Burgerama typically draws a pretty motley crew, but most attendees usually fall somewhere along the spectrum of blue-mohawked, tie-dyed, and skater bros. For the past three years, the festival has stayed loyal to acts like White Fence, Black Lips and FIDLAR, with tons of the same bands appearing and then reappearing (and then reappearing again), getting a slightly larger font size on the lineup flyer every time. Each year, the festival was becoming more and more like some giant circle jerk – although we mean that in the best way. Let us explain.
Since Burger Records started in 2007, it has almost single-handedly cultivated the Southern California garage rock revival. One look at Burgerama's first lineup in 2012 and you'll get a bit nostalgic.
Take Together Pangea, as just one example. Today, the group has more than 20,000 Facebook fans, are staples of the scene that's flooded out from Cali's borders, and have a whole 'nother word in their name. But at the time Sean Bohrman and Lee Rickard picked them to play the first edition of the fest, they were still just Pangea, and they were still playing house parties and $5 shows.
Our point is, Burger has kind of created a monster, and if booking dozens of Burger bands over and over again seems more self-congratulatory than innovative, well, they totally deserve to give themselves a big pat on the back.
But this year, Burgerama broke the circle jerk model. Bringing into the mix acts like Travi$ Scott (the "Upper Echelon" rapper who doubles as an in-house producer for Kanye West's GOOD Beats), the latest incarnation of legendary '70s-era post-punk group Gang of Four, and Dutch baroque pop artist Jacco Gardner added so many new dimensions to a festival that has historically honed in on the surf-psych-garage-rock scene. What was once a one-day, 15-local-bands affair is more diverse, seasoned, and – dare we say it – mainstream than ever. For every blue mohawk in the crowd, there was a bald spot on some dude who couldn’t wait to act out the lyrics to “Undone – The Sweater Song,” crawling on the floor and all (yes, we saw you and we were impressed).
But let’s face it – everyone was psyched to see Weezer. Though the announcement that Weezer would be headlining Burgerama sent a ripple of "Huhs?" through Facebook feeds and indie music blogs everywhere, it seemed like literally the entire audience, no matter what scene they came from, was there sing along word-for-word to "My Name is Jonas" and "El Scorcho." Some guy near us yelled out that Anthony Kiedis was on stage, and although that didn't actually happen, Rivers Cuomo's dad did come out to greet the audience, and that was pretty adorable. Whether you were there for the irony or the nostalgia, the feels were real.
But it wasn’t just Weezer that stole the show this weekend; for every kid who experienced growing up in the '90s (so, almost everyone there), old school hip-hop quintet Bone Thugs-n-Harmony gave us the chance to hear live the classic rap tracks we heard on the radio and in our parents CD changers. Paying homage to their roots by dropping Biggie Smalls and 2Pac samples, along with original hits that dated back to 1994's Creepin' On ah Come Up EP, Bone Thugs let everyone in the audience feel pretty gangsta for an hour.
On day two, Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis shredded on drums in doom metal group Witch and then wowed everyone with his Rolling Stone-ranked guitar skills during his solo set. The night before, legendary 13th Floor Elevators co-founder and psych-rock pioneer Roky Erickson played a set on the Observatory stage, where, if you're lucky, it's possible to get less than 20 feet away from whoever's performing. Erickson's presence closed the gap on 50 years of psych-rock; it was a pretty exceptional moment for fans who were there when it all started, as well as those reveling in today's wave of transcendental guitar solos and fuzzy, jangly jams.
Still, there was definitely no shortage of surf rock vibes from younger acts. Both days were packed to the brim with super charismatic up-and-comers from the local scene (Cherry Glazerr, Colleen Green, No Parents), as well as acts like Hinds, who came all the way from Spain, or Palma Violets, who came from the U.K. to play just two shows in L.A. including Burgerama (the other sold out weeks ago).
On day one, Brooklyn's Beach Fossils' atmospheric vibe was perfect for a sunset show; their mellow, dream-like sound bled into the pink and violet pastel colors of the slowly darkening horizon. FIDLAR put on a fun show of epic proportions, and on day two, garage-psych-glam-rock king Ty Segall killed it with an hour of straight musical mastery. Our necks are officially sore from all the head banging that went down pretty consistently for 48 hours.
Also, King Khan ran around all day Sunday in a leather BDSM outfit (if you could even call it that), emerging out of nowhere onstage during sets like Shannon and the Clams and the Black Lips, making love to a blow up doll he plucked out of the audience, and spitting beer on everyone. It wouldn't be Burgerama if stuff that didn't still happen.
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Burgerama 4 represents the natural growth that happens when people catch on to something that's good. It happened with FYF, it happened (and then some) with Coachella, and now, it's happening for the little festival that could, Burgerama. We're happy to see it grow, because the folks at Burger are still giving their audience what they want: the chance to see great music, without the multi-hundred dollar ticket price, in an atmosphere that still feels like a community.