at Barnsdall Park, September 4-5
Well, well, well, looks like we’ve got an instant, de rigueur classic on our hands. The swelling throngs at last weekend’s two-day Arthurfest at Barnsdall Park proved a major point: For many progressive (i.e., uncomplacent and independently minded) L.A. music and art lovers, there’ve been huge gaps unfilled by the plethora of rockbiz-as-usual events guided by the now ludicrously corporate mainstream media’s strictly enforced separation between the spheres of electronic dance, filigreed new folk, deep-listening laptop noise, authentic Delta blues, ultra-black metal and the avant-garde poets and filmmakers that mirror the exploratory leanings of all of the above.
Yet Arthurfest, the brainchild of Jay Babcock, brazenly idiosyncratic music and culture mag Arthur editor/founder, brought it all together with resounding success at Barnsdall Park, high on a hill in the middle of Hollywood. In a sort of very broad form of Arthur-style narrowcasting, the ingeniously conceived lineup featured a chaotic and very punky Sonic Youth, hindered unfortunately by a booming, mid-rangey sound mix that obliterated the many fine points the band was making with its essentially microtonal rock — though, as usual, a humorously humorless Thurston Moore (dumping water on himself and pulling agonized art-suffering faces) and the icily beautiful bassist Kim Gordon at least made them fun to watch. Politically direct thrash courtesy the newly psychedelicized Sleater-Kinney also suffered a bit from sound-mix blahs, but not enough to prevent the crowds from pumping their fists; Electric Ladyland–type slide blues from the Black Keys had the hairy old rockers in attendance grinning and shaking their jowls; the gut-churning low frequencies of Berlin’s Pole and the brain-shearing highs of Japanese noise kingpin Merzbow’s laptop ruminations were enthusiastically received. (Merzbow’s incredibly focused and near-physically painful locomotions through an industrial landscape — at once exhilarating and the most extreme and demanding music heard at the fest — also produced the only standing ovation I witnessed, which says a lot.)
Aside from the sight of a 75-year-old woman with purple hair flashing the devil’s sign at the severely thumping electro of a peaking Juan Maclean, other highlights (for at least substantial portions of the attendees) included a buncha Hawkwindy neck-vein bulging from a rabid Comets on Fire; somber musings from a reticent, beer-sipping Cat Power, tension-soaked indie-pop stylings courtesy Spoon and a tuba- and saw-enhanced set by a re-formed Olivia Tremor Control; trance-blues kingpin T-Model Ford and his almost absurdly true-grooving drummer provided real sweaty heat and a lotta connecting musical DNA. There was extremely radical sonic Sabbathery from SUNN O))); Six Organs of Admittance, a Devendra Banhart–aided Vetiver, Marissa Nadier & Jack Rose and Winter Flowers provided a post-post-hippie-post-irony-whatever heartfeltness with their forthright acoustical strains. Other acts included an inspired, potent solo set by Medicine/Electric Company laptop/guitarist/videomaker Brad Laner, Josephine Foster, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Wolfmother, Circle, Radar Bros., Earth, Magik Markers, Future Pigeon, Becky Stark & the Lavender Diamond. The second day’s events were capped by a good-humored and lovingly received Yoko Ono, who distributed flashlights among the crowd for their participation in Onochord, wherein all concerned dared signal in visual Morse code “I – LOVE – YOU” at any and all of our fellow well-wishers. Yes, her son Sean was there, leading her young, tough band, and, yes, he’s the spittin’ image...
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About 2,000 (are you listening, media “tastemakers”?) apparently very happy people also enjoyed screenings of little-seen art films, and booths offering food, drinks both alcoholic and healthful, clothing, jewelry, super-underground indie records and mags, and Arthur columnist T-Model Ford’s own booth, where he dispensed “wisdom and kisses, for a small price.” No one in attendance seemed to think that this weird jumble of events was anything other than the way things ought to be, and are. Sorta makes you think, doesn’t it?