Back in the saddle 

Sizing up the new and the old at Total Fest

Last year, for the first time, Missoula’s DIY-inspired mid-summer rock extravaganza, Total Fest, experienced some growing pains. The extent of those pains varies depending on the band or fan offering their two cents—speaking of which, most issues centered around money, with operating expenses higher than expected, crowds slightly smaller, and band payouts limited—but the consensus was that some tweaks needed to be considered. Conventional wisdom predicted that the sixth annual gathering, in response, would be a more scaled-down, less ambitious affair. 

Not so much.

The changes did come—pre-published concert lineups and, most importantly, a move to a downtown venue tailor-made for hosting the event, to name a few—but noticeably pulling back on the reins isn’t one of them. This is, after all, Total Fest, and it wouldn’t be the same without the same community-driven abandon and moxie. So, this year’s 14-person planning committee, which has been working gratis since December, offers up 36 bands on four different stages over the course of three days. And, just as in years past, that lineup includes a hearty sampling of some of the most diverse and up-and-coming independent bands from across the country. 

As usual, there’s a lot to sift through, and although the idea of Total Fest is to experience it unabridged in all its audio grandeur, we’ve identified a few likely highlights for your selective listening pleasure.

Old skool
Long before the reign of now-defunct Jay’s Upstairs, local music found its home at a black-lit hole-in-the wall club with the unfortunate name Trendz. In the early ’90s, Trendz (now, incidentally, home to the Palace) hosted Fitz of Depression, one of the most talked about Northwest independent rock bands of the time. They were a distinct combination of new wave bounce and guttural power chords, and frontman Mike Dees’ high-energy delivery regularly lathered Missoula audiences into a fist-pumping frenzy. Their cover of Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” for instance, was an anticipated live highlight, and a classic choice for mix tapes at the time. Somewhere in the late ’90s, Fitz faded away, though they never quite broke up. With a new line-up—which, thankfully, still includes Dees—Fitz reintroduces itself to Missoula after a nearly 12-year absence.

The early ’90s also produced another member of Missoula rock royalty: guitarist (and professional ballet dancer—seriously) Pat Phlymm. The flamboyant showman used to rile crowds with his cheshire grin, tiny pigtails, and the tightest, shortest outfits one could possibly imagine. His most notable stint was with local favorite The Banned, but his most horrifying appearance was a side-project called Poop, which was a sort of low-brow art performance often showcasing Phlymm in ballerina costumes or assless jeans. Later, Phlymm formed Kled and the trio moved to Seattle, where they continue to play heavy metal disco pushed to every corner of weirdness by Phlymm’s disconcertingly childlike vocals. Hide the kids for Phlymm’s long-awaited return.

All the colors
Folk, death-country, white-boy reggae and a gypsy stink band aren’t what you normally find at Total Fest. But The Pasties, Pine Hill Haints, Yogoman Burning Band and Dandelion Junk Queens, respectively, make their TF debut in an effort to shake up the punk/metal majority. 

Youth served
While all-ages audiences have always been key to TF’s appeal, the bands haven’t exactly mirrored the under-21 crowd. That changes with four high school groups too young to bother with earplugs [Note to the kids: use your earplugs]. Bonner’s The Knockoffs spit out speedy punk and Missoula’s The Sherlocks play psychedelic garage rock for a new generation. Stevi’s The Four Horsemen have the look of ’80s-era high schoolers with their long hair, white high-tops and jean jackets cut off at the sleeves, but there’s nothing Reagan-era about their brand of high-octane metal. And The Basic Practicalities may be the youngest of all these bands (collectively entering their sophomore year at Hellgate), but singer/drummer Lela Bayless and bassist Ben Haber are no greenhorns to the local music scene. Both are former members of Happy Unit Gang and, when they were still in middle school, opened for Volumen.

In memoriam
In a perfect world, The Touchers’ TF set would have revealed a wave of tightly crafted cowboy-punk, streaked with Pixies’ influence. Sadly, last month, just after the Bozeman band finished its fourth album, lead singer/songwriter Ben Spangler (aka Bipolar Ben) died unexpectedly. TF organizers decided not to fill the empty slot, instead opting to play some of the best Touchers recordings and take a moment to remember one of the state’s more promising bands.

The man with the mic
If you’ve frequented Missoula rock shows, you know Dennis Lynch. He’s the loud, enthusiastic guy at the front of the stage with his rock horns stretched to the high heavens—and, occasionally, the guy not with the band who somehow ends up on stage. TF organizers have joked for years about electing an official TF MC and Lynch, who has helped plan the weekend for three years, was the obvious choice. For his part, Lynch is excited to assume the role. “Hopefully,” he says, “I can make it through without getting too obnoxious and without getting too staggering drunk.”

Wake up and end
The annual Saturday morning record swap (see schedule sidebar) has a new twist this year with the addition of a DIY bazaar featuring “crafts and stuff.” It’s an extension of the popular bazaars that have become a staple of local First Fridays, and, as extra incentive to rise and shine on the last day of the festival, free coffee and scones from Le Petit Outre will be available.

It’s an excellent way to start what promises to be a memorable last day. And patience will be rewarded when two local favorites close things out: Wham City, a collective of musicians/performance artists from Baltimore featuring, among others, OCDJ and Video Hippos, wrap up the all-ages portion at the Palace. Judging from their recent Missoula show (which also included Dan Deacon, who’s in Europe and can’t attend TF), it’ll be a multimedia spectacle. Meanwhile, at the Badlander, there’s Le Force. Few metal bands bring it like this Salt Lake City power trio. Don’t expect much in the way of vocals—just hard, elaborate, instrumental arrangements and an avalanche of sound. Exactly how this thing should come to an end. At least until next year.

Total Fest VI: the line-up

Thursday, Aug. 9
Badlander at 9 PM: Mahamawaldi, Riddilin Que, Birthday Suits, Lozen, Mika Miko, Trashies and Flee the Century

Friday, Aug. 10
Palace at 9 PM: All-ages show with The Sherlocks, The Knockoffs, The Four Horsemen, Cicadas, Squalora and Vile Blue Shades
Badlander at 9 PM: Jacktop Town, The Touchers tribute, Pine Hill Haints, Old Time Relijun, The Narrows, Kingdom of Magic, Belt of Vapor, Fitz of Depression, Fleshies, Akimbo and Thrones

Saturday, Aug. 11
Big Dipper at 11 AM: Record Swap and DIY Bazaar featuring performances by The Bugs, Dandelion Junk Queens and The Basic Practicalities
Palace at 9 PM: All-ages show with Deny the Dinosaur, Reddmen, Noise Noise Noise, The Pasties and Wham City with Video Hippos, OCDJ and more
Badlander at 9 PM: Reptile Dysfunction, The Trucks, Yogoman Burning Band, Arrows to the Sun, Mountain High, Kled, Madraso, Two Year Touqe, Nudity and Le Force.

All-access passes are available in advance from Ear Candy Music and or at the door for $35. Individual evening tickets are $15. All-ages shows at the Palace are only $5.
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