Monday, June 7, 2010

Lobsterfest Day 3 - Athens, OH

I woke early for ACRN Lobsterfest Day 3. At least, in my opinion. 10:30 on a weekend? That's nuts for me. But the day was an important day, as far as I was concerned, so waking up despite not having had what I would consider to be sufficient sleep was more than necessary.

Day 3 of Lobsterfest was more like what I'd experienced last year for ACRN's Lobsterfest. Back then, I was a little freshman who had only written maybe five album reviews for the website. Needless to say, I knew absolutely no one. A friend of mine and I checked out a few sets that day, but certainly not the whole thing. The Kyle Sowashes, Kaslo, Ghost of Asa Phelps, 5 Deadly Venoms and Jay Reatard were those that I stuck around for. It was a good time, but I wasn't in tune with the Athens music scene one bit at that point, so it certainly wasn't as enjoyable.

Fast forward to this year.

I like to think I'm more involved with the scene. I'd like to think I'm a little more into ACRN now/people actually know who I am (though I'm still working on that, of course!). I've actually seen a handful of the bands playing this year. Most importantly, I plan on attempting to catch every single set that day. Would it work out? Only time would tell!

I arrived with dark skies ominous overhead us. Rain was in the forecast, and thunderstorms were a possibility too. This particular day of the fest was to be held outside, so you can imagine why this was a problem. It's actually pretty disappointing; the two days Lobsterfest was inside? No rain. Outside? Mother Nature decided to take a big ol' shit on us. Cool.

One act got a set in before the skies opened up, though: Melk.

Melk consisted of Brian Jackson on bass and vocals, with Ghost of Asa Phelps singer Ryan Ford on drums (which explained why their drumset belonged to GoAP). They were just simple, dumb fun. After ACRN's Aaron Vilk introduced them, they came dashing out from behind a nearby trailer, Jackson with a Sprite of all things in hand. He promptly misplaced his guitar pick.

Once the ragin' got started, it was all... well, I dunno, I guess the best thing I can compare Melk's music to is hardcore due to the vocals, which are pretty much all screaming. The lyrics are almost unrecognizable. F-bombs abound. They even have a theme song, during which "Melk fucking rules" is chanted multiple times. They're really a fun bunch of dudes to watch. You don't watch these guys to pick on their musicality or to hear the next rage in indie rock stardom. You watch just because it's kinda fun. And Jackson and Ford seem to be having a great time doing it.

As soon as Melk's set was complete and indie poppers In Silent Movies were about to begin their set on the second stage (which was about twenty feet away from the stage Melk played on), the thunderclouds that had been rapidly approaching finally caught up, and lightning was spotted. The event was moved indoors, just a few hundred feet away in the South Pole, which is under Nelson Dining Hall. This was my first time inside this place, and it's not a bad spot. A little dark at times, kinda reminiscent of an old elementary school multi-purpose room. But hey, it worked! What else could you ask for at this point?

About an hour and a half after they were originally supposed to play, In Silent Movies took the somewhat-larger stage (at least larger than they stage they were originally to play on, from what I could tell) for their performance. Let me tell you something: I like In Silent Movies. A lot. I will be pretty sad if they're not around next year, though all their members are graduating or have graduated so it's hard to say what exactly will happen. But from the time I first saw the band at ACRN's Birthday Show earlier this year, I knew they were something special, at least in my eyes. I even made a weird reference in a Scene and Heard blog I did for the show in which I compared them to Muse due to the fact that they made so much noise for being a mere three-piece.

I stand by that still. If you've listened to the band's recordings, you'll know that their songs are not exactly extremely hard rockers on their album. Live, though? They turn that amp up and rock it. Take for instance the breakdown after the chorus of "Deep Sea Diver." First time I heard that, I was blown away. I'm not used to indie bands around here making that much noise. And since I was raised on harder rock music, I definitely still have a bit of a soft spot for when the guitars are turned up and force the ears to ring a bit.

I bought the band's EP, They Had Faces Then, after ISM's show. Hopefully the money got to them, as they had left the building by then. I've already listened to it and sent it to my friend in Florida. I'm hoping she'll pass it on to some folks down there as well. I'd love to get these guys more recognition. I really think they deserve it.

Cincinnati's Bag of Hair was next. Originally, Lobsterfest was supposed to have two stages of equal size, but due to the rain, those plans were nixed. Everyone COULD have played on the same stage, but that would have meant longer breaks in between sets, and the fest was already almost two hours behind schedule at this point anyway. So, a second performance space had been fashioned opposite the stage on the other side of the room, simply on the floor. It was here that Bag of Hair started up their mix of yelled vocals and minimal instrumentation. Percussion and guitar were the only two instruments featured here, and due to technical difficulties, no mics were available so the duo had to shout over the amplified sounds to the best of their ability. They did well for what they had despite the technical problems. An exceedingly strange aspect of the performance, however, was a caped/masked (Iron Man mask, at that) man who pretty much just walked around in front of them, sometimes collapsing to the ground and moving to the beat.

I don't know what was going on. I really don't. But hey, I got a free CD out of it! Score one for the good team, amirite?

I actually retreated back to my dorm for a few minutes after this; I wanted to drop off my hoodie and the two CDs I had in my possession at this point. I should note also that I'm not sure if Five Deadly Venoms or the Mauve Avengers played while I was gone or even at all that day. If they did play, I missed them and I apologize. I don't THINK I missed them, though. But you never know; I actually never got any confirmation on this.

I came back to find Whale Zombie well into their set, having taken the spot where Bag of Hair had stood previously. I've shown a few people music from this Athens three-piece and the feedback's been positive. I can say I'm a fan as well. They've always reminded me of the Russian Circles and Pelican-type bands--you know, instrumental rockers. But HARD rockers. Whale Zombie gets damn loud too. So loud, in fact, that when drummer Chris Lute actually does sing, you can't hear any of what he's saying. I was happy to have caught their song "Transcendental Bullshit," which is my favorite of theirs. Just try and avoid banging your head at about three-fourths of the way into that song. You'll know what I mean when you hear it live, if you ever do. Because I can assure you with every fiber of my being that you will not be able to keep still.

All hell broke loose next. For reals.

First, some background: on the other side of the room, there had been fashioned a small wrestling ring, with a curtain nearby. All this was for Legends of Wrestling. Did I know what Legends of Wrestling was beforehand? Lord, no. But as I watched the people involved begin to apply makeup, costumes and the like, I realized that it was not some odd touring act and just some of our good ol' boys from here in Athens, some of which are even either ACRN alumni or are still with the station.

And then it started.

I don't think I've ever had so much fun watching a show in my life. Ty Owen and Pat Snyder were the Legends, leaping into the ring provided for them in full costume and basically putting on a grindcore show (thanks to Cassie Whitt for the definition; I honestly had no idea how to describe them otherwise) with songs about how awesome they were and how great wrestling was. The songs lasted all but maybe ten-twenty seconds and consisted of Owen and Snyder screaming over prerecorded tracks from a Mac. Owen was in true Hulk Hogan form, spouting the wrestling legend's catchphrase time and time again--and it got funnier to me with each repeat.

Throughout the show, David Massimini emerged as the Honky Tonk Man, complete with an acoustic guitar that you just HAD to figure would be smashed over him by night's end. And of course, it was. Then Aaron Vilk, dressed as what I figure to be a lady from Westboro Baptist Church and sporting a 'God Hates Grind' sign, was pummeled with fluorescent light tubes. Yep. Fluorescent light tubes. I'm glad I wasn't standing nearby, 'cause glass went flying. I believe Vilk walked away with a few cuts. Bret Hart also came out to defend his fallen brother's honor (not sure who that was. I think I heard someone say Brian Ostrander. Hope I'm right.) and was beaten down as well. The Legends of Wrestling were victorious. Oh, and Ty spit water on me twice. It was a true honor!

So, the ground was pretty much a mess after this, and I was having some issues with a few inconvenient blisters, so I once again retreated to my dorm, thinking I wouldn't miss anything. It was also pouring at this point, so I had to get a change of clothes too.

I came back. Guess what?

I. Missed. Manor Animals. Again.

Seriously. They were finishing up right as I walked in. It was so disappointing, because had I seen them, I would have seen EVERY band at Lobsterfest, given that the two aforementioned bands didn't actually perform. Trust me, I was pretty bummed. I apologize to those guys. I've heard that they won't be back next year, so I'm a bit disappointed that I missed all my opportunities to see them.

My spirits were brightened a few minutes later, though--Scubadog was next!

Scubadog is another one of my favorites on the Athens scene, and also the only band on day 3 that I was seeing for the third time. The dual vocals from Jake Householder and Teddy Humpert leave nothing to be desired, Humpert throws out some killer bass lines, and Josh Antonuccio is a great guitarist and seems like one of the coolest guys to be around ever. He's produced some of Southeast Engine's albums, too. That's gotta count for something, right?

And how could I forget? I think that drummer Aaron Butler looks just like Alan from The Hangover. I can't be the only one that's thought this. I simply can't.

I was a little disappointed, though. Apparently this was Josh's final show with the band. However, though that aspect is disappointing, they seemed to hint that they would be back next year. I can live with that, though not having Josh around will make Scubadog seem like it's missing something. Maybe he'll come back to help out on any recordings they make, if they ever make any. I hope they do. Seriously. I need some Scubadog on my iPod, yo.

The Cutter Family, whom I'd seen once before at ACRN's Birthday Show, took the ground space next. They're a fun bunch of guys, and have some of the most hilarious banter in between songs. For instance, they decried the lack of "college bitches," who had apparently left after Scubadog's set. Audience members were quick to point out that Vilk was available.

The Cutter Family plays just good ol' punk rock. The band is actually a side project of Athens rockers We March. They even play a "We March cover," the prospect of which I found kinda funny. They did that last show I was at as well. Seriously, I hope these guys are back next year too. Really fun to watch.

Columbus's Tin Armor was up next on the stage. They were a pretty cool indie-pop-rock foursome, with a singer that reminded me almost like a taller Ben Folds. I might be totally off here. Nonetheless, they were an enjoyable band! I hadn't heard them before that night, and will definitely be at one of their shows next time they're out. And the cool thing to me was that the band (or at least the freakishly tall Umland brothers; I'm not sure about the other two but I could definitely pick the brothers out of a crowd easily) was pretty much there around the beginning and stayed til the end. It was cool to keep looking around as the night wore on and think, "Hey, they're still here hanging out with us! That's pretty cool!"

Ryan Ford of Melk returned with his usual band, the Ghost of Asa Phelps, for the next show. I'd say they were definite crowd-pleasers. I remember seeing these guys at Lobsterfest last year and thinking they were a decent band, for sure. But this year, I was blown away! Maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention last year, but I think they've improved a ton since a year ago. They're a great punk band with even greater songs, from some slow tunes (or, slow for punk rock, which is to say about midtempo) to some rapid fire jams that really got the mostly-male crowd standing directly in front of them pushing and shoving and having a great time.

The trio actually had what I think was one of the best moments of Lobsterfest: a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's classic "Fortunate Son," which was dedicated to Ford's father, who was standing a few feet from me, nodding his head in approval. Not only was it a cool cover to do, but they did it exceedingly well, too. I would actually push for that to be at least an occasionally-recurring cover.

Actually, you know what just popped in my head that I think would be a funny cover for them? Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer." No clue why, really. Maybe because Me First and the Gimme Gimmes did it. I dunno. I'm probably making no sense at this point. Moving on!

She Bears came next. I had seen these guys once before, at my first local show that wasn't Lobsterfest. They were distinctly Teddy Humpert-less. This may have happened a while back and I just missed it; I hadn't seen She Bears since January, after all.

The band was solid as always. These guys are pretty much a unit, great at what they do and never faltering. From what I understand, this may have been their last year in Athens. Sigh. Another one lost to the real world. At least She Bears still plan to tour. In fact, they'll be in Dayton in a few weeks, I believe. Might hit up that show, who knows?

I think my favorite parts of She Bears are Stephen Pence's earnest vocals and Caitlin McGlade's piano. I think it's what sets them apart, for sure. If they are heading out into the real world to do this touring thing, I wish them the best of luck. Hope they'll stop by every once in a while, at least!

What I watched next was called Evolve. They're a hip-hop duo from Cincinnati and WOW, they were cool, cool, cool. So many people I talked to post-show felt the same way. I didn't know what to expect beforehand, especially given the gown that the main vocalist happened to be flaunting, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Their set was nonstop, too. Preprogrammed beats and vocal samples abounded while the duo rhymed and swayed. The lyrics definitely had a positive message, from what I could tell. I'm very hopeful that we'll have them out again. This was the first I'd heard of them and I gotta say: Cincy's very lucky to have them living in their town. Very cool dudes.

I should note that at some point prior to this, a member of Stomp the Condor, who was originally supposed to be playing the fest, passed out free CDs. I have one in my possession and would like to thank the guy from the band who showed up and passed them out. Wish we could have had you guys perform, too.

While Evolve had been playing, the band I was looking most forward to, Flotation Walls, was setting up. If you've seen Flotation Walls in concert before, you'll know that they have a TON of instruments, so stage setup does take a little while. I had bought one of their CDs earlier in the day (I hope someone from the station was able to pass along that $10 to you, guys) and was totally stoked for them to begin. They had been mingling within the crowd since early in the afternoon, easily distinguishable later on due to their matching yellow jumpsuits/band uniforms.

But Coltrane Motion, a duo from Chicago, was first.

There was no band at Lobsterfest that I was more impressed with than Coltrane Motion. Sure, I enjoyed two other sets a little more, but I had expected to. With Coltrane Motion, I had no idea what to expect. And I was blown away. Check these guys out. They play what I can best describe as electropop with a ton of distortion thrown in. Their beats and some samples are already programmed in, and the two band members, Michael Bond and Matt Dennewitz, play a keyboard/sample table and guitar.

I have never seen so much sweat coming off a guy's face--thanks to Dennewitz for this. They were moving, jumping, contorting... you name it. And the music was incredibly engaging as well, especially in a live setting. They're loud, they've got some nice beats going on, and there's a lot of guitar. Bond was also absolutely one of the most energetic guys I've ever seen as part of a band. They were basically performing their hearts out, trying to sell their band to us.

I'd say it worked.

After Coltrane Motion ended, I was sure to get a prime spot toward the front of the stage. Flotation Walls was next and there was no way I was going to have an obstructed view of any sort. I'm sure the band might have been a little disappointed when it was almost all guys in the front row, staring up at them with anticipation, but hey, a fan's a fan, right?

Flotation Walls was no doubt my favorite of the day. I think I kind of figured that would be the case going on. But they were on the money Saturday night, playing tracks from their album Nature, which is one of my favorites of the past year.

Carlos Avendano, the lead singer, is an absolutely engaging presence onstage if I've ever seen one. Your attention is almost always drawn to him. There's just something about him that's fun to watch... and dare I say it, I think his voice sounds even better live than it does on record. But maybe I'm crazy!

I cannot stress this enough: Flotation Walls were really, really great. Everything was on par. The backup singers' voices, especially Ryan's, were basically flawless. And their performances of such favorites as "The Flickering Projection," "Willis the Fireman" and "Kids, Look at the Waves" were definite standouts, as was the seldom-played "I've Seen Death and His Tremendous Pink Eyes." In fact, check me out, I took video!

Flotation Walls - "Kids, Look at the Waves" from Kevin Rutherford on Vimeo.

Things settled down a bit after Flotation Walls, regressing into a somber, anticipatory mood. For then was the second coming of the Athens legends known only as Russenorsk.

I'll be honest, I'm just going off the hype. I didn't know much about Russenorsk, only that they were a great band and had gotten a good amount of acclaim. Their last show had been in September, but they had decided to reunite one last time at Lobsterfest.

It was quiet when the band, led by Tim Race, started. And from there, it was simply magical. I really got this great vibe watching them; I think it was partly because of the audience as well. The group beside me were belting out each and every song as if their lives depended on it. Clearly, this was an important night and Russenorsk was an important band in the hearts of many Athenians.

I have to say that Zach Inscho, the drummer, gets the Best Drummer of the Fest award from me. There was something truly engaging about the way he played in Russenorsk, and I can't even describe why that is. Sometimes it seemed inventive, sometimes it was just plain good. And Jack Martin was an awesome addition on the cello. Especially the cello itself; that thing was cool!

Tim Race's vocals and guitar playing were great, too. Since I missed Manor Animals, this was the first time actually hearing Race sing, and he's got a great voice, especially in his higher register. The songs were catchy as well. I think that if I had heard them a few times before watching Russenorsk perform, I'd've been singing along too. At least, I'd like to think so.

I don't want to speak for everyone in that room since I am a bit of a n00b when it comes to the music scene. But wow, that was pretty magical, I thought. Great ending set by Russenorsk, and probably with the biggest crowd response all evening, maybe even all festival.

It would have been a perfect way to end a festival.

But we weren't done yet! No, sir!

The Sidekicks, a quartet of feisty pop-punkers, closed out Lobsterfest 2010. They were from Cleveland (and, as I also heard, Columbus) and sported probably the biggest following and attention nationwide coming into the show. After witnessing them play, I can adamantly say that their attention is well-deserved.

They started off with an absolute bang--that harmonizing between singer Steve Ciolek and backup singer Matt Schuerman, wow!--and just took off from there, presenting us with loose punk numbers with throaty vocals. Seemingly the same guys that were up front for Ghost of Asa Phelps were back again and ready to rage some more, starting multiple moshes, if you can call them that. They were very, very into the music, and the band seemed happy that we had stuck around and were enjoying what we were hearing.

A little after one, the show was finally over, and it was time to head out. All in all, I'm gonna tell you what--it was a sick Lobsterfest. For that show to have gone that well despite all the troubles that occurred early on... well, it makes you wonder how things could have gone if it hadn't rained. Could it have gotten any better?

There's no need to speculate, of course. What happened happened, and it was good. Very good. I must thank all who were involved in the creation, booking and upkeep of Lobsterfest for doing a tremendous job. I still can't believe how great all three shows were this year. My hat goes off to all of you. And I can actually say that, you know, since I wear a beanie more than I probably should in this heat.

One thing's for sure: I cannot wait for next year's. ACRN 40th Birthday? It might get a little crazy.

For additional opinions and insight on Lobsterfest, please visit this blog. I wrote up a report on the first day's events, and my fellow writers Carolyn Menyes, Cassie Whitt and Hannah Cook did a great job in covering the other two days as well.

Also, check back with this blog once fall quarter rolls around. I think I might continue to do something like this more often.

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