Categories
Event Reviews

FEST 16

FEST 16

with Against Me, Superchunk, Rainer Maria, Beach Slang, and more

Gainesville, FL • October 27-29, 2017

Remember how excited you would get about Christmas when you were a kid? Counting down days on Advent calendars, making wish lists and dreaming all December of those sought-after toys you hoped to wake up to on the morning of the 25th?

Jen Cray

That’s THE FEST, and for 3 days at the end of October every year, Gainesville, FL is like waking up to a pile of presents under the tree all with your name on it. Hundreds of band and thousands of fans descend upon the college town for a long weekend of carefree indulgence and real life 3-D socializing all set to the soundtrack of every shade of punk rock imaginable. It’s almost overwhelming in its variety. Schedule clashes cause sleepless nights and heartbreaking choices, and last minute “mystery sets” can not only throw entire plans off course but can inspire lines around the block as half the town tries to pile into a tiny venue to catch one of the main stage bands playing an intimate gig. It’s beautiful chaos shared with beautiful people and its a subculture all its own, where the people you meet are often just as memorable as the bands you see (and often the people you meet ARE IN the bands you see).

Jen Cray


Jen Cray

And, in a way, it’s that social experience — that real life, not false weird digital cyberspace world — that is the whole point of FEST. Sure, there’s music — there’s music EVERYWHERE at any given time, but it’s to be enjoyed as bite size appetizers. Like the musical equivalent of the Epcot Food & Wine Festival — instead of tasting a pastry puff and a sip of chardonnay at one vendor, it’s ducking into a dive bar to check out an unknown punk band from France whose set may be killer, but you don’t want to fill up on it because you still have to have rush over to the main stage to check out that band from the 90’s you never really listened to but you’ve heard are great and who never play live shows anymore so this is kind of a big deal.

Intenable

Jen Cray
Intenable


Direct Hit

Jen Cray
Direct Hit


Superchunk

Jen Cray
Superchunk

So you listen to a few songs of them and, yeah, they’re awesome, but there’s this unknown chick playing an acoustic set at this out of the way bookstore-like venue that you want to check out so you rush over to catch her set and, guess what? She’s amazing. And the venue is amazing, and you end up being part of this beautiful moment where the singer onstage seems to be catching a brief glimpse at her possible future and it has adoring fans who know her lyrics and hang on her every word, and she smiles with surprise, and you smile, and it’s intimate and amazing.

Sincere Engineer

Jen Cray
Sincere Engineer


Jen Cray


Against Me

Jen Cray
Against Me


Jen Cray


Jen Cray

Almost as amazing as the moment when the headlining band who used to call Gainesville home are playing to an at-capacity crowd and the singer who, let’s just say has been through A LOT since the band’s inception 20 years ago, gets choked up when thanking the crowd for sticking by her and for “listening to” her all these years. And upon saying that, brings out the band’s original bass player to join the band in play, in its entirety, their debut album “recorded just a few blocks from this stage.” As if that moment with Against Me was beautiful enough to witness, also joining the band as a guest star throughout their set was saxophonist Jessica Mills who music fans may recognize as an original member of Less Than Jake, but whom I know as one of my high school English teachers. I hadn’t seen her since those days, but I ran into her through the lens of my camera while she was onstage with a band I love performing in front of thousands. Only at THE FEST.

There are a lot of stories like that to be told. By me, and by many, but words hardly do this festival justice. Photos can come close.

Rainer Maria

Jen Cray
Rainer Maria


Crime In Stereo

Jen Cray
Crime In Stereo


Mobina Galore

Jen Cray
Mobina Galore


Beach Slang

Jen Cray
Beach Slang


The Dirty Nil

Jen Cray
The Dirty Nil


Decentes

Jen Cray
Decentes


The Movielife

Jen Cray
The Movielife


Hiccup

Jen Cray
Hiccup


Hora Douse

Jen Cray
Hora Douse


Allout Helter

Jen Cray
Allout Helter


Yotam Ben-Horin

Jen Cray
Yotam Ben-Horin


Western Addiction

Jen Cray
Western Addiction


Debt Neglector

Jen Cray
Debt Neglector


Sharptooth

Jen Cray
Sharptooth


“FEST 16_ml”
Tim Barry

Jen Cray
Tim Barry


A.W.

Jen Cray
A.W.


Expert Timing

Jen Cray
Expert Timing

Next year’s FEST is slotted for October 26-28, 2018. Plan accordingly.

Jen Cray


Jen Cray

Check out full photo galleries: www.jencray.com.

thefestfl.com

Categories
Event Reviews

The Fest

The Fest

with War on Women, Mean Jeans, Drug Church, Dillinger Four, Jeff Rosenstock, Big Eyes, and more

Gainesville, FL • October 28-30, 2016

The FEST isn’t just another music festival, it’s a community. It’s a tight knit, but welcoming, group of friends from all over the world who annually gather in Gainesville, FL for 3 days (5 days if you include Pre-Fest in Tampa) for an overindulgence in independently minded music and camaraderie. Bands and fans coexist on an equal plain, mingling in the streets and in the crowds — buying each other drinks, sharing bear hugs, or slices of pizza. It may look like a gnarly punk infestation of a college town to outsiders, but the secret is: Fest attendees are the sweetest bunch of people you could ever hope to take over your streets. Sure, they may vomit on your lawn, or pass out on the hood of your car, but they’ll apologize in the morning and probably even offer to take you out for breakfast.

Now in its 15th year, the event boasts over 350 bands that offer audio gratification across the expanse of 14 venues. With so many choices, at any given time slot, the happy result is that any set you descend upon is packed up with other fans who have chosen to be there. What this means is, every crowd is hyped up about the band they’re seeing which always results in a better concert experience. The crowd’s excited, the band gets excited, which excites the crowd more, and so on. It’s concert synergy, and it was happening everywhere.

Here’s a photo diary of what this one FEST-er got to experience over the course of the 3 day long lovefest:

Night Birds

Jen Cray
Night Birds

Antarctigo Vespucci

Jen Cray
Antarctigo Vespucci


Big Eyes

Jen Cray
Big Eyes


Creepoid

Jen Cray
Creepoid


Jen Cray


DFMK

Jen Cray
DFMK


Drug Church

Jen Cray
Drug Church


Gouge Away

Jen Cray
Gouge Away


Jen Cray


Jeff Rosenstock

Jen Cray
Jeff Rosenstock


The Ergs!

Jen Cray
The Ergs!


Mannequin Pussy

Jen Cray
Mannequin Pussy


Dillinger Four

Jen Cray
Dillinger Four


Tenement

Jen Cray
Tenement


Wet Nurse

Jen Cray
Wet Nurse


Jen Cray


War on Women

Jen Cray
War on Women


We Are The Union

Jen Cray
We Are The Union


Jen Cray

To see more galleries from FEST, check out www.jencray.com.

thefestfl.com

Categories
Event Reviews

The Fest 14

The Fest 14

Gainesville, FL • October 30- November 1, 2015

You may not expect it from a 3 day punk rock festival in a college town over Halloween weekend, but attending The Fest feels like a gigantic hug.

War on Women

Jen Cray
War on Women

There’s a homecoming kind of feeling that permeates the PBR-soaked air as fans, bands, and friends from around the globe descend on Gainesville, Florida to get lost inside of the impossible task of seeing 400 bands spread across 21 venues. Every corner you turn is a familiar face, whether it’s an old friend who lives on the other side of the country whom you’ve only ever known online, or the singer of a band you’ve been a fan of for years and with whom today you can share a beer and a conversation, because – at Fest – there is no separation between band and fan. We’re all just people.

Jen Cray

If that all paints a rather hippy dippy picture, throw a little dirt and grime on that image, soundtrack it with brain rattling hardcore or boot stomping street punk, and throw a dozen bodies somersaulting atop it all. This ain’t your parents’ music festival. Begun on a small scale in 2002, the annual event showcases bands that fall under the vast independent/underground/punk umbrella. This means that while on one stage a brain rattling hardcore act may be blowing out a neck vein, a neighboring stage may house a shoegazing collective where fans sway instead of stomp. It shouldn’t work — colliding these seemingly opposite worlds — but it does. And the cross pollination of sounds and cultures — the availability of so many clashing musical experiences — makes Fest not just a music festival, but a communal experience.

crowd surfing for Tiny Moving Parts

Jen Cray
crowd surfing for Tiny Moving Parts

Just as there is too much to see, there is also too much to report. It’s an overwhelming experience — especially for a photographer who feels compelled to capture IT ALL! So rather than touch upon each of the 40 or so sets I managed to jump in on, I’ll highlight a handful of personal favorites, but first let me just raise my phantom glass of Swamp Head pale ale and toast the powers-that-be who kept every one of the hundreds of sets running on time, sounding amazing, and feeling like it was run by the fans instead of the establishment. Signs were posted everywhere that essentially proclaimed “mosh, stage dive, crowd surf… at your own risk” and “be good to one another.” I never saw one fight, or injury, so take note corporate venues with overzealous rules and regulations.

a hungry crowd for Sharkanoid

Jen Cray
a hungry crowd for Sharkanoid

Before diving into the weekend highlights as chosen by yours truly, first here’s a lightning round wrap-up of some notables. Bad Cop Bad Cop lit up the big stage dressed up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and showering the crowd not just with their delicious pop punk hooks but with actual candy. Wet Nurse proved that their twin vocal harmony pop punk isn’t just an Orlando favorite, but also a winner outside of their hometown. Heartsounds were a speedy punk act with co-ed vocals whose set I could not be pulled away from.

Bad Cop Bad Cop

Jen Cray
Bad Cop Bad Cop

Heartsounds

Jen Cray
Heartsounds

Wet Nurse

Jen Cray
Wet Nurse

Success was straight up Fat Wreck Chords style pop punk out of Seattle, with Ty Vaughn of Broadway Calls hiding in the shadows on guitar. They were a pleasant surprise I happened upon thanks to the recommendation of a friend. As was Astpai, an Austrian punk band that drew a sizable crowd in what turned out to be my favorite venue, High Dive. Night Birds may spew out a surf punk sound, but the pale punk rockers felt a little out of place on the large afternoon, sun drenched stage — the up close and personal, late night, dark club set they capped off Friday night with was probably the one I should have caught. Still, they destroyed.

Success

Jen Cray
Success

Astpai

Jen Cray
Astpai

Night Birds

Jen Cray
Night Birds

There was so much happening at any given moment, and I feel as though I only caught a fraction of it, but here are the sets that sit the highest in my mind.

Pujol

Seeing Pujol in Orlando the night before didn’t keep me from being front and center at his debut Fest set. The Nashville garage punk poet was an inspired addition to the lineup and — truth be told — a major factor in my decision to finally take the Fest plunge. The band’s Friday night set had the familiarity of seeing your favorite local band at the corner bar, but the confident strut of a band who knows they’re something special without feeling the need to prove it. The avant-garde lyrics, the comedic banter, the sharpie that Daniel Pujol accessorizes with — you either get it, or you don’t. This crowd most definitely did.

Jen Cray

Pujol

Jen Cray
Pujol

Riverboat Gamblers

Riverboat Gamblers are the pinch hitter that the coach puts in when he wants to gurantee a hit. The Austin, Texas boys, quite frankly, are the best melodic punk band band of the last decade and their live show is a grand slam every single time. They’ve got the chant-able choruses and melodies that make you wanna pogo your way through the roof of the club, but the band’s secret weapon is daredevil front man Mike Weibe and his ringmaster charm. Weibe, whose stand-up set he did Saturday afternoon had me nearly choking with laughter, attacks each show like it’s his last. He spends more time in the crowd, on top of the crowd, or perched above the crowd than on the actual stage. He’s a tornado of movement that you’ll probably get swept up in at some point, if you’re standing close. You don’t see this band, you become part of the show. GFFG!

Riverboat Gamblers

Jen Cray
Riverboat Gamblers

Jen Cray

War on Women

I knew to expect a spectacle, I knew to expect intensity, I knew to expect front woman Shawna Potter to be raging against the machine harder than any other band I’d see over the weekend. What I didn’t expect was for the band to turn their whole Halloween night set into performance art. With Shawna taking on the role of bride and guitarist Brooks Harlan posing as the stripper, the stage was set for a “Bachelorette Party in Progress.” The party, and the dress and veil, gradually got torn and tossed as the Baltimore feminist punk band exploded all expectations and easily put on one of the most raw yet unifying sets I’ve yet to see. The fans down front were near tears with emotion as they screamed along to every emotional word and when Potter stage dived, they didn’t just pass her around they held her up high in adoration.

War on Women

Jen Cray
War on Women

Jen Cray

James Alex (Beach Slang)

Of all the things I saw and heard over the magical weekend, nothing compares to the heart breaking beauty of Beach Slang frontman James Alex’s acoustic set in a small, out of the way bookstore in the middle of the afternoon. I was a Beach Slang fan before entering the Civic Media Center, but within seconds I felt like I’d been revived from a deep sleep. The hold that Alex held over the room was angelic and I, quite literally, saw grown ass men with tears in their eyes as they sang along with all their might to the Pennsylvania poet’s words: “I’ve got some friends who want to die/ but, really, they’re dead/ They snuffed their hearts and lost their minds for banks and courts/ And we grew guts and gnawed on the roar of life/ We got young and, baby, we did it right/ We are nothing like them.” This show was not only the most memorable moment of The Fest for me, it was one of the most gorgeous performances I’ve ever witnessed. Most appropriately, it was also the only time I saw an encore demanded, and given, over the time-crunch weekend.

James Alex doing an acoustic Beach Slang set

Jen Cray
James Alex doing an acoustic Beach Slang set

Jen Cray

For years I’ve heard people talk about the “Post Fest Blues,” well, now I get it. I miss the community, the shared party atmosphere, the unconditional love, THE MUSIC everywhere — I miss just being there. I feel such love for every last person who got to experience the same thing that I did — even you, mystery dude who I saw with his finger down his throat trying to vomit out his drunk (thanks to my girlfriend for steering me clear of that potential puddle disaster)! And maybe that, too, is a little hippy dippy, but I don’t give a damn!

Check out galleries of The Fest: jencray.com. &end;

The Fest: thefestfl.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Merchandise

Merchandise

Atlantic Nightspot; Gainesville, FL • April 9, 2013

In another (not too distant time), a Merchandise show would be heralded by the likes of Tony Wilson or Alan McGee screaming at us to WAKE THE FUCK UP, Stone Roses or Echo and the Bunnymen-style, and that this is the real deal. And indeed, there were so many points during their Gainesville set where I felt myself on the verge of a swoon. Merchandise’s recent album, Children of Desire, was deeply romantic music, and played live with total abandon, well, it’s the kind of thing that can make you fall in love with guitar music again. Were there hints of Morrissey at his early ’90s best? Yes, there were, as was a lingering whiff of The Chameleons. It was that kind of a night.

Matthew Moyer

Merchandise is that rarest of Florida music phenomena, a hometown band on the rise that everyone doesn’t hate the fuck out of. So many musicians that I know have stories of this or that member of the band who let them crash at their pad, booked them a show, etc. And the various members of Merchandise have logged serious time in the deep Florida underground, with other projects like Cult Ritual, Church Whip, Volcanic Slut, and Bloodwave. Indeed, they treat these “side” projects (a somewhat unfair designation) as equally important to the main entity. Even stranger, it’s all quality music, and it’s all being released at an astonishing rate in stark defiance of marketplace maxims.

But does it rock? Dude, yes it does.

Matthew Moyer

Three of the best songs from Children Of Desire form the jeweled spine of the set. “Time” and “Become What You Are” are the undisputed highlights of the night. Everyone in the room gets all choked up and starts slow-dancing with themselves as these numbers unfold, and they’re HUGE songs. These are the missing pieces from ’80s soundtracks that Richard Butler and Ian McCulloch are fucking kicking themselves for not writing, with choruses made to be scrawled on sweaty love notes. God! They close the night with a number off the new album, Totale Nite, mastered by Sonic Boom (points for rock history knowledge), on Night People Records — just the fact that they’re still releasing records on smaller, passionate labels over “indie” giants is somewhat a statement in itself — and it’s a mindfuck. Imagine the Smiths crossed with FunHouse-era Stooges. It’s a jagged mantra, building without cresting, complete with their own Steve Mackey-esque sax player. Intense.

Matthew Moyer

But did you ever get the feeling that maybe things are getting too good? (I miss the drum machine!) Merchandise’s music is increasingly anthemic (almost effortlessly so) and the crowd pressed up against the band sways back and forth ecstatically in a way that I haven’t seen since Morrissey’s Your Arsenal tour a couple of decades ago. Will they be swallowed whole by the entertainment industry borg? Is resistance futile? I don’t know for sure, I’m hoping not. Their heads, and more importantly, their hearts are in the right place, so maybe the good guys will win for once.

Merchandise: merchandisetheband.wordpress.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Cult of Youth

Cult of Youth

The Atlantic Nightspot, Gainesville, FL • November 6, 2012

Seemed like a damn good idea, get out of town on the evening of what looked at the time to be a contentious election night and wallow in some good ol’ neo-folk prophesying. And from moment one, Cult of Youth holds up their end of the devil’s bargain. Stepping onstage looking like four entirely different bands — guitarist/industrial act, bassist/deathrock/punk, drummer/metal, frontman/Sol Invictus — the members take their places. Frontman Sean Ragon disdainfully plucks at his guitar once, and in a doomy baritone belied by his slight stature, mutters something along the lines of, “Whoever you voted for, you’ve elected a lizard,” and as the band snaps in the first song, he arcs his head up and lets loose a shower of spit. And with that, it’s on…..

Matthew Moyer

I’ve seen Death in June before. They weren’t refined or sensitive in terms of their live performance tactics at all; it was a sweaty, organic spectacle, and Cult of Youth has learned that lesson very well, reveling in the theatrics and cues of a punk or hardcore show (or even, dare I say, and please don’t take this as an insult, some of the conviction and kinetics of a Bruce Springsteen or a Joe Strummer, at the very least in the steel cable tenseness of the various players’ necks). It was a constant wonder to see Ragon open his mouth, and out of a weedy frame emit a low, deep, imperious rumble from which no quarter would/could be given. The guitarist lurked in the shadows, stabbing at a small synth, and kept himself resolutely in his own space. The bassist’s crust goth look was totally 100% impressive, and he backed it up by playing his bass slung Peter-Hook style low, with nonetheless a steady thrum OF DOOM.

Matthew Moyer

The question at the beginning of the night was: Is Cult of Youth going to be able to pull of the richly hued and near-psychedelic textures of their Love Will Prevail album, given their new, trimmed-down lineup? I mean sure, they’ll be able to render the marital strumming and soothsaying of early albums all day fucking long. But there’s so much new and exotic tone and texture, AND can they do it while keeping the essential BLEAKNESS at the core of their formula? Yes. Whew! Not one inch of authoritarian power was sacrificed, and yet, there were so many lump-in-throat moments. And when Ragon pulled out a fucking trumpet to contort himself like Louis Armstrong meets Iggy Pop… Damn man, sight to behold.

Matthew Moyer

Even more satisfyingly, they ended their too-short set with an extended noise freakout that saw the guitarist ram himself into his amp and Ragon submerged in various cords and pedals. A final ragged catharsis. Four more years!

Cult of Youth: cultofyouth.tumblr.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Caribou

Caribou

Born Ruffians

Gainesville, FL • Saturday, October 13, 2007

On behalf of all Canadians I must say if we act holier-than-thou because bands like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene are saving indie rock, know that we’ve earned the right. We Canadians suffered through many years of Loverboy, so don’t judge us too harshly as we relish this reversal of fortune. On this weekend, karma slapped me a high five by bringing Canada’s excellent Caribou to Gainesville, and I admit to feeling a bit vindicated and, well, holier-than-thou.

“Born Ruffians”

Having loosely followed Caribou’s (a.k.a. Dan Snaith) career since he was Manitoba, I was curious what form this “band” would take on stage. The music recorded as Manitoba was bedroom electronica — the delicate melodies, diced by a musical scalpel, were similar to later-era Aphex Twin or Microstoria. But as his mastery of composition grew, Snaith morphed from Manitoba into Caribou, and the ellipsism gave way to psych-pop that stuttered less, harmonized more, and featured more traditional rock sounds. Turns out that Snaith brought a full band with him to Gainesville’s Common Grounds to execute the new sound, as well as a superb opener in the Born Ruffians.

A high energy indie-rock band whose name suits them, the Born Ruffians are another bona fide Canadian gem. Still some four months away from releasing their debut full-length, they relied on their rosy-faced enthusiasm to draw in the smattering of folks on hand for the opener. Throughout their set I struggled to describe the trio’s sound: simple, propulsive, happy pirate music? When the best I could come up with was “the fevered twitch of 1970s era Talking Heads,” a true music journalism cop-out, a friend stepped in and saved me by shouting in my ear “They kind of sound like my new favorite band, Vampire Weekend. I like these guys a lot.” They do, and I liked them a lot, too.

“Caribou”

As for Caribou, a trio of shaggy musicians (guitar, bass, drums) tucked in a circle around Dan Snaith like body guards. They quickly jumped into cuts from Caribou’s latest, the critically acclaimed Andorra. Snaith kept the knob twiddling to a minimum as he jumped back and forth between guitar, drums,samples and the microphone. Standout tracks like “Sandy” and “Melody Day” inspired singalongs and indie-bebopping. The strength of Caribou’s recent musical direction is the sweet harmonies weaving in and out of the My Bloody Valentine-esque backdrop. Sadly, the live sound-mix underwhelmed, and the intricate layers were overwhelmed by an obtuse wall of sound that marred the musicianship. Of all the components that make up Caribou’s sound, it was the rhythms -especially when Snaith joined his able drummer on percussion- that dominated the set and gave the audience a more elemental view of a cerebral band that’s becoming less so by the minute.

While the Ruffians might have got the better of Caribou on this night, with a proper sound mix Caribou’s performance could have truly entranced. If nothing else, this Canadian musical wrecking crew proves that Canada’s recent musical renaissance is no fluke, and the Great White North has more to offer than paper, bacon and Loverboy.

Categories
Music Reviews

Dear and Glorious Physician

Dear and Glorious Physician

Dear and Glorious Physician

New Granada

Now HERE’S something to make me stand up and take some fucking civic pride in being a Florida resident. A four-piece of brothers and sisters from the family Westfall — they’re like the White Stripes, if the family gimmick was glorious reality, times bloody two! Or the Danielson Famile with true blood ties! I smell a publicity/marketing hook here, but who needs shit like that when the fucking music is dandy? Breathing some much needed urgency into the tired “indie rock” aesthetic, these Gainesville-based (ah ha, I knew it was gonna happen someday!) siblings bring the noise and the noir with a twitching, anxious, ALIVE take on post-punk indie geetar noizzzzzze. Who will you hear hints of? Pixies, Velvet Underground, Wire, Go Betweens, the MIGHTY Prolapse. The male vocalist sounds like a cross between Glenn Danzig and the dude from Smoking Popes, the female has the market cornered on icy distance. The music surely ain’t reinventing the wheel, it’s just having a fuck of a lot of a fun smashing the wheel to pieces and then stomping on those pieces until you see the ghost of the wheel rising up to heaven with wings and a harp, and then they shoot that ghost with a shotgun. Natch. The guitars roar, the bass and drums are telepathic and martial in their lockstep. The recording is spare and dry, reminds me of PJ Harvey, where all instruments have enough space to wander and breathe and shake wildly without bumping up into some synthetic blahbadeeblah. And the songwriting is whip smart and wild-eyed. “Behold the Man” quotes a few lines of “When the Saints Go Marching In” before all instruments go into surf freakout mode. Boy/girl vocal interplay is superb and used judiciously. “Malcangrejos” brings the menace like a Latin version of Neu! or Dick Dale or the Shadows or somesuch.

Songs blur by; there’s no time to breathe or hesitate. “Frenzy (What Happened Then)” is a masterclass in the old standby quiet/loud dynamic — the frenetic underpinning of nervous drums and bass drives the song like an outta control roadster — using the girl vocalist to punctuate lines is greatness too. “White Leather/Gold Record” is an unbearably cool turn of phrase too. It all sounds like it’s bursting at the seams to communicate. Good. If they don’t end up hating each other and self-destructing during their first big tour, we might have ourselves a winner.

New Granada: www.newgranada.com

Categories
Music Reviews

The Draft

The Draft

In a Million Pieces

Epitaph

The Draft is three-fourths of Gainesville, Florida’s post-hardcore stalwarts Hot Water Music, featuring Todd Rockhill, previously of Discount and Unitas on second guitar. While the touchstones for Hot Water Music’s rousing sound were Jawbox and Leatherface, The Draft draws from a wider pool of influences, combining elements of hard rock, post-punk and a little bit of everything else, while showcasing a remarkable ability to write catchy, melodic tunes and huge, anthemic choruses. The album opens with “New Eyes Open,” which features a guitar line influenced by mid-’90s DC post-punk building to a monster chorus. “Let It Go,” has a great Clash reggae groove with understated organ and another great shouted chorus. In A Million Pieces rewards repeated listens, with different background elements that might go unnoticed at first listen — the horns in the background of “Wired,” a heavy, driving rock song, the Cars-like keyboards in “Bordering,” and what I swear is a xylophone hidden in there somewhere. With all the chances The Draft take, they are still able to write excellent churning punk songs like “Not What I Wanna Do,” which along with the album’s opener features memorable hooky choruses. On their debut album, The Draft have seamlessly blended disparate elements that signal great things in the future.

Epitaph Records: www.epitaph.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Tom Petty, The Strokes

Tom Petty/ The Strokes

Gainesville, FL • Sept. 21, 2006

Strokes- Julian Casablancas

Jen Cray
Strokes- Julian Casablancas

It’s been 13 years since Tom Petty had played for his hometown of Gainesville, FL. His big return to the University of Florida’s Stephen O’Connell Center was an event-and-a-half when The Strokes and- unannounced- special guest Stevie Nicks were added to the bill. The 9,000+ tickets sold out in under 10 minutes time, and the streets were lined with cries for tickets. Inside, the young and hip mingled with the been there/done that’s of the Petty generation.

Taking a humble step down from their own headlining sold-out tour across the world, NYC darlings The Strokes casually came onto the dimly lit stage and opened with “Is This It?” off of their groundbreaking debut of the same name. The band- when last I saw them (in 2004), had energy to spare and put on a memorable show that involved vocalist Julian Casablancas climbing a stack of speakers onto the second floor balcony where he hovered above the crowd- suffered from a lack of momentum from the largely “we’re only here for Tom” crowd on the floor. As their set rolled on and they threw out such pieces of pop perfection as “Hard To Explain,” “Reptilia” and “Juicebox” the crowd began to come around and the arena felt a little more intimate.

The Strokes

Jen Cray
The Strokes

Casablancas was noticably more relaxed than during past performances, wandering around the stage during solos and even dancing a bit while he sang the catchier parts of tunes like “You Only Live Once.” He also repeatedly expressed how honored the band felt to be on a bill with the man whose song “American Girl,” he has previously admitted directly inspired the melody to “Last Nite” (a song that was, strangely, left off of the evening’s setlist). The Strokes are a club band whose cool exterior is best felt in a tight setting. As perfect as they sounded I couldn’t help but wish that they were back in the dark, drunken (did I mention the Stephen O’Connell Center is alcohol free?!) confines of the House of Blues.

Gainesville loves their hometown boy. When the great, and largely underrated, Tom Petty walked out with his band, The Heartbreakers, it was several minutes before the audience allowed their cheers to fade and the man to sing. Overwhelmed was the dominant emotion in Petty’s eyes for the night as his smile widened and he gazed around at his supporters, friends and fans. Earlier in the afternoon he was presented, by the Mayor of Gainesville, with a key to the city as well as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from UF. Not a bad way to come home!

Tom Petty

Jen Cray
Tom Petty

“It’s great to be back home… I look around and I see a lot of memories,” he said.

From very early on in the set the band offered up the old favorites (the second song was “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Free Fallin'” soon followed) alongside the new stuff from Highway Companion. They even tossed in a Travelling Wilbury’s song, “Handle With Care.” But the highlight for this, the only Florida date on the band’s big 30th Anniversary tour- a tour that Petty says may be his last with the full band- was when he brought out “honorary Heartbreaker” Stevie Nicks.

Though the former Fleetwood Mac vocalist has been appearing throughout the tour, most of the audience had no idea this was coming, so imagine the response. Absolute adoration and shock- a woman behind me was throwing herself against the front row barricade screaming her bloody head off! It was one of those moments you hope for when you attend a concert. When the two legends broke into a gorgeous duet on “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” it was five minutes of heaven.

Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty

Jen Cray
Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty

If you couldn’t get into this hot ticket show, worry not- it was being recorded and broadcast over radio stations all over the country, and videotaped for both an upcoming A&E tv special and a film being put together by Peter Bogdanovich.

To see more photos of this and other shows, go to www.jencray.com.

www.tompetty.com

Categories
Print Reviews

An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil

An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil

by Jim Munroe

No Media Kings

The epistolary novel — a story told through a series of letters — is nothing new. However, in An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, author Jim Munroe adds a modern twist, structuring events via letters sent to an anonymous and unknown audience: blog posts.

Kate’s blog begins innocently enough, describing her twenty-youngthing alt-dot life, working at an art gallery, dealing with the Toronto indie scene and its assorted (and familiar characters). However, it starts getting weird when she walks in on roommate Lilith in the midst of what appears to be some sort of demonic ritual, with pentagrams, burnt offerings and chanting in strange tongues. Lilith readily admits to a non-standard childhood, the daughter of serious practitioners of some eldritch religion involving witchcraft, incantations and demons.

Meanwhile, Kate, dissatisfied with the artless stupor of her gallery day job, decides to turn a downstairs shopfront, technically part of their apartment, into a miniature art gallery of its own. As part of the opening event, she convinces Lilith to perform her ritual. It goes over like gangbusters, and before we know it, Kate, Lilith, and two dudes are driving across the country with this strange performance art piece, loosely centered on the ritual, opening for indie bands.

Romantic entanglements — unforeseen, right? — ensue, and for all its way-off-the-mainstream nature, our touring act can’t help but encounter the tired litany of woes that befalls anyone trying to live in a van from gig to gig. Our story reaches a fevered pitch in a bayou rave, where events strobe like light and shadows from a bonfire. Is Lilith consumed by her magickal upbringing? Is it really as dark as it’s made to seem? Munroe handily twists in a surprise ending, making what could have been a saccharine outcome into something that ends happily but solidly.

Jim Munroe’s style is clear and engaging, and he takes great advantage of the whole blog-post format, weaving fantasy sequences and long gaps between updates into part of the action. More importantly, it captures the tone of the so-called “blog revolution” — not in an analytical way, but in more of a demonstration of what the blog zeitgeist has yielded, a window into the drama of everyday life. Given such a magical toolbox, it’s remarkable that Munroe never overdoes it, putting style ahead of substance.

An Opening Act is a great read, a definite page-turner. The book is independently published with zeal by the author himself, and his No Media Kings website is also a comprehensive reference for those wishing to do the same, or to visit some of the more esoteric of Munroe’s amusements and thoughts.

No Media Kings: www.nomediakings.org