At the end of the triumphantly giddy stretch of Columbus music that was my ComFest Saturday night, I had to admit that, for all the fest’s foibles, they got a lot of things right this year.
The Goodale Park institution consistently exhibits a frustrating fixation on the twangy, bluesy, singer-songwritery side of local music at the expense of hip-hop, metal, electronic dance music and the art-school side of indie rock. ComFest is one of few institutions with the pull to assemble a truly comprehensive portrait of the Columbus music scene, and I wish they would.
But at the end of the day, even if they laid on the Cowboy Joe’s Country Jam a little thick, the segments of the scene they did choose to include resulted in the most enjoyable ComFest experience I’ve had in some time. Despite occasional forays to the Gazebo and I Wish You Jazz stages, I spent most of my time at the festival bouncing between the Off Ramp and Bozo (main) stages. These were my 10 favorite performances.
10. The Black Antler
This raunchy, raspy metal duo could use a bassist, but they rocked as hard as treble allows during their Friday afternoon Off Ramp slot. Congrats to guitarist Adam Lowe, who got married the next day.
The Town Monster had to bow out for undisclosed personal reasons, so Monster member James Allison’s project Blastronauts filled in Saturday afternoon at Off Ramp. And wow, this band has seriously stepped up its game. They’ve always been solid pop-rock songwriters, but back in the day, both the band and Allison’s vocals felt wildly out of control in an amateurish way. Now they felt wildly out of control in the best possible manner.
8. Sean Carney Band
The reason the blues usually feels like such a tired cliche to me is because any schmuck with a Stratocaster thinks he’s the next Buddy Guy. America needs less Blueshammer also-rans and more Sean Carney types. Sunday evening at the Bozo stage, his six-string mastery was a reminder of just how good the blues can be.
7. The Girls!
Many folks know Lydia Loveless used to play bass in a band with her sisters called Carson Drew. But did you know her sister Jessica (EDIT: not Eleanor) is now fronting a rambunctious pop-punk party band, or that she sings with a sweet-spitfire swagger on par with Lydia’s? Bonus points to Savage Pinkos drummer Meghan Buchanan for all the twisting and shouting and wild tambourine-shaking.
6. Evan Oberla Project
Take everything I said about Sean Carney and the blues and apply it to Evan Oberla’s jazzy, funky, hip-hop hybrid, which closed out Friday night right. They even rocked a sousaphone solo.
5. Way Yes
Way Yes continues to be one of the most fascinating groups in Columbus, and their set was an entertaining contradiction parade. They were melancholic and uplifting at once, deceptively catchy and shockingly noisy, flaunting their influences more than ever while sounding more original than ever. It was as if they snuck on the Bozo stage lineup by having tropical drums and decided to toy with people.
Another late scratch was Loyal Divide, but few people could have been too disappointed by the addition of psych-metal heavyweights EYE in their stead. The raddest of wizardry was on display.
3. The Regrettes
Holy hell is this band good. Besides reminding us of their freakish aptitude with old-school R&B, they stole “Please Please Me” from the Beatles and swarmed the stage with a joyous “tambourine choir” for a much-deserved encore.
2. The Saturday Giant
Last Monday, most of Phil Cogley’s musical equipment was stolen out of his van, which is extra terrible when you’re a one-man band. Friday, he dumped a serious chunk of his savings account into replacing the gear. Saturday, he told the Off Ramp crowd, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” and proceeded with an inspiring half-hour of anthemic originals plus a ridiculously enjoyable cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sure Shot.” He can’t, he won’t, he don’t stop.
1. The Washington Beach Bums
There are parties, there are ragers and then there are Washington Beach Bums concerts. Nobody had more fun at ComFest than the boozed-up, beach-ball-bumping masses under the Off Ramp tent. If living the dream really was this easy, more bands would pull it off.