This past Saturday, July 23, the first ever Gorilla vs. Bear Festival went down at the Granada and while the burning question on everybody’s minds of who would win in a fight between a gorilla and a bear was not answered, some great music and historic events took place. The line up was filled with some of the most exciting and ground breaking young acts in music today, many from our own backyards in the DFW area and Austin, including Dreamed, Sunset, Pure X, Sleep ∞ Over, Grimes, Julianna Barwick, Shabazz Palaces, Preteen Zenith, and White Denim. With DJ Sober pumping the tunes in between sets and keeping the crowd moving, the party went on deep into the night with audience members leaving undoubtedly exhausted, but happily satisfied with a one of a kind festival experience.
Starting the festival’s inaugural showing was Dreamed, the project of Denton’s Jessica Minshew. Dreamed brought a hazy brand of melancholic chillwave to open the set as the duo that makes up the project’s live line up worked from backing tracks, reverb heavy guitar, synthesizers, drum machines and bass. On Minshew’s few bedroom recordings as Dreamed, the artist gives off a summery and appropriately dreamy vibe from songs influenced by shoegaze and electronica but the duo’s live set clearly needs some polishing. Backing tracks were frequently triggered incorrectly and adjusting the sound of instruments and synths to fit the right song proved to be a challenge for Dreamed. A lack of experience on the band’s part could very well have been at fault and though there was definite sloppiness and not much comfort shown onstage, the core of Dreamed’s music showed promise as this band will likely continue to develop and wow us all in the future.
Austin trio Sunset took the stage next for their blend of quirky shoegaze influenced rock and roll. The band charged out of the gate with squalling guitars and drums that were pounded hard enough to rattle the theater’s infrastructure. There was a clear confidence from the band and a “we don’t care what you think” attitude, as the band’s diverse personality was translated through their music. Everything was going great before Sunset’s third song, a heavily distorted dance-punk rave up that featured two bass guitars and a pulsating drum groove. The funny stream of consciousness lyrics made it difficult to take the song seriously, and such a task was made even more difficult as the groove started to fall apart near the songs end. Sunset ended their set with an older, piano based track that toed the line between carnival pop and noise rock delivering a set that had certain issues, but was fun and enjoyable nonetheless.
Next on the line up was Austin psych rockers Pure X who brought a surprising intensity to their normally mild mannered and spacey songs. Mid tempos and guitars drenched in reverb, echo, and distortion abounded as the band worked behind a smoky stage set up and moody lighting. The audience was treated to songs from the band’s debut record Pleasure (2011) that sounded absolutely massive in the live setting. Vocalist/guitarist Nate Grace’s instantly recognizable guitar sound was free to shift and move across the open space as the band’s songs felt like living, breathing entities rather than merely rock and roll songs. The audience seemed to be transfixed as the surprisingly thick live arrangements of Pure X’s sound washed over the theater and Grace sang with a power and conviction that was not heard on Pleasure and though there was not much stage banter and the band was slow in their movements, they clearly commanded the stage in an emotionally arresting and hauntingly intimate set.
Sleep ∞ Over
Keeping with what at this point in the night could easily have been called a theme, Austin’s creepy, hazy synthpop group Sleep ∞ Over brought big beats and spacey atmospherics to the stage. Bassist Sarah Brown was conspicuously absent from the performance, so Pure X bassist Jesse Jenkins graciously filled the void. The band’s sleepy, reverb soaked sound and stylized synthesizer settings gave off the feeling of listening to the soundtrack from “Miami Vice” through a dying cassette tape with beats that told your feet to move but your brain to be delightfully creeped out. Being another young band with minimal onstage experience, Sleep ∞ Over did not have the most compelling stage presence, but the confident Jenkins added as a prop backing up the band’s onstage appearance. Vocalist/keyboardist Stefanie Franciotti showed off soaring pipes using her voice to add layered vocal texture to the band’s slithering and swampy pop. Sleep ∞ Over was another young band showing promise and introducing a larger audience to their utterly unique and individual sound.
Bringing in infectious pop songs that sounded as if they had been beamed in from a galaxy far far away, the instantly likable Grimes acted as the first set of the night that clearly got every member of the audience on her side. Showing off a personality that the word “bubbly” could not even begin to do justice to, Grimes was a delight to watch onstage. With a sparse stage set up that was oddly compelling, the singer alone onstage with only a keyboard, microphone, and sampler, Grimes confidently got the crowd going as huge applause erupted for underground hits like “Vanessa” and “Crystal Ball”. Utilizing idiosyncratic dance moves, displaying a deft hand at the keyboard, and singing in a cartoony but completely unironic style, Grimes really got the party started on Saturday night. However, working completely by herself and certainly not making it look easy, the set was subject to a few technical difficulties and the singer often broke songs in the middle to ask the audience if they could hear everything, showing a certain level of unprofessionalism. This could easily be forgiven though as Grimes’ songs were mostly so well done and infectiously pleasurable that it was clear the majority of the audience was too focused on the great time they were having as Grimes performed.
Vocal manipulator and loop master Julianna Barwick was scheduled next, bringing a truly one of a kind style to the Granada as she displayed her airy and soothing songs that are influenced equally by ambient music, vocal choirs, tribal rituals, and down to Earth minimalism. A live Julianna Barwick performance is usually transfixing as it is frankly incredible to watch the singer do what she does as she methodically adds layer upon layer of her angelic, wordless vocals on top of each other, creating her own choir to back herself up. At any one time there could be as many as 25 vocal loops all going at once not sounding chaotic but in fact perfectly locked in with each other, as Barwick has clearly mastered the style of music she has chosen to work in. Unfortunately, playing to a crowd that was clearly restless and ready for music that would get the blood pumping, the haunting songs became background music for audience chatter. Competing with hundreds of people, the songs were lost in the mix as the intended effect of getting lost in the singer’s thick vocal soup could not be achieved. Julianna Barwick gave it her all however and those who were paying attention were treated to a performance that was moving, passionate, and affecting.
Shabazz Palaces, one of the most forward thinking rap groups around right now, played next, ready to rock to the house. The duo of former Digable Planets and Cherrywine MC Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler and percussionist/vocalist Tendai Maraire brought tracks from their outstanding debut record Black Up (2011) along with songs from the group’s earlier EPs along with eyeball rattling bass, extended percussion jams, and Butler’s defiant, minimalist flow. Somewhat goofily choreographed dance moves made the performance not as serious as Black Up can seem, proving that the duo can laugh at themselves through their calls to action and occasionally scathing comments on 21st century culture. Throughout the performance though, the audience appeared to be divided into two camps: those who were completely enraptured by what somehow turned into a party set and those who clearly had a predisposed prejudice against all forms of rap music. Despite the fact that Shabazz Palaces errs far from the camps of sterilized, chart topping hip-hop, it was clear that to some that the sound of a flow and a beat were just not something that could be dealt with which was unfortunate because the duo was in top form throughout the set. Butler attacked his rhymes with a sneer and swagger that added a nice bite to each syllable and the beats of songs like “Free Press and Curl” and “An Echo to the Host that Professes Infinitum” showed off the artistry the duo brings to the rap game.
In what will surely now become the most infamous aspect of the Gorilla vs. Bear Fest, the debut performance of Preteen Zenith led by former Tripping Daisy and current Polyphonic Spree frontman Tim Delaughter was, to say the least, unlike anything else that happened at the festival on Saturday night. First of all, the band was a whopping 40 minutes late to start their set and the performance finally began with a lengthy introduction video displayed on the theater’s main
screen showing the surrealist plight of two cowboys trying to survive in the wild over the course of a day. The screen finally lifted as the impressively positive audience cheered a dark, smoke filled stage with five musicians dressed uniformly in mostly black shirts and Delaughter at center stage, lighting a single candle. A backing track of dreamy, high pitched folk rock played as Delaughter walked around the stage with the candle for what seemed like an eternity. The backing track finally came to its close and Delaughter blew out the candle. At that exact moment the stage lighting exploded as it was revealed that the stage was covered in rainbow disco balls and blinding white lights that were used throughout the performance. The band ripped into a stadium sized piece of psych rock that could likely show equal influence from Tripping Daisy and the Polyphonic Spree as Preteen Zenith’s style hemmed closer to the acid rock of Delaughter’s first band but played with the grandiose ambition of his huge psych pop orchestra. The singer was given generous space to prance around the stage like the candy coated grand marshal of some enormous parade witnessed while tripping on acid, easily displaying the most comfortability with fronting a band of any of the musicians playing Saturday. The set ended prematurely as Preteen Zenith had already greatly exceeded their allotted stage time, with the screen coming down on the band before they could play their final song. It should be mentioned though that Preteen Zenith at this point had only been practicing together for a week’s time and the onstage set up was a sight to behold being elegant but whimsical. Perhaps once Preteen Zenith develops more fully as a band they will be able to work out the kinks in songs, as pleasing elements in the music were present, they just weren’t executed in the best and most efficient way possible. As Preteen Zenith becomes a more stable entity, they will more than likely turn into a heavy psychedelic force to be reckoned with.
Being subject to huge set time cuts, White Denim got onstage fast and tried to bang through an extremely high energy set with virtually no space in between songs but even under such constraints, the Austin foursome proved why their live shows have been so lauded by critics and fans alike. A tremendous amount of energy was displayed by the band as they quickly won over an audience that would obviously accept nothing less than a stellar performance at this point in the set. White Denim happily obliged, playing a breakneck set of crowd pleasing numbers from across their catalogue. The band kicked into each song with a conviction and intensity that had not been matched all night showing off their individual mix of blues, progressive rock, garage, jazz, and folk. James Petralli sung with fury and passion and worked into his guitar solos with the same strength of personality and musicianship as did the rest of the band. The set came to its emotional climax when the band speedily broke into hit “Shake Shake Shake” which achieved its title’s intention, getting the audience moving and rattling the rafters of the theater. In the midst of what was easily the best set of the night, White Denim played as long as they could, tragically having to cut their performance short due to time constraints as the audience noticeably was clamoring for more. Despite the disappointment of the festival’s headliners being shut down early, everyone left home happy and those who stayed for White Denim were clearly wowed by an incredible set and successful first festival for Gorilla vs. Bear.
We thank Gorilla vs. Bear for the festival and can’t wait for next year’s fest!