It’s 2:00 a.m. and I’ve procrastinated writing this article until the absolute last minute. But I’m a writer; procrastination is in my DNA. I wonder: does it take musicians two or three hours to get in the mood to start playing music? Perhaps, but in that time they’re probably doing cool things like smoking weed, talking to girls, and hanging out with their friends. Me, not so much.
It feels pointless to go through and describe in detail the staggering cadre of bands that played on Saturday at the Cataracts music festival in Indy’s Fountain Square. I’d probably have to sift through pages and pages of my illegible, chicken-scratch notes and use phrases like “undulating chords,” “thumping drums,” and “stabbing riffs,” until you and I would both want to puke.
So instead I’m going to do you a favor and give you some snippets of the high points of this festival, and spare you the agony of watching as I try to craft some kind of “meaningful narrative” out of what was, essentially, the momentary takeover of a small part of Fountain Square by a shitload of weird, independent musicians and assorted characters. For one day of the year — the Christmas of the Fountain Square music scene — the inmates got to run the asylum. And it was bliss.
*At the point of the day when I was still sober enough to do interviews, I walked up to Wendy Norton from Ramma Lamma, a hard-rock band from Milwaukee which I had made it a specific point to check out. The conversation started something like this:
“I hear a lot of KISS in your music? Is that accur-”
“I hate KISS,” she said.
Wendy did give me a free Ramma Lamma 7” for my troubles, and graciously went on to concede that people have remarked that one specific song of theirs sounds like “Love Gun,” but she doesn’t really hear it. Whew.
*Slushy, from Chicago, was another one of my Cataracts must-see bands. They played a fast set of classic '60s surf- and garage-rock, with simultaneous rhythm guitarist and drummer Brent Zmrhal using an odd setup with a kick pedal for the bass and snare, with his guitar pedals mounted on a large stump of firewood.
“Did you bring your own tree stump?” I asked him after their set.
“No. No, that’s not our tree stump. I don’t know where that came from.”
We speculated on the origins of the tree stump for a moment and I felt the interview slipping away... but then Harold Heffner from the Mutations came up and the three of us started talking.
“What do you think about the Cataracts festival?” I asked him.
“It’s pretty much the coolest festival of all time. I mean, it’s pretty early, but I think it’s safe to say... you know, let’s just say it: coolest festival of all time,” he said. “There’s pretty much nothing like this in Knoxville.”
Thank you, Harold, for saving my life and delivering to me, on a silver platter, the very quote I’d been seeking all day. And, by the way, thanks for rocking the Dave Cave with some killer country-influenced surf rock.
*Creeping Pink was an amalgamation of a few of the Mediumship bands, with Landon Caldwell singing and Mitchell Duncan on guitars. Which explains why they sounded a lot like Learner Dancer. The only exception was Joey Shepard at the skins instead of Peter King, and no Jesse Lee. Any way you slice it, with Caldwell at the helm what you seem to get is that rare combination of loose space-age psych fuzz woven around an easily recallable hook. The extended jam on the song “Life’s a Lot Like You,” still rings in my head.
*Back at Jasona Beach, the neighbors had turned on their own stereo system for a little friendly competition with our music. They also turned on their gas-powered generator in what was either an attempt to power the stereo or to smoke us out. If you stood too close to the wooden fence there was a good chance you’d keel over from the exhaust fumes. A few seconds of exposure at a time, however, gave you a nice pleasant feeling.
*The Orchidales, from North Carolina, a sort of trash-fi garage rock band, get the award for best fireworks display, because they may have been the only band that had one. The lead singer dressed in drag and had Roman candles tied to the head of his guitar which he lit during the set.
After the set he tried to flip—yes, a full front flip—out onto the little sand beach and landed directly on his back with a distinct thud, shaking loose his coconut boobs and causing him to scuttle off to the side of the stage like a wounded crab. I saw him later in the day though. He was walking around just fine.
*Cataracts Mystery Band Alert: In the preview piece I confessed knowing nothing about this band. Well, we have an answer. Purple Seven is a Bloomington-based band that includes Will Staler from Thee Open Sex (also a Cataracts band) and Landlord (not a Cataracts band). Purple Seven are pretty '90s-sounding—and I’m not going to explain myself on that one—much like Staler’s other band, the aforesaid Landlord, but “more straightforward, rhythmically, at least,” he said.
I was a little more moved by Thee Open Sex, Staler’s other band. Maybe it’s their raven-haired and sexy female lead singer with the cute high-pitched voice, but something about them reminds me of Cults; a little bubble-gummy, but in this case, a bit harder and grungier. Definitely one of the big surprises of this festival. Best part is, hopefully I’ll get to see them again soon.
*Brian Brissart is perhaps the perfect glam-rock frontman; with a rockstar rail-thin build, he’s all long hair and sunglasses, with that peculiar rock-and-roll swagger that makes you say to yourself, “This guy must be somebody famous, right?”
His band, Bigcolour, from Chicago, played a set at Skull Manor, Brissart singing in a girly falsetto as the band played early '60s roller-rink-ready go-go rock one minute, then got fuzzed out and all sorts of distort-o-rama the next minute. The next minute Brissart is out over the crowd rubbing people’s heads like a gypsy on acid.
*So this has turned into a catalog of bands after all. Sorry?
*Jared Birden was there with his new project Teenage Strange. With Geoff Albertsen on drums, the band is two thirds of The Kemps. The day the Kemps broke up was a sad day for leather jackets, Beatle boots and hard-driving garage rock, and it's good to know these guys (two of them, anyway) are back in circulation.
*Pomegranates win the Best Costume award. These dudes from Cincinnati all dyed their hair peroxide blonde and wore pristine white pants. All but the lead singer had their shirts off, to boot. Imagine a band full of Pony Boys, you know, from The Outsiders. Overall, I’d say they’re a pretty well-polished rock band with a clean, straight-up rock and post-punk sound, but I was distracted by a baby in a Power Wheels truck riding in the alley.
* I was walking in that same alleyway, behind Morris St., in need of some direction, when I heard some Depeche Mode-like electronica coming from the Dave Cave, and the answer became clear. Scammers (KC) injected some much needed electronic beeps and bleeps into a day that was otherwise filled with far-out distorted guitars and heavy drums. Scammers—one guy, Phil Diamond—conjured some bizarre demon from the crowd in the back yard, which caused a mini-mosh pit, and caused one guy to strip down to his saggy tighty-whiteys to dance.
Scammers did a whole album dedicated to the movie Aladdin, which I found out later, and which explains why his song “I Can Show You a World,” struck an eerily familiar chord that almost caused me to weird out on some childhood memories.
After the set, I spoke with Diamond about his place as an electronic artist in festival full of psych rockers.
“Your act is a little different than the main core of the aesthetic here,” I said.
“Do you identify at all with the psych rock that’s going on?”
So I fell back on my old standby: “What do you think of Cataracts,” and then things took off from there. “It’s great,” he said. “I haven’t really seen what a normal day is like, but I really like this.”
*Crys. Here we get into the meat and potatoes of the festival, or the wiener schnitzel and sauerkraut, I should say? (They are heavily influenced by krautrock bands like Neu!) This is the Fountain Square-based band that includes the organizer of the whole festival, Jacob Gardner. By this time the dark was coming down and the festival was completely rolling.
I myself had started marinating a little earlier and was feeling pretty good by this time, meaning that if you’d asked me at any given moment, I was ready to proclaim each band the next coming of the Messiah. Having said that, without hyperbole, the wild psych-pop sprawl of Crys’ “Hanging Ten at the Dawn of Time” was a peak moment of the day for me.
*Missed part of Three Man Band’s set because I headed to Bud’s grocery for a quick pit stop and a couple of warm forties, but caught enough to know they love thick grinding bass and span from cowbell-induced southern rock to metal to sludge. The summer night had fallen almost all the way down and puffs of smoke could be seen coming up everywhere from the crowd at the Dave Cave. It was a great moment.
*Vacation Club’s sound continues to spread out psychedelically and shed some of their poppiness, even as they retain the driving energy of classic tracks like “Daydream.” With Joey Shepard on bass now and the addition of Lisa Berlin on keys they sounded fuller and a bit more even, but I miss the electrocuting, bubblegum punk thing.
*TV Ghost, from Lafayette, in a Twitter-feed sized review: When I first saw them last year they almost caused me to piss my pants in fright. Have they lost some of their edge or have my repeated listening’s to their album just numbed me? I don’t know. I just don’t know.
*By the time the Burnt Ones got up on the Debbie’s House stage, the surrounding alleys and streets of Morris St. were flowing with people. Everywhere. It was a scene. I mainly remember being squeezed into the front lawn of the house, surrounded by people, and inundated by sheer fuzz, amidst a day that was filled with fuzz. I have written in my notes, “Kaleidoscope Eyes.”
*All I can remember of White Mystery is standing in the yard of Skull Manor watching two enormous mops of curly read hair jerk and shake as lights streamed out from behind them and the drummer attacked the drum set. I have “John Bonham” and “total guitar chaos” written in my notes. I think that sums it up.