Harmony By the Bay: Old & New
Mountain View, CA
September 29, 2012
Harmony By the Bay Music Festival
HBTB is a kind of neo-hippie, organic music festival with bottled water, kegs of beer in wheelbarrows and sustainable-living eco-tents including an open air market selling rasta knit caps, tie-dye everything, leather minis, hemp shoulder-bags and hand-crafted jewelry all with an environmentally-friendly bent. Oh, and there was a Yoga tent. If by 'harmony,' the organizers meant a hodge-podge of Northern California clichés grouped together then yes, that was this music festival. All oddly enough, with a mostly Indie music orientation. Mostly, but not entirely.
The Shins: Could Have Been Better
OK, you might say that it is unfair to say that The Shins could have been better when we missed the first few songs while lingering at another stage and also because we left when the band announced their last song. OK, maybe, they played all my favorite songs before we came or after we left during the encore and it would be fairer to say that the middle could have been better but then someone might think I was talking about my waistline. In any case, if a band neglects the middle of the show and backloads all their hits, then the show could have been better.
For all their Indie rock cred, the boys from Alberqueque/Portland sounded very British-lite. Very Beatles, Oasis, very derivative and a little boring. Singer James Mercer has a limited range though, granted, he makes the most out of it. But, frankly, he did better with BrokenBells, a side project with producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse. The band has a nice sound but seems to do better when playing acoustically which they did not do last night. I think that the performance may have suffered from being in a large venue. The Shins may have aspirations to fill 20,000 seat amphitheaters but the band and the music seemed smaller, more remote and lost in the open air.
Beats Antique: Old & New
Best representing the harmonic convergence of disparate styles that characterized HBTB was Beats Antique. Beats Antique is a local fave that combines elements of electronic/dance, middle eastern, African etc. music. Pretty much a little bit of everything. They sound a bit like a stripped down version of Thievery Corporation though not quite as much fun. They certainly stood as the most unique of all the performers at the festival despite their reliance on prerecorded vocals and other tracks which was a disappointment. The band was accompanied by a bevy of belly-dancers which left some wondering- why can’t all bands have belly-dancers on stage? I think I get what Beats Antique is trying to do and appreciate the efforts to modernize some old folk and traditional rhythms and bring those to a younger audience but I don’t think they have realized the true potential of this territory. A for effort, B- for execution.
Jimmy Cliff: Seasoned
Every festival should have a reggae band. The music is universal and uplifting and on a warm sunny day in California, nothing could be better than an afternoon of reggae. And it would be hard to do better than reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. JC is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he proved why. He was the consummate professional and entertainer. While many of the festival acts seemed self-involved in their own fame and pretentious artistic doodling, JC was simply having a good time and it was infectious. He played all his hits, The Harder They Come, Many Rivers to Cross, Wild World, I Can See Clearly Now, and more. Despite being 64 years old, Cliff was the most energetic performer of the day with high kicks and twirls and exultations to the crowd. It was a lesson in showmanship and performance for the younger bands.
Allison Kraus: What is she doing here?
Amongst the indie, reggae, electronica, DJ-sets, and the eco-hippie open air markets, Allison Kraus played an old set of excellent bluegrass Americana. It definitely seemed out of place but her wry sense of humor and the consummate professionalism of the band was undeniable. And I loved “Man of Constant Sorrow” to close her set.
Tegan and Sara: Tegan and Sara
My overwhelming impression of Tegan and Sara is that Tegan and Sara only care about Tegan and Sara. Tegan and Sara’s performance was all about Tegan and Sara. They really need to get out of the rockstar bubble. I’ve complained before about stars that keep their bands in the dark behind them which is pretty much what Tegan and Sara did in their own way. Behind Tegan and Sara on the stage were a couple platforms, fronted by waist-high bars of lights, where the rest of the band remained camped while Tegan and Sara were in front singing on their own. The songs seemed overly self-indulgent and overly self-aware. It is a pity because I like their music, to a degree, but their performance pushed me away from them.
Kimbra: OK Pop
There were other artists before Kimbra but she was the first we saw when we arrived. Kimbra is now best known for her mega-viral hit with Gotye, Someone that I Used to Know, which was destined to be the hit song of the summer until Call Me Maybe came along. Both songs have inspired perhaps hundreds of video parodies. But Kimbra is a decent enough pop songstress and is likely to have a good career. Time will tell. Mainly, her performance suffered from excessive volume that quite literally shook my entire body until I had to leave.