Daniel Johnston, the Austin-based cult genius with bipolar disorder, started the night with his guitar strap falling off during the opening bars of the first song. Pausing, to reattach the strap, he calmly stuttered, “Ah… Oh….,” before restarting the opening number again. Really, those first few moments encapsulated the Daniel Johnston persona; the creative genius who lives on the mental edge, delivering soul-searching lyrics, straddling the fine line between serious and sometimes almost nursery-rhyme-like verses. Will it be a genius performance or a train wreck? You be the judge.
Daytrotter.com is one of the most respected indie music sites on the planet. So, when Daytrotter announced the maiden Barnstormer tour of Iowa barns and a Madison attic, we were excited to participate in this unique experience. The Madison gig, featuring four bands, was supposed to start at 6pm, at an old three story house downtown on Henry Street.
Catfish Haven tearing it up in downtown Madison
Earlier in the day, the Barnstormer tour bus petered out in Iowa and the caravan was forced to rent vans for the trip to Madison. Lucky for us that we saw the twitter feed announcing the bus troubles (flat tire), which delayed the start time to about 10pm. A large group of indie music fanatics mingled outside the old house, waiting patiently for the music to begin. The large Henry street attic was on the top floor, complete with unfinished framing for a room, which substituted for a stage.
About 70 people crammed into the space for live music by Catfish Haven, Snowblink, Local Natives and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The temperature rose as each band played their hearts out. It was a truly cool experience, despite the heat. Band members and the Daytrotter crew were very personable and mixed with the crowd, giving everyone the feeling of a house party with an indie music focus. Barnstormer II is rumoured to be on the drawing board for October and Madison will be on the intinerary. Stay tuned to Rock of the Arts for more details.
A thousand people showed up to see the second annual Madfork Music Festival on the UW-Madison Memorial Union Terrace Friday. Not bad, for five relatively unknown indie bands passing through town on their way to the hipster economic summit known as PitchFork. Yeasayer, Ponytail, Cymbals Eat Guitars, the Dutchess & the Duke and the Antlers were putting on a full dress rehearsal for the big gig the next day and did not disappoint.
Battling a stiff breeze off the lake, with unseasonably cool temperatures, the Antlers took the honors to kick off the event at 6pm. The large, early crowd was rather subdued, politely clapping after every song. Not enough beer flowing yet! The Antlers' latest album, Hospice, was recently named "Best Album of 2009 So Far" by NPR.
Baltimore's Ponytail revved the crowd up with quirky indie pop that won them the honors of most unique band of the evening. Lead singer, Molly Seigel, looking like a cross betwee Bjork and Yoda, jumped up and down while screaming lyrics like a crazed Yoko Ono. At one point, Ponytail invited about 30 members of the audience on stage to join in the craziness.
Seattle's new royalty, the Dutchess & the Duke parlayed their retro 60's folk pop into a jingle jangle sing-along. At one point they started to whistle along with the melodies, making me think it was some kind of Andrew Bird tribute. It wasn't.
Cymbals Eat Guitars is another indie buzz band with a big sound. Opening with 'And the Hazy Sun' from the album 'Why There are Mountains' lead guitarist Joseph Ferocious sonically assaults you with hook-filled power chords before bringing you back down with delicate melodies. Talk about song dynamics! Definitely, the best guitar playing of the night.
Yeasayer got a late start as the last band and apparent headliner. I had never seen the group before and fans surrounding me talked about how good Yeasayer was live. The background scoop was an experimental indie group that normally played with a projection screen behind them, featuring trippy visuals. Well, there was no screen tonight and the band was delving into newer material that sounded good, but definitely leaned toward the dance side of indie pop. Still, vocalist Chris Keating showed his vocal prowess and front man skills that kept you interested in the late night set instead of the dropping temperatures. Even though the hard core Yeasayer fans were somewhat puzzled, I enjoyed the band and would actually pay to see them again.
All in all, the MadFork music festival was a lot of fun and kudos go out to the Wisconsin Union Directorate music committee for proactively picking up the indie onslaught headed to Chicago for Pitchfork. Let's do it again next year and make it a full day event with some local opening acts!