Index Festival Trees Friday, October 5 & Saturday, October 6
Since the beginning of 2012, the music festival landscape has included 35 Denton and its Labor Day weekend Hot Wet Mess, Memorial Day weekend's Homegrown Music & Arts Festival in the heart of downtown, KXT's Summer Cut in early June, and the Forth Worth Music Festival a few weekends ago.
This is all good for putting North Texas on the map as a fest-ination, but a true Deep Ellum music festival has been trickier. Spune Productions has been quite industrious on the festival front this year, having just wrapped up their Untapped Festival last month in West Dallas, another nascent festival location.
But whereas Untapped was geared towards older music fans, last weekend's Index Festival was more for the younger demo, which made up a big chunk of the crowd on for Grimes on Friday night. Since her show here back in March, Claire Boucher's profile has increased quite a bit. When I saw her at Good Records, she seemed unsure of her stage presence, of how to work her electronic family into the set, which is something that hasn't really improved in the last six months. That took away from her performance a bit, but perhaps her subversive nature translates better as a different type of performance.
Then there was Portugal. The Man, who proved playing festival after festival can make you an extremely tight band, even if your music is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the indie festival caravan. Their fans sang along to every word.
Contrast their set with Myths, who were lesser known, but became the standout of Friday night.The Vancouver duo lamented that they didn't have their usual light show, but it didn't matter much. Beyond the bass-heavy synth plunk of their songs, the interaction between the two was more important. They would whoop at each other, call and response style; singer Lief Hall would dance while Quinne Rodgers controlled the beats and, indirectly, her partner's movements. Much like comedic improv is moved along by the words "Yes, and...", Myths took that mantra and made a spectacle of shriek, rhythm and physicality - the last song ended with Hall swinging around a stage light. After that, Elite Gymnastics' prop-comic meanderings felt a bit underwhelming.
And what of GZA's performance on Saturday evening? Gary Grice has put out a few solo albums since his time in Wu-Tang Clan, but none match the generational spark of 1995's Liquid Swords, which is why he's been touring the album in its entirety the last few years. The bigger question: Are we demanding new material from GZA?
He seemed tentative during the first few songs. "This is real weird for me," he said, and that would become apparent at various moments in the set, like when he took a photo of himself with someone's phone, or chatted up someone side stage mid-song, or brought a nine-year-old named Abigail up on stage, confirming that "Wu-Tang is for the babies," which he claimed was the reason he censored many of his lyrics on stage. Having performed with a live band the night before in Austin, perhaps GZA felt naked up there, just him and his silent hypeman, but he could have been testing the waters with us, seeing how far into the weird we were willing to go with him.
"Festivals can be weird," he said. "But I don't let it break my spirit." A few songs later, he broke the festival wall, jumping into the crowd and rapping with them, before hopping back onstage, introducing us to the aforementioned Abigail and performing "Animal Planet." He then launched into Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," asserting that the "raw" in that song's lyrics means "organic," before shouting out to Whole Foods. The whole set was indeed "weird," but more like we were watching improv, or a one-man play.
Here's where fests like this work on a local level: I spoke with two local musicians who'd never seen A.Dd+ or Yells At Eels, two acts that played respective sets on the inside stage Saturday night. Both acts put on stellar performances that placed them in front of audiences that wouldn't necessarily come to see them. And both those musicians left fans.
The national acts were finely selected, but there wasn't a sense of urgency to any of those performances. Exposing locals to locals raises the bar for what a festival could be, and in that way, Index Festival was useful as a bridge to new music on a micro level.