Snoredom: Only an occasional wake-up act
UVA's "Fest Full of Rock," as a first-time effort, had a decent roster; I'd heard of most of the bands and looked forward to the chance to see them in action. Even with minimum publicity, the line-up generated enough buzz to sell out the event.
But after eight hours, I walked away mostly wishing I'd kept my $12.
I entered the Student Activities Center as Dame Fate began their set. The venue was a cinderblock box; I watched sound engineers valiantly try to filter out some muddy echo. The throng seemed indifferent to the band, and I seconded their ambivalence. The all-girl group's pros: 1) experience, 2) a dreamy guitar feel, and 3) liberal use of eyeliner– none of which could prop up their anemic, restrained sound. They clutched their instruments like Kate Spade bags.
Ann Beretta followed. The snoredom shape-shifted to pop-punk. I exited for some Anna's Pizza.
I returned while Denali was tuning up. The core of the band are Keeley Davis from math-rocky Engine Down, and his younger sister, Maura. She's the vocal incarnate of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, into musing on those sour times in cabaret-style glissandos.
I'm not questioning the validity of Davis's wounded warblings, but they lack the breadth of Gibbons'; to quote the illustrious Dorothy Parker, Denali "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." After 30 minutes of the minor key stuff, with the anti-climactic build-ups, the band's narcissistic preening left me wishing I could gong them off the stage. Get a sense of humor about yourself. Please.
Q and Not U saved the day. Their melodic weirdness, creative rhythms, and spasmodic cheer summed up to danceable fun, and their musical flexibility was on the contortionist level. I enjoyed watching them pretzel into the tilted bass lines, reminiscent of post-punkers Wire and Gang of Four.
I'm amazed how Trans Am (the next band) has managed to exist for nearly a decade on sheer irony. They take the heavy riffs and cheap synths of the eighties and point fun at the decade... although not with the kid-glove subtlety of Ween. It seems the mockery sounds better on CD, although the vocodered German was a nice touch.
Shai Halud, named after the great worms of Dune, was a hardcore disappointment, their rigid style an imitative mishmash of the bands in the genre, their rage with all the sparkle of a cubic zirconia. Basically, it was complaint rock, and self-righteous at that. Their message was annoyingly cliched– this world is unfair, people hurt each other, we are alone, we should band together. Under what? The ethos of songs like "Love is the Fall of Every Man?" No thanks.
Richmond's Avail, one of the biggest groups to play the fest, have matured well in their power punk. They engaged with the audience in a positive manner, thanking them for their attendance, and even stirring up a pit of circular moshing.
Headliners Jump, Little Children! were a far cry from their predecessors of the afternoon, sounding more like fare for the late lamented Trax. The lead singer had a Jeff Buckley lilt to his voice; his lyrics were colorful, but at that point in the evening, they seemed a shade too grandiose. JLC incorporates an accordion and a cello... a good sign... but their attention to dress (pleather pants, snazzy haircuts, etc..) is distracting. Their radio-friendly jangle shooed away most of the sullen-faced teens, and me. We weren't in the mood.