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Washtenaw Flaneurade
7 September 2005
Too Young To Know Better: Labor Day Weekend
Now Playing: Yes--"Sweetness"
It would seem that I have "ambition."

The New West Side Association was founded by Dale Winling earlier this year as a means for students and renters to gain a political voice in Ann Arbor municipal decision-making, much of which is arguably dominated by homeowners and landlords (click on most posts at Ann Arbor Is Overrated or Arbor Update and you'll find more information and some lively opinions).

Brandon, following the success of the Madison House shows, decided to put on a pair of monster gigs to publicize and benefit the fledgling NWSA--an all-day show at the Madison on Sunday dubbed "New West Fest," mostly showcasing local Washtenaw County talent, and the more Southeast Michigan-wide "Arbourfest," held the next night at Arbor Vitae Loft, an artists' collective nestled in a gigantic attic-like space above Wazoo Records on South State Street.

"Go Back To Russia!"

I arrived at the New West Fest early--the only people who preceded me were Mr. Josh Tillinghast and Annie, making her musical debut that afternoon. I brought Italian cheddar biscones and some cornbread I'd baked the night before (from what I hear, I'm getting rather good at it). The day was glorious and I felt pretty mellow. While New Orleans was never far from my mind, life had to go on. As did the show.

There were at least fifteen different artists playing that day--the show was scheduled to start at noon and last until around eleven at night. I'm afraid I was rather unadventurous musically, only lingering for the musicians with whom I was already familiar. And Annie, of course.

Annie is a local actress and stage director who plays guitar as well, and had been a little keyed up for the afternoon's performance. We all would have been supportive of her anyway, but she gave an excellent performance that removed any necessity for nervous gasps of "oh, your set was great!" accompanied by tight, unnatural grins. It was acoustic, accompanied by Matt Jones of Dabenport and "Matt Jones" fame, mostly country-folk (Will Oldham, etc.) with a few surprises thrown in, namely a Nick Cave cover, and representatives from the animal kingdom joining in (a stray crow and Misty's dog). Annie has an interesting voice--when sung, it can be high, light and prety at one moment but then descend (or ascend?) to a roguish, sexy feline snarl. It fit very well with the kind of music she played, and I found the applause pretty deafening for one-thirty in the afternoon (I contributed to it, so I probably shouldn't complain).

Just about everyone else I caught I'd seen before, with the exception of Matt Tamburo, who gave us a rousing yet bone-crushing barrage of electronica (I think), which I remember Kelly Caldwell likening to an atomic bomb. I could only stand it for a few minutes myself, to be honest.

Most of the lineup consisted of Madison House veterans (and are given out of order). The notable exception was Andrew Brown, who joined his sister on guitar, makeshift percussion, occasional singing, and the odd solo performance, as "i. Brown." They concluded with Andrew, resplendent in space camp uniform, delivering a sidesplitting series of professorial recommendations set to music ("Have some sex. Have some eggs.") I missed a few acts as I needed to go eat dinner and make some more cornbread. The Top Five impressed me this time, as I realized what a collective effort their music represented--no one stood out, yet each contributed to the total effect, with guitar, violin, and keyboard (I wondered if their residence at a U-M co-op had anything to do with their musical style). Matt Jones' pristine set was ruined/enhanced by someone (okay, me) yelling during the applause following "Hand Out The Drugs": "Go back to Russia!" Mr. Josh and Chris Bathgate were excellent as always. Eric Kelly and his friend Paul, neither of whom I'd never met or seen before, gave a rousing set towards the end of the night (and seemed to enjoy my Charles Nelson Reilly impression), followed by Jim Roll, who's never less than fantastic. I was especially pleased when he had Sari join him for a rendition of "Double-Time." I'd seen her cover it earlier at Espresso Royale, and to see them sing it together was pretty heart-tugging.

There was a lot of interaction between sets (we were there for nearly twelve hours, so it's hardly surprising). I chatted with Matt, Greg, Dug, Dustin, Misty, met Christian of Starling Electric, Dale, Kate, Molly-Jean, Rachel and probably some other people who I should remember. I also hung out an awful lot with "The Two Saras," which is always a pleasure. I thought it a huge success, even if I got a little tipsier than planned.

"God Bless The Casionauts!"

Brandon said that very late Monday night and I'm damned if I'll argue with him.

I'd been to Arbor Vitae Loft before, for a short film festival I'd found on a flyer, taped onto one of the many lampposts that feature such flyers. It's an interesting space, a large attic hung with decorations and bric-a-brac, and divided a little haphazardly into different rooms and indoor porches, etc. Tonight it was all music, except for a video projection against a large sheet which featured, among other things, Chris Bathgate's preying mantis doing in some innocent grasshopper.

I dared the fates a little. I had to work at seven that morning, but I was determined, come hell or high water, to hear the Casionauts, Ryan Balderas' band, whose CD is... great. Just great. I briefly entertained the notion of not going to bed, in the end decided against it. I stayed for the whole show (even if I was a trifle antisocial), heard what I wanted to hear, walked home, went to bed, slept for three hours, and woke up a pair of minutes before my alarm went off.

First up was Forest, who works at Wazoo Records, just downstairs. I've encountered Forest at the library (where he used to work the computer desk) and his main function in my life thus far has been to log me off a library terminal (when the "End of Session" icon wasn't working or was nonexistent), explain to me at Wazoo that he found The Wicker Man ridiculous (but loved the soundtrack) and then explain that they hadn't gotten in any blank tapes that week (sometimes I really feel like "The Omega Man" of mix tapes). Tonight, he performed as "Ghost Laws," which was fantastic, but I can't really classify it. Prog, hiphop, noise, some incredibly creative percussion... it was good, whatever it was. I need to track down his music (which shouldn't be hard as I know where to find him).

I sat out the Javelins and Pop Project, and wasn't too wild about Charlie Slick, although his showmanship was impeccable--bringing out the bubble-blowing robot was a masterstroke. El Boxeo was great; I'd never heard them before. In my view, the electric violin, along with the accordion, represents a base of automatic musical cool. It can rarely go wrong for me. The Satin Peaches worried me for a second. It was nearly one of those "oh, everyone likes the White Stripes except for me" moments. The lead singer's voice, though, resembled Julian Casablancas more than it did Wolfboy Jack, and the music was more to my liking; I was dancing at the end (and it's now been established by a few friends that I dance like a variety of beloved cartoon characters and/or puppets).

The Descent of the Holy Ghost Church had two unquestionable draws in Matt Jones and Chris Bathgate, and it was truly thrilling to hear "I Know How You're Gonna Die Tonight" on electric guitar. It was like the Madison House went electric (it's gone electric before, but not like that). I'm still smiling at the fact that there's a group out there called "Johnny Headband." Dressed in white jumpsuits that reminded me less of retro bands than, say, the autoworker cast of Gung Ho (1986), with Michael Keaton, these guys gave us a nearly fatal jolt of eighties-reverent dance-rock (as far as I could figure, anyway; it was eight jillion miles away from Otto Vector) including a dynamite singalong cover of Hall and Oates' "Maneater."

In my house, though, I'm afraid all was lagniappe with the Casionauts waiting in the wings. Brandon had caught them before (I overheard him talking them up to a few people during the evening), and I'd heard their CD, Bailamos Muriemos Juntos. Ryan's solo performances as "The Larry Brown Press Conference" had given me some idea of how they (also including Jon Cendrowski on guitar, Scott Mills on bass, and Scott Warrens on drums) might sound live. When I say "some idea," it was still a long way from accuracy. The night was growing old, and the crowd had thinned a little, and no one had any idea what to expect.

They're called the Casionauts for a reason. When anyone used to mention Casios, I'd think of those little nearly-Fisher-Price keyboards for kids I'd see on Saturday morning commercials (unless I'm lying). Ryan's Casio was and is a beast, and I've never seen him or anyone rip the shit out of one as he did that early Tuesday morning. The songs actually sound a little staid on the CD compared to their live show. Ryan, ready to kill in a Pistons jersey, thrashed and wailed at his keyboard, and Jon gave rockstar flourishes on his guitar and wandered out into the crowd with a cowbell (that's for you, Slater--"Cock of the walk, baby!"), hugging Dale and I at one point. And the Scotts. And everyone. I'd worked myself into a frenzy by the end of the show. It broke instantly into the top five; I've had few better musical experiences. The moment when I realized they were going to play "Or How I Learned To Love Mitosis" was almost spiritual.

I didn't hang out as much as I did Sunday--much of my time was spent sitting by the entrance and acting as self-appointed greeter (and my heart really wasn't in it). The usual suspects were all there, as was Andrea from the Alex Robins show, and I got to meet Murph, a frequent Ann Arbor urban politics commentator. I did hang out quite a bit with the tremendously cool and criminally adorable Sara Brickman (one of the aforementioned Saras--Sara "Golightly" Jackson, while tremendously cool and criminally adorable herself, had left earlier with her out-of-state friends Brandon and Jessie), who was preparing to leave for Florence, which, as I'm sure you'll agree, is just awful. First Alex Robins and now Sara--I want to leave for some place really cool so people can make similarly sarcastic comments about me.

It was so awesome that I actually got some sleep last night. I still can't quite believe it.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:15 PM EDT
Updated: 7 September 2005 5:38 PM EDT
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8 September 2005 - 3:36 PM EDT

Name: annie
Home Page:

thanks for the nice words, wendell.

12 September 2005 - 1:17 AM EDT

Name: Sara
Home Page:

Yes! You have GREAT ambition! :) Wendell... I really hope you didn't take that oddly. I sincerely meant it as a compliment. Letting loose and just feeling it... kudos!!! I wish more people were like that... :) Great write-up! (and yes, I'm criminally ador/

uh... well.... I'm criminally. Let's just leave it at that... :)

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