Words by: Dennis Cook | Images from: www.live105.com
Live 105 BFD 2008 :: 06.07.08 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: Mountain View, CA
Long before you stepped through the gates at Shoreline Amphitheatre you could tell this was largely a "25 and under" affair. BFD 2008 was the latest installment of Bay Area alt-rock radio station Live 105's annual one-day festival. Named after a dismissive epithet (on-mic profanity was cheerfully endorsed all day), BFD is a pretty good read of who's about to break (MGMT, Flobots), who's just getting big today (The Kooks, Lyrics Born) and who's managed to avoid being a footnote even after years in the business (Flogging Molly, Moby, Cypress Hill). More than anything, BFD lets you know whom teenagers (and slightly older) listeners are passionate about. While it would be easy enough for Live 105 to load up on recognizable, well established names only, they strive to spice things up with unsigned acts and emergent talent, and their festival presented a nice cross-section of the (mostly) loud and (periodically) lovely.
Anti-Flag :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
As is often the case with one-day events, the best surprises tend to lurk at the top of the day. Headliners simply don't have as much to prove and sometimes meander during their longer, later set times. Newer acts had 20-30 minutes or so to make an impression (or not). First up, Drive A took advantage of their last minute addition to the bill, pummeling the not even noontime crowd with tough, shouted-slogan punk slathered liberally in AC/DC sauce. With Bad Religion-esque tightness, strong vocals and solid riff instincts, they were just the sharp poke in the ear needed to stir the blood. The primary Festival Stage was a side-by-side double affair in the auxiliary parking lot (the traditional bowl stage with permanent seating was used only for autograph signings, which had continually long lines all day), which meant as one band played the next one was getting set up to their left, thus eliminating downtimes almost entirely.
First major discovery of the day was Sacramento, California's Middle Class Rut. A duo with a singing, shirtless drummer, Sean Stockham, with a striking red "For Sale" tattoo on his chest, and a shreddy, vaguely possessed singer-guitarist accomplice, Zack Lopez, they had some of The Black Keys' clang and pound intertwined with early Jane's Addiction and a more macho version of My Bloody Valentine's car-bombed haze. Theirs is a full sound you can loose yourself in, either screaming along to the pissed off parts or swaying with the dreamier sections. They make a huge noise for two dudes, stumbling like snot-nosed punks one moment but tightening up hard on the choruses. Their short, thoroughly captivating set drew mainly from their new album released on "a big fucking label called ourselves," according to Stockham, who later announced, "It's everybody's birthday today. We're all just being born today. Ha! That's profound (laughs)." Punctured by dirty cowbell clank and inspired Clash-like dub accents, this was chain gang blues as sung by asphalt-encircled boys - Middle Class Rut is the business!
Drive A :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
The Airborne Toxic Event followed with further echoes of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, a dance of slightly rough rock and pop bounce. Hailing from East Los Angeles, they are a fine festival band – fun and immediately winning with solid material and strong stage presence. All dressed in black except for multi-instrumentalist Anna Bulbrook's eye-catching white shorts, which were far less the focus than her fiery violin playing, which ranged from folksy pluck to Sigur Ros prettiness to Billy Bang dissonance. Their guitarists have eaten a few "Rock Lobsters" (dear departed Ricky Wilson is a fab inspiration) but things truly got interesting when they dove into a somber, elegiac piece that blossomed into a Psychedelic Furs swoon about four songs in. The climax compared favorably with Bowie's "Heroes" and the set closer had a similar sweep, taking us from stillness akin The Clash's "Straight To Hell" into a clubland buzz and out into the clouds. Airborne Toxic Event are hard to get a bead on, and there's more than a few things here to keep one guessing.
The Whigs completely rock live. Already taken with their new album, Mission Control, it was nifty to have one's suspicions about the concert prowess of this Athens, Georgia trio confirmed. Plugged in before an audience, they have the lock-tight, endlessly heavy vibe of early trio Gov't Mule, though there's also elements of the first couple Alice Cooper albums and myriad '60s British beat bands, too. "I don't care what your old man thinks of me," growled singer-guitarist Parker Gispert, inviting us to jump in right away, feeling assured they'd get us somewhere if we did. Midway, Gispert jumped on a keyboard he'd found in a strawberry field and bassist Tim Deaux took over on guitar. Like a great piece of vinyl, they let things breath sometimes, knowing there's as much value in drifting "half a world away" as there is in a blues-based head charge. The highlight, just like on Mission Control, was "Right Hand On My Heart," which roars and liberates in concert like My Morning Jacket's "One Big Holiday," a surefire cure for what ails you, whatever that may be.
Flobots :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
Denver's Flobots congregated to tribal floor toms and told us, "We're here to give you the show you deserve." Their soul-funk-hip-hop amalgamation bears some resemblance to Spearhead but they're looser (in a positive way) and stronger on the mic, closer to my yardstick for live hip-hop, GFE. Talking politics and parties, flipping the script on evolution from "Jesus to Huey P. Newton," cranking their guitars and generally putting on a hell of a gig, Flobots were heavy on slogans but clever enough to pepper their stew with interesting ingredients like classical-metal textures and global echoes.
The Local Music Stage seemed interesting enough but the sound bleed from the Festival Stage made it all but impossible to hear the Bay Area talent, which was frustrating enough that I sadly avoided hearing more than bits and pieces of most acts. Unless the main stage was mellow (rare) or silent (even more rare) there was no winning unless you were sitting directly in front of an amp stack. Apside had the clarity of passion, choppy guitars and percussion thump of early U2 and the new romantic look of, well, The Romantics. Watching a couple of Apside's songs I had one of many moments where I thought, "Christ, it's daunting to see the music culture of my youth regurgitated." At 40, I was at ground zero for the beginnings of many alt-rock pillars, and though rock 'n' roll has always been a recycling project, it's gotten easier to see the source materials built into today's polyurethane descendents.
Atreyu :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
This was especially obvious with the very well-received, very loud onslaught of screaming punk-pop acts beginning with Atreyu followed later by Anti-Flag and Alkaline Trio. Each sells nearly all-out aggression and the youth are definitely buying. All three bands had major followings out in force at BFD, which they motivated to spitting, fist pumping mania within moments of each set's start. "I want everyone to put their fucking hands together," barked Anti-Flag's Justin Sane. Each was unwilling to play a note before near madness had ensued in the stalls. It's a weird thing to witness, especially at several arm's lengths. If I was going through puberty and sanding away various teenage indignities alone in my room with this music I might be able to tell you the difference between these three bands, but as it was they sounded like cobbled together pieces of Dag Nasty, Stiff Little Fingers, The Descendents, The Sex Pistols, Minor Threat and The Clash (of course) with a populist bent that has a LOT in common with '80s pop metal like Slaughter and Poison, especially on the romance themed tunes, of which there were plenty. There's an awful lot of naval gazing for acts supposedly ready to rail against society's machine thinking, but self-pity and self-absorption are far more attractive and easy than actually rebelling. Hey, who am I to judge? I was crushed against the stage when Black Flag and Bad Religion were new and young and we're all still fighting most of the same boogiemen today. On purely musical terms, Alkaline Trio, Atreyu and Anti-Flag played well enough for a genre with very little originality or variety – a blunt but completely honest assessment.
However, concert dynamite awaited me in the electro/DJ/dance themed Subsonic Tent. Oakland's Hottub are the brightest "hey ladies" shout to hit the dance floor since Fannypack first shook their booties. To go colloquial, their shit was hectic. They combined the body smack of say the Chemical Brothers with the round-the-way, pass the mic wildin' of LL Cool J and early Beastie Boys, then fleshed it out with a strong sister vibe reminiscent of Queen Latifah and Labelle. Spend a couple minutes in their presence and see if you aren't "Voulez-vouing" them, too. Loud and proud, the three fluorescently attired ladies and the two music-making boys behind them are the best peppermint stick to swizzle hip-hop's cola in ages. With a trio of smart, clever, stoopid charismatic women up front and crucial beat science underneath (and around and above...), Hottub is all things good about a dance party, a trigger for Chic's "Good Times" that drew in passersby throughout their set. Swinging enough moxie to sample Europe's "Final Countdown" keyboard sting and dress like they just panty raided Cyndi Lauper's bedroom circa 1986, Hottub ain't shy, and their come hither ways eventually brought boys and girls up to work it alongside the band onstage. There's also the matter of a log in a wedding veil that was waltzed around for a minute. Genuinely weird and brimming with estrogen and testosterone, this is a band Frank Zappa would have loved and produced. Color me smitten!
MGMT :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
On the main stage, MGMT were a snore. After the ballyhoo about their concert "experience" I'd read elsewhere I was expecting, uh, something. Instead, they started like the whitest Barry White tribute band EVER and then morphed into the Incredible String Spree – fey and meandering and largely pulse free. They seemed to be on about freedom, which apparently involves dudes being able to wear dresses. More power to them but I found them dull beyond belief.
On the other hand, The Kooks put on a swell show. Deep they ain't, and they don't even try to avoid Oasis' shadow in their quiet-then-big compositions. The flashback for these ears is actually more '90s U.K. combo The Wonder Stuff, where much of the catalog is acoustic guitar driven but it still moves, getting near Pearl Jam by the bridges. Tiny touches elevated what are mostly decent if non-distinct songs, including a barbershop ending where they sang a cappela, "Don't get too close/ You don't want to see my ghost." Their cheekiness and rapid responses to audience interjections showed they've studied A Hard Day's Night. Ultimately, not unappealing but also not especially memorable.
Everlast :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
Strolling back towards the shade of the Subsonic Tent (the other two stages were in bare, unforgiving sunlight), a lilting, blip touched sound lured me in and encouraged me to sit for the first time in hours. "This is called 'Elephants As Big As Whales,'" said Texas' Daniel Hunter who performs and records as Playradioplay. Based on the 20-minute taste at BFD, he's got something in common with the Beta Band and Looper, equal parts electronica and sweet pop. One piece began with the bell tones, possible from a beefed-up toy piano sample, that grew into sweeping note bursts. Gentle, windswept and quite lovely, Playradioplay was a floating respite from the heat and noise.
"My name is Everlast and this is my band, The White Folks." It's been a long time since House of Pain told us to "Jump Around" (16 years to be exact) and a mellower version of Everlast didn't hold a lot of appeal. At his best, his solo work is rural urban music, white country blues sliding a hand up hip-hop's blackberry dark thigh. He hit this mark with new tune "Stones In My Hand" but that was about it. Mostly it just sounded like tired '90s mainstream soul with a little slide guitar, and a lackadaisical stage presence from the whole band didn't help matters.
Once again, the Subsonic Tent offered refuge with a sizzling, summer-tastic performance from Lyrics Born. Backed by a full band including jam scene all-star Brian Jordan (guitar), the East Bay's beloved rhymesayer offered up a show not unlike vintage rugcutters from The Time or even The JB's, albeit on a tighter budget (you know in his heart he longs for a full horn section). Tiptoeing in with a piano tinkle, the group, harnessed to Lyric's never-endingly cool voice and commanding delivery, got up on a good foot manicured by War and Maze. Lyrics Born carried on the tradition of "All Day Music," conjuring a stank funky barrio that one was glad to call their neighborhood for an hour. In concert, the music has so much more presence than the albums, which are very well constructed but lack the live mystery factor. With a powerful, fierce female back vocalist, Jordan (who channeled Prince on several solos) and the rest of his just-tight-enough band, Lyrics swung on his lines like a marmoset, brachiating from syllable to syllable with barely controlled beauty. New one "Hott 2 Deff" from the recently released Everywhere At Once tapped a P-Funk vein and slurped out fluid lines broken up by chunky riffing. Who says a funk band can't play rock music, anyway?
Lyrics Born :: 06.07 :: Mountain View, CA
Beaten like a dirty old rug, I made my way towards the exit, content to miss Pennywise, Moby and Cypress Hill, all acts that settled into their respective shticks some time ago. But, like a leprechaun with a meat hook, Flogging Molly shanked me into a circle of lewd Irish step dancers that plied me with whiskey. It was a flashing encounter but fine spirited enough (literally and figuratively) to make me dawdle through most of the Flogging set. You gotta love a fairly successful, semi-mainstream group with prominent banjo and accordion. It's a nod to both traditional Celtic music and divine sulliers like The Pogues. Flogging Molly offered up drinking songs of the first order, and every bloody note was well placed and well played. A few songs in I couldn't help thinking that more open-minded fans of The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show or even Leftover Salmon might really dig this if they gave it half a chance. There's much charm to their swilling wildness and half-baked philosophizing ("There must be more to life than this poxie life"). Though they hail from Los Angeles, they come across as Irish as potatoes and religious strife. They talked a bit about recording their new album, Float, in Ireland, and if "Requiem For A Dying Song" is any indication, it's pretty good stuff. Flogging Molly was fun, plain and simple, and there's nothing to fault in the songwriting or playing, too. Funny folks, too, offering introductions like, "No matter how long we play, 40 minutes or an hour and a half, we always have time for a song about an Englishman." Trust me, it was not a complimentary ditty.
JamBase | Northern California
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