On August 24th and 25th, the First City Music Festival will open its golden gates on the beautiful Monterey County Fairgrounds for two days of revelry.
The grounds have quite a history. They are the site of the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, for one. In 1967, they held what is considered the first major music festival in the U.S. It's an interesting thing to imagine, the producers of the Monterey International Pop Festival grappling with the immense complexity of pulling off a festival. In the film made about the festival, a bewildered police captain tries to wrap his head around the logistics of feeding, house, and "protecting ourselves" from the impending swarm of hippies poised to descend on the sleepy former California capitol. That lineup was incredible: Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat, Simon and Garfunkel, The Animals, Otis Redding, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Mamas and the Papas, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. It was here that the famous footage of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar was taken, Janis Joplin got her big breakout, and Ravi Shankar began to popularize Indian music in the U.S.
First City is being presented by Goldenvoice, which produces Coachella, FYF Fest, and Stagecoach; no worries about Goldenvoice pulling it off with style, if Coachella's immense success is any indicator. The company has been around since the 80s, and booked acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana before they hit the mainstream. Notably, Goldenvoice is collaborating with the Offset Project, which will attempt a zero-waste initiative at First City.
First City's lineup, though not as generationally cataclysmic as that of the Pop Festival, will be a great cross section of the music scene today. Most of it is indie-leaning rock and electronica, with the salient headliners including Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, MGMT and Neko Case (of New Pornographers fame). The lineup is unabashedly catered to magnetically energize the hippest millennials of nearby San Francisco and draw them spinning southward, but it is a good one.
Take a crack at this Spotify playlist of the bands I'm most excited to see. For a list of picks by the day, scroll on down. Happy listening.
Saturday, August 24th:
Passion Pit - Listening to Passion Pit is like having someone jam rock candy in your ear, but enjoyably so. "Sleepyhead," the single from their first release, was one of the indie anthems of 2010, and inspired dozens of spinoff bands trying to capture that pounding, crystalline sound. Last year, Passion Pit released their sophomore album, Gossamer, and "Constant Conversations" captures the kind of neon-formica-ice-cream-boutique-party feeling on which Passion Pit thrives.
MGMT - These guys brought glam and funk into the electronic era, and they play a great show. Everyone's heard "Kids," which gave montage-happy TV directors something to dream about for decades to come. Plus, they sued former French president Nicolas Sarkozy because he used "Kids" at several rallies for anti-piracy legistation without permission, so that's cool. But "Electric Feel" has always been my favorite, partially because Justice has a really excellent (somewhat more metal) cover of it.
Beach House - Beach House really cornered the market on its hazy, synth-heavy, rippling sound. I really love this band, so when I say that every song they play is recognizably them it's a compliment. Victoria Legend's soaring voice is akin to a more satisfying, less affected Nico. Check out the track "Wild" from their 2012 release, Bloom.
Washed Out - I'm not sure "chillwave" is a legitimate genre, but everyone seems to think that Washed Out started it. It's all pleasantly, safely 80s in its beat and 90s in its shoegaze feel. Rather aptly, the song "Feel It All Around" is the theme for the intro to Portlandia. I've seen Washed Out before, and it was a great dance party. Definitely worth checking out.
Okkervil River - Folk rockers with a richly plaintive, orchestral sound, who never really got Elliott Smith out of their system. My favorite album was Black Sheep Boy, an allegorical exploration of 60s musician Tim Hardin - meaty stuff for a concept album. They can usually be expected to create tiny detailed universes with their lyrics, a craft I really admire. "Westfall" is a good example of this knack of theirs.
Delta Spirit - Sweeping rhythm, intense live performances, tent-hall revival feel. I'm a fan of the song "Trashcan." It is so named because they use a trashcan as part of the percussion section. Whee!
The Black Angels - Murky, psychedelic rock with a satisfyingly ominous Pink Floyd vibe. The Black Angels' endless hooks and reverb spins you over and slams you down like hard surf: "Doves."
Father John Misty - This rebirth of J. Tillman, formerly of Fleet Foxes provenance, is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year. He draws on a rich heritage of rock and roll, folk twang, and psychedelica in his 2012 release Fear Fun, from which "This is Sally Hatchet" is my go-to. Tillman's wry, cryptic humor works really well with the Beatles song formula here, and bursts out into a warping trip to space at the end.
Blitzen Trapper - I've seen Blitzen Trapper play four times, and they have never been a disappointment. Fun fact, I once ambushed lead singer Eric Earley at a music festival and made him sign my sock. The dry resignation and surrender to fate in "Black River Killer" is like a Cormac McCarthy novel condensed into a single song. Earley is a master storyteller.
Sunday, August 25th:
Modest Mouse - How do you describe a band you've listened to since you were 12? I stared at my screen trying to figure out how best to describe these mall-hating indie-punk rockers who brought me from surly adolescence to adulthood, but I figure just that descriptor does them justice. "People as Places as People" captures well their inventiveness, discontent, and eclectic instrumentation.
Neko Case - The former New Pornographers collaborator turned country crooner just released a new record with guitar work from M Ward. Check out "Deep Red Bells" to drown in her haunting siren call.
Toro Y Moi - Part of ("OR IS IT?" - Pitchfork) the "chillwave" "movement" as referenced above, Chaz Bundick manipulates sound into atmospheric, pleasantly glitchy vignettes. Clear nod to J Dilla and Flying Lotus. His 2010 album Causers of This was my favorite: "Minors."
Deerhunter - Joyful, enthusiastic psychedelic pop music that brings to mind both a garage show and a haunted amusement park. They're a thrill to listen to and an excellent live show, and I'm very excited to see them again. "Revival."
The Antlers - The imagery from Antlers lyrics may typically involve unrequited lovers setting their houses on fire, teeth falling out, and hospital rooms, but their sound is uniquely haunting. For me, their sound brings to mind early winter mornings after a big snow fall, the wonder of a world transformed. "Drift Dive," from their latest release Undersea, gives you a good sense of their ability to directly transcribe image to sound.
Electric Guest - Monstrously catchy, instantly digestible soul-pop. Sure to play on your radio for the next five years. "This Head I Hold," along with its tongue-in-cheek music video, will stick with you whether you like it or not.
Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks - Anyone who loves Animal Collective will enjoy this show. Avey Tare is one of the founding members of AC, and his sound doesn't run far from the warbling sonic contrail that made Merriweather Post Pavilion one of my favorite releases of that year. Avey Tare is more like being agreeably smothered than ecstatically uplifted, but I'm excited to sway-dance to this in the Monterey sun: "Oliver Twist."
The Dodos - To me, autumnal firefly band The Dodos sounded much the rest of the indie-folk revival thing until their latest record, the 2011 release No Color. Here they are unabashed, forceful, and uncaring: "Black Night."