Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Personal Fest: REM, Bloc Party, Mars Volta

Personal Fest was a great time again this year. A fantastic two-day line-up that (kind of) ran the rock gamut.

I went on Day 2 (Saturday) the day with the much stronger (imho) roster of bands. I had never seen R.E.M. before and was anxious to know if they could deliver the goods live. I’ve always admired their songwriting, command of differing genres, and lyrics, despite the fact that Michael Stipe takes himself waaay too seriously. He doesn’t strike me as a guy from Georgia. Seems more like a Connecticut Yankee to me. Anyway, they rocked. 30,000 people on a beautiful spring night. Stipe was doing his hip-shaking, intellectual Iggy Pop shtick, and the crowd loved it. Well done.

Bloc Party, one of my favorite bands to emerge in the past few years, also rocked. They have this nervous, frenetic energy on their albums, and thankfully that sound translated well to the stage. Although I have one critique, and it's aesthetic, not musical: These London boys need some fashion tips. The lead singer, Kele Okereke (above), was decked out in non-ironic jean cut-off shorts, and some sort of environmentally-conscious T-shirt of a crying wolf. Very 1991. And the drummer took his shirt off after two songs, and we had to look at his hairy beer gut every time the director cut to a close-up of him on the big-screen. Bro, if you’re fat, no one wants to watch you sweat and pound the skins; only Keith Moon was allowed to do that.
I also saw Mars Volta, the most bombastic, avant-guard prog-rock band to come around in a long while. Their albums and live shows are just one continuous jam; it’s not free-form, like jazz, but rather highly-structured, screeching, introspective noise. Their music is kind of like how people feel about cats: you either love it, or hate it; there’s absolutely no in-between. Personally, I think Mars Volta are amazing. They got a lower slot in the lineup this year, as opposed to last time I saw them at the same festival in 2005, which doesn't make sense to me. There was also a personel change: Drummer Jon Theodore (above) has left the band. Like me, Jon went to high school in Baltimore; I used to see him play in a Grateful Dead cover band at keg parties when we were teenagers. Those were the days....

Seeing a live rock show in Argentina is truly a special experience. The crowds here are super appreciative (sometimes unnecessarily so). It’s like they feel privileged just to have the artists in their country. But I think that attitude is a crock of shit; top-name international acts have been coming here for decades, and they are always blown-away by the reception (just ask Eddie Vedder), so I think the gratitude should come from the artists: they’re lucky to be able to play in Argentina.

Photos courtesy of Leo Liberman.

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