FOR DAY ONE, CLICK HERE
I woke up from the blazing heat in my tent. It was about 7:30 – 8 o’clock in the morning. By the time that I would manage to get myself shoed up and standing, the outside would already be slightly chilly and overcast. This is a pattern that I would become accustomed to over the next couple of mornings; wake up early to the heat and then immediately put a sweatshirt on and hobble around looking for a different line of outhouses. We were camped pretty deep into the grounds, which meant that our Honey Buckets took a while to be maintained and were usually “full” in the morning. Such is the way of the music festival.
Apparently, Patrick has trained in the culinary arts and that fact, along with his generosity, resulted in us eating pretty well in the mornings. He was in a really good mood from getting to see My Morning Jacket the night before, but the festival wouldn’t really be starting for me until today. That morning, Jesse and I also got the chance to speak more about music. We were both really excited about the opportunity to finally see Pavement and had different songs that we were hoping to hear. I was betting on “Range Life“. We knew that once we got into the venue we would be in there all day, so we tried to decide at which point we needed to head in and what we were willing to miss out on. The collective decision was to wait and go in to see They Might Be Giants at 3:20.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
We were slacking a little and got a few things ready in advance; things like hidden sandwiches in the backpack, etc. I walked up to the media check-in again and waited behind a couple of girls, who were obviously in the wrong place, to get the fuck out of the way. These broads were already hammered and were trying to babble some kind of request for special access or something. They weren’t accepting the fact that they were “not media” and they were in the “wrong” spot. The women working the table from Live Nation didn’t have much of a reaction and you could tell that they’d been dealing with shit like this a lot. As I waiting for my wristband to be located, I saw the woman who rejected their requests looking past me and laughing to herself. Then, I heard one of the drunk girls yell, “Lick my ass!” and turned around to see her stumbling over and pointing at it real classy-like on her way into the show.
When we reached the Main Stage, TMBG were already on, so we sat down at the top of the lawn and watched. They were playing “Birdhouse in Your Soul” from Flood (1990). I had thought that we had arrived late but, based on the setlist, they were only the second song in. Next they played “Clap Your Hands” from their 2005 childrens album, Here Come the ABCs and “Upside Down Frown” from 2007‘s The Else. After that they revisited Flood with the songs “Your Racist Friend” and “Dead“. I was a bit confused about this tour and this set in particular. They pulled out a kids song, but then went into some adult themed and morbid classic tracks. They continued with the “newish” material for “The Mesopotamians” (Else) and “Stalk of Wheat” from Spine (2004). Then they went on to even newer material and played “What is a shooting star?” from Here Comes Science (2009), an album that ICP could benefit from giving a quick listen. They finished the show off with “We Live in a Dump” from The Else bonus disc and a rendition of “Instanbul (not Constantinople)” that ended with a crazy whipped up theramin outro. Somewhere in the mix, there was a close up of hand puppets on the big screen and a portion of “Free Ride” by the Edgar Winters Group.
I grew up with They Might Be Giants and I have a great deal of respect for their work and originality, but this show was awkward. All of the tracks were either from kids albums, their last two non-kids albums, or from the classic Flood. On paper, it almost seemed like there was something for everyone, but in reality, it felt more like there wasn’t anything for anyone. It couldn’t be considered a childrens show, because of the adult themes that were mixed in around it. It wasn’t really a classic throw down, with all of the post 2000 shit they played. To be honest, TMBG kind of lost me over the last decade, once they wrote that terrible Malcom in the Middle theme song, and I’ve mostly rediscovered them through my 5 year old niece’s albums. They have a quarter-century of material to pull from and I wasn’t too psyched on the selection but, if you’re still following their career extremely closely and have kids, you may have felt differently. The environment was weird and I believe that their set may have have thrived better on a side stage. I saw them play in 1993 at a local festival and I remember it being great. Their energy was contagious and it was the first time that I saw an adult woman pull out her boobs, so my memories of that show were especially fond. This time, it just felt like their energy was falling dead into the crowd and there was something about the sound on the early Main Stage shows that had been sounding flat anyway. Like I said, their whole scheduling situation felt a little off and some people just stay at the main stage no matter who’s playing. I’m pretty sure that there had to be a mix of hardcore TMBG fans grouped in with a bunch of folks who were probably indifferent about the whole scene. Next on the bill was the young and popular hip-hop golden boy/ Kanye West prodigy, Kid Cudi… so, who knows… maybe this was their crowd? No?
Kid Cudi came out to an excitement and an uproar of recognition. Everyone might as well have been screaming, “We recognize this guy! Play that song! That one hit… The famous one! Or maybe that one from the commercial! Woo hoo!!!” Yeah, I know his track “Day ‘N’ Nite“, the one that drives the kids into a frenzy. It’s not bad and I have nothing against this guy, but the sound at live rap shows usually isn’t that great, in general. Unless you’re an act like THE ROOTS, rap performances in a live setting are usually limited, with one-dimensional sound and muffled vocals . I’ve seen exceptions with people like KRS-1, who was amazing, but even artists who are typically impressive on tape, like Talib Kweli, can have their audio fall flat in the wrong forum. With such an enormous amphitheatre, it was crazy to see a single man trying to command that overwhelming crowd all by himself. Under the circumstances, Kid “Cutie” (as we were referring to him) actually did a fairly adequate job. [Hey, Cutty Ranks doesn’t spell that shit like that].
The young rapper was sporting an Anthrax T-Shirt when he came out. I can only assume that it was worn as a nod to Public Enemy who had worked with the thrash metal band on “Bring tha Noise” and who would be performing on another stage at the festival later in the day. This extremely non-intimate stadium rap show wasn’t really engaging me and I was relieved when Jesse leaned over to me and casually said, “If I’m not quite sure of what Anthrax did as a band, I seriously doubt that this 16yr old brother is… and I’ve seen Anthrax.” I thought it was the funniest thing that I’d heard all day, partially because I was thinking the same thing. At that point, I was really happy that we wound up traveling with these guys and even more so that someone else was around to talk shit about the same things that I was noticing. This was also the point where I snapped out of my surroundings and decided to get up and leave to explore the rest of the festival. Kim decided to stay seated with the group and I went off to go see Mike Birbiglia in the Rumpus Room tent.
Just like the day before, I had to push my way up towards the front to hear anything. The Bigfoot stage was crazy loud and conflicting with the poorly insulated comedy tent. I walked up to the little barricade and was stopped by a security guard who told me that he wasn’t allowed to let anyone into the photo area anymore. I mentioned that it wasn’t a problem the day before and he explained that they had only just told him today. Then I pointed out that there were already 2 other fools sitting down there with cameras and he responded by trying to tell me that he let them down there before he knew that he wasn’t allowed to anymore. I exaggerated the importance of me “needing” a photo and tried to focus on how ridiculous the logic keeping me out was. He told me that I could take 1 photo, which I changed to 2 photos and then to, “No problem, but I’m gonna shoot a few more than that to make sure that I get one.” Then I walked past him. I knew that he was a little stressed out and I wanted to show that I appreciated his help, so I took my shots, but I did it quick and walked back out and nodded as if to say, “See buddy? Everything is ok. No big deal. It’s gonna be alright.”
Birbiglia‘s a great comedian and I like his work, but the environment in that tent wasn’t the best for a comedy show. The acoustics are just off and it’s hard to believe that the people in the back could either hear and/or see much, if anything at all. Just like with Patton Oswalt on Friday, Birbiglia is a seasoned professional, but there was something about their sets that made me feel like they were constantly aware of the environment and were simply working through it. All that I really remember from this routine was a section about a nightmare that he had which involved a flying jackal. He climbed up on a stool to help emphasize the exponential amount of danger that a jackal with wings could possess over the standard Earthbound model. After leaving the photo pit, however, it was difficult for me to see anything and, once I backed up into the section where the sound was being muddled with the Bigfoot Stage again, I decided to just give up and leave.
I walked past the Avi Buffalo crowd at the Bigfoot Stage, past the Yeti Stage and into the media section again. I found myself wandering around and needed some water and a place to sit down for a minute. This time I saw someone interviewing the duo from Yacht back there. I called Kim and could instantly hear that something was wrong in her voice, so I headed right back over to the spot where we were before to get her. I rushed over there so fast that I didn’t even notice that Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band had made a last second and unannounced appearance on the Yeti stage that I was walking past.
Kim was looking bad but wanted to go over to THE XX show anyway. She was disoriented and spacey, so I laid down a blanket for her in the grass at the back of the Bigfoot Stage area and she fell asleep with her head on the backpack. I had big plans to shoot this show but, based on the way that everyone was stomping around, I knew that it wouldn’t have been safe to leave her there alone. People were openly walking over her with me sitting there. Their shoes would narrowly miss the top of my sick girlfriends head by mere inches or they would carelessly do shit like stand right on her feet. I had to stay low the entire set and listen to it from there. I was chopping at mother fuckers legs and mean mugging these bastards who should have known better. “Sorry“… “Excuse me“… “Thanks” Thanks? For what, telling you to fucking check yourself? There was room to go around and there’s no excuse to step on someone that you see laying there. We were in the back, not up front in the crowd I was actually surprised at how much people really never stop walking around during a set. Stop for a minute and pay attention to what’s happening people. Just for a moment.
People’s barriers change in different environments and they can even feel that they have a different set of secret rights that go along with their ticket price. When The XX came out, some guy instructed me to wake Kim up to see them. I looked at him as if to say, “Eat a dick!” and he got the message pretty quickly. Obviously, my plan was to watch the show and not to sit on the ground like a shield, but I had to adjust to my circumstances. The girls that were standing with him were incredibly helpful with recognizing my situation and even formed a nice little barricade while they watched from behind me.
I never even got an opportunity to see the members of The XX from my crouched position, but I did hear them and they sounded pretty good. I remember hearing the song “Crystalized” kick in immediately after the intro. Later came other recognizable tracks like “Basic Space“, “VCR“, and “Islands“. The truth is, they basically played their entire album. These kids from The XX were thrown into the spotlight so quick and their debut took off so fast, that they really don’t have much material to pull from. I like them though, and I like their understated approach to their work.
These band member are extremely young, but they also seem incredibly focused on creating music, as opposed to become “stars”. Incidentally, the song “Stars” seemed to be the only track from their self titled album that was actually absent. Their strong focus on music as a craft and less on the marketing which can surround it, undoubtedly stems from their education at London‘s Elliot School. The institute has an impressive list of former students and even claims Kieran Hebden (aka: Four Tet) as an alumni. I’d hate to imply that the entirety of The XX‘s appeal and worth stems from their youth, because it doesn’t. The reason that their youth is so relevant is because of the possibilities that it represents for the future, not only of their careers but of musical directions in general. Of course, my hopes are that groups like this are a mere foreshadowing of younger artists beginning to experiment with more subtle and interesting approaches to Electronica and songwriting, instead of just trying to throw out a catchy Casio beat and dressing like a Rubik’s Cube to gain a fanbase, like shiny objects to an infant. Then again, maybe I just miss the Eurythmics.