Review & Photos | High Sierra 2013 | Quincy, CA

Eric’s Friday Highlights

1. The Infamous Stringdusters – 1:45 a.m. – 4 a.m. – High Sierra Music Hall

Everyone has a moment at HSMF when the festival mindset hits them and they realize they've truly settled into the High Sierra vibe. For me, this feeling took a couple of days to hit, and it happened in the middle of the Stringdusters' searing, soaring, triumphant late-night set. These guys just keep getting better and better, and their white-hot virtuosity and telepathic full-band interplay nearly knocked me off my tired feet. In particular, the soaring leads of Andy Hall on dobro and Jeremy Garrett on fiddle were grin-inducing pumps of adrenaline for my spent body. It certainly helped that the band knew their audience, and they pushed our pleasure buttons over and over again with all the right covers. “Don't Think Twice, It's Alright,” “He's Gone,” “Walking On the Moon,” “Deep Ellum Blues,” “Cripple Creek,” and “Jack-A-Roe” would all have been fun to hear, but they didn't just play these covers, they tore them up. Building and peaking over and over again until our faces hurt from smiling, this incredible band delivered an awe-inspiring, uplifting set that made us forget sleep for another night.

2. Primus – 9:30-11:30 p.m. – Grandstand Stage

As soon as Les, Ler, and Jay Lane took the stage and opened with a long, ambient, ominous jam, it became readily apparent that it was time to put the kiddies to bed. Featuring a stage setup clearly designed to unsettle, Primus delivered a weird, bizarre set of extended, psychedelic worm-hole jams that seemed like it was designed especially to fuck with the hippies at High Sierra. Claypool knows better than anyone how to instill that foreboding fear that slowly creeps up your spine, and he was a master of his craft on this night, delivering an otherworldly experience that left everyone dumbstruck. Guest spots by Skerik and Mike Dillon funkified things considerably (though still plenty weird), with Les picking up his 1-string whamola bass to add some farty womps to a Dillon/Jay Lane duel that blew a few minds. The satisfying slap-tastic “hits” were saved 'till the end, but “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” and “Tommy the Cat” were just icing on the cake of this freaky deaky, deeply satisfying set.

3. The Revivalists – 3:15-4:30 p.m. – Vaudeville Tent

There are some bands that get after it so hard that you can't help but be swept up in their energy. The Revivalists' Vaudeville afternoon set was one of these experiences, as every note they played was filled with a breathless, hungry attitude, a-la early Springsteen. Featuring a horn section and pedal steel, the Revivalists play a rootsy brand of American rock that's led by the smoky vocals of David Shaw. Their set swept by in the blink of an eye, capped by a slow-burn crescendo of a guitar solo that peaked with a ferocity seldom seen on the grounds of HSMF. The Revivalists' crackling energy stayed with me long after the set had ended.

Dennis’ Friday Highlights

1. Roots of Led Zeppelin – 1:00-2:15 p.m. – High Sierra Music Hall

Anchored by four-fifths of New Monsoon – Bo Carper (banjo, acoustic guitar, vocals), Marshall Harrell (bass), Phil Ferlino (keys, vocals) and Jeff Miller (electric guitar, vocals) – and Dan Lebowitz, 2013 fest sensation Scott Pemberton (guitar, vocals) and Pemberton’s equally hirsute, shirtless drummer Russ Kliener, this was a delightful hour-and-change lesson in the folk and Delta blues Robert Plant had talked about being “lashed to” in his youth the previous evening. More than the easy shred show it might have been, this playshop lovingly dug up the roots of blues based rock, some of the original uncivilized grit still clinging to the verses, kept a bit dirty by a rotating cadre of players clearly in love with the material and ready to show how it had blossomed in their own craft. Highlights included a blistering, psych-accented Pemberton led take on the Electric Mud version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” Miller tearing the heart out of “In My Time of Dying,” and Carper making Bert Jansch smile with his captivating take on “Blackwater Side.” One was reminded of what a reliable pleasure the New Monsoon guys are, as flexible and naturally intuitive a gang of musicians as any here this weekend, and real aces at hitting memorable notes even in familiar territory. It’s been too many years since NM played HSMF and hopefully the warm reception this set and their varied sit-ins elsewhere received will lock them into the 2014 installment, particularly with a new studio album in the works and the group playing tastier and tauter than ever.

2. The Revivalists – 3:15-4:30 p.m. – Vaudeville Stage

What a hungry, hungry young band! Watching initially from backstage, I was struck by the many musicians who came quick strutting in to catch these New Orleans guys, Mike Dillon and his trombonist sidekick Carly Meyers unpacking gear from their just- arrived tour van to squeeze into the second half of the set while the perpetually delightful Jen Hartswick told me how The Revivalists usually won’t let her leave the stage once she sits in…and that didn’t bother her in the slightest! Like Rotary Downs and Mutemath, this band shows that New Orleans has a vibrant, unique rock scene happening that’s greatly overshadowed by the city’s funk, soul and jazz heavyweights. Their music surely grooves – I think they’re stockades in New Orleans for bands that don’t make you dance – but it’s also sharply drawn, the tunes sticking after just one hearing, and the group’s drive and lust for connection with the audience seal the deal. Even when one of them wasn’t actively playing, they’d work the crowd, leaping into every corner of stage to reach out for high-fives and handshakes. Not too often does one walk away a bona fide fan after a single performance but this set made me fall hard. Bonus points for a blazing cover of the Allmans’ “Whipping Post” that brought to mind an earthier, less twiddly version of Zappa’s take on the classic.

3. White Denim – 7:45-9:15 p.m. – Big Meadow Stage

After showing off the mellow gold side of their songbook the previous day on the main stage, White Denim unleashed a set that seemed purposefully designed to test the limits of their stamina and technical prowess. Easily the most unremittingly aggressive performance I’ve witnessed by this stunning Austin band, this was a banquet of guitar pyrotechnics, hefty Entwistle-esque bass, and propulsive, jaw dropping percussion. From a mad skills standpoint, this threw down four aces and gave even veteran noodle masters like moe. a run for their money this year. What keeps this from any jam-band-i-ness is the intricacy and general high quality of their compositions, which remind one of Close To The Edge- era Yes shorn of all proggy excess one moment and the next serve up distant echoes of The Name of This Band Is period Talking Heads. None of these root sources is particularly prominent since White Denim is whole heartedly engaged in forging their own manner of big, bold, beautifully etched rock. I said a bunch before this weekend but after this set it bears repeating: This is one of the finest, most promising young rock acts going today.

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