Before even reaching Boises downtown there was something different in the air for this years Treefort Music Festival. Namely, there were construction cranes cutting through the Boise skyline, a sight unseen for at least seven years. Most notable is the skyrise sprouting at the corner of 8th and Main Streets, a site previously referred to as The Boise Hole, for its ambitious plans for large development and subsequent loss of backing it was literally a giant hole in the ground for more than 10 years, a downtown void for a decade, the mental presence of something larger, but unrealized without the help of the more dedicated. The tower there is finally going up.
Maybe the metaphor is a little too easy when applied to Treefort, a grassroots festival centered on the Pacific Northwest with big-time risk and scope. But the timing is just too perfectthe bands playing the fest doubled to 300, the fans seeing the shows tripled to between 5,000 and 6,000 daily. Even with Animal Collective canceling their headline set and festival organizer Eric Gilbert tempering expectations, Treeforts second year, as they say, popped off.
So it seems to finally be Boises moment, given the spate of national attention the city of just over 200,000 residents is receiving for its economic and cultural developments. This includes The Atlantic naming Boise the 6th Hottest Music City in America, in March 2012, which was bestowed by stringent mathematical standards (lol). And of course I have to mention the continued surge of Boises ascendant pop star Youth Lagoon, whose chilly late Sunday mainstage set was easily one of the most attended of the four-day fest.
After the inaugural Finn Riggins (Gilberts band) festival-opening set at the El Korah Shriners Hall, YumaDudes properly welcomed me to Treefort with open arms. An ongoing project between son-father-wife trio of 13-year-old drummer Venec, guitarist Jeremy, and singer Nora, all of the Milione clan, the set was nothing but lighthearted. YumaDudes sounded as playful as They Might Be Giants with a psychedelic garage bent that made it obvious the only thing they take seriously is having fun. Handing out sleigh bells and lyric sheets, and unfurling a multicolored parachute onto the crowd to close the show, cemented that.
But on the other end of serious, Boises blackened doom occult duo Wolvserpent takes honors for Thursdays standout act; this was beyond excellent sets from Wampire and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. After more than 10 years of performing together, Brittany McConnell and Blake Green have shaped their sound from chopped classical violin-and-drum dirges to carefully orchestrated gore: the sludge of down-tuned guitars, a mask of synth haze, occasional caterwauling vocals. On stage, banners of oroborous topped with bleached cow skulls and antlers flanked the band that stood in darkness. For the Moorish wanderings of the bands recordings, I did not expect such power from the pair and literally stood mouth agape for the better part of their set of deconstructed black metal drumming, bent pinch harmonics, swirling howls, and heart-stuttering impactsits the sound of rigor mortis setting in. (Wolvserpent signed to Relapse Records late last year. Green told me to expect that release sometime near this September.)
When Earth took the stage Thursday night, it was to an at-capacity crowd at Neurolux. It was the first time in the Seattle bands 20-plus years theyd ever made it to Boise. Surprising in its own right, but not quite so as Wolvserpents Green on bass and Built to Spills Brett Netson on lead guitar backed Earth leader Dylan Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies. Rumors had spun earlier about a three-hour sound check forcing the venue to close. But it became evident it was more of a rehearsal, the last of three, Green told me later, for the ad hoc band. They sounded tight, which is admirable at such slow and loose tempos, playing selections from The Bees Made Honey In The Lions Skull, both Angels of Darkness Demons of Light LPs, and some new material. But even fans couldnt handle too much of the doom Spaghetti Western and the room nearly emptied before Earth wrapped the set.
By then, my choice band White Lung had finished across town, so I caught the tail end of a raucous but otherwise unremarkable Sage Francis performance at The Reef to close the night. The standout moment was Sages declaration of Fuck Vibe Magazine! (maybe related to this?) because what the hell?
Fridays blustery, cold day of events began on the main stage with soulful Seattle garage rockers Pickwick scrapping a song for the sake of vocalist Galen Disstons freezing throat his warming cords just couldnt pull the R&B high-register dive bombs hes become known for. But the band kept composure while the audience lost heat I had to bail to buy an extra sweater and a scarf. When I later returned, Delicate Steve played their second show of Treefort in T-shirts, refusing to let themselves or the audience go cold, directing calisthenics between songs of mostly instrumental, loopy, weird riffs, and shredding drums.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings went on well after the sun set and the temperature dipped into the low 30s. This groups polish is by now nearly wearing through, having a strict script to follow. This includes Jones pulling ladies onstage to dance and, if I remember correctly, her shedding layers. But her loss of her cardigan to reveal her sequined mini meant more than usual in the near-freezing temperatures. In this setting, Jones, her Dapettes, and the Dap Kings (the horn players particularly) deserve points for delivering the same performance to a freezing outdoors as they would in the small halls to which they are accustomedone of the best-rehearsed bands in the game.
Fridays standout was again a Boise act, the choppy post-punk of Deaf Kid. The quartet takes just about every early cue of David Byrne and reforms it in pouty angst, fronted by Dominic Munoz and Jacob Milburn. These Marquee Moon-faced dudes caught my ear with the excellent single Squirm and proved live just how strange and incestuous the young Boise music network is becoming, keeping solos taut, aping Dead Gaze(s) at the audience, and generally pulling things back for the sake of clearing out sentiment, though rarely tawdry. When I told them later, I like your band, they had to ask, Which one? Munoz is in Cat Massacre, Milburn in Art Fad, and Matt Stone is in Fountains. Deaf Kid is a young band made up of young bands, but they certainly know how to craft a massive hook from very little.
Both Friday and Saturday nights I ended in the heart of Downtown Boise, at China Blue. This venue is generally regarded as a dance club, where Boises wealthier nine-to-fivers go for bottle service, hypemen, and the kind of dancing akin more to a Big Sean video than the Feist clips most festival patrons were probably familiar with. But the club regulars were there, too, audibly miffed by the presence of stiffly gyrating or awkwardly losing-it Cool Kids, there to watch RUMTUM and Baths and Big Ups. The standout Friday was Slow Magic, who has added acoustic drums since the last time I saw him but still kept the oversized neon African mask. Baths was simply not loud enough to make an impact as the last-minute replacement for the much-hyped Gold Panda, who was trapped by snow (apropos) in Berlin. Saturday, it was Shlohmo and Shigeto and Psychache, the former in all black, the latter in full, face-painted-white.
Both nights there, the topic of discussion was the full-circle that China Blue years and years ago known as Joes 6th and Main had made. Joes was the inauguration point for many of Boises scene vets, a venue as storied in life as it was mourned in death there was a dearth when the venue changed hands. Certainly theres a difference between seeing a Shlohmo DJ set and a full Weezer or Shat show there. But to watch the Treefort imposition this far east into town was remarkable. There was a sense of reclamation and ownership for the sub-mainstreamers who made use of the clubs two showcase rooms and many levels.
Treefort is a clubhouse name, a requisitely juvenile title, at times exclusionary (a certain Simpsons clip comes to mind). But Treefort is also whatever you make of itin this case, the fest had brought peace to a long-smoldering grudge, showing how superficial the differences of the past had become.
Starting my Saturday with the dreamy sky-high math-pop of The Oneirics was not the best decision. Vocalist Anthony Zaccheos lyrics are yearning, lonesome, his voice elastic and unique. I ended up trying to hold back tears through most of the set, but that was for personal reasons I left a band with Zaccheo to write in New York, where I still live.
So picking up on YACHTs positivity or nothing attitude over on the main stage was a great remedy. Clad in the black-and-white that reflects the absolutist tack of the band, Claire L. Evans vamped and strutted and jumped in the crowd. She handled a spate of technical difficulties by taking questions from the audience, during which we learned Speed is technically her favorite Keanu Reaves movie, not her favorite Sandra Bullock movie. YACHTs Evans and Jonah Bechtolt, joined by their backing band The Straight Gaze, as per usual, took their to dance punk to aerobic maximum, much to the delight of another freezing audience.
Much of the crowd dumped out when The Walkmen took the stage, myself included.
Boises electro-pop quartet Shades took their time setting up an impressive MIDI-controlled system of light pillars that added massive flair to their already tight performance. It was also the groups first show with drummer Nathan Hope, an erstwhile ex-pat who spent the better part of the last few years in Norway. Considering the potential problems of the complex new visual set up and the live drummer, there was plenty to go wrong. And yet the biggest concern for the band was keyboardist Louie Bash passing into seizure. Bash, who had a history of epilepsy as a kid, suffered a massive electric shock at a rehearsal the night before this performance. Later that night, he started suffering convulsions and the paramedics were brought to check him out. He survived the show, as did the blinding LED columns and Hopes chops.
Over at the Crux, Brother Dan packed the house with his avant-folk psychedelic rock. Brother Dan, aka Dan Kerr, plowed through the material on his excellent The Orb release, showcasing why hes regarded by other Boise artists as the best songwriter in Boise. (I heard this a few times during the set.) Youth Lagoons touring guitarist Logan Hyde surprised the crowd on drums, alongside Jake Warnock on bass, formerly of Kerrs psychedelic dance act Atomic Mama, and now also of Youth Lagoon. It was a forceful, fun, purposefully loose set.
The tenor at the semi-posh Linen Building Sunday afternoon was: Why all this heavy shit here today? It was a legitimate gripe, when half a dozen young punks were kicked out during the set of Raid, the Boise d-beat vets one person punched a security guard in the face and then stomach. All but the offending violent ones were let back in during a requisite Spartacus moment from the band, but the setting still seemed strange. By the time sludge-core aggressors Blackcloud (pictured) took the stage, the mood in the heavy-curtained room was at high contrast to the sunny weather outside, and Blackcloud milked it. Theres something to be said for the dialed-in tone of the angry straightedge quintet, amps, and cabs mismatched like a patchwork speakerwall. It was dark as hell, a kind of thoughtful hopesuck, If you arent pissed, you arent paying attention the lyric best summing up their vibe. I skipped out on the Linen for festivities elsewhere until the sludge-grunge double-guitar punishment of Naomi Punk later that night. They would be the last band I saw, battering me to hell and making me realize how exhausted Id become over the weekend.
Au and Dan Deacon tied for the best show of Sunday. Brought in last-minute to fill the Animal Collective vacancy, Au takes points for apropos sunny joy. They scraped together their recent six-piece touring band for a set that matched both the warmth of the sun and the crisp air perfectly: two trombones and a tenor sax were added to the clarinet, drums, keys, and vocals the band brought along last year. Over the years, watching the band develop on record and live, it was the first time Au really sounded like Au liveeven the complex, Sousa-by-Barnum march of RR vs. DD got the full treatment, to excellent effect, if only five or six years too late.
Dan Deacon dance-off
Dan Deacon would close the main stage. He seemed miffed by the cold and the inability to get a single floor-tom mic working on one of the two drum kits he brought along with his circuit-bent lofi Bacchanalia setup. But he turned the situation around for the positive, extolling his notions of community and public interaction it almost seemed in mantra to calm himself. Soon, Deacon led one of his infamous dance contests, which led to more than one instance of shirtless-guy-in-the-cold uproar. Even if Deacons music isnt the most relatable, its the performance thats nothing but all together. Though I missed Animal Collective on principle, Deacons affirmations, bordering on motivational speaking, seemed more reflective of where the festival was at then Animal Collectives current preoccupations.
At one point, late on the patio at China Blue, with the party kids I knew from high school, still partying like me, talking about how wed need to get buzzed for our 10-year reunion a year from now, I realized the old cliché. Things dont change. They just become more the same. People are still lying to their bosses to play shows. Boyfriends and wives are still cheating on their respective others. People are still going to rehab. Everyone keeps music. I thought for so long that moving away, trying to become the best version of myself, that would be the best representation for Idaho certainly I thought it was the best thing for me.
I dont know if Im even accomplishing that. Because all thats really best for Idaho is doing whats best for Idaho in Idaho. Watching the state of music there expand to something so inclusive and vast, housing all these strange and varied genres without trouble, really is amazing. I dont even know most the bands in Boise any more. Im a deserter, for the sake of myself. But rebellion isnt always a selfish act. In the case of Treefort, continuing to do what many thought impossible
that reifies the community, not an individual, no matter how many times we thank Gilbert, onstage or off.
Photography by Dale W. Eisinger