Sunday, June 3, 2012

ACRN Lobsterfest 2012 / Day Two / June 1 / Casa Cantina

Mindy Braasch
By: Colin Roose, News Editor
Photo Credit: WOUB

By and large, our humble Lobsterfest is primarily a "rock" show. Sometimes punkier, sometimes metal-er, but a vast majority of acts use loud, distorted guitars and pounding drums to make their musical points.

And, in small doses, I can dig that. Shouting, headbanging, screeching feedback, even moshing can be alright when the riffs activate whatever primal mechanism makes people do such things. It ain't noise pollution and it ain't gonna die, or so I'm told.

But while I appreciate the three-power-chord sensibility, my personal tastes gravitate toward songs that are composed rather than written -- songs with a particular and intentional vision, where every note, every sound counts. While the bands at this year's Lobsterfest all entertained in their own raucous ways, only one performer that I saw hid behind no amplification or distortion at all, laying her composing skills bare for those in attendance.

Mindy Braasch opened the Casa portion of Day 2 and once again proved herself to be a different kind of Athens singer-songwriter. Where most solo performers try to show the region's Appalachian heritage through their tunes, her songs are more similar to the soulful, introspective pop of Norah Jones or Adele.

Oh, and she's 17 and already has an album out. Wow. I know my own musical aspirations in high school were mainly indulged by air guitaring to AC/DC, not making records and working with Nashville songwriters.

While the other acts on the Casa bill had crowded masses of smashed patrons jostling each other around, the only slightly tipsy attendees slowly filled the empty space in front of the stage, allowing the performance to receive the attention normally reserved for somewhere like Donkey.

With her guest guitar player, she mixed covers with a number of her own very personal songs, running the gamut from dealing with creative criticism to the never-ending fountain of song inspiration that is love. 

Naturally, these were the songs tailor-made for her style and showed off her sublimely expressive voice (alto but with a range that effortlessly stretched into the higher range when needed). An original song titled "Right Here, Right Now" showed off this versatility the best, going from a deep-toned verse to near-falsetto heights in the bridge.

And the subtle way she changed the melody in the last chorus? That's what takes a song from "good" to "magic."

She switched nearly every song between guitar, piano and ukelele, but never used this ability as a tool for self-indulgence, always picking the right instruments for the songs that needed them. The more inward-looking songs were performed on piano, while the country-flavored "Take Me Away" was done as a guitar duet. 

For the considerable number of people in Casa, you would have thought that more would have drunkenly accepted her invitation to sing along with  a ukelele rendition of "I'm Yours." But this only made it easier to hear her own voice, which hit all the pleasant vocalizations of Jason Mraz while smoothing out the jarring staccato feel of the original.

She also covered "Love the Way You Lie," far surpassing the original by focusing on the pure hook value of the chorus rather than the rap verses. But she still nailed all the rap parts, with God knows how many words there are in that song. The absence of a shrill, doctored Rihanna voice was a particular plus.

Having seen her play at much less-populated venues like Jackie O's, I was impressed by her poise and confidence playing at Casa, which can be intimidating at 10 p.m. on a Friday night. She made sure to give each song an introduction and explained her reasons behind writing them, instead of doing the mumbling-into-the-microphone-seconds-after-the-guitar-feedback-from-the-last-song-faded-away thing. Pretty professional for such a young performer.

So here's to the most nuance-filled 2012 Lobsterfest performance. I mean, I love me some Kyle Sowashes, but I also like hearing myself think when listening to music, and the nuances of Mindy Braasch's set certainly warranted that. From her prescient cover choices to passionate originals, she stole that night's show and seemed ready to make it beyond the diverse, but confining Athens venues. And out of respect for the abundant inspiration in her set, I wish her the best in doing so.

Indigo Wild & The Kyle Sowashes
By: Chris Dobstaff, Reviews Editor

Friday night, we all got a little silly.

And I think we had the right to do so. It was the last week of classes, after all. Finals week is coming up fast and most of us just want one last hurrah before we disperse for the summer and get jobs, internships, or whatever people do during the summer. Friends will go months without seeing each other, so all they want to do now is go out with a bang.

Lobsterfest 2012 provided the perfect opportunity for my friends and I to go out and have some fun. Friday night, or day two of the festival, took place at Casa Nueva. We headed over to the local Mexican eatery (which is where I've seen some of my favorite shows in Athens) and got ready for some music.

The first band we saw was Indigo Wild. If you haven't heard of them, you're missing out. This band has something and I'm not sure if that something will turn into major success, but there is a spark. And Indigo Wild is riding that spark. The band is made up of four musicians who are far more talented than even they realize. Lead guitarist Michael Norris stands almost uncomfortably straight, but when you watch his hands move up and down the neck of his guitar you get lost in the movement. His complex licks define the songs and he quietly plays them while tucked away on the side of the stage -- the band's hidden treasure. 

Drummer Jason Winner grew up listening to hard rock and heavy metal, which is clear to see as he smashes down on his drum kit. While Indigo Wild is more likely to draw comparisons to a band like Local Natives rather than Mastodon, his fills and timing are so precise that it's clear he is a student of the metal genre. What is it that makes metal musicians such perfectionists at their craft? Whatever it is, Winner has it and it's impressive to see him sitting behind his friends and giving them a downright killer beat throughout the entire show.

As a whole, the band rips through a respectable (but sadly short) setlist that gets the crowd (or at least my group of friends) moving. Songs like "When You Say," "On the Hill" and a tune that I can never remember the name of but features the crazy, screaming on repeat lyric of "I can't feel my legs," are all it takes to completely take hold of us. We dance. We jump. We clap. We probably clap in places where we're not supposed to, but we don't care. Indigo Wild has undoubtedly become one of my favorite bands to come through Athens and I will see them every single time they appear here from now on. 

After the show, I spoke with Winner, complimenting him on the performance. He, the aforementioned perfectionist, lamented the fact that his timing was off the entire show. He said the band wasn't as tight as usual. And while I'll admit that the band's performance at Casa in May was the better than Friday's, I still can't find anything to criticize the group on. Apparently, this is Indigo Wild's first performance since a show three weeks ago, and they have not been able to get together to practice between those two shows (two band members live in Columbus, the other two in Cincinnati). And while Winner and the band members would naturally find flaws in their performance, I cannot. The group is very comfortable with one another at this point - so comfortable in fact that going three weeks between shows isn't a problem, even if they may think it is.

We headed outside. I wanted to head to O'Bettys for some chili cheese fries. I hadn't eaten anything for hours, and the Indigo Wild show took a lot out of me. My friend Ben insisted that we hold off on the fries until after The Kyle Sowashes performed. I was dying. Literally. I needed food in my belly, but Ben wouldn't let me cross the street. I feared he may have hurt me if I tried. So I did my best to trust him and headed back inside for a show on an empty stomach.

Somehow I've lived in Athens for two years and had, up until Friday, avoided The Kyle Sowashes. This wasn't an intentional avoidance. I have nothing against the band. In fact, I know nothing about them. So how could I? As they set up, I literally had no idea what they were going to sound like. 

From the first screaming chord, I'm reminded of The Hold Steady. This is the perfect bar band. The guitars rage, the vocals are nothing special, but they don't have to be. The songs are punchy, short and goddamn catchy. I'm instantly angry at myself for wasting two years without this band, but I got as much out of it as I can. There was moshing to be done. And I joined in - at least for a little bit. That was until I accidentally get punched in the back of the head and needed to bow out. But for a while, I went all out. Limbs were flying in front of the stage and I was adding to the mayhem, something that I generally wouldn't do under normal circumstances. But The Kyle Sowashes, and Friday night, were not normal circumstances. This is Lobsterfest 2012 baby. And for a few hours there I got lost in the music, moved and danced like a typical me would be too embarrassed to do, and just had a really, REALLY good time.

And then I ate some chili cheese fries.

Indigo Wild, The Kyle Sowashes & She Bears
By: Hannah Cook, Editorial Director

The second night of Lobsterfest was a wonderful mess. Everyone was in high spirits as we arrived at Casa Cantina to greet Mindy Braasch leaving the stage. It’s a bummer we missed her, but I’m sure the Athens High School songstress created just the right kind of commencement to the night.

Indigo Wild took the stage next and it was clear everyone was pretty excited for that. ACRN is a fan. If you haven’t seen our Hand Picked video series yet, you should. The band has been known to sound akin to Fleet Foxes—an accurate and valuable comparison. The last time I saw this band was a few years ago when they opened up for Pomegranates in Cincinnati. From what I can remember, the band has definitely developed more confidence on the stage. 

ACRN alumni love The Kyle Sowashes -- something about their geeky rock star demeanor just woos them. They're adorably smitten in the presence of the band as they shout along to the goofy lyrics. Meanwhile, the band feeds off that energy, getting their bellies all sweaty in the midst of heaviliy rocking out. It's the kind of moment that makes you love ACRN.

Oh, the good old days. She Bears took the stage last, confronting a still relatively dense crowd. The band, now Columbus based, used to be one of Athens' most prominent. They played nearly every weekend when I was a wee one, manifesting an everlasting impact on the music scene. The crowd was swallowed whole by nostalgia and while I wished to relish in it, I had to wake up early the next day. I bid a fine farewell to Day Two of Lobsterfest.

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