Rocktoberfest Acht

So yeah, my friends and I, in a bout of total unoriginality, started this annual party called Rocktoberfest back in 2002. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of beer and friendship and meat and rocking until you break yourself. If that sounds childish and/or unimportant to you, maybe you should attend Rocktoberfest before you go judging things you don’t understand. Or maybe you’re humorless California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who doesn’t seem to like anything at all, especially if it has ever a) been in a union or b) been poor. But I digress.

This year was the 8th annual Rocktoberfest (Rocktoberfest Acht in German. So Achtoberfest, as my pal Jom pointed out while quite drunk) and we held it at my friend Badier’s mostly former house in Menlo Park, which is dangerously close to Stanford University. Having a massive party in a house that is mostly empty is definitely the way to go. Less shit to break.

I’d like to think that everyone who attends  our Rocktoberfest recognizes that, like Hold Steady albums and good beers, the most recent one is always the best one ever. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the haze of music, drunk, and smoke, I realized why Rocktoberfest feels like a holiday to those who attend it and, as a sort of bonus realization, why rock ‘n’ roll is not a terrible substitute for a religion (when it doesn’t suck, of course). Let’s deal with the last thing first: at its best, rock ‘n’ roll creates community. When you go to see your favorite band, you share in the pure joy of music with a roomful of strangers. The audience and the band are all plugged in to something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The potential exists in that moment to meet new people and make new friends. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you totally can. And maybe you should. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of an ever-expanding community that started with five guys in a house. Those five guys didn’t always get along by any means, but Rocktoberfest creates a unique present in which the past is mostly obliterated while people sing along to songs like “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand (modified by us so that the chorus is now, “This beer is out of control/ I’m gonna drink this beer/ drink this beer”) and “Holy Diver” by Dio (we poured one out for Ronnie James Dio this year). Sure, it’s silly. But what’s wrong with being silly?

What happened at Rocktoberfest this year was what I  imagine happened around Joe Strummer’s famous campfires at Glastonbury. Old friends met new friends, some of us had wives to bring, others had kids to leave at home. But for several hours of a Saturday, everyone was cool with everyone. For my part, I was deliriously happy. You can do this anytime you want, and you should. Gather your friends and some drinks and some great music, and celebrate your personal community. Rocktoberfest Acht was a reminder of why I love music and – more important – why I literally love a majority of the people I know. It’s not prayer and it won’t save you from much besides boredom, but it could provide you with one helluva a great night.

So, in the great words of Mr. Craig Finn, “Let this be my annual reminder/ that we can all be something bigger.” Go forward, kids, be awesome to each other, and rock the fuck on.

Paint the Black Hole Blacker

actor_st_vincent_album

Dropping out of Boston’s Berklee School of Music is sort of a badge of honor. It’s almost as if making it through the program is a signifier of some disturbing lack of music business acumen. John Mayer is probably Berklee’s most famous dropout to date (should’ve stuck around for songwriting classes, Mr. Mayer. You need ’em), but he is also but one in a line that extends as far back in time as the school itself. My current favorite Berklee dropout, however, is Annie Clark, who left Berklee to join The Polyphonic Spree and then play in Sufjan Stevens’s live band and then began choosing her own musical adventure as  St. Vincent.

The Polyphonic Spree? Sufjan Stevens? Oh boy. I’m gonna hate St. Vincent. Right?

I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of judging a book by its cover here on Bollocks! and that’s because I don’t. And the same goes with people’s musical associations, for the most part. If you hang out with my various musical nemeses, I might tread cautiously around you, but I probably will still give you a listen (in fact, many of my favorite acts kick it with Sufjan, but that’s because everyone loves him but me) This is, hopefully, one of the key differences between being a snob and being an asshole.

And, one of the key differences between Annie Clark and Sufjan Stevens is that she isn’t trying to impress us with her compositional skill (I can here some besweatered Pitchforker out there fortifying themselves with a quick hit of their inhaler and preparing to tell me that Sufjan is so not trying to do that, but when one of your “songs” is a thirty second horn part, you’re either 1) showing people you know how to write horn parts, 2) an asshole, or 3) some combination of 1 and 2). Come to think of it, that’s one of the key differences between Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens… which must mean (follow me on this circle of logic, won’t you?) that St. Vincent and Andrew Bird should tour together so nerds like me can go and nerd out.

St. Annie Clark Vincent is a composer worthy of comparison to Mr. Bird, but her compositions, for those of you who find Bird a little inaccessible, are much poppier. This is not a bad thing, just a difference. Actor is a breezy listen where Noble Beast takes some time and a little more willingness to follow Andrew Bird wherever the songs take him. Clark tends to hover round the three minute mark (the uber-catchy title track is less than three minutes) for the most part, infusing each song with layers of instruments and vocal parts that all dance in and out of the outstanding melodies.

Opener “The Strangers” is one of the best examples of what I’m talking about. It starts out with strings and a soft beat, followed by Clark’s voice in both the fore and background (catchiest background vocal of the year: “paint the black hole blacker”) and the song builds to fuzzy guitar spazz outs and drums straight out of a Delgados album. And the whole thing is barely four minutes (one of only four songs on Actor that eclipses the four minute mark, and it doesn’t feel that long to me).

In fact, on melodies alone, perhaps Camera Obscura would be a fitting tour partner for St. Vincent so that those of us who like melody (and realize that Phoenix mostly sucks at it) a whole bunch can be satiated. I realize that this review is becoming one long solicitation for St. Vincent to pair up with some of my other favorite acts and come to Los Angeles, but so what? The odds are more favorable that someone will actually participate in my National ticket contest than they are that Annie Clark will read this post and say, “Shit, I gotta call Andrew Bird and get us both to L.A. forthwith!”

Actor, like some Andrew Bird albums (I thought this was true of Noble Beast, but it’s actually only really true of Armchair Apocrypha), can tend to sag a little after the first six tracks, but the more I listen to it, the more I find that it’s a product of stacked sequencing. Clark put the six cathiest tracks on the album right up front and the other five are good, they just can’t match the fire of their predecessors. On the other hand, it does give Actor a sort of made-for-vinyl feel, with Side A ending on “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood.” If anyone out there has this album on vinyl, drop me a line and let me know where the split is – it’d be a damn shame if it was anywhere else.