Wednesday, January 25, 2017

VANEK UNLOADS 2016 BAGGAGE

Big Business
Everybody knows lots was wrong in 2016 but musically for me there was some pretty excellent stuff that came to and happened in Missoula. Big Business played at the Badlander and were nothing but of bruisingly excellent. Jonny Fritz and the Best Westerns played at the Palace. Divers played at the VFW. Absu wore corpse paint and defiled the Palace. Timmy's Organism and Wolf Eyes careened into the ZACC. Mordecai and Plastic Crimewave Sound blazed down the VFW. Purling Hiss erupted Stage 112. Danava and the Shrine dusted the Top Hat. I really got to see a such a great set of bands in Missoula this year that I'm running out of stupid verbs do describe them. And those are just the touring acts. The best Montana band I saw was when I was in Crow Agency for work, and I saw a Crow country singer named Sammy Hoops on a flatbed trailer, with a pedal steel accompaniment. It was like hearing Neil Young for the first time or something. Chilled me. Back here in the Garden City, I had a blast seeing St. Balls play huge, self-indulgent psych jams, and that Dwarves cover band at the Bike Doc. around Halloween made me grin ear to ear. I remembered most of the lyrics to "Backseat of My Car" which doesn't exactly make me proud.

I used to help with Total Fest and this was the first year we didn't do it since 2003. Mostly, that meant I got to do other pretty normal things like go hiking, and enjoy summer. It was sad too because Total Fest was easily as much about the hangouts as it was about the tunes and I missed all of that hanging out (seeing Joe Preston on a BMW motorcycle, drinking Dan Engler's beer) hugely. Fretting over attendance, money, logistics or drama weren't among what I missed.

Camp Daze
However, 2016 did not want for music festivals around here. Of the fests I took in I think again I dug Camp Daze best. I caught a night of it and had a blast. My favorite act was Vasas who play great, weaving rock, kind of like a less frantic Meat Puppets. I was stoked that Wes Williamson's and Jared Sayre's new Austin band Gold Leather made the trek, and they pretty raging. I didn't get what Iron Eyes deal was, or rather, I think it just wasn't for me (an uncool 42 year old who wants a Treepeople reunion more than anything). As a dad with small kids my partying days are pretty well behind me and I didn't see anywhere near the entirety of these fests that I once would've. I did get into a little of it and I loved Camp Daze' mellow, hang-out vibe most of all. If I get to have one note for the comment box, it's for Camp Daze to take the plunge with a couple more gnarly, heavy bands. I love what Camp Daze does and think it's got real wheels under it now, and thusly I'd love to seem some the heavier weirdos from the northwest on its stages here and there.


Second up was the Badlander Complex's Saudade, which seemed a wee bit damned by its unwieldy name and latish publicity, but was otherwise hugely ambitious. Too few Missoulians checked it out, even with some solid headlining by Red Fang and Lee Fields. Hopefully that's just first year blues, and now that they're over the hump they get some momentum. Saudade has a lot of potential to rule, and needs to leverage any an all name recognition in year two and pay some more attention to its curation and it'll be a solid force. The hope I think was to have genre-geared stages, e.g. a jammy stage, a metal stage, a dance music stage, etc. and I think that approach didn't quite pan out as well as organizers hoped. The metal night was a success, but other stages seemed to lack audience. I hope that with the Palace's recent closing as a music venue that the festival won't be effected. It's noteworthy too that the Badlander folks made a sizable charitable donation on behalf of Aaron Bolton, the deceased Missoula musician, promoter and co-owner of the Badlander as part of Saudade.


Wolf Eyes
I wasn't in town when Plus One Fest happened this fall, but I heard it had great bands and very few paid Missoulians in attendance. That may have to do with the fact that its organizer, Mike Gill who used to live here, no longer lives here. I mean, it may be my pre-internet informed, Generation X worldview talking here, but I still believe music promotion is 95% word of mouth, posters and hand-to-hand "hey, this rad thing's coming up, here's a handbill" kind of deal, compared to any other form of promotion. And that all really seemed to happen a little too late with Plus One, unfortunately. I get concerned that our town's good name in the live music and fan departments might get needlessly sullied if there are many more of these things that fail to reach actual paid attendees.


Gold Leather


Erosion Fest also happened in the fall, this was its second year, and first time in Missoula, after launching in Great Falls in 2015. It unfortunately happened when I was away from town so I wasn't there, but the folks I talked with said it was a great event, and was well attended, with Acid King, St. Vitus and a bunch more doom metal acts converging and playing with heavy locals like Swamp Ritual and Stone Elk.

Back onto the subject of venues, it's interesting that recently two pretty solid bars with live music announced they were getting out of the business of live music altogether. First Stage 112 in the Elks Club and recently the Palace Lounge made a similar announcement that their show-hosting days were over. This seems to be ebb and flow of Missoula every few years. To me, speaking from the perspective of indie/DIY show economics: it's a tough racket to make work financially. Even when you've got a band with a built-in draw, there's very little wiggle room left in a door take after paying bands, sound and venue rental costs to cover even basic promotion costs, let alone luxuries like print advertising. In my experience in Missoula, there's a trend of starting a new show space out simply, and then ramping up the production values as a next step. Larger productions come with larger costs that in my experience quickly make modest DIY shows next to impossible financially.

Absu
For example, a lot of good music can happen with a basic vocal-only PA, and many, many weeknight shows can't sustain a soundperson, and all of the mics, amps, mixers, monitors and between band nu metal that comes with one. A DIY promoter in Missoula regularly faced with the prospect of the having to pay a minimum of $100-300 for sound/room, and pay a touring band next to nothing, or coming out of pocket to make ends meet. Which seems like a totally preventable deal. I don't know exactly what the solution is, but I think it has to do with shows at great Missoula nonprofits like the ZACC, and more back-to-basics bar shows where bands are able to get all the door money, because the sound was a minimal vocals-only set up. Sorry to get into the weeds there, but you know, sometimes simple and cheap are the sustainable solutions and I think it's good to acknowledge the importance of simplicity, and not fixing what isn't broken.

Here are the records I like most last year:

Modality: Under the Shadow of this Red Rock (House of Watts)
CCR Headcleaner: Tear Down the Wall (In the Red)
The Double: Dawn of the Double (In the Red)
75 Dollar Bill: WOOD​/​METAL​/​PLASTIC​/​PATTERN​/​RHYTHM​/​ROCK (Thin Wrist)
Nots: Cosmetic (Goner)
Jonny Fritz: Sweet Creep
Big Business: Command Your Weather (Joyful Noise)
Purling Hiss: High Bias (Drag City)
Yass: Things that Might Have Been (X-Mist)
Helms Alee: Stillicide (Sargent House)
Vaz: Pink Confetti (Learning Curve)
Dead: Untitle (We Empty Rooms)
Ngozi Family (re-issue)
The Plastic Harmony Band: Voyage of the Angernaut

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