29 March 2007

March Madness, Langerado '07

photo by Boodzy (can you spot me?)

A multi-day multi-stage festival kind of boils down to a tournament of bands, the competition taking place in your own personal preference rather than the bands actually duking it out. While it doesn't lay down exactly like a traditional bracket, it does offer a unique opportunity to compare and contrast different bands on the scene, and whittle down who are your favorites and/or expand your fandom beyond its current state. Langerado played out with some interesting match-ups, some in the dimension of time, bands going up against each other in the same time slot, and others in the dimension of style. So without further ado, here is my LongOverDueRado review.

I tried to hit as much as I possibly could over the weekend, opting for the patented Nedtastic style of festival-going, hitting bits and pieces of as much as possible, as opposed to checking out entire sets. I managed to take some short video of most of what I saw (many embedded below, all here.)

Biggest disappointment was not being able to motivate the herd early enough to hit Assembly of Dust, Tea Leaf Green, Apollo Sunshine, or Toubab Krewe. Second biggest disappointment was the absence of Rodrigo y Gabriela who were stopped at the border due to a name mixup. I am more disappointed in not seeing them post-fest, at the time I didn't quite know what I was missing. But I do delight in the fact that the current administration's bungling has reached pretty much every corner of the known universe. I mean who woulda thunk their policies would affect the Langerado lineup?!

Sharon Jones vs. Cat Power
After just a quick introduction to both New Monsoon and Langerado itself, things kicked into gear at the Swamp Tent with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings. They say she is a female James Brown and they ain't kiddin, an apt descriptor if ever there was one. This is a front lady that knows how to work a room, even if that room has no walls. Gotta love her.

Contrast that up against Cat Power, a woman struggling to overcome stage fright. You could tell she wasn't comfortable up there, but she was doing her best. Just a very strange stage presence for sure. During her cover of Satisfaction, she pulled off some very awkward Mick Jagger moves. I enjoyed her set, but I had heard her live stuff with the band she was touring with from The Greatest, and I think I would have liked that band better. I loved the country twang element to that outfit, and it was missing here. They closed with an interesting cover of Crazy.

North Mississippi All-Stars vs. Galactic
I have to just say, I find the North Mississippi All-Stars to be pretty overrated. They bore me pretty quickly. And when they bust out the "electric washboard" they just lose me, that might be the worst instrument ever invented. Painful. So I caught a little bit of their set, and local sacred steel band The Lee Boys sat in. That turned out to be a nice little jam. Such is the beauty with festivals, I got my quick fill and headed over to Galactic.

Galactic played a fantastic set. Do they ever not? They are pretty much a sure thing. And when Stanton is jumping out of his seat in rhythm, you know it is on. When they move from the classic NOLA funk Galactic, and move to the newer blues-oriented Galactic, they lose me a little. Now they're just sounding like the NOMAS. Didn't I just see them? Well Galactic is always a fun time, but had to run out and catch some of the Hold Steady too!

Hold Steady vs Stephen Malkmus
Heard so many superlatives about the new Hold Steady album, Boys and Girls in America, that when I finally heard it I was sorely disappointed. This is it? I mean, it was good, but I didn't quite see why it got so much ink. Maybe seeing them on stage would help me "get it." And I did. Kinda. They were rocking, they were fun, they were funny. Definitely enjoyable, but I still say, over-rated (clap clap, clap clap clap)

I am a late comer to Pavement and Malkmus. But I do have a ton of the material, and listen and enjoy it frequently. I had no expectation of the live show, but I was excited to see him. He blew me away! This band freaking R-O-C-K'd in the USA. Damn. I expected short well-crafted tunes, not blazing hot spine melters. And the female bass and drums combo was the and-one three point play. Tight. Loved it. I wasn't completely surprised by it, but it was still the biggest surprise of the weekend, moreso because it was a fairly unsurprising weekend.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones vs. Medeski Martin and Wood
The two "jazz" bands of the weekend. But that's about all they have in common. It had been ages since I last saw the Flecktones and I was excited to get back with the Flying Hippos. I am a little disappointed in their latest studio effort, but it was great to see they are still the same great band live. Not often you will see a better group of musicians on stage together. And Futureman is playing some real live percussion now! ...in addition to the "classic" synthaxe drumitar.

Speaking of amazing groups of musicians, how about a little em, em, and double-u? Don't mind if I do. Always a treat. I think they would have worked better in the tent, or even on the smaller of the two stages, but the largeness of the big stage kind of diluted their impact. I thought the set came off a little flat. By their standards that is, and it was still great stuff.

Trey Anastatio vs Explosions in the Sky
Well we all know about his off-court issues as of late. So how would that translate to his game? Who knows? I haven't seen a TAB outfit since his 2nd tour. It seems to me that his solo stuff, while at first a nice way to escape the rigors of Phish and just rock out, is now just not challenging enough for him. He is really not doing anything new, for himself or for the world of music. He looks bored, he plays bored, and I am bored. Sure he can still rip a mean guitar solo, but to what end? And why?

I discovered Explosions in the Sky a few years ago the minute I finished watching Friday Night Lights. Yeah, that movie was alright, but the soundtrack was SICK! Who was that?!! I have been listening to them ever since. And with the local Boston show selling out in less than a day, this was my big chance to check it out. The band assaults you with soaring and gorgeous guitar playing, sometimes three guitars at a time. Each song SOUNDS like Explosions in the Sky, and it may be the aptest band name. I think every song should just be called Explosions in the Sky Part 1, EitS Part 2, etc. So every song seems to follow the same pattern, slow, quiet, build but not much, linger, build, build, BAM! BAM BAM BAM! and then fall apart. Linger, slow, quiet, and then back up AGAIN. Each song can go through this pattern 3 or more times. They are all great, they are head-bobbing, eye-closing, mouth gaped masterpieces, but after song after song takes on the same shape, it gets a little overwhelming, tiring, and repetitive. That and the fact that it was by far the most obnoxious crowd of the weekend, and I left with about 10m to go to close out the fest with a little Widespread Panic. As I left though, I kept thinking, man, Trey should really, could really, be doing something more along the lines of that stuff. No reason he couldn't, not in my mind anyway.

The Slip vs. Jim James
Arrived in time to just catch the tail end of the Slip. They have interestingly been involved in 4 out of the 5 times I have seen My Morning Jacket. Jim James was spotted enjoying their set on the side of the stage and hugged the musicians as they filed off.

Soulive vs. Greyboy Allstars
Haven't really been into Soulive in a while, I was disappointed too many times. But in this setting at this time, it was pretty enjoyable. I think they're just not the kind of band I can sit and watch for too long, so getting a taste at a fest was just the thing. Boston's own Toussaint acted as their frontman for a few tunes and added a nice new element to the music.

Likewise, I was not that into Greyboy the last time I saw them. Karl Denson just bugs me and he just brings this band down I think. I would much rather see Robert Walter with his own band, or a different band at least. I was kind of hoping this reunion would be short-lived. Guess not. Anyway, once again, in a small dose and at a fest, obviously there's some great musicianship up there, so this was not too shabby for the while I was there.

Keiren Hebden vs. Steve Reid (or Machine vs. Man)
Keiren Hebden is Fourtet. Fourtet is Keiren Hebden. I have had some Fourtet living on my ipod for a couple of years. I listened to it, I liked it, I never thought much more about it beyond that. I never dug deeper to find out the who or the what, I just enjoyed it for what it was. But I did always assume it was a quartet, thus the name. Wouldn't you? Well no, it is just one guy making all that electronic noise. Not sure how his shows usually work, but here he was paired with Steve Reid, an old drummer who is an old school drummer. This guy played with everyone who was anyone..but I had never heard of him. So this guy was good, really good, swinging, grooving, he was working his kit like only the old school jazz and groove guys can. His drums were talking the talk. Pair that up with the newest of new schools, Hebden, who's instrument was a bunch of effects pedals laid out on a table, and a laptop. Essentially, what a guy like Trey has at his feet, this guy had on a table in front of him, working it all with his hands. It was tough to say what was scripted and what was improv, but form my perspective it was almost all off the cuff, and to see these guys interact, man and machine, was something to behold. It was the kind of thing that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, but when it all came together it made it all worth it. Very interesting stuff.

JJ Grey and Mofro vs. Band of Horses
Bad matchup, no connection. I apologize, but they are the two odd bands out in this game.
Mofro are the defacto hosts of this dance party, having played in every Langerado thus far and being that JJ is from Florida. And they were very hospitable and gracious hosts, great afternoon set, perfect music for the setting, and the addition of the horn section sounded great.

I am neither here nor there on the Band of Horses. Some people love them, some hate them, I am right in between. I enjoy their album, but it doesn't stick with me at all. I hear it I like it and I forget it. I felt the same way about their live set. I enjoyed it, it was good, and then it was done. My only real memories of their set was trying to figure out what kind of drugs they were all on...they each looked hopped up on something different. And the whole MMJ comparison with these guys completely falls apart in the live setting.

New Orleans Social Club vs. Taj Mahal vs. Toots and the Maytals
The old guys still getting it done region. New Orleans Social Club did just that, brought the whole stage and everyone around it down to New Orleans, old New Orleans. It was Meter-Neville-Butler-rific. And it was great to see classic bluesman Taj Mahal and classic reggae mon Toots. A two-for-one I gotta see that guy but when will I ever get to. Both were seasoned festival players and knew how to work the crowd, other bands should have been taking notes.

My Morning Jacket vs. Widespread Panic
As this post as gone on way too long (future posts will be much shorter in length I assure you) I will stop short of my fawning over both these bands, and just say, yada yada yada, I was really tired the next day. But you yada yada'd the best part. Indeed I did.

And I know you have all been waiting for, who made my final four?
MMJ, WSP, Malkmus, and EitS. MVPs of the weekend.

Tons of great coverage of Langerado over at Hidden Track. Check it out.


Ace Cowboy said...

Awesome post! Wow, that's as thorough as you're gonna get...

neddy said...

Nice work Liffy... feel like I was there, although without the sweat.

Liffy said...

thanks! apparently it wasn't thorough enough