Chronicle of a Pickathon Retold: A Mixtape

Okay, this is not exactly on schedule, but maybe you too are reflecting on a summer festival weekend as the world tears itself apart at the seams. Please enjoy my stroll down recent-memory lane, back to two-weeks-ago-today.

You can follow this playlist on youtube and an analogous one on Spotify.

Drive By Truckers

Other writers on the site have sworn by Drive By Truckers, but they remained a largely theoretical band to me. Seeing them live I was enraptured by the quality of their mind-meld, the layers of guitars and the thousand joyful countenances that cycle through bassist’s Matt Patton’s face as he seeks the heart of the groove. It wowed me in a way I haven’t been able to recreate with their studio recordings. Go see this band if you have the chance.

The Last Artful, Dodger

Portland’s Alana Chenevert, known to the world as The Last Artful, Dodgr, has taken some gargantuan strides forward with her tongue-twisted rap. Last year she was featured on Jimmy Fallon’s show, and she drew a sizeable crowd to her end-of-the-night Pickathon performance. “I’m not used to this much attention,” she said at one point between songs. If the stars align, she will blow up in a serious way. Catch her while the tickets are cheap.

A-WA

Three sisters whose parents immigrated to Israel play the traditional Yeminite music of their family and whirl it into fresh, urgent dance music. I stumbled into their show and feel so grateful I did. A blend of hip-hop rhythms, catchy guitar leads and the quarter tones that characterize the old Yeminite melodies made it a first-of-its-kind show for me.

Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus writes dreamy-good rock songs and has the sort of voice you can only get by taking vitamin capsules of ground-up angels every day for your whole life. There’s not much else to say.

Jonathan Richman

I wasn’t too familiar with what Jonathan Richman’s been up to in his long career since The Modern Lovers. He e toured frequently through the area when I lived in Someville, MA, but I never took the opportunity to see him play. I found his stage presence to be jaw-droppingly good and his wisdom appealed to something authentic and universally humane in a way that’s becoming increasingly impossible in our country. He sashayed and played moroccas alongside his faithful, samba-influenced drummer, Tommy Larkins. Through the whole performance, his jokey songs, the ballads, his halted speeches, he maintained the same doe-eyed, plaintive eye contact with everyone watching.

Ty Segall

Ty Segall’s crowd does not make boomerangs easy—I was knocked over four or five times in my efforts to photo-document his monstrous show. His steady output of inspired freak-out music inspires me. Segall sheds and assembles new bands with a rate of re-invention on par with Beck or David Bowie. On the one hand it’s always the same old Ty, crafting garage rock with the weird knob cranked to 11. He’s a modern day guitar wizard succeeding outside the nerd-rock circuit. On the other hand his latest incarnation, the Freedom Band, hits a Bruce Springsteen Americanism we haven’t seen before. He performed in brown bell-bottoms beside a seated organist. Has classic rock come any closer to being cool again?

Big Thief

Big Thief is the most exciting rock band of the past couple years for me. Adrianne Lenker’s fragile-powerful vocal delivery gives an emotional immedicacy to vivid lyrics that could stand alone as poetry. Live, she has some damn-near Eddie Van Halen moments, the avant-garde equivalent of his “Eruption.” It’s worth shouting out the fellas playing behind her, who are rock-solid and seemed to hang on every word as much I.

Xenia Rubinos

A powerful vocalist with a cool 2-person Brooklyn back-up band. To play “Mexican Chef” live, Rubinos takes the bass and her bassist reaches for a guitar. This turn toward punk calls to mind the raw abandon of MIA. In it, Xenia decries an America that expects everything from brown people and offers little in return.

J Mascis

I believe I’m in the Spark & Fizz minority when I tell you I’ve never really “gotten” Dinosaur Jr. Watching snippets of the full band at Pickathon, it didn’t reach me.  Don’t get me wrong—a show-off guitarist with hair like a literal wizard among a half-circle of full stack amps is pretty awesome. But the grunge band + guitar solo formula didn’t speak to me.

I felt different about J Mascic’s solo performance. Broken down to its essential parts, I heard the same ineffable mastery of the pop song I associate with Tom Petty or Paul McCartney. His voice is rough and real, a slacker aging gracefully.

Tank and the Bangas

Tank and the Bangas won NPR’s most recent tiny desk concert—their entry video makes it pretty clear why. The neo-soul band met miraculously at a New Orleans open mic. Their grooves are thick and Tarriona Tank Ball’s stage presence sells a music full of whimsy and wonder as the life of the party. Contagiously effusive.

Huun-Huur-Tu

Throat singers can harmonize with their own singing—literally singing two notes at once. As a technical feat, this is incredible. Huun-Huur-Tu’s traditional Tuvan music is greater than the sum of its parts. Watching them play in the middle of the night after a day of rock and roll was a spirtual experience that seriously broadened by concept of what a human voice can do.

Priests

This band plays punk in the tradition of Richard Hell and Television. The music is minimal and aggressive, but not haphazard—there’s no descent into oversaturated distorto-power chords. Frontwoman Katie Alice Greer tore up the stage in cowboy boots and a tutu, and guitarist GL Jaguar has the riffs and the moves.

Charles Bradley

I became a fan of soul singer Charles Bradley when his Luke Cage appearance lead me to last years album, Changes, the title track a retooled Black Sabbath cover. But seeing him live, and hearing him talk–it’s another level. I was reminded of this quote by Agent Dale Cooper, “In another time, another culture, he may have been a seer, a shaman priest.”

The band summons him with ragged-edged soul grooves. The keyboard player approaches the mic: “Aw yeah. Now I’m feeling a love jones… the kind of love jones that can bring out the screaming eagle of soul!” The man comes out, doesn’t miss a moment. In his salad days, Bradley impersonated his idol, the hardest working man in show business, James Brown. Even at 68 and on the heels of a recent battle with lung cancer, Bradley makes the phrase “give 110%” new again. Layers of stage outfits were peeled off until the night ended with him in a backless vest, walking into the crowd to take weeping fans into his arms for un-rushed, heartfelt embraces.