Friday, July 9 - Sunday July 11, 2010 | Glob | Denver
Over the course of one weekend, Titwrench 2010 brought together artists and people of all stripes from around the country and attracted a wider than usual swath of the local community. On Saturday afternoon, there were workshops on empowering people in building electrical devices, running their own DIY venue and online musical collaboration. On Sunday, there was a picnic with a handful of musical performances. What follows is a lose account of what happened at Glob this past weekend.
Friday, July 9, 2010 Julie Slater, sister of Titwrench founder Sarah Slater, opened the festivities with a reading of Robin Morgan's 1962 poem, "Dance of the Seven Veils." Slater then treated us to some violin improv that sounded like something out of a Philip Glass composition for an Errol Morris documentary. Even though Slater was the first performer, there was already an impressive number of people in attendance and that only grew as the night went on.
Concrete Shiva from Long Beach made ghostly, echoing drones that sounded like some futuristic, Japanese classical music. Part way through her set, she executed tape samples and manipulated them to sound like a nearby ocean. High pitched atmospheric noises cycled with lower toned textures gave the continued watery sound direction like a river.
By the time Lust-Cats of the Gutters got set up, Glob was near capacity. Opening with an early number rarely played these days, "Love Song," the Lust-Cats tore into their material with joyful glee, Alex Edgeworth's make-up making her look a bit like an evil Raggedy Ann. During the cover of Hole's "Violet," even more of the audience, which had already been singing along during the set, joined in on the choruses. A surprising number of people also seemed to know the lyrics to the always hilarious yet intense, "Housewife With a Loose Grip on Reality."
A bracing drone served as the introduction to Night of Joy's performance before the trio kicked into "Concrete Jungle." The song "Vein Popper Brain Ripper" was especially exhilarating, as Bree Davies and Fez Guzman anchored Val Franz's sharp, angular guitar work that seemingly wanted to escape from her control. For "Do You Love Me Now?" by the Breeders, a sizeable portion of the audience seemed to know the words and joined in with the same high spirits displayed by the band. Pylon-esque in its melodic ferocity and Gang of Four-like in its embrace of flowing rhythms coupled with jagged atmospheres, Night of Joy was a good follow-up to the high-energy Lust-Cats.
The abrasive textures of Hell-Kite matched its slashing, hammering dynamics. The Tempe band's drummer, like Mo Tucker, stood up as he played and laid down a forceful rhythm. The singer/guitarist, Anne Marie Phillipp, gestured wildly over the course of the set and otherwise engaged in co-crafting gritty atmospheric passages to go along with her arch vocalizations. With the full band, Phillipp is able to make her songs blast with the proper power inherent in their composition.
For a two-piece, Bury My Bones from Denver sure created quite a racket -- a swirly, warmly melodic racket. Diana Sperstad's strong guitar work was part bombastic and part delicately ethereal, while her vocals were tender and vulnerable. Fez Guzman's drumming accented the outer edges of the quiet sections and drove straight through when Sperstad escalated the volume and intensity of her riffing. Some people would probably call this music shoegaze, but it seemed more ground in latter day indie rock with traces of a desert-y sound. After the set, some people remarked, with surprise, at Sperstad's guitar skills. And, indeed, the looping pedal was an ally in making spacious, expansive soundscapes.
Hot White was back to form with what was probably the most frenzied, chaotic show at Glob since, well, Monotonix anyway. Playing a mixture of newer and older material, the trio was slightly loose but that only made them compensate for this with a freer performance including a rendition of a Moss Icon song with Aaron Miller on vocals. The minute Miller roared into the microphone, some of the lumpenproletariat in the audience decided it was time to get violent, though not intending to hurt anyway. However, Tiana Bernard engaged one or several of them directly and later on, Kevin Wesley walked into the fray and held people at bay with his guitar. A little off the hook but Hot White seems to have that effect on people with its frenzied noise rock.
With only a drum set, her powerful voice and boundless energy, Christina the Hun from Fort Collins made it seem like it was impossible for something so fully-realized to be composed of such sparse elements. The Hun used every part of the drum to make her sounds and her alternating rhythms were a product of her playing off her own central beat. It's hard to say if she's ambidextrous but with one hand, she played with two drum sticks to strike the tom and a mallet to strike the snare while maintaining a strong kick beat while spouting off a string of lyrics. It would be difficult to compare The Hun to anyone because while her music sounds like it could be born of punk rock and its kin, her instrumentation is completely original.
The first night of Titwrench ended with Snake Rattle Rattle Snake. Likely people who only really make it to DIY venue shows have never seen this band live. Some may even mistakenly think the band "rock stars" or something similarly ignorant. When the fact is, it's still an underground band with members whose roots go back beyond playing even bars. Nonetheless, the measure of a band is its music and this sextet performed better than ever. For the first time in a long time, Wilson Helmericks' fantastic synth lines were strong in the mix of sounds. Especially effective was some of the newer material and the sinister, haunting, "Sin Eater." Most of the crowd seemed to have made it to the end of Snake's set and thus the first night of Titwrench was an unequivocal success.
Saturday, July 10, 2010 The inaugural act for day two was Sara Century. Before playing, she asked if James from The Drinking Gourd would come up and play tambourine and the show began with a song formerly known as "Funny Little Spider" but which had been recast with the ominous title, "In the Shadow of God." Century's sing-songy vocals did little to hide the venomous wit of her lyrics. Covers of Tracy Bonham's "Kisses," and Yoko Ono's "No No No," revealed Century's embrace misanthropic humor and irony. Her percussive, dissonant guitar riffs were deceptively simple but completely original. Self-deprecating and sarcastic jokes from Century with the crowd took the edge off ever so slightly.
Elephant Paintings from Albuqueque was comprised of Bryce from Yoda's House and Emma from Milch De La Maquina. It was kind of a minimalist folk thing with dual acoustic guitars, nearly whispered vocals and a sound generator that could be like wind, whales or water. Late in the set, Bryce and Emma played a riff where one would play one strum of the chord and the other would play the follow-up. Beautiful, shimmering songs that contained a subtlety of dynamics that might have been lost on or unappreciated by some people in the audience.
This year, it seemed as though Fort Collins duo Origami Hands had improved greatly on its execution of the music. The vocal harmonies worked better though the core of an experimental folky sound was still in place including the use of a Bolivian chorongo (a 10-stringed ukulele-looking thing). For "Worms" there was a nice, deep rhythm and the organ drones later in the set were reminiscent of a Stereolab song.
It seems as though European Dream Collection was more performance art than music seeing as it was one woman wearing what looked like a flower-patterned pillow case modified to be a mask with tentacles--like Cthulhu gone benevolent. Delayed vocals evolved a spoken word poem of sorts intended to draw the audience into a larger circle of consciousness and possibility all while dark electronic music engulfed the room. Amy Annelle used to wander the streets of northwest Aurora with her dog when she lived in Denver but now she haunts the environs of Austin, Texas.
For this show she performed more of her folk, blues and country material and she even played a version of "Coat of Many Colors" by Dolly Parton and people even knew the song enough to sing along. At the end, she put down her guitar and got people to clap and stomp or otherwise make noises with their feet or legs along to a bragging song from the 1820s about the future state of Texas. Not a high plains drifter but a high plains minstrel, the always imaginative Annelle got us all to join her in her vision before she was through for the night.
If you ever wanted to know what it might be like to hear what it sounds like on the inside of a helicopter, check out Baby Shampoo. MC Piper Rose described the act's music not as "harsh noise," but "girly noise." True enough as it wasn't harsh so much as it was firm and insistent in its evolution of high-cycling sound.
Once the noise subsided, Ms. Rose acted the Pied Piper and got almost everyone out to the back of Glob where Elena Stonaker and Alicia Ordal had erected the edifice of a symbolic cosmic woman with a lemon-shaped head and exaggerated breasts and vagina. Ordal's and Stonaker's faces served as nipples and each periodically ejected a translucent liquid. All the while, tribal drums filled the air along with a kind of spoken word poem/chant from Rose. At some point, the vagina let forth offspring who seemed to leap from the gap between the giant red vulva. You won't see something like that at another music festival.
Eva Aguila and Brittany Gould assembled side by side for what was probably one of the more anticipated shows of the festival. Caldera Lakes performed only three songs but each was filled with the billowing sheets of white noise and streaming into the horizon vocals for which Gould is known. Between Aguila's manipulation of texture and Gould's placing her looped vocals in a way that suggests standing waves, one had the sense of being seaside with the sounds of sea birds speeding up and slowing down. For the last song, Gould's words, "It's twirling out, it's swirling out" served as a mantra for the end of the set as all the sounds faded into a final string of bells and quiet static.
Most people would be hard pressed to think of a hip-hop act from New Mexico, but Occasional Detroit was exactly that. She made beats and triggered samples to go along with her raps about life and the state of the world. Fortunately this lady also seemed aware that a lazy rhyme is less effective than being more creative. When she finally dispensed with trying to coax an item out of her drum machine, she did something like a freestyle over some slower beats and spooky atmospheres and laid out the best song of the set as she related a story, conveyed an image, of modern life in which we're pulled in multiple directions so that it's hard to sort out which direction is absolutely right.
Turns out New Mexico is home to one of the most original, regional performance groups going in Milch De La Maquina. At the start of Milch's performance, the four women were huddled together at the floor as if in prayer. Each wore dark clothes and a hood and when they stood as one and made ululating sounds it looked like we were witnessing a combination occult initiation ceremony and art terrorism.
Without using amplified sound, the band made their respective ways to different corners of the room, and made it all sound like we were surrounded with their presence until each reached a bull horn and returned to the center, taking turns singing and uttering nonsense dialogue, while two of the women faced one side of the room and the other two the other. The whole experience culminated in Milch gathering underneath a papier-mâché egg hanging from the ceiling until it lowered and Milch beat it like a piñata, chanting, "Let it out!" until the egg burst with goodies and band merchandise from the rest of the New Mexico acts.
The night started to wind down when Via was ready to perform but there were plenty of people who braved the late hour and got to see Daralee Fallin more or less reinvent the whole atmospheric, ethereal vocal experimental electro-pop thing. Maybe part of it was her evocation of a could-have been collaboration between Kate Bush and the Cocteau Twins but mostly it was the heart-wrenching emotional colorings Fallin brought to bear as her voice swam in a stream of wooly sounds and gently emphatic beats. Either way, Fallin's set carried us past the crest of our collective fatigue from the heat and the late hour.
The second night of Titwrench ended with Salt Lake City's Forest World. This act has long been one of the more interesting electronic pop bands of recent years but this show displayed another layer of excellence as the duo performed with admirable enthusiasm its 8-bit electro indie-pop. Had OMD and Human League gotten together and formed something not so dark but bright and upbeat, they might have sounded like this. Either way, Forest World made this writer forget how tired he was with great songs from beginning to end.
Sunday, July 11, 2010 For the final night of the festival, Robin Walker opened the festivities with her unique take on making pop songs with a ukulele. Walker's instrument is treated with effects to make the sounds ripple ever so slightly or gently distort, giving the songs a gritty edge. Walker's lyrics were defiant but tender and delivered with good humor and confidence. Her songs were a nice balance of winsome lullabies, confessionals and wry, observational stories.
Mano from Tit 4 Tat played a short set of singer-songwriter material, but she also included renditions of The Postal Service's "Brand New Colony," "Bowl of Oranges," by Bright Eyes and, with her band mates, what sounded like "Love Song For a Vampire" by Annie Lennox. Mano performed originals, as well, but her explanation for one song contained more wisdom than the song itself, when she told us that when we're growing up no one teaches us how to take care of ourselves or how to deal with relationships and that we put a lot on ourselves because of that. For sure.
Lazy Mary from Long Beach was two women who seemed to combine bits of Sleater-Kinney with The Stooges, especially on "Loogy Clap." At times this band was reminiscent of Henry's Dress in its ability to combine noisy pop with stretched out dynamics. Its use of space between the intense sections of music recalled Wire. Excellent harmonic choices throughout.
Sara Fischer performed a solo set under the name Sarabelle. Sure, it was the kind of well-crafted garage rock you might expect to hear from Ms. Fischer but she also changed her sound up enough that it had kind of a Black Tambourine patina and a free-wheeling dynamic that resonated with early Beat Happening. As always, Fischer's guitar work was a marvel of economy, melody and a tuneful bite. If anyone got extra-enthusiastic cheers this early in the evening, it was Sarabelle.
Apparently Ladyparts got back together in time for Titwrench 2010 and it had recruited Esther from Astral Glamor to play saw. Opening with "Key to the Heart of Icarus," the band sure sounded much better than the readily available recordings. The term "chamber pop" gets tossed around a bit liberally but it applies to this band. Rather than using classical instruments just because they sound cool, Ladyparts clearly wrote the music from the frame of mind of the instrumentation in question, that is cello and piano with other instruments adding a bit of atmospheric flavor.
As usual, Pollination Population used an interesting series of projections for the show. At first a star field and then other images. It would be improper to dub this project "experimental folk," because it's more than that, but that encompasses one aspect of its music.
Ms. Ersing sounds like she's listened to a good deal of Edith Piaf, even if she has indeed not -- she has a similarly-inflected singing style. What makes it is her ability to pull you into her imaginative music by setting a mood and an atmosphere and providing images that help to shape that experience. Samples of natural sounds and a sense of the outdoors characterized each song.
Esther of Astral Glamour created beat loops by beat boxing first, clicking on the rim of a bass drum and striking it the more conventional way with drumsticks. Once she got the beats in line, she played flute over the top. Eventually Doo Crowder came to the stage and made an intentionally awkward statement about how he may have been the first male on stage that night to which someone in the audience replied, "Congratulations."
Crowder asked us to close our eyes as he guided us through a visualization of walking on the beach and into the realm of possibilities. All the while, Esther kept the beats going and filled in with some tasteful Theremin tones. It felt like being on a virtual tribal walkabout because Crowder's words were so simple but so effective and Esther was so adept at shifting sounds to fit the dynamic.
Era of The Tanukis told us her band was "experimental classical music." Fair enough. But instead of the rarefied and sometimes pretentious air of modern classical music, the Tanukis have an earthy appeal. The interplay of acoustic guitar with bowed upright bass and the playful, yet precise, piano work made for a finely textured set of music.
Era toned things down for this performance but her flights of the melodramatic gesture were, thankfully, still present. Opening with "Eulogy for a Hummingbird," the Tanukis also performed "Cletus the Giant" and an adept cover of Kate Bush's "Moving," in addition to its other excellent originals. The band went on a little long but you can't blame someone for being caught up in the moment and some of the rest of us forgetting that so much time had passed.
Diane Cluck played a short but strong set of music that, on the surface, seemed like at least first grade singer-songwriter material. Listening to her vocals revealed that she explored interesting aspects of scales and incorporated this into her guitar work. Half strongly plucked and gently picked between strumming, Cluck's playing created a wide variety of textures and tones within a deceptively simple framework. The animated images behind her, while not made specifically for her, helped to enhance Cluck's wide ranging songwriting.
When it came time for Married in Berdichev to play, it looked like the bulk of the crowd was in attendance, settled in around Brittany Gould to take in her musically drawing down the moon. The set began with echoing vocals floating around the room and seeming to resonate from different directions as though caught on stalactites in an ice cave.
Performing "Funnel Clouds," Gould masterfully shifted between impassioned intensity and Zen-like tranquility. If someone ever makes a movie from Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter, Gould should be consulted because the songs this night sounded like something straight out of the borderland joining the world we know and a world of magic. Hypnotic, cathartic and soothing, Gould's compositions never fail to be moving.
The French Chemists started the more rock part of the last night of the festival with a set of almost entirely covers. If there was an original, it was hard to tell. But the band performed each song with a gusto much needed so late at night after two full nights of music and over half of another. Lively renditions of "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones and "Bewitched" by Beat Happening got the crowd dancing and singing along. Frontwoman Misun Oh had great moves herself and she helped keep up the pace until the set was through.
By the time Dripfed played, it was a welcome change of pace from most of the rest of the evening, and the group's performance was no-nonsense grindcore. Oh, sure, there were political songs like "Treaties in the Mist," but the band didn't get preachy about anything as it laid into each song with a visceral aggression. "Giraffe" was not actually about a giraffe, but about people stuck on a raft made of found pieces of wood for fifteen days, ultimately resorting to cannibalism. Maybe the guy in the band who said this was kidding. All in all, it made for some bracing, brutal music that was much needed at the time.
Neonates had kind of a jittery, surfy vibe but with dissonant guitar sounds. The lilting, cadenced vocals made it seem like we were seeing a band from the early 80s transplanted to our current era except that this kind of music couldn't quite have been made then. Some of the songs had sort of a dance punk beat so it was all sort of reminiscent of Delta 5 with more quirky guitar work.
Closing the night out was Lisa Frank. Now Lisa Frank is not a person in the band. The real Lisa Frank is responsible for a line of pop art that appears on school supplies but this Lisa Frank was an excellent, poppy punk band from San Antonio. Despite it being an ungodly hour of the night, these girls didn't skimp on the energy or the confrontational performance. It was, thankfully, more Lunachicks than NOFX, more Tribe 8 than Screeching Weasel.
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It's tempting to describe the sound as some variety of melodic hardcore, but Lisa Frank doesn't take well to such pigeonholes, and the band's songs seemed to be coming from a place of disappointment and anger channeled into something positive and creative. They made the festival end with a bang and not a whimper.
At the end of it all, it didn't seem like anyone who made it had any complaints. Sure, during the festival it was hot, it was sweaty, it was often very crowded, but none of taht mattered because it was well-organized; the Titwrench volunteers brought in great vendors who offered excellent and healthy food and drink for all.
What's more, people, for the most part, behaved themselves in a way I haven't seen at any other festival, and that was a beautiful thing to see. But, most importantly, it brought so many of us involved in the creative community, as creators or otherwise, together for a positive event that took chances in the music it brought in, with the art it presented and in taking a stand for the right things. May there be a Titwrench 2011, and may it surpass 2010 in excellence and scope.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: The DIY scene changed my life. Random Details: The gods of weather pretty much showed their collective favor to Titwrench 2010. I only missed actually seeing, but not hearing, Kevin Shields. By the Way: To the people who stole the Hideous Men's laptop and so forth: I refer you to what Patton Oswalt said about Paris Hilton on Werewolves and Lollipops -- except you deserve worse unless you return said items immediately.