Chris Gray: Not long after I got to Summer Fest Sunday, I spotted festival honcho Omar Afra finishing up one of local musician/yogi Tyagaraja's yoga workshops in the wooden glade known temporarily as the Budweiser Beer Garden. (No doubt he needed it.) Afra told me that the festival had already reached last year's take... six weeks ago. However many people did show up to Eleanor Tinsley Park this weekend, both the attendance and the heat index were well north of Summer Fest 2010, Flaming Lips and all.
So where does the festival go from here? Hard as it may be to believe, Summer Fest may have yet to peak. On the the park's western edge, the festival's two new stages, Budweiser and Gritsy/Reprogram, seemed pretty sparsely attended every time I walked up there. Maybe it took a while for all the people entering through the downtown gate to realize they were there.
The one good crowd I saw at the Budweiser Stage this weekend was for HEALTH, who had the good fortune to play just as Sunday's cooling breeze and long-awaited rain shower began. Although I was a captive audience (parked under a tree, ready to ride the lightning), I'll call their tribal electro-grind my favorite set from Sunday because it was the most unique thing I heard all day, and because at this point Hayes Carll - who introduced himself and his "Gulf Coast Orchestra" as from Houston - would be a little obvious.
Neph Basedow: I didn't think it was possible to trump Saturday's high temperature, but my first few minutes at FPSF on Sunday would prove otherwise. Midway through Yeasayer's 3:45 set and I found myself scouting shaded sightlines. Back-to-back Black Angels and Yeasayer sets on the Main Stage was a certain Sunday highlight; both bands ignited sporadic crowd dance parties - however lethargic, due to the heat.
A welcome rain lessened the heat as I took in noise-popsters Neon Indian. Alan Palomo and co. are consistently good and they indeed held their own on a mid-size festival stage, but at times veered into borderline overly experimental electronica territory, as in more "noise" than "pop."
Nagasaki, Japan garage-punk trio Guitar Wolf topped my Sunday must-see list. Clad in dark sunglasses and black leather, the band was instantaneously amusing and, in a relief, more than talented to back up their overt yet endearing "tuff" image. Their loud, distorted guitar tones, screeching vocals, and bizarrely frenetic onstage demeanor were downright captivating; they're like the Japanese love child of the Clash and the Ramones.
But their every move was cliché in terms of Americanized rock definitions; if they were an American band, we'd dub their choreographed jumps, forced image, and incessant unison "1-2-3-4!"s as cock rock, but Guitar Wolf seem to defy the odds, as they were an interesting highlight of the day.
I've always enjoyed Cut Copy's live shows, and Sunday's was just as enjoyable as I set up shop for Weezer's headlining set. The Main Stage area's capacity already doubled Saturday's an hour before Weezer even began.
I can't count how many times I saw Weezer in high school and college, but I admittedly jumped-ship post-"Green Album." Lucky for me, most of Sunday's set was Blue-heavy; I heard all my favorite Weezer songs ("The World Has Turned and Left Me Here," "Suzanne," "Say It Ain't So," "Only In Dreams") save one ("No One Else") and, sadly, most of Pinkerton.
I maintain a love-hate relationship with this band, but their set was pretty perfect. Nostalgia aside; it was fun with a strong set list that recognized the simple truth that most of the crowd wanted to hear old material, and Weezer didn't seem to mind. Rivers Cuomo joked with the crowd, his band and even took sarcastic jabs at his sound guys.
As if closer "Buddy Holly" wasn't a feel-good enough way to bow out, fireworks lit the sky as we left the park, Weezer's trademark "=W=" symbol still aglow.
As a relative newbie to Houston's music-fest circuit after previously working seasoned festival cities Austin and Chicago, I was pleased to witness the city's music community unite for an exclusively locally-run fest. My only hope for FPSF's years to come is that is continues to grow into its own entity with no further comparisons to ACL, etc., because it's deemed itself worthy of at least that.
Marc Brubaker: Are there words for Summer Fest anymore? I'm never sure. It wasn't until I'd showered and looked back through my photos that I could even recall highlights. The weekend was almost impossible to track.
Arriving to the festival's east gate, I was awash in the sonic mania of By the End of Tonight, who played to a sizeable crowd even in their 1:30 p.m. time slot. Guys, be honest with us: Will you keep playing shows? Will you write more music? Please stick around.
Slinking down front to wash in Hayes Carll's soothing sounds almost made the broiling heat forgettable. According to a friend and FPSF staffer, one EMT's laser thermometers read the ground temperature at 103º, concrete temperature at 130-140º, and vinyl golf cart seats at an astonishing 168º. But talking about the heat is so 2009 now, right?
People will rail on it forever, but the fact of the matter is that Summer Fest is timed pretty much perfectly. Kids are fresh out of school or back from college, and bands are touring like crazy, which means that I have the pleasure of stumbling across acts like The Beets. The trio of New Yorkers plays a simple and fun brand of garage rock, but cresting the hill and hearing the summery tunes pour forth from the speakers at the 29-95 stage, I really couldn't ask for a better experience.
The day turns into a hurried blur, but watching terrified attendees wonder just what B L A C K I E was all about was entrancing. As a fan, it was mesmerizing, but as someone hoping that Summer Fest will raise the barometer for some deserving locals, I found myself torn, trying to determine which Houston act would be best served with the Main Stage slot.
There's so much more that could be said - The Black Angels' haunting wash of sound and Giant Princess' new, blissed-out poppy psychedelia were each wonderful. There were people shouting along with The Eastern Sea, and Christian busted out some big grins during The Hates' set.
Hell City Kings stomped their stage yet again, and I rolled up to the Gritsy stage just in time to hear Z-Ro roll out "Internet Thugz." Grandfather Child had about half of our editorial staff entranced (as always), and some crew with a big =\\/\//= took everyone back to 1994.
What's next? Radiohead? ZZ Top? Foo Fighters? Will people start reuniting to play FPSF? Will we wind up with a Friday night full of music, as FunFunFun Fest added this year? Blind presale for 2012 is already open, y'all. Hop to it.
Craig Hlavaty: Rivers - Possibly my new favorite band in Houston. Their blues-metal came off as effortless as sweating on the concrete on Allen Parkway all weekend, and they made me bounce my ass. There are not many bands I wake up early to see. Houston needs to see Rivers way more.
Robert Ellis & the Boys - It was nice to have the touring Ellis cavalcade back on Houston soil before they leave again for fame and riches with the Old '97s. One day we will all be telling friends at bars that at one time the band played when the sun was still shining.
Hayes Carll - Hayes Carll asked me to shoot him with a water cannon after his set, and I felt bad because it ruled so hard. "KMAG YOYO" is perfect music to shoot unwitting and parched festival-goers to. His set, along with those of Junior Brown, Jason Isbell, and Ellis, were just the twang-ass thing we had been missing at Summer Fest each year.
The Black Angels - There is something unwholesome and sketchy about seeing the Black Angels in the sunlight on Sunday, like when people are possibly at church or bible class elsewhere. But then again we don't believe in things that are wholesome or non-sketchy.
Muhammadali - This band just keeps getting louder and more aggressively catchy as the years go by, and now with the drumming duties in the more than capable hands of David Gomez, the pieces are dropping into place. Also, we are very much into the new songs.
Chromeo - Where in Houston on Sunday afternoon could you see dozens upon dozens of girls in bikinis and dudes in little more than short-shorts dancing like animals? Nowhere else but the dancing pit during Chromeo.
Kylesa - If this weekend's heat was a person, it would listen to Kylesa while it worked out and stroked its flowing metal beard. Dudes, and chick, wailed like always. Two drummers and a shit-ton of anger. But, you know, fun anger.
Hell City Kings - New songs, plus a cover of the Stooges' "Search & Destroy" with Ralf Armin made this a worthy choice of an appetizer before Guitar Wolf.
Guitar Wolf - The Japanese rock and roll (and when I say rock and roll I goddamned mean it) band played for a full hour in full leather garb, jackets and pants, in the blazing late-day sun and humidity. We all sat around the band on the tiny Warehouse Live stage, grinning like idiots. The loudest set of the day not counting the noiseniks elsewhere? Yes.
B L A C K I E - And just like that, B L A C K I E was introduced to greater Houston in the biggest way possible, on the main stage of the festival before Cut Copy and Weezer. Huge wooden letters spelling his name lined the bottom of the stage, as he let forth with what us long-term fans know and love very well. Those in the crowd who didn't know him from Adam at the beginning of his set were left chanting his name by the end.
Matthew Keever: Weezer this, Weezer that. We all know whom most Houstonians are still talking about today, but I say that, while Weezer are extremely talented and we were just as excited to see them as the rest of you were, Sunday's festivities weren't solely on account of the mighty W.
Sure, the entire day built up to their grand finale, but didn't we all have fun in the meantime?
We were treated to a short but refreshing rainfall, coupled with winds that were so strong they knocked a few tents off their legs. B L A C K I E bewildered a few thousand citizens who weren't familiar with his music but will never forget his performance or the passion with which they chanted his stage name afterward; and, of course, who could forget the mudslide, which has become a Summer Fest tradition.
So go ahead Houston, talk up Weezer, Cut Copy, Big Boi and Ween all you want, but don't forget how many other talented, hard-working musicians who performed before the headliners' shows. Some of them came all the way from Seattle, others from New York, and a large number of them live and work in our fair city. You could probably see a few of them perform this weekend, if you wanted.
So I implore you to take the opportunity to discover this city and all the talent it holds. Houston has far too much character for so few people to know about it. Praise is due to Summer Fest, its promoters, the bands that played and all those who attended.
This got the ball rolling. All you have to do is keep it moving.
William Michael Smith: At my age, it's like being a ball in a pinball machine attending a large event like Summer Fest. Avoiding head-on collisions while taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells can be a bit discombobulating at something as jam packed as this year's festival.
And talk about living right: With boiling thunderheads weeping drops of water, something we haven't seen in these parts in a coon's age, the third annual Summer Fest skated on the brink of a muddy disaster for most of the afternoon Sunday.
Yet, with lightning striking just to the west and north, the festival plowed ahead toward another happy ending with the big Weezer finale and a send off of Fourth of July-ish fireworks, which I watched from the porch of a Midtown bar.
An afternoon that began with sweltering, heat-stroke-inducing temperatures was cooled significantly by a brief shower and an easterly breeze that brought cheers from the massive crowd gathered at the Main Stage to hear Brooklyn pop sensation Yeasayer. With the sun beating directly onto the stage and hammering the sprawling crowd - front man Chris Keating joked that the band and the crowd should all go to a pool party - when the clouds finally began to spit some moisture no one moved or even paid much mind and the band worked its way toward a rousing finish that brought one of the biggest roars of the afternoon.
My death march had begun with returning local hero Hayes Carll, whose band added to the scorching weather with a set as hot as the 2 p.m. sun that was broiling the 1,000 or so early comers. After Carll, I drifted west, hoping to catch local bad boys Black Congress, who proved to be the only no-show of the afternoon. [Ed. Note: Medical issues, we heard Saturday.] But local punks Born Again Virgins took up the slack, pelting a small, enthusiastic crowd with a blistering torrent of rhythm and chin-out attitude.
I've always loved the name - Commie Hilfiger - but my westward drift finally put us in the right place at the right time to see them in their ridiculous glory. Dressed in woolen WWII Soviet army costumes, the comedic punk-rock/performance-art ensemble carried off one of the day's best pieces of theater with their dramatic march through the throng to the stage that had photographers scurrying for the best angles.
From there, my drift back to the east began as we caught a strong opening by Kylesa, whose two drummers pushed the heat index to new heights. But the first truly massive crowd of the day gathering for Yeasayer at the Main Stage grabbed my attention and I moved on. By the time I got to the area, the crowd was so large I took up position under a weathered oak and ended up watching the show through a fork in the tree, where wood ants were greedily devouring a slice of lime someone had deposited. It was a scenario Salvador Dali might have appreciated.
After Yeasayer, I found myself where our original picks for last week's preview blog indicated I would be, at the 29-95 Stage where West Coast jazz/funk ensemble The Memorials played to a tiny crowd of maybe 70 people. Maria Taylor followed with her sweet, poppy love songs as a substantially larger audience gathered.
But it was an absolutely scorching set by Muscle Shoals-based Jason Isbell and his band 400 Unit that proved to be the musical high point of my afternoon. While Chromeo drew a huge crowd at the Main Stage, Isbell worked out in front of a small enthusiastic crowd that seemed to include half the music journalists and 75 percent of all the music photographers in the Bayou City. And the former Drive-By Trucker, did not disappoint. From my vantage point, I could also look down upon the Super Happy Fun Land stage and be dazzled by the dances of Serum Fantis.
My overall impression of the festival, which can be deemed nothing less than another success for the Summer Fest management team, was that there actually was something for everyone, that virtually all the bases had been covered and covered well, sound issues at some of the stages aside.
It had to be a monumentally complex effort to make this thing happen, but it was so well put together it seemed to be on autopilot.
Some random notebook dumps:
Three Best T-shirts:
- FUCK YALL - I'm From Houston
- SUPPORT THE MUSIC SCENE - Fuck Me!
- Keep Austin 170 Miles From Here
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Best Overheard Line of the Day: "I love getting high in the middle of Allen Parkway."
Best Food Item: Moon Tower "Ghetto Dog" with Feta cheese and jalapenos.