Here is the post I published yesterday at the CoMo Collective. It covers the bands I saw and a couple I didn’t see much of. As you will see, True/False is more of a cultural experience than just a documentary film festival. That may be why we all love it so much…
As promised, here’s a complete rundown of the bands I was able to take in throughout True/False weekend. This year’s lineup was maybe the strongest I’ve seen. Between buskers warming up crowds, filling our streets with music, and rocking showcases around town, this fest became almost as much about the music as it did the films.
As a recap, I’m reposting my take on Wednesday’s Eastside Showcase. Scroll down if you’ve read it before…
This is the unofficial official start of the fest and it’s hard to believe that any showcase will outdo the one at Eastside Tavern last night. Three bands – two local, one from Milwaukee – whipped the crowd into a pretty good frenzy for Wednesday.
Enemy Airship opened the night and one could say the entire festival.If I wanted to hear Broken Social Scene, I’d probably watch them on Pitchfork TV, but this was a close enough facsimile. I certainly don’t mean that in negative way. The band is fun, even danceable, especially as compared to their previous incarnation, Nonreturner. The set was topped off with a particularly earnest cover of New Order’s “Age of Consent”. It’s too bad no one could hear the keyboards.
Another local, Hott Lunch, played second. I had heard a lot of good things and the band did not disappoint. From punk to classic rock, this band was all over the place aggression, hitting all the right influences. I’d like to hear them focus in on one thing, but they do so many so well. Maybe that’s not so bad. Either way, it was an enjoyable set.
The closers were Catacombz. With a light show few have witnessed in Eastside, the band beat the audience into submission and told them to dance without directly telling the so, yet they obeyed. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a band come in and just move the entire crowd into convulsions.
Mojo’s Showcase (Bassdrum of Death, Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, and Ming Donkey One-Man Band)
Regretfully, I missed Ming Donkey One-Man Band due to a film. This became apparent to me as I entered Mojo’s to find it buzzing. It seemed that buzz was about the dirty heaps of new age blues that was being thrust upon the crowd and would continue through the night.
Jerusalem and the Starbaskets, once of CoMo, played next. Besides frontman Jeremy Freeze’s occasional turn as a busker and drummer Kim Sherman’s turns at V/H/S Q&A’s, the band made a triumphant return to CoMo (as is their usual) with a roaring set of dirges and blues psychedelia. Interestingly, the band’s sound was filled out with the addition of John Garland on guitar. The set primarily featured material from their well-received Dost, a record you should own.
Bass Drum of Death is another Fat Possum band that sounds as if they’re from another era. They looked and sounded a ton like 1991-era Seattle, but sounded closer to No Age than Nirvana. This topped off what was an impressive roster for the evening. I’m not sure I’ve seen a T/F showcase demonstrate as much firepower as this crew showed… Well, until the next night.
Mojo’s A-Go-Go (Believers, Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?, Dark Dark Dark and Cassie Morgan)
Once again, I regretfully missed a Mojo’s opener. St. Louis duo Cassie Morgan and the Lonely Pine played what must have been a distant and haunting set of hushed melodies. Although described as folk, I’d place her stylings closer to something sleepier, with a bit of twang for good measure. I only know this because I luckily caught her set as a busker in the Blue Note. Still, I imagine her set fit nicely with the bands to follow.
Dark Dark Dark came on next. Gypsies with powerful female lead vocals rarely go wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not Beirut with Sharon Van Etten. No, this is a rock band that understands a good pop song, something that would linger through the evening.
At this point, it was clear that the evening was building toward something. However, it felt as if we needed a way to traverse the gap between Cassie Morgan’s brand of folk and Dark Dark Dark’s gypsie spiel. A bridge would work, but a boat or ship would be better. Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? made their way on stage and increased the number of accordions and French horns by at least one apiece.
The bridge or ship or whatever worked as the crowd was pretty amped for the Believers set. Believers just puts on a consistently great show and it doesn’t hurt that the songs are so good and danceable. For once, all the percussion was in the back of the stage as compared to the center, but it didn’t take away the percussive nature of the band by any means. The buzz that started the previous night lasted all the way through Believers’ set. If for no other reason, Believers should stay together just to play T/F every year. Either way, they will forever be linked to the fest for me as it just isn’t complete without a Believers show.
I remember Nature Walk busking before, but I don’t remember them being as engaging as they were this year. I got vibes from Violent Femmes and One Foot in the Grave-era Beck. Good, fun rock music to get us ready for the nonfiction about to be thrown our way.
The Toughcats come all the way from Maine every year. It seems there’s a contingent that makes the trek every year and the Touchcats are part of that crew. To fully enjoy the Toughcats’s set, one has to pay particular attention to the drummer who works as hard and as enthusiastically as any drummer I’ve ever seen.
Run On Sentence featured the filmmaker of Gasland, a popular T/F entry and near-Oscar winner. Beyond that, Run On Sentence stands on their own, recalling a bit of Clem Snide. They certainly kept a large audience in the spacious Missouri Theater engaged with the energy they brought from Portland.
Bramble actually played my daughter’s preschool before they ever played the T/F box office, various street corners, or several film venues. They are fast becoming a favorite at the fest. Everybody tends to enjoy their special brand of roots rock, especially three-year-olds.
Another roots rock band to busk some films was Wine Teeth. However, where Bramble reminded me more of Fleet Foxes (musically), Wine Teeth are certainly big Elliott Smith fans, providing a bit of edge to their set.
The hit of the fest may have been Les Trois Coups. The four Frenchmen enchanted audiences, inspiring many to dance and others to fall under their gypsie charms. From what I heard and saw, I don’t think the boys ever stopped playing their songs and performing skits with a combination of French and bits of broken English. The boys played for a school in St. Louis and hit the streets as soon as they made it to CoMo, and were seen at showcases and in the basement of at least one house party at 3:30 in the morning. I’m not sure they ever slept as they had to catch a flight early Sunday morning.
It’s nice see some great bands return year after year. Pearl and the Beard can both fill any venue with their powerful voices while maintaining an uncanny ability to rely on subtlety to not overwhelm with every song. This has really been one of the better busker acts to make it to T/F over the years and I hope they keep coming back.
Prahlad is actually a folklore professor at the university. He plays his brand of folk on mbira and slit drum, traditional African instruments. The resulting music is calming yet stimulating and was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the fest.
Cindy Woolf told a story that went with a song that was about distilling moonshine. That may be all you need to know. This is country as it’s meant to be sung and performed. Sad, slow, and soothing.
There were others to play music last weekend, but this was what I was able to see/hear among the 15 or so films I was able to see. Still, it was possibly the strongest lineup the fest has featured since I’ve been attending. Music coordinators Billy Schuh and Amanda Rainey really deserve a ton of credit for putting together this year’s group of buskers and showcasers. For the complete list of musicians, including many of the better ones I failed to mention here, check T/F’s website while it’s still up.