There’s really no point in writing a flowery intro to independent record label Mexican Summer. You’re either vaguely aware of or deeply in love with the Kemado Records offshoot. More than 100 releases—from folks like Best Coast, Kurt Vile and Oneohtrix Point Never—Summer celebrated its five year mark with a swinging music festival in Brooklyn’s Red Hook. The two-day event featured performances from Ariel Pink, The Fresh & Onlys, Spiritualized and dozens of drunk music dorks trying to balance on a slightly unstable gravel ground. It. Was. Magic.
We arrive at Pioneer Works Center for Art Friday to find Bobb Trimble’s Flying Spiders swallowing the stage whole. The space itself, a tiny trek from the label’s Greenpoint headquarters, robs your body of all breath. It’s a cavernous, brick cathedral and at this time, lit almost entirely by magenta light. There’s a big backyard, too, littered with tiny foothills, folks in black sweaters and those gravel monsters I mentioned earlier.
Bobb and his Spiders, though, look like an inventive quilt and play like a bird up in flames. “When The Raven Calls,” a cut from Trimble’s ‘80 release Iron Curtain Innocence, soars like a cooling Phoenix, limping upwards to shoot off into a molten sunset.
Taking on a stripped-down presence, The Fresh & Onlys next fill the space significantly. Emotive ringleader Tim Cohen runs his thumb across his neck during “I’m A Thief,” mimicking slitting his own throat. It goes over well with the audience.
Tamaryn channels Morrissey, it seems, throwing roses into the crowd of her slot. Ambient pink, blue, purple projections hotly illuminate her sex appeal. She tears petals dismissively. The entire set feels like floating in a friend’s pool after an epic bong rip. Not a bad thing.
Pioneer’s bathrooms started the night with swanky organic soap. By now, midnight, it’s back to SoftSoap and the attendant sits still and bored.
Ariel Pink is Night No. 1’s big pull. Tossed tresses shimmer, immediately revealing Ariel and his cohorts as owners/growers of Maybe The Shiniest Hair Ever. He performs his typical freak-out fare to a thirsty audience, pulling a thick book open and just inches from his nose. Gibberish and more gibberish fall from his mouth and I can’t but wonder if I detect, “And God said, ‘Let there be psychedelics.’”
New York’s first exhales of fall rush especially hard now. Everyone’s wearing something flannel, a cool bomber jacket or maybe Army-reissue. There are herbal refreshers like, everywhere. Girl gaggles shuffle in the gravel with eyelids at half-mast. Their nights are only beginning but mine is done and my car home has arrived. Until Day 2.
The crowd slowly crawls out of yesterday’s hangover and into the soft blue light bathing Boston psych-folkers Quilt. Warm rays from the sun’s setting, softly humming rays shoot through the huge windows, casting tall shadows. The band seems very—well, cool. In the same way your middle school BFF’s older brother pulled it off effortlessly and completely on accident. It’s a quiet cool permeating the excellent male-female vocal mesh. It’s a slow-motion motorcycle jam with each cut.
Mexican Summer is into obscure revivals, to boot with their par cacti-studded roster. Linda Perhacs fills that party requirement, injecting new life into her single album, Paralellograms, originally recorded in 1970. Her work plays like an ashy, acoustic witch brew. Perhacs also performs a number she and Julia Holter crafted together, “Primsms of Glass.” “Prisms” is melancholy, robing layer after layer of delicate vocals to create an onion skin. “One of the beautiful things about working with other people is the way they inspire you,” Perhacs says. A baby crawls across the floor near me at the space’s back. Did I mention all the babies and children at the celebration? It all strangely made sense.
Sextet Happy Jawbone Family Band brought the weird back, like a deranged incarnation of the Merry Pranksters—had the Pranksters been able to guide the bus to frequent Northeast waterfalls. Their self-titled blew me away, so I had high hopes. Those shrunk some when I saw the band performing like a slurry, more patchouli-emanating version of Kings of Leon. I like to think, however, an outside factor affected their performance and next go ‘round, those winter wool socks of mine will shoot across the room.
Dark psych dust rains on us when Lilacs & Champagne gets the brooding Godzilla-gaze going. It’s unshocking to learn Grails’ founding members started the outfit—and they cite Stones Throw staples J-Dilla and Madlib as inspiration fonts. The patchwork soundscapes yank left field emotions and when they finish, a strange air lingers—like how still everything sits after a hurricane blows through.
Lansing-Dreiden scoop up the rubble left in Lilacs’ wake, quickly pasting it into a disco ball. Easy strum and drum. I overhear a girl complain to her friend, “Ew, it smells like a dentist.” The ambiguity of that statement says a lot. Much more people stand alongside me indoors now, although everyone seems well-marinated in the Brooklyn Lager flying around. Lansing surges on with an ‘80 battle hymn rollick. They’re notoriously mysterious, typically refusing to play live—which makes zero sense. The lead singer artfully fuses the stage persona of both Bono and Sting and I cannot fathom why you wouldn’t flaunt that each chance you get.
Then, oh man. Don’t expect me to stop talking about Australian freak-out master Connan Mockasin for a long, long time. Saturday night marked his first-ever U.S. performance. All I knew before his set was a text from my Kiwi friend, “Grimm! I hear your [sic] going to see Connan tonight? What’s the story! [sic] He’s fuckn [sic] awesome.” So I had that. And he was fuckn [sic] awesome. On all-borrowed equipment, the long-haired crew made a convincing home of the stage. Another friend whispers to me, “Is that his real hair?” He was jealous. Fuzzed-out falsetto carried scampering slide guitar and thrashing cymbals. Connan excuses, “I shouldn’t talk, I’m really drunk,” but continues, making small talk about Socrates. “I’m The Man Who Will Find You,” the first single from his upcoming Caramel didn’t ask before setting limbs on fire with its synth flint. In his black turtleneck + white kimono combo, Connan is a madman, endlessly sexy in a fluid, sparkly way. I cannot, cannot, cannot wait to hear more from this dude.
Sludgester No Joy prep us for the final act. There’s a lot of bottle bleach blonde and venomous guitar. Rock gods smile, inviting me to the exclusive second floor balcony and third floor open bar. From the second, I take in the bobbing sea of heads. Despite No Joy’s hyper cadence, I spot at least one couple ferociously tangled in each other, dancing with zero haste.
Spiritualized takes over an hour to set up. It’s almost two, the festival started the day around five. It’s… trying. A famous person in the VIP says to no one in particular, “I don’t even care anymore, you took so long to set up.” Finally J Spaceman approaches the stage, all in white with his band all in black. I look out a window to the back yard area—it holds only about a dozen folks in the dropping temperature. Inside, the crowd thickens like fat, dark larvae wiggling to the soft glow of J’s light. Lights ripple like a jellyfish’s electrical current. It’s beautiful, but it’s late. So late. My ankles and patience give so I leave while it’s still holy, before it gets harrowing.
Here’s to many more than five additional years, Mexican Summer. May it always remain holy.