Our Lit section editor, Emma Terhaar, and music writer, Colin Smith, traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan, last weekend to catch the fifth annual Audiotree Festival. Here’s their report on day two. Photos by Tom Krohn (IG: corn_man5000). Catch their day one review here, which includes a more comprehensive overview of the entire festival.
The second day of our summery fall weekend in Kalamazoo nearly cooked the crowd. By the end of the day, many festival-goers looked pink. Still, the crowd grew as did the palpable excitement felt on the festival grounds for Australian psychedelic King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
The Audiotree Festival designated the bands to one stage. This made getting beers, grabbing food, and going to the bathroom easier — you didn’t have to sacrifice a band’s slot to wade through crowds or circumambulate a festival’s large perimeter. You also didn’t have to compromise between at least two bands you’re interested in seeing.
But one odd consequence of this was how Audiotree separated most of the hip-hop acts onto Friday and most of the rock bands onto Saturday, the busier day. Still, given Friday’s much more sparse attendance, it felt good to see top-quality rock bands, like Twin Peaks and headliners King Gizzard inject massive energy into the festival, and see the grounds well-populated for these world-class acts.
The presence of an announcer on stage before nearly every artist irked many attendees. It gave the otherwise small festival — one where you might be standing next to a performer in the crowd — a commercial, corporate feel. Overall, we’re so glad we spent the past outrageously hot weekend in Kalamazoo at Audiotree Festival! It’s still growing, but the festival is pushing in the right direction.
Day Two: Saturday, September 23
Liz Cooper wore pajama bottoms in the early afternoon with her hair blowing in the wind. She played toward the very beginning of the day, but even still the crowd came close to the stage. Her band, Liz Cooper and the Stampede, sounded like a concise Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead — like spaced-out folk music. They jam out but they’re not a jam band.
Charly Bliss lacked the crispness they have in their studio recordings. Frontwoman Eva Hendricks pep showed an odd disconnect between her performance and the totally still crowd. Although their poppy songs are fun to hear live, they don’t have much stage presence. Despite being pop music, there’s an underlying sensitivity and finesse to their incredibly catchy music that means I’ll continue listening despite not being totally blown away by their Audiotree performance.
When Pinegrove got on, the crowd nearly doubled. Lead singer Evan Stephens Hall slowly welcomed the audience into a place of openness and vulnerability. Despite the despair and confusion found in his songwriting, he has an offbeat, deadpan charm. And Hall’s twangy voice sounds just as good live as the studio. Other than Hall, the band remained silent, still and blank throughout the performance. Their onstage demeanor says “I feel everything and emote nothing.”
CHON is a math-rock band turned jam band: they got all the shirtless, tan bros dancing. Their feel-good vibes were all the more impressive because of the precision with which they played. They got the festival ready to dance just before BadBadNotGood.
Speaking of whom, it’s hard to put BadBadNotGood into a box. They’re one part jazz, another part (instrumental) hip-hop, and another part electronic. They hit the sweet spot between impressive, gifted musicians and freeing, fun music.
Chicago’s favorite boys Twin Peaks never disappoint. Though co-frontman Clay Frankel gave his share of effortless leg kicks, they seemed a bit more reserved than their indoor shows. They tamed themselves for this small Midwestern city; their festival faces were on. It’s easy to forget just how young Twin Peaks are because of their utter confidence and charisma. They played the classics, including “Making Breakfast” and “Stand in the Sand”, but the new singles they’ve been releasing throughout the year translated impressively, too. New songs “Shake Your Lonely” and “Tossing Tears” are some of the best examples of Frankel’s singing and Cadien Lake James’ guitar riffing, respectively. It satiated our need to see these young rockstars before their string of three back-to-back shows at Thalia Hall this December.
Headliners King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard embarked on a long tour by stopping into Kalamazoo first. This was after the Australian 7-piece band released three of five albums planned this year, and after touring through the States earlier this spring. They said they hadn’t played in two months, but their energy was electric (even better than their nights at Lincoln Hall two nights later). Frontman Stu Mackenzie said before playing a song off of Flying Microtonal Banana, “this is an old song — well not that old… 6-months old!” Another highlight included how they dedicated a song to Charles Bradley after just hearing about his death that day. Their explosive, fiery set finished Audiotree with plenty of songs from Nonagon Infinity and Murder of the Universe.