Yearly ritual: Putting Charlottesville to shame

at JMU
April 2

Like a horde of cockroaches roaming about that "sample modern kitchen" at the National Museum of Natural History's Bug Zoo, indie-rockers– distinguishable by their penchant for tight pants, shaggy manes, and hoodies–over-ran the little town of Harrisonburg this weekend for the annual MACRoCK festival.

Before I began to attend the yearly event, I had never in my life seen so many kids who consider themselves "different" find out they are just one of the same teeming mass (although perhaps a mildly cooler one) everyone is a part of. Now every year is like an amusing anthropological study into the trends, mating rituals, and fads of the indierockus unoriginalis.

Every year I'm also more impressed by what JMU's college station, WXJM, pulls off, organizing a two-day music event across Harrisonburg with barely a hitch. This year, things beyond my control (work, need of sleep, temptations of the flesh), delayed my yearly trip to Harrisonburg by some hours, but my arrival turned out to be quite nicely timed to catch most of the set by the DC-based Carlsonics, the principal reason I'd made the trip.

Performing in JMU's PC Ballroom, the Carlsonics pulled off a spectacular performance, and though the audience for the most part seemed to consider them merely nod-worthy, I felt their show was the best I've seen in a long while. Quasi-metal riffs and a singer who at times went from a Talking Heads Byrne to a Rage Against the Machine De La Roche make the group unforgettable, and moved me to the merchandise table, lickety-split.

A short ride brought me to downtown Harrisonburg's Little Grill, where local bluegrass wunderkinds King Wilkie were set to perform at 9:30. Arriving just in time before the group started their set, I glanced around at the Little Grill, a kind of smoke-free bizarro Blue Moon Diner, where the Americana Showcase was being held. Playing a mixture of material from their last album and their soon-to-be-released Broke (release party at Starr Hill on April 16) to a crowd of non-indie types, the group's close harmonies and carefully syncopated stage moves (the band's front lineup rolling back for other members to take their solos) won over many Harrisonburg converts.

The newer material also showed a noticeable jump forward in songwriting, with "Broke Down and Loose"– a slower number with the sparest of instruments– making the set for me.

Back to the PC Ballroom for Pedro the Lion, Friday night's headlining act, but I was more than a little disappointed with what I saw– a slow song-heavy set, especially in the beginning, ensured that the venue would be half full by half-time, as the smokers left to do what they do.

Distorted songs dripping with emotion are more a headphone experience than a live spectacle, at least in this case. Though the songs were beautiful– changing tempos and time signatures at will– lengthy numbers and downtrodden vocals suggested that the group was not exactly the right choice to close the night with– leading to a long, sleepy drive home.