Summer Fest Saturday: A Sizzler With Beirut, Big Boi, Black Joe, Fucked Up, Sharon Jones, Ween & More
Ed. Note: We're not done yet...
Chris Gray: I think the quickest way to sum up Summer Fest, environmentally, is in fact biologically: In eight hours at the festival Saturday, hydrating continuously with mostly water, I made my own water once, shortly before Beirut. Sunday, in seven hours on only water, I did not see that horse until well after I had gone to Leon's Lounge to piece together my thoughts and pick over The New York Times.
Saturday, my musical blue ribbon goes to Rusted Shut's Don Walsh screaming "Kill! Kill! Kill!" for several minutes (or what seemed like several minutes) over lurching Frankenstein guitars and Ralf Armin's wandering tenor sax. This was going on at the same time as, high on a hill up above, Buxton was enchanting dozens of doe-eyed fans with an otherworldly blend of Bill Monroe and Bright Eyes.
There was more - Big Boi's double-time barrage of OutKast hits, some chosen by the crowd; Indian Jewelry's chopped-and-screwed approach to droney dance music (was that Blondie I heard?); Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears' scorching soul, bumped up to a gospel plane by Dallas' the Relatives - but those two bands, at precisely the same time, made a perfect microcosm of both the city and Summer Fest: It's a big, sprawling motherfucker riddled with pockets of psychosis and beauty.
Houston: You're soaking in it. Strap in.
Fucked Up (and fans)
Neph Basedow: First things first: You can't review an all-day outdoor music festival held in Houston in June without mentioning the obvious: Summer in Texas is hot. Unbearably sweltering, even. As in, it was a cloudless 100 degrees on Saturday and I've got the sundress-shaped tan-lines to prove it.
While fest-goers waited in 20-minute lines to refill water bottles and were literally hosed down by Security during shows to prevent dehydration and heat exhaustion, I indulged one of my favorite festival pastimes: Observing climate-defying hipster fashion.
As usual, many risked both comfort and health for the sake of fashion, including donning knee-high suede moccasins. Not to mention, girls: About those feathery braided MGMT headbands, etc. - the more people who adopt a formerly novel trend make it directly, in turn, the exact opposite of novel. Same goes for (most) Texas-shaped tattoos.
Fashion could have its own blog entirely, but back to the sweaty heart of the matter, music. Between the gallons of sweat lost, the Budweisers that replenished them, a slice of Pink's Pizza as big as my head, a random swig of the warmest vodka I've ever tasted, and some delicious goat curry from Calypso Grill, there was music.
Thanks to Toronto's Fucked Up for restoring the all-necessary grit to rock and roll. Shirtless front man Damien Abraham (aka Pink Eyes) spent the set's entirety enmeshed in the crowd, initiating a sweaty, fevered dust bowl of a mosh pit, his potbelly and plumber's crack on proud display as the band delivered one fiery punk song after another.
Their live sound, while tight, is simultaneously even messier than their recordings, in a refreshingly raw way - a beautiful mess, if you will, positioning their set among my favorites of the day.
Beirut held their own on FPSF's roomy Main Stage; an accordion and auspicious horn section introducing man-behind-the-curtain Zach Condon's suddenly larger touring band. His mix of artsy and whimsy, now with strength in numbers, was suitably chiseled into the stage's pre-headliner set.
As the sun set and the novice drunks and early-birds prematurely retired, the Main Stage area became more breathable and favorably saturated with Ween superfans. With glow-sticks and beach balls abounding, the headliners balanced a setlist of frequented fest-appropriate tunes ("Bananas and Blow," "Spinal Meningitis," "Dr. Rock," "Roses Are Free") with some rarer live songs ("Birthday Boy," "Awesome Sound") and their go-to Bowie cover, "Let's Dance."
The band was jovial and animated, seemingly enjoying themselves onstage, each song sang back to them verbatim by their front-row devotees and dancing hill-top stragglers. Besides leaving us high and dry come encore, Ween rounded out the fest's first day well, setting a high bar for Sunday's remainder.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
John Seaborn Gray: Summer Fest during the hottest rat bastard of an early June we've ever had was rough in spots, yet the festival has ironed out many of the kinks from last year.
First of all, there were approximately three times the vendors as last year, so if you were willing to pay for water, you were having virtually no wait. Second, the free water stations were a godsend, even if the lines did get into the hour-long range for a while; at least they were there, which is more than can be said for last year.
If you drank beer this year at Summer Fest, my sweaty hat is off to you for your crazy-ass determination. Hopefully you found the beer garden, which held the only decent beer in the place - Budweiser had a virtual beer-opoly over most of the festival. I personally drank water like I was going for a personal best.
There were so many amazing bands to see this year. What a lineup. It was a great opportunity for people who don't get to see much local music to finally catch some of the bands they've been waiting to see for ages. It was also a great opportunity to see bands that don't roll through town all that often. Hopefully amazing acts like Kylesa, Fucked Up, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings won't be strangers.
Even working there as a vendor was fun. Dishing out food to Houston's music lovers while great live tunes play in the background was a lovely change of pace, even if it was hotter than the Devil's butthole until the sun went down.
Summer Fest continues to be one of the most important things happening in Houston, and I'll plan on playing the Let's Stay Hydrated game every June for as long as I possibly can.
Craig Hlavaty: The Manichean - The first band I caught of this year's Summer Fest was Cory Sinclair's frenzied and freaky mindfuck of a musical project. He jumped onto the overturned Sweet Leaf bucket where I was posted up, and I just let him be. I felt honored, actually.
Tax The Wolf - Our favorite afro'd space-metal boys had a hefty crowd on the Night Owl Stage early in the day. Played some new songs too.
Chase Hamblin - Yes, that was Robert Ellis and Geoffrey Mueller on drums and bass backing Hamblin, and yes, Hamblin is still one of the hookiest songwriting men in Houston.
Black Joe Lewis
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - Holy Hell, he opened with "Stop Breakin' Down" from the new Scandalous album. It was as if he was revolted against the sun, saying "Keep it coming, you big orange sucka." Then the Relatives came aboard the USS Lewis, and the crowd melted into a soul puddle.
Junior Brown - "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" is one of the most romantic songs I have ever heard, and I own a few John Mayer albums. Brown was making sparks come off his guit-steel while you were in line for beer. Tsk tsk.
Roky Moon & BOLT - It's fun to imagine someone coming into Summer Fest unaware of Roky Moon and walking by and getting sucked in immediately into their rock opera pants-down throwdown. Like when you take a friend to your favorite restaurant and they try your favorite dish and while are eating it and loving it you keep screaming, "See! I told you! It's made from angel tears and unicorn shavings!"
Fucked Up - Fucked Up probably changed the course of many a fat kid's life on Saturday afternoon. How many large lead singers can the world handle? Not enough. The stuff off the new David Comes To Life turned the Budweiser Stage into ground zero of the first annual "Fucked Up Fest". We need them back in town sooner than later.
Bun B & a few of his closest friends
Matthew Keever: By noon, only an hour after gates opened, I had already been sunburned. I've learned that no amount of sunscreen (or lack of clothing) can save you from the Houston sun and heat. But nonetheless, I had a great time.
From the Manichean, Finnegan and Roky Moon & BOLT!, a few of my favorite local acts, to Bun B, Big Boi and Fucked Up, the third annual Free Press Summer Fest had something for everyone.
And for lovers of festivals and a wide array of music alike, it was heaven.
By far, Toronto's Fucked Up were my favorite performers of the entire weekend. I had read a review of their new album, David Comes to Life, which is available as of today, coincidentally, and such high praise coming from one of my favorite music writers seemed reason enough to give them a listen. As is often the case, they went on my list of bands to listen to, but I have yet to get around to buying a copy of their album.
By the time you read this, I will have already bought a copy. Maybe two, even.
Lead vocalist Damian Abraham is, as far as looks and onstage personality are concerned, is the heart of the band. The oversized, over-bearded, ballcap-wearing Canadian jumped into the crowd moments after Fucked Up got onstage.
He ran around the crowd for more than an hour, wrapping the microphone cable around himself, smashing the mike on his head, rambunctiously jumping around inside the crowd as fans climbed onto his back and giving big hugs to even the most timid members of the crowd.
Everyone warmed up to his baritone screams, eventually. Even those who were apprehensive as the show began. Look them up if you haven't already.
Earlier, The Manichean put on as entertaining of a show as I have ever seen from the native Houstonians.
The lyrics vocalist Cory Sinclair sings are both beautiful and disturbing. In almost every song, you'll find snippets of short and sweet nothings, the kind your girlfriend would put as her Facebook status as a way of telling her love for you - "She walks in just like she always does, and this pulse flickers just like it always does."
Awww... cute, right? But the song continues on and takes a dark turn. But hey, that's just Sinclair and co-founder Justice Tirapelli-Jamail's style.
Brittanie Shey: For a festival in its infancy that seems to be growing exponentially by the year, Summerfest came off with a few flaws. Despite the obvious - why have an outdoor music festival during the hottest part of the year in Houston? - there were some no-brainer flubs this year too.
Free water is a wonderful idea, but why block off the city-funded water fountains that already dot Eleanor Tinsley Park? Lines for the water stations were so long that people were caving for the $2 bottles instead.
And why no hand sanitizer outside the portable toilets? No place to wash ones' hands? That's just plain gross.
But if that's all we have to bitch about, them you know the event was a successful one. Among Saturday's highlights were watching Junior Brown and wife Tanya Rae covering surf-guitar classics from the shade of a tree, and seeing Sharon Jones own the crowd like some perfect amalgamation of Tina Turner and James Brown. Both performers have played Houston (and Austin) before, but I've just never been able to catch them until Saturday.
Sharon Jones, one more time
Before introducing Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings played several bars of hometown favorite "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & the Drells. Rocks Off was disappointed we didn't get to hear the whole thing, but Ms. Jones made up for it later by running through a medley of fad dances from the Boogaloo to the Wobble, the fringe on her dress flying madly. Everyone on and in front of the stage was sweating, and it wasn't from the heat.
(Speaking of Sharon Jones, I was happy to hear so many female voices coming from the stages at FPSF, especially the smaller ones.)
As the night wore on and the heat wore off, the crowd moved towards the main stage for Ween. At least temporarily. A few songs in, people began fleeing en masse. I heard one guy opine "They call this music?" Poor souls. They missed an eclectic set from one of the most eclectic bands in rock, who played everything from "Bananas and Blow" to the nautical-themed "Mollusk" to a dead-on perfect cover of David Bowie's "Let's Dance."
"We don't get to texas much," Dean Ween said, making it even more tragic that so many people skipped out on the show. Saturday night was lo-fi at its highest quality.
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