Sunday, July 24, 2011 , Updated 2:39 p.m., July 25, 2011
Concert review UPDATED with photos: Gorilla vs. Bear Festival at Granada Theater (July 23)
Preteen Zenith, who took the stage late and made the crowd wait, took advantage of their local celebrity status.
DALLAS The first annual Gorilla vs. Bear festival at the Granada Theater brought in several acts that were likely unfamiliar to music fans. The founder of the Texas blog, Chris Cantalini, booked a diverse lineup of bands he's got his eye on, including Shabazz Palaces, Pure X, and Preteen Zenith. Cantalini also showed some love for the home state, bringing in Austin’s White Denim and Sunset, and Denton’s Dreamed. Both Dreamed and Preteen Zenith (the new project of The Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter and former Tripping Daisy’s Philip Karnats) made their debut on Saturday night.
The stacked lineup demanded greatness, and Dreamed was not successful. They were the first act of the day, and their stage presence pointed a big finger at the fact that they have just arrived on the scene. The group consists of Jessica Minshew and Julie Emrick, who both have great vocals and a clear style similar to Beach House; but they didn't know how to capture the crowd at the Granada Theater. With a few more shows, the girls could be onto something good.
Thankfully, Sunset brought the attention back to the stage. The Austin band uses intricate percussion and witty liners to hook audiences, mumbling subtle jokes in between songs for good measure. Front man Bill Baird smartly carries the band with confident charisma.
The crowds slowly trickled in for the evening festival, most coming early, presumably to snag a spot for the headliner White Denim, which would come much later. Until then, it was time for synthesizers and echo pedals with Pure X and Sleep Over. Both use an overabundance of effects, which helped to highlight their differences from the other bands but also masked the vocals. This type of sound carries well through a handful of tracks, but after more than an hour, it buried the diversity in the sets. While the chill wave style is definitely back, the repetitiveness of songs within that genre isn’t. Sleep Over, however, wins points for bringing an '80s mood to their beats.
One of the more refreshing surprises of the night was Clair Boucher, who performs under the moniker Grimes. She’s an awkwardly spunky yet cute singer whose ear for infectious beats got her onstage. The one-woman band constructs beats from a synth and then adds keys and her soft soprano to make something very unique for an indie lineup such as GvB. Her feet continuously stomped to the rhythm while her hands conducted an invisible orchestra. Boucher admitted she had no stage banter, but she paid it back with passion.
Although Julianna Barwick has a distinct name in the blog world, her sound didn't resonate with audiences on Saturday night. After Grimes, crowds were eager for more tunes, but Barwick gave notes more than words. Each song was a continuous hum or drawn out key, leaving no room for dancing or high energy. She has great chords but used a monotone approach. The infamous Twitter screen at the Granada mirrored this feeling, as tweets demanded the next act. The feed also gave repeated praise to the filler DJ, Sober, who brought a hard-hitting mix between each set.
Shabazz Palaces offered a much-needed boost next, proving why Cantalini has repeatedly spotlighted them on GvB. Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler is the mastermind behind the metrical lines and flow that is the backbone of the alien hip hop group. The bongo drums and cymbals gave an unusual organic element to the rap style, not overwhelming the verses as beats. The group even had their own fan club, who showed their love to the lone rappers of the night.
The over-hyped and extremely late Preteen Zenith finally made its debut past midnight. Whether the disco balls, lights, and smoke machine took too long to set up, or there were technical difficulties, the band went well over their set time and started on the wrong foot.
The set started with a silent, too-long video. Then their first song exploded with no explanation from the band and set the stage for a psychedelic performance. Yes, they had great tracks, but their performance felt long. And because Preteen Zenith made no apologies about their lateness, we were among the many who were ready for White Denim to replace them onstage.
As the diverse crowd of hipsters, music fanatics, and bloggers tried to stay awake and alert for the most anticipated set of the night, White Denim set up in a rush and stepped out soon after. They made no attempt at small talk; they knew their music would do the talking. Austin Jenkins’ shredding was impressive. Their newest single, “Street Joy,” quieted the enamored audience while we listened to James Petralli’s wicked vocals.
These guys love what they do, and the level they’re playing at parallels their fervor. Going quickly through songs, the group tore up the stage and helped everyone forget how tired and impatient they had felt. Unfortunately, 2 a.m. was the curfew of the night, and White Denim prematurely cut off their set.
Despite a few blips, we're hopeful this fresh festival stays in Dallas for years to come.
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