KTRU Outdoor Show Rice University March 17, 2012
In spite of groovy, spacey melodies and an air of mystery about their set, emphasized in part by the lack of overhead light during their performance, the Lower Dens got the short end of the stick at the 21st annual KTRU Outdoor Show. Before the band was even set up onstage inside, people were already packing tightly around the outside stage for Slim Thug's impending performance.
After a 45-minute long set by his DJ, which had ladies from the crowd climbing onto the stage and dancing, the Boss began his set with "Houston," the single he, Paul Wall and Z-Ro released after the Texans clinched their first ever playoff birth, followed by "Like A Boss." The rest of his show was filled with well-known hits like "Still Tippin'" and "Three Kings," and a few oldies and shoutouts to the likes of DJ Screw were interspersed throughout for his more militant fans.
Our musically schizophrenic day began many hours earlier with The Demonic Hen, a group of freshly picked (read: young) vegetables (and one turtle?) who advised listeners of the importance of good nutrition. Knitting their message together with heavy guitar riffs, the oddly dressed ensemble, which resembled a parody of those old Hanes commercials, kept the crowd's attention for the entirety of their set.
Their name, we later learned, is actually something of an homage -- a misunderstanding, really -- to Houston's own the Manichean. The Demonic Hen's founding member, whom we will refer to by his dress as Eggplant, is a big fan of that group.
At his first Manichean show, when front man Cory Sinclair belted out, "We are 'the-maw-nuh-key-in," Eggplant heard, "We are Demonic Hen." So when Eggplant realized that the coolest band name he had ever heard wasn't actually spoken for, he rounded up a group of vegans and vegetarians and, under the heavy theatrical influence of GWAR, decided they would don costumes to inform the world of the of the significance of a healthy diet.
Crazy as it sounds, it actually worked. Though, we won't be eating an eggplant any time soon. No matter how much we enjoyed the set, our taste buds just won't take that leap.
Portland's The Thermals make our ears perk up with their upbeat, indie melodies spread thinly under singer Hutch Harris' high-pitched vocal lines. By far, they were our favorite performance of the day.
Afterward, on the inside stage, The Energy's punk-rock tunes made for an interesting union with Arthur Bates' terse recitation of his lyrics. At first, we thought Bates was either bored with his own music or perhaps disappointed in the crowd. But now, having listened to the group's album online and having allowed their music to digest, we realize that it was that very sound they were going for. Give it some time, but it's growing on us.
Try as we might, we just couldn't get into Titus Andronicus' sound. On their albums, singer Eric Harm's voice is perfectly raspy, and it seems to mockingly avoid ever quite conforming to the beat of the the music; it's perfectly flawed. Live, however, their sound just didn't come together like it does on their recordings.
A poor show? No, but it wasn't on par with what we were expecting. And it didn't help that when Harm stepped onto a figurative soapbox, asking, "If they (whoever 'they' are...) are willing to throw away thousands of Styrofoam cups, what are they willing to do to us? Human fertilizer, that's all we are," he said, before adding, "But fertilizer for what? What are they trying to grow?"
Luckily, afterward, the Wild Moccasins, as usual, kept the crowd's bodies moving with their melodic, dance-friendly tunes that have become a focal point of our city's music scene.
Overall, the festival was a lot of fun, but we can't help but wonder why it was scheduled during SXSW. It wasn't even until Chairlift took to the outside stage at dusk that the Rice campus actually resembled a music festival, and we can only assume this had something to do with... Umm... "Poor" scheduling. But maybe that was the point: To compete with the fan-favorite, overly commercialized, weeklong SXSW.
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And don't we all love an underdog?
Overheard in the Crowd (from a UH alumnus): "Even Rice's pigeons are better looking than ours! And where are all the squirrels?"