Better than: being in a confined space where an actual gorilla and an actual bear are fighting.
On Saturday night at the Granada Theater, the Dallas-based taste-making heavyweight blog Gorilla Vs. Bear held its first ever festival, and, aside from a few train-wreck moments, things went almost perfectly.
Short but sweet sets from a mostly regional sampling of bands featured on the blog made for smooth transitions between acts. It also helped that Denton's Dreamed, Grimes and Julianna Barwick featured little more than a keyboard and a vocal microphone. Minimalism, in some ways, was the order of the night.
So was promptness -- at least until Tim DeLaughter's new act, Preteen Zenith, obliterated the nearly sold-out crowd's senses after taking an extended time to set up. Until that point, Sunset filled the room despite being a three-piece, and Pure X created a wall of sound with only one guitar.
Truthfully, there wasn't a bad performance all night. Each act proved why it deserved to be a part of the carefully curated bill. What follows is a set-by-set, and in some cases, a blow-by-blow account of last night's festival.
Technically, this Austin four-piece was the festival's headlining act. Unfortunately, due to time restraints caused by Preteen Zenith's extended set-up time and general festival lateness, White Denim's set was cut short significantly. They were scheduled to perform at 12:50 a.m., but didn't actually take the stage until 1:40 a.m., leaving only 20 minutes until the 2 a.m. curfew. But they wasted no time, sprinting from one song to the next, showing the remaining, devoted fans that they indeed deserved to headline. Easily the tightest band on the bill, guitarists James Petralli and Austin Jenkins played harmonizing riffs while drummer Joshua Block made jazzy polyrhythms look like a no-brainer. The brand drew mostly from their new album, D, which manages to blend the classic rock, soul and jam genre touchstones with a punk attitude. That punk attitude was specifically on display at the 2 a.m. curfew, when singer Petralli said, "Thanks for staying up late. We're going to play as long as we can." Their set lasted two more songs.
When the curtain lifted for Preteen Zenith's set, it was clear what caused the hold up: There were more laser lights onstage for their set than maybe ever before at the Granada Theater. The band clearly took the sensory overload approach, and it would've worked out much better had there been more time -- something they will hopefully have more of at their next show. For more on Preteen Zenith's live debut, check out Jesse Hughey's take
Shabazz Palaces, fronted by former Digable Planets rapper Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler, were the night's only hip-hop offering. The African rhythms accented with conga drums and a hi-hat carried a stomach-churning deep bass that rattled the walls. There was clearly a lot of anticipation building for the band's set on the venue's Twitter feed, which is broadcast between sets on a giant screen hanging to the side of the stage. Unfortunately, racist comments directed at the band and its black fans polluted the board. The band seemed unfazed, though, and put on a fantastic set.
Perhaps the most out of place -- and the most beautiful -- set of the night came from Julianna Barwick, who stood at the front of the stage with just a keyboard, a looper and a vocal microphone. She created layer upon layer of vocal harmonies that sounded like a choir washing over the audience. Her music was gorgeous and fragile, perhaps a little too much. Her set was lost on a good portion of the crowd, who spent the entire time chatting.
Montreal's Grimes took a different approach to the minimalist keyboard and vocal set-up. Her set managed to spark the audience with deep bass and up-tempo dancehall beats produced on a small drum machine. She came out looking a bit like a hobo -- one very attractive hobo, granted -- and it certainly made her set of Madonna-esque pop surprising and more endearing to the crowd. The thing that Grimes was able to do almost more so than any other act on Saturday night was let the music showcase her personality. Her soft, high-pitched, girlish voice and cute stage banter made her the sweetheart of the night.
Austin's Sleepover offered up a keyboard-heavy shoegazy set, backed by a drum machine playing pretty interesting syncopated grooves. It sounded a lot like the scene from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, when Bill and Ted go to the future and hear the futuristic music they would go on to create, thus uniting the world. Can't say that Sleepover will do anything that ambitious, but they still put on an interesting show.
Speaking of Austin shoegaze bands, Pure X's take on the ethereal genre was quite interesting. With a traditional band set-up, they managed to fill the entire theater with only a single guitar that cascaded note over note. Shrouded in purple and blue lights, the band's stage presence was minimal, but their energy translated to the crowd nonetheless.
Most of the bands on the festival are relatively new, but this Bill Baird-led three-piece band Sunset has a bit of experience under its belt. Baird, a jittery towhead, used to play bass in the Austin band Sound Team. Now he's a multi-instrumentalist of sorts, switching from guitar to organ and to bass guitar. On the third song of the band's energetic set, the instrumentation was comprised of only two bass guitars and a drumset. The low-end assault ended up being a crowd favorite, and made the set a highlight of the earlier portion of the festival.
Denton female duo Dreamed kept their instrumentation simple with only keyboards, drum machine and bass guitar. It was the band's first show, which was made obvious by little movement, and trouble getting the volume set on each song. The music however, while not entirely memorable, made for a good jumping off point for the festival. Synthesizers buried the vocals, which came off as whispery and dreamy. Hence the name.
Personal Bias: I've been an avid Gorilla Vs. Bear reader since 2006. The site has turned me on to so much good music over the years, and the festival followed suit. I'm looking forward to checking out more Grimes and Julianna Barwick.
Random Note: The new air-conditioning unit at the Granada has the place feeling like a meat locker. It's super cold in there, which makes for a nice escape from the cruel heat.
By The Way: As much as I believe in freedom of speech, there is something despicable about the racist and homophobic comments that turned up on the venue's Twitter board on Saturday night. For a place that has the words "Love Yourself" above the stage, displaying comments like that undoubtedly fosters an atmosphere of hate and intolerance -- two things that hung in the air after the tweets were posted. Truthfully, though, it's the people who posted the hateful remarks who ought to be ashamed of themselves.