Ten years ago my family rented a summer cabin in Wisconsin. One day, my father came bursting through the cabin door with a fearful look, perspiration covering his red flannel shirt. “We have to go,” he announced. He exchanged a knowing look with my mother, who tried to remain calm as she jumped out of her chair and began packing clothes into a suitcase by the armful. My sister and I were shoved into our minivan, and as we sped away from the fated cabin, sobbing, I demanded to know why we were leaving the cabin. That poor, damned cabin. My mother turned around to find my sister helplessly shivering in my arms. “Things aren’t going to be like they were,” she said. “Summer’s…. Summer’s…” but it was too late. It was too late to shield her children from the realities of life, from the horrors of that summer getaway. I heard a piercing sound, and turned to look out the back window. What I saw I will never forget: summer was caught off guard. It was being mutilated. Summer tried to defend itself, but was losing to the encroaching red leaves and abominable snowmen. I reached out in vain to the season I had come to love, but summer’s valiant efforts at self-defense were no match for the army of football players, holidays, and successful baseball teams tearing at its ice-cream-truck-arteries and school free-tissue. Lazy days were tossed carelessly from the carcass. I never forgot that day we barely made it out of that cabin alive. The day I saw summer die.
This weekend is the tenth anniversary of us making it out of that godforsaken cabin. And this year, I’m old enough to know summer’s fate, even if the temperatures and sting-y insects don’t. The North Coast Music Festival—sadistically billed as “Summer’s Last Stand”—knows too. But summer will not fight alone. I will stand alongside it and die if I must. The sound of the death of summer is something no Godfearing hipster should hear, but I will face it head on this weekend. The trauma must stop. Here are my five most particularly grueling, mortifying, favorite death-rattles of the festival.
Umphrey’s McGee: Saturday 8:30 – 10pm
If you love doing E, this festival will be the ideal place to meet that jam fan you’ve always dreamed about. Catch them near the stage (or passed out on its periphery) of this set. Umphrey’s has grown through numerous stylistic phases since forming at Notre Dame in 1997, and they have the musical chops to show off every single one. Stalwarts of the jam band scene though they may be, keep your assumptions about Keller Williams or Perpetual Groove away from these guys. They are a fantastically versatile collective of talent and no two songs sound the same. For instance: they are, when they want to be, one of the most fearsome speed-metal bands you’ll ever hear. Now listen to this.
Benny Benassi: Saturday 4:15 – 5:15pm
Once in a while, you find an electronic artist who seems to reach beyond the artifice of their medium and stir the soul, someone who raises the bar of what digital music can achieve. The rest of the time, there’s Benny Benassi, King of the Untz. As in, “untz untz.” As in, the fist-banging, undershirt sporting, sunglasses-at-a-concert rallying cry for what we can only assume is our generation. Benny Benassi’s definition of subtlety is to pronounce the “b” and then throw a disco ball full of hair gel at your face. My advice: submit to it. You won’t learn anything, you won’t grow as a person. But you will enjoy the hell out of this hour of dancing—and reinforce any preconceptions you had about dance music going into it. It’s like a hi-hat tour of Europe.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Sunday 3:30 – 4:30pm
No single act has galvanized the recent resurgence of New Orleans brass music as powerfully as has this Tremé-based outfit. What is ironic and telling about that fact is that they depart in many ways from traditional NOLA brass groups, from the instrumentation of their lineup to the R&B and funk styles that they marry into conventional second line music. What purists consider detraction is exactly what recruits fans from outside the genre, and what will ensure that you will feel strangely familiar inside the exotic grooves of a bygone world. With energetic harmonies bursting up and out of indomitable rhythms, America’s quirkiest city will be well represented in Union Park on Sunday. Refer to the video for this band’s philosophical stance on everything.
The Chemical Brothers: Friday 8:30 – 10:00pm
When this thing called house/electronica/big beat was clearly starting to go somewhere, it was the Chemical Brothers that lifted the music from an underground dance scene to an art form. Hip hop, funk, and rock were slickly coaxed through the crucible of high-energy dance to create music that could be enjoyed for its nuance as well as its propulsion. If you’ve never seen a DJ live before, this should be your introduction. First of all, this is a classic act within the genre. More importantly, though, the aesthetics that guide the Brothers’ live shows were developed in a time and place that was very hostile to the idea of a computer on a stage. Big beat was still rock and roll back then, and had they not lived up to the expectations of a crowd looking for excitement and vibrant musical interplay coming from the stage, we would never have heard of them. They have a legendary feel for the pulse of the crowd and melodic sensibilities not often found in later club music. Come for the energy. Stay to watch masters at work.
Loyal Divide: Sunday 1:45 – 2:30
The novelty of “electro-pop” has worn off. There has been a ceaseless supply of it available to anyone near a passing car radio. For every Ratatat or Passion Pit there are about fifty boring Casio composers from Brooklyn with too much ennui and not enough Wesley Willis. And ultimately, it’s not a magic trick that MGMT gets to be immensely popular and, say, Hot Chip seems to stall. Listeners are not, in fact, robots, and the music that offers little more than inconsequential, patient sonic algorithms will always have a smaller following than that which can flat out make you move. Enter Chicago band Loyal Divide, whose name could double as a description of their relationship to their own genre of music. With roots unabashedly in shoegazey electro, they have no qualms about making blippity-bloop introspection and emotion accessible. I expect this chill headphone candy to feature well in Sunday’s midday heat.
Boys Noize: If someone ever told German maximalist DJ Alexander Ridha that sound could not be made into a weapon, he’s certainly spent the rest of his life trying to prove them wrong. Check this out for uncompromising, straight-ahead beats. Is that a hint of trance I detect?
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: Court order says you can’t stalk Jenny Lewis or Zooey Deschanel anymore? Indie-pop siren Grace Potter is a great candidate for your next marriage proposal/basement shrine.
Nas and Damian Marley: I haven’t heard much about this duo yet, but I, like most people when they heard of this pairing, instantly knew how cool it was going to be. An iconoclast comfortable in his own well-established style sounds like an oxymoron. Here’s two.
Disco Biscuits: One of the most respected names in jamdom is unfortunately scheduled for the exact same time as the previously mentioned set, but you can’t go wrong here. Their unique fusion of electronica and considered, talented live improvisation makes them the leading candidate for “Most Stylistically At Home at NSMF 2010.”