Strange and beautiful: Visiting bands leave mark
El Guapo, The Unicorns
at UVA's Fest Full of Rock
Through my countless hours of reviewing bands, the late nights, the bored smoking, the constant skating on the edge of the sober/drunk divide, I've come to realize one equation holds true when the weekly deadline looms like the Flying Dutchman out of the mist: Number of Bands Reviewed Must Be < 3.
In that spirit, I'm going to review merely two of the 10 acts that appeared at UVA's Fest Full of Rock concert on Saturday, January 31, to flesh out the anorexic nature of some of my previous fest work.
El Guapo, one of DC's Dischord Records' shining stars, appeared on-stage at around 2pm, an hour when a young man often first sees the light of day. Beginning with a stage setup that worshipped symmetry (left: keyboardist, middle: drummer, right: keyboardist), the group had an amazing ability to use all three band members' voices in a sort of screamo call-answer fashion.
At least one of the group's tunes featured a drum loop as opposed to its organic cousin, and the drummer, freed of his cylindrical shackles, was free to become the group's lead singer, convulsing himself around the stage like a victim of end-stage St. Vitus Dance.
Relying on four-on-the-floor beats more than most other acts I've heard since the dying days of disco, the inclusion of guitar and bass– both bandied around by the left keyboardist and the drummer– and a reliance on melodies that would generically be called Egyptian, left me with a feeling of wild glee at seeing something so strange and beautiful.
The Unicorns, the band I had basically paid $12 to see, came on a little after 6pm and quickly launched into their first tune, before an abrupt stop. Explaining that a keyboard cable was unhooked and witting, "It's a beautiful thing, the start-stop" the group launched into "Tuff Ghost," the second track on their new record.
The group's primary setup was a bassist, a keyboardist, and a drummer, dressed in pink tuxedos and seeming like they had just enough (which in rock's case means far too much) coffee that morning. As the song's first chorus took over with its disco beat and staccato organ, the crowd began to get excited– a little. I thought the group was the best national act I've seen in this town for a while, leaving me quite impressed with their clever pop, convoluted lyrics, and amazing ability to seamlessly switch instruments (a guitar was added to the group's on-stage antics after a few songs).
Though they had played at the festival earlier in the day, I was forced to miss Ted Stryker's Drinking Problem's penultimate performance, but was able to catch the group's last-ever Charlottesville show at Tokyo Rose– anyone present that night would say, without a trace of irony, that a bright light has gone out in our town. To a crowd of at least one hundred convulsing kids crowded into the Rose's basement, the band led the masses in a group sing-along to the noise their instruments threw out, and neo-new wave whiplash was the injury of the night.
PHOTO BY MARK GRABOWSKI