The 2017 Northside Festival invaded North Brooklyn’s sprawl of many stages with a four-day music marathon that tested the stamina to rock out and exposed how the concert industry has changed in recent years, especially in NYC. Northside is the “last man standing” of multi-venue, SXSW-style music festivals in the Big Apple, as many of its contemporary predecessors like CMJ and NYC Popfest have sadly closed up shop as of this year. To make things worse, many of the local small-stage venues that had at one point saturated this amazing city – have been closing en masse due to raising rents, greater government restrictions, and general changing demographics of neighborhoods in the wave of gentrification bleaching the once mean streets of this city into a sad, pale reflection of what it once was. This year was certainly a deep departure for the Northside Festival itself as well, as this relative newcomer to the festival scene has now moved away from the big-time headlining acts of previous years, like Brian Wilson and Run The Jewels, and now appears to be going back to an old school CMJ model of focusing on smaller showcases of new, emerging talents instead. It’s hard to tell the motivations for this change for this prevailing fest, but I for one, loved the return to the rock fest basics.
Thursday, the first night of the festival, I spent at a sold-out show at the massive Rough Trade record store in Williamsburg. Opening the evening was the amazingly masterful one-woman guitar show of Sarah Lipstate, who goes by the title of Noveller. She churns over a massive array of effect pedals as she spins a commanding yarn of loops and sounds that layer on top of one another in a deep instrumental soundscape in the spirit of greats like Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Kaki King. The headliner for the night was none other than Mary Timony, who was playing an entire set of material from her quintessential 90’s awesome alt band, Helium. I’ve caught her play solo, as well as with her more recent supergroups, Ex Hex and Wild Flag, but this is one of those bands I was sad to have missed back in the 90’s. As expected, Timony brought the full-on guitar god and demanding vocal dominance as only a total master of the craft could and left the 20-something me squealing with delight.
On the second night, I spent some Friday fun in front of the basement-bar stage of a relatively new beachy Bushwick crabshack spot called The Cape House, for a stacked bill organized by the Reheated Spaghetti label. The rabble-rousing Grim Streaker opened with a rambunctious set that contained guts, energy, and a rock n’ roll spirit careening out of control. This local supergroup is comprised of members of local fave bands like The Teen Age, Dinowalrus, Belle Mare, and Hiccup but definitely retains plenty of its own whiskey-soaked punked-out spirit with frontwoman Amelia Bushell proving to be a real bat out of hell. Then there was one of my favorite local bands, Dead Stars. There’s something so familiar and tangible about this amazing power trio of cousins vocalist and guitarist Jeff Moore and drummer Jaye Moore with longtime friend bassist, John Watterberg, as though their raw and blistering sound had unlocked some deeply buried memory of rock n’ roll joy from the recesses of my brain. Their garage-y, low-fi, fuzzy guitar solos combined with driving rhythms, cynical yet rather melancholy vocals, and extremely catchy and relatable lyrics make this an extremely full-out rocker of a band, clearly catching the waves of many great 90’s bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., and Nirvana as well as more recent groups like Black Keys and Jeff The Brotherhood. The blazing sludge rockers Slang King followed with a fierce intensity of blaring instrumentals reminiscent of The Breeders, swaying vocal pieces that reminded me of Veruca Salt or Belly, and the reckless sonic power of their namesake in the wild and dangerous classic post-punkers, The Fall. The harmonies from guitarists Robin Pickering and Marisha Chinsky flow like a mighty waterfall and the rhythms roar with the bassist Norm Vino and otherworldly drums of Benji Reynolds, as they all come together like a thunderous storm front.
Then there was the Brooklyn shoegaze powerhouse band, Dead Leaf Echo. They always struck me as a band that could headline huge shows that would match their massive melodic noise. Their wall of sound is as overpowering as it is transcendent; with shades of everything from A Place To Bury Strangers and Ringo Deathstarr – to My Bloody Valentine and Lush. They always bring on the power and never seem to miss a single note, and they should be a band on everyone’s radar. Closing out the night was Sharkmuffin, who exceed beyond a sort of The Donnas party-band mentality into the darker garage-influenced proto-punk in the direction of greats like Sleater-Kinney, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Bikini Kill. The sisterhood between vocalist and guitarist Tarra Theissen and vocalist and bassist Natalie Kirch is always shown to be the glue of the band, and every time I see this band they never fail to pull the audience right into their debaucherous atmosphere. They proved to be a perfectly intoxicating way to end the night.
Article: Dean Keim