Moogfest 2014: Thursday, 4-24-14

The audience seating before the show

The audience seating before the show. Keep your eyes on the man at the soundboard…

Kraftwerk – Synthpop Pioneers – Set 1

I’d last seen Kraftwerk in 1998 in Chicago and that was before they had re-tooled their presentation for 3D, so this would be interesting to see, if nothing else. I was curious also as to how they were changing the music from that period, and quite frankly, if I saw all three shows, I was most interested in the details [if any] that differed between the sets. Seeing a single show, one never knows how much was pre-programmed versus controlled onstage. My wife and I settled in for the early show and it began with a long version of “Robots,” that was similar to the version on their album “The Mix.” It was immediately apparent that the sound was bass-heavy as my clothing was resonating and worst of all, so was my throat. It actually made me feel slightly nauseous! This was not the first time I’d encountered music with punishing bass at a concert venue, but with a crystalline sounding band like Kraftwerk, this was a big disappointment. Particularly to my wife, who cannot tolerate bass abuse at all. We left a John Cale concert last year due tot he bass drum hits shifting my internal organs each time. This was not quite to that level, but my wife had no time for this, and she left in the middle of “Computerlove.” Not a minute after she fled the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, the sound changed dramatically, as the bass cut out almost entirely. The band continued to play the song, but after that jarring disruption, stopped playing and after a tech spoke briefly to Ralf Hütter, he actually spoke to the audience and announced a short break while the problem was surmounted! Ralf actually spoke!! On one hand, I couldn’t help but think that the tech failure was karma for subjecting the audience to oversaturated bass levels, yet on the other hand, I couldn’t help but think that I was so glad that I had witnessed the Kraftwerk Machine having a power loss! It actually managed to humanize the band to me at this late stage where I’m ambivalent to their present work as anything but [literally, in the case of  their Katalog Residencies] museum pieces. I sat there for 15 minutes and watched Ralf make another short announcement as techs buzzed around the soundboard like mad flies. After enough time had passed, I went off in search of my wife, who had talked about seeing Bernie Worrell. I made my way to the Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place where Bernie was scheduled to play at 9:30 pm, but when I got there the theatre was still hosting Keith Emerson and I could hear a few bars of “Fanfare For The Common Man” wafting out into the night at the doors. I headed to The Emerald Lounge to see how long it would take to walk to the Ejecta set from 11:00 to 11:30. On the way back to the Diana Wortham to see the first part of Bernie Worrell, I ran into my wife at Dobra Tea, so we went back to the venue for Bernie together. The shows were running late at Emerald Lounge and Diana Wortham, but we seated for Bernie’s show. Once it started, the bass abuse was apparent by the second song and we left. My wife went home and I moved on for Ejecta.

Leanne Macomber of Ejecta

Leanne Macomber of Ejecta

Ejecta – Ethereal Synthpop

I arrived there to catch the last bit of Eaters set, and by 11:15 Ejecta took to the stage with laptop and guitar and began to spin her web of song, but not for long! She broke a guitar string during the very first number, continuing the tone that had been set by Kraftwerk! Fortunately, the guitarist from Eaters, gave her his guitar, and after a hasty bit of tuning, she soldiered on. The samples I had tasted online were ethereal and beguiling, but live, there was an emphasis on shoegaze guitar that gave their music a decidedly different edge. After about 15 minutes, her compatriot in Ejecta, Joel Ford, took to the stage with his own guitar, leaving Ms. Macomber free to just sing. Their set was enjoyable but it ran a bit late, leaving me just 15 minutes on the schedule to see Adult. at The Orange Peel. I sped across town and arrived to hear the last two minutes of Adult.’s [?] set. It sounded very fine. More melodious than the music that I have from their previous album of seven years ago! And it even sounded great; not always a factor at The Orange Peel. It was now time for the last set of the evening.

Yacht captivated the packed house at New Earth

Yacht captivated the packed house at New Earth

Yacht – Third Wave

Thus far the evening had been spoiled by bass abuse and technical snafus. I got to the New Earth Main Room by the show’s start time of 12:30 but there was a short wait due to the issue of a packed house and “one out-one in.” As I squeezed my way in I was confronted by a performance that thrilled on every level. Yacht were playing excellent music, and giving it 150% onstage and really putting the songs across. The drummer was tight and playing an acoustic kit, while the three other band members played guitars and keys. Vocalist Claire Evans was the spitting image of Annie Lennox ca. 1983 and thus, possibly for that reason above even the others, my eyes were riveted to her because I never got to see Lennox live. But Evans’ singing was worlds apart from the overly melismatic soul sound that ruined my appreciation of Lennox by 1984. This was taut, crisp, New Wave inflected music that Yacht were giving up and the vibe was intense. But not so intense that the band weren’t having fun onstage themselves. I enjoyed the Q+A they did between songs with the audience. It was a better form of communication than what normally passes for stage banter, and it fit the group’s intelligent CV. I found out that Ms. Evans writes for National Geographic and is the editor of the new OMNI Reboot website! Who knew they had brought back OMNI? I was also delighted to see that Yacht had another lead singer in Jona Becholt, who effortlessly channeled Duckie from “Pretty In Pink” in appearance, complete with period denim jacket. He played bass, but when he took the mic for lead vocals, Ms. Evans moved to synth [and cowbell]. Becholt brought a lot of exuberant enthusiasm to the stage, in contrast to the sleeker moves of Ms. Evans. The contrast in fronting styles worked well for me and kept my interest well focused. This band was seriously pressing my Monk buttons.

Claire Evans of Yacht

Claire Evans [L] of Yacht

Their material was an eclectic blend of New Wave derived tropes given a nice, modern clearcoat and their lyrics were especially cliché-free. There were only scant lyrical references to relationships. After listening to their “Sangri-La” album [purchased immediately at the merch table following the gig] I was struck by how much the lyrical slant of many of the songs was redolent of Timothy Leary’s S.M.I.I.L.E.* philosophy and by Jingo, this was the first time I’d heard music reflective of it since “Afternoons In Utopia” by Alphaville waaaaaaay back in 1986, probably before Ms. Evans was born. Obviously, she comes by her OMNI credentials honestly. The backing band on guitar and drums was actually another band, The Straight Gaze, supplanting the core duo of Yacht. Yacht expand for live performance as needed beyond their two principals like the small, mobile, intelligent units that they are. Sometimes they are a quintet. This evening a quartet was called for. And it was perfect. The live drumming was particularly crisp and the guitarist also doubled on keys as the band [save for drums] shifted continually onstage. Everything this evening about Yacht was riveting. I have rarely seen a band with the key ingredients of talent, taste, intelligence, and charisma to spare, giving away what I’d gladly have paid much more for. After their set as my mind was reeling with the possibilities, I bought their “Shangri-La-La” album as stated earlier, and was immediately raving to friends with pix from the REVO Device® in the sweaty aftermath of the gig as the New Earth Main Room gradually cleared out. I couldn’t help but notice that Ms. Evans was talking with fans and took the effort to let her know that not only had Yacht completely salvaged a mediocre Night 2 at Moogfest, but they had delivered a gig of the type that exists on a rarefied plane for me. Having strangers gush effusive praise and five dollars will get you a latté, so we next discussed the weird instance of the Kraftwerk power failure with another couple of well wishers and we were all struck on how it actually humanized the band and paradoxically made us warm to them on a level that they never intended to reach the audience. Then talk turned to clothing designers and I made my way home, buzzing in the glow of one of the best gigs I’d ever seen by a band that was new to me. Given the enrapt reaction of the packed house, I’m hopeful that they can see their way to Asheville again. Soon. Next: …Werking That Action [revisited] * Surely you knew that this stood for Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension?

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to Moogfest 2014: Thursday, 4-24-14

  1. Not that it will do any good, but apparently the tone-deaf concert engineers in that town have long since ceased to listen to music and instead prefer to feel the mix, resulting in what I like to call “concert fracking” as it both shakes you (in the wrong sense of the word) and ruins the environment! Dear techs — “Bomb the Bass” was a band name, not a design for life!

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  2. I meant to add “it doesn’t hurt to have a word with the bands, event management or the techs directly in the hopes that it will get through their deadened skulls that the mix is bad.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Well, when the organ-rattling sound drives us from a show, we don’t get the opportunity to excoriate the techs afterward… as if they could hear us in any case. But I did “accentuate the positive” and give effusive compliments to the sound men after a good job of full range, balanced mixing! And they appreciated the compliments. More on this later!

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  3. JT says:

    As someone who has mixed about 2000 live events, I’d like to defend some of my peers by stating that many of us do mix musically and at reasonable volumes.

    In fact, I was once abused by a rabid gang of Hot Tuna fans (that’s a Jefferson Airplane spinoff band… what can I say, it was a paycheck) for mixing the band too quietly. I’ll never some forget some hippie jabbing his finger at my chest and intoning each word separately: “Hot. Tuna. Should. Always. Be. LOUD.”

    And yes, we do appreciate the rare and few compliments that come our way.

    A common lament within my industry is that if the show sounds great the fans talk about how awesome the band are, but if the sound stinks, they talk about how much the soundman sucks. Success is always attributed to the talent, and failure is always attributed to the crew.

    But trust me, the reciprocal is often true too: I have polished a few turds in my career, making talentless hacks sound presentable. I have also had artists completely fail on stage to such a degree that no engineer could ever possibly save them… and you can bet that in the former case it was the band who got the praise, and in the latter it was me who took the flack.

    Whatever. I got paid and went home…

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – Many thanks for giving us the inside scoop on the dirty business of sound engineering here at PPM. The trends today are so whacked out of kilter, that I have to be alert to what and more importantly, why I am hearing. I recognize that it’s possible to have bands with great songs but terrible sounding tracks (CD or DL) that have whole new ways to fail in the live arena.

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