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Review: Broad Ripple Music Fest

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Broad Ripple Music Fest
Oct. 17, Connor’s Pub & Rock Lobster
Five stars

We arrived at the music tent in front of Connor’s Pub at about 4:30 pm on Saturday afternoon. Folk singer Caleb McCoach was on stage with his trio, playing to the few music fans that were milling about in the tent which—at that particular moment—seemed entirely too large. Were we at the right place? Had the event not been properly promoted? Where the hell was everyone? Questions like those would shortly become moot, as the tent rapidly started to fill and, by the end of the night, the Connor’s tent and seemingly all of the Broad Ripple strip would be crawling with rock fans.

The list of artists and venues for the Fifth Annual Broad Ripple Music Fest was staggering; there were something like 120 musical acts from around the city and the region, playing at 13 different venues across the neighborhood. Knowing that we’d be drinking the odd beer now and then throughout the night, we knew had to plan the day carefully. The best angle seemed to be moving from Connors to Rock Lobster Axis, for both convenience and the stellar lineup of local rock bands that were playing there. Many of these bands I was finally going to see for the first time.

Take, for example, Household Guns, who played next at Connors, on the stage opposite Caleb McCoach. This Indy-based band (now a trio because of some recent personnel changes) are fronted partly by guitarist Shawn Woolfolk, an L.A. native and son of Earth, Wind, & Fire horn man Andrew Woolfolk. Household Guns play with a grungy, alternative style while maintaining a pretty tight rock song structure and providing plentiful guitar riffs. Woolfolk proved himself an energetic showman, jumping off the stage at one point and traveling as far as his guitar cord would allow.

Another early surprise at the Connor’s tent was Thunderhawk. If you dare to name your band “Thunderhawk,” you better be bringing some serious heat. Right from the first touch of guitar pick to string, it was evident these chaps were going to live up to their name. Their buzz-saw guitar sound was immediate and in your face, but still retained melody. It was punk-ish but with a more upbeat, pop sensibility. Their influences were pretty apparent by their mention of the Black Crowes and the Talking Heads in one of their songs. They also exhibited a country-type twang with songs like “Dead is the Drunkest You Can Get.” The track that will stick in my mind was “Don’t Leave Me Out There,” one of those wall-of-noise kind of songs with an unforgettable hook.

After Thunderhawk we migrated over to Rock Lobster to catch The Kemps, a garage rock band from Fountain Square who never fail to entertain. Sadly, their set was cut short because of time constraints, but while they played, they rocked.

Next up were Hotfox, a five-man outfit that won the Record Store Day Battle of the Bands in 2010 and whose average age may still be below 21. Hotfox have a wide range; straight-up guitar rock that takes a psychedelic turn at times. The song "Mountain Tiger,” takes a turn into a more soulful direction and exhibits the band's extremely inventive songwriting.

Back at Connor’s later in the evening, we just had time to catch Champaign, Ill.-based Elsinore. Fronted by Ryan Groff, Elsinore plays clean power-pop brimming with emotion, such as on tracks like “The Thermostat, the Telephone,” which they broke out on Saturday along with other tracks from their new EP Life Inside an Elephant.

Around this time, my friends and I destroyed a few dynamite hamburgers and Mexican Cokes from the Scratch truck parked behind the tent. I find it excruciatingly difficult to describe how good these burgers were without using four-letter words. Seriously, what is it about these things? Someone suggested it’s the bacon marmalade they use on the buns, but I think there must be more to it. Quite possibly the best beef patty I’ve ever had in my life.

But, back to the music. Around 7:30 pm or so, Sleeping Bag played an odd set. They seemed to open with an improvised, grunge jam, on which it seemed only two thirds of the band participated, part of which was lead-singer and drummer Dave Segedy. The new sound was totally unexpected, but kind of a nice change from their usual set list that mostly includes the eight or so songs from their recent debut album. By the time the full group got on stage, they only had time to play three songs—and their songs are pretty short—closing with their signature track “Slime.” I am not sure what kept them from playing longer.

After Sleeping Bag, I finally got to witness Indy-based Slothpop play live, after missing them on numerous occasions. Slothpop has been described as “freak folk meets experimental rock,” and they seemed to play a lot harder live than on their album (a self-titled debut released early this year). Led by Kristin “Ko” Newborn, the five-piece band includes a violin, keyboard, and Newborn’s sailing, haunted vocals always rising above it all. They closed out their set with a really cool, disco-influenced number that was heavy on synth.

Harley Poe, a Kokomo-based folk-rock act got up to play next, rocking with their fast, thumping beats and sometimes macabre lyrics. They sounded like the Pogues at times, with that sort of “straight-off-the-pirate-ship” kind of feeling.

Back once again to Rock Lobster, where Tapes 'n Tapes—who seemed to be one of the darlings of BRMF—played a long set. The Minneapolis-based experimental rock band have four albums out and an obviously devoted following. They rocked the tightly-packed Rock Lobster crowd with jumping bass lines and odd rhythms; but frankly there didn’t seem like much about them stood out from the rather large crowd of bar bands that’s out there. There was not a distinct melody or hook to be found.

The lineup at Connor’s to close out the night was one that couldn’t be beat. Christian Taylor’s band America Owns the Moon played at around 9:30 pm and seemed to draw the most vehement approval of any band on Saturday. Fans were pushing up close to the stage, shouting along, and moshing to the music. Members of The Kemps were among the most enthusiastic of those present for AOTM’s garage-y, metallic set that actually featured a cello.

Just as the last note from AOTM died, Detriot-based Child Bite picked up the crowd’s attention with a sort of ghoulish, punk-metal that almost defies description. Using a keyboard with multi-colored lights on it, plenty of crashing cymbals and winding, twisting, creeping guitar riffs, this band seemed to scare the crap out of the audience, if nothing else. At times, they almost seemed a bit too much; they were a total mess of metallic sounds and electronic scrapes, kind of like Nine Inch Nails dragged through a graveyard. But overall, listening to them was a good, healthy, eyebrow-singeing experience.

In stark contrast to Child Bite was Indy-based Pravada, who played next. Fronted by Jessie Lee, formerly of Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos, the trio sometimes play upbeat rock that’s sweet, clear, and influenced by New Wave. At other times, they expand into proto-punk that's a bit Velvet Underground-ish, but always with good, ripping guitar riffs and heavy basslines.

Bloomington-based Murder By Death followed onstage with the raucous, pirateship folk rock that has made them famous. The five man group included a cellist and a trumpet player, and rocked out to songs like “Kentucky Bourbon,” creating a really full sound that had a kind of darkness to it. Though lead singer and guitarist Adam Turla sings with that sense of frantic urgency that can make just about anything seem compelling, this band simply doesn’t do it for me and it feels like they are re-treading musical ground that’s already quite well trodden.

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