Hangout Music Festival, Day 1: 05.18.2012
Day one of the third annual Hangout Fest went off without much of a hitch, even if it did feel hotter than low 80s. With the sun high in the sky and blazing, thousands of people funneled themselves into the festival’s secondary stage area to witness Brittany Howard and her Alabama Shakes prove that the hype was warranted. Oh, it was so warranted.
And while the crowd was sizeable at sunset for legendary rockers Wilco’s set, it was nowhere near the depth of Alabama Shakes, and as the Wilco set progressed, people began to leave in droves (I’m assuming either to secure good seating for the night’s headliner – Jack White – or to pack into the Xbox tent for STS9). All the better for me and my group to shimmy our way front and center for a set jammed with goodness, including tracks off the most recent release The Whole Love and dusted off gems from early albums like A.M. and Summerteeth (opening with “Misunderstood” set the tone for an evening of “I haven’t heard them play this in years!” remarks from the crowd). As people filed out, I began thinking about all those critics who refer to Wilco as “Dad rock.” And frankly, I got a little pissed. After sharing this thought on Twitter, Offbeat Magazine’s Alex Rawls replied that yes, people might classify them that way, but that “your dad feels way cooler for it.” I’m totally down with people of all ages appreciating good music (I saw both toddlers and geriatrics at the fest yesterday), but I think it does a real injustice to the brilliance of Jeff Tweedy & Co. to backhandedly pigeonhole them as a group who makes “safe” music. Yes, they have many a great “ditty,” but watching them bend and twist and gnarl the hell out of instrumental sections of ¾ of the songs they played last night, I will never call them safe. They are insane musical geniuses. And I’m prepared to slug anyone who asserts otherwise.
Speaking of insane musical geniuses, headliner Jack White quickly put to rest the question of “will he play White Stripes songs,” by opening with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” The remainder of the set was a lively mix of his new solo material from Blunderbuss and Stripes favorites, reworked with his expanded backing band. Mid-way through the set, he moved from his all-male backing band (clad in solid black) to the all-female one (clad in solid white). It may be a bit gimmicky, but it works for him. I’m sure some people were disappointed that the cadences and styles of some of the Stripes classics were altered, but I found it a great way to retain the magic of those songs and their history while breathing new life into them. The normally feverish “Bound to React” was reworked as a sludgy trudge while “We Are Gonna Be Friends” got a country waltz treatment, complete with pedal steel and intricate fiddle. My only regret is that he didn’t seize the utterly golden opportunity to blast through a scorching version of “Jolene” with this robust female backing band. It would have been perfection. While it may take some getting used to, Jack White is still as magnetic as ever with more than just Meg sitting behind him on the drums. He is unequivocally the musical mastermind of our generation and I look forward to seeing what he pulls off next.
- Erin Hall, Antigravity Magazine
Though skepticism towards the meteoric rise of any buzz band is reasonable, or maybe even necessary, Alabama Shakes have managed over the past couple of months to somehow dodge whatever backlash such doubt can often bring. I was never exactly sure why, having only heard second-hand about the group’s uproarious, energetic – and refreshingly early – New Orleans performance this past January which brought One Eyed Jacks to a capacity more packed than anyone had seen in recent memory. Granted, on some levels a great show is a great show, but why do these untested newcomers’ popularity explode overnight in the face of every J. Roddy Walston and Futurebirds that manage to tear down houses in every type of barroom in practically every area of the country nightly. For shit’s sake, only six months ago Alabama Shakes were opening for the Revivalists in Tuscaloosa. Where is the symmetry?
Yet it all makes sense to the massive 2:15 Hangout Fest crowd within seconds of the Shakes’ first blistery blues notes onstage. If nothing else, the Athens, Alabama quintet is proof that good Americana rests on much more than folksy lyrics and twangy guitar virtuosity. Sure, they’re working all the predictable ingredients of a blues/southern rock/garage act, but they seem to do so with a calculated restraint and reverence towards their source material from the 50s, 60s and 70s that has rarely been seen in the nine years since Kings of Leon released Of Youth and Youngmanhood. (Aside: Though Kings of Leon have deservedly become fodder for sarcastic jeers and snarky in-jokes about commercialism and lowest-common-denominator radio music, their debut record cannot be touched). It can be said, without a doubt, that the electricity felt between singer Britanny Howard and her dynamic and lively audience is not the result of buzz but the excitement of sharing the experience of a young band full of the kind of potential in quality that anyone with eardrums could hear and understand.
- Taylor Gray, Barryfest.com
I came into Friday’s afternoon’s M. Ward set at Hangout with admittedly little knowledge of his solo canon. Like most consenting adults, I was a huge fan of his work with Jim James and Conor Oberst as The Monsters of Folk, and I’d even cop to greatly enjoying both She & Him albums. But M. Ward the man had not passed through my ears with any real frequency or consequence in the past, so I showed up armed only with the increasingly popular perception of him as performer heavily influenced by the golden age of folk-rock troubadours.
People have called him a practical Bob Dylan clone on many occasions, sometimes accusiatorally and other times as a good-natured but unimaginative form of high praise. Both ring with a degree of truth, but it was the former that was on distracting display on Friday.
In no way do I want to suggest that M. Ward is anything but a prolific and prodigious musical force, and his set at Hangout was a delightful chunk of the day: the multi-talented backing band passed bass guitars, pedal steels and fiddles around to give his Pacific Northwest-soaked takes on bluesy Americana a buoyancy and vigor the quickly won over sun drenched crowd. But by the end, I was almost audibly gasping for Ward to just dispense with the formalities and cover the entire first side of Bringing It All Back Home, if only to give his decidedly raspy voice and familiar arrangements the context they probably deserved.
- Matt Rosenthal, Barryfest.com