Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rothbury Festival 2009 Happening This Weekend

by Dave "Scout" Tafoya

The Rothbury Festival is this weekend and were it not for a few names, it could almost be called "Bonnaroo North." Sun and jam bands abound, but the reason I'm interested in covering the event is the little bands, the folk rockers with no marquee value. To make it to a festival like this on the bottom half of a bill that includes Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson is no small feat, and I'm curious to know who we'll look to for our smoldering acoustic indictments of society in the future. With a handful of Canadian indie rock bands and some little guys with big hearts, the festival promises to be one of unforgettably intimate performances, even to standing crowds of a few thousand people.

Some of my favorites include...

--2020 Soundsystem: Anglo-Argentine electro rock thats half Daft Punk and half Happy Mondays. They've been filling Europe with satisfied club-goers and have recently migrated to the states to see if their drug-addled magic is transcontinental.

--Underground Orchestra: Not your average jam band, pulling from the distortion heavy, latin-tinged tradition of bands like The Mars Volta, Underground Orchestra can play 20 minute songs. But unlike the competition, they fill every corner with something interesting and rarely rest on their laurels. They can shake up a groove and they know how to use it once its alive.

--White Buffalo: Jake Smith, White Buffalo's singer/songwriter, looks he fell out of a George Romero film and sings with a voice that suggests that Eddie Vedder and Robert Fisher had a secret lovechild. His achy ballads, southern bar rock and slow-burning arrangements break hearts and make fans daily.

--Wendy Darling: Led by singer Cori Rush, San Diego's Wendy Darling play sun-baked indie country like nobody's business. Rush, whose a little bit June Carter, a little Natalie Merchant, and a lot of attitude, sounds just as capable over lazy guitar arrangements and plucky country tunes. Endearing to say the least.

--Parlor Mob: If The Veils had listened to The Guess Who instead of Madchester bands, they might sound like Parlor Mob. Kickass blues rock a la Wolfmother (but with a touch more staying power, not to mention some killer guitar solos), Parlor Mob kick and scream like few other bands as youthful. There's some Led in there, some Allman Brothers, but mostly they're a rock band I don't feel bad about liking.

--Man Man: We now arrive at the hometown pride portion of this piece. Philadelphia's zany-as-all-get-out Man Man have been charming audiences and indie rock arbiters with their quirky, baroque indie music for three or four years now. There's gypsy jazz in there, there's archaic literary references, there's a feeling I can only describe as slapstick. A unique band to be sure.

--Guster: Boston-based Guster is the one thing that hippies and I tend to agree on. They like their laid back sound and pro-environmental stance; I like that their pop songs don't last for hours on end. One of the first bands that ever made an impression on me (their third album Lost & Gone Forever = 5th grade birthday present), I've seen them when they were small, and seen them now that they're big, and I'll keep seeing them just to see what directions they head. An infinitely capable live act, Guster ensures a good time is had, but I'll be stopping by to make sure they're still doing their best.

Cold War Kids: A California band that sounds less like Brian Wilson and more like they've spent the last ten years in the brig of a 17th century pirate ship, Cold War Kids' tortured, percussive rock sound caught my attention with their three now-forgotten EPs, more so than with their debut album, 2006's Robbers & Cowards. Everything, the guitar, the bass, even Nathan Willet's voice, resemble their jagged percussion sounds, and their live shows are triumphs of atmospherics and energy.

Sam Roberts: The closest thing we have to a modern day Dylan or Lennon, Sam Roberts has been preaching positivity and love in apocalyptic times for a few years now, and his mightily impressive band have made sure that he's at the proper decibel level to be heard. Old psych rock from an old soul with very modern angst, Roberts wants everyone to drop what they're doing and question whether our hatred is worth whatever its buying us now. And if that's too much, he's got this infectious rock music you might be interested in. (Read our review on his latest here)

--MSTRKRFT: One of the more prolific DJ teams working today, MSTRKRFT have touched everything from John Legend to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I missed their live set at Coachella a few years ago, but I'm hoping their pulsing electronic set will make up for the fact that Jesse Keeler's tenure in this band means Death From Above 1979 won't be making new records anymore.

--Broken Social Scene: If you've spoken to me about music in the last six years, chances are I've brought up Broken Social Scene. The Canadian indie collective that has featured everyone from Feist to Isaac Brock at some time or another, features some impressive guitar riffs, an effective use of 'noise', and lyrics that deal with social politcs more adeptly than just about any other band to date. The only band that can examine sexuality without artifice or pride and still end in a blistering guitar solo (or two...or three).

--Willie Nelson: After I saw Phosphorescent go to town on some of Willie's better tunes, I'd been dying to catch the old master live again to compare. I've seen Willie once before, but I was too drained and distracted to give him my full attention. That won't be the case this time around, I'll be sure of it.

--Toots and the Maytals: Reggae's living legends. If you don't know them, go buy as many early Maytals records as you can. While Damian Marley seems content to sink into hippie hip-hop oblivion, Toots, the old guard, stays true to reggae's transformative power after all these years. I've been a fan since I saw Perry Henzel's reggae film The Harder They Come when I was 11; to finally see them live will be an honor and a privilege.

--Femi Kuti: Fela's son, Femi captures that same group ethos and funky music for change that his father did so well, except without the extremist undercurrent. With slick production and massive stage presence, Femi's been charming stadium crowds with his unique afro-beat sound globally since 1991.

--Bob Dylan: It's Bob Dylan, do I need a reason? I know people who don't like him who'd still like to see him live. I'm not a committed fan or anything, but a legend is a legend.

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