Everyone who played 4Knots Music Festival Saturday was, if we do say so ourselves, pretty damn great. There were a couple stand-out highlights, though. Let’s get into ’em.
Unassuming and ambitious sounds like an odd combination, but Juan Wauters radiated both qualities as he took the stage Saturday. Looking as if he had just stepped from the crowd, with nothing but an acoustic guitar, he began to play songs from this year’s N.A.P. North American Poetry with a lot of focus and very little fanfare.
Wauters’ songs play like kōans; it would be an understatement to call them simple. The first verse of “Water,” which he played on Saturday, goes: “And the water will come down, and wash you down, and let you see, what you would be, if you didn’t know, what’s right or wrong, or what is fun.”
In person, Wauters contributes to the atmosphere that allows you to weigh the simplicity and bite-sized profundity of his lyrics. His interaction with the crowd didn’t consist of much more than smiles and these straightforward songs, though after playing for a couple of minutes, he became intent on having his vocals turned up, and had to ask that the sound be adjusted several times.
After playing five or six of his own songs, Wauters brought two members of his live band, Carmelle Safdie and Amanda Rodi, to the stage to accompany him. (Rodi on flute, and Safdie on drums, triangle, and tambourine.) Though their presence didn’t alter the sound too much, Wauters seemed looser and more relaxed with his collaboraters present; his boyish, diffident face finally broke for some smiling and he began to punctuate the end of his songs with a heartily yelled “alriiight.”
Though there’s very little doubt about the kind of twee impression that the trio emanated (there was a flute and a triangle, for godsakes), Wauters blank verse songwriting helps his live band seem more than merely adorkable. It’s an unfortunate fact that earnest artists today often are received with scorn; ironic distance has become an almost suffocating norm. So it was refreshing to see how seriously Wauters and his collaborators, took their performance. Wauters songs need be met with a kind of thoughtful, sunny presence, and he and his band modeled perfect behavior for their audience on Saturday at 4knots.
See also: Dinosaur Jr. Learn to Get Along
Viet Cong are most often referred to as a post-punk band. But on Saturday, at Pier 16, they resembled something more like a hybridized Southern/garage rock outfit. Their music is pummeling, but in a genteel way, which seems Canadian of them. And their loose rollicking group dynamic seems to be the diametric opposite of the internal turmoil that dogged the band Women, (which included two members of Viet Cong).
If Women seem like they get brought up every time Viet Cong is under discussion, it’s only because the former were so appealing to so many, and because they broke up right in the sweet spot where they were just beginning to catch on. But Viet Cong clearly have a different approach, and their music is more effective for being less well-defined. Their set yesterday alternated nicely between loose riffage and well-coordinated guitar blasts during which the members of the band would not only play together, but also jump up and down on the stage as if they were one.
There’s a joy in seeing a band that feels like it has the potential to be great before it reaches that point, like going back and seeing flashes of gonzo in Hunter S. Thompson’s mostly straightforward Rum Diary. Viet Cong don’t seem as if they’re in a hurry to smooth out their wrinkles–their set pulled songs from their recently released Cassette EP, originally a tour-only release remastered and re-released by Mexican Summer.
The most exciting member of the band to watch play live is undoubtedly the drummer, Mike Wallace. He is thin-faced, with heavy eyebrows and a streak of dyed blonde hair and his head bobs along in time with his masterful drumming. Wallace is emblematic of the rest of the band in his combination of serenity and low-key intensity.
Viet Cong’s set got harsher as they went along, a nice way to rough up what was otherwise a pristine day out on the pier. The band has an album coming out later this year, and fans should hope that it sounds as rough, breakneck, unrehearsed and adventurous as their set did last Saturday afternoon.
My three favorite things otherwise:
>> Speedy Ortiz frontwoman, Sadie Dupuis, doesn’t move around much when she plays live. But somehow, she still manages to emanate an enormous amount of charisma. Even if you don’t know anything about her (as my friend didn’t), she seems instantly, obviously cool.
>> Those Darlins covered The Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” in the middle of their excellent set, rocking the hell out of it with little fanfare.
>> Security at the concert was particularly allergic to crowd-surfing, which began in earnest during Mac DeMarco’s set. It became a hilarious pattern to watch random audience members surf to the front, only to be plucked from the crowd by irate security guards and frog-marched to the back.