For starters, I think we have our first graduate from the first class of Blips. The boys from Steez won a contest to play at Summer Camp and got a Sunday slot on the Camping Stage (the smallest of the stages tucked away in the woods amidst the tented masses). They may have even represented, per capita, the most rocking out crowd in the place. Despite having half of their set overlap with moe.’s last set of the weekend, the crowd was packed in front, on both sides, and even behind the stage. And they made no waste of their one hour set, kicking it off with a cover of Daft Punk’s Robot Rock and plowing mercilessly through two of their best tunes in the rotation, Boss Theme and everyone’s favorite Estonian cover tune, Kalbassa (not to be confused with Kielbasa). Overall, expect to hear a lot more from Steez as you could read everyone’s lips saying, “Damn, these guys are really good.” Note to the tapers: somebody get these guys on the archive.
Next up, the gracious hosts of the event, moe., gave the crowd plenty to cheer about over the course of the weekend. After coming out with a pretty lackluster day set on Friday afternoon, they just got better over the course of the weekend. They provided a handful of surprises including a cover of Solsbury Hill (to mixed reviews, but I thought it was great), a raging Synchronicity Part II (Police cover), and one of the best sets they have played in ages (Set II on Sunday night.)
The Kyle’s Song was jaw dropping and the requisite Rebubula encore is always a treat, but the culmination of the weekend was what Al and Chuck disappeared during a mammoth Vinnie drum solo and Rob bass solo. They fooled everyone at the venue into thinking they were exiting the stage to highlight the solos, when minutes later the guitar sounds came back, yet nobody knew where they went. To an erupting roar of the crowd, they both climbed on top of the stage about 50 feet in the air, one on each side, and closed out the set in epic rock star fashion shredding through a raging Meat. Take my word for it: it’s worth digging through the iClips to watch this part.
Naked chicks on stage was quite the theme this weekend as Ha Ha The Moose brought out about 25 of them during their set and the Flaming Lips coerced a handful on stage as well. Dumpstaphunk didn’t go for the nudity, but they did have a slew of attractive dance machines for eye candy as stage guests to close out their show. Speaking of Dumpstaphunk, their rump-shaking funk set quickly converted a sluggish, groggy midday crowd into a full-on disco party that had everybody screaming “Put it in the Dumpsta” for the rest of the day. By the way, while Ivan Neville gets his name on the door, bass player Tony Hall at least deserves an office by the window.
Cornmeal made their presence known as a Summer Camp kingpin numerous times throughout the weekend. Their big stage set was phenomenal, as it was a kick watching Allie Kral jumping up and down doing some Angus impressions as she tore through some mean fiddle licks. They also played a late night fireside set on Sunday night, which got great reviews, but I was snoozing by then after four long days of music. The coolest thing they did was play a quiet surprise show with members of Hot Buttered Rum in the tiny 20 pew onsite church for about 100 people.
Of course, Umphrey’s treated everybody to their fair share of highlights including the just raging North Indiana Allstars, which despite having Willie Waldman in the band (plays the trumpet well, but his onstage gumpery is impossible to swallow), had the late night barn crowd getting their eyes rolled back a couple inches into their skulls. Other highlights included another Come Closer (the mash up of The Beatles’ Come Together and Nine Inch Nails’ Closer), a perfectly executed Shine On You Crazy Diamond, and a new tune called Waist Down (apparently spawned from the 2/17/07 Jimmy Stewart) which would be a welcome addition to the rotation. The whole second set on Saturday night was sheer awesomeness.
In the obvious department, The Roots put on a great show, including a Bob Dylan birthday nod with a unique Masters of War cover. As he always says, George Clinton and Parliament did indeed have the funk. The Avett Brothers put on their standard set, which everybody seemed thrilled about, but I don’t really get these guys. I can’t get over the overall lack of picking in a bluegrass band. They have a fun, unique sound, but something seems missing to me.
In the disappointing category, I was really unimpressed by the New Pornographers. I suppose they probably felt a little uninspired that they didn’t have much of a turnout, but neither did Dumpstaphunk when they started. All it takes is a little energy to get a crowd to waltz over and they didn’t really have it. Also, the Flaming Lips were very well received by the folks who hadn’t seen their shtick before, but even a keen newcomer could pick out that they sounded like crap. They did pull out a nice Song Remains the Same cover, but the video tricks, white suit, and hamster ball can only take an act so far. At some point, it’s time to bring it back to just playing well.
Finally, I didn’t have a chance to check out as many new bands as I would have liked, but the Shadyside Allstars got my attention. They had a nice mish-mash of sounds, but their major key Allman-esque stuff really sounded great. I also checked out The Hue on Scotty B’s recommendation and was not disappointed. They are remarkably tight and their guitar player is a machine. I think their midday slot later in the weekend kind of detracted from their crowd, because not a ton of people were rallying yet, but if I didn’t see them with my own eyes, I could have been fooled into thinking Umphrey’s was playing. Lastly, tons of people commented on how good Clutch sounded. In general, this whole approach of holding contests to earn festival slots seems to be a huge success, because great new bands are everywhere.
So, just like Summer Camp, I think when Mountain Jam concludes this weekend; we’ll hear the same story yet again. What you forgo in big headliners at the larger festivals, you more than make up for in a low stress weekend without the headaches. The quality of the music is outstanding, the people are friendly and well behaved, and the bands seemingly get to take some extra liberties. To each his own, but this experience sold me once and for all on the little guys.
- Previously on HT: Wade’s World – An Inside Look at Summer Camp