DRILL FESTIVAL @ THE ECHO/ECHOPLEX
The weather turned slightly bitter around sundown and the fifty or so frumpy mostly male ticketholders lined up outside The Echo briefly marveled at the young lady wearing impressively close to nothing in search of the hip-hop bash at The Echoplex downstairs. “Wrong demographic,” one wag muttered as the line inched forward. Expectations were high; indeed well past stoked for Night One of the experimental, genre-hopping Drill Festival, coming soon to Leeds, Brussels and Berlin but debuting, sensibly enough, here in the metropolis on the edge of forever. Some inside were already talking of the sleep they won’t be getting.
First up was Alina Bea, a quartet fronted by charismatic Alina Cutrono, who sang of doomed love and other delights to a still-undersized crowd that warmed up to her with an almost starchy slowness. Nevertheless, she persisted, winning them over by force of personality. The applause grew vociferous after her third number and downright deafening after that, especially after she put a heckler in his place by agreeing with him that the red stage light was actually green. He shut up after that.
The wait was damn short for Immersion, an electronic music project of Malka Spigel and Colin Newman of Wire that began at once to emit a lot of gorgeous neo-kosmische experimental noise in the manner of Neu and Kraftwerk. After an interval waiting for something like a tune to emerge, a few in the crowd began to twitch. A lady next to me rubbed her eyes distractedly while the guy on my right played a game on his phone. As one who spends a likely insane amount of time at avant-music events listening to a cellist work over a single note twenty minutes, I was quite content. Outside on the patio, a small group of writers like Oliver Hall and comedians like Scott Schultz held forth as the minutes ticked away towards Thursday’s headlining act.
Bob Mould is, of course, a legend and, for a while anyway, was given the due of one. Guitarist and guiding genius behind long-ago cult sensations Hüsker Dü and Sugar, his shred-heavy wall-out-sound guitar made a great deal of today’s heavy-noise aesthetic inevitable. Mould’s set was a masterpiece of one-man showmanship, as he tore off one chunk after another of his vast catalog, pausing one briefly to acknowledge us and ask what was up with the world. He shyly backed away from any further social commentary, citing the possibility of bugging. Mould picked up energy from the crowd as he went along but began to wear some few out at about the three-quarters mark of a very long set, sending a trickle of sonic walking wounded out the door, where I eventually drifted after this barrage subsided and its author bade the house lights up.
The somewhat younger and hipper crowd for Night Two of DRILL had both The Echo and Echoplex open for the same sonic blitzkrieg. Upstairs, solo act Noveller had the impressive Sarah Lipstate tearing away at her guitar with grandiloquent magic. Her music charts the same deep-innerspace grooves as Immersion’s but takes via routes not that dissimilar to those of Syd Barrett. Exquisite and cult-worthy stuff for the ages, or so I was scribbling downstairs at the Plex as the p.a. played “Pale Blue Eyes”and my friend Lindsey arrived. A redheaded fellow Burner with suitably advanced tastes in music, she was just as impressed as I was by Fitted’s opening joint – a long and rousing bravura piece that soared and crashed like electric Debussy. In purely headbang terms, this was one of the great HFS Dood moments of the whole festival. A supergroup consisting of Mike Watt and Bob Lee plus Graham Lewis and Matthew Sims of Wire, they bellowed like champs for more smoke, experienced some audio difficulties and dedicated their set to D. Boon of the Minutemen, who couldve gone through Side One of Double Nickles on the Dime before this act’s second tune went down the hatch. Lindsey took in this harshly fragmented maximum R&B with a shrug about Radiohead and I murmured something about Swell Maps and we phased upstairs by slow degrees.
Topside, a genius duo called Chasms stirred the pot with fervor. Dreamy, shoegazely, and impassioned, these San Franciscans, who now call LA home, made what was going off downstairs sound like Paul Whiteman and the Crypt Kicker Five. A shimmering finish to one number brought the sweetly cooed “I think we nailed that one, don’t you?” For my money, this was the Friday night peak – accomplished and demanding music played with professionalism and a heart the size of a VW bus.
Wand as going off brilliantly downstairs but we sat in the back chatting as Laetitia Sadier set up and the upper room filled to near-capacity. This getting-to-know process was aided by one of the members of Chasms squeezing in to my right and pushing me closer to my new friend, an intimacy given benediction from Ms. Sadier, who sang with immensely forceful nonchalance of love in this doomiest of all possible worlds. As she began a simmering sloe-eyed pass at the Ella Fitzgerald classic “Summertime,”my companion began purring the words too and it was suddenly Louisiana in my mind. The set was a perfectly executed whorl of delicate emotion and banked passions that revised and extended the mood set by Chasms. Apart from the final blowout on Saturday night, this one-two combination was probably the emotional high point of the festival.
We dawdled for every moment of her set before drifting downstairs for Friday’s windup. Mikal Cronin’s smooth-as-silk noise pop was commercial heaven compared to everything that came before and the people dug it tremendously. On stage with Cronin was a huge band complete with strings horns, albeit hidden in the darkness. He sang of love and loneliness with expressive delicacy that Dion would own while his band pounded away like true sons of garage rock. The already sorely pummeled and glassy-eyed crowd began to lose it, cheering and dancing away their remaining strength before wailing piteously for an encore, which they got. We were out the door just as the last gust of audience rapture hit and spent an hour or so shivering at Echo Park lake, where the light was better.
Night Three was Saturday and Wire’s 40th anniversary show. Talk of this epochal event had blown up Facebook all month. Arriving belatedly at a quarter to nine amid the traffic frenzy on Sunset and the babble of street people, I strode through Youth Code’s industrial wall-of-angst without pausing, knowing what was needed. Upstairs, the Mild High Club was deep in session. Technically impeccable playing joined a sense of fun right out of the Seventies classic rock playbook to weave intricate stoner curlicues of sound. In this Temple of Boom at last, I unwound and joined the ambient vibe of the room, which wavered between blissed-out and heavily narcotized. Good to the last note it was and I wandered back downstairs for the finish of Youth Code. Scott Schultz was at the bar, allowing how he’d liked this kind of music for a few minutes two decades ago. Thus the time wound pleasantly until Julia Holter set up her keyboard on The Echoplex stage. A few deftly tickled notes later, the ever-growing crowd was nailed-in-place and spellbound. A masterly pianist with a soaring plaintive voice, she dominated the whole room without visible effort, singing of familiar troubles and quirky fantasies. This was no Saturday night getdown but it was just what everyone seemed to want as we all passed into glorious reverie. Her set was simple and majestic and the applause loud and heartfelt.
I checked my phone to see a series of messages from Lindsey, who’d been left by a feckless Uber driver deep in some nearby Sketchland. Without a thought of the headliners or even what Randolph Scott would do, I legged out of the venue, followed the trail of electrons and rescued her from whatever lurked the stabbier reaches of Glendale Boulevard. Then a pellmell dash to take a place far in the back for Wire’s much-anticipated 40th anniversary show. Even in this relative Siberia, the band sounded unbelievably tight, running through a selection of their trickier early stuff with offhanded dash and elegance. The room was jammed but scarcely jamming, as most stood in hammerstunned attention at perhaps the most celebrated original punk rock act still upright. Perky as ever, my friend opined that if further up front, she’d be dancing her ass off, so we laced fingers and squeezed forward through this already sweltering boxcar of a room. Once in place, we did indeed dance (or at least sway) our asses off. The vibe was as intense as the music and there was nothing between the latter and us but a few score happy people having at least as much fun as we were.
Wire played like rolling thunder, fully acquitting a month’s worth of pre-show hype and every screwhead happening of the last three nights. They returned for a long encore capped by a brief and cacophonous appearance by an ad-hoc Pink Flag Orchestra. This guitar army crowded the stage for a final victorious blaze-up. Once the last imperially distended note died, it was moved and seconded we both get high so, blinking and dazed as everyone else, I punched off the clock at last. Saturday nights in the Trump era are getting to be this way now. Like new hope for the damned.
Diamonds In Cups
Three Girl Rhumba
Art Of Persistence
Red Barked Trees
Small Black Reptile
Split Your Ends
Playing Harp for the Fishes
Short Elevated Period
Stealth of a Stork
Pink Flag Orchestra