Pretty Girls Make Graves
I suppose if you’re an indie rock fan, you might be naturally drawn to the DIY attitude. If you take that attitude, you probably don’t really care if your town hasn’t had a notable music scene at least since Dave Matthews left town, because you believe you can do your own festival. And apparently you really can, at least if you helped organize the second annual Fest Full of Rock, a two-time sell-out event held at the University of Virginia’s Student Activities Building and run by students. This year the organizers (led by Vicky Long and Josh Van Horne) managed to attract 10 acts ranging from Charlottesville natives Ted Stryker’s Drinking Problem to up-and-comers and rafter-swingers the Unicorns to some more notable indie stars.
RJD2 + Pretty Girls Make Graves + Jason Molina
31 Jan 2004: Student Activities Building Charlottesville, VA
Jason Molina (the artist formerly known as Songs: Ohia and more recently as part of the Magnolia Electric Co.) started his set close to 4 pm. I had heard that Molina could be abrasive during his shows, so I wasn’t surprised when he announced his presence by telling us that it was his day off. I suppose the comment was meant as a joke, but it had the ring of condescension. Molina performed with just an electric guitar and easily drew in the crowd with his baritone voice and doleful songs. He moved quickly from one song to the next with little chatter until he forgot the lyrics to one. When Molina decided to move on and not try to recapture the mood, a fan shouted out, “Play ‘Captain Badass!’” Molina’s decisive “no” was a bit off-putting until he explained that he couldn’t remember the words to that either. He mentioned that he once had to ask who wrote that song when someone else played it for him.
Unsurprisingly, Pretty Girls Make Graves drew the biggest crowd of the day. They’ve been developing a reputation as great live act (one of those “sure, the record’s okay, but you should see them live” types), and they came through. Singer Andrea Zollo had a quick-shifting demeanor; she was intense and furious while singing, but almost affable between songs. She thanked the crowd, the other bands, and the organizers (one of whom received a song dedication). The group even played a requested song that they seldom do live just to please an audience member, adding the band’s easy crowd interaction. Nice as Zollo was in her banter, Pretty Girls Make Graves was chaos when they played, especially bassist and vocalist Derek Fudesco, who leaped frantically through each song’s most intense moments. Each performance was great, but the band (like Molina) suffered from too little variance in tempo and mood. Before you could get bored, though, they were done.
RJD2 closed down the festival to a gradually dwindling crowd. He seemed genuinely appreciative of his audience, though, wondering why, on the biggest fraternity night of the year, we weren’t “in some basement getting peed on.” Using four turntables and two mixers, he moved quickly between tracks and samples without ever dropping the beat. The remaining crowd hesitated to turn the SAB into a dance club, but RJD2 kept it moving. As on disc, he was at his best blending genres, mixing and flowing between samples of Mississippi blues, Motown soul, ‘70s funk, and classic rock. He even threw in some Tears for Fears for us old-timers still in the house. While the beat and mood remained pretty steady, RJD2’s ability to change styles and to remain visually interesting made his set more successful in some ways than the earlier acts. Although RJD2’s skill was incredible, he was playing the wrong venue. After nearly 12 hours of music, the most of the crowd, which had been sedentary to sta rt with, didn’t seem to have the energy left to dance. I don’t know how RJD2 felt, but I was a little frustrated seeing a stellar act go mostly unrewarded.
I was tired at the end of the day, but I felt great about the Fest Full of Rock. The crowd didn’t always seem to be into the music, as evidenced by the four-square game taking place in the parking lot. Just the same, the music was great, and the scene inside was good (if you could overlook the basement-like atmosphere of the building). Band members came and went, and frequently stuck around to enjoy each other’s sets, which always gives me a pleasing sense of community. The bottom line for me was that my small town lined up some quality acts, people came out, and everyone went home happy without getting peed on.