Art Rock

Marfa Myths Defies Expectations

Tom Ze performed with energy and zeal at Marfa Myths Festival.
Tom Ze performed with energy and zeal at Marfa Myths Festival. Photo by Radio UTD

Marfa, Texas is an interesting place. Locked in the desert, the town has a few spots to eat, all with odd business hours and more art galleries per capita than possibly anywhere else in Texas. It's a town where everyone knows everyone but few call home.

Over the weekend, one of the most eclectic music festivals ever was assembled by the fine folks at Mexican Summer, and it was a doozy. Alongside performances from legends like Wire and Tom Ze, the heavily curated festival presented by a New York record label felt like one of the most appropriate events to be thrown in such an alluring place. Marfa Myths made the middle of nowhere feel like something that should happen all over the country.

Starting off on Thursday night, the Marfa Visitor's Center hosted The Weather Station and Terry Allen. Due to the nine-hour drive, I missed the set from The Weather Station, but was rewarded with a pretty stellar set from Allen who dropped covers and played the show with the energy of a much younger artist, delighting all in attendance.

click to enlarge Jessica Pratt played a soft and lovely set in Marfa. - PHOTO BY  RADIO UTD
Jessica Pratt played a soft and lovely set in Marfa.
Photo by Radio UTD
Friday began with hosted tours from the Judd Foundation, followed by a performance from Ryley Walker and Jessica Pratt with Chicago native Walker bringing his signature freestyle sounds to a set that included tracks from his upcoming release Deafman.  San Francisco's Jessica Pratt took a different approach in one of the more intriguing sets with soft and tender songs that kept the audience quiet and hanging on her every word.

The same could be said for classically trained cellist and vocalist Kelsey Lu. Lu performed on top of a small stage in the center of a small capacity space behind the Marfa Visitor's center, forcing everyone to sit and enjoy each and every note. Lu doesn't really sound like anyone else in music today, and this set proved that she can capture and hold a room's attention, dropping favorites alongside on-the-spot compositions that were beautiful and unlike anything else you could hear.

click to enlarge Innov Gnawa blew minds and got people moving at Marfa Myths. - PHOTO BY RADIO UTD
Innov Gnawa blew minds and got people moving at Marfa Myths.
Photo by Radio UTD

 Hyperobjects, from Rice University's Timothy Morton opened in Ballroom Marfa, and was filled with engaging pieces. An after party at El Cosmico featured the Grammy-nominated New York group Innov Gnawa.

Outside, in the freezing cold with winds gusting across the audience, the group gave the most captivating performance using their Moroccan Qaraqabos and primitive instruments. By creating a modern interpretation of the tribal sounds of Gnawa music, the group created a space for their rhythmic and enchanting sounds that made the harsh weather seem like an evening breeze.

click to enlarge Suzanne Ciani kept the audience's attention while she performed. - PHOTO BY RADIO UTD
Suzanne Ciani kept the audience's attention while she performed.
Photo by Radio UTD

On Saturday, electronic pioneer, Suzanne Ciani. Ciani is another artist that you aren't going to find touring much through Texas these days. As impressive as Ciani was, it felt like most attendees were itching for the performance from Tom Ze to take place.

click to enlarge Tom Ze had more energy than any 81 year old you've met. - PHOTO BY RADIO UTD
Tom Ze had more energy than any 81 year old you've met.
Photo by Radio UTD
While Tom Ze has been an active artist for more than 50 years, and he's 81 years old, his dance moves seemed to be as fresh as ever. Playing a nice mix from his catalog, Ze seemed to be taken over by the rhythms and began dancing.. Aside from the fact that there was a language barrier between Portuguese and English that caused him to take a little long trying to explain what some of the songs were about, his energy and free spirit took over those who were there, while reminding everyone why he was so influential.

click to enlarge Circuit Des Yeux was as captivating as her records. - PHOTO BY RADIO UTD
Circuit Des Yeux was as captivating as her records.
Photo by Radio UTD
For a good while now, Circuit Des Yeux has been an act I've wanted to see in person. There's something about the eclectic and experimental sounds that singer Haley Fohr creates, as well as one of the more original sounding voices in music today. Going from a baritone to a falsetto isn't something many can do, however Fohr did so with ease while backed by a band that seemed to be with her at every turn she took.

Amen Dunes took the stage for a 45-minute set playing mostly tunes from his stellar new album Freedom.   Dunes takes his time with each passing album, and he almost reinvents himself with each recording.  This was followed with another pop up set, this time from Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and Cate le Bon. The Welsh born singer and Cox seemed to be having a blast onstage
click to enlarge Wire played a mix of songs both old and new in Marfa. - PHOTO BY RADIO UTD
Wire played a mix of songs both old and new in Marfa.
Photo by Radio UTD
Of course, while all of those sets were worth catching, it felt like everyone at the venue was more than ready for post-punk legends, Wire. The iconic four piece easily held everyone's attention while running through primarily newer tracks from last year's Silver / Lead, while sprinkling in nuggets like "Three Girl Rumba" from Pink Flag and "Outdoor Miner" from Chairs Missing.

The entire performance felt like a band that was younger than their years while the band proved really fast that they hadn't lost anything in more than 40 years of playing together. The evening was closed off with an after party performance from Equiknoxx that was entertaining and full of energy while the crowd was hyped and dancing from the beginning to the end.

Sunday I made it over to the Crowley Theater to catch the set from Gravity Hill Sound+Image. While you may not recognize the name, the group is made up of Jessica Moss, George Xylouris, Jim White, and of course, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi fame. While there wasn't a new rendition of "Margin Walker" played, the group did play music atop films made by Jem Cohen, who also made the documentary about Fugazi, "Instrument." The group played eclectic tunes that happened to be the only set where no phones were in the air. Followed with a performance from Allah Las, the soundtrack to film scoring was the perfect way to cap off the weekend.

In a world where festivals get booked based around obtaining corporate sponsorship over music, the folks at Mexican Summer really showed that they love music first and foremost. Now in their tenth year as a label, you can stay in the loop with what the label is up to here. Marfa Myths, now in its fifth year is definitely a festival everyone should experience once, if not multiple times.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
David Garrick is a former contributor to the Houston Press. His articles focus primarily on Houston music and Houston music events.