I should have been dead come Saturday morning. Friday night’s excursion would be enough to lay out even the most hardened and professional partiers. Mid-day I get an email from a PR guy with a couple bands in the Festival asking if I’d gotten the invite to the after party. Um, no, but feel free. This leads us on a post-show, GPS-fueled treasure hunt searching for some food truck somewhere in the heart of downtown. The food truck had a velvet rope so we were pretty sure we had the right one. Flash an iPhone email, name gets checked off on a clipboard, and “Please help yourself to an iced coffee.” Directions were printed on the coffee cup’s sleeve, leading a few blocks down into an industrial area next door to a sex shop. Now feeling this was the plot to a real-life Saw movie, we paused before walking past heavy black curtains into the pop-up club. I’ll save you the rest of the tale by giving you flash cards: Free. Unlimited. Patron. Burlesque. Dancers. Gypsy. Band. Sword. Swallower. Patron Popsicles.
Saturday’s show was much ado about nothing for these ears. We drifted in and out between acts, as there were few that were on the “must see” list. No Age put on a high energy set with a massive audience. The crowd itself was nearly as entertaining as the band, the body-surfing to the front of the stage, caught by staff, and watching them run directly back in to the crowd for another go-round like kids on a slide. Gang Gang Dance were fun but suffered a bit of a lull halfway through their set with every sound running together. The Dismemberment Plan played a much-anticipated, but uncomfortably poor performance. Yeah, back together for their first show since 2003 in support of a reissue of old stuff, but this was a show made for a basement or a house party, not an outdoor festival. Outside of the front-of-stage crush, the audience’s reaction was lethargic, and the banter coming from the stage was cringe-worthy. Awkward doesn’t do justice. I felt bad for the guys.
DJ Shadow made up for it with a thankfully hyphy-free show (really, dude, what’s up with that? I know you’re from Northern Cal, but c’mon…). His set hit all the right notes with a handful of newer cuts mixed in with the classics from his first couple releases. So weird to realize just how universal a song “What Does Your Soul Look Like” has become. Watching a couple of much-older press guys’ enthusiastic nodding was just beautiful…
Sunday made for a lot of fun, both from the bold face names and a couple new ones. How To Dress Well presented their delicate musings for an ecstatic crowd. At first I didn’t think they’d translate well for an outdoor show, but watching the audience lean forward as one to hear as clearly as they could, lest the wispy vocals get lost in the crunch of the far stages. By the end there seemed to be more community, if only for a bit, and the sincerest appreciation from stage to fan was a great moment. Laziness and the desire to keep my spot in the shade in anticipation of the band after next had me sit through Twin Sister, a group I’d never heard of until now, the first new discovery band for me that I went straight home to acquire their catalog. Imagine Little Dragon without the bleeps and bloops to get a sense. It’s rare anymore to watch a band unknown to you and fall in love before the third song.
Next up came one of my must-see bands, former Digable Planet Butterfly’s Shabazz Palaces. Hip-hop really only in the sense of the biography of its frontman, it’s billed as such, but is much more, and there really isn’t a proper term for it yet. Both deeply political and smoke-filled, the eccentricities far outnumbered the danceable rhythms. This is music for reflection and immersion, but it worked on the Blue Stage, tucked in the back of the park, almost buried in the tumult that was the OFWGKTA set playing the big stage. From the distance, I could hear enough that I knew I’d made the wisest decision to catch Shabazz’s Manhattan rather than Odd Future’s Con Air.
The less said about Cut Copy’s yacht-rock, the better, as they were merely a place-saver for the eventual TV on The Radio set to come. Ignoring their Duran Duran-isms made for a good time to make nice with the crowd around me while trying to maintain a bit of shade as we gaped at the odd patterns of sunburns around us. At last, the headliner. TV on The Radio is simply one of the best bands working today. That singer Tunde Adebimpe is not seen as a modern day Mick Jagger is a crime. There is no frontman with as much charisma and energy on stage as this bookish man with glasses. Their set could have gone on for hours longer, and we tried for a good ten minutes to get them to come back out post-set to no avail. I don’t often leave shows with a desire to listen to the band’s album on the way home (I’d just heard it, so why again, right?), but Nine Types of Light blared from the rental on the way back to the real world.