29 June 2009

Fest: Winners And Winners

Nephew Jackson and I are holed up in a quiet corner of Washington DC after three incredible days in Baltimore, during half of which I was too sick to move but did anyway, albeit with considerably less alacrity than I'm usually known for. Also missed, due to illness, about half the bands I really wanted to see, and half the people I really wanted to talk to, but it still added up to - and I know this refrain, repeated year after year, must get tiresome to you non-believers - Best Fest Ever.

I'll admit I had my doubts, and that they persisted well into the second, maybe even the third day. No real drop-dead headliners, half a dozen competing fests around the country, the absence of some notable Festers from years past, all seemed to conspire to create more of a low-key vibe for this year's event. Or maybe it was just a case of lowered expectations, but at some point it occurred to me that the first Fest, which some still insist was the very best of all, had virtually no expectations at all. It was just a couple hundred (if that) friends getting together in a corner bar in a desolate backstreet in Baltimore to watch each others' bands, most of which were completely unknown to about 99.99% of the American population.

The magic kicked in that time when - maybe it was during Delay, or the Copyrights, or the Steinways - it became obvious to all in attendance that unknown or not, our obscure little bands were at that moment making some of the best music in the world. Three years later the size of the audience, the number of bands, the venues, the stages, all have tripled, quadrupled, even quintupled. Delay, the Copyrights and the Steinways are now old standbys, and might only be unknown to 99.95% of the American public, but otherwise, not much has really changed. Each of those bands, not to mention a dozen or more new arrivals, is still capable of standing the Fest on its collective ear, and that's exactly what happened, again and again again, until any remaining doubts or fears or hesitations were, in the words of old Mr. Dylan, driven deep beneath the waves, until we could forget about today until tomorrow.

There's also those bits about dancing beneath the diamond sky, one hand waving free, far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow, etc. etc., but even if we are talking about the pop-punk Woodstock, I'll spare you any more hippie blather (but man, that young Dylan could write a song; how in the hell did he turn into a gnarly tuneless old pseudo-blues grump?): now tomorrow's here and the full magnitude, the full excellence of yesterday's today begins to dawn on us.

Ironically - tragically, even, though not perhaps for those of us wishing to do something else with the next 72 or so hours of our lives - the PPMB, where the Fest would normally be being hashed and rehashed until readers' eyes bled, has crashed, possibly in response to everyone's simultaneous attempts to post their favorite photos, videos and recollections, along with the annual fevered debate over who "won" the Fest. So although I don't have much in the way of photos or videos, I'll have to settle that question for you here.

The answer, of course, is that we all won, the only losers being those who couldn't, due to obligations or financial hardship, or wouldn't, due to sheer oblivious bloody-mindedness, make it to Baltimore. But I said no more hippie blather, and I almost meant it, so here's a few of the high points; apart from my illness, I don't think there were any lows, though some of the walking wounded I saw staggering away late Saturday night may feel differently.

Thursday night undeniably belonged to The Max Levine Ensemble, whose Weasel-skewering antics won over even that portion of the crowd that was completely unaware of the band's feud with/vendetta against the Godfather of Pop-Punk himself. The background is that sometime last year, Mr. Weasel, apparently in response to hearing me praise TMLE so highly, checked them out and found them, shall we say, not to his liking. Among his more colorful remarks, delivered on his popular Weasel Radio broadcast, was, "If this band was a horse, I'd take it out and shoot it."

Most of us working in the genre would be, at the least, crestfallen at being so definitively damned by one of our idols, but the Max Levine boys managed to recover sufficiently from their depression to kick off their appearance on the Ottobar stage with a deadly medley of Screeching Weasel classics ("Hey Suburbia", "Cool Kids", and "I Wanna Be A Homosexual") that, despite the TMLE's being only a three-piece (OG Weasel had four members), managed to capture almost perfectly the sound and spirit of the Weasels' late-80s/early 90s heyday. They followed that up with the announcement of their "split single" with Ben Weasel, the cover of which featured a cartoon rendition of the Weaselmeister himself sporting an "I heart Max Levine" t-shirt. "Are we gonna get sued?" they wondered privately, but considering that the net worth of the band would barely pay for pressing up 300 copies of the limited edition 7", probably not.

TMLE were followed immediately by their brother band Delay, and at the close of Delay's set came back to join them for a finale that, even though both bands are firmly rooted in the 21st century stripped-down DIY punk rock mode, could teach a thing or three to the 1970s Dinosaurs of Rock generation about how to put on an arena show. If the Fest had ended Thursday night, it would have been Max Delay FTW hands down and no questions asked.

But technically speaking, that was only the "pre-show," and about 25 hours and 75 bands still lay ahead. Friday belonged to the Steinways and the Copyrights from what I saw, but an awful lot of people whose opinions I trust swear it was the Dopamines who ruled the day, if not the entire Fest (this was one of the many moments I missed due to my tragic illness). I had to drag myself back from my deathbed just before the Steinways to do my own turn on stage with SUCIDIE, during which Matt Lame's eyes bulged out further than ever before seen in public (see the photographic evidence here) and I managed to sing an old Lookouts song without falling over, dropping my guitar, or having a nervous breakdown, all of which could be expected to happen when I actually was in the Lookouts.

By Saturday I was mostly recovered, thankfully, because this was the day that really delivered the goods. I mean, nothing, really nothing could be said to have gone wrong with that day, the bands kept getting better and better, and I witnessed some performances that I'm pretty sure will be emblazoned on my memory till the day I die. Dear Landlord set the bar pretty high early on, but then came the Leftovers, four-Fest veterans who spanned at least four generations in their 60s-meet-the-2000s rock and roll sweatfest-cum-tent-show-revival. I first saw these kids when they were skipping school to come down and play house shows in New York and marveling at the wonders of Ikea ("We don't have anything like that up in Maine"); now, at 21 or 22 frontman Kurt Baker can work a room with the likes of James Brown up in heaven. I went crazy. Everybody did.

That should have been it, with the rest of the Fest being anticlimax, but then I walked in on the Kepi show. This longtime Ghoulie, now solo and/or with-whatever-band happens-to-turn-up act has been getting better and better these past couple years, but Saturday night was just completely sublime and transcendent, closing with about half a dozen (maybe it was a whole dozen) guest artists joining in for a finale that collapsed time and broke down all the barriers. I was laughing, I was crying, I was dancing like crazy: these are the moments when you not only want to live forever, but see no plausible reason why you can't. Kepi FTW. I don't think any further discussion is necessary or possible.

Not that there wouldn't be hours more of brilliance to come, and if I had hours more to write about it, I'd say tons more. But we're here visiting in Washington for the day, and Jackson and I want to get out and see stuff, so let me just quickly mention a few other highlights, like Squirtgun's cover of "The Science of Myth" featuring several former Weasels and at least one present-day one, Pansy Division doing a straight-up rock set that completely won over the pop-punkers, the Methadones doing one of their best sets ever, Lost Locker Combo with pushbrooms cleaning up their own mess before the club could even notice it was there, Sick Sick Burgers, my nephew and Tre Uncool (both at their first Fest ever) attacking and thrashing Matt Lame, the parking lot congregation that seems to be one of the best parts of every Fest, and one of my personal favorites: Paddy from Dillinger 4, with whom I've exchanged a few less than flattering words, seeking me out after the Fest to mend fences, bury the hatchet, and in general comport himself like the gentleman I should never have doubted he was. Prince of a fellow. Okay, that's it for now; I'm off to see the nation's capital. If you want to see DeutschMarc's incredible gallery of FestFotos, look here. Have a great day!


Man of Infirmity said...

I've got to say, that was definitely one of the most enjoyable sets I've ever played with LLC.

Chadd Derkins said...

Sucidie slayed, Larry. Good work. Playing when you don't feel good is the worst, and you soldiered through it like a champ!

Anonymous said...

Which Lookouts song did you play? Why did you choose it?

Larry Livermore said...

"Living Behind Bars". I didn't choose it, Matt Lame did. One of the good parts about being in this band is that I don't have to make any decisions. I just do what I'm told.