There are times when music can change your life, change the world even. The Beatles played the rooftop of the Apple Building, then there was Woodstock, and for a while … nothing. Then, on December 19th 2007, the world gaped in amazement as the last walls between the past and the future, between enslavement and liberty, between dogs and cats, between what people considered music before and what was defined that evening were obliterated – forever – by 5 people (rock gods) with a vision:
“When the Lights go Out” – The Black Keys (sorry)
(end of) “Helter Skelter” – The Beatles (really, really sorry)
“Your Touch” – The Black Keys (again)
“Add it Up” (Me screwing up Violent Femmes brushwork on drums)
Well it;s another year and we witnessed another stellar Anti-Pop Festival. As with previous APF’s, I was mildly aware of most of the performers and scratching my head in simian confusion over others. Again I was completely blown away by the artists and performances. This festival is truly becoming something special. More than an aggregation of similar identities, it’s a wide and varied showcase of true underground talent with amazing performances night to night and all the bands bringing it – almost in attempts to not be outdone. This atmosphere is a veritable cauldron of stewing talent, bubbling and brimming with attitude, vibe and excellent shows.
Anti-Pop Past has a rich history to uphold with past mind blowers that include; Kasabian, Brit-poppers who are stadium headliners in the U.K rocked the Social despite the sardine can conditions inside, Saul Williams, known for spoken word, devastated a packed audience with a scathing hip-hop show, and The Elected which combined Blake Sennet’s powerful songwriting and intensity in a performance that made me buy Sun, Sun, Sun the next day.
This year, the festival had its work cut out for it. I started making the rounds on Wednesday evening, beginning at The Social to check out Jim Fairchild (Grandaddy) and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion). JF’s show was an intimate acoustic gig sans the spacey flourishes Grandaddy is known for. As for Bazan, I’m just surprised at how many people are crazy about PtL.
Next at AKA Lounge, Daedelus, named after Icharus;s more sensible brother, put on an awesome show looking dapper in a white blazer. Busdriver’s intensity was reined in by maybe the worst soundboard execution my ears ever witnessed.
Thursday evening brought The Bravery to Firestone and I could hardly breathe because they stunk up the joint. Sometimes great songs can be juiced by stripped down, rocked out versions but it only emphasized The Bravery’s lack of skill. Still, it was nice to have such a big name that early in the week.
The ghost of Johnny Cash
Next I scurried down Orange Avenue to catch Unknown Hinson. Personally anyone with mutton chops (they looked to be fake which was disheartening), a pompadour, black suit, a Fender Strat in one hand and a snub nose .38 Special in the other is more than OK on my book! I was let down because he wasn’t quite as creepy as I expected but elated to find he was a true shredder with the gee-tar doing most of the talkin’.
I was anticipating Friday all week. Spoon impressed me with a wonderful set. Their glossy, well written pop was recreated nicely for an eager crowd. My one gripe is I hate when newcomers to Orlando say, “you guys are really cool‚” like they’re surprised we are not all wearing Mickey ears. Yeah, no shit Spoon.
Now I faced the biggest dilemma of the entire festival. Aesop Rock and MC Chris at midnight on opposite sides of downtown and the Tennessee 3 smack dab in the middle behind The Lodge at 12:15. Just like a real festival, the artists understand the problem and also want to be heard and stagger the performances; so as I make my way to Aesop at 11:45 he is already playing. I get in check out a few songs and vibe off the crowds intensity. Five songs in I hear “None Shall Pass‚” and beeline to MC Chris. As I move down Orange I hear music ringing off the buildings and down the avenue from every direction. This year the shows are contained to downtown Orlando lending it a more festival-like feel.
MC Chris is a complete surprise and has the AKA packed wall to wall, front to back and side to side. Everyone knows the lyrics. Crowd participation is some of the best I have seen and at one point Chris has the entire audience doing the robot on command.
I shoot out of Chris and down Court St. behind Wall Street. I see the Tennessee 3 in a semi-circle around the drum set then I notice Fighting Records man and organizer of Anti-Pop, John Youngman. He is sliding in the rear entrance as the band starts the opening lines of “Folsom Prison Blues.” “Hey can I come with you,” I shriek. I do not want to miss any of the show. I sneak in, and man I tell you, I have seen some shows my friends, but that night in the alley behind The Lodge was magical. From song to song I can’t wipe this stupid grin off my face. “Ring of Fire,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “Ghostriders in the Sky,” “Walk the Line,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” and so much more played with its original grit and Bob Wooten’s uncanny guttural mimic of Cash. To those who witnessed the show, we could close our eyes and be visited by Johnny’s ghost; it was spiritual. It was fitting to have the History Center as a back drop as everything we know about rock n roll originated with the guys on stage. Stories of playing with Elvis and Carl Perkins and walking into Sam Phillips recording studio with Cash supplemented the sublime music. Wooten’s wife explained that he is responsible for the “boom-chicka-boom” guitar riff that makes the Cash sound. Once while Wooten’s amp blew, she entertained the crowd with a solo “Hurt” (of NIN fame). Awesome! W.S Holland, Cash’s drummer for over 40 years and 70+ years old dropped a wicked drum solo! I walked away awed and glad as I was able to witness that.
Saturday Explosions in the Sky took a break from touring with the Smashing Pumpkins to fill up Firestone and play a mesmerizing set that sometimes sounded like one long song. Soliloquists of Sound headlined the Social and put on a great show. They have really come together to be a solid act with solid music, not just a guy going apeshit on a beat machine. Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think played his graceful set to an alarmingly small crowd.
Despite all that rock there were still bands I regret not seeing. The Stills, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Summerbirds (got there too late), Spacebar, my friend Thomas Wynn and his Believers, Jacksonville’s Black Kids, and IAMX were all missed. Again like a true festival, the glorious conundrum of too much great music too see and too little time.
This festival rivals and should be true competition to others. I really look forward to the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving for the great weather and the emergence of the Anti-Pop lineup. I believe John Youngman will have streets and Performing Arts Centers named after him 20 years from now for his labor of love which bestows such culture and art and action on our starving little city.
Article originally appeared in REAX #20, January 3 2007