WLUW spent this past weekend in Kalamazoo, Michigan at the 2018 Audiotree Music Festival! The festival is put on by Chicago based company Audiotree and brings indie rock and folk acts from across the US (and Canada), including some Chicago bands and WLUW favorites. Check out our coverage below of the different sets we saw and some pictures of the acts! And be on the lookout for some interviews conducted at the fest by WLUW team members Olivia Cerza, Elise McGannon, and Scott Clancy!
The band of hard rockers from Bed-Stuy, NYC blasted through their set on Saturday afternoon - September 22nd (the first official day of Fall 2018 btw). That morning’s chill still lingered as the sun was beginning to blaze over the Arcadia Festival Place. They play a face-melting blend of metallic punk that swirls through a wah pedal and guitar feedback”NO ONE IS IMPORTANT - NONE OF THIS MATTERS - WE ARE ALL HUMAN!” and later a manifesto exclaiming “BLACK LIVES MATTER! BLACK WOMEN ARE POWERFUL!” was shouted at the modest crowd at the start of the set and the tone was set right then. The band delivers a political message in their lyrics rooted by the members’ experiences growing up on welfare and Section 8. While they pummeled through their songs like “Funeral,” “Mr. Policeman,” I couldn’t help notice their look - that classic garage rock look of denim jackets and long hair. A good set - though it was a shame the crowd was so small early on in the day.
Self described as “nap-rock,” Chicago’s Vivian McConnell walked out on stage with the intentions of putting the crowd to sleep. With gentle and comforting sounds, McConnell hopes her music reminds you of the rejuvenation of “those 30 seconds when you accidentally fall asleep on the train." McConnell’s set began with “Fish in Five,” which kicked off a lovely and refreshing performance on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. McConnell seamlessly glided through songs off her 2018 release, Bathing Peach, and all the while it felt like I was floating on a fluffy, pretty cloud. McConnell encouraged the crowd to put up their “V.V.s,” between songs, and as the audience raised their peace signs into the air, it was so clear that the love was really real during this inviting V.V. Lightbody performance.
Our interview with Viv was so fun, listen here!
One of Chicago’s finest - noise rock lives and it’s played by a band of brother/sister guitar players and a kick-ass rhythm section. Really and truly I mean that - Liam Winters on bass and James Wetzel on drums are a duo to behold. James’ drum fills are manic and pummeling and Liam attacks his bass with such fuzzed out might. Plus, he looks like he could crack me in half in a second...but I’m sure he’s a very nice person...Guitar player and singer Miranda Winters, who was on double duty today with a solo set later at the fest, growled and rambled her way through tracks from their 2017 debut, Nothing Valley. “Kid Creative” is my favorite and was thrown into the set to meld with power riffs, snarls, and abrasive electric guitar leads played by left-handed Bart Winters. It was primal and loud and so good to see the mighty Melkbelly do their thing. Listen to our interview with the lovely Miranda Winters here!
With new bandmate Drew Thomsen on the drums and Destroy Boy’s Violet Mayugba on the bass, this energy-packed set featured a perfect blend of both old and new songs, celebrating how much The Regrettes have accomplished so far in their career as well as how they don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. During “Picture Perfect,” lead singer Lydia Night got up close and personal with the audience as she crawled around the floor, encouraging the crowd to dance and sing along with her. “Come Through,” a single off their 2018 EP Attention Seeker, was a personal highlight of the set, as I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the band’s most recent work holds up as well as their previous releases. With her simple and creative harmonies, Genessa Gariano provided an essential backbone to The Regrettes classic sound. This impressive performance also featured “Lacy Loo,” “Hey Now,” and “A Living Human Girl,” an anthem celebrating both the ups and downs of being comfortable with who you are. This set was easily one of the most fun performances of the weekend, and as the band was rocking away on stage, I couldn’t help but think about how they are basically the same age as me and that I should probably start getting my shit together.
After a powerful performance on the Main Stage as the voice of Melkbelly, Miranda Winters took to the WIDR FM stage to share a more intimate performance of her own. Following her release of Xobeci, What Grows Here? earlier this summer, Winters has shared a personal look into her life through her solo work. With just her and her guitar, Winters’ vulnerable set included “The Futuristic District,” “Mickey’s Dead Stuff,” and “Glitter House.” As Winters introduced us to a different side of her music, I sat in the grass and closed my eyes as her storytelling took me away. With a focus on the random happenings of her life as well as the thoughts that often clutter her mind, Winters’ lyrics feel like she’s sharing a captivating memory with friends. This intimate setting was a perfect spot to listen to Winters share her work. Check out our interview with Miranda Winters coming soon in our coverage from the fest!
Two albums and a slew of singles down on wax, Chicago’s own Ne-Hi is a real solid live band who kick out some stellar rock ‘n’ roll that’s got a little more intrigue to it than standard garage power chords. The group’s two guitarists Jason and Mikey both delivered to the somewhat modest crowd at their Audiotree set some slinky distorted notes over the rhythms of tracks like “Since I’ve Been Thinking” and “Stay Young.” To me, the groove that the band finds their way into ensures an interesting, unique set while retaining the element of good time guitar rock and their live moves add quite a bit to the show - sounds trivial but stage presence can really make or break a live show. Ne-Hi is energetic but by the time they started to breeze through the short but sweet set, the sun made it just a little too hot and the crowd was shamefully stagnant, but I had a really good time - they’re a great band and were one of my favorites of the weekend.
Check out our interview with Ne-Hi guitarist Jason Balla from the fest!
Music festivals are supposed to be fun...right? Diet Cig brought more than enough fun for the entirety of Audiotree. Alex Luciano, lead singer and guitarist, bounced around stage, jumping, twirling, and grinning like this was the most fun she’d ever had. Despite having torn her ACL afew months ago, her leg in a bulky cast and everything, Luciano managed to kick all the way to her head many times. Noah Bowman provided the backbone for all the songs, killing it on the drums. Luciano paused in between songs to make a few political statements. She gave thanks to all of the women, trans, and queer people in the audience for making the space so special. She made a point to say that rock n’ roll was created by a queer woman of color in the first place, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and finished off by encouraging the audience to register to vote for November. Easily one of my favorite sets from Audiotree, Diet Cig knows how to have fun.
Find our convo with Diet Cig here!
Pop-Punk is going through a revival. I had a feeling it was coming and from the UK, Basement’s Audiotree set sorta kinda proved it...and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it was a really cool set. I’m not too familiar with the band’s three albums to date (with their fourth, Beside Myself, out later this year on Fueled By Ramen). Lead vocalist Andrew Fisher sang strong and added to his performance in true pop-punk fashion with a scream here and there. The band’s sound was heavy and melodic and a lot of the songs had a rather cathartic and emotive quality to their grit that sparked the first pit of the night - up until then the crowds were a bit still, but Basement brought it out of a few of them. Their set felt like the right transition from the sunny afternoon into the night’s headliners - with a heavy wallop of English angst.
Imagine, if you will - it is 1967. You are in New York City and walk into the Cafe Wha and there’s some group playing that night - Jimi something...Heeder? Howard? Hendrix I think? Never heard of him but your only words after watching him play are “holy crap...what?” That’s what I imagine it was like anyway and that’s what it was like after Houston, Texas psych face melters Khruangbin. Guitar, bass, and drums never sounded so entrancing, so full. The sun was setting and the shining moon arose with the band’s music. They played pretty much all instrumental music and the crowd soaked up every second of it, which was impressive in front of an indie rock audience - it’s hard to keep a crowd so engaged with hardly any lyrics of pop hooks. But here’s how they did it - a drummer named DJ Johnson who played with no frills and a simplet, steady beat, a bass player named Laura Lee (“the sexiest woman I’ve ever seen” according to Elise) who wore shiny rainbow pants and was the epitome of suave while she plucked out groove after sexy groove, and Mark Speer - probably the greatest technical guitar player I have ever seen in my life. It was like watching somebody make love to a guitar. They didn’t sing much - a few times they sang some beautifully haunted croons, Laura pretended to be a phone menu voice, and Mark introduced the band to the crowd at the end. Clearly inspired by eastern scales, neo-soul and surf, Afghan-funk, the soundscapes transported the crowd into the deserts of outer space even when they launched into a spaced out guitar medley of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg hip hop hits. Only a handful of times have I seen a show and not known what to do right afterwards but stand there - so I said “holy crap...what?”
Performing directly after the explosive performance of Khruangbin couldn’t have been easy for California based indie-rock group, Local Natives. But they held their own, especially in front of an audience who clearly loves the genre and the band. Guitarist and lead singer, Taylor Rice, really moves to their music, almost violently dancing in the center of the stage. For us, the WLUW team didn’t find Local Native’s sound to be the most exciting act of the festival that Saturday, however, fans can depend on them to produce consistent chill and almost tribal vibes, reminding us of live performances by Fleet Foxes or Ra Ra Riot. Prior to the set, the band announced on social media that their upcoming shows would be their only ones for a little while as they begin writing and recording new music - some of which was played during their Audiotree set - “When Am I Gonna See You” being one of them. Fan favorites like “Dark Days,” “Jellyfish,” and “Breakers,” among other all made a live appearance. Their song “Ceilings” was dedicated to band member Taylor Rice, who was married last month. Their brand of dancey, anthemic pop music closed out Saturday in Kalamazoo to the jovial pleasures of the fans and put an end to WLUW’s favorite day of the weekend.
-Elise McGannon & Scott Clancy
Driving into the states all the way from Montreal, Québec, Brigitte Naggar of Common Holly blessed us on a beautiful Michigan Sunday morning with the first set of the second day. As festival attendees arrived, the hypnotizing voice of Naggar pulled them in to the Main Stage. Naggar describes her sound as “dark dad folk/sloth punk,” which is shown through the slow and steady build of sound and intensity found within her work. This set showcased Naggar’s haunting and thoughtful lyricism, especially during songs like “The Rose,” where her writing abilities pair hand in hand with heart aching instrumentals. Guitarist Devon Bates produced and worked alongside Naggar throughout the production of her record Playing House, which explains the clear and ever-present chemistry between the two during their set, especially during their passionate performance of “The Desert.” Although I wish Naggar would’ve gotten the crowd size she deserved for such a captivating performance, I am sure that Common Holly has gained quite a few fans out of those who were lucky enough to have been in attendance.
It is said that Canadians are very nice, take a listen to our interview with Brigitte and Devon to decide for yourself... (the answer is yes, they were very very nice).
And be sure to catch Common Holly live in Chicago October 26th at The Empty Bottle alongside Anna Burch and Fred Thomas: more info here!
Lushh’s music is quite literally lush. Their classic take on smooth jazz could put anyone in a good mood. Kalamazoo natives, the group of five guys incorporate a plethora of instruments in their music, including some killer saxophone. Eddie Codrington quietly dominated the center stage with his saxophone, showcasing a talent that blew me away. There was a special chemistry between the members, proving a bond on and off stage. They played a few original songs and some covers as well, reminding me that there’s nothing quite as pleasing as some good jazz.
Every now and then, in the middle of a harsh Chicago winter, I get a hankering for the beach. That’s when I put on some Major Murphy. Their music transports the listener to easier sunnier times. The group made sure to play fan favorites, such as “One Day,” and “Mary,” from their first full length album, No. 1, during their Audiotree set. Major Murphy has been together for about three years now and each of them, Jacob (guitar and vocals), Jackie (bass and vocals), and Brian (drums), clearly have a tight bond that manifests onstage as intense musical chemistry. Each of them are attune to one another’s next moves and they manage to create a space just for them, despite being in front of an audience. Their live music is so good that they recorded the majority of No. 1 live.
Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts
“We’re from down the street!” exclaimed Jake Simmons at the start of the set. Kalamazoo’s own Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts came to Audiotree determined to make the most of their set as they moved from song to song without wasting any time. I wasn’t even surprised to learn that they have been working together for almost a decade, because their chemistry was so present in their performance. Their impressive guitar work and alternative pop punk sound packed a punch into Sunday afternoon’s lazy atmosphere. The band introduced the political “Them (Evil)” by saying it’s a song that hasn’t been relevant for about 8 years but unfortunately is again. By making their opinions loud and known, Jake Simmons & the Little Ghosts are making a strong wave within the Kalamazoo music scene. With a new album out November 2nd, these hometown heros had a meaningful performance on the WIDR FM stage, sharing the love with both their local support as well as their new fans.
As I was sitting in the grass, I was alarmed by a loud but beautiful wail coming from the main stage. That wail belonged to Taylor Meier, the lead singer and guitarist of Ohio’s Caamp. From then on, I was intrigued to learn where this soothing, raspy voice was coming from. Folk music is not my cup of tea per se, but I would argue that any fans of the genre would fall head over heels for the music of these small town boys. This passionate set included some intense banjoing, impressive harmonies, and passionate lyrics. Once the “ooo’s” started to sound like wolves howling in the distance, I realized that a band name has never felt more fitting. Caamp’s music takes you right back to sitting around a campfire with friends on a warm summer night. After a few songs, though, it all started to sound the same. Although Caamp really fit the bill for the Sunday lineup of folksy tunes, and did draw a large crowd of folksy fans to dance around with them, I’m not gonna lie, this set was not one of the most memorable moments of WLUW’s weekend.
Sunday continued with another band from Chicago - the sun made it too hot for a Fall day, too hot to stand around and watch Post Animal. The band’s album When I Think of You In a Castle was released earlier this year and is full of your typical chorus effected guitars and jangly melodies so trendy in a lot of today’s indie rock. The band’s look is like that of a lot of their contemporaries - long hair, mustaches, and tucked in t-shirts, but their live set was a little surprising actually, given how tame their album sounds. They played a set that was reminiscent of some of those prog-bands from the 1970s, but with less developed or interesting visual imagery. The band’s crunchy and jumpy riffs that were interspersed with math-rock psych guitar solos and jittery synths that sounded like they were lifted from a video game seemed, to me, a little underwhelming and not a very interesting way to keep up festival energy as the late afternoon began dragging in the draining sun. Though some of the crowd dug it, I took the time to explore the vendors and the festival site’s playground.
The sleepy and sunny afternoon continued along on the main stage with an appearance from Portland, Oregon’s country-tinged-synth-space-folk-band, Blitzen Trapper. Why such a confusing descriptor? Because in all honesty, I do not know how the hell to peg this band’s set. Country rock? Harmonica? Extended synth jams? Correct, all of the above, which felt a little odd. Their set opened with electric guitars complete with a country rock solo, then segued into a few acoustic, folky songs that sometimes had these long synth passages that were rather spacey, a harmonica here and there and none of it really peaked our interests. Most of the crowd was into it, however, as was the case with a few of the bigger acts this Sunday, being dominated by some more indie acoustic, mellow jangle pop bands, Blitzen Trapper and their set did seem to elicit some enthusiasm from those fans of such folksy music, though we, from WLUW, reacted a tad less energetically - in fact, Olivia doesn’t even remember sleeping through it... I will end with this visual, which I believe sums up my thoughts on the set pretty well: I was laying in the grass for part of the set and upside down I watched a waving American Flag with birds flying overhead, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky above, and Blitzen Trapper’s Americana drifted to me from the Main Stage speakers - it felt very American...in an odd way.
This set was just what we needed late Sunday afternoon. Chicago’s post-hardcore band Slow Mass was a shining star on the 2018 Audiotree lineup. Volume itself seems to be a whole other instrument in this band, as each band member manipulates their own sound in their own unique way. As their songs seamlessly shift from noisey face melters to soft moments of recovery, Slow Mass guides their audience through a rollercoaster ride of music. With a performance including songs like “Suburban Yellow,” “Gray Havens,” and “Blocks” off their 2018 release, On Watch, the band showcased their chemistry and talent with smiles on their faces. Slow Mass closed their set with a wall of noise, which featured an added touch by flautist Vivian McConnell of V.V. Lightbody. As the speakers blared, I stood there with my jaw on the floor. With this being the weekend’s closing performance at the WIDR FM stage, Slow Mass sent an extra boost of energy into the festival goers for the rest of the evening. This set was hands down the highlight of my weekend.
We got to sit down and chat with the members of Slow Mass about their recording process, the Chicago music scene, and what’s up next for them. Check it out here!
Sunday continued to pick up a bit with an appearance by LA favorite, the soulful yet playful Chicano Batman. They combine psychedelic and tropicalia roots with funk rhythms and rock stomp to create a listening and concert experience that exudes cool and excitement. The band was dressed formally, in grey, skinny suits, but retained a casual look with sneakers, long hair, or sunglasses. This is a band of dualities that were on display at Audiotree. As mentioned, their cool and excitement, formal and casual look, but also in the performance from singer, keyboardist, guitarist Bardo Martinez, who plays and sings with such talent and competent quality, yet makes it look easy, casual, natural. The band grooved through tracks from their three albums to date, like last years Freedom is Free and another highlight for me came from the bass playing by Eduardo Arenas. Thumping with a kind of sexual bop, his playing echoes funk and provides the best vault for the other members’ playing. Oh and of course the band’s trio of backup singers, just another element of the style the band showed the crowd on Sunday evening as the sun set on Kalamazoo.
If Chicano Batman was the day’s upper, Real Estate was its downer. The sun was going down and the sky turned to a tiered stack of shades of blue. It looked calming and fit the music of Real Estate well. I must admit, I expected a rather subdued set as their music isn’t the most energetic on record. It was, for the most part, rather relaxed though what did surprise me was the slightly harder edge a live treatment of their reverb and jangle guitar style gave the songs. The guitars cracked with a bit of distortion over the washes of ambient keys and their rhythm section had a nice heavy bottom, which added some power. This was the band’s first show in Kalamazoo and during it they showcased some new songs and told the crowd they’ll be recording a new album soon. As with many of the day’s more subdued sets, the crowd seemed to appreciate the more folksy trend of the band and looked happy to listen to Real Estate’s watery rock. Here’s the best visual of the fest, seen during the tail end of the band’s appearance - A man, bald and with ginger mutton chops, proudly wearing a 2018 Ozzy Osbourne “No More Tours Vol. 2” t-shirt, waving melodically around, eyes closed, feeling Real estate. Very tranquil.
Father John Misty
In the name of the Father and of the John and of the Holy Misty, Amen. After barely being able to see Daddy Misty last weekend at his packed Riot Fest performance, WLUW traveled to Kzoo for a more intimate setting. FJM swaggered onto stage, was handed his guitar, and started his set with a soulful kick in his voice. Misty began with “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” off his 2012 album Fear Fun. We were mesmerized and slightly surprised by the way Misty moved to his music with a feminine and purposeful demeanor, dramatically swiping at his guitar and often executing a modified and more tame version of “the twist.” As the fancy lights lit up his silhouette, Misty put the entire festival under a spell, unlike a number of his predecessors in the Sunday lineup. Although many artists aim for his level and quality of stage presence, his persona is highly unique and untouchable. His performance was objectively great.
-Olivia Cerza and Elise McGannon
All Photos taken by Elise McGannon