Courtesy of Stephen Mease
Grace Potter with Kenny Chesney
Well, I am just exhausted.
If you’re a music fan in or around Burlington, the last week and a half or so has been nothing short of epic. From Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum at the Universalist Unitarian Church to the Festival of Fools — not strictly music, but wild and fun nonetheless — and, of course, this past weekend’s Grand Point North/Lake Champlain Maritime Festival, the Queen City has been treated to an absolute embarrassment of musical riches this month. And that’s not even taking out-of-town fests such as Tweed River, RhinoFest and the Valley Stage into consideration. In short, it’s been borderline overwhelming. But let’s try to make some sense of it, shall we?
I sat down at my computer on four or five occasions last week trying to put into words what those of us at the UU church experienced on Monday, August 1, witnessing Jeff Mangum’s return to the stage. The best I could do? “Whoa.” Wouldn’t have made for much of a blog post, I’m afraid.
There was once a great Chris Farley skit on “Saturday Night Live” in which the portly comic interviews Paul McCartney. His big question: “Remember when you were in the Beatles? … That was awesome!” That’s kind of how I felt trying to wrap my head around what I saw at the Mangum show. It was … awesome.
Never mind that Burlington was the first stop on his tour — which was also awesome, and a feather in the city’s cap. Or that he may have sounded even better than when NMH’s landmark album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was released 10 years ago. (Also awesome.) And never mind that the UU church is a beautiful venue for an acoustic show. (Ditto.) Mangum’s performance, for me, and I’d wager for most of the crowd that night, was intensely personal. I don’t know if I had fully appreciated how much that album means to me until I heard the songs come from the mouth of the man who wrote them, and who seems to love them as much as we do. It was revelatory, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Grand Point North, hopefully, will not occur just once in our lives. Grace Potter said she wanted to showcase Burlington with GPN (the festival). And that’s exactly what she and her Nocturnals did, for two tremendous days of music at Waterfront Park this past weekend. The highlights were almost too numerous to mention. But a few stand out:
Fitz & the Tantrums were a blast. Dynamos onstage. Their recorded stuff, which I like, doesn’t do them justice.
Bill Mullins and his surf-noir rockers Barbacoa reaffirmed the special place I have in my heart for that band. It’s kind of hard to believe I’ve been watching those cats play in Burlington, in various incarnations, since I was a teenager. And it never gets old.
Kenny Chesney, who joined GPN for a few tunes Sunday, is much shorter than I thought he’d be.
Though I missed both bands, I heard a lot of buzz about both Lendway and Parmaga while strolling the grounds. I don’t want to say, “I told you so.” But I’ve been writing that those are two of Burlington’s brightest up-and-comers for a while now. So … OK, I told you so.
Ditto Maryse Smith.
But I know what you’re all wondering: What about Grace and band?
I thought they were terrific. Really.
At this point, we all know exactly what GPN are. Love ’em or hate ’em, they are a well-oiled, commercial entity. A brand as much as a band. Actually, they always have been, and have never shied away from that or apologized for it — nor should they have to. This idea of “little Gracie Potter from Waitsfield” is bullshit. It’s a fan base projecting what they want to believe about Potter onto Potter. And it’s the reason critics say they “sold out.” But this is what the band has always been. And now, people well beyond Vermont are taking notice.
Grace Potter is a Rock Star. She’s a diva. As divas usually do, she trades (almost) as much on sex appeal as her considerable vocal talents — which really are phenomenal. And that’s fine, especially because she, and her band, are very, very good at it.
I’ve never really been a GPN fan, though I’ve always understood the appeal. However, this weekend I came away genuinely impressed. The band members were in lockstep with one another in a way I hadn’t heard them before. And Grace sounded better than I ever remember hearing her. She was commanding and compelling — and, yeah, totally hot. In previous times I’ve caught GPN, I felt that she was struggling to match the diva persona. Well, she got there. And it’s been a fascinating evolution, punctuated by two legitimately impressive shows this weekend, and a festival that truly did highlight the bounty of music her home state has to offer. Thanks, Grace. Let’s do it again next year.
Can I go to bed now?
You know who else is the real deal? Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band. After GPN Friday, I caught their set at what will likely be the last Full Moon Masquerade at Parima. If you haven’t seen the band at its Thursday-night Radio Bean residency, do it. Like, now. The band is stellar, and Wright is one of the most captivating vocalists this town has seen in years.
While we’re on the subject, word on the street is that, even though Parima is closing, Scott Mangan is planning to keep his monthly full-moon parties going, possibly taking them underground. That’s a very, very good thing. Stay tuned.
Welcome back, Spirit Animal! The offshoot of late, great local rock band In Memory of Pluto has been curiously absent from the scene lately. Turns out they’ve been working on a new album, scheduled for release this fall. Spirit Animal will be at the Monkey House this Thursday, August 18, with Graph and Pile. It’s reportedly their first show with new guitarist John Flanagan, who was also a member of IMOP. Killer.
Band Name of the Week: Sun Has Found Me. Several readers have emailed me this week singing the praises of this Swedish electro-pop outfit and its front woman, Lovisa Samuelsson. I don’t speak Swedish, so I have no idea what Samuelsson is singing about. But I don’t care. I think I’m in love. You might be, too, when you hear Lovisa Samuelsson. The band makes a trio of VT stops this week: Friday, August 19, at the Black Door in Montpelier; Saturday, August 20, at the Bee’s Knees in Morrisville; and Sunday, August 21, at Radio Bean.
Last but not least, local bar band PleasureDome, which feature veteran hardcore drummer Joe Villemaire (Drowningman), as well as members of seminal BTV hardcore acts Slush and Uncommon Tongue, are headlining a benefit this Saturday at the Kahagon Resort in Hardwick for a friend’s daughter who was born with epidermolysis bullosa. EB is a very rare, painful and, sadly, incurable disease. The band is also playing a warm-up gig Friday night in more native environs: On Tap in Essex Junction. If you can’t make it Saturday, they’ll be collecting donations Friday, as well.
Once again, this week's totally self-indulgent column segment, in which I share a random sampling of what was on my iPod, turntable, CD player, 8-track player, etc., this week.
Various Artists, Muppets: The Green Album (yeah, still. It rocks.)
Jay-Z and Kanye West, Watch the Throne
Beirut, East Harlem
Fitz & the Tantrums, Songs for a Break Up
Neutral Milk Hotel, Everything Is