Saturday in the Swamp: From Canines to Specters
Dr. Dog’s Afternoon Delight
By Sara Miller
Around 5:30 on Saturday afternoon, the sun began to set at our backs, bathing the five members of Dr. Dog in an orange-rosy glow that perfectly complemented the Philadelphia group’s jangly, happy, ‘60s-inspired pop rock. Even in the setting sunshine, there was a chill in the breezy air early Saturday evening—not that singer/guitarist Scott McMicken minded, as he unironically sported an ear-flapped lumberjack hat and was clearly having a blast, coaxing gorgeous tones out of his hollow-body guitar while skittering around the stage like a jumping bean. The band’s Beach Boys-worthy four-part harmonies hitched a ride on the solid, steady grooves of drummer Juston Stens and organist Zach Miller—the only member of the band without a microphone. “There are so many things that I would love to turn you on to,” they sang in “Easy Beat,” and from the sound of the small but enthusiastic crowd gathered at the indie-centric Chickee Hut stage, nobody walked away without taking a few sparks of Dr. Dog’s kinetic energy with them.
Ben Folds Keeps Bangin’
By Sara Miller
Oh, Ben Folds. In high school, I spent hours upon hours listening to the super-fine recordings of your old band, Ben Folds Five, amazed that someone had the cojones not only to create a piano-anchored indie-rock band, but to lug a full-figured baby-grand piano on tour and bang away on the old thing in every dingy little club across the Eastern seaboard. Despite your obvious love for the instrument, you treated it with anything but reverence, reaching in to stroke the strings with your microphone, slamming your forearm across the entire length of the ebony and ivory, and—perhaps most famously—rearing back and launching your stool in the general direction of the keys needed to sound the final chord of “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” (or, for the old-school, “Philosophy").
That was in 1997. Although “artistic differences” drove Ben Folds Five apart in 2000, Folds still packs his set with songs from the band’s catalog: Saturday’s show included “Dwarf,” plus “Kate,” “Army,” “Song For the Dumped” and a totally awesome, hyperextended, blown-speakers version of “Narcolepsy,” from the final Ben Folds Five album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. Folds’ natural showmanship and willingness to pander to his decidedly nerdy audience has eased the music’s transition from dark bars to festival field audiences, and he’s got that cool-dork charm fully on display at Langerado—he covered Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” fer cryin’ out loud. Later, he and the band closed out the high-energy set with “One Angry Dwarf,” and yes, there was indeed stool-slamming; even though he’s been doing it for so long that it’s become cliche, it’s distinctively his cliche.
During “Not The Same,” from his breakout solo album Rockin’ the Suburbs, Folds climbed atop his piano and led the crowd in a round of (attempted) three-part harmony, conducting everyone with his hands. He swept his arms in a “silence” motion and the field hushed to the point where, suddenly, the thumping Afrobeat of Antibalas wafted over from the nearby Swamp Stage. From his lofty perch, Folds slowly raised his hands high, higher, and as the “aaaaahs” emulating from the horde drowned out the noise from the neighboring stage, he grinned wildly and turned, folding his hands into two thumbs-in birds—a fitting visual representation of the “fuck the man” attitude that set Ben Folds on the path to stardom and will continue to propel him on his winding, solo, smart-ass journey.
“I don’t roll on Shabbos”: Matisyahu waits ‘til after sundown
By Julia Reidy
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about heavily-bearded bands. One performer in our part of the Everglades has effectively silenced all arguments, emerging the clear victor of all beard battles. Matisyahu’s newsboy cap and professor’s glasses hovered above his award-winning facial hair. He appeared in a dark suit with a long jacket, ever the image of the rabbi of reggae. He took the stage Saturday night well after sunset, and had tales to tell his audience about his dual faiths—Judaism and music. He crooned “Oh Lord, won’t you raise me up,” doing his best to honor the reggae greats behind him and his emphatic backing band in front. He spoke to the crowd about attending Grateful Dead concerts as an infant, about his religion. He told them he’d been listening to the Dead in the Shabbos tent on the festival grounds. He put one tennis shoe up on the monitor at the edge of the stage, teetering, working the crowd, the strobe lights flying around him. Guitarist Aaron Dugan soloed, high and jammy, an evening sermon for the masses.
Ghostland Observatory: Night Lights on Hallowed Ground
By Julia Reidy
As I approached the Chickee Hut for the second evening in a row, I began to suspect this was where they had banished all the pop, electronic and indie rock to. It figures, then, that I would find myself here more often than at any other stage. My now-dirty feet keep on pounding this path, past the glass vendors and food shacks, past the corn dogs and beer stands and purveyors of tahini and Chinese food. The green lasers emanating from under the Hut’s light banks shot 100 feet out into the night in front of the two men of Austin, Texas, electronic sensation Ghostland Observatory, slicing through the gentle swamp fog. The smoke machine on stage likewise hindered the crowd’s visibility—frontman Aaron Behrens was at times completely obscured in the cloud, all the backlight and crossing lasers serving to create the music festival equivalent of a Daft Punk video. Drummer/producer Thomas Turner spun a pumping house beat while Behrens greeted the chilly crowd: “Havin’ a good time on a wonderful sacred space,” he mused. “That’s good, ain’t it?” Without much visual, Ghostland had to let their music do the talking. When Turner sings, his voice is high, throaty and clear. It cuts through the air like those lasers—all treble and wobble, more than a touch reminiscent of ‘80s hair band wailing. Some numbers saw Thomas and Behrens leaving their usual roles on sampling, synth and solo mic and turning to drum kit and guitar. Turner, in his iridescent white Dracula cape pounded on his bass drum and suspended cymbal with as much composure and prowess as he displayed on his console’s knobs and switches. They let the reverb and feedback float out over the audience for a long moment, Behrens crooning “Why girl, why?” Everything seemed to suspend. The next number kicked in low, rumbling digital groans under almost painfully sharp, incisive treble as they put down their live instruments. The transition was immediate and effective. They were spectral figures shrouded in smoke, emerging from the haze, Behrens’ long, braided pig tails bouncing off his shoulders as he whirled around his performance space, legs kicked high.
As I walked away through the unexpected cold, I passed a row of parked golf cart-like vehicles the festival’s medical team would helm over all the straw and mud to the rescue of those who’d celebrated music and art just a little too hard. They were parked side-to-side, headlights blazing toward the Chickee Hut and Ghostland Observatory. The six parallel streams of light produced by these do-gooders reached out into the fog and met the green beams emanating from the stage. The “X” in midair shone giant, a salute in the night next to the picnic tables. Headlights for headlights, they shone.