Forward Music Fest Recap: Part I

 

photo of the New Loud by DJ Hostettler

photo of the New Loud by DJ Hostettler

Words By DJ Hostettler

While doing some shopping at B-Side Records on State Street before the bands started on Saturday, I overheard some of the store employees echoing a sentiment I had been hearing from a few other people regarding this year’s Forward Music Festival in Madison: “where’s the draw this year?” Sure, acts like Andrew Bird and Low are nothing to sneeze at, but when compared to last year’s diverse three-pronged attack of Neko Case, Bob Mould, and local legends Killdozer, this year’s crop of national headliners felt a little less exciting. Add to this the fact that most of the national acts seemed lazily culled from the annals of Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” (Yacht, Antlers, Ra Ra Riot), and my enthusiasm for the trek to Madtown wasn’t what it was last year. Still, I’m a huge fan of the Festival in principle, and want to see a big, multivenue music fest succeed and thrive in Wisconsin, so I hopped in the car and drove west. 

As entertaining as the possibility was of Wavves’ Nathan Williams having  another on-stage meltdown upon seeing the 25-person capacity basement (The Corral Room) he was booked in, I decided to spend Friday night focusing on Milwaukee’s representatives at FMF09. Also, a number of Milwaukee bands were playing in the Orpheum Theater lobby directly across the street from where I got my press pass, so it seemed like the most convenient course of action. 

And thank God I went with that plan, because otherwise I would have missed Pezzettino, and that would have been a crime. Seriously, this girl gets absolutely no press and is constantly ignored by the local media. It’s almost as criminal as this lame attempt at sarcasm.  

As I entered the Orpheum lobby, Pez’s Margaret Stutt, along with her two-piece backing band, was in the process of charming a healthy and appreciative crowd with her accordion. I’m on record in numerous online venues as having my issues with the current wave of so-called “unconventional” instrumentation, but Stutt’s knack for slightly haunting, wistful songwriting seems to have secured her a spot in the “exception” column. The Orpheum lobby was a perfect venue for her; the classic décor and the natural echo of the room lent some real atmosphere to the set. 

Unfortunately, for as perfect as the venue was for Pezzettino, it was probably the worst possible setting for the electronic new wave of The New Loud. Not only did the room’s echo make excessive (and worse, poorly controlled) volume a factor, but the room’s power supply was also inadequate for The New Loud’s gear. Keyboardist Jessi Nakles kept shooting me looks of exasperation whenever her synth shut off during the loud parts of all their songs. The stream of people leaving the echo chamber added to the band’s frustration. Classic case of a good, solid band placed in the wrong venue by unfortunate scheduling. 

Part of the New Loud’s MO is precise, flawless execution (they have a sequencer supplying the bass lines), so when the band is thrown a curve, it seems difficult for them to improvise. Not so for college-transplanted Milwaukeeans Terrior Bute, who respond to less-than-ideal circumstances in true punk rock fashion, taking the proverbial lemons and throwing them against the wall. As cords dangled from their synths to the sound board upstairs, the band’s natural inclination toward sloppy, ramshackle interpretations of their songs in exchange for a high-energy, thrashingly spastic performance more than made up for the room’s acoustics and the limitations of the PA (the vocals were often drowned out by the synths, which were also being piped through the speakers). They managed to win back the crowd with their antics (or maybe they just had a lot of friends there—we all know how it works with local bands).    

As 9 p.m. rolled around, I considered hopping back across the street for Collections of Colonies of Bees, but an Internet friend of mine invited me to see his friends’ band down at Project Lodge. “There’s free beer,” he said. Um…sorry, CoCoBees. During my time at Project Lodge, a small storefront performance space/gallery on E. Johnson, I overheard a band that was not Archie Powell & the Exports (they canceled and some other band took their place), watched the members of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel open a bottle of wine for Internet Friend and me without a corkscrew (between that and their manager Bart being such a sweetheart, I have decided to wholeheartedly endorse Nathaniel Rateliff & the Wheel and tell you that they are a kickass band even though I didn’t see them play), and finally watch the friends’ band, a decent enough Madison pop band called The Shabelles. They played some charming guitar pop and even threw in a fun cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” But when the keyboardist pulled out a saxophone, things shifted in a strange Huey Lewis & the News direction and it was time to head to my final stop for the night—The Frequency for Decibully, and the neighboring Corral Room for Direct Hit. 

The big buzz among the Milwaukeeans at these two venues was the apparently killer set delivered by Invade Rome earlier in the night. They’re a Milwaukee band that I’ve completely missed the boat on (in part because their previous name, Freshwater Collins, didn’t exactly inspire visions of awesome), but both Andy from Decibully and Nick from Direct Hit were freaking out over them. Invade Rome’s drummer, who just happens to be my bowling buddy Justin (I had no idea he was in this band! It was a revelation not unlike having Green Lantern unmask in front of you: “hey, that’s cool—so do you know who Batman really is?”), handed me their vinyl LP at the end of the night, so I’ll be spinning that soon. 

Anyway, I caught about three songs of Decibully’s always-solid indie-pop before ducking over to the Corral Room to see a packed basement of sweaty punks yelling along to every Direct Hit lyric. Led by ex-Box Social guitarist Nick Woods, Direct Hit are a no-frills pop-punk band, more Thermals than Green Day. As they slammed through a far-too-short set of instantly catchy buzzsaw punk tunes, the hard-partying audience struck me as what had been missing from every set I’d seen at the fest so far. Was I just hitting the wrong venues all night, or was Forward Music Fest ’09 lacking in high-energy, crazy audiences? Granted, the majority of the lineup this year seems geared toward the head-bobbing, folded-arm crowd, but that Terrior Bute set would have set the crowd on fire had they played in front of this Corral Room audience. But then, maybe that was the issue—the Orpheum lobby isn’t exactly the proper venue for a spastic mosh party. If there’s one thing that I’d personally like to see the FMF organizers take from Friday night, it’d be a resolve to better match bands with venues next year.  

To be continued!

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4 Responses to “Forward Music Fest Recap: Part I”

  1. super falco Says:

    How you did not mention Team Band at Corral Room is beyond me.

  2. RDH Says:

    I have to agree with super falco, Team Band was one of the highlights for the night.

  3. DJ Says:

    I didn’t mention them because i didn’t see them! Can’t be everywhere at once!

  4. The New Loud Says:

    Thanks for not ragging on us too much for our set at Forward.

    It was pretty evident from when we arrived and the “sound man” was a guy who works at the local high end stereo store that things were going to eat balls. Stereo-store-guy didn’t even now how to set up the PA they had. So the 2 guys from the French Horn Rebellion were busting ass to make things right. I was hoping, because we have things a bit more self-contained and don’t have to rely on outside gear, that it was going to turn out better which kept me in denial until we started.

    Without hyperbolizing, playing there was pretty damn close to playing an empty missile silo. I couldn’t really hear anything while we played because of the echo. I don’t blame anyone for leaving. I would’ve too. People ask me what the show was like and I tell them it was like a Sonic Youth concert after the band leaves the stage at the end.

    While we are tethered to sequences, I’m really not sure what else we could’ve done. Our songs are loud and they are very fast. Pretty much the opposite of Pezzettino, who sounded really good given the circumstances.

    Maybe the Gods of Madison were focusing their divine hacky-sack power into having us pull out acoustic guitars and to do things sit-down-hippie-camp-style, but I ain’t goin out like that.

    AND YOU KNOW THIS!

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