Wanderlust | 07.24 - 07.26 | Lake Tahoe

Wanderlust 2009 by O'Neil
If Saturday's lineup was a little light, Sunday made up for it with a three-in-a-row mountain top main stage run of Broken Social Scene > Andrew Bird > Spoon. Three of the best progressive indie rock bands (whatever the fuck that means), this was what brought the hardcore (read as: don't care about yoga/don't care about setting) music fans to the mountain.

Prior to the big names hitting the main stage, fans were treated to William Fitzsimmons' acoustic beard folk, which given the right environment (small wood theater, everyone sitting, quiet, dark) could likely overwhelm in much the way Ray LaMontagne can, along with Amanda Palmer (who played opposite Fitzsimmons) and either Mates of State or Sonya Kitchell. Or, for those who wanted to check out more of the mountain, there was an idyllic hike from the High Camp pool to the Gold Coast main stage that offered some of the best views of the weekend.

There was also one other small act worth noting, The Honey Brothers. Best thing about this band: Vinny Chase plays drums. Okay, so his name's really Adrian Grenier, and he seems like a cool guy, his girl is wicked hot (duh), and who doesn't love Entourage? But, the worst thing about this band: they kinda suck. I dig the ukulele/banjo thing (kinda) and maybe if I had more patience, but at one point it sounded like a String Cheese cover band gone wrong and their rendition of "We Are The Champions" neared embarrassing. I think maybe Turtle should start a band. I bet Dre would be into it.

Broken Social Scene :: Wanderlust 2009 by Salm
It was all fun and games until 3:45 p.m., at which point Broken Social Scene took the stage and it was time to pay attention. Starting with "Fire Eye'd Boy," they didn't let off the gas for their entire hour slot. Seven guys and one gal (who despite the rumors wasn't Feist, but sang in a similar, beautiful range and manner), they're a true indie rock collective, swapping instruments and featuring different members at different times. Bringing Brendan Canning out from behind the keyboards to play guitar, the band dropped into the ├╝ber-funky, Afro-psychedelic rave up "Love Is Real." With the trombone and trumpet pushing the edges way out, this was the song of the weekend up until this point. Other highlights included the hypnotic guitar progression and cool island pulse of instrumental "Pacific Theme," as well as a huge, U2 War-era inspired "Superconnected." Before they played one of the few encores all weekend, Kevin Drew took the mic and filled the valley with his words: "We hope we infect you with this feeling. We are a forgiveness band and this is what it sounds like to forgive... Enjoy your lives." Amen brother.

Andrew Bird :: Wanderlust 2009 by Salm
Andrew Bird might be the most musically gifted artist alive. I can't prove that, but I feel it somewhere deep. Most of Bird's gear never showed up on the mountain, so he pieced it together with help from Kaki King, Rogue Wave and BSS, and most of us never would have known the difference had he not pointed it out. Standing there alone on stage with his violin, which he often plays more like a mandolin, a guitar, a keyboard, that crazy-ass spinning speaker thing and surrounded by an intimidating array of foot pedals, Bird also utilizes his impeccable voice and incredible whistling. Later, we'd hear Spoon play a song called "Mathematical Mind," and after watching Bird one wonders if he was the inspiration. The manner in which Bird loops his music is something to behold. He isn't merely laying down a beat or a guitar rhythm (no offense, Keller), Bird is looping entire compositions of the most complex nature. I had the opportunity to watch Bird do his thing from the side stage area. Fixated on his pedal work I couldn't quite wrap my head around exactly how he does it. Building these sonic structures effortlessly for his classical violin to run atop, when he harmonized his voice with the violin it was just too much. "A Nervous Tic Motion of The Head To The Left" was a clear highlight as was "Natural Disaster" and the unplugged Appalachian roots number he did when the gear and speakers were acting up. But, the highlight might have been "Anonanimal," which perfectly illustrates the other part of Bird's genius, namely his wordplay and songwriting. "See a sea anemone/ The enemy/ See a sea anemone/ That'll be the end of me/ Vicious fish was caught unawares/ In the tend'rest tendrils/ Underneath her tender gills." Regardless of whether he's layering lyrics or weaving instruments, Andrew Bird is on his own special level.

Britt Daniel - Spoon :: Wanderlust 2009 by Salm
Spoon is one of the best bands out there. You might not believe me, but it's true. They have a very clear vision of what they're trying to achieve, and for more than 15 years they've been getting after it like hungry dogs. Make that starving underdogs. And like bandleader/guitarist/vocalist Britt Daniel sang mid-set in "The Underdog," "You got no fear of the underdog/ That's why you will not survive!" Don't make the same mistake. Don't underestimate Spoon. Anyone at Wanderlust who might have sold the Austin rock quartet short was immediately slapped upside the head when they dove into their set with the funky, slick bass of "Don't You Evah." Moving across their incredible catalog (if you haven't already, you gotta spend some time with these songs) tracks like "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," new song "Is Love Forever?," a haunting, keyboard-heavy "The Ghost of You Lingers," "The Beast and Dragon, Adored," "Don't Make Me a Target" as well as a great reading of Paul Simon's "Peace Like A River," showed off Spoon's range and ability to mix disparate elements into a nasty stream of sound. They are an indie rock band for sure, coming out of the Sonic Youth and Pavement school of thought with a heavy dose of post-punk energy, but there's a funky-sexy aspect to the rhythms, real Motown muscle to the way they flex, and at times it's a dirty disco-rock scene. And good gawd they know how to finish a song, punishing endings into submission. But where it really gets interesting is with their forever sound guy Hot Pockets. He's not your normal sound guy adjusting levels, looking for the cleanest/loudest sound. He is the fifth member of this band, a true sound manipulator and absolutely the secret weapon. A serious collector of dub (as well as other unusual sonic forms), as Hot Pockets mixes the sound he drops in all sorts of psychedelic effects, vocal delays, heavy-reverb, dubbed-out echoes and metal-on-metal moments of madness. He takes Spoon's super-tight rock and blows it open with all these strange manipulations. It's what sets Spoon apart. Look no further than "My Mathematical Mind" for proof. Coming about mid-set, this was the song of the festival. Crawling through a digital haze, Daniel was soon on his knees twisting knobs sending throbbing notes over the crowd and for a minute all I could think of was Radiohead. Opening my eyes to find the sun setting over the snow-capped mountains it was a moment of pure bliss. If Spoon is somehow not on your radar it's time to recalibrate. If they are still an underdog in your world you better come correct or you will not survive!

Riding back down the mountain talk quickly turned to next year. Every person I spoke with - from international folks who flew in for the yoga to musicians on the bill to dedicated music fans from the Bay Area - had a very positive and unique experience at Wanderlust. But, like all small first year fests must consider, was it enough to do it again next year? While organizers claim the roughly 4,000 tickets sold wasn't quiet enough to break even, they felt the event was still a resounding success and will be doing it again in 2010. There's even talk of opening up a few more mountaintops for additional stages. If they can continue to bridge the smaller-than-expected gap between yoga/health nuts and music fans they might truly uncover a bountiful hidden market in a very crowded festival scene. And with bar-none one of the most beautiful, magical locations on Earth, there's no limit to what we might find at Wanderlust, both outside and in.

Wanderlust 2009 by O'Neil
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