' Cinema Romantico: 80/35 Music Festival (Day 2)

Friday, July 08, 2011

80/35 Music Festival (Day 2)

Before we go any further, let me just say that this festival, whether you love all, most, a few, or none of the bands, is a triumph for the city where I was born. It's right downtown and centralized, all the stages within easy walking distance. Two of the three stages are cleverly set up to employ buildings as shade and while the main stage is too big to not be subjected to constant sunlight during the day, it is set up right in front of the new sculpture garden which means there is a plethora of green grass for festival-goers to set up camp and chill. This is the complete opposite of Lollapalooza which has ground that is either hard or muddy. Those are the only two options. Ever. And while 'palooza may have more bands, you can never even hope to see all the bands you want to see - or even most of them most years - because the entire set-up is so sprawling you're running from one end of the park to the other and back again.

Perhaps the food options at 80/35 could be kicked up another notch but, again, they are more varied and less expensive than Chicago's mammoth event. And, oh yeah, you can get a microbrew at 80/35. I was yearning for Raccoon River Brewery beer, admittedly, but the Olde Maine out of Ames did just fine. I got to sip on Clone Pale Ale and Gryphonbrau all weekend instead of Bud Light. That's a significant victory.

The second day of a music festival is always tougher than the first. You're tired, potentially sunburned, probably hungover, but you go get coffee and you suck it up and you have a mid-afternoon beer and soon the music whisks you back into happiness. Although it doesn't necessarily happen right away. You gotta earn it. For instance, our first band on Day 2 was The River Monks who in the two songs we saw went from slow to fast very, very briefly and back to slow over and over. It was like a cross between "Scarbrough Fair" and a pitifully poor man's Arcade Fire. It wasn't happening. We switched stages. Pink Mink and their two girl guitar onslaught was more caffeinated and perky but it still didn't set the barn ablaze.

Spilled sangria. That's a hardcore tragedy.

Pink Mink. Later in the day, after Okkervil River ended, I turned around and the blonde at the forefront was right behind me. She had a badass tattoo. I suppose I could have said something to her but, hey, it's me.
But eventually we got to the uber good stuff - namely, Gold Motel, a latter day girl group with summery, surfy guitars, fronted by the hella talented Greta Morgan. Basically they are, to this writer, a much, much, much better version of Best Coast (if that helps), even if one of their two guitarists really looked like he was auditioning to be part of Biff's posse in "Back to the Future." They are also from Chicago (though that's not why I first listened to them) which means that every time she said "We're Gold Motel - we're from Chicago" I could scream and not be that idiot who's just screaming because a musician name-checked a city.

Gold Motel. You should buy their album. Right now.
They put on a tight, professional, excellent show that I got to see, yet again, from right alongside the rail in front of the stage. At venerable Lollapalooza the rail at the front of the stage is a myth, a story told by concert-goers who showed up at eleven in the morning right when the gates opened and rushed to the rail at the stage of the band they want to see that doesn't go on for 7 hours and plant themselves there. Nicolle, Tim and Tim's mom all seemed very taken with the show, too. And now is the time I plead for everyone to give this band at least one chance. They're awesome. They deserve it. (Listen to them here and here.)

We traversed back to the main stage, took up a spot in the soft grass and sat back planning to sort of pay attention to Okkervil River. And here's the thing: sometimes there are bands that I think I don't like. Key word: think. I went through this most famously with Rilo Kiley. I thought I didn't like Rilo Kiley. I thought I had heard them and been left extremely unimpressed. Then one day, by sheer accident, I heard the real Rilo Kiley. And I realized "Oh. I haven't heard Rilo Kiley." I have no idea what I heard or why I thought it was Rilo Kiley but thank God I finally heard them for real because a massive love affair was launched and now I am a staunch Jenny Lewis-ite.

I thought I had heard Okkervil River. I always hear them referred to as an indie band or a folk rock band or some sort of variation on that theme. But let me blunt: they are more Springsteen-esque than Titus Andronicus could ever hope to be. At least they are live. The lead singer had the same hell-bent, "I'm-gonna-make-everyone-have-a-good-time-or-die-trying" attitude as Bruce. They had a guy at a grand piano ripping off Roy Bittan-ish chords. And they had a cool-as-fuck chick Stevie Van Zandt who played everything - guitars, mandolins, pedal steel - and looked like she was having the time of her life doing it. I cannot stress how transformative this show turned out to be. After the first couple songs you think, "Hey, this is not bad. Not at bad all." Then you think, "Damn. This is really pretty good." Then you think, "Actually, this is fairly awesome." Then you get the Unforced Smile. And then I was telling Nicolle and Tim, "I gotta go down front for the rest of this." And I did. And I put my hands in the air and sang along even though I didn't know words.

Okkervil River from far away.
Okkervil River from much closer.
Had I really never heard them? Well, when I got home I checked and I have a burned CD of theirs. I'm sure I've listened to it. Now I don't want to listen to it again. What if they don't sound in the studio how they sounded live? That might be too much to bear. Life is so complicated.

After their stellar set I hustled back to the Kum & Go Stage to get myself there a good hour before the #1 reason I came to the festival. I joined up with Jeff, Nicolle's brother, and his wife Maria and we got jiggy to a bluegrass jam band out of Colorado called Whitewater Ramble that went on late but rocked the outdoor house. They even got an encore. But I'll come back to that. Because once they departed the stage I bid farewell to Jeff and Maria who were hoofing back over to the main stage for Grace Potter and laid claim to a bodacious spot for my latest madcap musical head-over-heels love affair.

So......on Saturday as I ordered a vegan Italian Sausage (repeat: vegan Italian Sausage), I found myself standing next to a young man with a 1900's moustache with - no joke - the very tips pointing upwards. He wore cutoff jeans that he quite clearly spent hours making look ratty on purpose. He had lime green shoes that might also have been aqua blue (honestly, I can't remember but they were not your standard white sneakers). And, best of all, he had a fanny pack that most definitely appeared to have nothing in it. In other words, he was the biggest hipster I saw at 80/35. And guess who wound up standing right next to me for Handsome Furs? Which is to say that, yes, I am 100% prime time in love with a hipster band. And I don't care who knows it! DO YOU HEAR ME, WORLD?! I DON'T CARE!!!

They took the stage to applause from those of crowded down around front and set up their gear and checked their sound and checked their sound and checked their......you get the point. Understand, Handsome Furs is a two person band - husband & wife, Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry. They each have a synthesizer and he has a guitar. That's it. Yet, improbably, it took who-knows-how-long for the ongoing geniuses at the Kum & Go Stage to set things up and get the sound (hopefully) right. You could visually see the two of them getting upset with the stage crew. It was ridiculous. "Only fifty-five minutes late," said the guy next to me. But once they finally got things in order, oh holy Mary Mother of God.

Dan & Alexei. The coolest rock 'n' roll couple since Bruce & Patti.
Handsome Furs turning Des Moines, Iowa into heaven on earth.
Alexei headbanging at the keyboard. Which she did for 82.7% of the show.
You see certain bands where you know even if they were playing a VFW in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on a Tuesday they would still treat it like it was the last night on earth. Handsome Furs is that band. They ripped that rickety stage to pieces. They traded instruments. They traded loving looks. She almost karate kicked him in the face. He screamed his lyrics with poetic urgency. She headbanged so much I thought her head would fall off. He let loose with a guitar solo at one point so blistering the smile on my face was so immense it almost made my head explode. She collapsed to the stage after every song as if she had depleted all her emotion and energy and only the floor could replenish it. I and everyone else pumped our fists like it was a spiritual call and receive - which it was, if you ask me - on "Memories of the Future." (I would also not be a suitable stereotypical male if I didn't take this moment to advise that in person Alexei Perry is freaking gorgeous. You truly can't understand it until you see her up close. I mean, so long as you like the grungy, you can practically see cigarette smoke emanating from her body at all times look. Which I do.) I don't know much. Really, I don't. I can't speak another language and my political knowledge is embarrassingly meager and I am so financially un-savvy I will likely die penniless. But I know one thing and it is this: they may almost exclusively employ synthesizers, but Handsome Furs is pure rock 'n' roll.

Tragically, the show was only seven songs long. That's seven. Not even 45 minutes. It was the day-long delays and the interminable set-up. And don't even get me started on how a jam band got an encore but the Handsome Furs didn't. Inexcusable. But I bitched enough about it to my poor friends afterwards who didn't deserve to hear it. So I'll shut up. You know why?

Because the next day I went online and bought tickets to see them live at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago at the end of the month. I'm sure no one else there on Sunday with me had that option. And that's too bad. But it's also one of the key reasons why even though I'm very proud of my Iowa heritage and very, very proud they put together 80/35, well, to quote the majestic words of Handsome Furs themselves, sorry, Des Moines, but "I will never be repatriated."

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