Published Jul 07, 2014The tireless Jon Langford (billed as "Jon-Boy" for this set) opened up the sunny day with a straight-up bat-shit idea: blues-rock numbers hammered out by his band the Waco Brothers, featuring guest vocalist Sally Timms, and backed by… the Burlington Men's Welsh Choir. For real: a bunch of 60-something men in matching red golf shirts singing loudly along with the choruses of Langford's often oddball songs. It sounds as weird as it looked, but I am here to tell you, it was kind of great. I guess the rule is: don't underestimate Langford, even when he's singing novelty songs about Tom Jones's legions of illegitimate children while surrounded by old men.
I headed over to the gopher-hole-ridden area at the South Stage for Ladies of the Canyon, Montreal's former countrified folkies who've now made the transition to '70s-era arena rockers. It hasn't quite worked. The strongest things about their earlier records were their tight harmonies and pop songcraft, but both of these are buried in this new, loud, and pretty undifferentiated AOR approach. Even a cover of Neil Young and Danny Whitten's "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown" misses the mark, dropping the crucial guitar riff that defined the original.
The worst set I saw on any day of the festival by a long shot was played by a band called Twin Forks out of Boca Raton, FL. Fronted by Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional fame, this glorified college bar band offered a barely credible set marred by off-key vocals, several needless covers ("Blister In The Sun"?!) and a few straight-up uninspired folkish pop songs. This band may be ready for a mainstage gig after a few years of woodshedding, but right now they sound utterly out of place.
I don't like July Talk very much, if you care. I find them to be pretty flat on record. Even, frankly, a little irritating. But, I got myself up front for their set because journalism. And then July Talk blew my goddamn mind. Playing off of one another with a sweaty, seductive passion, a winking playfulness, and a thrilling undertone of danger, Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay did everything right. Their stage show is barely managed chaos; an extended and totally winning rock'n'roll strut. It was steamy, quivery and positively dripping with sexual energy. I mean, people threw their underwear onstage, and it made sense. Who gives a damn what the albums sound like when the performance is this good? Not me.
Jenny Lewis, former front-woman for the late, lamented Rilo Kiley, offered the one entirely perfect set of the festival, a spellbinding hour of music that ran the gamut from glammy pop to aching folk to torchy ballad to '50s rock'n'roll jangle. With her excellent band moving between genres as effortlessly as their leader, Lewis's stage show is truly sensational stuff. Highlights abounded, but the hopeful anthem "Better Son/Daughter" and the exquisite, desperately beautiful "Acid Tongue" were knee-quiveringly great moments. Having rushed over to the West Stage following his set, July Talk's Peter Dreimanis stood behind me, whooping horsely and exclaiming aloud (to no one in particular): "Oh, man. She's just… the best." She sure was on this day.
Perhaps the festival's most anticipated set featured Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame) and his new band. About to release his first solo album, Tweedy is touring the new material, and generally reminding us why it isn't hyperbole to count him among the most vital musical voices of his generation. His casual, drowsy vocal delivery is as singular as it is impossible to replicate; his extraordinary knack for offhand insights and incisive poetic revelations remains intoxicating, a full 25 years after we first heard him.
Backed by a band of "friends" including his 18-year old son Spencer on the drums (the kid is terrific, by the way, a Glenn Kotche-in-training, but with a touch that's already all his own) Tweedy's new material sounded very good. Mellow and dreamy (he joked about convening a group shrug before the band went onstage to properly nail the mood), the new stuff is closer in approach to his side project Loose Fur. A series of solo acoustic numbers wound down the set, and they were met with complete silence by the rapt, reverent audience. From "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" to "Passenger Side" to "I'm The Man That Loves You," Tweedy reminded us just how good a solo acoustic performance can be. Kudos to TURF for landing him.
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