After two days of non-stop live music, my feet (and my ears) were a little exhausted come Sunday morning. Luckily, the final day of Boomslang started with a low-key brunch event at a local bistro, Natasha’s. I got there in time to see Louisville’s R. Keenan Lawler’s free-form manipulations of his steel resonator guitar with metal finger picks, a violin bow, resonant feedback, an electronic mixer unit, and an electromagnetic E-Bow device. Joseph Van Wissem followed up with a set of lute compositions which ranged from minimal melodies to classical arrangements and even American blues-esque slide.
Over at Bar Lexington’s Ya Ya Loft, festival organizers had arranged a mid-day set of raw garage rock. As a sprinkling of weary attendees lounged around the loft’s open-aired bar and patio area lazily drinking beers and smoking cigarettes, Nashville garage rock group and new project of former Be Your Own Pet bassist Nathan Vasquez began clicking on their amps. I was a big fan of Be Your Own Pet, so I was disappointed at the unimpressive Deluxin’. Playing songs built on steady bass with amateurish amateur guitar lines and off-key vocal screams, the trio made music that sounded like a high school rock band just starting out: a lot of ideas, but poorly developed execution.
The Butchers followed with a set that was more interesting, if only for the unpredictably aggressive front man, who stood stone-still while singing but would occasionally bursts into self-destructive fits, throwing his body around the stage and writhing on the floor. Harlem closed out with a set that was a bit more hurried and ramshackle than the one I saw them play at the Southgate House a few months ago. Apparently working without a set list, the trio would stand and debate the next song to play during breaks. Eventually, the drummer exasperatedly sighed into his microphone “Fine. Ok. Let’s just stop arguing and play something.” However, Harlem’s obvious talent and power as a band clearly shines through, and is even augmented by, their occasional ramshackle sloppiness.
Back at Buster’s, a series of more noise-themed acts were burning through the early evening hours. Casino Versus Japan filled the back room with digital swells of droning noise, while City Center rocked the front room with a two-piece drums, samplers, and guitar act that sounded like a slightly more abstracted No Age.
During a break in the action, I headed over to the Land of Tomorrow Gallery for the Lexington Fashion Collaborative Neighborhood Series Gallery installation opening. The Neighborhood Series Gallery was produced by local designers, models, and hair and make-up artists as an expression of artistic design through recycled materials. The installations included art pieces, drapes, lighting decorations, furniture, and even dresses made from recycled material such as coffee cup lids, hair clips, newspaper. The throng of admirer’s had the chance to walk among the sprawling pieces, discuss their meaning with the artists and models, sample a spread of tasty local food, and listen to the chilled-out music of a live DJ.
Back at Buster’s the music was far less inviting. Ben Frost destroyed the back room with bone-rattling guitar and electronic drone, but the real punishers were Wolf Eyes, who dominated the crowd in the front room with their brutal tape manipulations, distorted screaming, and abstract electronic beats. The crowd ate it up, alternately gyrating with fists-raised, fingers-flailing noise salutes and moshing in the cramped area in front of the front room’s makeshift stage.
Experimental composer and musician Rhys Chatham closed out Buster’s Boomslang lineup with a more refined sound. Unfortunately, significant problems with Chatham’s sound setup delayed the performance. Once he and the scrambling sound technicians got his foot pedal rig working, Chatham built complex layered sound pieces with deliberately arranged loops of his sputtering trumpet paired with delicately refined electric guitar drone and unconventional percussion. He’s famous for his exploration of sonic expansiveness through his pieces composed for several hundred guitar players. In this live context, Chatham executed a similar vision with a three-piece act by layering melodic snippets until a deep, complex sonic mass dominated the club.
For the closing ceremony, the organizers of Boomslang opted for a more intimate setting. Louisville freak-jazz outfit Sapat rattled the walls of Natasha’s before one of the festival’s headliners, Rangda, took the stage. The trio, containing free-form drummer Chris Corsano (who has collaborated with the likes of Bjork and Thurston Moore), Ben Chasny (guitarist from Six Organs of Admittance and Comets on Fire), and Sir Richard Bishop (famous for his work in the Sun City Girls, as well as his solo output) tore through a set of ferocious guitar rock that took paid as much homage to Indian raga music as modern lead electric guitar virtuosity. The stupefying display made a perfect bookend to the festival.
Boomslang was the kind of festival that’s maybe only possible in a smaller college city with a dedicated group of music nerds. The booking strategy which brought so many challenging acts together in one weekend was definitely bold, but the positive response from attendees was impressive. Not all the shows were packed by any means, but a lot of them were quite full, even for the noisiest acts. The festival’s collaboration with other Lexington artist groups and business turned a simple music showcase into a city-wide celebration that basked in the rays of its own positive vibes. I hope there’s another Boomslang next year and the year after that. As these radio station kids, get their foothold on the best ways to book, promote, and schedule a festival (and they made some major advancements this year), they’re setting themselves up to be a part of a very special annual celebration. It’s heartwarming to see the passions of so many dedicated people come to fruition over three full days, and I only see it getting better from here.
-John Crowell @terriblesounds