Tuesday, July 28, 2009

XPoNential Function, Part Two

Continued from Part One.

Day Two: Saturday, July 25, 2009

Having had such a blast on Friday, I was really psyched about Saturday and Sunday. Slathered in sunscreen, umbrella packed despite forecasts for a clear day, I arrived at the festival grounds in time to hear and see local rockers The Peace Creeps. I must hand it to them for demonstrating the perils of well-intentioned but ill-advised covers. One month to the date after Michael Jackson's death, it was not surprising to hear covers of his or The Jackson 5's songs. As I was making my way through the festival grounds, I heard The Peace Creeps absolutely slaughtering "I Want You Back." Having never seen or heard them live, I thought, "This is what The Peace Creeps sound like? This is terrible!" But then they played their own songs and they sounded great!

Sharon Little is difficult to pin down genre-wise, but I truly believe she is a soul sister at heart. And she is such a photogenic performer that whenever I see her, it takes much discipline for me to actually pay attention to the music and not just take an endless stream of pictures. I once made a point of leaving my camera at home for that very reason. Thankfully, her River Stage set was too funky for me to even hold on to my camera; I took a couple of photos but I was too busy dancing to go overboard. Supported by Scot Sax (her partner in almost everything) and Josh Dion, she delivered a typically exhilarating performance marked by untamed vocals and all sorts of dramatic gestures. Combining established favorites with new songs, some of the latter featuring a nifty horn section, her set was one of the festival's strongest. Sharon is one of those rare artists who can make me smile and bring tears to my eyes at the same time. Go, sister, go!

Bands with geographical names are not always named in honor of their home turf, a case in point being Pennsylvania's Illinois. I was somewhat familiar with this band and was looking forward to seeing them take over the Marina Stage. My XPN member newsletter refers to them as "indie-rockers." Oh, really? At the festival, they played a stompin' folk-rock raveup, then a number with hip-hop beats and heavy synthesizers, then a piano ballad; their last song was a funky thang with a banjo and ear-splitting electric guitars. This ain't no indie-rock band. Illinois' festival set was, in a word, marvelous. Their musicianship was spectacular and frontman Arch was funny as hell. I wasn't the only one who was impressed: I made a point of getting to the festival merch table quickly to buy the band's CD The Adventures of Kid Catastrophe, but even in my haste all I could get my hands on was the next-to-last display copy. All the others had already sold out!

Michael is an extremely prolific film and TV composer. Kevin is a movie star. So are The Bacon Brothers any good or are they just trading on their success in other endeavors? Well........they're actually good! And they're wise enough to surround themselves with excellent supporting musicians. Their River Stage set of Americana rock was at times funny, at times moving, and always enjoyable. Michael came off as the serious, devoted musician; Kevin came off as the one who was in it for fun. They complemented each other well and they were both solid showmen. And I'm glad to report that Kevin did not have a "movie star" attitude on stage; he was just one of the guys and interacted nicely with the audience. I tried to meet the brothers Bacon afterwards, only to find that their meet and greet session took place before their set -- the worst part being that I had looked at the meet and greet schedule earlier and should have known that! No matter; I mostly just wanted to tell Kevin that I went to the same high school he went to.

Speaking of high school, I thought I'd first become aware of the eclectic They Might Be Giants during my 10th grade class trip to New York City, when one of my classmates handed me his Walkman (remember those?) and suggested I listen to them. After seeing them at the festival, I realized I'd been aware of their music for longer than I'd thought. See, I'd always enjoyed them whenever I heard them, but I was never a connoisseur. Still, I was definitely interested in checking out their performance, and I did just that with about six million of my closest friends in front of the River Stage. You need to have a forgiving sense of humor to appreciate the band's on-the-nose comedy: ".....in the front: THE PEOPLE IN THE FRONT!!!!!" The band's stage act, and hearing their songs in the context of a festival featuring so many of my current favorites, taught me a lesson about They Might Be Giants and myself. Follow me here: TMBG are nerdy. I used to be. I used to really like TMBG. I'm no longer nerdy. I don't like TMBG as much as I used to. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy their performance, but it represented a sort of bittersweet closure, a break from my old nerdy self if you will.

I should note that up to this point, I'd never seen anyone do an encore or even get asked for one by anyone from XPN. Maybe the fest's organizers took my complaints to heart (read the Matt Nathanson section of last year's Day Four if you don't know what I'm talking about). After TMBG's finale, I assumed there would be no encores and I walked away, but the crowd went so wild that the band came back out and played "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." As if anything could compete with The Four Lads' version! Anyways, I was tired but I decided to head over to the Marina Stage to check out rootsy locals Hoots and Hellmouth. Though never among my favorite acts, I knew this band to kick ass in person, so I thought it would be cool to see them. There was a thick, impenetrable crowd in front of the stage and I couldn't get a good view, so I just decided to forget about it.

Days One and Two had been awesome! Heading home on Saturday night, I wasn't sure how Day Three would play out. The scheduling of the acts I most wanted to see was tricky, to say the least. And with storms in the forecast, would we have a repeat of Friday night? Well.....

On Sunday morning, I woke up about three-fourths asleep and aching all over. I'd rocked the festival on Friday and Saturday, and apparently I'd rocked both days a little too hard. Trying to decide whether to drag myself out to Camden for one more day, I turned on my radio and listened to the weather forecast. I heard terms like "flash flood watch," "gusty thunderstorms," "damaging winds," and "hail." I turned the radio off, went back to bed, and slept in -- there was no way I was going back to the festival. Did I miss some great acts? Oh, sure. But having bought my 3-day pass with my member discount during the early bird pricing period meant that I definitely got my money's worth from the first two days, and I enjoyed those two days so much that I really didn't care about having to miss Sunday. By the way: the festival DID get rained on that night!

Thank you, XPN, for putting on such a wonderful festival. Do it again next year?

If you haven't already, check out my accompanying photo album!

Missed the festival? Attended but want to relive it? Here you go: http://www.xpn.org/music-artist/festival-2009

Copyright © 2009 S.J. Dibai. All rights reserved.
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