Last Night

Review: Coathangers, Surfer Blood Dominate Echo Park's Waved Out Festival

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Mon, Mar 29, 2010 at 7:59 AM
click to enlarge coathangers.png

Score one for the blogosphere.

On Saturday, L.A. music blog Aquarium Drunkard invaded Echo Park to throw its first ever festival. Waved Out drew hundreds of kids out to the East Side, and they spent the day running up and down the stairs that adjoin the Echo to its larger, sub-Sunset cousin, the Echoplex.

Of course, there were plenty of incentives for them to come: The cheap tickets, for one -- just 12 dollars a pop -- not to mention the endless supply of free ice cream bars, the complimentary T-shirt silk-screenings, the food trucks at the ready, and the bands.

Oh so many bands.

In a day full of highlights -- including great local sets from garage-poppers Best Coast and a harp-wielding Active Child -- it was a bunch of scrappy riot grrrls from Atlanta who stole the show. Florida's Surfer Blood may have had the biggest crowd, but only one name stayed on festival-goers' lips deep into the night: The Coathangers. These four ladies thrashed their way into the heart of many a gawking, bopping and howling fan.

click to enlarge Canter's and Greasy Weiners for everyone. (Chris Martins)
  • Canter's and Greasy Weiners for everyone. (Chris Martins)

Founded five years ago by writer Justin Gage, himself a Georgian by birth, Aquarium Drunkard has grown to comprise a record label (Autumn Tone, with releases from Frankel, Happy Hollows, and Fleet Foxes member J. Tillman, among others), a couple of satellite radio shows, and a show-promoting wing, but Waved Out, billed as "a recurring festival of rising artists," was Gage's biggest event yet.

click to enlarge Coathangers thrash, adoring boys look on. (Chris Martins)
  • Coathangers thrash, adoring boys look on. (Chris Martins)

click to enlarge Superhumanoids (Chris Martins)
  • Superhumanoids (Chris Martins)

The day shared its name with an old Robert Pollard record -- perhaps coincidentally, but it had at least one other thing in common with the erstwhile Guided By Voices singer.

There were a glut of good ideas on hand to grab, divert and grab again the addled attention of the crowd -- 16 bands' worth to be exact.

Like Tape Deck Mountain, for instance. The ghostly, loop-loving San Diego three-piece signed to Lefse Records (home to Neon Indian) commanded a modest crowd at just after 4 p.m., but one that swayed enrapt to the band's wintry, hollowed-out songs.

Or Superhumanoids, who took the Echo stage next. Though the group includes two-thirds of punky Echo Park up-and-comers the Franks, this lineup's tunes were clean and pretty, generally unfuzzed and unfussy all the way to the Carly Simon cover -- "You're So Vain" -- that closed their set. Boy-girl harmonies danced over clean, Strokes-y guitar-pop upstairs, while the 'Plex played host to local chillwave up-and-comer Active Child, a.k.a. Pat Grossi.

click to enlarge Active Child (Chris Martins)
  • Active Child (Chris Martins)

Despite the project's being less than a year old, not to mention the general pitfalls of translating an electronic-based bedroom project into a live setting, Grossi put on a pretty riveting show.

Backed by a bassist, he swapped instruments throughout the set -- from keyboard to harp to guitar and back -- while crooning in the same creaky, paper-thin register as Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, albeit over baroque, synth-strewn beat tracks.

Somewhat less inspired were the mantra-like mumblings and sludgy blues of Moon Duo. From the other side of a bedraggled gray beard, singer Erik Johnson rarely looked out from the stage, instead burying himself in a thick web of shredded chords (the pro) and his vocals in mounds of reverb (the con).

It was a good time to break for an early dinner, especially if you'd passed up on the temptations offered by the Greasy Wiener and Canter's trucks in favor of the pork bánh mì -- an 18-inch Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with jalapeños, cilantro and pickled things -- from the late-arriving Mandoline Grill mobile.

click to enlarge Moon Duo's Erik Johnson deep in the blues-sludge. (Chris Martins)
  • Moon Duo's Erik Johnson deep in the blues-sludge. (Chris Martins)

click to enlarge Gamble House plays it cool. (Chris Martins)
  • Gamble House plays it cool. (Chris Martins)

L.A.'s own Gamble House kept things generally calm as well, though the four-piece was prone to occasional fits of epic progginess -- the dark and heavy yang to the airy yin that is Ben Becker's very Daniel Rossen-like vocals.

click to enlarge Crook Kid Coathanger wails, yelps and/or squeaks. (Chris Martins)
  • Crook Kid Coathanger wails, yelps and/or squeaks. (Chris Martins)

And then, like a hurricane come to destroy the mellow vibes that had so far characterized the day, the Coathangers entered the picture.

Their arrival seemed to signify the transition from pot-smoking to booze-swilling -- it was 7 p.m., after all -- and each of the four Coats took turns playing the role of lead harbinger.

With woozy keyboardist Bebe sporting fuzzy tiger ears, drummer Rusty a constant flurry of tattoos and tresses, bassist Minnie deep in the groove, and guitarist Crook Kid spazzing out royally, it was hard to know where to look.

It was remarkably easy, however, to lose oneself completely in all the shouts, squeaks, sharp notes and calls to "shake shake" ricocheting around the room.

Best Coast was up next, and though it should have been surf-pop's day in the sun, the slack shoulders of Bethany Cosentino and the grungy wall of sound her band produced paled next to the high-energy punk thrust of the previous act.

click to enlarge Justin Gage of Aquarium Drunkard poses with writer Jeff Weiss. (Chris Martins)
  • Justin Gage of Aquarium Drunkard poses with writer Jeff Weiss. (Chris Martins)

From there, things begin to blur. Turbo Fruits, we're sure, burned through a fast-paced set of gritty, harmony-laden freak-blues.

And at this point in the night, the Echo having shut its doors shortly before 9 p.m., the once sparse crowd had become a steady stage-ward crush, hungry for Surfer Blood.

When the buzzing Panhandlers finally took the stage, it was to intense cheer. The youthful quartet (not a single facial hair between them) sounded large beyond their years, delivering hooky power-pop with major emphasis on skronky guitar-play.

No matter that they lost a piece of equipment three songs in, leaving the bassist on his own to bide time while the rest of the band tried to figure out what had gone wrong. The band's songs were catchy earfuls that seemed to reference Weezer, the Police, Sunny Day Real Estate, and the Kinks in turn.

Two epicuriously named outfits brought the show to its come-down close. The Sandwitches were so-so, though the San Francisco folk crew wasn't given much to work with considering the mass exodus that followed Surfer Blood.

click to enlarge Surfer Blood: young and power-pop-ful. (Chris Martins)
  • Surfer Blood: young and power-pop-ful. (Chris Martins)

It was a shame, really, because the New Wave meets New Age weirdness of local fivesome Pizza! (whose Alex Myrvold is in Liars' touring band) made for perfect closing music. Their "Pink Floyd's nooding meets Devo's angularity" sent the remaining Wavers out into the night half-cocked, feeling exhausted and odd.

Which, as any experienced festivaller will tell you, is proper.

Download a track from each of the 16 bands that played Saturday's Waved Out here, courtesy of Aquarium Drunkard.

click to enlarge The spazzy stylings of Pizza! (Chris Martins)
  • The spazzy stylings of Pizza! (Chris Martins)

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