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Saturday, 06 April 2013 15:48

Festival review: Middle of the Map (night 2) unravels with Dots Not Feathers, Grizzly Bear, Iceage and JEFF the Brotherhood, Friday, April 5

Festival review: Middle of the Map (night 2) unravels with Dots Not Feathers, Grizzly Bear, Iceage and JEFF the Brotherhood, Friday, April 5
Written by Blair Stiles

As night descends on Kansas City and Middle of the Map Fest, St. Louis' Dots Not Feathers and their assorted company of boyfriends and friends wait outside the Riot Room for load-in. It is 6:30 p.m. before the crew hauls its gear on and around the stage.

DNF does not play until 8:30 p.m. As I growl about the wait and my hungry physical state, Stephen Baier, the band's lead singer and guitarist explains, "Life of a band is hurry up and wait." Fine.

As we line up against the wall outside Riot Room, Nashville, Tenn.'s JEFF the Brotherhood run through songs and inch towards a Nirvana cover. Danish hardcore band Iceage's members look like Scandinavian River Phoenixes. They play before JEFF the Brotherhood, and have to wait like plebeians with us. When I read up on Iceage, I came across several articles that claim the bands imagery "stokes fascist tendencies." I'm no poet laureate. Therefore I do not have a pretty way to say, "It's obvious where these claims come from." As I watch them kick around a hat I note how far a cry it is from their "New Brigade" video where they carry torches and wear precariously pointed red hoods. On a street in Westport they scream and laugh with each other. It is apparent how young and slathered with ennui everyone is. In and out of that moment, it does not seem fair to assume their political agenda stems from malevolence.

Comedy Central's "Workaholics" plays on the bar's television prior to DNF's show. It is an auspicious sign. Dots Not Feathers plays a 30-minute set where members of Palace and their entourage crow hop around the stage. They fix Baier's cantankerous microphone stand, which bends and folds like a crane and dance feverishly. DNF grow more confident, and comfortable with every show. Out of the acts seen thus far, they look like they are having the most fun. Baier points out his Larry Bird socks and mentions the other seven pairs adorned with past NBA players. The crowd eats up every word. As DNF unloads from the Riot Room, Baier exclaims, "That is the best I have ever felt playing a show." Sure looked like it.

We ride the "White Rabbit," same bus that took us to and from Riot Room the night before, to Uptown Theater. Grizzly Bear will perform in 20 minutes. Uptown looks like the Mediterranean hideaway of King Triton. Its style, please, let me dip into my Art History training, is a play on Italian Renaissance aesthetics with the drama of a Venetian opera house. The ornamentation and lights are Italian Gothic; when the stage lights rest, the walls and ceiling have the texture of the ocean floor and appears red.

Grizzly Bear's stage lights begin as an undulating rainbow. In step, they wave across Uptown as the set beings. By the second song, jellyfish lamps made from the same fabric of cigar lamps ascend to the stage's rafters. King Triton is overheard as he dials his interior decorator. The school of jellyfish lamps change color with every song and synchronize with different instruments per song. They turn from red to blue to purple as Edward Droste leads the band into "Two Weeks." No "routine malaise" is felt. After the show, Burton asks how I feel about it. My response is, "I feel clean."

We walk the half-mile to Riot Room where Iceage chugs through the remainder of their set like a runaway locomotive. Kids mosh as singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt bellows existential mantras into the microphone. He sounds like Satan's primordial cry for power over heaven, earth and anywhere dark and dank. Guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth produces rancid riffs while he maintains a stoic visage. After the last song Ronnenfelt walks off stage and straight through the crowd with a blank expression; his plump lower lip hangs. The crowd screams with approval and Iceage maintains a blank countenance. It feels like the paradigm of a punk show.

JEFF the Brotherhood begins its set as drummer Jamin Orrall battles the scrum of audience and press geared up to watch the mayhem. He walks with a beer in one hand and a shot in the other. Already they crowd eats up the ambiance. Everyone roars and applauds. Jamin sits down at his kit, he hits a lever and produces a blinding fog. We instinctively inhale and blow it back to Jake Orrall. Myers, Burton and myself are in the front row because Myers insists, "If we are going to do this, we are going to do this fucking right." Call him clairvoyant. The band will run a clinic on signature rock 'n' roll bravado.

I try to scrawl notes onto my damp notepad as Jake wields his 3-string plexiglass axe six inches from my face. The only reply I have for him is madcap laughter and squeals. Soon thereafter he crowd surfs while he plays note-for-note with perfection. A mosh pit breaks out before the band's fourth song, "U Got the Look," starts. Jake returns to the floor later in the set. With his back to the ground he finishes the song as Jamin looks on; a smile finally breaks over his face. The band's four Emperor cabs are so loud and the room gets so hot that I nearly faint and have to haul off to the women's restroom to get my shit together. I witness kids sweating profusely as they clang into one another. People throw their bodies around and at one another. It is a free-for-all.

When I return, Jake is once again inches from the audience and a keyboardist and second guitarist are on stage. My jaw drops and I cease to regain my composure as Jake solos by bending his strings towards and away from each other. The result is a melodic shrill that sends the front-row attendees into a stupor. I can only image the look on my face.

I feel my eyes widen, my mouth open and my nostrils in shock. There are moments when the ludicrous nature of an emotion takes over, and the things felt and hopefully kept buried dismiss all normalcy and creep onto a face. I look up in time to see Jamin staring at me. His eyes percolate with the beginnings of laughter. From my fugue state I manage a smile. I get a laugh in return. I will be damned if I miss JEFF the Brotherhood show when they return to St. Louis.

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