Viet Cong @ Treefort Music Festival

These guys were all smiles when they took the stage for a near packed house for their appearance at the Treefort Music Festival in the El Korah Shrine. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the weight they threw into their performance, considering the beforehand knowledge that many of the spectators were probably just arriving early for the Omar Souleyman show that followed. Impressive, too,  was the fact that they were at the coda of their tour, and their gear, according to vocalist Matt Flegel, was falling apart.

Their performance at the Treefort Music festival, as I said, was heavy. It was haunting, especially the vocal harmonies, which were more like wails sung in counterpoint—electro-gregorian chant or something. At times, it felt like the riffs were on a loop set to a different timing than the curt but tremulous bass and snare drums (by far the most conspicuous of the ensemble), and that they could climb forever on some technicolor fabric woven by the light and energy exuding from their collective person.

They were cheeky buggers, too, engaging in humorous stage banter and even playfully calling the crowd’s attention to a selfie stick held by a fan. A stage dive by the guitarist was the culmination of this musical delirium.

Omar Souleyman

Quite possibly the most anticipated event of the Treefort Music Festival, Omar Souleyman brought a taste of the Syrian musical palette in the form of busy dance music. The sound is big and infectious, a fact that was hard to reconcile when only the two members took to the stage.

First, the keyboardist cooked up a constellation of synthesized Middle Eastern sounds that were elastic. Then, when the atmosphere was primed, Omar strutted out donning garish shades and his signature keffiyeh, mic in hand, pleading—at least it sounds like pleading—in Arabic to some mysterious reservoir of wisdom. He paced the stage with stoic mien, an effect no doubt of his late artistic flowering (he’s almost 50).

Omar leaves plenty of space between verses, which made the act that much more mysterious and seductive. Seduced, no doubt, was the crowd, which seemed to hang on their every note. Meanwhile, I jotted the skeleton of a joke which went something like, “Watch out OPEC—there’s a new export in town.” But the joke was never realized because it was boring. Next to little Omar Souleyman, a lot of things are boring.


Twerps are oil on canvas and a couple of beer cans scattered on the beach in the foreground. Their performance at the Treefort Music Festival was fun, but that’s it. It wasn’t moving or repulsive, didn’t aggravate or inspire. But hey, not everything is supposed to follow these lines. They played lo-fi rock n’ roll with an Australian inflection.

What endeared them to me was their sense of humor. Steven Segall, according to the bassist, is the United States’ greatest export, to which the guitarist bandied, “I like it when he has a ponytail,” and bassist returned, “I like it when he does this …” and proceeded to cut the air into slices.

Smokey Brights

Hailing from Seattle, Smokey Brights exist at the angle where pealing bells meet rock drawl. It’s neither sentimental nor intellectual. It is, in short, sublime. More than once the voices of four out of the five members could be heard in harmony, eyes dreamy and chins tilted toward the heavens.

Apart from the drummer, they were as like a choir or a band comprising four frontmen, all exuding the same hue of spiritual rigor, at times wiling out in body convulsions when tensions in the song were at a mount. This band, at least for the night, was convinced that rock n’ roll might very well be that that saves us from the dark mouth of time.

Joyce Manor

Alas, I had to move on. Actually, I just wanted to see this other band across town—a band that might have been good had I not been wheedled by a mass of people looking on at a band setting up onstage at the Knitting Factory. I thought this was the band I wanted to see, but it wasn’t.

It was a band called Joyce Manor, who, for a few songs, made me think that I could give pop punk a chance. I found myself shaking my leg. But the hope was dashed when the singer asked the crowd if they ever get awkward when they smoke weed. Sure pandering and emo tripe. Old hat.

The Blue Rider

To talk about The Blue Rider is to not know The Blue Rider. Words can’t amount to The Blue Rider—but, since you’re reading the accounts of shows you did not go to, and it’s all the same to you, I will essay a few a try to not falter. The Blue Rider is madness, but not the dark kind—the kind that’s got you smiling and laughing at a swoony glissando from a keyboardist with a mustache that resembles that of a turn-of-the-Century prospector.

Said keyboardist was also singing in the goofiest/raddest manner, almost Lux Interior–ish in delivery and speed, but oddly different, echoing and dialectic like it was barked into a jetstream in a box. Once again, you just gotta fucking hear this band. It’s madness—the kind that makes you feel as if you’ve never heard the blues before, which incites onlookers with otherwise no ability to shake it to move their asses.

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

There are shows that really just sum it up. This was one of them. Comprising most of the members of The Blue Rider with two saxaphones to boot, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats bolster the warmth of big band R&B similar to King Khan and the Shrines without the shtick. Rateliff himself sounds like Otis Redding if  Otis was white and could put you in touch with the grief and small triumphs of a fly-over state.

What happened at the Treefort Music Festival was an hour of pure magic and some of the most danceable tunes that I’ve ever witnessed. Rateliff was so rapt that in the heat of a song, he strangled and mangled his guitar strap into two, playing the rest of the set with it cradled in the nook of his charming paunch. I was just about satisfied when something happened that, in my life, was without precedent.

During the sprawling last song, the crowd chanted with Rateliff and Night Sweats and, as the band was exiting the stage, the crowd kept chanting in a symbolic request for an encore. We got the encore. And here’s the rub: They came back and played the same fucking song as if it had never ended! It couldn’t have been more satisfying—a show that sums up a night, a festival.