Lost in the coverage of the hurricane and subsequent flooding that eviscerated small towns and big-city cynicism over media hype this past weekend, this year’s Restoration Festival at St. Joseph’s Church on Ten Broeck (behind the Palace) included a first day that saw a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than I anticipated and a second day that saw cancellations of its two national headliners overshadowed by local acts rising to the occasion and one of them putting on the performance of their career.
Of course, the fact that it became free on the second day because of Irene likely helped. With the storm preventing scheduled second day headliners A Hawk and a Hacksaw and The Music Tapes from making it to Albany, the tough call was made to make the event “pay what you will” for those who hadn’t already purchased tickets. This announcement initially brought in a few more people, and even more once the weather started being a bit more cooperative and before news had hit us that immense flooding was putting local municipalities into states of emergency. Even with the cancellations, though, it felt like nothing was lost on that second day and that the trials and travails only made the show better.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Starting with the headliners, because why not? First we were treated with a life-affirming, fist-pumping performance by Titus Andronicus that, perhaps owing to my enthusiasm for their work, was my favorite concert that I can ever recall attending. It was audio literature in frenetic motion provided with a perfect balance of serious craftsmanship and unhinged mania. The band went full bore for a full hour with an insane pace and a complete lack of bulls*** wannabe rock star pretension or self-consciousness. They left it all on the stage and were dripping sweat for the duration of their set, but they didn’t seem to notice. Or if they did, they didn’t care. In fact, they probably wanted us to drink it.
They were followed by Deer Tick who, in short, I still can’t quite get into despite their best efforts. They had the unfortunate task of following Titus Andronicus, who simply brought it with an energy level that simply isn’t sustainable for Deer Tick’s alt-country-rock sensibilities. I urge you to check them out for yourselves. You’ll probably love them, because I seemed to be the only person who instead of cheering and hooting was staring at the ceiling of St. Joseph’s and admiring the architecture. Which, in my defense, is quite gorgeous, especially in that lighting.
The local stars of day one were undoubtedly The Scientific Maps. They were playing when I walked in and man, they owned the stage. Everything sounded tight and better than I’ve ever heard them. Whereas before I heard promise in a band that I liked, this weekend I heard yet another local musical act that I’m genuinely enthusiastic about and borderline obsessed with. Railbird also put out an absolutely fantastic and enthralling set. It made the company I was with remark that he couldn’t understand why more of these acts aren’t nationally renowned, as they’re truly accomplishing something fascinating and listenable that seems to jive, if not rise above, the sort of indie rock fare that gets so much praise from the likes of Pitchfork and others.
Conversation then turned to lament over the fact that people complain about not having anything to do in Albany when all of these fantastic acts are popping up and performing regularly as part of a woefully underrated music scene.
“Anytime people tell me there’s nothing to do in Albany,” he said, “I’m going to tell them ‘you have no right to say anything, because I didn’t see you at Rest Fest’.”
After cancellations, announcements, revisions, and efforts by the staff to save the church after it flooded due to the inundation of water left by the beast formerly known as Irene, the day started two hours later with a crowd that was small but enthusiastic, then gradually grew to a level that wasn’t as large as the previous day but still deserves recognition given the circumstances.
Slender Shoulders and Swamp Baby played, providing the perfect soundtrack for the dreary uncertainty of a rainy day. Katie Hammon sings like she’s haunted by a beautiful ghost, and Swamp Baby’s ethereal folk soared in St. Joseph’s, which rewards bands with sparse production and mellow tones. They were followed by the Ramblin’ Jug Stompers, whose love of old music and musicianship carried through in their presentation and performance, unlike so many other bands who seem to fetishize their influences and as a result come across as wholly inorganic, if not hacky. The Stompers are fun, adventurous, and respectful of their influences while not putting them at such a distance as to provide a disconnect. This was real, good, earnest old-time music, and after a performance that included a typewriter solo that made me worry because I hadn’t brought a change of pants with me, they have a new fan in Kevin Marshall.
Then came We Are Jeneric, who put on the best performance of their lives. Buzz had filled the room about seeing them all day. More than one attendee I spoke to commented that they weren’t too disappointed in the cancellation of the headlining acts, because they were there to see Jeneric. One even went so far as to suggest the only reason people might have shown up for The Music Tapes and A Hawk and a Hacksaw was in the misguided hope that reclusive Neutral Milk Hotel frontman (and former bandmate of both bands) Jeff Magnum would make a surprise appearance. That wasn’t going to happen, ever, but I also don’t doubt for a second that no small amount of attendees thought this was a possibility before the cancellation.
Either way, Jeneric rose to the occasion. I’d always thought well of them, but on Sunday they were breathtaking. They got an incredible sound out of a purposefully limited arrangement, sort of like the Polyphonic Spree but without the cheesy gimmick or creepy cult factor. They were a welcome respite to all the uncertainty surrounding the day, and a white people dance party broke out to give them their propers. Well deserved.
I unfortunately had to leave at this point. I had received several texts that prompted me to use my phone’s (limited) internet capabilities to ascertain the situation, and it wasn’t good. There were already floods and fear of worse, with dams overtaken and concerns that others could fail. Not wanting to be stranded in Albany since I had to work the next day come Hell or high water (which couldn’t reach us at the apex of the hill that my employer rests upon), I took my leave.
Thankfully, Bryan Thomas took a video of The Matthew Carefully Undone Ensemble performance, so I can live vicariously through that:
And having seen Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned do their thing so many times and do it consistently well, I can imagine what a fun time I would have had.
And, of course, this was all to help increase awareness and raise money to restore the historic St. Joseph’s Church on Ten Broeck. Completed in 1856, St. Joe’s is as breathtaking for its prominence in the skyline as it is its interior architecture and natural beauty. Even in a dilapidated state, the gothic carvings, stained glass windows, and cavernous buttresses fill one with a sense of awe that brings understanding to those who always wondered why physically being in a structure like this could make one think they’ve been imbued with the strength of a holy spirit. Sadly, it’s become a victim to the inevitabilities of time and a contracting Catholic Church, but there’s still hope in the people invested in bringing it back to its former glory and folks like us who need to continue to spread the word. Restoration of this structure is an aesthetic, historical, civic, and cultural obligation. More info is here.
I’m not going to simply end this by stating that you should attend next year’s Restoration Festival and participate in the celebration. Instead, I’m going to urge you to seek these people out, because they live and breathe and work and perform here all year round. In fact, some of them are included in this year’s refreshing LarkFest lineup, providing a much-needed respite from tired arena rock covers and boozehound hackery. You can see the full list over at Nippertown. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Just look for this guy:
I included this because it was drawn onto a sticker by a caricaturist, Elena Cruzallen, who was walking around the Festival on day two in a cardboard contraption labeled “Sticker-Making Machine.” I asked her if she was a robot. She answered in a robot voice that she was, indeed, a robot. As she continued drawing, I wondered aloud why these scientists would program a robot to have an old 1950s robot voice. It’s best not to think too long on these things, though, for they’ll drive you mad.
Anyway, Elena’s pretty talented, and I thank her for her depiction. Check out her Flickr here, which has more of her work. It’s legitimately interesting stuff. She also wants to be your friend on Facebook.
- Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…
- Listen to me LIVE as guest co-host of Alternative to Sleeping tonight at 10pm!
- Realtors: “WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH” George Hearst III: “NONONOO SSSSHHH IT’S OKAY, it’s okay…here. Here’s a pacifier.” Kristi: “#oops.”
- Open Mic web series premiere tonight @ Lark Tavern
- Trust Me, You’re Going to Want to See This