M3F Day Three: Recap
By Jason Shoff
For those of you that read my Saturday recap, one thing was probably clear: electronic music isn’t my thing. Nothing against the genre, I respect it as an art form; it’s just not my bag. Sunday’s MMMF line-up, however, was chock-full of the kind of alt-country, blues and folk rock artists that are a bit more in my personal wheelhouse, and was the perfect music for a sunny Sunday afternoon (although I will say that wearing jeans was a huge mistake on my part).
The laid-back vibe of the day was felt as soon as I entered with Ruca’s set on the second stage. Her music has always reminded me of a reggae-tinged Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes with its communal, jam-session feel, and based on the crowd’s reaction, it was a natural fit for the day’s line-up. L.A.’s Bird Dog also had a similar mellow, back porch feel, with music that was more akin to the Topanga Canyon rock of the ‘60s than most anything coming out today. The band was also in good spirits, probably owing to the fact that singer/guitarist Max Helmerich is about to become a father in three weeks or so. “This song is about knocking my wife up,” he told the crowd, “so maybe you’ll learn something if you listen close.” Since the song was by far their slowest, and softest, let’s hope he doesn’t mean that the act of conception was uneventful. They also had a song in their set that served as an ode to chicken fried steak called, well, “Chicken Fried Steak.”
Thankfully Huckleberry’s set was lacking any TMI band member details, instead playing a set comprised of all of the songs from their brand new EP, Shasta City, Bad New Ricky. Released only a few weeks ago, all of the songs sound great in a live setting: “Shasta” could have been ripped straight off of Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses album, “Wild Ricky” is Blur-via-Pavement and filtered through Nashville, “Bad News” is their road trip song in the vein of ‘Six Days on the Road,” and “City of Angels” is the most honky tonk thing they’ve ever done. They also treated the crowd to songs from their last album, Problems, and the Nilsson-esque “Handle Me.” All in all, it was probably one of their strongest sets that I’ve seen them perform.
Austin, TX’s The Oh Hellos were up next on the main stage, and are another band that has an avid supporter in our own Spike Brendle. While I wasn’t as immediately convinced of their awesomeness like I was with St. Lucia, they won me over with a high-energy set that reminded me of a bluegrass version of Arcade Fire. Led by the sibling duo of Maggie and Tyler Heath, their voices blend seamlessly together, Maggie’s voice especially possessing a beautiful, Joni Mitchell-like quality to it. In terms of the writing, most of the songs they played followed a similar formula, starting off quietly before building to a roaring crescendo. Yet tunes like the folk rave-up of “Exeunt” and the thunderous hoedown of “Soldier, Poet, King” prove that they have the potential to rise above the many Mumford and Sons-esque bands that fill the indie scene and leave their own mark.
While The Oh Hellos had a familiar sound, the award for the most, umm, different band of the weekend goes to the Alabama’s firekid. His set started off normal enough, playing a couple of country hip-hop songs about his home state, things got real interesting when he told the crowd that “sometimes we playing music straight out of a Gameboy.” This led to a tune that sounded like someone had recorded a 32-bit cover of an Uncle Kracker song, which then merged into a cover of the theme from Tetris (hey, I give the guy props for originality).
It was at this moment that I headed over to the main stage, as I didn’t want to risk missing any of Gary Clark Jr.’s set. Billed for years as being the “next Hendrix,” he’s been getting more exposure in the mainstream the past few years, thanks to a few critically acclaimed albums and an opening spot on the last Foo Fighters tour (in addition to playing on their last few records). But even all of the hype didn’t prepare me for what I witnessed; 90 minutes of hotshot playing and guitar heroics that let everyone in attendance know that he’s a force to be reckoned with. His set also displayed quite a bit of versatility, as well, going from the full-on assault of “When My Train Pulls In” and the roadhouse blues of “Travis County” to the sleek R&B balladry of “Stay” and the urban funk of “The Healing” without missing a beat. But as much as Clark Jr. had my jaw dropped wide open, I was also equally impressed with his rhythm guitarist, King Zapata, who added some nice textures and interplay and also had moments to shine throughout, as well, particularly on the slide guitar. Suffice to say, after an hour and a half of witnessing the best guitar playing that I’ve ever heard live, I can’t believe that he’s not a superstar by now, a household name on the level of Dave Grohl. Let’s hope that changes very soon.
After all of the rawk that I had just listened to, The Haymarket Squares’ normal punkgrass certainly felt like a quiet change of pace by comparison. That’s not to say that they weren’t intense; in fact, guitarist John Luther Norris broke a guitar string only two songs in. But their politically charged brand of rock was perfect for the festival crowd, whether they were making a solid case to “Jump the Border” to convincing those to step away from their various screens and cause a “Righteous Ruckus.” Their set even caused one festival goer to shout “I bet you’re probably communist,” which in all honesty is probably the highest compliment you could probably pay these guys.
Needless to say, all of the intense music that I had listened to for the past few hours (both in terms of lyrics and playing) made The Avett Brothers sound a tad bit disappointing by comparison. That’s not to say they were horrible, but for the first few songs of just the basic trio performing, there was nothing that captivated me. It also didn’t help that “Laundry Room” was marred with sound difficulties, after which the band decided to play a brand new song that featured just bass, drums and vocals from members of their touring band. It sounded like their attempt to write a Jackson 5-style Motown song, but it sounded incredibly clunky. “That was a brand new song,” Scott Avett told the crowd, “and you’re the only people that we’ve played it in front of.” And honestly, IMO, it should stay that way (though it turns out that it’s actually “Ain’t No Man,” the first single off of their upcoming album, True Sadness. Let’s hope it’s better). Things started to turn around, however, with “Shame,” an Appalachian-style folk song with direct lyrics about lost love that really hit you with their simplicity. The rest of their set switched between the basic trio and the full-band, which added some much needed weight and gravitas to songs like “The Fall,” “Down With the Shine,” and a very effective cover of George Jones’ “The Race is On.” But in the end, while I think that it would have been better if The Avett Brothers and Gary Clark Jr. swapped places in the line-up (and I’d give the band another chance and see them in a more intimate venue), it was still an effective finale to what turned out to be a great weekend of music.