Treefort Weekend Highlights: Liz Phair, American Football and Caroline Rose

We also talk to Caroline Rose about her ridiculously fun live show

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Treefort Weekend Highlights: Liz Phair, American Football and Caroline Rose

I came to Treefort to find new music. While that discovery mission was certainly successful (a couple dozen new bands to dig into), I also loved watching several artists who were already on my radar. On day three of the delightfully laid-back music and arts festival in downtown Boise, Idaho, one such group was the band CHAI, a burgeoning Japanese export who won over their audience almost as soon as they appeared on stage in matching all-pink getups. I discovered the four-piece only a week before at South By Southwest, but I loved their energy so much I had to go see them again at Treefort, this time at the El Korah Shrine on Idaho Street. Performing songs from their jubilant new album PUNK, plus an all-too-brief a capella cover of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” CHAI wooed me all over again. After performing a secondary set on the Main Stage the next day, it’s safe to say CHAI, with their continuous smiles and rock ‘n’ roll flair, emerged one of the hit acts of the whole festival.

After making that selfish but fabulous detour to see CHAI, I sought out more unfamiliar territory at local pub Hannah’s to check out Spokane supergroup Super Sparkle (try saying that five times fast). While I can’t yet speak to their digital recordings, Super Sparkle put on a damn fine show. The group of musicians, friends and songwriters come together to make deliriously fun pop music, and their live set includes a pair of live dancers who traverse the stage in a seamlessly groovy fashion. Count me in the next time they throw a party.

Liz Phair rocked the Main Stage on Friday night, treating the crowd to both her radio hits (“Why Can’t I?”) and Exile in Guyville favorites (“Fuck and Run,” “6’1,”” and “Divorce Song”), plus a new song titled “God Loves Baseball.” Hearing the Guyville cuts was cathartic, but the new tune was one pitch away from sounding cheesy.

Another sort-of legacy act headlining this year’s festival was American Football, fresh off the Friday release of their third self-titled album, a.k.a. American Football LP3. They attracted a packed crowd to the Knitting Factory on Saturday night, when they played a mixed-bag of new and old songs. The emo gospel lives on.

No performance, however, matched the energy of Caroline Rose’s at Neurolux on Friday night. Playing songs from her 2018 album LONER (Rose’s first in the pop vein), Rose and her band (made up of bassist Mike Dondero, keyboardist Abbie Morin and drummer Willy Morse) lifted the tiny crowd to various levels of tomfoolery. Rose and her mates are high-energy and goofy, but their show feels less like a schtick and more like a genuine desire to entertain. Rose says it’s an intentional departure from reality.

“When people come to see us I want it to be a real experience,” she says. “When you step into the room I want it to feel like you’re in a different world. I like weird, and feeling like you can be your weirdest, freakiest self in a space is really important.”

Rose lets her freak flag fly. At one point during the set, she chugged half a Pabst Blue Ribbon, dunked the rest on her face and then crushed the can on her forehead. Much of the audience seemed unfamiliar with her music, but she had no trouble capturing the rowdy festival-goers. She even worked in a spunky cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.”

Rose remains completely in control of her image, music and coinciding aesthetic. Not only is she in charge, she’s committed. You’ll never spot Rose in any color other than red. When I meet her at the Record Exchange on Friday morning, she dons an entirely cherry-red ensemble. Later that night at her show, it’s a scarlet jumpsuit.

“I’m just like a pyscho control freak about everything that comes out, the visuals and if it makes sense with the aesthetic,” she says. “I just want it to be like a package. But what’s cool about when you start doing it yourself and you establish your style, then it’s fun to work with other people and see how they interpret your style.”

While Rose’s narrative style ranges from satire to straight-up comedy, it’s rarely not realist. She cites the Coen Brothers and David Lynch as favorite comedic visionaries.

“I think anything that’s poking fun at reality, just the drudgery of daily existence, I enjoy,” she says. “But the stuff I really don’t like is avoiding the fact that life can really suck.”

We also start chatting about pop music, which, in 2019, is “cool again,” at least in some indie circles. She gushes about Max Martin, the Bee Gees and Timbaland (“I didn’t realize he’s the man behind all my favorite songs in my teenage years”). Rose, who herself makes big, crunchy pop tunes, sums it up perfectly: “A great song moves anyone. I think there’s something to be found in everything.”

“When I was young and first starting, I just had this mentality that indie music and singer/songwriters, the people who were really struggling, were the ones who made the ‘real’ music,” she says. “And I couldn’t have more opposite belief in that now. If you listen to a great pop song, it’s like everything in three minutes that you want. The trend is definitely liking pop music, and really glittery, cheesy pop music.”

The Treefort set was a one-off performance. Rose says the band has been touring less while she finishes up her next record, which she says is “not as satirical [as LONER], but it’s funny.” She continues, “I’m very conscious of drawing a line between joking and being a joke.”

“It’s more funny because parts of my personality are funny,” she says. “It’s not a concept album, it’s more like a movie. So there’s a narrative, and it’s gonna be really good. I’m excited.”

We’re excited too. While you wait, watch Caroline Rose’s music video for “Jeannie Becomes a Mom” (one of our favorite music videos of 2018) below and listen to LONER all day long, the review for which you can revisit right here. Find Caroline Rose’s tour dates here. Check out our other Treefort 2019 coverage here and here.