BY PELLE GUNTHER Firstly I’d like to apologize for being a total fuck up. My tales of this past weekend’s misadventures should have made their way to the Phawker days ago, but you see me and my incompetent self found ourselves stranded in Philly for a few days after the festival in a mess of drunk college pricks, without wheels, cash or even a cell phone to contact the world, let alone a computer to record my thoughts on Popped, or even a moment of silence to collect them. The self-defeating decision-making really started about two years ago when I decided I was above cell phones. Strike two came three weeks ago, when my poor black Nissan decided against life about 200 ft. down the road from where I had just received the kind of whopping speeding ticket no honest man can pay. Finally on Friday, at the very last minute, my pre-arranged ride to Popped! flaked, leaving me desperately searching for numbers for anyone to give me a ride. After a few hours of hapless searching, I was finally headed with a friend to the Liacouras Center at Temple, where Popped! Music Festival had been moved to avoid anyone being drizzled on. The venue change meant that all of the bands would be playing the same stage—which in turn spelled shorter sets, many just 25 minutes—and no sound checks for most of the bands.
Don’t you worry Mercer fans, the Shins got to sound check. Other bands weren’t so lucky. Reportedly, the tits in the Welsh rock band The Joy Formidable were so irked by this development and irritable as a result that they were eventually asked by the promoters to leave the fest without playing a note. But who gives a fuck about those Welsh dickheads anyways? The weekend was chock full of much better bands, sorrowfully mixed with some horribly painful musical interludes. Unfortunately, my first day started with Yuck and I was greeted upon my arrival at the Liacouras Center by what sounded like Sonic Youth making strange, punchy, drunken love to the riff-happy Brit rock of Blur. Aside from initial moment of intrigue, these London indie kids bored me to tears with their mercifully short set, which ended prematurely for me out of respect for a much more important and meaningful cigarette break.
After Yuck, Chicago’s much more mature and got-their-shit-together garage rockers Company Of Thieves took the stage and proceeded to play one of the best sets of the entire festival. When their spunky little spitfire of a bedazzled lead singer, Genevieve Schatz opened her mouth she unleashed she unleashed the band’s most powerful instrument — one with the potential to savagely rip through raw blues or float ethereally through airy waves of prettiness. Coupled with her energetic dancing, the pure, thoughtful riffs of guitarist Marc Walloc, and the occasional spot-on application of a megaphone, I found myself wishing they had more than 25 minutes as their last song built into a raucous anthem—with Genevieve screaming “I will not go quietly, I will not be silenced!”
Next came Brooklyn’s poetic everymen, The Hold Steady. Nerdy front man Craig Finn’s beautifully painted lyrics of drug abuse, self-doubt and the ever-elusive redemption were lost in a mess of bad mix exacerbated by the venue’s endlessly reverberating basketball court acoustics. With a better mix, I’m sure it would have been quite a different experience, but under the circumstances I found The Hold Steady to be lackluster, to put it charitably.
Slow, droning, bowel-shaking bass provided the foundation Elbow’s incredibly beautiful anthems for the everyday. Where Guy Garvey may be lacking in charisma or stage presence, he made up for it 100 times over with soaring, massive vocals, floating over towering strings and majestic synth and guitar. The highlight of their set was definitely the drinking man’s blues of “Grounds for Divorce”, with a thick, hearty bass tone, like auditory steak and potatoes, riding a riff that’s better than any meal I’ve had to date.
Animal Collective’s Panda Bear, accompanied by what appeared to be a stern, gaunt, musical butler, was next on the menu. This was in no way my favorite course. In an interview with MÁ FAMA radio, Noah once admitted—“I get impatient writing songs, I can’t spend much more than a couple of hours before I get frustrated. So I kind of spit it out real fast.” This technique was definitely noticeable, after one meaningless, tribal psychedelic jam faded into the next—blurring into an unintelligible mess of indistinguishable ambient-dreamy bullshit. After suffering through Panda Bear, the crowd was waiting with bated breath for the righteous ruckus of the all-American, cigs and coca cola rock and roll that is Cage the Elephant. Having seen them twice before, I found their set to be a little samey. Nothing different. Nothing new. The same old songs. The same old coked-up, jerky ragdoll dancing and crowd surfing antics of front man Matt Schultz. Fun to watch I suppose, but nothing they played was interesting enough to keep me away from another sweet cig break outdoors.
After a smoke, I returned to find nearly half the crowd had left after Cage the Elephant. To bad. America’s indie sweethearts The Shins played an almost perfect Best Of run through their extant catalog (minus their hit “Caring is Creepy”) and their dreamy, lullaby rock was made even better by their brand new line up. Mid-set they dropped a new song called “Double Bubble” that should appear on the next Shin’s album tentatively scheduled for release in mid-2012—barring some unforeseen tragedy.
On Saturday, I was once again without wheels, and without a way to contact the world, wondering where I went wrong after highschool. Was it quitting my job without any thought of getting another? Was it not going to college? Well whatever the fuck it was, it landed me back at Popped! Festival…late again. Missing the beachy electro-pop duo Cults by a half hour was one of my biggest sob stories from the whole festival, next only to missing the lighthearted folktronic pop songs of Nascar tribute Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Luckily I arrived in time to catch the last couple dreamy, synth-pop songs of Sun Airways. The swirling, watery synths and noisy washed out drum clatter of “Put the Days Away” filled the venue as the band’s somber ode to the joys of hiding from life marked the end of their set.
Saturday would turn out to be not much different than Friday: Good and bad, the bands just kept coming. The all instrumental, nine-piece Budos Band fell into the category of bad. Very bad in fact. Repetitive, Ethiopian and Latin inspired instrumental jam band grooves for 25 minutes under the guise of “a psychedelic 70s vibe” is painful enough as a concept, and oh so much worse in reality. That musical joke wasn’t the punch line though, as Charles Bradley, the self proclaimed “Eagle of Soul” took the stage, backed by a portion of the Budos Band. If he hadn’t been dressed in skintight red leather and tried his best to emulate a very scripted James Brown impression, and if, for the love of god, he hadn’t flapped his arms like an eagle while singing, I might have been able to take him a little more seriously. His voice was admittedly one to rival Mr. Brown’s, raw, rasping — wild and full of pure emotional power — but this ancient soul singer who recently made it to the spotlight was nothing more than a fading echo of a time long passed. Though I got to give it to the gramps Bradley, I’ve seen very few 63 year olds who would be willing to grind on a mic stand so shamelessly.
This is right about where things started going wrong—though I didn’t realize at the time. My friend got a phone call, which turned out to be a family emergency. I assured her it was fine and that I’d just take the train back. Something that would have been possible if I hadn’t absentmindedly spent the last of my cash earlier in the day gorging myself on Qdoba. As the next band came on I found myself caught up in the mosh-happy punk show, courtesy of Titus Andronicus. Their particular brand of punky thoughtless rock got old pretty quick, until the female guitarist traded her axe for a violin and they showed a much softer, sweet and heartfelt underbelly. After the punk interlude, the MC’s took the stage. First Rakim, who was forced to wait for a good portion of his set for the sound technician to figure out how to turn on his bass. When he finally started up, Rakim showed promise, not that he was spitting anything incredibly meaningful, but in comparison with the next act, he was blissfully real.
If Ke$ha somehow managed to impregnate that booty-full bitch Nikki Minaj, their strange little alien child would surely be the skanky, no limits, horribly annoying Kreayshawn, who’s lyrics were easily more foul and ridiculous than anything I’ve read on the stalls of men’s restrooms. Complete with a Flavor Flav wannabe and her sister for hype men, she broke down a full set of talkin’ shit on crack whore bitches and threatening to chop off dicks, after which I was torn between laughing hysterically or improvising a Van Gogh-ear removal surgery. Thankfully that was the end of the shit storm, and the rest of my night was incredibly entertaining. Foster the People, arriving on stage to a quick barrage of undergarments, broke out their indie 80s synth-pop, which this summer fell so desperately in love with. The highlight of their set was undeniably the tasty segue from “Helena Beat” into their massively defining hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” at which point the entire crowd was on their feet and stayed there for most of the night.
Then with a burst of flames, Girl Talk arrived and quickly proved that he is even better at partying than he is at mashing up songs. Which is no slight on his music, the highlight of which was a disgustingly pumping mash up of Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” plus Phoenix’s “1901″ plus The Isley Brother’s “Shout” that had me singing along and dancing with the rest of his enthusiastic crowd. The stage was filled with dancers, toilet paper flying through the air, confetti launched over the crowd and bags of balloons thrown to the masses, but even with all of his theatrics, not even Girl Talk could predict the best part of his show. As he dropped a Kreayshawn sample, the nasty little diva stepped on stage to rock out to her song, but within moments was mercifully removed by security. So a big thank you to the gods of hilarious fate and to the security at Popped! You really made my night.
This evening ended with Colorado electronic act Pretty Lights, who sat perched on a massive podium of LED screens, surrounded by LED columns. As his music hit, they exploded into a mass of incredible psychedelic patterns, as I was swept into a whirlpool of quasi-dubstep and and incredibly mind-blowing light show — it felt like I’d dropped three tabs of acid. When he played his Etta James-sampled song “Finally Moving,” the pure animalistic nature of the crowd turned that cold concrete-and-steel sports center into a pagan orgy of dance.
As the last notes of his electronic textures died off, and the lights came on, we were ushered towards the exits by the security, eager to get back to their own beds. Ears ringing, and a stupid smile plastered on my face I happily left the center for the train station and as I passed the Qdoba it hit me. Oh. My. God. I don’t have a dime on me!
After several hours of desperately searching for some form of communication with the outside world, I found myself talking with some stumbling, drunk-as-shit, post-Popped Temple students. I explained my situation, and one seemed coherent enough to understand, which led me to a four in the morning, none-to-comfy blanket on a tile floor in an apartment that smelled of stale beer parties passed. The next day I spent hours cursing my luck and trying to get in contact with anyone. Finally, late Sunday night, realizing I badly need a phone, a car, and quite possibly a job, I somehow found my way back to this keyboard to scrawl down these convoluted thoughts.
[Photos by PELLE GUNTHER]