7.24.10, Baker District/South Broadway
I decided to change my pattern for my third crawl along Broadway for the UMS. I'd started late on Thursday and Friday nights, checking out the first venues at 10 p.m. at the earliest. I wanted to get a head start for the Saturday lineup, and I stood with the faithful festival goers for one of the first sets of the afternoon, basking in the beautiful weather for a set from Houses in the Goodwill parking lot at 3 p.m.
The band kept the selection upbeat, drawing on powerful guitar statements from both Mike Marchant and Andy Hamilton. The driving riffs and meditative melody lines found an ample backup in Kinsey Hamilton's steady backup vocals and Eric Peterson's sinous synth lines. Considering their early slot, Houses drew a faithful and fawning audience, a crowd populated by fans who sang and danced along. All told, it was an inspiring, infectious start to the day, one that wasn't dampened by the warm temperatures or the early hour.
Houses in Goodwill parking lot
The next venue would prove decidedly more low-key. Eleanor's set at Michaelangelo's bore the feel of a coffeehouse performance. Ryan Brasher took the solo spotlight, offering searching vocals and dense acoustic guitar lines on his Takamine. The relatively early hour of the day showed in the scant audience - out of the twenty patrons gathered in the cramped space, about half were focused intently on laptops. Still, Brasher offered some moving moments in his solo set. The ballad "Arcadia" was especially noteworthy, with its lyrics describing a lost paradise and its stirring combination of major and augmented chords.
Mercuria and the Gem Stars at Fentress Architects
My next stop on my early afternoon tour of South Broadway served as a fitting middle ground between the energy of Houses and the meditative appeal of Eleanor. Mercuria and the Gem Stars played at Fentress Architects venue, a stage built up in the middle of a walled garden.
The setting seemed to fit the trio's understated sound, a dynamic dominated by Maria Kohler haunting vocals and unique guitar style. In her performances of tunes like "Scarecrow" and "The Mathematician," Kohler used simple chord structures and resonant riffs as a springboard to something deeper.
With suggestive accompaniment from bass and drums, Kohler found an ideal spotlight for her skill at making an E major chord sound entirely new. Combined with her evocative lyrics, her talent at finding novel phrasings for familiar structures made the set engaging and innovative.
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Jim McTurnan and the Kids That Killed the Man broke me out of the pensive state inspired by Mercuria's set. The quartet's fusion of 80s pop echoes, driving New Wave beats and high register harmonies upped the energy level for the day. McTurnan's frantic, frenetic energy was ideally suited for the stage at the hi-dive. My last stop on my afternoon tour of the UMS was a return to the Goodwill parking lot, taking in The Heyday's set before I had to abandon South Broadway for the day. It was a decidedly poppy way to end the day - the group boasts an undeniable skill at laying down straightforward, commercially viable rock songs with easily recognizable hooks.
The dynamic was ideal for the large scale of the stage and the outdoor atmosphere. Teenage fans quickly flocked to the front of the crowd, and younger volunteers working the entrance silently sang along as they checked wristbands. Still, the slick sound of the rock tunes wore thin after about twenty minutes, and I found myself longing for the brasher approach of McTurnan or the more measured melodies of Eleanor.
The daytime tour of the festival offered a much different feel from the first two nights. In lieu of the weary barhounds finishing off their day at Club 404, I ran into eager fans still at the early stages of their daylong music binge. It was a chance to catch my breath, to prepare for the full day that awaits me today.