|ISSUE 10.2||Summer 2000|
Comfest 2000 | Superstar Rookie
How I Spent My Comfest Vacation
Comfest 2000, June 30-July 2, 2000
Goodale Park, Columbus Ohio
Well, this year I spent the first few hours of Comfest at home piecing together a little Comfest weekend Summer Tease hardcopy version of Cringe. Don't worry, ya didn't miss a real hardcopy. It was just a single folded page with the Live Shows calendar for the weekend along with that week's Lowdown and Recent Releases. I wanted ta have something to display and handout at the Comfest booth, especially while I was working it.
I made it to Comfest just in time to catch the last few songs of Blatant Finger on the Main Stage. These guys have been around years, though they've never played out much and went through various stages of inactivity if not simple disbandment. I noticed the description in the Comfest program was CreedenceMeetClash. I can see where that may be true and I'm sure it attracts a much larger demographic than the comparison I'm sure they're more than tired of hearing. I mean these guys are nearly dead ringers fer Social Distortion. Even when the Finger's guitar slinger singers switch on vocals, the likeness is still there.
All in all a tight and respectable rock band, especially if ya like Social D. type music. As for me, the D. and the Finger rather bore me.
Planet for Texas
Yeah, I kinda staked camp at the Main Stage Friday. It was the first time in a few years that Friday looked and felt like rawk/punk night as Fridays kinda had a reputation for being in the past. Recently I gained a whole new appreciation for A Planet for Texas after listening to their CD, You can Still Rock in America (Hey, ain't that a Night Ranger tune?). Described as Beer Fueled Agricore in the program, songs like "Big Cornbred Sonovabitch" drive the point home. It's raw, melodic punk with Bob Mould bent. Sometimes there's even 2 or 3 part vocal harmony over top of all this.
As I recently told Ike, the shaven head more Mouldian Texan, I think I enjoy his bands recorded more than live (Ike was also in Dogrocket). But the recording did increase my appreciation of the live show. Plus, I just enjoy the chance to see music usually trapped in beer and smoke soaked clubs outside.
As I walked off to get some fries before heading over to the Gazebo Stage, I heard the beginning strains of Salt Horse's first song. "I'm alright, I'm OK" I think it's called. This is definitely my favorite tune by them ... except fer maybe when they whip out an Ozzy/Sabbath cover. However, I'm not a big fan of the accomplished hard rock Salt Horse cranks out. Hence my leaving. At least I left feeling alright, OK ...
Salted vinegar and ketchup fries in hand, I found a grassy spot near the Gazebo Stage where I think the Velveteens were still on their first tune. This year's Comfest appearance was quite a bit better than last year's. Let's just say they had some problems last year and some bad choices to go with 'em. With a new bass player on board, the band is now all-female.
The Velveteens had one of the more puzzling descriptions in the program: Mild Rock n'Roll. I'm guessing it was their own off the cuff tongue-in-cheek description. They do tend toward mid-tempo, blues and country influenced rock with the odd change here and there. Probably best known for their vocal harmonizing, an Andrews Sisters cover ("Mr. Sandman?") would be perty fun. And I still really think they should try "Romeo" with horns. For now, I'm really liking some of the newer songs, though sometimes the bridges between parts confuse me a bit.
I headed back to the Main Stage to catch what I considered a "don't miss" show: Bob City on the big stage! Bob did not disappoint. They rocked. They took over the large stage nicely, thank you. We had fun and I'm ready to do it again. Actually I think I've seen these guys 4 times in a 15-day period now. Let up already boys, I need to get some work done and rest.
For the unfamiliar, I'll paraphrase my review from a few issues ago: "Motley Hatchet, ZZ/DC, Motor City Mountain ..." That oughta give ya an idea of what to expect.
Pat Dull and his Media Whores
These guys took the stage like a big time act with the band starting off the tune and Mr. Dull running out just in time to dip the mic stand and get on with the singing like a rock 'n' roll superstar. While Dull kept singing he and an on stage crewman got his guitar strapped on ... with only a bit of fumbling. It was all rather endearing and fun. The Whores showed their muscle and their sensitive side.
Guitarist JD Whore has cornered me -- and he's someone ya don't particularly wanna be cornered by -- concerning my liking Whores. As I told him, there are several songs I really like ... and several I, uh ... Hey, look over there! Isn't that Ace Frehley? ... But Friday they played many of my personal favorites, including "Oh Robyn", "Declaration" and "You!", so I was perty happy.
Pretty Mighty Mighty
Ok, this was one of my other "don't miss" spots. PMM on the big stage! They did all the newer favorites: the local radio hit "Ski Instructor;" the Web hits "Best of the Worst" and "Black Jack Mastered." The big moment was right after one of my personal favorites, the oft not played "Tidal Wave." Drummer Neal came to the front of the stage to proposed to his longtime girlfriend. After a bit of nervous searching and waiting in the dark, she appeared at the stage with a big kiss and a yes for Neal. Congrats!
Yeah, I've been a PMM fan fer years ... since 1993 or so. They were actually the first band I did a Web site for. Over those years, guitarist/vocalist Jon Chinn and the rest of the band have developed into the best songwriters/lyricists in Columbus. Common comparisons and influences would be the Dambuiders, My Bloody Valentine and Bob Mould. PMM may use violin on every song and play with sound, structure, time signature and instrumentation like some of those bands, but it's still a difficult comparison. I guess I enjoy the challenge.
By the time Watershed hit the stage I had stumbled into a friend's girlfriend. Neither of us were fans of Watershed's Midwest pop rock. I felt the boredom set in when the light show began. Yep, even before the band hit the stage. During the first tune we decided to catch Tim Easton and friends at Little Brother's since we had missed his set earlier today.
New Basics Brass Band
Well, on the way out we did have to make a relief stop by the Gazebo. Blame it on the beer. While I waited, I took in a bit of the New Basics. They still have that penchant for anything that makes ya wanna at least tap yer foot. Though I was too far away to make out everything in the dark, NBBB is generally an all-brass horn band with the exception of the drummer. Instead of bass, they have a tuba ... and it works. It's often like a fun mini-marching band playing some Clinton funk. Other times it's more on the order of Ellington or some good ol' ragtime.
Jazz To Go Big Band
I got to the fest just after 1pm Saturday. As I wandered by the jazz tent I saw some old friends tending the beer. When they got busy I turned my focus to the Jazz To Go Big Band. I ended up taking a seat to watch and relax. I only caught a couple tunes, but I've always had a weakness for big bands. I think it's all them horns. (Um, I was an alto, bari and tenor sax player for several years in my formative years.) The fact that they were "taking on Mingus" was perty intriguing too. Mingus wrote some of the "tastiest" music around. Yeah, it was jazz, but sometimes it was classical, blues an avant-garde too. Unfortunately I didn't really hear enough of the band to get into it and I think I was still waking up.
I stuck around the Jazz Tent to catch Daniel Kelly since the program hints that he's leaving town soon. He had a few strikes against from the beginning: The bass player was a no show, so Kelly played the bass parts on his electronic keyboard. The second strike was that those electronic keys were the main instrument. Third, I have to be honest here, the one thing that stuck in my mind through his entire set were the glam/GQ/hair salon style promo shots of him in the papers promoting his new CD a few weeks ago. But I guess the guy can't help it he photographs well, though it did leave me expecting something more cheesy or new agey than he played. I know that's 3 strikes, but ya know what, he's not out. In his favor old favorite, Chris Keith, joined in on sax and flute much of the time. Plus the pitfalls of electronic keyboard were largely avoided. Most of the tunes were up tempo, many with Latin/samba rhythmic influences. I don't recall a cheesy ballad. The drummer and Kelly made the absence of a bassist barely noticeable. Now, I wouldn't call this one of my favorite bands or jazz or anything, but it certainly was much more tasteful and enjoyable than I had expected.
After Kelly finished, I made my quick goodbye, bought a burrito from the nearby Burittobago stand and headed toward the Poplar Stage to see what I had already considered the third "don't miss" band of the Comfest. I've only seen The Randys one other time, but ended up front stage free of distractions to take it in. The Randys are a trio with a very pure, simple, no frills 50's sound: Everly Brothers, early Beatles, Elvis and all that clean, nice, smooth early rock and skiffle. Nothing fancy or special, except they do it quite well. And that's my opinion even after realizing I have a little issue I may take up with the bass player regarding one of his other pursuits -- Other Paper writer, Canaan Faulkner. Nonetheless, if this sounds like yer thing and ya see 'em on the marquee somewhere, go! They don't play out much.
I stuck around the Poplar Stage for the next few bands. Flipping Hades' original drummer, Bim, rekindled his role. The band as a whole just seemed a little out of place in the tent, the festival, the time slot and the bands playing before and after them. Given the chance, guitarist/singer Jake and the rest of the band can really emanate a profound, confident quirky power pop punk and stage presence with the best of them. Granted Flipping Hades, even on a great day, isn't particularly accessible -- some might say they're angular. Today they just seemed as if they were in search of inspiration, but never quite found it.
The Sean Woosley Band
The Sean Woosley Band took the stage next. These guys are a bit of a local Midwest rock and pop super group. I think every member can lay claim to at least one band that was somewhat known if not popular sometime in the 90s. Guitarist/vocalist Sean was in the Hangboxers. Guitarist/mandolinist Rob was in the Karma Farmers. Drummer Paul was in the Karma Farmers and King of Iowa if memory recalls. Bassist Moe heads up Mohio. Guitarist/mandolinist/pedal steel player Barry was in Dali Llama and Big Back 40 and is now the Hensley in Hensley-Sturgis. (Um sorry if I forgot something -- this seems to be the current, stable conglomerate and their pertinent pedigrees.)
We'll if yer familiar with any of those bands, ya have a good idea of what to expect. It's that Midwest countryish pop rock. Woosley has a kinda raspy loose delivery not unlike Van Morrison and his impersonators, fans and followers (i.e. Counting Crows, David Gray, Tom Cochrane). And with that voice and the varied instrumentation, the textures can be quite nice. However, many of the tunes don't register as all that memorable or exciting unless they make use of the less standard instrumentation. So I guess I kinda like to listen more for the ambience than the songs themselves.
It's been 2-3 years since I first (um, and last) saw Barry Chern -- unless ya count short music shop strummings. He's one of them finger pickin' country, blues and bluegrass acoustic guitarists. I believe one of his favorites would be the Incredible String Band. Taking old blues tunes by the likes of Robert Johnson and turning them into 5/4 experimental blues seems to be the kind of thing he does just 'cause he's bored with himself.
Yes, the man has a bit of an ol' sour puss attitude. I guess, as he explained, having done this for something like 30 years and to still be "unknown" even locally has a bit to do with it. But ya get the feeling that though he may be taking his bitterness lightly while performing, it isn't exactly far from his true feelings and attitude. Now don't get me wrong, he's a great player and I enjoyed the tunes and some of the commentary, but I just decided not ta stick around for much of the set. He was kinda bringing me down, man.
Circus of Cool
I made my way to the Jazz Tent for a bit-o-wine and poetry readings and jazz. I caught one reading before the atmosphere and noise from the other stages was too distacting for me to listen and hear the readings.
I took a few minutes to take in the sounds of the new Johnson Brothers. They've lost the horn section, which did kinda make them unique. Now they just sound like latter day pop Red Hot Chili Peppers with a bit smooth pop and soul added in for good measure. Not my thing and actually kinda sad in my eyes.
So I kept walking from the Main stage to the Gazebo stage to catch Jack Neat. They're kinda a double retro band. Imagine an 80's retro band doing the 50s country swing thing in the 00s (?). The line up hasn't quite stabilized from what I can tell. I've seen 3 different bass players and 2 different drummers in the span of about 4 shows and 6 months. The bassist and drummer today were completely new, though familiar faces.
The mainstays of the band are sassy singer Nicole and subtle guitarist Matt Newman. Matt has some deep country roots in these parts. About 10 years ago he was part Hank McCoy and the Dead Ringers ... err, something like that. It was a long time ago. He has a classy, subtle, less-is-more, understated style that works quite nicely here letting Nicole take center stage. Speaking of which, Nicole fairly obviously has attention starved actress vixen written all over her. Bright wigs, sexy leather boots, enticing gestures, flirtatious pouts, batting eyelashes and more make her the center of attention ... sometimes even off stage. And she does it well. She came perty darn close to having both children and grown men lick her boots in exchange for some CDs. She ain't a bad singer and she's a dang good entertainer -- one of the best I've seen live. Now if there was just a way for this vegetarian to get one of them thar CDs without licking leather.
Well, this must be the flashy front girl hour. The members all wore different variations of red nylon rain suits with the singer in some sort of light gown. It was good for spinning around in -- so she did. I've seen Cleopatra Grip just 2 other times, one being last year's Comfest. With members spread across the country and other projects, the fractured band seems to have been relegated to special or nostalgic events.
OK, I'll admit CG is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Though the pleasure was more and the guilt less the previous 2 times, I still enjoyed the show for the most part. Stylistically, I'll still mention Sioux and the Banshees and Garbage, though this time the standard guitar driven rock was a bit more evident than the more neo new wave processed sounds that kinda intrigued me.
Next up on the Main Stage was Howlin' Maggie. Ya can certainly tell what bands have had some major airplay and the corresponding mass appeal. The crowd didn't just grow, but it moved up, stood up, danced and sang along. Should I assume from this that everyone is familiar with Maggie? Probably not. Briefly, Maggie is polished hard pop rock with a lil' bit o' soul and groove lead by charismatic singer/guitarist/keyboardist and ex-RC Mobster, Happy.
It looks like the band is reintroducing some of the quirkiness and experimentation they had before the CD and radio popularity hit; before Andy and Jerome were in the band. (Yes, there was a before before.) Then they had occasional trumpet and other oddities. Tonight they introduced a trombone, and even it was used somewhat unconventionally at times. I enjoyed that "before before" line-up most, so I find this direction at least more interesting, if not more promising.
Before Maggie was done, a few of us headed to the Poplar stage to catch the Jive Turkeys. Last year they turned in one of the strongest and most energetic performances I've seen at Comfest. They we're just getting started as we approached. There was already a large crowd beginning to dance up front. As far as I could tell, the entire tent and exterior area was full, with the front stage area being the most packed and lively. I think it might be time ta move these guys to one of the bigger stages next year.
The Turkeys are a guitarist/vocalist, bassist/vocalist, drummer, saxophonist and trumpeter. All the boys do a bit of backing vocals, including a few a-cappella when the feeling hits them. The Beatles and Tom Waits would probably be what they would name as their major influences. (I'm still waiting for that "Got to get you into my life" cover.) While I won't deny those influences, I think they combine in a way that reminds me a lot of Elvis Costello with a powerful, strong, fun, hot late night show type blues band behind him.
Flypaper with Dr. Grimaldi
After a little socializing with a few Turkeys and their entourage I wandered over to the I Wish You Jazz Stage. It's kinda the late night tent of Comfest with the last act starting just after the other stages are shut down. I had no idea who or what Flypaper was. I did know Grimaldi was a circus acrobat and modern dancer Eoin O'Brien in a past life. Well, there was a huge crowd, odd lights, a truck parked partially under the tent and a lot of energy emanating from this party.
There were two drummers banging like crazy providing the life blood the show. Derek DiCenzo was trading off on a few instruments (surprise, surprise) including guitar, keys and theremin. There was a puppeteer at the front of the stage encouraging all to dance. O'Brien came out on stilts and commenced the body painting. Jim Maneri, half disrobed from his jester-like costume, played the keys and band leader. And I'm sure there were a few other props, puppets and pagans that I didn't quite catch.
Amid all these energies and stimuli, even Mr. Maneri's ego, grandstanding and persona didn't particular annoy me as they usually do. DiCenzo's theremin was a big highlight. And the dual drummers (Los and some guy I don't know) and bassist (another stranger to me) just kicked and kicked again without letting up (that's a good thing here). The whole spectacle had, as someone else pointed out, a very Mardi Gras feel.
Ah, a night of rest.
I circled through the park sampling what was on the various stages and ended up back at the Gazebo for American Gypsy. This trio includes local veteran acoustic guitarist (6-string and usually 12-string from what I can tell) Neal Jacobs. In the past I've heard him do more jazz and new age material. Here he's added bass and violin to perform some more Ukrainian, Romanian and gypsy influenced material. While still largely new age in nature, the non-Western tonality was a nice change of pace. The musicians also stretched the instruments, dampening the sound and using them in other more percussive roles.
Oh, there was also an impromptu (I believe) dancer off to the side of the stage. It actually was nice to see some music where a dancer with modern/ballet/professional tendencies actually fits in. Though I'm a bit of modern dance fan, I just don't think it usually goes well with most live rock or country. The dancers just become pretentious out of place annoyances for me, giving modern dance a bad name in the process (sorry, I'll slip off my soap box now).
I stuck around the Gazebo for Blue Level. I saw a few of their songs last year and kinda liked it. Sorta a Van Morrison, including sax acoustic guitar, with female vocals. This year, they seemed to play up the electric guitar and funk a bit. It was a bit of a let down. While they still had those mystical moments, it largely seemed to fall back on the crutch of the mild funk of the bass and electric guitar. Another tepid hippie band. Oh well.
One Riot One Ranger
Broken Circle Gospel Deluxe
This was kinda a toss up and the only scheduling issue I think I have with this year's Comfest. That ain't bad! It was either Broken Circle Gospel Deluxe on the Poplar stage or One Riot One Ranger on the main stage. The issue is that I see these bands as having a lot of potential crossover. It's a shame that fans of this type of gospel hoe-down or bluegrass had to miss one for the other. We stuck with 1R1R. In the end, I caught up with friends and hit on other people's girlfriends instead of watching the band. So I guess that kinda makes my issue and a review mute to some extent.
We headed over to the Poplar stage in hopes of seeing the end of Broken Circle. No such luck. Well, I was planning on seeing the next band, Hensley-Sturgis, anyway. Barry Hensley turned in several performances on several stringed instruments this Comfest (see Woosley above and Moviola below), this one being more his own thing. My major association with Sturgis is Big Red Sun, a band that kinda evolved into Greenhorn which then mutated into Bush League Allstars which splintered into Big Back 40 -- another Hensley band. Sturgis seemed perty scarce during all this evolving, mutating and splinter, but now he's back with this project.
The band has a lot in common with the bands they're closely related to. Kinda a Midwest rock with some country leanings. Of course, I was still letting myself be distracted by some of those same strangers and friends, so that's about all Hensley-Sturgis is getting out of me here.
Go Robot, Go!
I made a break for it to the Gazebo stage to actually watch the band. I think I was suffering withdrawal from having so much music around but not having actually focused on it much the last hour or two. Originally known as Shinola until another bigger band (and label too, I believe) surfaced with the same name, Go Robot, Go! is one of those bands that has long eluded me. I'm familiar with some of the members previous groups (Left Over Funk and Oswald and the Herringbones). I had a weakness for Left Over Funk's vocals and the music was fun in a nostalgic novelty sense. Early on, Oswald reminded me a bit of XTC, though that kinda diminished as the band grew and members changed.
GRG usually relies on a vocoder on many of their tunes to create that electronic (robotic?) vocal harmony. Today they seemed to have down played it and that seems to be the case on their new EP too -- or I'm just assimilating to it. "Marmalade 99" is still the standout though the cover of "Surfing USA" was a nice addition to their set -- and somewhat a eye opener too. Ya see the band still eludes me to some extent but now I'm thinking -- what if the Beach Boys were reborn as Devo, land-locked to roller rinks? Now if I could only make sense of why they often seem to mix happy, upbeat, teeny bopper lyrics and/or delivery with dark, heavy, gloomy music or visa-versa.
Next up at the Gazebo was the Marbles. Taking a cue from the pop rock that was popular during MTVs early years, this female bassist/vocalist lead trio started off in fine form. A small crowd of more underground, punk fans largely absent today, began to emerge. Then the guitar amps began to drop like flies. The trio tried, with some luck, to keep going but it became too distracting after the problem seemed to return several times. After a few false starts and premature endings, the guitarist shared his fear of such a thing happening to him at Comfest. Finally the problem was cleared up and the band ended in fine pop rock style.
I headed back over to the Poplar stage to checkout Moviola. They had more guests musicians and instrument swapping than I've ever seen them have before. I think each member had at least one stab at guitar and vocals and a couple on keys and bass. In the past, Pavement and the more psychedelic spacey sounds of the Velvet Underground would be common comparisons. But the longer they're together, the more they become a Midwest Americana band. I know they'd hate to hear this, but I hope they appreciate the irony. I couldn't help but think of the Dead at points in time: Loose, jangly interludes, though much shorter than what the Dead are often berated for; rough around the edges vocals and harmonizing often with a high, falsetto bluegrass-like counterpoint. Maybe they'd be happier if I compared them to the Ass Ponys. Then again they've been compared to the Deadish too ... much to Ponys fans' dislike.
Well, I spent the rest of Comfest helping out at the Comfest Booth. It was quite obvious when a band was on or just finished. Many new and old fans came to the booth requesting their music. Take that as a cue to make sure ya get yer music to the booth next year -- especially if yer playing. I think I ended up spending about $60 myself. A kid in a candy store I tell ya.