Walking 40,000-plus steps, 18 miles in total, over three days to see 35 bands play live in eight venues means you’re in love — and love seems like the most stupid, most illogical thing.
But then the light peeks through a hazy memory and Pinc Louds is playing this incredible set on top of the Perry Lane Hotel as the sun dips below the Savannah skyline on Saturday and there’s a reminder of an electric high brought on by a three-day lightning storm of guitar amps and loud gorgeous sounds.
Every day seems more chaotic than the last day in recent years. Headlines are filled with absurdity. There comes a breaking point, when you just can’t take it any longer and avoid the news altogether, or turn your pocket computer off and take a walk through the woods. The lack of civility within debates is so polarizing, and confounded by hysteria, it’s hard to find hope within national conversations. Pure American dissonance.
But, what a beautifully bold, undeniably talented “imaginary” band Pinc Louds is. Strumming on an amplified acoustic guitar with a loop pedal, Claudi is the most charming human I’ve ever seen play rock ’n’ roll. I was completely encapsulated in those songs and we all danced. Everyone danced at Stopover. Even local legend Tom Cartmel, who never dances at anything, danced at Stopover this year. Twice.
Locals killed it
I never connected with Bero Bero’s records and I’ve only seen them live once. Then I went to Club One on Saturday and danced more to some of the best music I heard all weekend. They are a local band. They are great live. I will be at every show I can in the future.
Every Stopover I cover — this was my seventh — I am reminded of how incredible our talent pool here in Savannah is. The locals are always as good or better than the touring bands. Jeff Two-Names and The Born Agains, Valley Gals, Damon and the Sh!tkickers, Basically Nancy, Nancy Druid, and Dope KNife reaffirmed how exceptional our local scene is.
And The Train Wrecks, well, that was a sold out, jam-packed show at The Jinx that I couldn’t even get in for. I am OK with that. I’ve seen them so many times. I hope some visitors got to enjoy them, actually. There is no reason The Train Wrecks shouldn’t be on a major indie label. They are as good and much better than so many of the “professional” touring bands.
Jason Bible opened for Sarah Shook and the Disarmers recently, and put on a much better show than she did. Although she’s rad and has a really great album out, Bible blew the doors off the house. Like he always does. A Savannah treasure for sure.
Savannah’s Aaron Paul Zimmer (City Hotel) opened for SONTALK and Lucy Dacus on Thursday. SONTALK was generic and boring. Zimmer’s new album is solid front to back, with songs that will get embedded in your brain. I can’t remember anything SONTALK sang about. Something about war? Zimmer’s songs and his new album, “Saints and Heretics,” is worth all of your time and money.
Lucy Dacus, is, well, pretty fantastic. Not only is she a great songwriter, but live, she and her road band are a blast. She played a new song and tracks from “Historian” and “No Burden” and everyone fell in love with her.
Beyond hearing “Night Shift” live (a song that got me through a great deal of heartache last year), the most enlightening and effervescent moment of that show, as well as Pylon Reenactment Society's set, was watching a sea of young women — including the kids from local high school band Basically Nancy — bob their heads and sing every single word of every song, believing that they, too, can do whatever they dream of in the quiet solitude of night when they scout out their futures. That’s a beautiful thing.
Lightning in a bottle
There was lightning energy in the air all weekend, the kind that hits when you least expect it, and bounces around the doorways and alleys. Halfway through their new album on Friday, Weakened Friends took a break for a second to catch a breath. They had been spitting fire for 15 solid, unstoppable minutes — just raw power chords, straightforward, no-nonsense, no-noodling lead guitar lines, thick pounding bass riffs, all formed in a sonic pattern resembling '90s alternative rock Megalodon Dinosaur Jr. (J Mascis appeared on their debut album) It was loud. It was big and it sounded great.
Good sound matters
I just want to be as cool as Kevin Rose. That’s my goal in life. Not only is he an exceptional sound guy, recording engineer, guitar player and fishing boat captain, but he is also an accomplished architect. Yeah, I am quitting now. The sound at Service Brewing was great and that is not an easy room in which to get the sound right . Of course, Rose was on the board. Service was a great venue addition this year and hopefully will be on the docket for the next few years — and that is the most Bill Dawers-style line I’ll ever write.
El-Rocko has something to be desired in the sound department. Faux Ferocious and The Beths both put on killer shows that sounded great, but Dope KNife struggled with a two-mic setup, and had to keep trading the good mic out with his cohort.
El-Rocko was never designed to be a music venue, but in the last year alone has risen as one of the most prolific live music establishments, continually staging incredible bands week to week—and almost always for free. Which is pretty great.
When there aren’t that many people in there, it’s tough to get that room sounding right. It’s not a long straight hallway like The Jinx or Barrelhouse. There are a lot of weird angles and shapes for sound waves to go bouncing around on, which effects the reverberation time and echo. When it’s crowded, and there is more sound absorption, everything is clearer. So it goes. Maybe, everyone should go to all the shows there and create the necessary absorption via extra bodies. I know when my fat butt is there it sounds better automatically. I absorb at least half of the band's sound on my own. #WinForTheBigGuys
(This section has been amended to reflect a more thorough critique, instead of the inaccurate blanket statement it original posed.)
Over at The Jinx, John Edwards has that place on par. Having been both on that stage and in the crowd under Edwards’ steady board hand, I can attest that the sound there is as good as it’s ever been since I moved to this town eight years ago. Well done. Good sound matters.
The GenNext showcase on Saturday restored my faith in the future, if there is one. High school and middle school kids played maybe their first live show to a rather large audience and they killed it. They were just fantastic. Basically Nancy sound checked with Joan Jett’s “Crimson and Clover,” a cover of a cover and I thought, yeah, the kids are all right.
In the midst of the organized chaos that is Deerhunter, the indelible indie-rock band of lore, Bradford Cox said something to the effect, “I know there are a lot of people out there that are confused by what they’re hearing. But I think we can find common ground in the dissonance. I think we can find common ground in the American dissonance.”
And then Deerhunter played on. Later, Rose's kid, Grayson, joined them on stage.
That quote came floating back to me later at Priests.
Priests takes the core of what makes pop music attractive, that simple common time beat with a pretty polished melody, and slips some angular riffs in, some pounding Motorik rhythms that refuse to let up, all sharpened by a melody that is undefinably beautiful and strange at the same time.
People who don’t listen to a lot of music are confused by it, I suspect. It takes time to appreciate when someone deconstructs a popular apparatus in an interesting manner that is equally harsh and sweet and only occasionally satisfying. I think it takes an unclean melody, scattered lead guitar, and consistent rhythm to shape an accurate portrayal of emotional complications. Life isn’t always sunshine and pretty things.
Something important to remember — and this is also beautiful — if you didn’t like a band, chances are someone else did. It’s all subjective. So that means all the bands were good, even if they weren’t. And some weren’t.
Mike Krol, Mike Krol
Mike Krol closed out the entire festival for me with the nicest bookend to just about anything I’ve experienced of late. Mike Krol writes all of Mike Krol’s music. Mike Krol writes the drum parts. Mike Krol writes the guitar parts. Allison Crutchfield writes the bass parts, I suspect. She plays them live, and according to Mike Krol, she “was an integral part of the new album.”
Mike Krol does not play guitar live or drums. He just stands up there and embodies all that’s great about rock ’n roll, leading an assault of gut-punch power riffs, with honest lyrics and some of the best head-banging, punk-fueled garage rock this side of 2006.
It seems Mike Krol and Allison Crutchfield have fallen in love or something. A match made in Merge Records heaven. They did not, however, love the jerks who were trying to mosh during the set and stopped the set twice to rebuke them. Yeah, touching or pushing a stranger without consent is not cool. Don't be a jerk.
Speaking of love affairs
In the middle of this chaos, all of this madness around us, what else can we do but fall in love over and over?
Music is a love that only gives. You can’t abuse it, and you can’t overdose on it. Just plug it in. Hit play. Put it on repeat. Flip that album, and let whatever concoction of notes and melodies pour through your brain waves, washing over all your senses, until the world seems right, or close to it.
So you can stand there in the middle of a crowd at Weakened Friends, with a head full of faults and failures, and when that Fender is strummed, when the channel lights up and the distortion twists the molecules of air within the tubes and your brain waves are suddenly assaulted by sound, none of it matters.
Music is falling in love over and over with something that is nearly intangible, but always real. There is no better drug, no better love than music. People will always break your heart. Which is why we have rock ’n’ roll in the first place.
The irony of humans, standing together with broken hearts or smiles, light and airy or heavy pasts, reveling on the altar of someone else’s hurts and joys is the greatest, most human paradigm to ever exist. Weakened Friends' singer/guitarist Sonia Sturino had her heart ripped out and stomped on. I know. I felt it in every note she sang. Songs have evolved as a medium to give voice to pain and beauty we all feel but rarely share.
In the end, what else do you want out of life?
To be twisted, to be scared, to be bruised, emotionally battered, or to be taken by flight to another place entirely, where all there is are power chords, truth in lyrics, common ground in shared existence, connection with friends and love in music.
Also, did anyone try the electronic toothbrush they gave away in the VIP/press bags?! That was better than any gift I got for Christmas last year. #HappyStopover