After the Wall
Thirty-three hours after the Wall of Sound Festival 2006 kicked off, I was worn down to a nub. I'd seen roughly 44 acts by Sunday evening. Some were full sets, while others were just one song, but still. A similar sense of fatigue and exhaustion was evident on the faces of everyone else who'd stuck it out.
There weren't too many left, either. By the end of the second day, the Ridglea Theater had largely cleared, a fact that almost overshadowed the talented metroplex bands that had yet to play. Really, the expectations for WoSF were a considerable part of the experience; Spune Productions' Lance Yocom pulled off his dream schedule, filling the Ridglea with the cream of the local crop and wonderful out-of-town headliners to boot.
But it was a risky proposition from the start. This schedule was about quality and college radio raves, not mainstream attention and flavor-of-the-month hype. Would it work? Would anyone care?
If you'd limited your WoSF experience to the first day, that answer would be much more optimistic. Saturday afternoon got off to a relatively slow start, with Austin bands filling much of the early runtime as sound troubles were cleared and crowds began to gather. Pink Nasty was the most memorable of the Interstate 35 visitors, turning her pop-country croon into a cutthroat pop-rock force thanks to one helluva command on rhythm guitar.
Austin's Knife in the Water also impressed with an intimate performance later in the day, but their set was made moot by Denton's Shiny Around the Edges only a few hours earlier. The Denton duo's spare, Low-like arrangements--in some cases, just a glaring note of feedback that hobbled on as Jennifer and Michael Seman banged drums and cried repeated mantras--would be annoying in most cases, but these two proved themselves masters at making the tension compelling.
On the opposite side of the musical spectrum, Tyler's the Southern Sea made the biggest impression of the day. Their dreamy, eclectic pop could've been the mascot of the fest, full of intermingling guitar, piano and synthesizer melodies that combine the best of Beulah, Apples in Stereo and Lenola, resulting in an acid trip Brian Wilson wishes he'd taken.
The day only got better from there: Denton's the Angelus proved to be the best-sounding band on the WoSF side stage thanks to their hulking rock compositions and Emil Rapstine's unbelievable voice. Pleasant Grove debuted a new fifth member, Chris Mayes, who supplanted the band's rockier new songs with tasteful bits of slide guitar and keyboard. Chao, Robert Gomez and Tree Wave each impressed as well, and when Midlake debuted new tracks from their forthcoming album Van Occupanther, the audience lapped it up. I heard one girl shout, "This is the best band ever!" Sorry, Beatles. She said so.
After those local groups played to large audiences, I figured an even bigger crowd would fill the main Ridglea hall for Saturday's headliners, but by the time Minnesota trio Low took the main stage at 12:45 a.m., maybe 80 people watched them. The paltry crowd was a shame--I've heard thousands of multi-part harmonies, yet never in my life have I heard three people fill a room like that with only their voices--but it was also reflective of WoSF's wear and tear.
And on Sunday, the crowd didn't get better; at 8 p.m., Sorta played one of its better sets in recent memory to a crowd of no more than 50 people. At this point, Record Hop's Scott Porter grabbed me, pointed at the crowd and asked, "Where the fuck is everybody? This is the best local bill of the year!"
This was the Wall's great dent--a second day of music from noon to 2 a.m. was just too damn much (especially on a Sunday night), because not enough mainstream acts rounded out the schedule to attract concertgoers on the fence. The conditions also weren't ideal for such a long-term listening experience, as the Ridglea lacked festival-style attractions (and food options) that might've made a full weekend of music easier to handle.
But Yocom did the best with what he had--seriously, did you expect Coldplay?--and just because fewer people saw the second day didn't make it any less memorable. Sunday was full of local gems--[DARYL]'s destructive breakdown at the end of an otherwise impressive set full of new songs, Baboon's fist-pumping attack that got the crowd shouting along in droves, the Theater Fire and Spitfire Tumbleweeds each playing their best gigs in some time and Faux Fox surprising the crowd with a tight, nasty set of no-new-wave--but the greatest part came 33 hours into the WoSF.
I'd packed up my laptop and was ready to go home a tired old man when Fort Worth's Stumptone took the upstairs lounge stage. And I mean took it. Their 20 minutes of rock were over far too soon, as their mid-'90s space-rock sound was infused with urgent guitar lines that forced me to stop gazing at my shoes and look at the crowd instead. These were not passive, bored festivalgoers who'd been beaten down by an overlong schedule, and the room wasn't barren, either--it was packed full of head-bobbing music lovers. WoSF needs some fine-tuning next year, but sets like Stumptone's were proof enough that the Wall, in spite of some glaring problems, stood tall.
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