Perfect summer weather, a just-eclectic-enough lineup, and a cooperatively breezy and un-pungent Gowanus Canal combined to form a sort of axis of righteousness on Saturday, July 12. Uber-promoter Todd Patrick (with Derek Impose and Lio Kanine) brought over fifteen acts from varied corners of the country to the new-ish outdoor venue The Yard, situated directly next to the canal off Carroll Street. The lot accommodates both fist-pumping front row types and the picnic table, white wine in Dixie cups crowd. When the stage antics lose your attention, The Yard's weedy overgrowths and shaded gravel trails reward exploring.
The mishmash of styles, which could have skewed exhausting, worked. Whether you liked a band or not, it wasn't long before the next one; the three-stage setup eliminated downtime. Closer Oneida brought the veteran credentials to balance out the snotty brattiness of some of the younger acts such as Vivian Girls and Telepathe, but each would have been less without the other.
A true highlight came surprisingly early with a set by Long Beach's Crystal Antlers (image above left), who turned a combination of psych, garage, proggy dual percussion, and raspy Cobainian vocals into something not just palatable, but indeed awesome. Jonny Bell's an aggressive, strummy bassist, and he's also the singer. In other current contexts his vocals would sound dated (to the mid-nineties), but atop the Antlers' fresh genre salad, it fits. The key ingredient might be bongo/tambourine player Damian Edwards, the Bez or Bob Nastanovich of the group (to date myself). You only needed to watch his high kicks and intuitively choreographed rhythmic moves to know how to properly feel the music. Far from a gimmick appendage, Edwards was the element that nudged Crystal Antlers one step beyond most of their billmates.
Matching Edwards for pure showmanship was Molly Siegel (image right) from Baltimore band Ponytail. Eager to please, Siegel was bopping, hopping, vamping, surfing, screeching, and crooning, all sweaty kineticism. The band's entire sound was forceful, like Deerhoof with more spacious guitars. The pounded-through set led to something like a sugar high, but that's not a complaint on a day when the pleasures were engineered to be fleeting.
I might not "get" Telepathe, but there's still a fascination in watching them pose and proselytize, because they seem to think they're on to something. It seems obvious that a half-considered blurt such as "Sinister Militia" is strictly fashion and attitude, which is fine, really, but the group gives off the distinct impression that they think it goes deeper. Los Angeles band Abe Vigoda's spazzy neo-post-punk racket might also add up to less than the band suspects, although much of the crowd was sold, happily. Cassette-releasing, hirsute Brooklyn band Knyfe Hyts scuzzed things up with some blackened locked-groove punk. Providence's Chinese Stars were the unofficial "party band," all ruddy complexions and crude riffage.
Popular Jersey band Titus Andronicus shared fan favorite honors with Ponytail, covering the Misfits ("Where Eagles Dare") and ham-fistedly injecting some vague political sentiments (a raised sign with the lyrics "the enemy is everywhere" on it). In a day of unspoken "stage flair" one-upmanship, neck-bearded Titus singer Patrick Stickles (image left) had the benefit of weighing in last, though all of his moves (monitor scaling, crowd surfing) had been done already.
The two bands after them were more concerned with sound than sight. High Places did an appealing tropicalia-electronic-dub thing that might've worked better earlier in the day, while Oneida, accompanied by the setting sun, locked into a long and serene Neu-like motorik groove. It was a lulling conclusion to a rather epic summer show that was, all told, more fun than thought-provoking; a welcome unbalance. - Justin Stewart
Photos by Carly Sioux
Mr. Stewart's writing has appeared in Reverse Shot, Stop Smiling, and The Wire. He lives in Brooklyn.