Summer Camp | 05.21 - 05.24 | Illinois

Words by: Cal Roach | Images by: Chad Smith & Norman Sands

Summer Camp :: 05.21.09 - 05.24.09 :: Three Sisters Park :: Chillicothe, IL

Summer Camp 2009 by Smith
Being a Bonnaroo veteran, I couldn't help being a little excited getting to Three Sisters Park last Thursday night for the pre-party and not having to wait for a single car. With our Radio Flyer and lots of duct tape, we pulled everything to the campsite in one trip, although the woodsy spots were mostly already taken. Having to lug everything from car to camp is a blessing and a curse, but there's something to be said for a big open field with no vehicles around, staking out as much space as you want and just relaxing.

The lack of organization lends a pleasant, adventurous vibe, but the pre-party policy ostensibly allowed free admission to the late-night barn sets from Future Rock and Lotus, however, the fact that there were ten times the people as the barn's capacity allowed made the whole thing far from ideal. We stood outside for a few minutes, enviously watching the bumpin' crowd inside, but not many people were leaving the party to allow for more to enter so we skipped it. It was a nice night to just wander around and soak in the beginning of fest season before hitting the sleeping bag.

Friday :: 05.22.09

I probably could've slept past nine but my instinct must've told me they'd be handing out a winning late-night lottery ticket around ten. The announced process was to hand out 750 lottery numbers, draw a random number and pass out wristbands in order, starting with the one drawn. As far as I could tell, that didn't happen; after my number, they skipped back to the beginning, apparently due to a bitchy crowd. I know there were numbers much higher than mine, so lots of people must've gotten screwed. Hopefully, they were all the folks who partied down with Lotus the previous night.

Macpodz :: Summer Camp 2009 by Smith
Back at camp, I could hear The Bridge loud and clear, as well as The Macpodz, a couple of funk-oriented bands, with the former more rock and the latter more Galactic-like. Half paying attention, neither of them really grabbed me, but no disrespect meant; it was a perfectly agreeable ambience for breakfast and easing into the day.

Thankfully, Thursday's late night stars were both playing Friday as well. First, Future Rock showed no sign of fatigue from the previous night. It's really not a prescient band name, considering the group has a very current, electro-jam sound, but these guys undoubtedly know how to make a body rock. Insistently percussive bass work by Felix Moreno occasionally abandoned the rhythm but not enough to distract, and the group displayed enough talent and charisma to potentially outlast the trendy sound it pumps out. A cover of Nirvana's "Breed" was a great finale to the set.

Lotus's set later in the day was significantly less convincing. Maybe it sounded great from outside the barn last night just because I couldn't get in, or maybe the band is just inconsistent live, but I've yet to see a truly outstanding Lotus show. The highlight was The Legend Of Zelda theme music sandwiched inside "Age Of Inexperience," which was sort of roughshod but came out sounding like a lost Iron Maiden instrumental - lots of fun. Otherwise, the set was largely based in a sound that's way too Charlie-Hitchcock-era Particle, but not as crisp or flowing. I've seen glimpses of possible progress from Lotus, but it's mostly lazy Sunday jam band fare mixed with mediocre beats.

Buckethead :: Summer Camp 2009 by Sands
A major Friday highlight was Toubab Krewe, who were highly evolved from the African-inflected, percussion-based band I'd first seen a few years ago into a true kitchen sink outfit. You will hear elements of European and Asian folk, reggae, electronic, Latin, rockabilly, bluegrass, surf rock, African and tons more, all stewed together much more seamlessly than seems likely for such an amalgam. It all made for a driven, exotic set of music. The five musicians onstage aren't always on the same page, but that just makes me hopeful that they're still perfecting the synthesis and that they might be totally unstoppable once they fully integrate everything they aspire to.

Buckethead brought his one-man-show to Summer Camp this year, accompanied only by a prerecorded backing track. His set started out a little rough, but after his first robot dance and "The Embalmer" (a new "Jowls" surrogate), he started to get into his groove, showcasing lots of newer material and not a lot of the typical classics. "Ghost Host" was a stunner, as well as the blistering metal blip that followed "Buckethead's Toy Store." Then, following an abbreviated "Foxy Lady," Bucket jammed with That 1 Guy, which was alternately fascinating and tedious, but they did coax some crazy shit out of each other. The set ended with a short but inspired solo rendition of "Soothsayer." Although it will probably never be as effective as "Nottingham Lace" as a finale, the man is invariably so impressive that it's a treat just to watch his fingers move.

Al Schnier - moe. :: Summer Camp 2009 by Sands
You can't really get the same thrill from Girl Talk, although his fingers are probably moving almost as fast at times. I guess it's okay if half the world thinks GT (aka Gregg Gillis) invented the mashup; I remember hearing "Highway To Mixed Biz" back around the dawn of Napster and imagining the possibilities, but obviously, Gillis is much more ambitious than whoever spliced AC/DC and Beck way back when. There is no doubt that the guy lights a fire under asses on a dance field, but his appeal stems mainly from the constant barrage of nostalgia that makes people in the audience cheer. As such, even though he claims not to be a DJ, his role is exactly that of a DJ. Nothing wrong with that, but the notion that he is creating new songs is absurd. Ultimately, best not to think too much, just bounce along and try not to let the arc of his bobbing head get burnt into your retina.

Personally, the Redman/Method Man dance party was more my style, although based almost as much on nostalgia. These two guys have developed an onstage rapport just as natural as Meth's other gig with the Wu-Tang Clan. It's interesting to note the performance gimmicks that jam bands and rappers share; the difference is that jam bands rarely vocalize them explicitly. Phish might bust out "Alumni Blues," but you won't hear Trey say, "Do y'all remember this one from way back?" Phishheads are now programmed to shout "Hood!" when they hear "Harry," whereas in rap you get, "When I say, 'Wu-Tang,' you say 'Clan!'" And while we can draw our own conclusions about "been you to have any spike, man?" it's a bit obscure compared with a chant of "Roll it up, light it up, smoke it up!" In the end, as hyped up as the crowd was for the lone hip-hop set of the weekend, it felt like one of the most essential hours of the festival rather than a token gesture.

Of course, the biggest draw of Summer Camp would be the epic showdown between headliners moe. and Umphrey's McGee. Whether the bands saw the weekend as a battle or not, one surely felt an old-guard vs. newcomer competitive spirit, and few in the audience were likely to skip sets from either band. UM took top billing Friday, as moe. played the afternoon slot, which was obviously no gauge of what was to come but was nevertheless underwhelming. Interesting to hear moe. tip the hat to Widespread Panic's "Space Wrangler," but seriously, the drum solo > add bass > add guitar jam is so county fair and a very inefficient use of time in a short set. So, Umphrey's was destined to grab the momentum for night one. Set One was tight and energetic but still felt like a warm-up, particularly in hindsight. Opening Set Two with "Baba O'Riley" (featuring Cornmeal's Allie Kral on violin) never hurts, but UM knows better than almost any band how to blow up the end of a show, and this performance of "Bridgeless," leading into the reprise of "Nothing Too Fancy" was one of the most impressive displays of twin-guitar sustained intensity that I've ever witnessed. The "Soul Food I" encore was equally impressive, and the "Mantis" finale was a real statement of purpose, furthering the band's reputation as the second coming of King Crimson. It was an astounding set, and an intimidating precursor to the set-for-set conflict scheduled for Saturday.

Method Man & Redman :: Summer Camp 2009 by Smith
Continue reading for Saturday coverage of Summer Camp...

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