Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chapter Forty Six: "Cropped Out III: A Novel in Progress."

October has been a busy month, so apologies for getting this finally writ. It's been a few weeks since Cropped Out, but it has been on my mind since its glorious end and I wanted to talk 'bout it. Filing my report.

Cropped Out  returned for its third outing on the weekend of Sept 28-30, overtaking the original grounds of its birth at American Turners right on the muddy mighty Ohio. As usual, the weekend was filled with approximately 3,276 impressive underground bands and performers from across these states, presenting a nonstop deluge of maniacal musical discovery. This fest is like giving cocaine to a baby for anyone who enjoys hearing new musicks in an unpretentious setting.

We've been blessed with several music festivals here in Kentucky recently. And while Boomslang and Forecastle present some great shows, Cropped Out stands out to me for their insistence on booking mostly newer and/or unheard of bands. Cropped Out has pursued this mantra with a super-zeal and even upped the pace from last year's behemoth by expanding to three stages, with a band always starting immediately after a previous performance ends. Yeah, it can wear your ears out and eventually boil the chemicals in your brain, but its wonderful. 2012 was the best Cropped Out fest yet, and leaves me already looking forward to September 2013.

Our friends over at The Decibel Tolls provided as about a good preview of each of the bands that played at the fest as you're going to get. I'm going to jump in and sum up my favorite experiences over the two days of insanity the Cropped Out founders Ryan Davis and James Ardery provided Louisville over the weekend.


Got out of job, rushed home, got the camera, revved up my '91Civic, hit the streets, and got to the festival, which was already in play. I had already missed a set by one local trio She Might Bite, as well as a few other bands. As I walked onto the grounds, I could here jarring noises coming from behind the door leading to the second-floor bar, now called Turners Tavern for the weekend. Those sounds were coming from The Microwaves, a band I was told I'd love, but had arrived too late to see.

Let me explain the setting here. For the second time, Cropped Out has overtaken American Turners on River Road, as opposed to the downtown warehouse the fest occupied last year. While I loved the ability to walk to the festival last year, they did eventually get busted by the police on the third day when Scratch Acid played. American Turners is a bizarre playground back off the road, sitting right on the river, luring you in with horseshoes pits, what appears to be a little league baseball diamond, a gravel parking lot, an empty Olympic-sized swimming pool, a big silver cannon that points you in the direction of beer sales, spacious decks to look at the Ohio, some wooden boat slips and a bar/cafeteria area that looks straight out of 1978. There are plenty of places to hide on corners, walk in the backyard fields, hang by the water, or watch yer bands. In a sense, its fucking heavenly.   

The fest's three stages were broken down into the indoor upstairs bar area (Turners Tavern), an outdoor open-ended alcove (Scully Alley) and a more open but covered space that features a larger stage and bigger speakers (Phreedom Hall). Adorning this bad news bears compound were sheets of artwork by Giving Up vocalist/guitarist Mikie Poland.   

Even though I promised myself I wasn't going to have a drink until the last couple of hours, I got excited, ran into the aftermath of the Microwaves, grabbed a PBR, and ran to watch the next band, Louisville's Gangly Youth, which started immediately after those Microwaves people. This would become a repeated pattern for hours and hours during the next two days.

Gangly Youth welcomed in the dusk with its psychoactive reverby pop. I haven't seen the band in forever, and enjoyed beginning my night with the sweeping lead lines of Daniel Tilford's guitar cutting through the jangled voice and drums. Beer, GY, Ohio River, dusk. Pretty perfect way to start the night.

Gangly Youth
This lead me to walk over to the outdoor stage area of Phreedom Hall where the featured guest of the night started his set at 7:45. The mysterious Jandek, he of Corwood Industries in Houston, singer-songwriter of a bonanza of folkish/country/psych songs, legend of outsider music, performing here on River Road in Louisville. I never thought I'd see the day. Jandek has been making music since 1978 and he's up there in the ranks of outsider musicians on the same pedestals as influential performers such as Hasil Adkins, Daniel Johnston, The Shaggs or Roky Erickson. And the mysterious shroud that surrounds the anonymity that has hung over his body of work makes him a little intimidating to approach. It's a big deal he played here, and again, hats off to Ryan and James for pulling that off.

Jandek surrounded himself with some of my favorite local musicians in town. Chris Wunderlich, who has played with The For Carnation and Phantom Family Halo, was center stage on synths and electronic noises coming from one of them pad devices, making swelling noises that added a wholly surreal wave of weird to the set. Catherine Irwin, member of Freakwater and her own amazing singing and songwriting (just released a new album this month) was steady on bass guitar. Dane Waters, she of the opera, softcheque, and her own solo recordings, was on keys and provided swoons in and out of the music with her powerful voice, often sounding ethereal, often sounding as though she was speaking in devilish tongues. And on drums was Jordan Richardson of Tropical Trash, keeping his usual unpredictable but strong beat.

Well, here's the thing. The show became one long piece. No problem with that. Waters, Wunderlich, Irwin, and Richardson began soft. Jandek's guitar was drenched in tremolo and added some soft vocals. Over the next 45 minutes, the set went through moods and crescendos, spaces and time. My big problem with this set was I found myself mesmerized by the backing band, and ignoring Jandek, who seemed to just fade into a minimalist pattern. I barely noticed his contributions. This isn't saying The Waters Wunderlich Irwin Richardson Band was overtaking the stage; they were obviously following his lead. To me, I was just waiting for him to do something. He was a little too minimalist during the set for my tastes, at times seeming to be just strumming a string here and there. His addition of some devilish harmonica was interesting. But at this point, I think the aforementioned Louisville folks should just start playing out like that without the addition of the outsider legend.

I immediately found myself awash in the noise of Hazard, Kentucky, with Buck Gooter, one of the most energetic performances of the weekend. Having no idea what I was about to walk into in the alcove that was Scully Alley, I found myself hit by a screechy Big Black/Rapeman guitar sound on the right, a drum machine in the back, and on the left, a young kid spastically writhing overtop a theremin, pulling fucked-up screams that sounded like he was desecrating fowl. This was the duo Buck Gooter. The theremin player grabbed a mic and plunged into the crowd, screaming and thrashing on the floor and in my face. They are described as "primal industrial blues," a phrase that reminds me of the now-defunct Louisville act Logos. Buck Gooter's energy was inescapable. Catch them if see them wandering into your town.

Buck Gooter
Street Gnar is from Lexingon, and features members of Idiot Glee and Jovontaes. I managed to catch half of their set before getting being summoned for a reunion with other Lexington friends in the courtyard of the complex. Having lived and played in Lexington for so long, I'm always interested in what absconds from that area of Kentucky. Street Gnar is a proud laboratory of underground catchy dance rock that sounds like it came from somewhere in the early 80s. Their sound gets stuck in your brain after a few minutes with its basically perfect execution. Like if Buddy Holly fronted New Order.

Street Gnar
A whirlwind of time and beer led me here and there. I walked in for the last song of Twin Sister Radio, a local band I've been wanting to catch for a year now. Fuck. I ran through and caught some songs from Philly's Lantern. Then suddenly found myself in front of Australia's Slug Guts, who provided some Stoogishy noisy new wave punkish concepts with a visually sprightly show (yep, sprightly).

Slug Guts
Heading back to the Tavern for more beer and to see a band I had heard much talk about: TV Ghost. These guys created a swirling roomful of prickly art punk, going into darker atmospherics that approached something that reminded me of Joy Division with some dotting of fermented Television in there, although not in any way mockingly. While I lapsed on the floor to take photos, some individual was suddenly shoving a fucking plastic cup filled with a Giant Ohio River Spider in my face. I went with it, but it all made me feel like I was at a Bauhaus show with mental patients.

TV Ghost
The crowd had already gathered for guitarist-banjo player Eugene Chadbourne, whose set sounded amazing in its raw unconventional folk-blues. I couldn't squeeze through, so instead listened from afar while sharing whiskey with members of the Astro Black Records Special Mobile Unit. The night was old and we were unstoppable poor mortals shivering under a tent, pawing through used copies of vinyl, salivating and purchasing two Prong cassettes from the 90s. Money was low; morale was somewhere on that scale.

This all leads me to one of my favorite acts of the weekend, the two-piece metal band Suppression. I've read them described as grindcore and stomp metal. Sounded more akin to creative takes on black metal to me. Online literature also claims they have four members and are from Virginia. Maybe I was too drunk to understand. Either way they approached it with a hyper lack of moderation and a great sense of humor welled up in their attitude and songs. They definitely presented one of my favorite set of the fest, blazing through and ending with a medley: "This is a four song medley, it only last two minutes, and you won't be able to tell anyways."

The night ended with some amazing 60s-styled R&B rock n roll by Chain & the Gang...these folks know where its at. It rocks and it makes you want to put your happy feet on. Led by infamous singer/TV interviewer Ian Svenonius and Katie Alice Greer, these two led us through a set of impulsive and sweaty real rhythm and blues. People were shaking their shoulders and dancing in place as both Svenonius and Greer, both of whom I nominate for frontpeople of the year, seemed to direct an orchestra of skewered rug cutting. The last show of the night and it was packed and just wet. Pretty beautiful way to drive off and head home.


Seven hours of rock the night before apparently wasn't enough for me, so I went home and abused myself until the daylight hours like a good caveman. Sunglasses led me back into the front gates of Cropped Out at an early 3pm. As I walked through the horrible rays of the sun towards the first band, someone yelled from across the way, "Hey, its that guy that hates Jandek."

That first band was Wet. I've been told to check them out and I'm glad I've finally seen them. Ridiculously young and ridiculously entertaining. This show was three dudes and drum machine. They're theme seemed to be freeing Jeff and/or claiming that they were not Jeff. Not really confusing, I guess. The sounds they make are guitar and synth-led indie poppish soundscapisms, and they've nailed some ideas down pretty perfectly this early on. I was reminded at points of Stereopathic Soulmanure-era Beck, but weirder.

Following Wet was another of my favorite performances of the weekend, Louisville's Black Kaspar. One set, lots of notes, thunderous noise levels, unpreventable deafness as a result, and pure perfection. This band is a true monster. Comprised of members from Sick City Four and The Belgian Waffles, Black Kaspar pummeled the region for about 35 minutes. Zink plays noise guitar and worships volume like no man I've ever seen. And the rest of the band aren't there for just show. This group is insane. You literally could not escape their sound anywhere at American Turners.

Black Kaspar

Cave Bears were fun to watch as they talked you into a sharp freak out with with their tune "Crystals." I think they come from bizarro land to bring us their wisdoms. This led me to take the stairs and grab a front seat for Louisville's Kark, a project related to Sapat. The band sprawled through the hallway of Scully Alley. Led by Sapat's Kris Abplanalp throwing his voice through the tremolo of an amp and letting it almost become the percussion with his words fading in and out like a desperate announcer screaming commands on a shortwave radio, Kark climbed and climbed until achieving a warm chug of a freight train that overwhelmed the alley. For the second half of their set I settled right above them on the deck of Turners and let them provide the wash of an encompassing soundtrack to the Ohio River.

Kark was followed by another local creation, Raw Thug, a quartet led by Alan/Arsenio Zignoto of softcheque and Sapat and filled out by bassist Jill Morgan, drummer Jeff Komara (Sapat, Alcohol Party), and guitarist Ben Traughber. Their set started with Alan playing classical acoustic guitar, and led into him switching to some keys on the ground as the rest of the band planted itself and followed into its own reality of counter-point escapism.
Raw Thug

Gray/Zerang Duo
The Gray/Zerang Duo were next and had me sitting on my knees drooling for most of their set. I'd talked to Bill Zink of Black Kaspar beforehand, and he told me to watch out for the drummer of the duo, Michael Zerang, because he would probably destroy my brain. Both Zerang and stand-up bassist Darin Gray did a find toil on my senses. Experimental jazz that went places I don't think I've ever been. Zerang's use of various devices and hardware on his drum kit were reconstructing the idea of percussion, yet remained a sustaining backbone to Gray's pricking and prunking of his bass. The bass became a the subject of a dissection of the instrument to see what it would do and where it would go as Gray splayed the strings with dowels and beat the upright. making it become a percussive instrument itself. At another point he sang through the bass using tubing that he had stuffed into the soundholes. These guys have become legendary figures in underground jazz and rock since the late 70s. Fucking impressive. Glad I got to witness that.

 As usual with Cropped Out, each act can give you wide eyes, and they just kept coming, with no remorse. What came next I've talked about for weeks now. Globsters is another act from Hazard, Kentucky, imported to the River City to make us weep with joyous tears. Composed of one man, Adam Brewer, and all the insanity and inspiration that can be packed into one head, Globsters became another one of sensations that stuck with me from this fest. I was near a point of needing to take a break and rest my ears following the Gray/Zerang Duo. As I entered the porta-potty, I heard what sounded like screaming metal coming from Scully Alley. As I exited the potty, I heard a cappella singing that was sad and sweet. I was drawn in. And it was there I found Brewer, preaching to a captivated audience that only kept growing. Brewer's songs were thrown in-between monologues about life and everything in it, and the a capella pieces ranged from "Eat that Pussy" to the theme from the "Muppet Babies" cartoon. His earnestness was so apparent and he was so entertaining, I want this man back in Louisville as soon as possible. He ended the set with a cover of "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead, the pre-recorded music playing behind him as loud as his voice. Daniel Johnston meets Lemmy? I don't know. Amazing.


Jesus, I need to wrap this up. It's becoming a book. But that's the deal with Cropped Out; send someone who likes to talk and talk about bands, and provide them a buffet of insane and amazing shit, and it becomes a novel like this.The hits kept on coming. A real time update: it's Sunday afternoon, I'm about to go to work, and I can hear through my open window a band covering "American Woman" at the chili-fest at Phoenix Hill Tavern. And I'm glad I'm not there.

After Globsters, I was feeling emotionally drained, my ears were sore, my knees knocked. I got a phone call and I left as dusk covered American Turners. I picked up my girl partner-in-crime Cori, we paid her way into the gates, and the night seemed to speed on as we juggled the ensuing acts. We had missed about four bands while gone, but continued on the quest to watch as much as possible. We walked into the pit of Shaved Women's real true punk rock show; we enjoyed a set by more folks from our hometown, New Mother Nature, a band I've been meaning to witness for some time now. Filled with members of Old Baby, Natural Geographic and Sapat, the band rabbled and rattled our heads. I look forward to catching them again.

New Mother Nature
Singer David Liebe Hart's set was packed and we could barely breathe, so we made the executive decision to walk to the ocean, I mean the river, and bumbled right on to a performance of a bell orchestra chiming and summoning the spirits of the night. Sitting on a wooden path that led to the docks, NYC's Ashcan Orchestra combined light and sound in the darkness. Seemed pretty magical.

Ashcan Orchestra
We stumbled into the fields behind the happenings, sat at a picnic table, caught our breaths, watched the moon. And then fucking Guerilla Toss happened.

Jesus Christ, the intensity of this set was a beautiful thing. After talking to people over the last couple of weeks, one comment I have heard repeatedly has been "Did you see Guerilla Toss? What the fuck was that?" We approached from behind the band with one question voiced between us, "Is that bass player completely naked?" Apparently bassist Simon Hanes does in fact play the shows nekkid. We watched the set from behind the band as the crowd in front massed and massed. More people saw us and started joining our side of the audience, and pretty soon GToss was surrounded for an impromtu in-the-round show.

Guerilla Toss
The band's sound is hard to pin down in its angular clanginess and noisiness. They take some priceless variations of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and blow the expectations of that out with something akin to maybe the Boredoms. The band sounds loose at times, but most of the tunes sounded very tight and controlled at certain points, with the drummer playing complicated rhythms through a barrage of synth and guitar noise. Standing out front is singer Kassie Carlson, whose voice is an unpredictable ultra-high-pitched scare that will pierce through any of the clatter being produced behind her in sharp rhythmic bursts. The most frightening times though were when she stood, face down, forehead aimed straight at whatever crowd member happened to be standing in front of her, mumbling trance-like. The expectation that she was going to explode into shrieks was there, just not knowing when was made it unnerving.

 Guerilla Toss made my brain a cemetery; thoughts were barely forming, exhaustion set in. We traipsed more stairs, caught the pop of veteran R. Stevie Moore, and with buckling legs, watched Neil Hamburger's set, which seemed to fit perfectly after the 237 hours of music I felt like I had witnessed. After being caught up on some new Madonna and Doobie Brothers jokes, we witnessed the huge crowd that had descended to watch rapper Lil B end the the night. Cori and I danced our way out of American Turners (well, Cori danced; I just kind of shook and fell).
Neil Hamburger

There you have it. A novel on Cropped Out III. Each CO seems to get better and better in terms of both organization and performances. The secret hidden closing night special was filled this year with Wooden Wand, Papa M and Jozef van Wissem in an underground bunker lovingly known as The Cave. All I can say is that I look forward to next year's ride.

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