with Mike Patton and John Zorn, David Tronzo, Moped, Bison, 6L6, Helium at The Loud Music Festival in Northampton, MA April 17- 20
by Dana Buoniconti
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a festival crowd. Many individuals coming together with similar interests, bonded by a common love. A musical utopia.
OK, the Loud Music Festival didn’t exactly measure up to that scenario. Still, at just about all of the performances I saw, more than a few people were bopping their heads in approval. That means they were connected by music they liked. And, for the most part, the festival worked.
Sure, attendance may have been a bit lower than what was hoped for, and the conferences weren’t as enlightening as they could have been, but over the past four years the festival has proved its potential. When the kinks are worked out, and as long as it continues to attract a diverse array of unknowns and up-and-comers, the Loud Music Festival will be a force to be reckoned with.
With over 250 bands, it became impossible for me to see everyone I was interested in, or get to each of the nine area venues. My approach was to club-hop.
Sometimes, the first group I happened upon would be the best that night. Other times, it was akin to a frustrating game of “Where’s Waldo?” – just where were the good bands? I estimate I saw about a tenth of the total number of acts that played during the festival. So, without any further fanfare, here are some highlights:
Ostrich Farm (at the Baystate, 4/18)
A little bit Primus, a little bit Devo, a whole lotta wacky. The trio jumped around and worked up a sweat playing a unique brand of folk-rock. With a super drummer and a frenetic singer/bassist/keyboardist, Ostrich Farm was one of the most entertaining bands I saw. A real kick.
Mike Patton and John Zorn (at Pearl Street, 4/18)
Possibly the loudest performance I have ever heard. With Zorn on sax and Patton on microphone and cassette player, the two created an amazing and completely overwhelming improvised noise-a-thon. Note: During the hour-long set, Patton enjoyed a can of Dr. Pepper. Easily my festival favorite.
David Tronzo (at Pearl Street, 4/18)
A disappointment. I had read great things about his album with guitarist extraordinare Reeves Gabrels, but hearing him solo, I wonder about those positive reviews. Tronzo’s playing, on electric and National Steel guitar, was devoid of melody or form. Just a lot of noisy fretboard shenanigans.
Moped (at the Iron Horse, 4/19)
This terrific pop trio from Philadelphia really knocked me out. Songs were hook-filled and infectious, with just the right amount of distortion and dissonance. Possessing a genuine, down-to-earth stage presence, Moped easily won the crowd’s affection. Watching drummer Kara play Dave Grohl-style was nothing short of exhilarating. The festival’s most pleasant surprise.
Bison (at the Iron Horse, 4/19)
Covering musical ground reminiscent of Iron Maiden, but without the dungeon-rock overtones, Bison were definitely intriguing. That the lead singer looks like Jonny Polonsky, and the bassist is a dead ringer for Geddy Lee circa ’81, makes them even more of an anomaly. Several of their powerhouse numbers were written about O.J. Simpson, the best being “Killer Gone Free.” In a perverse way I found myself captivated.
6L6 (at the Iron Horse, 4/19)
Heavy-hitters from the Boston scene, 6L6 were devastatingly loud. And although I didn’t stick around for their entire set – mostly because I found the singer/bassist’s apparent ego trip obnoxious – they were better than a lot of hardcore/metal bands I’ve seen.
Helium (at Pearl Street, 4/20)
Mediocre. That about sums up Helium’s performance, which didn’t quite live up to my high hopes. A good portion of their set was mired in problems: Vocals were buried way too low in the mix, the drummer forgot how to start one of the songs – three times – etc. Despite the snags, frontwoman Mary Timony proved herself to be a talented guitarist through creative use of feedback and harmonics. A pre-show attempt to engage her in conversation proved futile, however. She completely blew me off. Thanks, Mary.