Big High :: 12:55-1:45 p.m. :: Garden Stage
A touch too punchy to make the morning offerings, I stumbled in and got WOKE THE FUCK UP by Big High, a local hard rock ensemble and friends to Flowmotion that struck a first impression akin to my first mind-blowing Drunk Horse gig. Like Oakland's steel-plated punk-boogie juggernaut, Big High aren't screwing around and it wasn't a whole tune before I was shaking like a madman close to the stage. Killer tunes, a crazy tight band and a lead singer (Mesa on "vocal flyfishing") possessed of a fathomless bottom and high reachin' top end plus a leaping, fiercely engaging stage presence, and well Big High sorta rocked my widdle world. It's serious heavy muscle that puts a lil' anger and sex in your bloodstream, culminating in a frighteningly good cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" delivered in Dr. John style feather masks for no good reason except to be delightfully weird. If you're feeling Clutch, Parlor Mob or just dig quality hard rock you're missing out if you don't get to know Big High. At the end of their set I bellowed, quite uncontrollably, "We're awake now, motherfuckers!" Meant it, too.
|LoCura :: Summer Meltdown 2009|
LoCura :: 1:55-2:55 p.m. :: Main Stage
Oakland's LoCura presented an intoxicating stew of flamenco, Cuban son, Portuguese fados, the acoustic guitar/hand percussion end of Brazilica like Maria Bethania and Caetano Veloso and more. It wasn't the music of any one country but a mélange that spoke of connective tissue and fleshiness in general, music warm to the touch and delivered by an incredibly powerful, appealing frontwoman, Kata Miletich, a singer of vast magnetism and sensuality, strong in all her moves. Flipping between English and Spanish, often within the same song, LoCura proved an effective bridger of gaps, announcing, "We need some fire, some spirit," and then unleashing rumbas that delivered on both.
North Twin :: 3:00-4:00 p.m. :: Garden Stage
Following LoCura, Seattle-based North Twin declared, "I feel like we're now expected to rock the world." While they didn't perhaps achieve that global stretch, they developed a steady growing heft that vacillated between acoustic contemplation and glassy electric washes, an organic swing that compares favorably with good Marshall Tucker Band or Bob Seger, something that also surfaced in the lead singer's slight drawl. Their lyrics speak to life on the ground - "My heart was once as empty as this little town" or "Close your eyes and hope it goes away" – like a less roughshod Drive-By Truckers. At one point, they noticed a couple dancing enthusiastically to their set and commented, "All it takes to get off with music is a couple like that." That and a rock solid band like North Twin.
|North Twin :: Meltdown '09|
Kristen Ward :: 4:00-5:15 p.m. :: Main Stage
Ward and her dead solid band picked up the twang elements in North Twin and ran with them beautifully. Moving with the shuffling naturalness of Patty Griffin with a touch more hay between her teeth, Ward and her juke joint lookin' group delivered a no fuss, no muss afternoon set full of lived-in wisdom and inviting material.
Big Light :: 5:20-6:30 p.m. :: Garden Stage
Such swift evolution with these Bay Area boys. Ever since abandoning keys and adding lead guitarist Jeremy "Swordfish" Korpas, Big Light has been on a giddy rise, refining their ridiculously catchy sound and adding simmering layers that have moved them miles away from their jam scene roots, evidenced by opener "Caution," which emerged from an atmospheric jam into a staccato snare-rim beat and incisive, sonar-touched guitars that sounded like Blur on a great day. More and more, this is pop-rock that refuses any straightjacket that descriptor might imply, as capable of moving into hinterlands as it is at delivering a chorus you won't soon shake. They were the first band to play in full sunlight and more than a few folks commented on how appropriate it was given their name. And freakin' Korpas... What's so damn cool about Swordfish is his immediacy, the way a blast of reverb, delay or just plain ballsy riffage arrives just when the music wants for some small, wonderful tweak. It's all too reckless and heel-lifting wild to be premeditated and all the better for its sharp surprise. As usual, a powerful feeling of well being infused my bones by the time they said goodnight.
Tony Furtado :: 6:35-8:00 p.m. :: Main Stage
In terms of pure sit-back-and-let-it-wash over you musicality Furtado may be the standout from Saturday. Music poured from his many skillfully plucked string instruments like water in a desert, and the spare trio setting kept everything clean, crisp and uncluttered. Is what he does folk, rock, blues? Who cares! The songs were uniformly solid, his voice strong and the arrangements full of air and light. Sitting side stage, I watched the sun drop below the horizon as they stirred a peaceful feeling in the attentive crowd, making me thankful for dedicated craftsmen like Furtado.
|Five Alarm Funk :: Summer Meltdown 2009|
Five Alarm Funk :: 8:05-9:10 p.m. :: Garden Stage
Easily the best straight funk monolith I've witnessed in years, Vancouver, BC's Five Alarm Funk rushed in with massive energy that they never let drop for a millisecond, taking their role as warm-up for festival organizers Flowmotion seriously and turning on the audience with sweaty intent. Ten or more deep on the small stage, they wheeled and leapt with an enthusiasm for their genre that demolished all the half-ass, vaguely canned efforts that purport to be 'funk.' As much a workout as a performance, Five Alarm's set made folks howl and jitterbug with an intensity that left one damp and satisfied on a cellular level.
Flowmotion :: 9:15 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. :: Main Stage
Despite putting this shindig together, Flowmotion had never given themselves two sets at their main Saturday performance before. Given the rich rainbow of flavors they presented one hopes they never have this oversight again. Beginning with a light Latin feel, Rees on seriously ripping triangle behind the twin guitars of Heyer and co-frontman/guitarist/founder Josh Clauson, one of those everything-in-the-right place musicians that reeks talent, charm and enormous stage presence, Flowmotion set out on one of those double headers that feels like a real journey, where one travels while standing still, a story unfolding in real time that involves every listener in a bold way. The first set leaned heavily on propulsive grooves including a blasting, hard rock reinterpretation of The Meters' "Give What You Can" and an as-good-or-better-than cover of Wilco's "Walken" that bloomed into gnarly, unexplored territory. New cut "Without Warning" had the metallic bop of Living Colour's "Love Rears Its Ugly Head," while set closing "Don's Funk" > "Pleasure Opp" featured Earl Klugh's saxophonist Lenny Price (who showed up a lot in cameos all weekend) and Seattle's keyboard whiz Joe Doria on Hammond organ. That they made room for more delicate, country-leaning fare with Tony Furtado (who unfurled some of the Bach in his soul during a brief, sighing intro) only shows their broad range. As good as Thursday had been, they seemed determined to spill some blood on stage, let something of themselves seep into the wood and us, and by the end of the first round many of us, myself included, felt nicely tenderized.
|Flowmotion :: Summer Meltdown 2009|
Second set opened with "Ghost Pepper," another number I think Phishheads would delight at, especially with a saucy percussion break from Rees and trap drummer Scott Goodwin and more intertwined Allmans-worthy guitar play and organ stings. Clauson and Heyer share something akin to the six-string chemistry one finds in The Mother Hips, a language of their own making where each shines VERY brightly on their own but really burn hottest when finishing each other's sentences. Ballads, reverb-laced, laser sharp funkathons and soaring rockers – the second set had it all, including a glorious take on Supertramp's "Take The Long Way Home" that they nailed right down to the angelic end section harmonies. In the end this was about as good as ANY headline set I've ever seen anywhere, tying together place and moment and people. Flowmotion is an undiscovered country that one needs to explore in depth.
Flowmotion Saturday setlist
Set I: Soukous, Give What You Can (The Meters cover), Without Warning, Home, Walken (Wilco cover), I'm Gone*, Candy, Don's Funk > Pleasure Opp***
Set II: Ghost Pepper > Drums > Ghost Pepper, 100 Miles, Is That Right?, Miles, My Imagination, Smile, Mercy, Long Way Home** (Supertramp cover), No Worries
E: Free#, Holy Ghost
* w/ Tony Furtado on banjo and vocals
*** w/ Joe Doria on Hammond, Lenny Price on sax and Jesse Kansanback on bass vocals
# w/ Lenny Price on sax
** w/ Lenny Price on Sax & Joe Doria on Hammond
Staxx Brothers :: 12:35-1:35 a.m. :: Garden Stage
Snatching up the enormous goodwill in the air after Flowmotion's blowout, Washington's Staxx Brothers proved the closest thing to vintage Funkadelic I've ever witnessed, right down to the janky thrift store costumes and impolite wilding. A huge mob on stage, they've imbibed whatever elixir Bootsy, George and Bernie swallowed back in the day, getting up there and proudly playing rump rattlin' cartoons and then backing it up with whomping good musicianship and tunes you gotta be dead to resist. Full of keen-edged female vocals, a rapper full of shirtless craziness and a fleshy frontman with a swell voice and the moxie to ask things like, "Where's my pimps at? Where's my gangsta bitches at?" while not offending people. All originals except for a roaring cover of "Red Hot Mama" that truly honored their ancestors, Staxx Brothers were stupendous good times that had backfields in motion as far as the eye could see. Festival planners: Book these guys! You will not be sorry.
|Doria & Lebowitz - LAB :: Meltdown '09|
LAB/Late Night Jam :: 1:00 a.m. – whenever :: Festival Tent
With three-fourths of ALO on hand - Dan Lebowitz (guitar, vocals), Steve Adams (bass, vocals) and Dave Brogan (drums, vocals) – the last part of Saturday was pure playing satisfaction, beginning with an hour from LAB (i.e. Lebo/Adams/Brogan) full of high end swerve and pop acumen that pulled from the ALO catalog, their solo material and a bang-up cover The Police's "Man In A Suitcase." Sans keyboardist/lead singer Zach Gill, the trio had more space to play with and their individual musical identities surfaced more readily than in ALO. Three, at least in this instance, proved a magic number indeed, and their music, as usual, really made folks happy. It's a powerful thing to witness, especially given their clockwork ability to do so.
Immediately following LAB, Big Light jumped up for a three-song mini-set that featured perhaps the psych-iest, best version of "Heavy" yet and then all of Big High took over, aided by many of the talented players lurking in the shadows, for a triple shot of Led Zeppelin covers that blew wigs WAY off domes. Mesa showed himself one of the few dudes capable of walking in Robert Plant's footsteps and the renditions hit all the right marks on "The Ocean," "No Quarter" and "Whole Lotta Love," with Joe Doria sparkling like Christmas on his keyboard accents on the latter two. After the Zep it was a soulful jam session that was still trucking along mightily by the time my exhausted ass slinked off around 4 a.m. All described too briefly, this late night convocation is the heart of festival greatness and the huge cadre of musicians from earlier in the day just hanging out to take it in adds credibility to that claim.
Continue reading for Sunday's coverage...