Of all of SoundLand's various attractions, the fest's amusement park theme was certainly represented nowhere better than at Saturday's Neuhoff Factory Party. There was a giant inflatable dragon out of which we saw several grown-ass men and colleagues plummet and tumble to the ground. Screen prints were on display from some of the city's finest artists — from Boss Construction to Monkey Ink Design, Sam's Myth, Grand Palace and plenty more. Wristband-holders popping in and out throughout the day kept the place bustling with at least several hundred attendees at any given point. As cool as Neuhoff is as a venue, it would've been great to see the thing go full blow-out style. But all in all, it was a success, and we anticipate next year being even bigger.
We missed opening sets from Knoxville's Royal Bangs and Ohioan Tennessee-frequenter Jessica Lea Mayfield, but we've seen 'em both a whole bunch, and we were still getting Friday night's booze out of our system by Saturday afternoon. Apache Relay's set featured a lot of sincerity, a lot of quarter-note build-ups and a lot of Americana-rock singing to the skies. There was some fiddle here and some tambo there, and mostly, it felt like Americana Coldplay — poppy and accessible, but rooted in, you know, roots music.
The rain mostly held off all afternoon, but the raindrops that did eventually show up felt all the more ominous as they fell during Tristen's brand-new tune "Catalyst." We love the new synth-pop direction Tristen and her Ringers are taking, and the arrangements and vocal harmonies were transfixing as always. Oh, and nice haircut, Tristen! Sure, the tunes are a savvy, contemporary blend of folk, pop and rock 'n' roll, but the new 'do is straight-up Boardwalk Empire. Classy.
Now, here's the thing about The Black Belles: They probably wouldn't be subject to as much scorn or praise — any type of criticism, really — were it not for their status as Jack White proteges and the fact that they wear that goth garb. Truthfully, it's decent, surfy garage rock with some pretty cool moments along the way. A companion noted that most of the Belles' songs sound a bit like the Munsters theme. If you crossed that with the best thumping, garage-y stuff in The Ettes' catalog, we'd say that's a pretty accurate description. This being one of the fledgling Belles' first shows, it looks like they're still getting comfortable onstage, which is to be expected.
Those Darlins were an energetic pick-up, though it's quite a difference watching them on an outdoor stage as opposed to in the clubs where we're accustomed to seeing them — sound from where we stood was just a bit muddled. Still, it was great seeing Jessi Darlin — adorned in that now-familiar flashy golden romper of hers — so comfy as a performer, and "Screws Get Loose" is an undeniable gem. Also, drummer Linwood Regensburg was dressed kind of like a punk-rock Indiana Jones — Indie-Ana Jones? — and that was tough as hell.
Headliners JEFF the Brotherhood — who we last saw killing it onstage at The Ryman in support of The Raconteurs — opened with just guitarist Jake Orrall doing a mellow rendition of "The Tropics." That morphed into a brief instrumental number, followed by a particularly heavy performance of "U Got the Look." Every Bogus Bros show is a different experience, and we love seeing how each performance will translate in the given environment. This one — with JEFF's raucous psych-punk riffs filling the night sky, familiar faces crowd surfing and stage diving and Jake jumping offstage to wail amid audience — felt like the most cathartic in recent memory. We later heard that JEFF, troopers that they are, ended up playing a late-night party at vintage motorbike co-op The Zombie Shop. You know, for the kiddies. Bummed we missed that one, but we had more SoundLanding on our plates.
Once the JEFF the Brotherhood stage-dive ride — SoundLand’s veritable Coney Island Cyclone — was closed, it was time to move on to The Basement, where now increasingly well-seasoned festival vet Caitlin Rose was set to headline. As expected — given Rose’s popularity and abounding profile and the club’s cramped confines — this show was already packed to the gills when we made our way inside to the Carter-riffic sounds of The Watson Twins’ harmonious sister act.
We couldn’t help but think that this is how crowded the earlier happening over at Neuhoff Factory should have felt, given the badass location and the lineup. Seriously, had that show featured a $10 cover, there could’ve easily been another 1,500 people there.
Sure, the crowd-deterring $25 cover was there to incentivize the purchase of wristbands, but the paycheck-to-paycheck, club-haunting denizens of the local indie scene who can’t afford to shell out $75 on their electric bill (let alone a concert ticket) — regardless of the bargain — sure as shit aren’t gonna throw down 25 bones to see JEFF and Those Darlins when the possibility of dropping a five-spot to see them at The 5 Spot is still realistic. (Hell, that aforementioned J-Bros Zombie Shop show taking place as the fest wound to a close only cost attendees $10, with that 10-spot earning you a bottomless beer cup.)
For example, while people-watching before Thursday’s Foster the People block party appearance, we noticed two lines to get in: a wristband-holder’s line of a half-dozen familiar faces, and then a line of single-ticket-holding Vandy undergrads who probably just put two and two together in realizing that the SoundLand Festival and the Foster the People show were the same thing. Such logic doesn’t quite apply to a How I Became the Bomb show. We’re not saying festival promoters should jettison the wristbands, but it seems like — though most shows appeared to do well — the festival could still benefit by not pricing out the walk-up crowd. This is still Nashville, after all.
Catching a sober ride over to Mercy Lounge was no walk in the park — hence, we owe apologies to Cheer Up Charlie Daniels and Evan P. Donohue for arriving just a little too late to catch what we’re sure were stellar performances.
What we did catch in the nick of time was the re-revamped Pink Spiders. Now sporting an unnamed hired gun* on rhythm guitar and vocals in addition to newish bassist Brandon Jazz, this quartet doesn’t quite swagger about the stage like drug-addled road dawgs, but then again, they don’t take spontaneous vomit breaks anymore either. Where The Pink Spiders get points for improvement is in their new jams. The band broke out a handful of freshly penned tunes that were as good or better than anything we’ve heard from them since day one.
The award for attendance goes to Paper Route, who clearly brought out the bulk of the crowd. Which stands to reason, given that they also get the awards for both mass appeal and commercial viability. What makes Paper Route’s melodic, emotional, synth-laden indie rock stand apart from other melodic, emotional synth-laden indie rockers is too close a call for us to make. We’ll let the masses speak for themselves on that one.
Headlining the evening, Nashville’s premier '90s tribute act, My So-Called Band, surprisingly but appropriately stripped away their usual cavalcade of local guest ringers to cover Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind, released 20 years prior to the day. Granted, MSCB still has two more members than the band they were homaging. From the anthemic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to the mournfully gloomy “Something in the Way,” the band’s four singers traded off tunes almost out of necessity alone — poor Dave Paulson’s vocal chords were nearly shredded by the end of “In Bloom.” Regardless, each track was faithfully recreated with enough vim and vigor to keep this crowd’s fists pumping from start to finish — it was, however, a pretty real moment seeing one of the crowd's many olds crowd surfing to the sounds of a 20-year-old record.
*Update: The "hired gun" in question is Jeremy James, now an official member of the Spiders' new four-piece format.