The music explosion concludes!
Anticipation is a tricky thing. Much like hype, it can make or break whatever it surrounds. I don’t think I can even count the number of times my anticipation of something has utterly ruined it. I had built it up so much in my head that when it finally came down to it, it was mediocre at best compared to my anticipation. However, the third and final day of DRILL LA managed not only to surpass my anticipation, but crush it outright.
The setup was a bit different than the first two days. Whereas Day 01 saw the entire night in The Echo and Day 02 saw overlaps between both The Echo and Echoplex, Day 03 had festival goers starting at The Echo and didn’t open up access to Echoplex until around just before Mild High Club began to play.
As such I got in place for Once and Future Band to kick off the evening. These Bay Area rockers took the stage modestly and then proceeded to blast out some of the catchiest prog pieces I’ve heard in recent years, outside of Steven Wilson. Most of the songs they played were from their recently released, and self titled, LP and they are quite deceptive. Beginning as quirky love (or anti-love) songs and morphing into technical masterpieces with jazzy hooks and psychedelic licks. They conjure the best elements of early seventies prog gods Yes, King Crimson, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer whilst still maintaining a bit of that quirky indie rock sensibility that (in my humble opinion) Bay Area bands seem to do better than anyone else.
Since I wanted to get a good spot for Youth Code and WIRE I skipped off downstairs as Mild High Club took the stage and found a lovely spot to shoot and watch from. I had some chit-chat with a couple of other photographers and festival attendees about the previous evening when Youth Code sauntered out. The room was not nearly full enough for the beginning of their set with most people still upstairs or outside smoking. Sarah Taylor eyeballed the crowd as Ryan George checked his rig and with a sarcastic “Dragulaaaa!” (an ongoing Rob Zombie-themed April Fools’ joke through the set) they launched straight into it. These two are some of the most active performers I have ever seen. Taylor stalks the stage jumping, kicking, and head-banging in between guttural death vocals that put most men to shame. She is fearless and she is powerful, a true sight to behold, and as if that weren’t enough George was equally active behind his rig, taking the mic for backing and dueling vocals with a fearsome intensity whilst customizing and running his booming synth patterns. Their chemistry is perfect and for that hour they owned Echoplex, and as has been the fashion for much of the festival, the audience finally copped to it and realized where they needed to be.
In contrast to the bombastic noisey attack of Youth Code, Julia Holter took to the stage to play a solo piano set of softly beautiful songs. Holter is one of those artists who makes it look deceptively easy, but watching her hands at work is mesmerizing. She brings a soft tenderness with her poetic story-like lyrics as well as a playfulness taking on the role of multiple protagonists. I’m not familiar enough with her music to know any of the song titles, but her performance definitely stirred me to seek out more of her music. It was a good breather in preparation for WIRE and her gracefulness was met with grand applause between each song.
The first thing that everyone noticed about WIRE’s set were the sheer number of extra guitar amps littering the stage. I counted something like 25 total amps (including the more obvious main rigs of the band) and remembered mention of The Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra, but we’ll get to that later. I’ve mentioned the humbleness of the musicians at the festival a number of times and WIRE is no exception to this. The band set up all their gear personally, Graham Lewis giving a couple of chiding jokes and winks about the setlist to us, while lead guitarist Matthew Simms casually noodled on his guitar checking through his pedals, and once preparations were complete they gave each other a confirming look before jumping straight into it opening with “Boiling Boy.” This began a fantastic 17 song set spanning their eclectic career, which is outside the norm for Wire, who historically abandon older material in favor of the new. For guys who have been gigging for 40 years, they had rejuvenating energy. Colin Newman took a moment to comment on the longevity of the band before pulling out “Three Girl Rhumba” from their debut album Pink Flag. The whole band was in fine form and as the set came to a close they invited out “the orchestra” a collection of maybe 20 or 23 guitarists from bands that had played through the weekend as well as local friends. It was a stunning sight to see the Echoplex stage overflowing with guitar players and they launched into an impressively loud rendition of “Pink Flag” led by Lewis and Newman. It was a true wall of guitar and it was stunning.
Thus ended a fantastic three days of musical discovery. A truly unique experience was had by all at this festival and I can only hope they’ll bring it back in the future. If anything, it would be nice to see more festivals of this nature popping up in the future.
All photos taken at The Echo and Echoplex © Oliver Brink 2017.