Surprises can be good and bad. A surprise winter storm that shuts down all the highways in your state and causes you to be late to Boise’s Treefort Music Fest is bad. But a few surprising changes from the bands playing such a festival are good, if not great.
Let me explain: I missed Wednesday night of Treefort due to a unexpectedly nasty Spring snowstorm that closed every road out of Colorado, where I live. Fortunately, when I made it into Boise Thursday night (through the icy, windswept passages of Wyoming and the rain-stung lanes of Utah), I was happy to see that a lot of bands I knew had altered their respective sounds for the better.
Holiday Friends has grown up a lot since I first saw them at the inaugural Treefort in 2012. Back then, the Astoria, Oregon band used a mashup of synths, programmed beats and strummy acoustic guitars to create a unique brand of quirky folk pop that was still finding its voice. Now, after losing a core member, the group is back with tunes so tight, catchy, and sunnily optimistic, they put California pop bands to shame (And who said Oregon was gloomy?). So, it’s really no wonder how the quartet packed Mardi Gras with repeat fans. The songs were perfect for dancing to after a long drive into Boise or a somewhat frigid walk down to the venue. Because this is Holiday Friends’ fourth time playing the fest, many people have grown to love them over the years.
Los Angeles shoegaze band Crescendo was in high spirits last night at The Olympic. Maybe it was because their guitarist, Jess, was back in her home city of Boise, playing for plenty of friends. Or it could have been because of frontman Gregory Cole’s hilarious (and somewhat drunken) attempts at amping up the crowd. During each of Crescendo’s most danceable numbers, Cole would politely ask people to get in the groove. “You came for a music festival, let’s have a music festival!” he yelled. Then he crowd surfed just to break the ice. Although no one else crowd surfed, the band (which sounds a lot of like of the The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) got everybody moving.
AAN has played every Treefort ever. As the festival has grown, so has the band. But this year, the Portland, Oregon quartet pulled off an astounding sonic metamorphosis that left Neurolux listeners longing for more. AAN used to be a moody and experimental freak folk band but now it’s a full-on rock outfit. This change in sound probably came after frontman Bud Wilson had to replace every original member of AAN with new (more rocking) players. Of course, AAN still can still get freaky. Wilson’s darkly emotional delivery and yelping vocals make him sound like a crazed evangelist preacher at times. Otherwise, he uses a bevy of textures and effect-laden tones help send even the crunchiest numbers into tripper, loftier territory.
AAN segued perfectly in the macabre metal of Chelsea Wolfe. Up on the Knitting Factory’s large stage, complete with lights and fog, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter truly looked like a demented witch who had joined a rock band. Don’t worry, that’s actually a compliment. Wolfe specializes in slow-paced Gothic rock, so her whole aesthetic centers around being spooky. What’s scarier than Wolfe’s persona is her penchant for pacing. She knows how to lull the audience into a false sense of security with her angelic voice just before blasting them with a sinister assault of screaming guitar, fuzzed out bass, and heavy drums.
Mining 1960s music for inspiration is kind of an unwritten rule for rock bands today, but Plum does it well. So well, in fact, that the Denver-turned-Los Angeles quartet actually took its first-ever Treefort audience back in time for a little bit. During their set, the Linen Building sounded less like a modern venue and more like Andy Warhol’s art warehouse or, perhaps, the rooftop of Apple Records, where The Beatles performed their last show.
Fresno, California’s Light Thieves was one of Thursday’s final bands. Even though they started really late (12:40 p.m.), the quartet delivered purely energy set akin to the at-capacity headliner, Thee Oh Sees. For their effort, the audience responded accordingly and gave Light Thieves an equal amount of enthusiasm by dancing, clapping, and rocking along to the band’s psyched out tracks. Because Light Thieves has been together since 2010, they really know how to jam well with one another. Such endless interplay ended their set close to 2 a.m., which was great for those who wanted to stay up longer.
- Treefort has amazing venues. Mardi Gras is a funky little banquet hall that looks like an old Mexican restaurant. The El Korah Shrine is an old Shriners clubhouse that was built in 1914. It’s got a lot of history and an even better sound system to boot. The same goes for the Olympic Hotel downtown. Last year, new owners gutted the ancient flop and built a rocking new event space inside it. These venues are definitely atypical, but they make the festival more fun.
- The best late-night food is Pita Pit, obviously.
- A lot of bands were postponed on Wednesday and Thursday due to that terrible storm I mentioned above. When they finally made it to Boise alive and well, they were ready to take the festival head on.
To read about more Treefort surprises, go here. Otherwise, stay tuned for more festival coverage.