Bull City Head Quarters, Durham
April 18, 2009
There is a special place in my heart for minimalist rock and there is no more special an event to witness it than at the annual Duo-Fest in Durham. On Saturday at 3 PM duo bands from the triangle and some from outer space assembled for half hour long sets alternating between a bedraggled gravely concrete and unmistakably urban outside stage, and the mechanized work shop surroundings of BCHQ's inside stage. Ear plugs in or lighters out, my eyes were open and here is what I saw.
First to fire were Chapel Hill instrumental radicals, Battle Rockets. Maneuvering within experimental dream sequences and luring refrains, Battle Rockets positioned the audience off guard before rising to deliver their gut punching draconian choruses which immersed the room with a wall of sound so colored with tone that it deserved a frame. Like all good instrumentalist groups, with the pretense of a story told through vocals removed from the equation, their arrangements become more complex and their complexity becomes more intriguing.
The crowd now building numbers, scurried toward the sound of acoustic strings being plucked as Sawteeth McTweedy warmed up on the outside stage. McTweedy introduced their brand of neo folk music in the most gorgeous weather of the year and went on to set the bar of expectations up high for gorgeous days yet to emerge. Their magical set of acoustic hammer-on soul and irresistible breaks took every advantage of the beautiful atmosphere to bear a "you would have had to be there" performance. Interchangeable on drums or strings, Ruth Eckles and Joe Rizzolo took the mic for three songs each and captivated a half hour of time that will stay locked in memory for ever.
My festival survival rules are, I don't walk when I can sit, I don't sit when I can lay down, (and for that matter I don't just lay down when I can sleep, but with guitars screaming I nary get that opportunity.) So Back inside for Greensboro art rock duo Basalt, I took a seat against the wall to save the legs for the long day ahead. My first impression of Basalt was one of intrigue. It's difficult to place a genre here but the glassy reverberated guitar, sparkly high-hat drum ticks and lofty near-falsetto vocals gave me a vintage disco lounge diva meets rock feel and the feeling was good.
Next up on the outside stage was the mathematical impossibility of Scientific Superstar. Attempting to count how many ways this band breaks the boundaries of the conventional while making alluring danceable hooky engaging strange music will over load your processor. The over-driven bass, standing drummer, terracotta percussion instrument (which shattered on queue at the end of the set, I have a piece), weird synth and looped up recorded messages are just the beginning indication that these guys are not aware of any boundaries.
Fortress of Swatches
Affixing ear plugs before heading back inside for the Wilmington, NC based garage spazz rock Fortress of Swatches, between songs my eye balls stopped rattling long enough to make out a Marshall JCM2000 sitting atop two cabs. Others tried, but this group wins the prize for loudest duo at the festival. Interchangeable on both drums and strings, They each create a base of fuzz and electricity from which they layer heat and super sonic noise. Thirty minutes was just what I needed to blow the cobwebs out. Invigorated (and slightly deaf) I stepped out the back for the next set.
Pardon me if I appear biased toward the next band. The acoustic ballads and heart-felt stories told by Sequoya was a highlight of the festival for me. Bonnie and Matthew are of genuine folk archetype and their kindred music of folklore and life lessons behaves universally. With more substance and less awareness of self, Bonnie's voice is reminiscent of Jewel. My advice, check out "weary" and check out "rocket" and then check it all out.
Victor Victor Band
Drawing a crowd of vintage guitar rig aficionados before the set was the pleasant surprise of the day Victor Victor Band, a completely hooked up blues rock duo who most closely resemble the style which the masses relate to when the term "rock duo" is mentioned. With blues riffs caked in vintage tube tone and cuter-than-meg drummer girl stomping the kick (and pressing the keys) this band easily draws comparisons. I won't mention any names but I can further describe them as white, and I also think I recall Jamie's shirt having stripes. It's the recommendation of this blogger to have a listen to Victor Victor Band.
Danielle Victor of Victor Victor Band (drums and keyboard)
NASA has stated that with a lens powerful enough, mankind could peer into the past by viewing remnants of reflected light billions of light-years from earth, or we can just ask Space Lab, cause guess what? They are already out there. Space Lab performed one of the most enrapturing performances at the festival. Thirty minutes felt like a time warp as these two magicians peered their bionic tables of wires, knobs and analogousness turning the entire night into a giant robotic mind trip. Word.
The Saint Peter Pocket Veto
The only thing more unique than The Saint Peter Pocket Vetofront man Bran Nieboer's finger board style guitar playing is the pink Gibson he plays it on. This high energy noise punk instrumental group stacks layer upon layer of riff heavy sound incorporating the occasional un-amplified vocal scream which barely audible above the screech and ream of distorted guitar, held its own as a meaningful addition to their spectrum of sound.
With dusk in full effect the crowd trickled outside in preparation to watch and listen to Beloved Binge, the hometown duo favorite whom can be described as the smallest band of gypsies in existence at (2). With their classic pop-up-top hippie van parked in the drive and a kiddy xylophone under the microphone, Beloved Binge delivered a pop culture collage of whimsical folk tunes, jangly guitar, and drum stick brushes which struck everything from guitar strings to keyboard keys, an ensemble that expanded the culture of the evening and caught more camera flashes than the Beatles at Shea Stadium. (You know what I mean.)
All Your Science
Readers need only scroll this blog down a couple of pages to see how I feel about All Your Science. I was reminded again of their ALTERNATIVE VEX MARKING this group melees as the Back Pack Drum Set documentary was screened before their set. Drummer Z-Man, a genuine minimalist, has adopted a bicycle only lifestyle and has not only adjusted his life and work to comply, but his art as well. Constructing a rock drum kit by hand which is fully transportable in a back pack, Dave eliminates the need for an automobile even for transportation to gigs and rehearsals. The documentary not only highlights a unique approach to life by one man, but introduces Z-Man as an utterly likable personality and down to earth activist. As for their set, nothing short of spectacular. AYS provided a much anticipated prelude to their forth coming unnamed album by playing one unnamed track, a twangy gem which alludes to AYS re-inventing themselves. I am on pins and needles.
Under the cover of dark a folklore legend took the stage and proved the point that dynamite comes in small packages. Front woman Jean Smith of Kill Rock Stars artist Mecca Normal ran the lengths of emotion and took her audience with. Side splitting laughter at her dirty jokes one minute and heart wrenching sorrow in her stories the next, I became mesmerized by her sheer magnitude of presence. I've always said that I like to listen to songs told by people who have been more places I have been and seen more things than I have seen and suffice to say, these were them songs. Jean Smith is the more enlightened among us and captivates the crowd with her worldly prominence. With wisdom abound, it was interesting to note that the majority of her songs told stories about her own life and times as a single woman dating and living in Seattle as opposed to imparting political or cultural theory. She sang in the moment and placed as much value on personal virtue and being happy as we anticipated that she would place on cultural change. This performance was a rare treat.
Trophy Wife are adorable post grunge scremo hypnotic psychedelic bad ass chicks from D.C. and because their guitarist broke a string on her axe by thrashing and destroying, we also discovered that they are funny as shit. The witty banter whilst changing out a string ranged from the best worst joke of all time to embarrassing stories of meeting Dave Grohl. OK here is the joke, “what does the egg say to the pot of boiling water? It may take me a while to get hard, I just got laid by that chicken over there”...bwa ha ha ha ha. None the less, a little screamo is always a good thing if for no other reason than it reminds you that screamo exists.
Veelee, another instrumentally interchangeable girl/guy duo brought a big drum sound, sparkly and hooky. Two distinct and equatable sounds were noted depending on whom of Ginger or Matt were on the mic. Their biggest asset on Saturday was stage presence and chemistry, it showed that they enjoyed making their music and invited the audience to enjoy watching. I dig the guitars and Matt has a sweet one, Fender American Telecaster Thinline Deluxe reissue, which is cool and by cool, I mean totally sweet.
Veelee's Ginger. Duo-Fest promoter Dave Cantwell in background
The Curtains of Night
The Curtains of Night closed the event the same way it began, with a handful of die hard minimalist rock fans huddled in a little room eyes peered at the stage. Curtains is the ultimate head banging duo, Nora Rogers' double amp stack drenches the room with power chords deftly fingered on, in my opinion, the most beautiful guitar ever made, a fireglo 600 series six-string Rickenbacker with dual high gain pick-ups. It looks like a 67’ fastback Shelby Mustang disguised as a guitar. The only distraction from the beauty was the amazing drumming skill of Laura Fitzpatrick, which was so utterly inspiring that it makes me want to play drums.
Nora Rogers' Fireglo 600 series Rickenbacker
A few hand shakes later, it was lights out at BCHQ. This event was spectacularly successful in upholding the values of minimalist rock. It was moderate and artistic, DIY and un-polished, self promoted and un-sponsored, and it held its head high while keeping on the down low. Congrats to everyone who participated, bands, fans, and promoters. Nicely done!