St. Vincent highlights the second day of the sparsely attended Fashion Meets Music Festival
If you build it, he will come.
It's a line that worked for Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams," but the maxim didn't quite apply to the Fashion Meets Music Festival, which found many artists performing to small, scattered crowds as it closed out its second year on Sunday.
"What are you going to do?" shrugging Milo Greene guitarist Graham Fink later said of the meager audience that witnessed the Los Angeles quartet's afternoon set. "It's been like this for everyone."
Considering the circumstances, St. Vincent, the nom de rock of one Annie Clark, made for an apt closer, since the day required at least some degree of divine intervention to prevent collapse. Fortunately for all involved, the musician delivered, turning in a fierce, inventive headlining set that allowed a glimpse of what FMMF could potentially evolve into, given time.
Despite numerous improvements to the scaled-back festival - local food trucks replaced generic carnival fare, and the fashion element was far better integrated, with a tent containing a long, white catwalk situated between the two main stages in the heart of the Arena District - salvation seemed unlikely earlier in the day.
This was largely a factor of attendance. Crowds on the main stage ranged from almost non-existent (a couple hundred stragglers at most took in Milo Green) to borderline respectable (it swelled considerably for St. Vincent, who performed unopposed), and most food vendors reported slower-than-expected business, with one truck saying it likely would not return in 2016 due to the lack of traffic.
High temperatures also highlighted a complete absence of free water-fill stations on the L-shaped grounds - an oversight the organizers should try to correct for next year.
Additionally, the inclusion of more acts that highlight the long-established ties between the fashion and music worlds could bring FMMF some much-needed perspective, and help it better distance itself from the glut of interchangeable festivals currently dotting the musical landscape.
St. Vincent's Clark, for one, pushed boundaries both with her fashion selections (she arrived dressed like a glitzy dominatrix in a bedazzled black body suit) and with her music, coloring the rhythmic, machinelike backdrops produced by her small, three-piece band with mangled, metallic riffs and guitar solos that stretched and twisted like pulled taffy.
The musician dedicated her set to "the freaks and the others … the queers and the outsiders of Columbus, Ohio," and her onstage persona existed most comfortably in these far-off realms. During songs, Clark often moved like an animatronic figure, as though the "Small Wonder" robot had somehow grown up and become a riveting live performer. Though her movements tended to be mechanical, her words were deeply human, painting intricate portraits of characters wrestling with paranoia and emotional unrest.
"H-E-L-P/ Help me, help me!" she howled on "Marrow," chased by an assembly line churn that conjured images of grand gears threating to gnash her in their teeth.
Elsewhere, songs veered between pretty and melodic and jagged and threatening. On "Cheerleader," Clark, her voice climbing into its eerie upper register, crooned of having "good times with some bad guys" atop haunting synthesizer, while the scathing "Bring Me Your Loves" steadily unraveled. "I took you off your leash" she snarled, choking out a twisting, distorted riff that sounded similarly unbound.
A majority of the artists on the bill, in comparison, played it relatively safe - the fashion equivalent of mass market retailers to St. Vincent's avant-garde artistry - though there were select highlights.
Bahamas, working on a severe case of jet lag - singer/guitarist Afie Jurvanen said the bandmates awoke at 4 a.m. in St. John's, Newfoundland, and required three flights to reach Columbus - eased through an amiable mid-afternoon set that hit like a needed cooling breeze as temperatures approached 90 degrees. Locals Playing to Vapors also impressed with an assortment of moody, alt-rock anthems that built to surging choruses even on those songs that opened with frontman Lucas Harris singing of being sprawled out on the floor.
Other acts offered more minimal thrills, like Canadian electro-popper Lights (birth name: Valerie Poxleitner), who was supported here by a limited three-piece band that had some difficulty recreating the more textured elements off her latest long-player, Little Machines, and Nashville pop-punk five-piece the Nearly Deads, which fell closer to the pop end of the spectrum and sounded, at times, like a Hot Topic come terrifyingly to life.