Had the severe pleasure of getting to spin records through mighty megawatt stacks outdoors this past Labor Day Weekend at Arthur Magazine's two day blowout in Los Angeles, land of L Ron Hubbard and a thousand taco stands and wanted to share some pics (see the L Ron HQ left, which I snapped walking to the show). For the uninitiated, Arthur has grown to be a staple for free-minded noise/folk/psych-loving heads everywhere over the last few years, and after a successful showcase at SXSW in Austin last year it seemed like a natural progression to do a two-day blowout with names near and dear to the mag's readers: Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono, Spoon, T-Model Ford, Comets On Fire, Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power and Devendra Banhart were among the stars that studded the line-up, with many many more also turning up as well on three stages scattered around the hilltop loveliness that is Barnsdall Art Park in the Los Feliz section overlooking Hollywood.
Other sets included: Carla Bozulich's great rock band Night Porter (who began the day with a touching invocation going out to Quintron and the 9th Ward of New Orleans), Sunburned Hand of the Man, the Juan McLean, Josephine Foster, Residual Echoes, Vetiver, and yet more, for the whole 2-day line-up check here. From my personal experience, Finland's Circle (pictured left) were fantastic, off the hook kraut-jams with demented-Halford-meets-Queen-insane vocalist; Magik Markers (right, photo Ned Raggett) put in a great, Germs-like cathartic set (that is, Germs if Darby spent more time *in* the audience). For more straightforward rawk, Modey Lemon from Pittsburgh again kicked my ass, they have one of the best rhythm sections going, and the Time Flys definitely stuck out musically and cosmetically to the usual noise/psych/folkie vibe and the color was welcome, they're excellent pop/punk done right. Blues statesman/Arthur advice columnist T-Model Ford and drummer Spam snake-charmed outside, Six Organs of Admittance (the more introspective side of Comets On Fire's Ben Chasny) played as an electric trio and got into some loud Fushitsusha action towards the end. Merzbow I found a bit disappointing on laptop, considering last time I saw him he had some physical gear to abuse (and a towering shirtless viking brute grunting and scaring the hell out of everyone in the place), but his jagged and blasted soundscapes still delivered.
Outside on the little stage I missed most of the Mike Watt/Kira's Dos set since I was spinning, but what I heard was welcome after years of never having seen 'em; Jack Rose put in a great raga acoustic set as well on the small outdoor stage conjuring up vibes of an outdoor carnival of sorts from another time. Earth seemed to have conceded the crown of massive volume drone chord to Sunn o))), as a lot of their new stuff was much more full of emptier breathing space, and post-rock elements. On the big stage I have to say Comets on Fire (pictured left) were my fave; from the getgo they were raging - Ethan & the Bens were going especially going nuts on guitar, and it's always a pleasure to see 'em when the soundman balances out the oscillators/vox/guitar overload. I was surprised Sunn o))) weren't outside as well considering their sheer volume, but apparently that was the reason (though Sonic Youth did a mostly newbies-with-some-choice-oldies set outside too with some unfortunately muddy sound), not to get the neighbors more irate than they were already.
Day 2 came to a close with Yoko on the main stage handing out flashlights to everyone in the crowd, while down the hill Stephen from Sunn o))) told me I had to drag their casket out on stage (I declined) at the theater. The best rumor of the festival: Sunn o))) were going to be buried in said casket and exhumed right before the set began (good rumor, didn't quite happen). But after they came on stage in their robes (sadly no smoke machine), the sound alone totally turned the air thick and gauzy with slow-mo power drone chords buzzing, until the house system unfortunately cut out in the middle of them bringing out Xasthur on vocals (making his first out-of-hibernation public appearance complete with corpse-paint). Guitarist Greg Anderson unfortunately went apeshit and trashed the house PA on both sides of the stage screaming various, uh, obscenities. Ugly, dark scene. Seems Merzbow and Growing also had experienced the outages early too, which was a bummer since they all relied on long, swelling musical pieces that couldn't just pick up where they left off, though they did a good job trying. Despite that, the vibe was really cool overall; lots of fun peops hanging everywhere, various segments of the whole music scene gathered and intermingling (Byron Coley/Ecstatic Yod table of CDs vs. Girl Scouts selling cookies to raise money to go to England), a strange audience member in full Hendrix regalia walking around getting pictures taken of him, even a few seniors in their 70's spotted tripping out to the sounds. It did not get any closer to Burning Man than that.
Ate lots of good but horrible food in general around town all weekend. I forgot LA is nothing but burger joints and taco stands. Really, that's all it is. I went to Pink's on Melrose at late night with Circle and Andee from Aquarius Records and I can't even describe the things that were there, (or why they were called "the Harry Potter" and "The Today Show") but needless to say my arteries clogged just WATCHING assorted people pound down three hot dogs wrapped in a fried burrito smothered in a pound of bacon and half pound of cheese monstrosity. Yet, that didn't stop me from eating there as well. And regretting it the moment I hit the sack at 3:30 AM. I felt compelled to go to the Farmers Market the next morning on Fairfax and buy some serious food to get me through the rest of the weekend. Amoeba Records of course was staggeringly great, they had a funny barker dude auctioning off things for flood victims (Brian Wilson tickets that night $400!), David Hasselhoff autographed glossies ($5). I bought lots of $2.99 CDs and even a Ligeti box for $10. Minimum shopping time is 4 hours there, and that's before hitting the used DVDs upstairs.
Back to the fest, my only complaint would be that the theater shows tended to have lines at all times, so often you'd have to get in line the set before the one you wanted to see if you hoped to gain entry. I could see why non main-stage bands like Circle and Merzbow had to be put in the downstairs theater, if they were outside on the small stage it would blast the big stage's audience, hence the Jack Rose (left) and Marissa Nadler acoustic types were put on the second outdoor stage (though they got a bit of big stage bleed). It was generally well-balanced and I thought well organized for some festival first timers; sets adhered to times pretty well give or take a lagging main stage act or two; big cheers for 'em all for a valiant move incorporating some big draws and more "difficult" sounds on common ground, the big press they earned on the event certainly cast a spotlight on acts who don't usually get much of one. It definitely reflected the tastes of the mag, and had diversity. And personally, getting to spin Randy Holden's Population II at mega decibels through a giant outdoor stage PA was worth the trip alone. Besides, I got to watch How High on Jet Blue to Long Beach. Arthur's Laris says they hope to do an East Coast version sometime, here's hoping.
Some archived live performances of some of Arthurfest's artists when they've appeared on WFMU:
T-Model Ford on Inner Ear Detour with David Suisman 3/4/04 (Real Audio)
Comets On Fire's most recent appearance on Brian's show 7/5/05 (Real Audio)
Marissa Nadler and Josephinen Foster on Irene's show, 11/29/04 (Real Audio)
Jack Rose on the Janitor From Mars' show 11/22/04 (Real Audio)
Six Organs of Admittance on Brian's show 7/26/05 (Real Audio)
The Time Flys on Three Chord Monte with Joe Belock 8/30/05 (Real Audio)
Vetiver on Irene's show 6/21/04 (Real Audio)