Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Jam on the River :: 05.23.08 – 05.25.08 :: Festival Pier :: Philadelphia, PA
With nighttime t-shirt temperatures and the knowledge that we were about to rage for 72 more hours, the weekend was already a success before it had even started. Pats on the back to those throwing kick-off parties with the New Deal that started at the stroke of midnight. A rambunctious sell-out crowd took over the block around South Street's Fillmore at the TLA. Once inside, the liveliness levels of anticipation were irrefutably high. Jam on the River 2008 had morphed into a new electronic hungry animal. This beast had an appetite for the live progressive house, jam and electronica that poured from the New Deal. Toronto's answer to the world's need to groove tossed the crowd beaming, thump-coated entertainment. Jaime Shields sat with his back to the audience as his fingers did a keyboard moonwalk during "VL Tone." The soundtrack was impossible not to enjoy as Darren Shearer swatted at his drums with an openhanded palm.
|Jam on the River 2008|
The floor at the TLA was mayhem as all 800 people jumped in unison. Arms were up, as people smacked down the beats in a virtual game of whack-a-mole. Current London resident Dan Kurtz hopped the Atlantic long enough to unleash short bursts of bass thump between his cohort's hands signals. He led the trio on a jazzy charge through a bunch of pedal affected, bass driven jams that caused crowd surfing to erupt in the center of the floor. At one point, two bodies and an inflatable Crusty the Clown doll drifted overhead. The show's intense energy and joyous mood played to the band's strengths, making the kick-off a wild success.
After a handful of restless hours, the sun poured down on the city in one of the most gorgeous azure sky days ever. Even the parking lot, known as Festival Pier, played fair host, displaying its cookie cutter charms. Grimace Federation's airy, flowing percussion was heard from blocks away. Up front, Jon and Christopher Wood laid down the pulse. As a special treat, a trio of female singers joined the band onstage for "As Human," the first known Grimace Federation song with vocals. The trio blended textured singing with Xack Xweig's hollow sounding vibraphone. Playing nine deep, the band fused with the singers like gravy on mashed potatoes.
|the New Deal :: JOTR 2008|
Festival Pier's one-dimensional slab was surrounded wagon-style with crappy overpriced beer, slim choices in cuisine and literally four tree-lined benches. That's great for the 27 people who cram onto them but what about the other 9,000? On the bright side, a stellar tent ran the length of the lot, complete with air conditioning and five times the outdoor seating. RJD2, a.k.a. John "RJ" Krohn, scratched us into an early set with a fast soulful take on the DJ thing before strapping on a guitar to raise the ante. RJ's drummer and bass player motored around the compositions with purpose, and even standing behind the kit you could feel the drummer's smash-down power. The rhythm pocket was only a precursor to the endless blasts we would hear throughout the afternoon and into the evening. RJ exhaled the words to his songs before they slowly descended into beats. RJD2 was just the splash of ice water needed to bring the tent alive as the last cobwebs from the previous evening wore off.
Outside the Captain (i.e. Captain Morgan of rum fame) and his hussies slung free cocktails at patrons, saucing them up for the long haul ahead. This year the Captain lost his stage privileges and was quarantined to base camp. XPN's kind words carried Josh Ritter onto the stage. His lyrical set paid homage to troubadours of many eras as he covered Modest Mouse's "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece." Ritter's clear, honest voice carried across the crowd, pulling numbers to the stage as his performance progressed. Similar in style to Will Hoge and Son Volt, Ritter's Americana provided a short break from the thump and pulses of DJs and live electronic music.
|Bassnectar :: JOTR 2008|
How good a DJ spins should be decided by the level of freak-out the crowd displays. Bassnectar's set was fairly standard. The crowd danced as he dropped a new bit of low-end bump and pump while mixing everyone from Daft Punk to Devo. The high afternoon sun had charmed a lackadaisical mood out of the masses and lulled fans into more head bounce and less body shake. Lesser known DJ Frosty followed Bassnectar's set. Hailing from the Northern Liberties section of Philly, Frosty mixed from some dark depths and freaky shallows, Mr. Bungle meets Schoolly D, if you will. His goulash flowed seamlessly out of his turntables in one of the wildest spun-up mashes going. It contained Latin, Indian, spaghetti western and house elements, and each layer added stimulation as a dance panda and Cat in the Hat up front got their freak on.
The records were shelved as the city's musical ambassadors, The Disco Biscuits, slapped down the first of four sets. The first two sets on the pier could not have been more different. Set One was an apparent warm-up as "Wizards in Winter" sandwiched pieces of "Morph Dusseldorf" and a semi-deflated "Hot Air Balloon." The blander Biscuits start was short lived as Allen Aucoin and Jon Gutwillig rained precision stick and finger work down as they laid out a tremendous second set. Marc Brownstein took charge of the intro to "Shem-Rah Boo" and let the song fly. "The City" once again skewed our view of the world as we tilted into a head bounce in time to Aucoin's shifty punches. The set's last three songs epitomized what it meant to be at Jam on the River. Pink tinges of sun faded away as "Mastermind" carried the layered textures of Aron Magner's keystrokes across the venue and bounced them between the food stands and tent. If music was visible, the sight would have been a dance of hundreds of drifting flames. The segue into "Spacebirdmatingcall" had a sweet tempo shift as Brownstein smiled his toothy grin across the crowd.
|Marc Brownstein - The Disco Biscuits|
Backstage, the men strapped on yellow and red plastic iron man suits while the ladies wrapped themselves in pink ninja outfits. The nervous excitement for The Flaming Lips was felt by all in the banter, laughs and pictures being snapped. A few minutes later, those same feelings burst out on either side of the stage as the Iron Men and pink ninjas ran after Wayne Coyne, Steve Drozd and Michael Ivins of the cool... the fabulous... The Flaming Lips! In typical Lips fashion, Coyne jumped into the human hamster ball to crawl his way across a sea of appendages. He leapt out in time to shoot confetti cannons to end "Race for the Prize." Things had yet to get interesting. On the third song, Coyne explained that they were going to play a new song, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains the Same." Coyne explained that whoever wanted to get naked for just the one song could without legal consequence. Most hadn't given it a thought until from behind the stage ran not one but four bare-assed fans who took Coyne up on his offer. A roar erupted as the four shook what their mommas gave 'em to Led Zeppelin. The Lips' show was an unruly creature with some familiar bits. Its highlights came late, as Coyne gave a heartwarming thanks to the troops and played "Taps" from a tweaked bugle pushed against his forehead.
Sunday followed suit with another contender for "most gorgeous day ever" in the history of Jam on the River. A light breeze carried American Babies' brand of indie alt-country tunes around the semi-circle of the Great Plaza. The crowd was small, and most expected it to stay that way with no major headlining act. Joe Russo held the crowd with a slight snap of his fingers as Tom Hamilton bobbed through a good cover of Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You."
|The Avett Brothers :: JOTR 2008|
Calls were placed all over the venue as the crowd mysteriously came from the shadows to pack the front of the stage during The Avett Brothers' last spring tour stop. Scott and Seth Avett built on the same vibe that the American Babies had graciously laid down. With one glaring exception, these Carolina boys made the crowd rise from their reclined positions. The Avett boys pull from a similar wellspring of energy as Dr. Dog and O'Death. They kicked their boots to the sky as they added a hearty dose of spirit and twang to the shuffle. Seth's voice played with his brother's in a game of passing harmonies through "Paranoia" before Scott's hack and chop banjo licks broke the poignancy with aggression. "Murder In The City" featured a similar arrangement except Bob Crawford dug in deeper on his upright bass before letting it spin wildly in his hands. The heartache of "Pretty Girl From Annapolis" carried a haunting vocal similar to something Jim James (My Morning Jacket) might have sung. Their old time indie flare captured our hearts.
In a similar swing from the previous day, the afternoon's musician/instrument driven music parted ways for back-to-back DJ sets from RJD2 and Deadmau5. After yesterday's early assault in the tent, I was thrilled to catch RJD2 again. Unfortunately, this round was only RJ solo on a set of turntables, which fell apart when his records started to dissolve in the sun. This gave time to lounge and dangle one's feet in the fountains around the plaza. Deadmau5's insane beat combos and wild "Mars Mouse" helmet started as a simple blip on the radar of most. His opening track sounded like a bad '90s movie, but with the twist of a knob, the laptop DJ worked his magic. The thump of bass and drums filled the floor of the Great Plaza once again. The whole set placed a wonderful bounce in your step.
Lotus was honored to land the closing spot of 2008's Jam on the River. The local crowd was thrilled for them as they cheered on Luke and Jesse Miller through an extended and particularly danceable set. The Miller's were unstoppable as they bounced around the stage tossing out groovy bass and guitar during "Greet the Mind" and "Wax" like it was candy to trick-or-treaters. Something about this band was so conducive to rug-cutting that the results were thrilling. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be the headlining band at Penn's Landing as the sun is setting over the Delaware River.
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