Review & Photos | High Sierra 2013 | Quincy, CA

Eric’s Sunday Highlights

1. moe. - 9:30- 11:30 p.m. – Grandstand Stage

Having not seen moe. in many moons, I didn't have many expectations for this set, but moe. came through in a big way with a casual, good-natured weekend closing set that wasn't afraid to get slinky and stretch out in between some massive climaxes. The boys clearly felt right at home at High Sierra, having played the festival plenty of times since their first appearance in 1997(!) And though the familiar dueling guitars of Chuck and Al always hit the spot with their shred-tastic peaks, the highlights of the set occurred during the multiple special guest sit-ins. Trombonist Carly Meyers from the Mike Dillon Band was the first to appear, bopping and weaving in and out of the music during a transition from “Skrunk” into “Time Ed,” at which point Mike Dillon joined the party and proceeded to engage Jim Loughlin in what had to be the greatest vibraphone duel I've ever witnessed. This was an incomparable musical moment that took the cake as the highlight of the set for me. More highlights included a Lukas Nelson sit-in on “Opium,” where some raunchy blues guitar licks got traded around, and Anders Osborne helping peak out a riff-heavy take on “Happy Hour Hero.” I was running out of steam by this point and had to head back to the campsite, but not before dancing and hopping my way into the dusty night to a bouncy take on “Buster.” moe. knew the crowd they were playing for and gave us just the down-home set we needed at the end of the festival.

2. Steel Pulse – 7:15-8:45 p.m. – Grandstand Stage

In a year sorely lacking in any reggae, Steel Pulse filled the void with a super-tight set of modern progressive reggae classics. The music's precision made it a kind of post-roots reggae performed by a well-oiled machine with perfect four-part harmonies led by David Hinds, whose husky voice is still amazing. Opening with “Rally Round” as their Rasta anthem of sorts, Hinds and his massive dreads led his band of pros through hit after hit like infectious “Prodigal Son,” my favorite tune of the set. “No More Weapons” was dubbed out nicely, while “Life Without Music” got the crowd skanking and singing along as the sun set behind the band. By this point in the weekend, the festival flow had well set in, so no one had any trouble settling into an easy skank for this satisfying performance.

3. The California Honeydrops – 2:05-3:25 p.m. – Vaudeville Tent

The Honeydrops' Vaudeville Tent set wins hands-down for the biggest dance party and most memorable moment of the weekend. Simply put, the house was brought down. In the midday heat, the Honeydrops' set of sweet, pure, NOLA-inspired soul music drew a larger and larger crowd as the set went on, due largely to lead singer Lech Wierzynski's ability to get the crowd involved and turn a concert into a huge celebration of life. In a way, the Honeydrops’ set's communal, joyous feel filled in for the absent Nathan Moore's annual Vaudeville Tent set, which usually has the tendency to bring a crowd together like nothing else at High Sierra can. Wierzynski projects a similar vibe of profound gratitude and love onstage, and when he got everyone into the party with “Soul Tub” things started getting crazy. It's easy to dance to the second-line inspired horn lines of the Honeydrops, but the crowd climax that occurred during this set was one for the record books. We're talking a crowd-surfing, breast-exposing, raging, dust-cloud raising, freakout of a dance party the likes of which I've never seen at High Sierra [take a peek for yourself here]. At this point, the music was just the background to the party going down in Vaudeville. Mad props to the Honeydrops for bringing the absolute best out of people, as this moment defined why HSMF is not only the best fest in the west, it's the best in all the land. If you've ever been, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Dennis’ Sunday Highlights

1. Guitarmageddon: Stadium Rock! – 4:00-6:00 p.m. – High Sierra Music Hall

Celebrating 10 years of over the top guitar heroics, the ever-shifting aggregate of Guitarmageddon gathered for what may be THE archetypal choice of material for this occasional project. Guitarmageddon founders Sean Leahy and Josh Clark (Tea Leaf Green) held down their usual spots stage right while current bandleader Simon Kurth (aka Huckle) drove some of the best guitarists around – Jeff Miller, Dan Lebowitz, Kiyoshi Foster, Lukas Nelson, Jeremy Korpas, moe.’s Al Schnier (who seemed to get a special kick out of this NorCal tradition) and Fruition’s Jay Anderson & Kellen Asebroek - and a crack rhythm team of Phil Ferlino (keys), Murph Murphy (bass) and Ezra Lipp (drums) to appropriately ludicrous heights. But where the Guitarmageddon schtick has sometimes been layered on the source material (the White Stripes and Talking Heads sets come to mind), this assortment of creamy mainstream, FM certified favorites fit them like a glove, the bonhomie onstage increasing song by song, pleasure buttons being slammed repeatedly for the audience, whose faces lit up with an infectious glow at the opening notes of each iconic tune. The eternally appealing sounds of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and opener Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride” (with some great falsetto from Ferlino decked out in sleeveless t-shirt and head bandana; some of the guys really got into the spirit of the theme, particularly suede tassel vest clad Lipp) drew people in, and the curious were rewarded with surprises like Jen Hartswick belting out Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” better than ol’ Steve Perry can anymore and Johnny Moroko, lead singer of Rolling Stones tribute Brown Sugar, killing it on “Start Me Up.” If you didn’t have a king size blast at this set, which got an additional 45 minutes over allotted time to handle all the widdly-widdly goodness, then I’m fairly sure you’re not wired for a good time. Fun resides in the heart of Guitarmageddon, and this set amped up all the positives about this lovingly ludicrous endeavor.

Setlist (and guitarists/guests on each selection): Free Ride (Leahy, Clark, Miller, Lebo, Kurth), Sweet Emotion (Leahy, Clark, Miller, Kurth), Whole Lotta Rosie (Leahy, Clark, Korpas, Kurth), Fat Bottom Girls (Leahy, Clark, Kiyoshi, Anderson, Asebroek – killer harmonies on this one!), Layla (Leahy, Kurth, Lebo, Lukas Nelson), When The Levee Breaks (Leahy, Kurth, Anderson, Lukas, Al Schnier), Start Me Up (Leahy, Kurth, Schnier, Clark, Moroko), Do You Feel Like We Do (Leahy, Kurth, and an especially excellent Miller on point – Frampton would approve), Any Way You Want It (Leahy, Clark, Kurth, Hartswick), Won’t Get Fooled Again (Leahy, Clark, Miller, Lebo, Kurth, Schnier, Lukas)

2. Futurebirds – 8:15-9:30 p.m. – Big Meadow Stage

Facing off against fest faves The Barr Brothers and reggae legends Steel Pulse meant for an initially thin crowd for this Athens, GA band’s High Sierra debut but it clearly didn’t phase them. I’ve rarely seen guys more in love with playing rock ‘n’ roll, where every song was tackled with closing number flourish, hair flying as their bodies swayed with their instruments. For Futurebirds, playing music for people is an obvious pleasure and privilege, and it’s hard not to be smitten with such grinning amour. With pedal steel, two electrics and an acoustic, guitar flavor abounds on every tune. It’s a voluptuous sound but rarely messy because they’ve figured out how to bob and weave with each other’s lines. Only a handful of bands have ever figured out how to handle this much guitar action but Futurebirds have it licked. Their songs are terrific, too, full of oddly wise nuggets and choruses built for boozy sing-alongs. They’re not reinventing the wheel but this motherfucker rolls real nice. By set’s end they’d cemented their place in Athens’ next wave of greats with Dead Confederate, Reptar, and The Whigs. A real treat to get rocked out so solidly late in the game, and hopefully they’ll be back to do their thing again. I came into this set really liking Futurebirds and walked away a diehard fan. Viva live music!

3. Rubblebucket – 10:00-11:30 p.m. – Big Meadow Stage
Materialized – 12:00-1:15 a.m. – Funk ‘n Jamhouse

With so much modern music a fairly typical formula dominates: (this influence) + (other influence) + (fresh adjectives and qualifiers) = new band. So, it was a super treat to conclude my primary listening experiences at HSMF 2013 with the future music of Rubblebucket and Materialized. Though very different from one another, these bands possess a progressive edge that’s largely free of ancestral fingerprints. Though happening right in front of us, their sounds seem snatched from the not too distant days ahead, a beat or three ahead of the competition in exposing the connective tissue between different styles and moods, a reverberant sonic curiosity evident in every step. Both acts have a blast discovering and sharing fresh sounds and new combinations of ideas and in this way keep the listener on their toes, stimulating good things in our brains even as they entertain us and lubricate our limbs.

Rubblebucket solidified their candidacy for High Sierra annual regulars in their third wondrous visit, effectively wooing and moving their largest audience yet here as they closed out the Big Meadow Stage with serious aplomb. Their natural warmth, unforced strangeness, and undeniable skills flowed electrically from the stage to the far reaches back by the soundboard, where I took in the undulating big picture being painted by these Brooklyn/Vermont musicians. Their songs are multilayered – musically and lyrically – but nearly always instantly likeable. They’re talking a lot but they’re always saying something, and they usually say it with a come-hither smile that gives one a tingle. Pop music – often reviled by jam fans and folkies – is integral to Rubblebucket. For as high brow as their compositions and playing can get, there’s usually a toe-tapping element enshrouding the complexities. And sometimes they just let the pop thing hang out for anyone to see as on the fab cover of The Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes” that went off like a charm bomb in the crowd. By the time lead singer-saxophonist Kalmia Traver was surfed above the sudden horde the band welcomed onstage during “Came Out Of A Lady” one felt part of an interconnected organism, the bonds between the band and the audience visible and invisible, strong and tangible. Without putting too fine a point on it, Rubblebucket hums with a life force that summons one’s own primal joie de vivre.

The frizzled wire, sample savvy, crunching rhythm attack of Materialized proved just the elixir to summon the final freakin’ left in my body. Materialized’s current is irrefutably musical and fleshly present but just as knob stroking as LCD Soundsystem, employing computer crafted bass lines and all manner of synthesizers, sequencers and whatnot in a pleasing, dark-tinged assault on the senses. Sweating out impurities and striving to recall some Prince dance moves to unleash, I thought how much what Mighty Dave Pellicciaro (keys, samples, myriad noisemakers) and Dale Fanning (electronic percussion) and their varied collaborators are up to is just about everything most electronic dance music is missing, most notably a prominent human element with the ability to shift and respond in real time with true musician insight and instinct. No question that these guys are masters of technology but in a daring, hang-your-ass-over- the-edge way that recalls the sonic spelunking of early Tangerine Dream and Aphex Twin. The more aggressive, intense and shadowy Materialized becomes the more I’m captivated by their evolution.

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[Published on: 7/24/13]

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