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Festival Review:: 4Knots Music Festival

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4Knots Festival
Pier 84, New York NY
July 11, 2015

It’s summer. Have you noticed? You can tell because it’s hot out. I usually feel that this is the time of the year for classic rock and old-school hip hop. Y’know, barbecue stuff.

What I don’t usually think of is Indie rock. It’s more of a winter-y music to me, introverted stuff for staying inside and thinking about how sad you are with your overwrought feelings. When the sky is blue and even people like me (choosing to live in a city with public transportation so I don’t have to drive) fantasize about bumping up the speakers on an open-topped car, there seems like no good reason for the warm blankets of guitar fuzz. Why mumble your lyrics when you can shout them at the top of your lungs?

That being said, it’s an impressive feat of the Village Voice in putting together a festival worthy of Indie rock bands that exemplify summer in the best way. Youthful energy, fast guitars, and poppy melodies combined to create a sound that I would refer to as “surf-rock” if it seemed like any of the people onstage in their ripped jeans and introverted stances had ever surfed in their lives.

It’s a type of music that I forget about sometimes, even though it’s huge. The chilled out middle, in between pop bangerz and morose stuff for banging your head on the wall. Finding a way to turn waves of static into just plain waves. Using that rhythmic alt-rock bass line and tight jittery drumming to maybe make you want to dance, but not in a way that makes you look like a fool.

Maybe this is the stuff you listen to all the time, and I sound like an idiot for forgetting it’s there. But it’s an obvious thing that’s worth being reminded of anyway. On a day like July 11, in a place like Pier 84 on the Hudson River, with a collection of bands that are this green and just excited to be playing a crowd of this size, everything clicks.

Looking forward to this festival, I was most excited for the headliners Stephen Malkmus (former lead singer of Pavement) and his newer band The Jicks, and reunited Welsh psych-pop weirdos Super Furry Animals. Both legacy acts, with members’ ages reaching into their forties, and therefore people whose best albums came in a century with completely different digits.

Compared to the beauty of youth that pervaded the first half a dozen bands at the festival, these bands, hitting the stage as the cerulean sky faded into navy at dusk, were adults. They were a little tighter and better at their instruments, which was sort of a shame. Compared to the eagerness of the bands during the day, these evening groups made me wonder what’s the point of putting a solid, good show when there’s so much more fun to be had with a sloppy mess.


Lineup:

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Surfbort – A beached zombie tried to yell as loud as possible. She wanted everything loud. Her bandmates were up to the challenge to varying degrees. She dragged the guitarist along with a leash around her collar. The guitarist seemed overwhelmed by this. It felt metaphorical. C

Heavens – An indie rock dad in reflective sunglasses led a revival of the early-aughts post-punk revival that I was all about in early high school. That is fine with me. They sounded like the beach, though they didn’t look like they’d enjoy actually being there. The bassist was the platonic ideal of a bassist. He had long hair that covered his face and allowed him to be completely in his own world. He sweat through his shirt and it made the shape of a heart over his heart. B

Heaters
– Heaters turned their amps up to eleven, and then put feedback loops on each of the squawks that came out of them, and turned on the kind of distorted, reverb that I like. They were three dudes with lots of hair and heads ready to shake. The fuzz from their guitar came out in rolling waves, and their long locks rolled in time as if being pushed by the air coming out of the speakers. Every note rang out for longer than it takes you to read this review. Every outro became the next song’s intro. Every song sounded a little the same, but that’s understandable because the reverberations of the previous song were still audible when they were half-way through the next. B

Meatbodies – Some henchmen from Transylvannia went on summer vacation. They formed a band, and tried to have as much fun as possible. Grizzled-looking dudes with hair meant for headbanging sang catchy melodies, and they sang them with an adorable two-singer harmony that I didn’t expect from dudes this heavy. It was great to see someone looking like Igor having this much fun, and to hear the guitars chugga-chugga-chugga with the kind of thuggish skronk that you can’t escape if you grew up in a lightning-struck stone castle overlooking a treacherous ravine. Every now and then one of the guitarists would launch into a metallic solo—meedly-meedly-meedly on the high frets all the way up on the neck—and sorta shrug. “Oh am I blowing your mind with my guitar pyrotechnics? Oops! What a silly thing!” Then his guitar strap would fall off, he’d look at it for a second as if he was going to stop playing and put it back on, and then decide to just play harder to make up for it. They sounded like the Buzzcocks but with more distortion and some drop-D tuning. That’s among the best things I can ever say about anyone. A

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Happyness – One band member: “I dunno man. I feel like this song is only okay. We need to punch it up a bit.”
Other band member: “What if we add just enough distortion that it sounds like it’s more interesting, but not in a way that gives it any sort of actually interesting texture?
One band member: “OK cool. Also, I’ll play piano on one of the slower songs. Not like, a more emotional song or anything like that. Just a song that lets everyone take a break.”
Other band member: “Sure. Why not? And when you do that, we can switch to opposite sides of the stage and hug in the middle.”
One band member: “Yeah that sounds adorable.”
Me: It totally was. Definitely the highlight of their set, which other than—OH WAIT IS THAT AN 8-YEAR-OLD IN THE CROWD WITH A SCREAMING FEMALES SHIRT AND A SLIPKNOT HAT? THAT KID IS AMAZING AND HAS GREAT HAIR! Oh right. There’s a band playing. I almost forgot. D

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Screaming Females – The name is a misnomer. The Screaming Females are actually only ⅓ female and that ⅓ also does all the screaming. She does enough screaming for the other two dudes and maybe 4 extra band members as well. Marissa Paternoster is the loudest girl on the planet. She’s a fireball with a guitar on overdrive, and she has a bassist and drummer working their absolute hardest to harness the heat without getting everyone burned. They’re trying to keep up with her energy, and there’s no shame in saying that they fail, because it’s impossible to keep rhythm for a hurricane. She isn’t playing her guitar. She beats it until it screams in anger and she makes it look easy. A

Mikal Cronin – This guy looks like my friend Josh; both of them look like Bighead from HBO’s Silicon Valley. He also looks like he’s got his shit together. He had a band full of people who played music like it was their job. I say this to mean both that they played extremely well and also that they didn’t really show enthusiasm beyond what was needed to do so. They definitely enjoyed being up there, but also weren’t there because they enjoyed being up there. The songs were relatively straightforward pop songs, with just enough accoutrements to make them feel a little “alternative”–little bits of screech and feedback between verses, slightly unexpected structure–but not enough to derail the hooks. I’ve been meaning to check out Cronin’s albums for a little while now. After seeing him, I definitely should, but will probably get around to it no sooner than I would have before. B-

Twin Peaks – Right when this band was starting, I spilled my beer all over myself in a somewhat cartoonish fashion that made the festival staff who saw me point and laugh. It left me pissed off and smelling of beer, which was luckily exactly the state to be in for Twin Peaks. The band is young (far younger than the TV show they’re named after, I have to guess), loud, and exuberant. They are so enthusiastic that it wouldn’t have mattered if they didn’t know how to play their instruments. They did, and they ably put on a show of solid, stripped down punk tunes, but with the level of fun they were having onstage, they could have just smashed their guitars with hammers and it would have been great. Every song was their best one and every note was a climax. Yelling, writhing on the floor, and pouring with sweat, they rocked. A-

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Back in high school, Pavement’s debut album, Slanted & Enchanted was my favorite album of all time. Seeing the singer whose slacker whine and meandering guitar defined my adolescence was a big deal. Of course, Pavement has been gone for almost two decades, long enough for Malkmus to have played with the Jicks more than he ever played with them.
But hey, I like the Jicks. I was really into Face The Truth back when that came out, and I thought their newest album was pretty good, with Malkmus singing a nice Lou Reed impression.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks played and I could never forget the ampersand. There’s a pretty solid drummer, bassist, and rhythm guitarist/keyboardist, but they play with their eyes glued on Stephen. He’s the power source, and he’s unfortunately not always up to that level of life-giving energy. He’s given a chance to solo on every song, and although I still love the way his guitar work zigzags around like it did on Pavement albums and the Silver Jews records he used to moonlight on, it really sounds like work now. The meandering spirit has been isolated to the point where it no longer feels playful. It’s amazing how little his amazingly youthful voice has changed in the course of my entire life time, but with songs that get this plodding, the bored affectation that always made his singing interesting just takes over, and stops anyone in the band from getting enough energy to have much fun. C+

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Super Furry Animals – SFA came out once it was fully dark, along with a full use of the multi-colored lighting apparatus that had been there for all of the bands but had seemed completely frivolous. They wore baggy white full bodysuits that looked like they belonged to NASA that shone with all the rainbows projected onto them.There were props–Power Ranger helmets, signs calling for “Applause”, and, for the encore, super furry costumes to fit their namesake.

The visual gimmicks were fun, but also clearly incidental to the performance they were putting on. There was very little going on visually in the music – they played the songs without much dancing, posing, or intense showmanship. They were a reunion touring band (straight from their first show in six years at Glastonbury) and their attitude was clearly that they didn’t need any of that silliness. They played the great songs they wrote twenty years ago, and they played them well. They already made it to being rock stars, so who needs to show off? What more could you want?

For someone like me who is really into the Animals psychedelic weirdness version of what is often labeled “Britpop” (even if they were Welsh), it was easy to be happy with what they gave us. The band played with the confidence of not just headliners but of returning champions, and the skill of people who had played these songs hundreds of times before. It would be ridiculous for me to gripe about seeing “Do Or Die,” my favorite of their songs, with the intensity of their musicianship and the added bonus of a great freakout from the rainbow lights.

But the best thing about the Super Furry Animals has always been their exuberance, the real sense of weirdness and fun that made them twice as interesting as their supposed peers Oasis and Blur while the other two were sucking up all the attention. And in a day where the feeling of youthful summer pervaded, where less good bands put on way better shows on the strength of their excitement at playing for a crowd like this, it was hard to feel the same level of enthusiasm about a legacy act like this, even one whose legacy I admire so much. B+

Review and photos by Jon Hecht

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