HFStival 1995

Given that there's no Woodstock this year and that I can't afford to goto Roskilde, I decided to check out what I think is the next best thing: HFStival 1995, at the RFK Stadium in DC, featuring Shudder to think, Juliana Hatfield, Better than Ezra, Mike Watt, Bush, General Public, Primus, PJ Harvey, Soul Asylum, and The Ramones. The second stage featured Suddenly, Tammy!, Mother May I, Candy Machine, Tripping Daisy, Scarce, Archers of Loaf, and Hum. This line up is a music lover's dream, but unfortunately I decided to be lazy and stick to the main stage for the most part.

Shudder to Think started off the proceedings on the main stage and the reception was luke-warm. The DC-based noise band's off-time and dissonant music did not suit the crowd at all. They are okay for a noise band, but the acoustics sucked and it didn't help much when their songs sounded like pure distortion.

Juliana Hatfield played stuff off of her new album Only Everything, released in March this year, and the only reason I recognise this was because I was listening to WHFS a few days before the show and they played the stuff here. She was formerly in the Blake Babies (who did the song Nirvana in 1991 in the Rosy Jack World EP, and I think it is what first showcased Hatfield's talent as a songwriter). The thing that was most striking was that there was a heavier guitar sound than I'd heard on the studio releases and somehow this seemed to make a difference to her songs. When I first heard her solo stuff, I dismissed the sound as another "Alternative" clone, but I now think it would be worthwhile investigating her. She did seem to like tossing picks into the audience. Also, the people seemed to get into her more.

Better than Ezra is a band whose music I am not familiar with at all, but it is a familiar kind of music they make: power pop. Their performance was tight and the crowd seemed to like them too.

I missed seeing Mike Watt and the Foo Fighters at the Black Cat, but I can only imagine how good of a show it must've been. Still not having obtained his latest release, Ballhog or Tugboat?, but acquainted with his work in fIREHOSE and the Minutemen, Watt has impressed me with his bass-playing and songwriting. However, even though Watt was spectacular here (I like it when he suddenly slams the bass), I thought the guitarist stole the show. Watt and the guitarist (Nels Cline) played off of each other putting on a great performance! Watt carried the spirit of Big Bottom Pow Wow (a fIREHOUSE release featuring Les Clapoool of Primus, Watt, and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) in his live set when he asked Clapool to join him for the last song he performed. This was clearly an impromptu jam, and the guitarist seemed a bit lost here, but I thought Claypool's doodling on the bass was pretty cool.

Bush is a band that I am familiar with, but they don't do much for me, except for the one song (Everything Zen) they play all the time on the radio (indicating that it is a result of me being brainwashed by constant airplay). They sound like a Seattle band clone, but they're from the U.K. Their songs are very catchy proving once again (they did this with punk, metal, blues, etc.) that the Brits have turned taking something started in this country and making it more palatable to masses into an higher art form.

General Public was another group whose music I wasn't familiar with, but they were good. Reggae- and ska-based pop, they had the most danceable tunes of all the groups.

Courtney Love was a surprise guest. I'm not a big Hole fan except for Good Sister, Bad Sister, and didn't get into her as much as the rest of the crowd did (she was clearly the performer who got the most response from the crowd). She dived into the stage and came out with the front of her outfit ripped out. Her response was "I bet Kurdt would've appreciated that" and an invitation for a fist fight. Yeh right, as if security would've let that happen.

Primus">The crowd welcomed Primus, the band I was looking forward to see, as usual, with chants of "Primus sucks!" However, the crowd's enthusiasm for the band was indicated by a distinct lack of disrespect which involved throwing stuff on stage. This clearly made Les Claypool mad (as it always does, even though he didn't walk off the stage this time). What amazed me was that whenever someone would throw stuff at him, they'd stop playing and Larry LaLonde and Tim Alexander would continue playing while Claypool would make comments like "that's two dipshits in this audience," and when he was done, the playing would automatically resume where they left off.

They played To Defy the Laws of Tradition, Here Come the Bastards, Damn Blue-collared Tweekers, Winona's Big Brown Beaver, My Name is Mud, Professor Nutbutter's House of Treats, another new song whose name I'm not familiar with, and Jerry was a Race Car Driver. A cool thing Clapool did was bring in PJ Harvey's guitarist, Joe Gore (who played with Tom Waits on Bone Machine), during Damn Blue-collared Tweekers and jammed with him. He said something like (I think) "this is one of the best guitarists we have today."

PJ Harvey was next and it is clear her newer stuff is lot less abrasive than her older releases (especially the 4-track demos). I really expected her show to be more aggressive than it was but I could've well been watching the Go Go's.

I've never been a big fan of Soul Asylum, but they didn't play Runaway Train or Leave without a Trace (a song I actually like by them). They did play Somebody to Shove and a lot of stuff from their upcoming album Let Your Dim Light Shine which will be released on Tuesday along with Primus' latest Tales from the Punchbowl. You can guess which one I'll get.

The HFStival 1995 program states regarding the Ramones that "Every artist on the HFSTival bill owes a debt of gratitude to this band." Except for Tony Bennett, I believe. The crowd really liked him and I thought it was cool, given his age and all (how old is he anyways?), to sing like he did.

I personally liked the crowd, even though most people would dismiss them as "alternateens." Ah, to be young and unihinibited again. I really liked their youthful exuberance. They seemed to be having a good time without being the under the influence of anything, even though there was a lot of weed floating around. They tended to favour the more mainstream bands that receive a lot of airplay on WHFS.

The Ramones are acknowledged as being the founding fathers of punk, but somehow I think the charm they projected when I was a lot younger has gone. While they make pretty decent punk rock (an oxymoron, if you ask me), they are not exactly punks. In a highly stereotypical display of what a rock concert should be (glittering lights, glitzy backdrop), they punched out aggressive songs in a row. The crowd, since this was the last band, decided to move out during this period which was a bit of a shame since this might be the last time we'll ever see them live (Johnny Ramone (who happens to be a conservative :) has said the group's next effort, to be released soon, titled Adios Amigos, will probably be the last one).

The acoustics hurt The Ramones the most. On the way back, someone was mimicking their set going "1-2-3-4 dah dah da da da 1-2-3-4 dah dah da da da." I thought this was hilarious, but part of the reason people couldn't tell the difference between the songs was because everything sounded like distortion. It was very hard for me to make to even some of the songs they were singing (and I'm familiar with quite a few of them).

The highlight of their show was when they covered the classic I don't wanna Grow Up, originally done by Tom Waits.

"When I see the 5 o'clock news, 
 I don't wanna grow up.
 Comb their hair and shine their shoes, 
 I don't wanna grow up.
 Stay around in my old hometown, 
 I don't wanna put no money down.
 I don't wanna get me a big old loan, 
 work them fingers to the bone.
 I don't wanna float a broom,
 fall in love and get married then boom.
 How the hell did I get here so soon?
 I don't wanna grow up."
    ---Tom Waits, I don't wanna Grow up
"There's a shitload of people here. If anyone asks you if you've seen a shitload of people, you just point around you." --Les Claypool


Gregory Gardner writes: The name of the guitarist is Nels Cline. He's been playing for several years with the Nels Cline Trio in L.A., & is certainly the most innovative guitarist I've ever seen. The Trio put out a couple of singles, one of which featured M. Watt on bass, and played very intricate & often dissonant avant-jazz. Perhaps now Nels will begin to receive some of the recognition he deserves: he has to be heard to be believed!

Music ram-blings || The Cheesy Primus Page || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || June 3, 1995