The music of Art-A-Whirl, 5/17/14

Marijuana Deathsquads, the Cactus Blossoms, BNLX, Dosh, Sun Gods to Gamma Rays, Hollow Boys, Crossing Guards, and From the Midwest
Grumpy's NE, 331 Club, and Anchor Fish & Chips, MInneapolis
Saturday, May 17, 2014

After spending much of the last few months trapped indoors, music and art lovers turned out in droves on Saturday at Art-A-Whirl. Outdoor venues in Northeast were packed to capacity and drenched in the warm, soothing sun. Those who came out were rewarded with a day filled with adventurous performances and a stacked lineup of bands playing throughout the area.

1 p.m. - From the Midwest - Grumpy's NE

The difficult-to-Google garage-rock band From the Midwest officially got things going on Saturday, playing a lively, guitar-fueled set while fans were still filtering in and wondering what that bright ball of light was in the sky. Their riff-heavy sound was reminiscent of Mudhoney, and got fans into it despite their early start time. Their drummer was playing his last show, which added to the celebratory urgency of the set and their sound, which went over well with Art-A-Whirlers who were just starting out their long day of music.

2 p.m. - Crossing Guards - Grumpy's NE

The three PBRs that Martin Devaney placed in front of his spot on the stage should have clued the crowd into the fact that the party was ON. He drove that point home even further as soon as he delivered his first Robert Pollard-like leg kick, emphatically punctuating the riffs of his quintet's first song. Crossing Guards were making their first live appearance in nearly two years, but there weren't any signs of rust, just those exuberant displays of a group happy to be sharing the stage again. Their set drew exclusively from their appropriately titled 2009 album, Revenge of the Tall Boys, but Devaney promised that there would be new songs on the way eventually. Their lively set, combined with the gorgeous day unfolding around us, officially ignited the afternoon and had everyone feeling good.

3 p.m. - Hollow Boys - Grumpy's NE

While the radiant sunshine doesn't really suit a band as mercurial as Hollow Boys, the garage-rock trio still delivered a raucous set that kept the guitar-fueled momentum at Grumpy's going full-tilt. Frontman Ali Jaafar is a sonic perfectionist given his deft production skills, so their sound was loud and dialed in from the start. Kudos also must be extended to the sound guys at Grumpy's, who had the soundboard controls at their fingertips on an iPad, which made on the fly adjustments easy and quick. Hollow Boys even expanded their setlist with a few new songs for the grand occasion, playing for nearly a half-hour (which is a long set for them). Their taut, gritty shoegaze left my ears ringing and my head humming as I walked to the 331 Club.

4 p.m. - Sun Gods to Gamma Rays - 331 Club

One of the best aspects of any day-long multi-venue music festival is the wide array of music styles and sounds from one stage to the next, a point proven by the dramatic, pleasurable shift from Hollow Boys to the dreamy pop of Sun Gods to Gamma Rays. The 331 Club really went all out with their setup this year, erecting a large tent over the stage and viewing area, and the audience turned out in full force to fill the place. Sun Gods' hypnotic, smooth set -- drawn mostly from their excellent EP, The Water, the Wave -- was reminiscent of Portishead at times, with the angelic vocals of Brianna Kocka elevating the moody spirit of their songs, which went over well with the large crowd.


5 p.m. - Dosh - 331 Club

Martin Dosh made an impression on the crowd before he even played a note, as his massive gear set up around a spare drum kit looked like he could land the Space Shuttle if those were his intentions. But after testing out his levels with Janet Jackson's "Nasty," Dosh settled in to his enthralling one-man show that adventurously pushed sonic boundaries. His musical alchemy crafted an experimental mix of beats, keys, live drums, and random flourishes that arrived out of the ether. It was a joy to hear him deconstruct his own sound just when it hit a pleasing groove, taking it apart while sending the material in an entirely new direction.

6 p.m. - BNLX - 331 Club

BNLX (joined by the Current's Jim McGuinn on guitar throughout the entire set) delivered a fiery and focused set. The sound was immense, and the band were clearly in great spirits, surely encouraged by the large local crowd that turned out. It was one of the better performances I've seen from the band, as an incendiary version of "Burn the Boats" was awash in a wall of guitars and massive beats. But it was their raucous cover of PJ Harvey's "This Is Love" that really made the set special, and closed down their blistering performance on an absolute high.

7 p.m. - The Cactus Blossoms - The Anchor Fish & Chips

The alt-country sounds of the Cactus Blossoms proved to be the perfect soundtrack to
twilight slowly settling in over the city. While the talkative, well-lubricated crowd took away some of the luster of the band's refined charms, there was no denying that their countrified numbers brought a delicate elegance to the early evening hour. Their well chosen cover of Hank Williams's classic "Your Cheatin' Heart" sounded so lovely as the sun was setting, and really formed a perfect snapshot of why I love this city so damn much. Plus, the Cactus Blossoms were playing immediately before Marijuana Deathsquads, which you will likely never see again. It was the most disparate shift in musical styles from one band to the next that I've witnessed, and reinforced the musical appeal of the entire day.

8 p.m. - Marijuana Deathsquads - The Anchor Fish & Chips

This was going to be a special gig no matter what, since P.O.S. was joining the madcap Deathsquads crew for his first gig since his kidney transplant. In addition to the usual sonic suspects (Ryan Olson, Isaac Gale, and the potent dual-drum attack of Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu), MDS' lineup was rounded out by Stef, Mark McGee, Spyder Baybie Raw Dawg, and Channy Leaneagh. And while it took the group a while to get their sound and mic situation sorted, once they got into their set the show caught fire immediately. It turns out that MDS are the perfect festival band, and the talented crew brought an untamed, wildly experimental edge to the day. While the vocals never really did get set loud enough, the feral drums, rhythms, and electronic textures were more than enough to create a cacophonous, radical sound that brought my Art-A-Whirl to an emphatic end.

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