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To avoid any confusion right off the bat, I think it’s important to clarify that Miike Snow isn’t the name of a man. It’s actually the name of a Swedish electro-pop trio. I first became aware of the group, thanks to friend of the site, Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillmann, whose personal tweets and Facebook postings expressed an appreciation of their recent self-titled debut. Much like Har Mar, the trio has managed to gain a solid level of popularity in the UK. Although Miike Snow are arguably still more recognizable overseas, I believe that, if they aren’t on your radar yet, they will be soon enough. In fact, Miike Snow isn’t unfamiliar with the concept of “Radar“, because 2/3 of the group actually helped to produce a hit song of the same name for Britney Spears.
I use to be a barista at a place where I was lucky enough to work with someone who had similar musical tastes as myself. Sometimes, our co-workers didn’t feel as lucky about that situation as we did. A lot of Silver Jews, Dungen, Pavement, Ween, Tortoise, Talking Heads, Sonic Youth, free jazz, etc, was played during our shifts, but one day Josh brought in the Britney Spears Blackout album and everyone was so pissed off that they lost their minds over it. Both of us, on the other hand, got really into playing it more and more. It’s extremely popular to trash pop-stars like Brit Brit, especially at that time, but there was something really intriguing about that album. Once you get past the ideas of commercialism, shallow marketing tactics, and Total Request Live tweens buying scrunchies at a Claire’s in a Westfield shopping mall, it contained some brilliant layering and production work throughout. Above all, “Radar” had a super catchy hook and was the one track that I couldn’t shake. It turns out that, along with “Piece of Me” and two other tracks from Blackout, “Radar” was produced and co-written by the Swedish duo of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (aka: Bloodshy and Avant). In 2007, Karlsson and Winnberg teamed up with American frontman/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, Andrew Wyatt to form Miike Snow and did so without any real expectations. Bloodshy and Avant had already achieved a high level of success from their production work with vagi-centric pop acts like Spears, Kylie Monogue, Madonna, J-Lo etc. In fact, these guys even produced and co-wrote the song “Toxic” which was credited by multiple publications as being one of the greatest songs of the Two-Thousands. So, although their names as artists may not be as recognizable as the acts whose careers they helped to boost, most people are still very familiar with their work. With Miike Snow, the production duo is now stepping out into the forefront to endure any risks and rewards which may come along with it.
Miike Snow was performing back over at the Bigfoot Stage and, based on the promotional and live images that I’ve seen of the group, I figured that they would provide a good photo opportunity, if nothing else. For a band that was created without any real intention of touring, their visuals are crazy impressive. Their spirit/logo animal of choice is a jackalope, for chrissakes, and it’s featured on the cover of their album in the form of an engraving on an ice-block. Their myspace page even currently has a huge photograph of the mythical rabbit/deer hybrid rocking a gold medallion and with antlers in the shape of a biohazard logo. It also appears in the backdrop of their club shows, but playing outside away from the mainstage affected things like backdrops and eerie lighting through puffs of smoke. The other aesthetic focus for them seems to be matching outfits and either printed respirator masks or freakishly blank masks in the vein of Buckethead. My hopes were that they would at least be sporting some of those.
When they took the stage, Miike Snow was in their touring form as a 6-piece. There were no crazy masks, but they were wearing matching black satin jackets. To the left was an additional member playing the keys. In the back was a drummer who resembled David Caruso with a mustache. Next to him was a keyboardist wearing a black hat that, when combined with his all black outfit, made him look like he was an Amish or Orthodox Jewish man. All 3 of them were wearing sunglasses. The 2 keyboardists had beards and, with the mustached drummer between them, they were like an electro version of ZZ TOP. To the right were two keyboard X-Stands side by side with Karlsson and Winnberg behind them. Winnberg‘s held a Prophet 08 synthesizer while Karlsson‘s supported a drum machine and various other equipment. Wyatt stood center stage and, although he’s American, I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a Euro-version of David Berman (Silver Jews).
For a band whose live shows should generally thrive much better inside of a spooky ice cave, their set went incredibly well on the sunny outdoor stage setup. At points, the hatted member picked up a bass and Wyatt even strummed a Gibson SG for a while. Keeping their C&C Music Factory producer vibe in tact, Bloodshy and Avant remained joined at the hip from their section of the stage, alternating intense focus with energetic outbursts. They pitch shifted notes and tweaked nobs, while Karlsson would use the drumstick in his right hand to knock the shit out of his electronic pads. Beyond Andrew Wyatt‘s vocals, the subtle intricacies in their production are the real strength fueling Miike Snow‘s appeal. The sextet managed to pull off singles like, “Animal“, “Burial“, “Black and Blue“, and “Silvia” with near perfection. If you like their studio work as a trio and are worried if such a production-heavy sound has the ability to translate effectively into a live forum, it definitely does. The backing band does an incredibly efficient job and the drummer didn’t seem to have any issues adjusting to the varying drum styles showcased throughout their work.
For those who are unfamiliar with their particular brand of dance jams, the Guardian‘s description of Miike Snow‘s sound as a cross between A-Ha and Animal Collective isn’t far off. The song “Animal” contains synth-pop, reggae elements that cause them to sound a lot like The Police. Wyatt‘s vocal delivery even resembles early Sting, but I like the Police and this song is undeniably catchy as fuck. “Silvia” is a slower track with a fairly dramatic build-up. It isn’t bad, but there’s something in it that reminds me of “Sunday Bloody Sunday“, especially in the introductory verse. “Black and Blue” is a really dancy Jamiroquai-meets-Prince soul mix. Everything has a familiar sound, but that’s what pop music thrives on. Like I said, Miike Snow makes music that is hooky as all get-out and, if you are into electro-pop, this is as good as any of it. It’s fun music without being overly cheesy and they did get the crowd amped up, but they’re not Bob Dylan and it’s probably not gonna change your life in any deeply profound way. Miike Snow makes simple, straight-forward, good time dance music. They do not construct complicated mind-bending prog-rock, or Sun Ra-esque space noise, but they aren’t trying to either. If you just want to go to a show and hop around in a positive mood, they’ll supply the soundtrack.
During Miike Snow, we met back up with the group we were traveling with. However, before the set was over, I decided to go off on my own to finally locate the media area. It turned out to be a little section over by the YETI stage and right next to all of the little food stands. I flashed my wristband to a security guard and walked through an entrance in a wooden fence. The section had a few picnic tables and a little table with some Sun Chips and Nature Valley granola bars on it. There was also a portable building, a cylindrical chest full of ice with bottled water in it, and a singular Honey Bucket sans the giant line. The portable was provided as a spot for media to set up their laptops, utilize the wi-fi, and go through their photographs, but I didn’t bring my computer for 3 reasons: I didn’t want to lug it around, I wanted to enjoy the festival, and I didn’t trust that my shit wouldn’t get jacked in the campground. Some guy was interviewing a couple of the members from OK GO at one of the tables. I sat down at a different one, drank some water, and chomped on a granola bar. Then I heard a sound that I recognized coming from the YETI stage and left the media section to check it out.
Performing on the stage was the group WHY? and the song was “These Hands“; something that I must have heard while researching the band prior to the festival. I went up in the photo pit area and sat down. Ryan Neighbors from PORTUGAL. THE MAN was sitting down there, among a handful of other people. Frontman Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf was wearing a white and grey striped long-sleeve polo with a white collar and a large white hat. In the past, the vocalist has resembled his Jewish heritage much more closely but, with his current mustache and tan skin, his outfit made him look a lot more like a Hispanic Gilligan. Wolf‘s older brother Josiah sat behind a drumkit and vibraphone set up, with Doug McDiarmid on keys and Andrew Broder and Mark Erickson of FOG handling the guitar and bass duties.
WHY? was originally just the rap alias of Yoni, until he chose to make “solo” albums, at which point WHY? slowly morphed into some level of indie-rock/hip-hop hybrid. Prior to that, he worked heavily with other Anticon hip-hop artists in groups such as cLOUDEAD. I snapped off a few pretty good photographs but, eventually, I couldn’t really take the full set. The band sounded capable enough and I actually liked them at first. However, after about 3 or 4 songs, their sound became grating and irritatingly monotonous. These guys have garnered critical praise elsewhere, but I just couldn’t do it. Wolf‘s vocal delivery has the same nasally quality as endless other “conscious” rappers and it’s a quality that I find to be of sub-quality. I spent six years in Olympia, Wa with corny-ass rap crews that sounded like these guys and, regardless of the fact that WHY? may be better than them, it still reminds of trust fund gangsters trying to “drop knowledge”. The type of kids who know who Atmosphere and Sage Francis are, but have never heard of KMD or listened to “Planet Rock” and “Raising Hell“. This type of shit doesn’t inspire me to want to plant trees and read poetry; it makes me want to burn trees and listen to the most gangstered out shit that I can get my hands on. If your vocal delivery mirrors that of John and John from They Might Be Giants, you better be singing quirky pop songs over an accordion. I’m not sure when that became the go to vocal tone of underground prophets and neo-beatnicks, but it just sounds like whining to me.
Kim was hungry, so she came over to meet me and I gave her a granola bar as we waited in line to get financially raped by the concessions stand. While we stood there, Wolf announced that they would be playing the theme song from the Dustin Hoffman classic, Marathon Man. That was actually a nice detour for them to take in the set. We spent $8 a piece on some mini Dominos pizzas that were about the size of a tiny sandwich plate. We walked back over to the Bigfoot stage, scalding our mouths as we tried to shovel some food into our stomachs and keep ourselves going.
THE HOLD STEADY
Two of the best things about Sasquatch is their booking and scheduling abilities. Bonnaroo has a rapeload of stages and an incredible amount of acts, but hardly any of them ever interest me. Sasquatch, on the other hand, provides a higher concentration of quality music and does so by taking the focus off of quantity. The other thing that always pissed me off about a lot of large festivals was the way that they always double-book shit that I want to see. It’s not really a personal taste issue either, because the double-booking that they do is generally so obvious that it just seems fucked up and intentional. In 2004 I went to Bonnaroo and they booked Primus at the same time that Ween was playing on a separate stage. Both of those acts have a similar fanbase, but it gets worse… In 2005, Bonnaroo had 3 amazing jazz acts that I really hoped to be able to catch. The Benevento/Russo Duo feat. Mike Gordon (Phish), The Bela Fleck Trio (includ. Jean Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke), and Herbie Hancock doing all of his old Headhunters-era work, were all booked around the same time on different stages. It’s not listed that way on wikipedia, but I remember having to deal with that dilemma and it was fucked up. If nothing else, there were at least 2 of them booked simultaneosly, so why would all of the jazz acts all go on at the same time? Poor planning? Just a dick move? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, although there can always be inevitable overlaps here and there, the people in charge of that area of the Sasquatch Festival are a lot more conscientious about their scheduling and have done a remarkable of job avoiding such conflicts.
Before heading to the main stage for the nights final two headliners, we had the option of choosing between The Hold Steady and The National. You could say that this was one situation where I was equally as interested in checking each of them out, but a more accurate way of saying it would be that I was also equally as disinterested. We chose The Hold Steady.
I was standing in the photo pit and when they entered the stage they did it like a hurricane. To say that The Hold Steady puts on a high energy performance is an understatement. Lead singer, Craig Finn was ridiculously animated and he hopped around with spastic movements that would rival those of an epileptic meth addict with Parkinsons being administered with shock therapy. It was really infectious at first and I was actually pretty excited myself. I was feeling really lucky as I caught Finn in one choice pose after another. One moment he clenched both of his hands tightly to the sides of his head. Next, he gripped the mic with his left hand, while he extended his right arm out to the audience like he was saluting the Third Reich. Then he spread his arms to the side, as if to embrace the entire crowd. The whole time he was singing with a tremendous smile across his face.
The next song started and was equally as high energy. In fact, it was pretty similar to the first. Finn pointed his arm out to the crowd again and then spread them wide as if to hug them. He grabbed his head like he couldn’t believe what was happening. “Wait!“, I thought. “This motherfucker only has 3 poses and he rotates them incredibly fast“. If you search out anyone else’s photographs from The Hold Steady Sasquatch set, you’ll notice very little difference between them. Occasionally, Finn would actually strum the guitar that was hanging around his neck. This generally occurred during the upbeat chorus that tends to exist after each of their typical and formulaic, casually delivered straight-ahead verses. Sometimes, when the singer’s arms were extended with his palms out, I could see him repeat the words, “What?! What? What?” through his giant smirk. The sides of his mouth were wet with spittle, like an infant trying to handle Gerbers. I found myself wondering if this guy had ingested too much Adderall or if he hadn’t taken enough. The next song… same thing. I’ve never gotten burned out on anything quicker. I couldn’t take it and I needed to get the fuck out immediately.
I didn’t have much familiarity with their catalog, but I don’t remember their sound being quite so poppy. I have since listened to some of their work and I do believe that Craig Finn has a pretty good voice and I recognize his talents as a lyricist. They even have a Seventies Springsteen and Elvis Costello influence that I’ve since noticed and can also appreciate. Still, while I was there, it felt like little more than a high-speed pop-punk show fueled on mis-prescribed Ritalin, smoothie boosts, and a disdain for curfews and homework. I was not a fan.
Even though I wasn’t into The Hold Steady‘s set, I knew that I had still taken some good photographs. I sifted through my camera images to check out my shots but, as I tried to show them to Kim, photos that I had taken from before began to disappear and come through as “unreadable“. This was not good, so I freaked out and pulled the SD card immediately. In preparation for the festival, I wanted to pick up an additional SD card, so that I knew I would be able to handle any number of images that I could possibly come away with that weekend. This provided me an opportunity to work another classic hustle. I had won some DVD‘s in an internet contest and one of them was the first season of The Sarah Silverman Program. I returned it at a store for credit and put the value towards a Kodak SD card. Now this brand new purchase, that was supposed to take the place of a sketchy budget version, was glitching out and fucking up my whole game. All but one WHY? shot (pictured above) was still readable and a ton of The Hold Steady shots were now missing along with some Miike Snow photos. Even though it wasn’t their fault, it made me hate their set even more and we left early to head over to the main stage.
We caught the very end of the The National and waited for Vampire Weekend, who was scheduled next. Here was my opportunity to see what all the hype that’s been surrounding these clowns was all about. Everybody likes these guys, right? Isn’t that the deal, that they are supposed to be some young indie stars that everyone from kids to critics can really get behind? All that I knew was that, I’d been walking around this festival all day, excited about discovering a lot of knew music but, for the most part, it was becoming a bust. I had been in this human zoo for hours and Saturday wasn’t really the day for me lineup-wise. Mostly, I had just been using the first day to feel things out and the poor pacing was starting to wear on me hard.
Vampire Weekend hit the stage looking like a bunch of preppy kids that I would never have any desire to kick it with… ever. I could picture them driving themselves to the show, blasting Jack Johnson from a teal colored Ford Probe. They say that their name has nothing to do with the Vampire film craze that’s big right now and I believe them, but I doubt that the fans in attendance that night got the memo. A fair share of their music definitely pulses through the iPods of tween girls while they wait in line for the new Twilight tickets.
The first song they played was called “White Sky“, but I didn’t know that then. For all I knew, they were about to do a cover from Paul Simon‘s Graceland album. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the little hipster kids hopping around in the audience had any idea how much that song sounded like something taken directly from the early String Cheese Incident catalog. Next they played their song “Holiday” and it was actually happier than the last one. Yep, I fucking hated these guys, but not as much as their crowd. Never has there been a band more deserving of beach balls flying around during their set. Frat boys in white sunglasses and neon hoodies hopped and stumbled around everywhere. Girls wore flip flops and flung their arms carelessly into the air and everyone smiled from ear to ear. I thought about grenades.
Next was a song called, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa“, which kept their little island party jam vibe going. These guys are actually a solid live band, as far as being able to play their instruments, but I couldn’t give a fuck about them overall. Is this what people want these days? Happy happy happy! These guys write little sing-along tracks with little substance and, in my opinion, are the equivalent of listening to a Raffi album. Guitarist, Rostam Batmanglij was obnoxiously dressed like a cross between one of Griff Tannen‘s sidekicks in Back to the Future 2 and Meshach Taylor‘s character of Hollywood from the movie Mannequin. Lead singer, Ezra Koenig had a sly Corey Haim smirk across his face the entire time as if to say, “I’m gonna try to fuck your girlfriend.” In his little button up shirt and Karate Kid-era Ralph Macchio haircut, I’m assuming that he’s supposed to represent the dreamy boy from English class who started his own band. These chachis even have a bassist with the last name Baio. There are worse songwriters and definitely worse musicians, but the overall scene is a difficult one for me to stomach.
I don’t mind “Island” music but… actually, I do mind Island music like this and I think that Jimmy Buffett sounds like shit too. If I want to listen to something like this, I’ll just listen to something like Graceland or “Naive Melody” by the Talking Heads. If I want to hear something “ethnic”, I will put on something awesome like Fela, Orchestra Baobab, Toumani Diabate, Os Mutantes, any number of Studio One albums, etc. I’m not really interested in hearing a bunch of derivative shit from a group of Handsome Boy Modeling School rejects from Columbia University. Their whole set sounded like “Kokomo” on repeat to me. I will admit that I have slightly more respect for Sublime, but these guys do hold some similarities in the way that they make cultural music for the lazy and xenophobic. Hey kids! Turn off the 40 oz to Freedom, throw this Vampire Weekend shit out the window, and go pick up a Big Youth record or something. Turn on some Sizzla. All this happy shit just makes me want to listen to the Melvins. Seriously, what the fuck is going on with these goddam kids?!
My Morning Jacket
The mainstage headliner for opening night was My Morning Jacket. This was the band that Patrick was primarily enthusiastic about seeing. He absolutely loves this fucking band and this show would mark his 5th MMJ show overall. It was my first. Jesse didn’t seem to care either way, but I think that we were both on the same page with being open to seeing how it turned out. I wasn’t super familiar with their catalog, but I do have a couple of their albums and have heard their name mentioned repeatedly over the last decade. Somewhere and somehow over that time period, they’ve grown to the point of being considered as a formidable act, capable of headlining during a major festival.
The introduction for the Louisville band was dramatic. A quick burst of sound came through with smoke and a flash of light. Then total darkness. Then another flash of light and sound, followed by more darkness. There was a sonic electric buzz from the guitar and pulsating keyboards. This was what could only be described and their THE WHO moment. As far as I was concerned, that intro was already sounding more promising than the entire Vampire Weekend set. When the actual song finally kicked in, it was “One Big Holiday” from the 2003 album, It Still Moves.
Front and center stage was some sort of stuffed, plastic-headed donkey figure with a mic propped up to its inanimate grill for show. Frontman, Jim James was like a dirty outlaw, with his long duster-looking trench-coat and unkempt beard. There was a Gibson Flying V strapped to him and, to further complicate his overall look, he had some crazy Legion of Doom/ motorcross/skeleton/ moon-boots situation going on with his foot wear. The closest assumption that I could make is that they were some skeletal version of Gene Simmons‘ infamous dragon boots. I still have no idea about the meaning behind the band name, but I did notice that guitarist, Carl Broemel and bassist, Tom Blankenship were wearing their evening jackets that night. Blankenship went for the full look by adding a tie and jeans, while Broemel opted for the blazer with the open collar dress shirt. The “sexy rocker” look, if you will. Like Broemel, drummer, Patrick Hallahan was also wearing a black button up, as if they were waiters at an upscale restaurant downtown. Everything felt just a little too Super Bowl halftime for me. You may be reading this and thinking, “So what?! Who cares how they were dressed? Why does that even matter?” My only answer to that is that I honestly don’t know why it should matter, but they definitely seem to put in a conscious effort to achieve the “seasoned rock band” look.
Song number 2 was “Gideon“. This one is a dreamy track, which also contains a bit of a Michael Kang from String Cheese-style riff throughout it. It’s the kind of fanciful riff that could soundtrack a public market at a renaissance fair. I guess some things about Sasquatch‘s musical selection really haven’t changed too much since the first year. To follow it up, MMJ played their song “Off The Record“, which incorporates a super upbeat dub rhythm and a blatant jack move of the Hawaii 5.0 theme song. In essence, it’s basically just another pop song. Both of these songs can be found on My Morning Jacket‘s highly successful album Z (2006). Z marked a rather large shift for the band, as they had replaced both their original guitarist and long-time keyboardist, just prior to it’s release. I had heard Z a few times in passing and remembered it sounding pretty good but, like most of their work, I only had a basic outline of an idea about what I thought MMJ sounded like and that idea was constantly being jostled and mutated. These guys are both a lot more southern rock and more poppy than I had ever realized. These are two that, in their generic form, I am not really too big on.
Between each song, the lights would go out again for dramatic effect. In fact, there was a lot going on for “dramatic effect” and I personally felt like it took away more from the performance than it added anything to it. The poor staff camera work that projected them onto the big screen didn’t help out the cause either. The camera operator must have felt that there was something artistic about shooting everything at a 40 degree angle and there were a lot of off-center transitions into zoom shot’s of eye-brows, cheeks, and unfocused nonsense. Jesse and I had found some time to talk about music earlier in the day and he had mentioned something to me about being turned off by seeing video footage of Jim James wearing a cape in concert. I was surprised to hear that, but had to agree that it sounded fucking ridiculous. I believe that it was during the next song that the cape made its appearance at this show. The lights came back on just in time to expose someone fastening a cape around the lead singer’s shoulders and my speculations were right; it was definitely unnecessary and over the top. The song, on the other hand, was a more understated track called “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1“, from their most recent effort, Evil Urges. It has a Flaming Lips inspired sound with a lot of subtle effects and layering. In fact, I could aptly describe a lot of their work as a more Southern rock version of the Lips. The song ended and the lights went off. When they came back on, James‘ cape had turned back into his gunslinger jacket. The only difference was that, now it was accompanied with a scarf. The first real concert that I ever saw was the Motorhead, Metallica, and Guns ‘N’ Roses tour, and I remember Axl Rose changing his outfits at least 8 different times that night. This was also around the time frame where Metallica was really laying the groundwork to sound like terrible, misguided shit for the future. Motorhead, of course, was still awesome. The point is, when you get to the point where you have to start wearing a different outfit and pausing between each song, you’re well on your way to being played out. That is, if you aren’t there already. This was rockstar shit and it was beginning to turn me away from these guys fast. Plus, the long day was already beginning to wear on me and my lower back hurt like a bastard.
The scarf was worn for the straight-up Southern rock “Amazed“, also from Evil Urges. It’s a pretty simple track, but I never found it too interesting and it’s especially, not very innovative. I believe that next was “Magheeta” from It Still Moves and then the yacht rock/Christopher Cross sounding “Tonight I Want to Celebrate“. I think that I made it to the song “Golden“, before I couldn’t stand there anymore. Jesse and Briana had already slipped out, while Patrick stood there, lost in the show with a giant smile across his face. He loved the show and I was genuinely happy to know that they were playing all of the tracks that he wanted to hear, but the day had taken it’s toll and my back felt like someone had been throwing die-cast metal Tonka trucks at it all day. The cement floor just wasn’t working with my feet and My Morning Jacket had not won me over in any way that would make the discomfort worth it.
The ironic thing about us leaving when we did is that this acoustic “Golden” was probably the best thing that they had played yet. It’s just a simple country/folk song, which is not only the genre that I feel that MMJ thrives best in, but also a direction that I feel that they should have continued to embrace. I feel that it’s important to note that Patrick told me that, out of the 5 times that he had seen them, this was the best show he had witnessed the group perform yet and the show went on forever. So, if you are really into them and their current sound, you probably would have really enjoyed this. I, on the other hand, am worried that they are believing their own hype a little too much. People use to really like old U2 and their Irish working man sound. Then, one day, they decided to become “rock stars”, their music got even shittier, and they arranged the excessively elaborate PopMart tour. I fucking hate U2. People say that it was all a joke and that Bono was trying to make a statement about stardom, but I don’t entirely believe that. I think that the lines blurred and that they actually became part of their own joke. Those jack-offs eventually even got stuck in their Lemon-shaped pod, exactly like Spinal Tap. The irony is that, while U2 always claimed that their intentions were to parody over-the-top productions of acts like the fictional Spinal Tap, in the end it was still a reminder that Spinal Tap was originally created to mock bands like what U2 actually became. GNR went from whiskey drinking biker bar rats and got to the point where Axl Rose was firing everyone from the band and sporting corn rows and velour. Jim James sometimes refers to himself as “Yim Yames“? Maybe this is his alter-ego, like Mephisto. Why doesn’t he just change his name to J. Diddy? Or better yet, Morrissey… or even Oprah? Don’t believe your own hype buddy, it’s not too late to turn it all around, or maybe it is… I don’t know.
The fucked up part is that, while other critics seem to believe that this band is getting better, I actually believe that they are getting worse. Their attempts to emulate Prince on Evil Urges made me cringe. The only album that I own besides that one is their debut, The Tennessee Fire and I actually think that it’s is a really solid effort. Coincidentally, they didn’t play one single track from that album. In fact, they avoided anything from their first two albums like the fucking plague, except for a bonus track from At Dawn (2001). However, they played almost all of Z, and went through a ton of material from Evil Urges and It Still Moves. It always makes me wonder about a band when key players who were vital in their growth end up leaving. My friend KB has a theory that MMJ is a “safe” band for all of the people who are afraid to listen to Phish and the Dead. I wasn’t sure if I understood it at first, when he told me that. Are these guys supposed to be a jam band? I’ve since noticed them listed that way, but they don’t really jam out and they definitely don’t seem very experimental or improvisational to me live. They felt more like a business and less like a band. Everyone had their role, their own little spot/job, and their own little area. Smoke billowed and there was a solo, right on cue. That type of shit. Jim James scurried across the stage like Axl used to do and he even unnecessarily spun around in a circle at one point. Jerry was an old fat dude, Bob Weir wore daisy dukes, and Phish are a bunch of nerds, but the music comes first and they’ve always played with and through each other’s parts impeccably and with everything that they had. The idea of those 2 bands is to hand the music over to the audience like a gift and play off of the energy and appreciation that was given back. It’s new-age hippie shit, but there’s something legitimate about it. Processed stadium rock stars are more inclined to elevate and separate themselves from their audience, as if they are beyond them. This MMJ scene felt incredibly processed and it was disappointing to me because, in listening to The Tennessee Fire and even at points in their current material, I feel like this band could be more. Unfortunately, it feels like their focus has become more about presentation than truth and songwriting.
I should have known better, but I recently saw some footage of James performing with John Prine and I let it cloud my judgement, because of my huge respect for the musical legend. Then again, Noel Fielding hangs out with Courtney Love so… I guess that associations aren’t always a sufficient gauge for much. Hell, Herbie Hancock even had John Mayer performing as part of his band, when I saw him last time. By respecting and restraining themselves during collaborations with their more influential predecessors, the musical talents of some artists can actually be re-directed and honed in more productive / impressive directions. I think that more “rock stars” these days could actually use an Obi-Wan.
We originally walked towards the lawn seats, but just kept moving on our way out of the venue. We went by the Rumpus Room and I realized that the Z-Trip set was already over. Fuck. Then we walked over by the Bigfoot Stage where a DeadMau5 late night set was going to be kicking off. I was too beaten down and, although I really wish that I could have, I just didn’t have it in me to stay. Based on the video footage of what I missed, it’s clear that it must have been one of the most amazing parts of the entire festival, let alone that day. As we walked, wasted out kids who couldn’t handle their psychedelics lurched around and bumped into us like zombies. We stumbled back to our campsite battered and I met up with some friends who were camping only a few rows away from us. I downed a couple of beers and a muscle relaxer from Mexico they had given me for my back. Day one was over and it was time to get some sleep. There were 2 more days left in this fiasco, but tomorrow was Pavement… so we were just getting started.