Review / photos: Antiwarpt 2012 brings Mountain Goats, Florida's best bands to Central Avenue in St. Petersburg
Almost everywhere you looked Friday night, you could see the word in big white letters, on red T-shirts and teal posters and black and orange banners: ANTIWARPT.
That alone should tell you the Antiwarpt Music Festival has graduated to the no-foolin’-around, we-mean-business class of music fests. Like Bonnaroo, Ultra and the Warped Tour, among many others, it’s a legitimate brand – not just locally, but around the state, and, soon, potentially, beyond – and it’s one worth crowing about. When you have 99 bands (give or take) spread across 10 downtown St. Petersburg venues (11 if you count the corner of Central and Sixth, where Lake Worth’s Everymen jambushed a crowd around midnight), you’re officially big-league.
While most of the Tampa Bay indie music scene (and at least 70 percent of Tampa Bay’s facial hair) turned out for the third annual Antiwarpt, you didn’t have to be part of the scene to enjoy it. Antiwarpt was a smorgasbord of talent from every corner of Florida.
For local fans, it was one-stop-shopping to see some of the area’s best bands: Tallhart, who earlier this year signed to Equal Vision Records; Have Gun, Will Travel, whose songs have been featured on NPR; Zulu Wave, who recently returned from performing in Times Square at New York’s CBGB Festival; and Sleepy Vikings (top photo) South by Southwest veterans who were performing their final show with drummer Ryann Slauson. (The group’s final song at the Local 662, White Wolves, ended with Slauson in tears, wrapped in a consolatory hug from guitarist Julian Conner.)
But bands from Miami (Jacuzzi Boys), Jacksonville (the uplifting, Flaming Lips-y Sunbears!), Lakeland (reunited antsy-pantsy dance band Mouse Fire) and elsewhere offered hope that Antiwarpt could become an even bigger showcase for Sunshine State bands.
Orlando bands, in particular, turned out in force. Synth-popsters Saskatchewan filled the Local 662 with shimmery synths and dreamy disco jams. Throwback trio The Woolly Bushmen mixed rockabilly with British mod-rock for a feral, danceable set at the Emerald. And Andy Matchett and the Minks closed down Octave with a cathartic, life-affirming set involving confetti, streamers and a giant military parachute unfurled right on the club’s karaoke dance floor.
Lending Antiwarpt a bit of mainstream legitimacy were two national headliners, including cult indie-folk band Mountain Goats, who sold out Ybor City’s Crowbar in February.
Playing what he said was the band’s first show since March, tweedy singer John Darnielle was a burst of positive energy, grinning from ear to ear and performing with the infectious glee of a children’s entertainer.
The Mountain Goats treated the State Theatre crowd to the first live performance of the rollicking Cry For Judas, the first single from their forthcoming album Transcendental Youth (he said it was “deeply humbling” to see fans singing along, even though the song was only released days ago).
And L.A.'s Adrian Younge, the mastermind of the music from the comedy Black Dynamite, proved an un-showy bandleader (unless you count the fact that he undid his shirt about three songs in), but one who understood both the nuances of ‘70s funk-punk and psychedelia, as well as how to put together a band that could play it.
One thing Antiwarpt could use is a bigger outdoor stage, perhaps for a headliner. The one outside the Morean Arts Center was relatively sedate and laid back, and bands there and at Café Bohemia were left sweltering in the midday heat. “Dear Antiwarpt: Never have another band play at 3:30 in the afternoon,” said Doll Parts singer Stacey Berry after covering the Runaways’ Cherry Bomb.
For punk, Fubar was the day’s best venue. Spring Hill’s Nothing in the Dark left speakers trembling early in the day, Jensen Serf Co. later inspired raucous moshing in front of the stage. And everyone couldn’t get enough of Wolf-Face, whose members all dressed as Michael J. Fox’s character from Teen Wolf.
Really, though, you could have set up shop at any of Antiwarpt’s 10 venues, stayed there all day, and gone home happy. That’s the real reason Antiwarpt has become the biggest date on the local music calendar – there’s quality at every turn.
Ninety-nine bands at 10 venues? It’s just too much for one man to take in. I plotted and plotted, and still couldn’t find time to squeeze in a handful of bands on my must-see list for Saturday.
But of the nearly 40 bands I did see, I had a few favorites. Here are the 10 best sets I saw at Antiwarpt 2012, in no particular order. Who were yours?
Mountain Goats: Singer John Darnielle looked a bit rusty at times, futzing with his keyboard, and forgetting the words throughout Damn These Vampires (the crowd reminded him where to pick up). But otherwise, it was impossible not to dig Darnielle’s raucous story-songs. He has a unique voice that makes every lyric stick, cadence be damned, and his manic strumming couldn’t help but put you in a good mood.
Andy Matchett and the Minks: One can see how Orlando’s Matchett could garner a cultlike following in Central Florida. His shows are as candy-colored and visual as that of even the most ambitious national bands, and his power-pop singles (All This Time) are as sticky as bubblegum. This set featured a number of new songs, including the Jimmy Eat World-ish The Pants. But as always, the multicolored spectacle – the confetti, the streamers, the giant military parachute unfurled on the dance floor, with Matchett at the center, singing and smearing confetti all over – is what people will remember most.
Wolf-Face: They certainly made for the photo op of the night. Each member wore the same facial hair and old-school nut-huggers as Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf, and the result was maybe the most Warped of any Antiwarpt band. Playing songs like Pubes On My Face and Nobunny’s I Am a Girlfriend, Wolf-Face was sophomoric, shameless and stellar.
Jensen Serf Co.: These young punks filled Fubar with anarchic energy. Like Bleach-era Nirvana covering Best Coast from deep within a cave. Fans moshed, band members crowd-surfed – it was like an aural monster truck, but one of those monster trucks where bear claws come out of the tires, you know? Whatever, man. Metaphors suck.
The Woolly Bushmen: The Emerald was jam-packed for these Orlando retro-revivalists, whose psychedelic mod-meets-rockabilly garage rock sounded like Buddy Holly fronting the Troggs, or Jerry Lee Lewis covering Incense and Peppermints. As singer Julian Palombi growled and yipped through a whip-smart set, there was no room to dance. People danced anyway.
Saskatchewan: A big crowd packed the Local 662’s dance floor for Orlando disco-dreamers Saskatchewan, who brought chills to the venue with laid-back pop and R&B packed with synths and chimes. Recommended if you like MGMT, Washed Out and the softer side of Yeasayer.
Tidal Wave: This groovy, mostly instrumental trio from Land O’Lakes played cool, Pulp Fiction-y surf rock with slightly sinister undertones at the Emerald. The drum break in Legend called to mind Radiohead’s There There. They were handing out free demo CDs outside Daddy Kool; they’d make perfect driving music for cruises up and down the coast.
Spiller: The’90s power-pop trio has reemerged in 2012, and it’s not hard to see why – their country-tinged singles called to mind Fountains of Wayne (Sooner or Later) and Blur (Coward reminded me of Coffee and TV). Their afternoon show at the Local 662 was an early highlight.
Rec Center: Performing swoon-worthy ballads from their album Tin Year, Susie Ulrey and Michael Waksman traded smooth, dreamy vocals that left the crowd at the Local 662 feeling like they were enveloped in a cozy cocoon.
RedFeather: One of Café Bohemia’s higlights was St. Petersburg’s Redfeather, who combined twinkly keys, swirling synths, high harmonies and complex Native American rhythms into a freak-folk spectacle. Fans of the band (and, no doubt, of Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket and Crosby Stills Nash and Young) packed the courtyard.
For photos of these bands and others, check out Soundcheck's Twitter feed, where we were tweeting and Instagramming up a storm on Saturday.
Finally, tbt*'s Eve Edelheit was on hand snapping photos at Antiwarpt 2012. Here are some of her photos.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photos (except Wolf-Face): Eve Edelheit, tbt*