Sideways rain and swamp-ass, but it wasn't so bad. The storms were intermittent, the day was clearly not a total washout and, out of the nine days of Bunbury over the past three years, this one might just have ended on the highest note of them all.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by above-and-beyond volunteer Jacob Heintz, who advised serious attention to hydration, as several people had already passed out from the heat. In order to accommodate more fluids, I needed to make a deposit at the Yeatman's Cove First National Bank of Evacuation.
You know what's great about the Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated seats. You know what's not great about Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated everything else. I felt like I was microwaved to about medium rare by the time I was done with business. But I was treated to a bit of pithy wisdom in the form of a neatly scrawled line of graffiti in the unit — "No one is free. Even the birds are chained to the sky." Of course, the trade-off is that birds can shit anywhere they like, which somehow seems to involve my windshield an inordinate number of times a week.
At any rate, a spotty rain began within minutes of my arrival, so I headed down to the Main Stage to see if things were continuing on schedule. On the way, I passed Daniel in Stereo on the Acoustic Stage, where he seemed to be offering an evocative Jeff Buckley vibe. Very nice. When I got to the Main Stage, the Brick + Mortar set had just begun. The politically conscious World Rock guitar/drum duo from Toms River, N.J., was cooking along nicely, but about three songs in, the lightning flashed, the thunder cracked and the staff shut them down.
"That sucks," noted guitarist/vocalist Brandon Asraf. "I had just tricked you into liking me for a minute." Then he launched into a stand-up comedy bit, quoting Half Baked and bemoaning his lack of life compared to his engaged drummer, John Tacon. "I'm single and chubby. What's up?" he said, canvassing the crowd.
The crew finally had to shut off the power so that was the end of Brick + Mortar. (The band will return to Cincy on Aug. 15 for a free show on Fountain Square.)
Shortly after that, the flaming finger of God erupted from multiple clouds and the rain, gentle at first, ultimately came pissing down from the heavens. I had taken refuge in the Yeatman's Cove tunnels and thought I'd gotten way lucky to avoid the torrential downpour, but that proved ineffective as well when a tornadic wind blew the rain horizontally straight through the passageway. Everyone was drenched from cowlick to ass-crack and beyond.
Luckily, the storm didn't last long and the only issue at that point was how long the clean up and reset would take. I wandered down to the Main Stage to see if Red Wanting Blue was going to happen, but it appeared as though it would take a considerable amount of time, so I motored back down to the Warsteiner Stage to see what progress had been made there.
To my unending delight, Kim Taylor was just getting started about the time she should have been wrapping up. I've been completely smitten with Kim's work since a friend at my long since defunct graphic design day job lived in the same apartment building with her. She had just begun her music career and had given my friend a copy of her self-released EP, which he passed along to me. Her gently compelling voice, her introspective and intelligent lyrics and her melancholic mastery of melody certainly gave me a chill similar to the one I felt after my first experience with Suzanne Vega, but Kim was most assuredly following a unique path, and so it has remained for the past decade and a half.
I've seen Kim numerous times over the years and written at least three features and a few MidPoint previews ahead of her releases and appearances, and she never disappoints, as an interview or as an artist. The power of her presentation at Bunbury was obvious; with no more than her acoustic guitar and drummer Devon Ashley, Kim Taylor turned the vast expanse in front of the Warsteiner Stage into an intimate performance space that crackled with a quiet intensity. It is powerful testimony to Kim's ability to hold an audience that, with dark clouds roiling overhead and thunder rumbling ominously in the distance, there was even greater drama brewing on the Warsteiner Stage.
After a quick stop to use the Big Mac Bridge as an umbrella, it was down to the Lawn Stage to witness the mind-bending energy of The Yugos. The relatively new and insanely young four-piece channel the absolute best elements of '70s Punk and New Wave with a dash of Surf and a couple hundred thousand volts of charisma. Spend any appreciable time with The Yugos and you'll detect distinct flashes of the jerky time signatures of XTC and Talking Heads, the Pop verve of Flock of Seagulls and the dark intensity of Echo and the Bunnymen. Drummer Jordin Gough jumps around the stage as though fire ants have been ceremonially sewn into his black jeans; he stands on his drum stool and beats on his kit from above, he takes the floor tom into the audience and thumps on it like a brave calling his tribe to action, while bassist Jeremy Graham provides an equally schizophrenic bottom and guitarists Christian Gough and Jackson Deal are peeling off punky New Wave riffs and licks that are as nerve-rattlingly appealing as The Cure on speed or Devo on hallucinogenics laced with antipsychotics.
At their Lawn Stage set, The Yugos rolled out their latest track, "Follow You," did the song about a dream where a robot chased Christian down a hill, constantly called out a guy in the audience that looked like James Franco, dedicated a song to Seth Rogen and implored the assembled multitude to shake their asses. Comedy, Surf/Punk and a heart needle full of adrenaline combine to make the perpetual motion music machine known as The Yugos; with five years under their belts already, they're bound to last a hell of a lot longer than their namesakes.
After a delicious burger from Dutch's in the Craft Beer Village and an equally delicious Puma Pilsner, courtesy of Black Owls hammer Brian Kitzmiller, it was a stroll over to the Main Stage to see ZZ Ward crank up her last couple of songs for a large and enthusiastic crowd and then down to the River Stage to catch a few songs from hot DJ/multi-instrumentalist Robert Delong, who filled the Serpentine Wall with Electronic music devotees who were digging his live-looped vibe with an almost religious fervor. Back on the Main Stage, Young the Giant blasted the swelling multitudes with the sticky/sweet Indie Rock hard candy that put them on a lot of attendees' must-see lists.
I took my leave of the growing crowd in front of the Main Stage — a combination of devoted Young the Giant fans and Flaming Lips aficionados staking out their space for the imminent start time — to catch The Orwells at the Warsteiner Stage. The Orwells made my personal don't-miss list after a little due diligence in checking out their history and sound online for a preview in last week's CityBeat and they didn't disappoint.
The quartet's central Illinois lineage is pretty much all the Pop cred they require and they use it to sweeten their rough-edged Garage/Punk love, as evidenced on last year's Disgraceland and the subsequent Other Voices and Who Needs YouEPs.
I reluctantly ducked out of The Orwells a bit early to establish position for The Flaming Lips’ show, given the crush of rabid fans that were in all likelihood packing the front of the stage. For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted at this juncture that I was looking forward to this show because I am a Flaming Lips virgin. I drank the Kool-Aid with Oh My Gawd!!! way back in 1987, but missed the local show on that tour because of my freelance production schedule.
Since then, I've totally dug the studio Lips but somehow have never found my way to experiencing the live Lips; the closest I've ever gotten was nine years ago when I was in Austin for SXSW and Wayne Coyne came rolling down Sixth Street in the bubble with some sort of boombox entourage trailing behind, offering a soundtrack to the proceedings. And I suppose I could claim a certain amount of Lips cred for my two band interviews, the first with Steven Drozd in 2003 after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the second with Wayne in 2008 to talk about the DVD release ofChristmas on Mars.
But the Bunbury show represented the taking of my live Flaming Lips cherry; after a quarter century of studio foreplay, I was more than ready. And what a glorious deflowering it was.
After taking to the stage, which was appointed like a Peter Max flashback of Leary-esque proportions, the Lips launched into "The Abandoned Hospital Ship," with Wayne outfitted in a tinsel hairsuit that gave him the appearance of a glammed up Sasquatch. When it was over, he greeted the crowd warmly and promised that, should the rain begin again to the extent that the show had to be stopped, the Lips would be staying and they would finish the show, no matter what. The vast expanse of Lips fans roared their relief and the band shot headlong into "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1," and the crowd's bliss was palpable.
After a set that was filled with brilliant Lippage ("Look...The Sun is Rising" and "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" among them), dancing rainbows, magic mushrooms big enough to give Mario a coke boner, a gyrating sun and a video/LED presentation splashy enough to trigger a mild epileptic seizure, the clouds cried just slightly at the prospect of the end of the evening. The Lips took a short breather and then returned with the biggest one-two pay-off in Bunbury's short but potent history; the gorgeously contemplative "Do You Realize??" from Yoshimi and an absolutely epic version of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," punctuated by several blasts from the four giant confetti cannons on stage. If I smoked cigarettes, I surely would have sparked one up after that conclusion.
And thus marked the end of Bunbury's third installment. The last day's weather difficulties notwithstanding, it was another flawlessly presented and managed music festival put on by one of the city's most knowledgeable and Zen-like business heads, Bill Donabedian, and his amazing staff, who all handle every detail from gravely major to almost subatomically minor with a combination of ninja professionalism and weaponized OCD. And, as Bill would be the first to tell you, it couldn't be done without the walking live army of volunteers who make this thing run with the precision of God's pocketwatch.
Plans are already afoot for Bunbury 4; they get harder to surpass with each subsequent summer, and somehow Bill and his festival all-stars manage to do just that. See you at the gate next July.
• A lot of notable absences in the crowd this year, particularly my brother-from-another-mother Matthew Fenton. Either he just couldn't make it down this year, or he's actually perfected his cloak of invisibility and skillfully avoided me for the entire weekend. I hope it's the former.
• Even with Sunday's threatened inclement weather, or as departing WCPO meterologist Larry Handley would characterize it, the blow job that nobody wants (no, Larry wouldn't say that, but I would and, in fact, just did), there was still a great turnout for the day's lineup. There was the inevitable run-in with Brent and Kat, and that makes every day worthwhile; they headed down to Brick + Mortar and after a swing around the grounds, I headed that way myself.
• With the advent of lightning and the first shutdowns of the day, I headed for the Yeatman's Cove tunnels before things got too crazy. Moments after entering, the sky opened up and the rain pissed down, so I thought luck was on my side. I stopped to talk with a group of photographers, one of whom I've seen numerous times at Bunbury and MidPoint, which has made us sort of nodding acquaintances. We chatted for a bit, then he introduced himself as Steve Ziegelmeyer and asked if I had attended a wedding last year for someone from Jungle Jim's. In fact, my wife and daughter and I have gotten to know one of the guys from the dairy department at the Route 4 store who goes by Squidd, and when he announced that he was engaged, he insisted that we come to the wedding, which we were honored to do. Turns out Steve's wife works with Squidd's wife at Jungle Jim's Eastgate store, and he was at the wedding. And when he said it, I totally remembered seeing him there and completely blanking on where I knew him from. He gave me his card and an idea for a feature; I'll be remembering him now.
• While I was waiting to see what would come of Kim Taylor's set, up strolled Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess, looking none too worse the wear from Saturday's festivities. (Well, Eddy doesn't drink and Jess is 17, so the beating I take is typically incrementally worse than theirs, but I digress.) When the storm cranked up again, we headed for the shelter of the bridge and told ghost stories (they've got really good ones) until the sound of The Yugos drew us to the Lawn Stage.
• We were headed to Robert Delong's set when I was waylaid by Mr. Brian Kitzmiller, a drum beater of epic reputation and a beer buyer worthy of sainthood, or at least knighthood. When I steered over to Dutch's food booth for a burger, Brian introduced me to Jerry and Pam who run Dutch's (Brian knows at least 60% of every group of people that he finds himself in), as well as a couple of guys from the band The Easthills, who were playing the part of the Black Owls this year (their early afternoon set was rained out, like the Owls’ were in Year 1.) Over by the Delong set, the ubiquitous and always welcome King Slice appeared, as did Owls bassist Kip Roe and his sons, Kip Jr. and Ben, and we had ourselves a Rock & Roll convoy.
• Just before the Lips' extravaganza got underway, I ran into 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott, another prince of the local music realm, who was on his way down to the Warsteiner Stage to catch The Orwells. We had talked about the show when Ryan came into Class X to do Eddy's Kindred Sanction program for a Bunbury preview and a chat about the new 500MTM album, Stand There and Bleed, and I'm glad he reminded me. As I hit the Craft Beer Village on my way to The Orwells, I was absolutely floored to see my old friend Ric Hickey, one of the best guitarists this scene has ever produced, escorting his ladyfriend Michelle down to the Lips show. We caught up for a hot minute, then went our ways. Once at the Warsteiner Stage, as The Orwells were winding up, I spotted Mark Messerly near the back of the crowd, clearly contemplating how he would approach his Messerly & Ewing gig at next week's Buckle Up. No he was not; he was drinking a beer and imploring The Orwells to ramp it up. You know Mark. Venomous Valdez was right behind him, a vision in yellow on her birthday eve. Many happy returns, double V. And I finally caught up with Ryan, who introduced me to his lovely and relatively new wife Gina (I had to ask for her name twice because I'm old, I've got 40+ years of Rock & Roll ears and The Orwells had, in fact, ramped it up). As NRBQ once noted, you're good people, you are.
• We all wound up hanging together for a good portion of the Lips' set, but one of my favorite moments was the Roe boys' faces when I confessed that this was my first live Lips lock. They couldn't have looked more astonished if I'd told them I'd just eaten a half pound of heroin-soaked grapes. Kip and his boys have seen the Lips on numerous occasions and, as a result, once we got camped near the stage, Kip Jr. tapped me on the shoulder and very politely began pointing out the elements of the Lips' set design and what everything was for. It was a very good tutorial, a sweet gesture for a teenager to connect with an old duffer such as myself, and proof positive that childrearing is a high art and Kip Roe should teach the whole bloody world exactly how to do it.
• Finally, for the third consecutive year, the unofficial and extremely subjective results of my annual “Best T-Shirts at Bunbury” competition, selected and judged by me alone. This year was interesting for a couple of reasons, primarily because of Saturday's headliners, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Their numerous fans were displaying their band love loud and proud, but I was struck by a rather odd observation; I'm fairly certain I didn't see two Fall Out Boy T-shirts featuring the same design (at least until the day after the show, when people who didn't have shirts likely bought them at the merch booths). Someone is accruing Donald Trump-like wealth from marketing an almost endless variety of FOB tees, that's for bloody sure. The other constant on Saturday was a steady parade of people in Ramones tees, in honor of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original member of the legendary Punk band who succumbed to cancer on Friday. Bogart's owner Al Porkolab used to say that the best seat for a Ramones show was across the street at Dollar Bill's, where you could hear every note perfectly. I got his point, but I preferred my Ramones straight from the pipe. At any rate, R.I.P., Tommy.
And so, as always, in no particular order, until the winner at the end:
I (graphic of Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin) NY
Bad Decisions Make Great Stories
I Had Fun Once. It Was Awful.
Y'All (in the Yale typeface)
G-Dub (with George Washington in Raybans)
Nope (with Shepard Faireyesque cat illustration); followed by
Dope (with Shepard Faireyesque Questlove illustration)
There were many Foxy Shazam tees as well, including a vintage Flamingo Trigger design but my favorite was “Foxy Shazam. White Music for Black People”
Got B3? (I'm assuming they mean the keyboard and not the vitamin)
I Eat Glitter for Breakfast
Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper.
I May Be Your Best Option
I Ain't Even Mad
And my favorite T-shirt from this year's Bunbury crowd:
T-Rex hates push-ups (with a silhouette graphic depicting exactly why)