Overview: I knew what I was setting myself up for when I went to Music Midtown. If you have been to a large outdoor music festival you know the drill: overpriced food and drinks, being left to the mercy of Mother Nature (two rainy days and one day of sweltering heat), those refreshing portable toilets, and waiting through acts you don't care about to see the bands you wanted to see. The festival was located in a fenced in area around some yuppie apartment dwellings in downtown Atlanta so some local yuppies got to soak in all the musical mayhem from their porches for free. In all fairness to the Music Midtown organizers, the bands seemed to run more or less on time; at least for the bands I saw. While the "Ford" and "Hooters" stage were close enough to where you could hear the band playing from one stage from the other stage, this wasn't a major problem except between songs.
The biggest disappointment of the festival was missing Public Enemy, Joan Jett [reviewed by Ronnie], and the Pixies Unfortunately Public enemy played on another stage at the same time Devo played (see separate interview/article on Devo). I also missed Joan Jett because she was playing while I interviewed Devo. As for the Pixies, by the time they got on (Sat at 10 pm I was soaked from the rain and had enough of the festival for one day (Yeah I know it is a pretty lame excuse but I caught them back in the 80's). For those wishing to see a complete list of bands that played music midtown and/or snicker at my choice of bands go to (add the link to music midtown if it is still up)
Music Midtown had bands on six stages:
- Ford Stage = corporate rock acts for the late 30's - 40's and up crowd.
- Hooters stage = country stage.
- Ford/Best Buy/96 Rock/UPN Atlanta Stage = "classic" rock.
- 99x stage = "alternative" rock stage for the Hot Topics crowd (thirteen year old kids wearing Ramones shirts having never listened to a Ramones record).
Best buy locals stage = The little local band that could stage. Coming soon to a Warped Tour near you.
- Verizon stage = Rap-Hip Hop stage on the corner furthest away from the festival entrance.
- Comcast /cultural stage = background music for the arts and crafts tents.
My arbitrary and completely subjective summary of bands I saw at Music Midtown:
Friday June 10, 2005:
Gentry's music sounds like 80's hair metal sung by a contemporary country vocalist. To prove the point he had pyro effects (Note to Mr. Gentry: smoke bomb effects work better after dark) and closed the set with Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me". Bill Gentry is an all American guy who sings about God, country, and supporting the troops. If you read the last sentence without smirking and find "alternative" rock bands "disturbing" then Gentry is the guy for you.
Red Letter Agent:
Alternative pop with a strong vocalist who's vocal presentation reminded me of Bono; not bad. Would be a decent opening band for Spoon.
Given the influence the Velvet Underground had upon alternative music I was a bit surprised to see Lou Reed on the Ford Stage. Many of the people watching his set seemed to have some vague idea that Lou Reed was somebody important but didn't really know why. Reed handled amp and sound troubles on stage with great aplomb. When his amp crapped, he stopped playing while the soundmen scrambled around for a replacement amp. Upon finding a replacement amp Reed said "Glad I'm a big rock star and have another amp otherwise I'd be fucked" and managed somehow to sound magnanimous. Despite a strong set including "White Light, White Heat" and "Sweet Jane" the audience was lifeless. I guess they were waiting for him to play "Walk on the Wild Side" or counting the minutes until the Counting Crows took the stage….
Copying late 70's early 80's new wave acts is evidentially the flavor of the month. Interpol comes closer to sounding like Joy Division than any band I've ever heard. While Interpol is derivative as hell, their songs are strong enough to where they pull it off (in other words they might have a career after the new wave copy band fad runs its course). Unfortunately, I missed all but three of their songs because their set ran the same time as Lou Reed's.
Speaking of flavor of the month; I guess the corporate garage rock well hasn't run dry yet. Jack White does have a strong voice but arena rock guitar solo crap doesn't work very well with a two-piece band. The White Stripes are neither as great nor as horrible as all the hype around them would have you believe. Their songs, however, all started sounding alike after 3 songs. Perhaps their set works better in a smaller club setting.
Saturday June 11, 2005:
She Wants Revenge:
Question: "How many Joy Division clone bands does the world need?" Answer: She Wants Revenge is one too many. Calling She Wants Revenge Interpol Lite would be cruel but would lowball it.
Louis XIV cut a nice contrast to the overabundance of self-important artsy "alternative" bands at Music Midtown. They sound like Ac/Dc with Robyn Hitchcock on vocals. Their songs are a throwback to old-fashioned rock and roll decadence but with tongue firmly in cheek. For example, their song "Illegal Tender" is a hilarious ode to sex with underage teenage girls that would make Led Zeppelin blush.
Musical answer to the question "How many Gang of Four clone bands does the world need?" Their drummer was way too eager to show the world all the drum lessons he had taken. Bloc Party gets an "a+" for energy level and a "c-" for originality. Bloc Party aren't quite derivative enough for me to call them Gang of Four Lite but are damn close.
Good Friday Experiment:
Local band of nice kids playing catchy pop punk for upper middle class suburban children. Catch these guys before they get a warped tour slot or discover drugs and hop on the "rip off new wave bands" bandwagon.
The Features play catchy pop songs that sound similar without being derivative of Supergrass and/or the Kinks; one of the better bands of the festival. I would like to see them again when it wasn't pouring down rain.
John Fogerty played the Creedence Clearwater revival catalog of hits with a fire that made it seem as if he had written those songs yesterday rather than 25 + years ago. He opened the set with "Travelin' Band" and never let up, playing hit after hit: "Who'll Stop the Rain", "Down on the Corner", "Fortunate Son", 'Who'll stop the rain" "Green River" "Bad Moon Rising", "Proud Mary", "Have you ever seen the rain" and "Lodi". Fogerty has the rare gift of playing catchy songs that rock with lyrics that aren't fluff. Fogerty's song "Fortunate Son" - a scathing indictment of the elite who protest wars while being in no danger of actually having to fight - has lyrics as relevant today (unfortunately) as they were when the song was originally written. This is an artist worth standing in the rain for. Fogerty was one of the best acts of the Music Midtown Festival.
I really tried to dislike this band. They are every bit as derivative as the other bands I bitched about in this review. The Killers, however, have the good sense to steal from bands that can write songs with hooks: The Cure and The Strokes. This will make you feel much less guilty about buying their CD on cut a year from now. Overall, the Killers are a very good band that could become great.
Sunday June 12, 2005:
Right: Joe Elliot of Def Leppard live in Atlanta 6-12-05 (photo by Ronnie)
Subtitled: "What the hell was I thinking?" There are two Def Leppard musical eras: The "two armed drummer" era and the "one armed drummer" era. The "two armed drummer" era Def Leppard wrote some catchy big hair metal hits that are a guilty pleasure. The "one armed drummer" era Def Leppard writes lame crap that panders to the absolute lowest drunken common denominator (i.e., people who watch "Spinal Tap" and ask you at the end of it if Spinal Tap were a "real" band). Def Leppard is stuck firmly in "one armed drummer" era. From the five songs I heard are in no danger of leaving this era any time soon. The Sig Heil's from their fans to the music of Queen's "We Will Rock You" played before Def Leppard set tells the whole story. Def Leppard's songs plodded along with all the grace of a bull in a china shop; a heavily sedated bull that is. Although one could say that Def Leppard should receive brownie points for sticking with their drummer, the fact that the drummer's condition ties him to heavy reliance on drum machines further hinders their already boring and uninspired material. Five songs were enough for me. In fact, five songs was about four too many. (Special thanks to Ear Candy writer William V. for pointing out the "one arm", "two arm" Def Leppard musical divide to me)
[Additional comments by Ronnie]
At first I was totally hyped to see Def Leppard again, especially after their fantastic 2003 appearance at Music Midtown. However, this year the band suffered from a bad choice of material! In fact, after 6 songs I left in disgust - the only decent song they played during my stay was "Foolin". In my 25+ years of seeing Def Leppard live this was the only show of theirs that I would describe as BAD!
While DJ Ivan was interviewing Gerald Casale of DEVO, I got to catch Joan Jett's awesome set! For me, Joan Jett was one of the highlights of this year's Music Midtown - she definitely "delivered the goods". This despite the sweltering heat of the afternoon. She is that rarity of rock - someone who can balance original material whilst delivering cover versions that are consistently good (i.e. her hit "Crimson and Clover") and then place her own unique twist on them. Some of the covers she played were "Androgynous" (The Replacements tune) and "Love Is All Around" (a.k.a. the "Mary Tyler Moore" theme, also covered in the '80s by Husker Du). However, the big surprise for me was the quality of her "new" songs (from her upcoming "Naked" CD)! And of course she played the expected hits: "Hate Myself for Loving You", "I Love Rock 'N Roll", and "Crimson and Clover". She said she would be back in the fall for a tour and I will definitely be there!
Right: Gerald Casale of DEVO live in Atlanta 6-12-05 (photo by Ronnie)
The only thing worst than not getting the musical joke posed by Devo is getting the joke. Devo bass guitarist Gerald Casale proved this point when he told the audience to “Scream like chimp if de-evolution is real”. Sure enough, the audience began chanting like monkeys before feeding time at the zoo. Devo stands for the notion that notwithstanding mankind’s self-congratulatory notions of progress, mankind is regressing (devolving) rather than progressing. Not knowing this allows the uninformed masses to feign shock as mankind goes down the tubes. On the other hand, knowing this doesn’t give one any real power to change the situation. The same weak mindedness that compels the masses to chant like chimps on cue also makes them blind to the cliff they are falling from. Our collective house is on fire, yet the sheep mentality of the masses prevents those in the know from putting out the blaze because the fire is handy if their cigarette needs a light. Instead of lamenting our fate, Devo revels in it. The fittest shall survive, yet the unfit may live. At the end of the day, we’re all Devo.
Note: This is a condensed version of the DEVO review - for the extensive review of the DEVO show and an interview with Gerald Casale Click here