Successful though it was, a heavy air of loss and soldiering on permeated last year's Freakin' Weekend festivities. The 2013 installment of the local punk festival took place less than a month after founder Ben Todd's death, and served as a bittersweet sort of therapy for the tightly knit local rock 'n' roll scene.
But 2014's Freakin' Weekend V was about partying on, dancing and immersing ourselves in the sounds of Music City's freak scene, from local heroes like PUJOL, Diarrhea Planet and Natural Child to up-and-coming youngsters like Jawws and Waxed. The freaks took over Elliston Place and Belmont Boulevard last weekend, and The Spin did our best to keep up.
After inhaling a burger from Gold Rush and chugging a beer or two, giving us the strength to wait 20 minutes in the inefficient beer lines that awaited us, we rolled into The End on Thursday night just as Slammers took stage. Or maybe it was just as they were leaving. It's hard to tell with Cy Barkley and friends' thrash-punk project, which surfaces to batter you right in the face for about 20 minutes every eight months or so. Sure enough, Slammers were sloppy and punishing, echoing that kind of Huntington Beach hardcore punk which took over the '80s in a hail of swinging fists. If breaking the center monitor in the first set isn't an apt metaphor for Freakin' Weekend V, we don't know what is.
Up next was Perfect Pussy, who sound like Bikini Kill sucked through a black hole. The Syracuse noise punks have been buzzing all over the place, with Pitchfork filming their CMJ appearance last year, NPR hosting a stream of their 23-minute debut LP and Spin calling them a “best new artist” this month. Singer Meredith Graves snarled through a brief set of cacophonous brutality that reverbed into infinity, earning the hell out of all of that Internet praise.
The funny thing about Freakin' Weekend, though, is that even the buzziest bands are out-buzzed by local favorites. The modest group of punks transformed into a dense mosh pit as D. Watusi took the stage with an emphatic “thank you, thank you, thank you” from singer-guitarist and Freakin' Weekend co-organizer Dillon Watson. Every D. Watusi set we see feels bittersweet, with the massive void left by Ben Todd (D. Watusi's former bassist) as obvious as ever during this, the fifth iteration of a festival that was his brainchild and the first put on completely without his presence. In Todd's place was ubiquitous Deadite Ryan Donoho, who played with at least two other bands later that weekend. Watusi's as tight as ever, giving life to the ultra-loud rock 'n' roll 45s that were being DJed between sets. The interplay between Watson's guitar licks and Christina Norwood's keyboard melodies gave us flashbacks to the first time we saw fellow locals The Clutters. Or, at least it did until they turned the psychedelia up to 11, wailing through an extended jam that transformed into a cover of “Wooly Bully” and back out again. It was effortlessly cool and a perfect transition into the psych rock of Jack Name, who took the stage next.
“I'm not good at talking to people, so I'm not gonna,” announced Jack Name, who has most prominently recorded as Fictional Boys and Muzz, before settling into a set that ranged between Television-style post-punk on a jam-band kick and Ziggy Stardust on downers. Name, whose real name is John Webster Adams, doesn't have a touring band and was instead backed by especially sparkly members of D. Watusi, Fox Fun and Cheap Time for a set of spaced-out pop music that felt like a far cry from the abrasive punk that the night started on.
Following Jack Name was Cincinnati trio Tweens, who we described as “like a sort of doo-wop-y take on Richard Hell and the Voidoids crossed with Bratmobile” when we last caught them opening for Black Lips in November. That more or less holds true, with singer Bridget Battle hitting the less dorky side of pop punk hard on songs like “Be Mean,” which is positively our jam. Although, we missed most of the last part of their set laughing to ourselves about the dumb refrain put into our head by a buddy, who swears he heard the line “Mean, mean, I want you to be mean” as “Tweets, tweets, I want you to retweet.” Social media tie-in or no, we're still stoked to pick up Tweens' debut later this month.
And then, the main event. Thursday's honorary Freak King, Music Band's Harry Kagan, strode onstage to fling McDonald's hamburgers into the audience — one of which struck us squarely in the chest — as PUJOL tore into “Too Safe” and the crowd whipped into the true freaks that you'd expect to see at Freakin' Weekend. The End was a torrent of crowd-surfers, shouting along to old favorites like "Mayday" and "Psychic Pain" and raging to new tunes, like the recently debuted "Pitch Black." At the start of the set, a pillow was torn open, sending feathers — and feather particles — into the air in a billowing, luminous plume. Of course, by set's end, people were doing the Night at the Roxbury nose-scratching move, but it was mostly worth it. With indefatigable local basher Tiffany Minton making her PUJOL debut on drums and sideman Brett Rosenberg shredding between frontman Daniel Pujol's brainy existential lyrics — not to mention a True Detective reference thrown into the banter, be still our heart — it may very well have been the best set we've seen from the band since ... well, ever. The evening ended when Pujol called his former MEEMAW bandmate, Natural Child bassist Wes Traylor, onstage for a slow-dance to Eagles' "Take It to the Limit." It was somehow a both anticlimactic and perfectly fulfilling way to end FW's opening night.
The uniting theme of Friday's Freakin' Weekend festivities — for us, anyhow — was badass, finely tuned drummers. At the Local Honey pop-up shop, local songstress Tristen's band featured Features drummer Rollum Haas (a perennial fave), who gave Tristen's already infectious and smart pop numbers a heightened sense of rhythmic intricacy. The highlight of Turbo Fruits' and Diarrhea Planet's Exit/In sets were respective metronomic beasts Matt Hearn and Casey Weissbuch, who get better each time we see them, pushing their outfits' punk-flavored party rock from "totally fun" to "totally fun and genuinely technically impressive." Also a blast were Barreracudas, the Ramones-y quartet fronted by a sneering, stage-stalking Adrian Barrera, who recently stepped out of his role as Those Darlins' bassist.
On Saturday, Pissbath, Waxed and Jawws took the stage for the second of Freakin’ Weekend V's Local Honey pop-up shows — ample amounts of gravel-kicking and slam-dancing ensued. Youngsters Waxed and Jawws belong to the new wave of Nashville punks. Waxed plays a fast, rough-and-tumble style of So Cal-inspired hardcore, and the quartet has been firing on all cylinders since the addition of bassist Jacob Lindsay. Saturday’s set was the heaviest we’ve seen from them yet. Jawws — which, we must mention, features the teenage sons of badass local post-rock songstress Cortney Tidwell and her engineer husband Todd — are more a mix of grunge and hardcore, with tunes that even toy at times with stoner rock. The five-piece will be featured on the upcoming edition of Infinity Cat’s Hits From the Streets: Vol 2. Both young bands have quickly built a following in the local scene, and Saturday’s crowd featured some of the youngest festival-goers we saw all weekend. Joining Jawws and Waxed were relative veterans Pissbath, Nashville’s premier noise punks. The hardcore outfit has been at it for years, and their new tape release Just Our Luck is a fun and thrashy noise record.
The Freakin' Weekend finale at The End featured a stacked — as in, seven bands deep — bill that ranged from thoroughly enjoyable psychedelic youngsters The Paperhead to lean mean punk trio Cheap Time and hardcore Memphis Goner Records flag-flyers Ex-Cult. As current (and likely longtime) hometown heroes Natural Child put the cherry atop yet another fun-filled, antics-rife Freakin’ Weekend, the sentiment of the band’s anthem of sorts, “Nobody Wants to Party With Me,” couldn’t have been further from describing the scene inside The End. Glassy eyed, fist-pumping revelers shouted along to the song while multiple crowd surfers were passed over their heads, some holding beers in one hand and knocking balloons around with the other.
The band didn’t start playing until well past the witching hour, when double-fisting drinkers were besieging the bar with a looming early cut-off (thanks, Daylight Saving Time!) in mind. So, at both ends the club was so oppressively, swelteringly packed that it’s hard to believe folks could find the space to move around at all. But move they did, as the band — barely visible, shrouded in a dense, neon-red haze of rock fog — triumphed to the stage and kicked into an opening “Laid Paid and Strange.” Pedal steel player Luke Schneider attempted to make his entrance by way of crowd surf, but things went a little awry when the song was thwarted by technical difficulties, resulting in an hilariously awkward silence that left Schneider hanging mere feet from the finish line. Luckily the ship stayed afloat later on, when singer-guitarist Seth Murray landed a successful mid-guitar-solo stage dive.
All the while, euphoric Freakenders bopped along to the simmering, earthy, hypnotic chug of Natty Chi’s gloriously graceless fight-or-fuck rock ’n’ roll. Highlights included a way-country, uber-woozy cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (as a tribute to Ben Todd) and a well-played healthy serving of songs from the band’s latest pure rockin’, rollin’ long-player Dancin’ With Wolves, for which this freakin’ show doubled as a record release party. To the crowd’s well-vocalized chagrin, the band’s all-too-brief set left everyone wanting more. So much more that they spent nearly the entirety of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street” (which played over the PA; a seven-minute-long song!) chanting the band’s name and cheering for an encore. The band eventually obliged, capping the night with a rousing, fittingly high-spirited rendition of NC deep cut “Crack Mountain.”