Athens Popfest 2005 Reviews

I got back yesterday from 4 days of live music in Athens, GA. I just sent this review to the indiepop-list, maybe I’ll write more later.

the Elks
Fellow FL popkids and we had to miss them.. damn

Mellow guitar, bass & drums (sometimes clarinet) but sometimes uptempo like the Masters of the Hemisphere. Unique melodies and words caught my ear, the kind that don’t knock you over the head as immediately catchy but you know will become favorites on records. I guess a bit like the first Summer Hymns album.

Cars Can Be Blue
Drums and guitar (sometimes a bit like Junior Varsity), started with a poem
about popfest, ended with sweaty boy in underwear grinding against audience to boy band beats. In between are songs about putting the “D in the P (or the A)”, love for a singing retarded girl, and a Wu Tang song. Took home prizes in both variety and adult themes categories. Shamefully fun.

Drums and strummy guitar like Beatles and Big Star singles played at 78. The second set at the 40W (filling in for Love Letter Band) ended with “You
Won’t See Me” with backup vocals by a few brave audience members.

I went a day early to see this so I’m biased. Guitar-based trio, well-crafted songs that deliver hooks and end before you know it. Melody-wise a bit of Shins and Pernice, but usually more mellow.

Keith John Adams w/ Elekibass
Missed this at Little Kings but caught one of the spontaneous acoustic
sidewalk shows he put on outside the 40W. Tons of energy and catchy songs, wished I’d caught the live show because evidently it was really something.

Cocker Spaniels
AKA Sean Padilla, a charming mixer of jazzy shoegazey guitar chords and
lyrics about just about everything…and, damn, the guy can sing, barely needed the PA.

Charm School
Another nice surprise, a straight-up cheerful pop band with nice songs
(though not terribly unique). More enjoyable than a lot of the 40W acts.

Another we-won’t-be-confined-by-popular-music-conventions bands, lotsa
notes, little enjoyment on my part, drove me out to find dinner and rest,
which was too bad because I bet Fabulous Bird & the Mega Hurts (Karen
Bunnygrunt side project) rocked it. I didn’t hear what these bands were
about until I was back at the hotel.

the Instruments
Mellow orchestra with occasional vocals. I swear this group was on stage
at the 40W in 4 or 5 different bands and this one was the one I liked.

Scott E Spillane (solo set)
I don’t get the attraction. Was he drunk? stoned? 20 minutes spent
fumbling to diagnose a bad cord, someone give him a guitar because he
can’t tune his, OK here we go! LOUD guitar mush, songs barely duct-taped
together. He was in Neutral Milk Hotel..are you sure? Painful, sorry.

the Late BP Helium
A 70s arena rock “experience”. After sitting through Spillane I was ready
for songs, I got poses and decided to head for dinner.

Popfests need more short blasts of wall-of-fuzz-bass songs and BG delivers.
Wish I didn’t leave my earplugs at home.

TC are now 5 strong and tighter than ever and could probably songs with
instant sing-a-long choruses for hours if it weren’t for Bunnygrunt bringing them round after round of shots.

Lake Holiday
Played solo (formal Oval-teen guy), songs with vivid imagery.

the Smittens
Awesome stuff, catchy, upbeat, joyful, totally charming pop.

I liked what I saw but I was getting a bit burnt out by this time and headed for dinner.

Col Knowledge & the Lickity Splits
I missed a garage rock band? Next time I need to do my homework so I don’t miss more good stuff.

Fast and tight pop rock. Good times.

Poison Control Center
The lights dim, audio tracks of 60s newscasters pile on each other until
critical mass when the boys run through the crowd in rubber Kennedy masks while some 60s bubblegum song play (I /think/ “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”), they take the stage and mezmerize the 40W with pop played with manic mod energy. At the end one guitarist takes over drums midsong so the drummer can come out and sing one.

We Versus the Shark
Chicly dressed for prom, well versed in angular art rock, play a lotta notes in jagged scales, can yell, boring. Another cue for dinner.

Casper & the Cookies
Damn, missed most of this set, but ended with a big Athens sing-a-long chorus.

the Marbles
Wow. First few songs it’s just Robert with Bill Doss and ? on acoustic guitars. Just damn good pop songwriting. Now for the Marbles experience. The stage is set with cardboard cutouts of Darth Vader (with an inflatable keytar) and the robot from Lost in Space. Robert gets suited up in silver with completely silver flip-flops, the tall blonde in gogo boots “Marcy Mars” helps him with his cape. Enormous feel-good synth pop ala ELO erupts from the speakers and Robert sings spreading good vibes to the people of Earth. It’s all hazy and dreamy and wonderfully pop and kids cling to each other swaying side-to-side until it has to end.

After a loooong setup they come out and, instrumentally I like it but I
can’t take her squeeky voice. Maybe if I’d gotten into the records ahead
of time.

Good Lord to the Devil
They were mostly done when we got there, but I really liked what I heard.
Just good stompy acoustic/banjo songs with harmony vocals.

Lil Kickers
A nice treat of quiet acoustic songs with muted trumpet. Songs had good
stories and her melodies had some old jazz phrasing.

Bren and Jeff from the Masters with Ian and Jimmy from Bumblebear records. OK, sounds a lot like the Masters, but fantastic new songs, can’t wait to hear recordings of these.

Galactic Heroes
Yes, yes, yes. Harmony vocals, crowd-pleasing hits, a bit loose and having
tons of fun.

Red Pony Clock
Shambling orchestra of pop complete with broken guitar strings, cymbals
falling off stands and hate for the cool kids in school. I brought home the magic on CD.

Vaudeville pop kids from Japan, entertaining, having a hell of a time and
milking the cuteness factor. Repeated the end of their set like 3 times.

63 Crayons
Kinda like Talking Heads but with the Arcade Fire nervous vocal schtick that I’ve come to hate. Theremins are still annoying, even fake ones.

Circulatory System
Two drummers is cool, songs kinda boring, I conserved my energy for

Of Montreal
Good thing I did. From what I’d read in interviews I wondered if they might just play with fewer people and a backing CD (and I would’ve been happy because it’s an amazing set of songs), but damn they pulled it off in full band form. Maybe 3 or 4 songs had phoned-in backing beats, but all the songs ran together seamlessly with the drummer going back and forth between drums, keys and bass. Vocal harmonies everywhere, none of the circus stage stuff that turned me off years ago, just straight up perfect pop songs in all kinds of genres played by top notch musicians. The 40W was completely packed and loving it. Most songs were from the last two and the encore was an extra track off the Japanese release of Sunlandic Twins (a simple, perfect pop song) and Jennifer Louise. I was totally blown away.

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