May 13th, 2011

Loopster Live: Buzzfest 26

Like Swallows to Capistrano and the bulls of Pamplona, Spring brings the running of the bros to The Woodlands Pavilion for Buzzfest. This month’s edition brought some interesting developments, most noticeably a more diverse, mainstage line-up – assuming a paucity of Affliction in your wardrobe. Crowd behavior was noticeably improved over years past and as such security actually returned smiles.

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The crowd was also noticeably thinner, despite the most temperate weather I’ve seen at Buzzfest since October ‘07’s XX. And while I think there were several factors, much of the talk I heard and blogs I read pointed fingers at the lineup:

Main Stage: Jane’s Addiction, Social Distortion, Seether, Puddle of Mudd, Flogging Molly, The Airborne Toxic Event, New Politics.

Side Stage: The Dirty Heads, Evans Blue, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Middle Class Rut, My Darkest Days, Young the Giant, Electric Touch.

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I’ll concede that several of these acts aren’t as “hard” as one might expect from Buzzfest, but I’d argue that an honest assessment of previous years will show that there have always been some fuzzier acts with attempts to appeal to a broader audience, from teen girls to still-rocking boomers. FFS, it’s a festival! The argument that the lineup wasn’t reflective of The Buzz’s heavy rotation or that their core sound was more likely to be heard at the sidestage… Can you really be upset that Buzz catered to listeners AND brought a lineup of established, respected performers?

Regarding the main stage vs side stage debate, it should be noted that rabid fans have a chance to get to the front row at the side stage. Without reserved seating dedicated fans could camp for the chance to get within a few yards, a factor for some bands preferring to play the side stage.

The majority of the acts on both stages were repeat artists, and I have to believe that some level of “seen it, heard it” was a factor in the presumptive audience’s demand. Conversely, many Social Distortion and Jane’s Addiction fans seemed to have completely missed the news that either acts was performing. Credit/blame niche marketing and our individual silo-ing of musical listening and awareness that this was the case. For instance, seeing Flogging Molly jam in the daylight was a bit disjunctive, and the barely of drinking age fan who attempted to start a mosh found himself slammed by a pack of suburban dads intent on protecting their dearly-priced, rapidly-warming foam.

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To those who left before the last two main acts, I have to say you missed strong performances. Social D plays without stage monitors. It’s an old school, straight-ahead rock show with a driving percussive sound from drums and guitars alike. I overheard multiple people who learned for the first time that Social D was responsible for some classic punk-rock tunes they had grown up with. I’m not sure if this a comment on a generational gap among music fans or a lack of lineup awareness.

If anything, folks who paid a premium in the pit are allowed complaint as the sound immediately in front of the stage was distinctly muted without the monitors. The fans in the lawn were treated to the best sound, and those there were soaking it in.

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As for Jane’s Addiction, these guys are some of the most energetic, charismatic performers. I’ve seen less established and more frenetic shows, but Jane’s deserves credit for their ability to own the stage and engage their audience. I could complain that the setlist lacked enough new material, but that would put me in the minority, and kept to an 11 song set, there wasn’t much time.

Of note: In answer to the most recent “where were you when” moment, halfway through the main set, Perry minced no words in announcing OBL’s death:

I’ll get the Woodlands/Buzzfest complaints out of the way: beer high, parking mixed, water bottles banned (I still find the argument that plastic bottles “can be used as a weapon” to be so odd given the many, more dangerous options that could be sourced once inside.)

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Production: Festival minimal. Jane’s had a suspension act and two bound, lingerie-attired Etty clones, but other than that, acts were kept to a simple staging, although I will post a picture of Seether’s John Humphrey’s kit which managed to reveal something of his personality.

Mix-Tape Mash-Up: Not sure how to segue from Flogging Molly to Puddle of Mud.

Stoney: I was at the sidestage most of the day. Way more intense. Shout out back to buds in “Evans Blue.” But a warning to my friends out there, careful about getting too close to the fence, those mounted cops can peek right over. Easier to pass it on that to disappear quickly.

[All photos taken by Alexander at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. More found at flennerfoto.com.]

— Alexander

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