I was excited to get to cover Washington D.C.’s inaugural weekend-spanning music fiesta called the Landmark Music Festival. I hadn’t gotten to spend much extended time in the nation’s capital for far to long, only the occasional jetting in to town and right back north for a show on a few occasions. It was nice to get a chance to see the sights and monuments of the nation’s capital. The name of the festival all but suggests you should explore the landmarks of this grand city, so it only seemed natural. The fest took place just west of town in the sprawling West Potomac Park, and the extensive list of performers were to play on five spread out stages over Saturday and Sunday.
This is a recount of the bands I chose to see over the weekend. At least for this first day I did stay for most of the band’s entire sets instead of racing from stage to stage to catch pics of every single performer, and I’m happy that I did because there was just so many juicy sets. Both days had their own specific crowds, mostly aligning with the headliners for the end of the night, and this night had mostly a rap/R&B–loving mob, while the second day had more of the electro/alternative-craving audience, even though there was certainly an extremely diverse choice of different genres and bands to choose from throughout.
The first band I saw on the main stage was DC’s own triple threat, punk power trio called EX HEX. Having seen their badassery before, I knew they’d totally kick butt with classically raw power-riffing and punky posturing magic. They clearly have some serious rock n’ roll experience fueling their noisy and catchy pop punk, as frontwoman and axe ripper Mary Timony has been in many lady-powered rock band from Helium to Autoclave and of course the all-star Wild Flag. Their set appeared to be their entire debut album from last year called Rips, which was fine by me as it happens to burn with rock awesomeness.
Next up was another DC band who I hadn’t caught yet by the name of US Royalty. Their songs seem to build off grand-windswept climaxes with lots of stylish showiness and scruffy beard shaking delivered with strong rock bravado.
I did catch much of the last half of the set of the Virginia indie-folk band called the The Hunts, who is an extensive outfit of seven brothers and sisters. They produced a vast sprawling country-fied sound that was fun to hoedown romp around to, as many in the audience were gleefully doing throughout. They were one of the only bands of the day I didn’t see the full set of, but I am glad I caught them in passing, as they were certainly a hoot and a half.
Next, I made my way back to the main stage for Brooklyn’s own Twin Shadow, which is the brainchild of singer and multi-instrumentalist George Lewis Jr. who has been known through much of his career as it’s sole member. These days he has expanded the project’s membership greatly which provided a surprisingly expansive rock n’ roll sound, far different from the foggy layers of synths and drum machines in the mode of classic Depeche Mode that predominated his early sound. Now the band’s sound feels more like fist-pumping anthem-heavy 80’s FM stadium rock, which did surprise me after not seeing him outside of the occasional solo DJ gig for a few years. His set did have a remarkably cool crescendo towards the end climaxing with a smooth Sade cover of “No Ordinary Love.”
Then was a band I was really dying to see, the darkly entrancing outfit all the way from London by the name of Daughter. Not having seen them for a couple years, it was also great to see how they had evolved as well. They used to develop beats from Remi Aguilella’s drums muted in various cloths for uniquely spooky rhythms and bang on Igor Haefeli’s guitars with strange implements to produce some rather menacing sounds. Now, they bloom much of their foreboding musicality with actual synths, drum pads, as well as some very naturalistic instrumentations to capture their downright cavernous soundscapes. However, the reining bewitching element of their music remains the enchanting voice of Elena Tonra, who continues to pour ever milliliter of her heart into every note she sings, even genuinely tearing up during one especially sad piece. Most of their performance was from their first full-length LP from a couple years back called If You Leave, but luckily they played at least a couple new songs that are to be released on a new album early next year called Not To Disappear, which I can’t wait to ball my eyes out to as well.
After that was another band I have followed faithfully for the last several years, Seattle’s Band Of Horses. This unusual indie band, but all so natural southern rock outfit produces a heart-wrenching soul that is always an enthralling experience. The band has certainly gone through quite a few line-up changes in the last decade and a half, but singer Ben Bridwell powers on with a sound as smooth as the Shins and as loud and deep as Neil Young. They too have a new album set to be released soon, their first album of new work in a few years, but I didn’t catch them playing anything from it, and most of the songs seemed to be from their first three albums which I still feel were their finest works. Following them was The London Souls who hail from my Big Apple homeland and this classic guitar and drum power duo do indeed rock hard and steady. There is definitely a classic rock influence in their sound, heavy on Beatles harmonies and Zeppelin-ish crescendos with just a touch of classic funk and soul for taste.
Miguel took the main stage next, and really blew out some super-sensual wooing of the mostly female crowd. With a Prince-like sexiness he manages to be one of the strongest creative forces in R&B today, in my opinion. Still, as much as he had at one time seemed like a heartfelt, earnest, and erotically mature, he know almost seems to be relishing in the ridiculous and even at times seems to be hamming up a self-mocking image of himself. Certainly not what I expected, but still a musician I respect. I did leave a bit early, shortly after rapper Wale popped up on stage to trade off on one of my favorite songs of his “Lotus Flower Bomb,” as there was someone else I did want to see.
I wanted to make it over to catch at least some of singer Nate Ruess’s set. Nate is of course best known as the frontman very popular indie pop band called fun., but since they just announced a hiatus, this lead singer is already taking his game on the road with a brand new solo album called Grand Romantic. I came into his crowd while he was playing a dead-on version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” which is a hard song to perform without sounding like the cheesiest singer of all time, but damnit if he didn’t nail it in epic proportion with almost as much zeal as his following rendition on Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Still, most of the set seemed to be mostly classic fun. anthems like “We Are Young” and “Some Nights” which inspired lots of intensely loud and spellbound swaying sing-alongs amongst his wild horde.
The real headliner of the day for me was Philly’s The War On Drugs, whom I love with a rapturous intensity. When I had seen them before a couple years back they felt very tranquil and almost crowd-shy on stage, doing all they could to avoid the audience’s gaze. Since then they have clearly grown quite a bit, definitely giving a stronger stage presence. However, I do feel they really could be doing anything up there as lead singer Adam Granduciel’s voice is just so mystifying in it’s wooing sway. His vocal range and appeal often remind me of Galaxie 500 and Lush frontman Dean Wareham after being put through a dreamy gaze filter that is guaranteed to make you feel like you’re on drugs, even if you’re not. Apart from their opener of “Arms Like Boulders” and their closer of “Baby Missiles,” one from each of their earlier albums, I do believe the entirety of the rest of their set was from their new LP Lost in the Dream, which is certainly a sublime achievement.
Only a couple songs into their set the rain that had been threatening all day finally started to break, and given the dream-like music of the band and the exhausting day, the cool sprinkle was all to refreshingly welcome. I did catch a bit of the headliner Drake, who is now the most commercially successful rapper in history, scoring more number one singles than any other artist in the history of the music business, a fact that still stuns me. Personally, I can’t get that much into his stuff, even though I have tried to give his albums a chance in the past, but I won’t slam others for adoring him. It just isn’t my cup of tea. Also, seeing as he was only letting a few photographers snap his picture in the pit, I really felt no reason to stick around for his entire set, which apparently did span well into the wee hours of the night.
Article: Dean Keim