Reviewing Melodica’s Performances

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60 or so bands played the Melodica Festival this weekend, and it would have been literally impossible to catch each and every performance during the three-night fest. Still, we ran ourselves ragged trying. The result: About 12 acts caught in full, another handful of performances seen mostly in full, and a whole bunch that were only seen for a song or two.

A little staggering in the schedule would’ve been nice—too many venues simultaneously featured between-set downtime. There were, however, plenty of worthwhile acts to see throughout the showcase. Below is a re-cap of the acts whose sets I saw enough of to confidently review.

(Note: This was meant to run earlier today as an online companion to the column I wrote in today’s Observer—only so many words can fit on the printed page, you know—but given a number of factors, not the least of which was the overwhelming amount of response the column received over the course of the night and the morning, it got pushed back a bit. So…sorry ’bout that.)

Friday night: Jetscreamer: With a stoner rock sound complemented nicely by the plumes of smoke barreling out of the Amsterdam Bar’s back porch fireplaces, Jetscreamer’s set came readymade with an epic, Thunderdome setting. The three-piece two-guitar, one-drummer, Denton-based act played with a deliberate pace and a grueling, fuzzed-out slide guitar sound conducive to plenty of head-nodding. The vocals, paired with the echoes of the thoughtfully spaced out guitars strums, provided a painful overtone to a sound somewhat reminiscent to the headache you wear proudly at the end of a debauchery-filled night. (A few songs are up for download on the band's Myspace page.)

Loop12: Having seen this many-membered knob-twiddling experimental electronica act perform a set in a fairly vacant Sloppyworld setting a few weeks prior, I was eager to see if I still found the repetitive, industrial-inspired ambience Loop12 sound as weird as I first had when they performed within the confines of an art gallery, as I’ve been told they are known to do. It still was a bit weird—and every bit as visually unstimulating as a handful of men sitting behind their own personal computer screens tends to be—yet certainly more captivating this time around thanks to the few pieces of artwork handing on Avenue Arts’ walls. The crowd, which included cloaked women wearing brightly colored face-paint, only added to that effect—and to my belief that, were I to have been under the influence of mind-altering substances during the set, I’d probably be telling you about how it changed my life. But I wasn’t and it didn’t. I still think it’s pretty out-there stuff, but I now understand that it’s best listened to while seated and in a trance. Really, the jury’s still out on Loop12’s static-. Buzz saw- and vocal sample-filled sound. At least in a live setting. This seems most suited to sitting-at-home-alone-in-the-dark listening. (At least one download available on the band's Myspace page.)

Syndey Confirm: The fuzzy electric bass and guitar riffs (which sound more like synth machine productions than string-based outputs) and complementary synth-pop melodies coming from the recorded and live-performed keyboard parts of this young Dallas act’s set resulted in a dance-tastic Fallout Lounge set that crammed the two-thirds filled fallout Lounge crowd to the front of the room where the stage was located. The vocals were pretty heavily overshadowed by the loudness of the other parts coming through the speaker system, but that did little to hinder the energy of the band’s excited, bouncing-about-the-crowd frontman. And, as a package, it all worked quite well. Tough not to tap your foot and/or smile and bop your head up and down during this set. (Some tracks for download on the Myspace page.)

Silver Apples: I caught both of Simeon of Silver Apples’ set this weekend. This was the less interesting of the two, although it certainly boasted the most packed show of the entire event. The 450-or-so-person capacity Sloppyworld venue was at least 3/4 full for the performance. Sonically, the reverb from Sloppyworld’s walls didn’t seem to do the set any favors, although, unlike Simeon’s Sunday performance at Dada, this one featured a simulcast of the gray and balding one-man psychedelic electronica act’s interesting and crudely put-together instruments projected onto the stage’s back walls. (More on this performer on Sunday’s write-up…)

Spectrum: The spaced out sounds and distant vocals of Spectrum’s one-man show (put on by main member, Pete “Sonic Boom” Kembler) were trippy and beautiful in the vein of cartoonish lullabies. Visually, though, there wasn’t much to take in during the set (a recurring problem with most of the knob-twiddling performers at this festival). And, as it came fairly late into the evening, seemed to knock much of the crowd (including myself) onto its sleep-deprived behind. Certainly, that’s at least partially the intended effect with the UK-based Spectrum’s sound, though. Better suited for a soundtrack or experimental film score than a live setting, this set finished my night on a bit of a down-note. Not necessarily a sour one. Just…a down one.

Saturday night: Tree Wave: With an 8-bit Nintendo-inspired sound (an easy determination given the 8-bit animations playing behind the two-person performance), Tree Wave’s Amsterdam bar set (again, outside) was catchy, bouncy and heavy on the electronics—but in a good way. The female vocalist complementing her knob-twiddling male quite nicely, too, if only because of the unique offering it provided to the most common standards of the genre. The Dallas band also managed to keep its presentation light enough to be ignored and engrossing enough to be stared at—a unique combination that worked well in this bar patio stage setting. (Tree wave’s another band offering downloads on its Myspace page.)

Faux Fox: There’s nothing especially complicated with Faux Fox’s sound: synth heavy key riffs at the lead, chugging repetitive bass lines to move your hips, break beat- and cymbal-heavy drums to tap your feet to, and vocals reminiscent of a higher-pitched, faster-paced Ian Curtis on Joy Division’s “Transmission.” And yet it works so well as what it is: unabashed synth-based dance music. What made this particular set so interesting, though, was the charismatic frontman’s willingness to do what so few of his fellow Sloppyworld performers wouldn’t do: use the stage as an actual performance space, instead of simply thinking of it as the raised corner of the room in which our band will set up shop. Running and dancing about the stage (and even the crowd), the singer kept the energy high—and with it, the enjoyment. (Again, tracks available for download on Myspace.)

Faceless Werewolves: The Austin-based, once-Denton-residing Faceless Werewolves’ set in Avenue Arts seemed, on paper, the result of poor planning. In actuality, though, with 40 or so people crammed into the gallery’s smallish performance space, the band’s garage rock sound provided an immediate sense of intimacy. At one point, the female drummer/vocalist even implored her crowd to move closer to the band’s area, upping the already snug ante. Catchy stuff, too, from the two-guitar trio, thanks to blues-derivative rhythm guitar lines, art rock-driven lead riffs and vocals that reeked of female-fronted punk rock. Or, in this case, perhaps more fittingly, rawk.

Mundo and MC Lifted: This dub/reggae act at Sloppyworld was hardly compelling. The beats were just OK, and the vocalists attempts at reggae vocals fell flat and reeked of falsity. The crowd, not surprisingly, remained remarkably thin for the majority of the set—until the end, when the vocalist even announced his understanding that the increase in crowd was directly due to the fact that well-known local dub act Sub Oslo was set to come onstage after his performance ended.

Sub Oslo: The now-Austin-based Sub Oslo, unlike the Mundo and MC Lifted performance before it, came heavy with both its professionalism and authenticity, evoking mental images of Jamaican street scenes throughout its set thanks to well-timed bongo beats and guitar strums and picks. Most impressive, however, was the drum playing. Although heavy on the bass and cymbals (as dub music is wont to do), the pace that it set as the rest of the band’s sounds revolved around it was remarkable. Unfortunately, as is common with non-vocal dub creations, the band’s songs bled together as their set continued along. A nice display, though, (if a tad boring, although a large portion of the crowd remained committed to dancing throughout) and a nice way to make up for the weak dub sounds of the previous act. (Some downloads up on Myspace.)

Sunday: No Way: This Denton-based experimental noise trio was…well…mostly just real loud. With drum and synth sounds that came forth little rhyme nor reason (and plenty that left the Club Dada set’s heads reeling back in pain), it made it difficult to focus on the acts vocals at all. With lights and projected images shining onto the stage as the band performed, the entire entity was a bit overwhelming and a tough nut to crack, for certain. With such a aural display, the visuals just came as overkill, putting the entire spectacle just shy of seizure-inducing.

Red Monroe: Probably, along with Faceless Werewolves, Red Monroe’s performance came across as almost unjustly straightforward and mainstream, given the outlandishness of some of the acts sharing the Melodica bill. If anything, that detracted from the band’s set, which was actually, a quite interesting and catchy blend of garage and art rock with accessible and surprisingly audible vocals (for once).

mom: Having already familiarized myself with mom’s brilliantly composed 2007 release Little Brite, I eagerly anticipated two- and sometimes three-piece act’s sole Melodica performance. The Denton-based group hardly disappointed, providing the early evening setting a beautiful soundtrack often solely-instrumental soundtrack and intertwining electronic recorded efforts with live guitar, trombone, bell and violin outputs. Really the type of music you’d expect to come out of Denton given UNT’s storied jazz school history, mom provides a hypnotizing and beautiful ambient sound with enough overlaid sounds to keep its listeners on their toes. Surely everyone who watched the performance was taken aback by it. (One download up on Myspace.)

Vorvadoss: With Middle Earth like get-ups that included a performer wearing an oversized cow skull as a helmet, death metal act Vorvodos’s sound was loud, jarring and kinda scary. But its Sunday performance on Dada’s outdoor stage was more of a visual spectacle (thanks to the outfits) than anything else. Sonically, the act didn’t really seem to break the death metal mold much and only really served as an example of the variety of music Melodica promised it would offer its attendees.

Akkolyte: I’ve written about this grindcore duo before, having been already been amazed by the amount of sound the Gonzalez brothers (who perform in jazz outfit Yells at Eels with their father) are able to condense into their extremely short song bursts. Nearly impossible to not head bang or at least emphatically nod along with, the duo seems to win fans over no matter what setting it plays in. A must-see local act (who, also happens to have tracks for download on Myspace).

Koji Kondo: After missing its originally slated set time, Koji Kondo performed an almost spur-of-the-moment set on the patio—note: not the stage—behind Dada. It was kind of DIY, just the kind of the thing that goes great with punk music like this, and bursting with energy. The vocals were a bit tough to pick up, but the sheer energy and ferocity with which this young quartet approached its set (maybe they felt they had something to prove after a late arrival?) was remarkable. (Again, a few songs for download on Myspace.)

Silver Apples: Whereas Simeon’s Sloppyworld set was a bit marred by sound, his Dada showed was helped by it. Offering a little history and back-story before performing most of his songs, just as he had at Sloppyworld (where he played a near-identical set), the de facto Melodica headliner ran through his set to an appreciative but much smaller crowd on Sunday. It’s understandably surprising to see an older gentlemen performing and creating the kind of music Simeon does, which only adds to the overall goofiness of his music’s sound (imagine a lot of noises inspired by choo-choo trains and along the lines of the sound Super Mario used to make when you’d control him to jump). Not surprisingly then, a few of Simeon’s tracks are, in fact, children’s songs. And, as has been well-documented, the sheer fact that he was creating the kind of technologically-based music he was creating in 1968 is nothing short of remarkable. Given as much, his performances were undoubtedly interesting, if only for hype and the visual dichotomy surrounding them. Yet neither of his two-sets were especially mind-blowing aside from the historical appreciation that came with trying to envision this man doing what he was doing on stage 40 years ago. Given the aforementioned hype, it did come off as a bit disappointing.

...and now you know. -- Pete Freedman

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