People were traveling from all over the country to protest the Iraq War in DC a few weeks ago. I guess some goof-offs like Thievery Corporation and Le Tigre put on a free show to reward the travelers, but everybody would have had a much better time if they had stopped off in Fredericksburg, Virginia that day instead.
Wall of Soundfest was the smooth product of a lot of hard work by Fredericksburg band The Offering and a few of their local friends. Similar in style to Philadelphias recent Popnoise Festival, the concert not only brought together fourteen bands from around the country, it also managed to draw some devoted shoegazer fans to Virginia from hundreds of miles away. Sadly I didnt catch every band, but some of the ones I did hear literally blew my mind.
First I saw Miami band Baby Calendar, and they delivered a great live show that contrasted with a lot of the incredibly heavy bands that followed them. The first thing I noticed was the bands impressive drummer, who seemed to be playing all over the place in a disjointed style but managed to keep a really tight rhythm as well. The trio played some really great indie pop tunes, and the guitarist also seemed to have fun playing some wild notes. They sounded great when the sound grew a little heavier as well, and I know a lot of people would enjoy seeing a live band as fun as Baby Calendar.
The chirpy spirit of Baby Calendar didnt last too long, but that doesnt mean that the festival grew any less exciting. The Offering played with two recently added members, and I was instantly hooked by their noisy shoegaze tendencies. Another contrast to Baby Calendar was the emerging use of drum machines by many of the later festival acts. I dont really know why I like drum machines so much in rock music, but they really can sound great when a band knows how to use them effectively. The largest band was Richmond Virginias Grayland who just finished a three-track demo of some really good songs. They have more goth and ethereal tendencies, and I was really impressed by the keyboard and synth music backing up their sound. Not everyone at the show caught their last few songs, but Grayland proved they could build their own wall of noise on some of the closing tunes.
A highlight for me was Alcian Blues set. I hadnt caught them live in nearly four years, and they have a slightly different lineup now. There was no drummer this time, but Kim Dodd who was a new face to me was manning the keyboards and the drum machine that seem to be used on more recent releases like the Silvers Sleep Walk EP. I love this band, and Im constantly impressed by their consistency both live and on recordings. I guess their live show wins out though when singer/guitarist Jake Reid enters frenzy-mode, like he did on their final song. Their recent Slowdive cover Joy sounded fabulous live as well.
After strong sets by Sad Lives of the Hollywood Lovers and Philadelphias Stellarscope, the night ended with a knockout double punch of Fredericksburgs Ceremony and New York Citys A Place to Bury Strangers. Members of both of the latter bands had been playing together for years in Fredericksburg legends Skywave, but I had no idea how incredible these new projects would be. The two members of Ceremony seriously blew the top off the festival when they started playing. I have no idea how on earth one guitar can create some of the sounds that Pauls guitar did. The backing drum and synth tracks sounded just like a bomb had gone off in a microwave popcorn factory, and somehow I could still hear a bit of their vocals too. Well, I heard enough vocals to realize one of their tracks was a cover of Depeche Modes Enjoy the Silence and, oh my God, I have never heard a cover version this good in my life. With the skeleton of something sparse and melodic like Depeche Mode to work with, Ceremony hit a complete homerun, turning Martin Gores little guitar riff into a monstrosity of feedback that just made my jaw drop. It only got better when Jake from Alcian Blue stepped up for a few tracks, and by the end of the show, all of their music had sold out before I could find anything to buy.
Headliners, A Place To Bury Strangers, had a pretty tough act to follow, but they rose to the occasion as well. The same mind-blowing guitar style comes out in these guys music, and I think I counted at least seven or eight distortion pedals lined up for just the guitar. I guess you could compare a band like Interpol to Joy Division, but it takes a band like A Place to Bury Strangers to instill that same sense of fear and intensity you used to feel before you wore out your copy of Unknown Pleasures. Many bands were building up a relentless noise that carried throughout their songs, but A Place to Bury Strangers were quite adept at teasing you with quieter intros before blowing you away in quick bursts of distortion. The whole show was incredible.
I left feeling proud that so many underground American bands are now transcending some of their British influences. The shoegazer scene (for lack of a better termstill!) seems to have spread in a sparse web across the entire country, and it has recently gained a lot of popularity in Asia with Japanese upstarts like Hartfield and Cruyff in the Bedroom giving the US some tough competition. So what does all this mean to you? Check out some of these bands online, and if you live anywhere close to Virginia, you should see Grayland, Sad Lives of the Hollywood Lovers, and Ceremony play The Nanci Raygun on November 9th in Richmond. Itll be Ceremonys first show outside of Fredericksburg, and even if these bands arent playing right next door to you, it would probably be more than worth your time to go to them.
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