For its first several years, Total Fest always took place at one single venuewhether it was Jay's Upstairs, the fairgrounds or the American Legion Hall. Once the local independent rock festival moved to the Badlander/Palace complex (and added Saturday afternoon shows at the Big Dipper) it felt a little heftier. Last year, when it expanded to include the Top Hat and Zoo City Apparel, it started to seem like a fantastic, all-consuming monster.
There were whisperings Total Fest XI might trim their empire this year, but that’s not what happened. What happened is, they added yet another venue: the VFW. Holy rock ’n’ roll, Buzzo! With 41 bands at six venues in three days, Total Fest is not going on a diet, which is a such a good thing. If it were a Thanksgiving turkey, Total Fest could feed us alland here we give you a glimpse at the tastiest cuts:
Listen, we can tell whether or not you bought that Mötley Crüe Theatre of Pain tour shirt at Hot Topic or not. We can tell by the cut, the colors and the texture of the logo. And, yes, it’s really important to us. That is why we were hesitant to donate any of our “classic” (i.e. scummy and old) T-shirts to Amanda Browder’s Total Fest art installation Spelunca.
Browder, a Missoula native currently living in New York City, has collected a farmer’s grip of shirts, which she intends to mend into the form of a cave that will fit over the The Zoo City Apparel stage. She doesn’t intend to go it alone, as she invited any and all to a community sewing day at Selvedge Studio prior to the rock ‘n’ roll blow up. The goal of Browder’s project is twofold: “I want people to know that they can make something larger than themselves,” she says,” and I want to insert contemporary art into the everyday lives of people.”
The project takes Browder back to her younger days hanging at the fabled Jay’s Upstairs. She has even donated two of her old band shirts from that era: Chicks with Chainsaws and the Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. We suppose if she can do that it wouldn’t hurt us to part with that Long Cold Winter Cinderella T-shirt or the perfectly-folded-circa-1990 Prong Beg to Differ shirt in the attic.
What’s in a name?
I like to think that any time someone utters the words “Gay Witch Abortion” a 13-year-old boy in mid-America sprouts the first of many pubic whiskers. I know I would have, much as I did when I first heard the Butthole Surfers’s album Locust Abortion Technician‑or was it the Dayglo Abortions on a black 60-minute cassette tape labeled “Amy Grant”? Those were/are two great band names, but Gay Witch Abortion wins outright in the pubic hair sprouting contest. In other words, best band name this Total Fest.
Swap and snarf
The Saturday Record Swap goes down at the Big Dipper parking lot again this year, but this ain’t yer mee-maw’s swap: Missoula’s dopest audiophile event is more swappier than ever. For those uninitiated newbs, the swap is for all who like to comb through other people’s vinyl, as well as peeps looking to unload copies of The Doors’ LA Woman. So bring a table and your loot. Ear Candy, KBGA and independent record labels Good To Die and Sleeping Giant Glossolalia are selling and swapping wares along with Total Fest bands. Don’t have anything to swap? You can hang in the parking lot and listen to The Magpies, The Pharmacy and Abe Coley perform, not to mention indulge in Black Coffee Roasting Co.’s and La Petit Outre’s delicious free coffee and num-nums. Look for Missoula artist extraordinaire Matthew LaRubbio’s hand-drawn flier around town; it’s a visual representation of how it all goes down.
There is a sub-genre of rock that we adore: ass-kicking hard rock. This genre is made for throwing furniture from inside the house and onto the lawn, for spinning dirty burn-outs, for getting drunker than you should. The sound can be sludgy and full of bellows; it can groove and it can shred. Mainly, though, it’s a fusillade of ear-damaging dirty distortion rocking your face off before lighting your skull bones aflame.
Total Fest always features a filthy line-up of ass-kicking hard rock bands and this year is no different. Seattle’s Sandrider puts the “ow” in power-trio. The band’s rhythm section grooves heavy with a bass sound just north of scuzzy and drums adroitly locking it down, allowing the guitarist to perform both heavy riffs and catchy hot licks. The vocals are reminiscent of Total Fest vets Big Business, but the band seems to focus on their instruments rather than vociferous melodies.
TF loves duos, especially guitar/drum duos. Iron Lung fits the bill. The Seattle powerviolence duo plays fast and plays dissonant, but they know when to lock up the brakes and scream to a stop. Here is the only correct reaction to a cranked-up Iron Lung: tear off your shirt, stare into a bathroom mirror and scream until you pass out. Post-hardcore old schoolers Harkonen claims a member of TF fave Helms Alee among their number, and they are the real raw deal. With rumbling fuzzed-out bass and the slow bang of drums backing up the spook-tastic guitar licks, and vocal shouts that would impress a Texas high school football coach, the punishing repetition combined with spiffy lickety-split transitions could bring down a dictatorship faster than a neutron bomb.
The highly-anticipated Miami’s Torche always seem to be on the verge of famous. They have toured with the likes of Baroness, The Sword and High on Fire and are so gall-darned versatile that they mos def fit the bill of being hard rock. They can make four-on-the-floor stomp-rocking interesting again with great compositions and freaked out guitar licks that warble and cry. They can slow it up and sing you a song. If I were to build a castle high atop Mt. Sentinel, surely Torche would awaken the city each and every morning with two-minute blasts of ass kickery.
One of the favorite aspects of Total Fest is the reunion band. This year, the International Playboys, which broke up many moons ago, fills that role. Colin Hickey, curator of entertainment and pillar of the downtown business community, reprises his role as frontman Monty Carlo—a whiskey swilling, sweaty, howling high-roller. Back in the day, at a San Diego club where the Playboys were playing, a manager hinted that the band might not get paid and Hickey changed his Monty Carlo persona to the band’s no-nonsense businessman alter-ego “Jack DeSonne.” After a few shots of whiskey in a back room where a Russ Meyer film rolled in the background, he convinced the manager to surrender the cash. Expect a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll sheen and songs like “Cobra Blood Hangover.”
If you go through the list of T-fest bands you can guess which one has the gothest tendencies, and its not Milwaukee’s Cousins or the happily-named California group Rock N Roll Adventure Kids. It’s, you guessed it, The Funeral and the Twilight, of Minneapolis. What’s sweet about this band is that it exploits your secret wish to wear black lipstick but keeps you in a social mood by crossing dramatic Dio-esque vocals with Spanish sarabande rhythms. There is blackness here and also yearning tunes, so if you’re mourning the Cure cover band show from months ago, dry your tears. The Funeral and the Twilight are here.
If you don’t know your hometown bands, here’s your chance. The diversity of local bands represented this year is stunning. You want heavy mythological rock, just set your sights on Tidal Horn. Need a vacation? How about Shane Hickey and His Magical Ukulele or The Best Westerns tantalizing you with brooding, Cash-enzian country western. Need some really weird 1950s crooning and squealing? The ladies of Needlecraft got your back. By the time Bacon & Egg’s illogical noodling wizardry hits you on Saturday night you’ll be ready to sleep sound knowing you’ve heard some of the best music this side of the hemisphere.
The Total LineupThis year’s Total Fest kicks off Thu., Aug. 16, and runs through Sat., Aug. 18. Three-day passes cost $50 at the door. Per-night costs vary. (see below)
Thu., Aug. 16
The Top Hat, 134 W. Front St.: Dan Deacon, Unnatural Helpers, No-Fi Soul Rebellion, The Bugs, The Best Westerns
Doors at 8 PM. $15.
Friday, Aug. 17
Zoo City Apparel, 139 E. Main St.: Dikes of Holland, Guantanamo Baywatch, Rock N Roll Adventure Kids, Shane Hickey and His Magical Ukelele, Needlecraft
Doors at 5 PM.
Badlander/Palace, 135 W. Broadway: Torche, Lecherous Gaze, Iron Lung, Broken Water, Sedan, Criminal Code, Pins of Light, White Walls, The Funeral And The Twilight, Cousins
Doors at 8 PM.
$20 for the night.
Sat., Aug. 18
Record Swap at Big Dipper Ice Cream, 631 S. Higgins: The Pharmacy
The Magpies, Abe Coley
Noon to 2 PM. Free.
Ole Beck VFW Post 209, 245 W. Main Street: Walls, Dreamdecay, Brain Tumors, Tidal Horn, VTO
Doors at 6pm
Badlander/Palace, 135 W. Broadway: Harkonen, Sandrider, Lozen, Tenement, Tacocat, Buildings, Gay Witch Abortion, Mjolniir DXP, The International Playboys, Bacon & Egg
Doors at 8 PM.$20 for the night.
Go to totalfest.org for more info.