I'm finding that writing these things up is maybe as epic as the Festival itself....The Fools. I love the Fools. The room was sparsely populated when they started and it felt like a private show. As I've said before, Jen's singing is really soulful and while you maybe don't think of her primarily for her guitar playing, she has just the right touch for supporting her songs. I particularly like the song she and Uchenna played last night that is a tribute to their Moms....and fathers too (the room filled up by the end of their set). The Young Dads are interesting in that their songs stem from comic instincts--and they are hilariously funny--but there is a lot of excellent musical talent there. They harmonize in falsetto, they sing whole verses in fake languages, one guy plays a mean bass and the other is an excellent box drummer. My latest favorite of theirs is the song about going to the JCC. It reminds me of the times my dad would take me into the locker room of some club or something somewhere and you'd see all these old guys wandering around in their prominent nudity--sometimes not a serene sight for a kid. I think Bendik left some holes in the stage with his boots and the stomping that came with some of his songs. He played interpretations of some classical pieces in Bendik style as well as originals like "I'm Here to Sell Beer," and "Malltown." Joe mentioned that he played his first Antifolk Fest in 1986. Charles Latham brought a string tie and some interesting Antifolk songs from Philadelphia, including a song about how he's "not going to be down today." I liked Steve Espinola's whole set, but there was this one song he played with a long-necked two-stringed instrument that he'd made where he sang "it terrifies me that my not so great body has peaked and is decaying." I find myself thinking about songs along those lines these days. Whoever expected to get old? Erin Regan was exquisite. She played one of the most beautiful sets of hers I can remember. I don't understand why she's not on the cover of every music magazine published. Lach played a song that he dedicated for Ami and although I'd never heard it before, I think it could be one of my favorite songs of his. It was along the lines of "I want to spend a day without me....leave myself for dead." There's something interesting about wanting to get away from yourself...to take a vacation from who you are and all that comes with that. Steve Espinola jumped on stage at one point and sat in with Lach on Spiderman and one or two other songs, which was cool too. I always like how Simon and Sam of The Wowz face each other on stage. It kind of reminds me of acts from the 60s for some reason. There is something charming about their whole vibe. They're kind of ramshackle and tight at the same time. I like it when Johnny stands up to sing like when he does "They say I'm no good but I say I'm just misunderstood (sexually depressed about the lack of Jameses)."
Ching Chong Song was amazing. My tendency is to focus in on lyrics and I think that's what drew me to them originally. But last night there were some moments of intense musical beauty. I wish I could have captured it. It's been interesting to see how Susan Hwang has worked into the group. They are doing a lot with integrated vocal parts. At one point Susan switched from accordion to this exotic looking double drum. At the end of the set they did a spur of the moment medley of Old Man, a song about the McDonald's menu, and Pussy/Dick Diet. It was like watching some sort of sport to see the whole thing made up on the spot, especially since they kept coming back to Old Man and weaving the songs together in unexpected ways. I think I'm going to start following Ching Chong Song wherever they go. I'll be the first Chonghead. I'll sell musical saw kits in the parking lots of all their venues to make a living.
I should mention that Lumberrob took the stage for the first minutes of Ching Chong Song's set and did this cool rapid-fire vocalizing thing with the loop machine. He kept crawling down to the floor and hitting the box intensely to trigger the loops.
Wow. Master Lee finished up this very late night of the set. The other night at the Open Mic I heard him do one of his pieces and I was amazed to recognize all these perspectives that I'd been thinking about independently. He was talking about how people tend to separate from themselves and spend their lives trying to become whole again. Last night's stories covered some of that same territory and also expanded into related areas, like fear and hating. He also talked about growing up a block away from Sidewalk during the 1980s. I don't think I can necessarily convey the sense of his ideas very strongly in my retelling of them, but I find that there are revelatory moments in Master Lee's pieces. Plus they're really funny and entertaining. And I like how he starts each piece with this meditative breath and upstretched arm movement.