And when you’re up against Forecastle’s Wilco and My Morning Jacket engagements, a 75 minute set from Jane’s Addiction doesn’t cut mustard. The mid-majors are where it’s at with Bunbury.
Honors to California’s Airborne Toxic Event, for set of the day on Friday.
I’d give Airborne Toxic Event the honors for set-of-the-night, with Foxy Shazam a close second; people around me were buzzing about them. So – if the hive reconvenes next year, Bunbury, you might consider booking the acts the kids want to see. As much as I loathe saying it (big sigh), let we Gen X-ers follow, or fade away. Most of the Alternative Nation has an early bedtime.
Up early tomorrow and back to the venue. Will post a wrap article — I found carrying around backpack with laptop, camera, chargers, water bottle, etc., tedious and trying on my poor, old thirtysomething spine.
Will be live tweeting from our radio show’s Twitter account. Follow @salinaundergrnd and our blog partners, @lonelyhouseOH, for the latest news, notes, snark and randomness @bunburymusicfestival. We’ll post under #bunburyfestival.