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Musings From Fun Fun Fun Fest: Part 1 

Benjamin Booker
JASH Yellow Stage 6:35pm

click to enlarge Benjamin Booker - JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon
  • Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker’s voice was like a sore soaked with plain cigarettes and whiskey. His teeth gnash together as he growls from the back of his throat, “I will learn to love,” on “Wicked Waters.” Pain-stricken and despairing, the Delta blues is undeniably heard—there are traces of the tortured prodigal son in Robert Johnson—but there’s an unfiltered and fervent verve reminiscent to punk bands like Black Flag. There’s also a hint of desperation and uncertainty as Booker croaks, “Where I’m going, I’m going,” in his current opus “Violent Shiver.” The song’s catchy lick and swift groove could be compared to the Strokes doubled with a moonshine juke joint. But surprisingly, he shyly began the song’s swinging guitar lick with hesitance rather than his earnest zeal.

The drummer and bassist substituted their instruments for a mandolin and violin to launch into a bluegrass number as Booker puffed on a cigarette and frantically stomped across the stage. Languid ballads like “Slow Coming” and “I Thought I Heard You Screaming,” reveal a charming side as he sings in barely audible croons of forgotten dreams and unrequited love. But there’s still something so chilling and forlorn as he whispered in a tethered croon, “Did you love me or was it the drugs?” But true to his New Orleans roots, Booker ended on “Have You Seen
My Son,” an evangelical father’s prayer to his son’s lost soul, that barreled down with saturated fuzz tones. Booker pushed his lip against the microphone so hard that it looks really swollen. Either moved or possessed, Booker ran his hands over his sweated face as loud distortions reverberated from the speakers. He fiddled with the feedback before pummeling into a frenetic solo that would crash and burn amongst a dazed, dilated-pupil audience.

Cheap Trick
Orange Stage 7:15pm

click to enlarge Cheap Trick - JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon
  • Cheap Trick

There’s something weird about seeing a band from the ‘70s that brings on a bittersweet nostalgia and, oftentimes, outrageous expectations that go unmet. So while a short hour-long set would seem appropriate for most bands; for Cheap Trick it required some gusto and economical delivery. Starting with the manic and succinct opener “Hello There,” Cheap Trick, musically, are undoubtedly less eccentric: like there ‘70s counterparts, it sounds like mainstream rock but without all the outrage or excess. The crowd was in good spirits as they answered the proverbial question “Are you ready to rock,” with screams and puffs of cigarettes or some unsolicited substance. Following suite with the 1977 album In Color, the band went into “Big Eyes.” With a group that has so much guitar, it’s surprising that I don’t feel any nods to Cream or Jimi Hendrix. Instead with Nielson’s inexhaustible stockpile of chords and omission of over-the-top solos, I hear more of the Who and the Yardbirds, if anything.

In usual fashion; black and white checkerboard patterns adorned the stage, as Nielson could have brought out probably more guitars (including the five neck one!) than songs. While Zander wasn’t able to hit some of the high notes like he used to, his voice was just as bombastic and arena-rock ready, as he launched into “Dream Police,” and the ubiquitous crowd pleasers. For most people, it was Cheap Trick’s live album Cheap Trick at Budokan that introduced them to the ubiquitous hits like “I Want You To Want Me,” and “Surrender.” And while the finale was topped off with “Auf Wiedersehen,” the crowd still seemed dazed after singing to the incantatory anthem “Surrender, Surrender, but don’t give yourself away!”

Orange Stage 5:55pm

click to enlarge Bixler-Zavala - JAIME MONZON
  • Jaime Monzon
  • Bixler-Zavala

Don’t be fooled; Antemasque is still fronted by the manic duo of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, but they are no At the Drive-In or the Mars Volta. While Antemasque still lean toward odd time signatures and prog-rock progressions, the off-top free jazz and salsa meanderings are replaced with traces of punk and hardcore. But, most surprisingly, Zavala and Rodriguez don’t shine center-stage as they used to. There’s no obvious front man.

Starting 15 minutes late, Antemasque barreled through “The Lurch” as Zavala’s frenzied, almost indecipherable vocals and Rodriguez’s guitar wails spiraled out into violent energy reminiscent of the good ol’ days of their former projects. His outlandish theatrics demanded attention as he hurled his body across the stage, almost seemingly possessed. Travis Barker—yes, formerly from Blink 182—proved a nice addition as he pummeled ferociously through the drum kit in adroit precision and timing, which continuously drew screams from the crowd.

As usual, Zavala’s banter included tangents on his newfound fatherhood and his thoughts on the state of politics. To make up for lost time the band went full steam ahead into songs like “I Got No Remorse,”—that could almost be a b-side from Rage Against the Machine—and an energetic rendition of Joe Jackson’s “One More
Time.” The closer, “People Forget,” had Zavala screaming towards the higher register as staccato bursts of guitar coalesced into a much welcomed raw and natural energy. It’s weird seeing Rodriguez and Zavala exploring punk and uncomplicated rock grooves with such reckless abandon, but proves that, sometimes, change is good.

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