Beer and Pavement

True/False Bands

Posted in Film, Intersections, Live by SM on March 8, 2011

Besides being the premier documentary film festival in the country[1], True/False features a somewhat eclectic bunch of bands to not only serve as buskers, serenading audiences waiting for films to begin, but they often rock out at after-parties and showcases throughout the weekend, all over town. I was asked to blog some of these bands. I didn’t see every band, nor did I attend every show, but what I saw was overall pretty enjoyable. Here’s the rundown…

Busking is when musicians practice and/or perform in a public place, often for tips. One of the unique aspects of T/F is the presence of buskers all around town and particularly in theaters. I saw 14 films over four days. Before every one of those films some busking occured. And I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for busking. So, my reviews are all pretty positive, but for various reasons. Here’s what I saw/heard:

  • Bramble might be the quintessential busking band of this year’s fest[2]. Lovely harmonizing, acoustic layers, and ancient percussive methods carry a Bramble song to the heavens.  Not jarring, but certainly not forgettable, Bramble put audiences at ease before learning about bloody mobile phones, the Black Power movement, and troll hunters. Support them on Kickstarter and keep your eyes open for a return to your favorite film festival.
  • Columbia’s own Nature Walk take their sound from the Ozarks, rocking a traditional Americana groove and exploring both the darkness and hope in nonfiction film. The band set up much like Bramble, but the aesthetic was very different. Where Bramble was of the sky, Nature Walk tasted of the earth, making the experience feel all the more authentic and taking us all home to the backwoods and hills of southern Missouri.
  • I witnessed Jeremy Freeze of Jerusalem & the Starbaskets provide two very different performances. Before To Be Heard, the gruff-looking one-time-Columbian played a somber set of country standards and originals. It was dark, Jeremy mumbled, but it seemed to set a serious mood for a pretty serious film. The old folk behind me complained a bit, but sometimes that’s what a festival likes this needs to keep it strange and abnormal. Of course, those old fogies missed out on the real fun as Jeremy spent most of his set before Shut Up Little Man! tuning his electric guitar and hollering out something about “fucking documentaries” and “fuck yeah, True/False.” He played one or two songs, tried to leave his guitar where the filmmakers typically stand after a screening, and walked off with 15 minutes to kill before the film. A volunteer convinced him to come out. Once Jeremy realized his tiny amp was all the way at the other side the stage area (maybe five feet away), he opted to just sing a couple of covers a cappella[3]. Evidence here.
  • Richard the Lionhearted is another Columbian band playing the fest. Their brand of is the kind where every song just sounds familiar. That’s comforting. They also may have been the largest band (six-piece) in the fest’s smallest theater (Little Ragtag).
  • Pearl & the Beard were often cited as the most impressive of the buskers. The Brooklyn three-piece may have also been the most versatile as they could quiet the crowd with soothing harmonies and fill a large venue like the Blue Note with the raw power of their voices. Seriously, this is one of the bands we could see some big things from in the coming years.
  • Lizzie Wright was a most unlikely busker for The Redemption of General Butt Naked[4], but she was a welcome change-of-pace, nonetheless. Imagine a chipper Joanna Newsom singing Moldy Peaches songs about robot love and you’d land somewhere near Lizzie’s aesthetic. She’s new to Middle Missouri. I look forward to hearing her play around town.
  • Mexi-Americana super-cute trio(?) David Wax Museum pulled a Arcade Fire and worked their way through the crowd at some point during their set[5], but what else should buskers do? Just stand around? The energy in their songs necessitated some movement if we were all just going to sit there. The NPR-darlings came to us from Boston and I hope they make it back next year as well.
  • Dubb Nubb were billed as the “only twindie-pop band in America” and they weren’t lying[6]. The twins were the other act that sang like Joanna Newsom, but they harmonized, creating an effect only heard on Newsom’s overdubbed aural masturbations disguised as 30-minute “songs.” I digress. Dubb Nubb were quite good at aping Newsom’s vocal stylings[7] over acoustic guitar. I enjoyed it. My Joanna Newsom-loathing wife did not.
  • Robert Sarazin, more of a storyteller than busker, closed the fest as is (becoming) tradition. He brought the house down with accompaniment from Maine’s Tough Cats before Life in a Day. The festival thrives on such personalities placing their own mark on the festivities and Robert has this talent of warming up the crowd for a grand send-off.

There were other events throughout the weekend, but I had my limits. I made some, but had to skip others. Here’s what else I saw/heard:

  • Mojo’s A Go-Go featured one of the most diverse lineups you’ll find anywhere[8]. Despite that diversity, the upbeat, danceable nature of the three bands fit perfectly together. Haii Usagi opened the gig with their version of electro-thrash, calling up the ghost of Brainiac, sans vocals and guitar[9]. I once dismissed them as sounding too Animal Collective, but that was lazy on my part. Haii Usagi bring the bleeps and blips that drives and veers as opposed to superficially just addressing your need to dance the night away. I’m happy they’re local as it should afford me more opportunities to see them again.
  • Also on the Mojo’s lineup was Chicago and Emergency Umbrella band Netherfriends. I saw them play an EU showcase a summer ago and Pitchfork last summer. Since that time, the band has really worked out the kinks. Danceable indie rock is not an easy thing to pull off without sounding fleeting, but Netherfriends is figuring things out. Netherfriends plays like Animal Collective[10] with soul and seemingly stuck in the seventies. This was truly a fun set. It was nice to see.
  • The night’s headliner was Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth, another in a long line of soul revivalists flooding the indie scene. This band was good at what they do and caused the crowd to dance up a frenzy like few I’ve seen in this town[11]. Honestly, I don’t get this new obsession with soul music and I’m not sure Kings Go Forth really changed my mind, but they certainly were entertaining.
  • The other set I witnessed Saturday night (or Sunday morning) was that of Columbia’s Believers at a party I’m not allowed to tell you about[12]. There was certainly a palpable energy in the room created by the band as they ripped through a set that left folks wanting more (always a good sign). They’re like Vampire Weekend with balls, White Rabbits with irony, and The Walkmen if they wanted to sound like they’re from this century and not the last. This was a set that made me smile and that doesn’t happen that often anymore. This really was the best set of the fest. Too bad only a few witnessed it.

For those who think True/False is just about the films, you’re sadly mistaken as the music aspect is slowly growing into a major event of its own. I feel bad for those fest-goers who pay no attention to the buskers or avoid the rock shows and showcases. However, it just means there’s more room for me to attend, a practice I will surely include in future True/False fests.

This post originally appeared in The CoMO Collective, a site I am collaboratively working on with a few other Columbian bloggers. The only difference between that post and this one is that this one has some revisions and footnotes. So, consider yourself lucky.

1That’s right. I said it. Name one that’s better. All I know is that every filmmaker who comes through talks about how much they love our fest or they say it’s the best documentary film festival anywhere. They don’t have to say that. I think that because it is primarily focused on documentary film, it gets about as much mainstream attention as docs typically get.
2Before this year, I would have tagged Brody Douglas Hunt as the quintessential T/F busker, but sadly, Brody didn’t make it out this year.
3I suspect he was a bit tipsy, but it was a happy tipsy. Nothing wrong with that.
4I described this film with two words on Twitter: terrifying penises. That’s all you need to know.
5This made it really hard to eat my burrito.
6What I mean to say is that they’re actually twins, possibly identical. I don’t know that they’re the only “twindie” act in America, but they certainly looked alike.
7Who would have guessed that folks would copy Joanna Newsom’s voice? I guess it shows that’s she’s more influential than we may have once expected her to be.
8Typically, “diverse” lineups include a bunch of white dudes and a hip-hop act. This was not the case. It’s possible to have diversity without hip-hop. Now, had they included some women on the bill, that would have made the lineup more diverse.
9This is something I would have assumed was impossible, but Haii Usagi made me think “Brainiac” the whole time. Really, that’s quite a feat.
10Sorry. This time the reference was meant as a compliment and was particularly apt. I recognize compare bands is lazy, but it’s also an effective way to communicate. Besides, I’m barely professional at this.
11We don’t dance here. I’m not sure why.
12It’s not just a secret, it’s a super secret party held at a secret location. You know you’ve been in a town for a long time when the the person running the door takes one look at you and says, “Zac, you’re okay to go in.” (Thanks, Mary!) I was on the list thanks to my role as T/Fweeter and music blogger/guerrilla journalist.

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4 Responses

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  1. claygirlsings said, on March 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Robert Sarazin Blake was fantastic at the Windsor (maybe for Page One? not sure). His ad libbing was entertaining to the patrons and welcome to the volunteers as he sang for everyone to move to the middle of the row. Then he paused and said essentially – that wasn’t the lyric of the song, we’d really like you all to move to the middle of your rows. The audience laughed, then everyone got up and moved. It was a beautiful sight to the ushers.

  2. […] needed some rock ‘n roll, and that’s what I got. I already wrote about this show in my music post, but you should know that the lineup was excellent. Haii Usagi filled the space expertly with […]

  3. […] wonderful enough to invite both Dubb Nubb and Lizzie Wright Super Space Ship to play before films. People liked us. We released a special Lizzie EP just for festival attendees with 4 songs that she wrote […]

  4. […] needed some rock ‘n roll, and that’s what I got. I already wrote about this show in my music post, but you should know that the lineup was excellent. Haii Usagi filled the space expertly with […]

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