Friday, February 22, 2019

Utopia Fest is a true Utopia

Posted by teibs On October - 18 - 2011

@ZackTeibloom I want to go to Utopia Festival for the rest of my life. This isn’t just post-festival-euphoria exaggeration. I was intoxicated with Utopia from the moment the afternoon sun started beating down on me in hill country, I became enthralled as Peelander Z blew my mind hole open, and became a lifer by the time I was lying on my back with Caitlin, during Danny Malone, looking up at an endless sea of stars. Let’s start at the beginning. After an exhausting week full of overtime at Apple, Caitlin and I desperately needed a day off. Most people wouldn’t consider 6 hours of driving and 6 hours of live music a relaxing day off, but we live for this stuff. With me navigating (usually a terrible idea) with no GPS service, (could have been a death sentence) we followed the festival’s perfect instructions (with details like “Stay right when at the Y. You will cross two other cattle guards before taking a left at the third”) and pulled into the fest grounds where we traded press e-mails for purple wristbands and entered Utopia.

After we walked around and got our festival bearings, Suzanna Choffel was the first show we locked into. Suzanna fronted the four-piece with style, playing a strong lead guitar with a flower in her hair, short black boots on her feet and a big shawl in between. The Utopia Fest veteran talked knowingly of the cool weather from the night before without having been there and discussed how it rained at the end of her set last year, but she was enjoying the “beautiful blue skies” of the fest before going into what she called a rain dance. I don’t mean to suggest that her band wasn’t impressive on their own. The other woman in the band switched around from keys to xylophone to accordion and played them all competently. The guys in the band played bass and drums, but weren’t particularly noticeable. Caitlin described the songs as laced with jazz and country, which I’ll agree with, but it felt mostly like straightforward rock. I found myself dancing along and enjoying it, despite not knowing any of it going in. We did head backstage for a drink during the last two songs, but kept an ear to the stage. I’d see them again. 8.3/10

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for theatrics, and Peelander-Z is a capital s Show. One letter doesn’t do them justice, they’re a caps lock SHOW. They were introduced as a cross between The Ramones and The Power Rangers. The kids in the audience wearing similar colored Power Rangers costumes gave weight to that assessment. They’re poppier than The Ramones,  and instead of singing about sniffing glue, they sing about tacos, steak and how there are too many Mikes, but I see the quick punk comparison. I would have thrown Les Savy Fav into the mix as well. I like to think they’re all still adjusting to life in America and write songs about new things that excite them. How can you not fall in love with a Japanese guy with flip up shades and hair like Bozo’s sidekick, died yellow, who yells “I’m so hungryyy!” after a song about “taco, taco, taco, taco, taco today!” And steak being “Medium, rarrreeee.” Look closely and you can see Peelander Yellow wearing Peelander Red’s wig over his dyed yellow hair while Red hung upside down to play bass.

At times I thought Peelander Yellow was the front man, but they all take their turns in the spotlight. Peelander Pink takes her turn to yell half English half Japanese lyrics and has the angry tiger outfit, Peelander Red has the hanging upside down trick and wears a giant squid costume and Peelander Green looks like he doesn’t know a word of English, but will hold up some signs when not playing drums. If I were to go through every extravagant show detail, I’d need a new post (which I guess I’ll have to do), but human bowling, crowd limbo, bringing up the crowd to play and, you know what, I’m gonna make this it’s own post. I love Peelander-Z! My face actually hurt from smiling after the show. When I saw them backstage later, I gushed about how awesome they were and asked when they were coming back to Austin. They said not soon, but also told me “Arigato,” which pretty much made my weekend.  9.4/10

Little Lo went on immediately after Peelander-Z on the smaller, more beautiful stage. I love Little Lo, but this was not a good set-up for them. Peelander-Z knocked us on our collective asses and it was just starting to get hot out, with The Black and White Years up next on the same stage. Hard to get the crowd across the field, but Caitlin and I booked it to Little Lo’s set and were literally the first ones there as they started their first notes. (See how there’ s no one in front of her for this picture?) Thankfully, the crowd started to fill in as they heard how gorgeous the young Austin band sounded in the hills. Unfortunately, Little Lo didn’t have George on violin/guitar, and Stephanie couldn’t hold a bow, so she was limited to one-handed keyboard because of her broken wrist. The power got cut less than a minute into their final song, as The Black and White Years took the stage across the field.

Despite all the things going against them, Little Lo powered through their 45-minute set, building a solid crowd as they went and sounding like a band a little more confident after going on their first tour. I think they did the best they could with what they were given. I was kind of drunk when I ran into Ryan McGill, their lead singer, after the show and I kept telling him they got screwed over by a tough time slot. He seemed happy with the performance, and I think he had good reason to be. They didn’t quite have the confidence they do in Austin with more friends in the crowd dancing, but they pulled off a more than capable set. Caitlin and I determined this was our 7th time seeing them and this was about their 3rd or 4th best show. The Parish EP release was far and away the best. I’m excited to see them back at full strength soon. 8.4/10

The Black and White Years were already underway as Caitlin and I scampered back to the main stage after they cut Little Lo off. The sun was beating directly down on the main stage and lead singer Scott Butler kept it red-hot. They’ve been named Austin’s best band in a number of polls, and with good reason. Smart lyrics and a tag as being “Devo light” with David Byrne stage presence and banter, but with more laughing, they’re a fun dance party that had the whole crowd grooving. When I wasn’t having a blast dancing with Caitlin, I was wondering what Little Lo lead singer Ryan was thinking as he watched the crowd intently from the side of the stage. I know I would have been wondering what I could do to get that reaction from my band, even though they’re a completely different kind of show. Also, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the wasted dude in front of us taking massive swigs from a mostly empty bottle of whiskey. I was convinced he’d pass out into a bale of hay in front of the stage, but he just hovered around like a heroin addict. I’m getting distracted. Even though they didn’t play two of our favorites, “Broken Hand” and “Cold,” The Black and White Years have a deep enough catalog that they had far more than enough for an hour-long set. Best banter was Scott saying he was going to look like a reverse raccoon after his set because he was staring at the sun with sunglasses for an hour. 9.1/10

The rest of the festival was all gravy. Literally. I got a bunch of free BBQ with gravy. I’m not going to Doc Collins this post and spend the whole time talking about how awesome it is to have a press pass, but Utopia Fest treated us like kings. Free BBQ, bottles of Fireman’s beer and 360 Vodka fueled us. In the less literal gravy aspect, we’d already seen two Austin favorites, caught a new act we liked and were completely blown away by Peelander Z. I was happy with anything that came next. Avi Buffalo covered “Funkadelic” as we met @risekevin IRL and a 360 vodka rep, who took us to her tent for a drink. We ended the night on our backs looking up at the stars as Danny Malone played sweet acoustic guitar. As Caitlin wrote on the quote wall of the fest, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” We can’t wait until next year. I’ll make sure to camp and stay all weekend.

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