BFD 2008 | 06.07.08 | Mountain View
Live 105 BFD 2008 :: 06.07.08 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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