Wednesday, September 14, 2005

ArthurFest 2005 Day 1

ArthurFest was held at Barnsdall Art Park... which is on a hill in Hollywood, CA, on September 4th and 5th. There were three stages, the Lawn Stage (mainstage, outside, with decent viewage from a drinking area with daytime shade), the Pine Stage (outside, in the entrance (columns and a raised concrete area) of some building, surrounded by trees which is nice for shade but bad for viewing) and the Barnsdall Gallery Theater (inside, limited to the 299 seats.) I rode out from Phoenix with some folks I had hitched a ride to Coachella with and we stayed at a parent's house in Mission Viejo (or something like that.)

I was expecting a small festival and I was still surprised by how few people were there. I've heard that they had a sold-out crowd of 2,000 each day; it was a small area so it certainly wasn't empty, empty, at least once it got dusky.

The first band I saw was Radar Brothers, they sounded much more mellow than I had expected. A very indie, almost Brit-pop feel. They were on the Lawn Stage, and, in fact, I didn't see more than a song or two from the other stages all day on Sunday (there wasn't a chance of me getting into the Gallery Theater to see Merzbow with the lines and other bands I wanted to see.)

After they finished up we wandered around the grounds to see if we had missed anything... finding that we really hadn't. There wasn't a central merch area but there was a booth selling ArthurFest T-shirts and make-your-own t-shirts (with patches and such) as well as various scattered inconstant, unstable other artist/label tables. We then decided that we should've stopped for food before coming in and set to choosing from the options at the three avaiable food booths. It was all expensive (even compared to other festival/venue prices) but my pita and humous was good enough.

While finishing eating we heard Wolfmother come on. They are an Australian heavy stoner/psych-rock group that sounded pretty strong if not terribly exciting. It was still worth moving closer for, though.

It was around this time that I ran into some friends from L.A. (I knew they were coming, but) and we moved to the shaded over-21 area by the Lawn stage for talking and cards and, well, a total lack of $7 beers. We were in a good place to hear the wanderings of Sunburned Hand of the Man... a band with a huge cast of characters that appeared (to the untrained eye) to be randomly noodling, though not in a jam-band sort of way... we're talking about a deeper haze, heavier sedation, and bursts that are louder and cooler. You couldn't always tell that they weren't just warming up... but when they hit it was pretty sweet.

Last time I saw Sleater-Kinney, the Black Keys opened for them. It was the same sequence here, with Sonic Youth closing out the night.

The Black Keys are a guitar/drums rocky blues band (wholly different from the White Stripes, who are a sometimes-bluesy rock band.) Their set was yummy. I'm no more familiar with them than I was back in 2003 so the main difference for me here was that Dan was longhaired and cleanshaven.

I knew S-K were going to focus on their new songs but I was surprised that they didn't even touch any of their "old material" (defined as anything before One Beat.) Corin had a bit of a sore throat and there were other sound issues (see below) but the songs still sounded strong. At times, though, the new heavy psych guitar and rocking aspects seemed just a touch embarassing, really. They've still written great songs (that do well with the more aggresive sound) but I've heard this sort of guitar done better before (a lot.) I dunno, I've never had a problem with the album so it could just be a live issue.

Setlist: The Fox, Wilderness, Jumpers, Far Away, Modern Girl, Rollercoaster, What's Mine Is Yours, Oh, Let's Call It Love, Entertain.

Just to be clear, though, I was still very happy to see them.

Sonic Youth closed out the night with the my favorite set of the festival, partially because it was a good 100 minutes long. Thurston wasn't quite as on as when I saw them at the Marquee in Phoenix but he was still a wonder to watch. Kim sounded a little rough (at least partially due to mic issues) but she was still a bundle of energy, bouncing and spinning around. The setlist included Rain On Tin, Drunken Butterfly, Schizophrenia, I Love You Golden Blue, Pattern Recognition (plus a couple other Sonic Nurse tracks) plus the ever-popular closer, "Teenage Riot plus 15 minutes of guitars being rubbed/struck/rested upon/bounced over available objects."

We were up in front (between the soundboard and the stage) for the last three sets which was good for watching facial expressions, interaction and the actual playing of the instruments... but it wasn't a good thing for the sound. Everything sounded boomy and the vocals were hard to hear to the point that most of the time I had to fill them in myself (in my head, that is.) At times it also sounded (or, rather, didn't sound) like the toms weren't miked. Note: I suspected but didn't test the notion that the sound with be much, much better back by/behind the soundboard until the following day during Spoon. Seeing what's going on up on stage is most of why I go to shows; pristine, predictable sound is available on CDs, you know.

A review of Monday to follow... eventually.


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