Saturday, September 13, 2008

Perfect For The Moment--Pioneertown

Came down to Yucca Valley, right outside of Joshua Tree for the 4th Annual Cracker/Camper campout. For 4 years running, the Camper Van Beethoven posse has thrown a mini-fest out in the desert in a little spot called Pioneertown. All configurations of Camper/Cracker and their solo projects play as well as a tasteful smattering of other indie bands. This year’s bill includes Built To Spill, Quasi, Citay and my wife’s new band McCabe & Mrs. Miller, a duo with Camper’s very own Anderson Cooper-esque, Victor Krummenacher.

I must admit to not getting the appeal of the new destination festival mania that’s sweeping the rock ‘n’ roll touring landscape these days. It seems conceptually awful to me. Thousands of people roasting in the sun, seeing bands that, for the most part, I don’t want to see or have already seen in a venue 1/100th the size of the sprawling outdoor festival, temporary cityscape. This campout is nothing like that. It’s an altogether different and quite pleasant beast. It’s mellow and very cool. 300-400 people, maybe less (I’m bad with numbers), at a dusty bar, sand coating the floors, Joe Walsh on the jukebox, drinks in pickle jars, pulled pork sandwiches on the bbq. Good sound, small stage and if you want to get up to the front, no problem. Lots of elbow room. People are just having a good time.

Yesterday’s highlight was Built To Spill performing their brilliant 1997 record Perfect From Now On. Funny thing about BTS was that I loved this band like no other in 1997. They were my soundtrack for 3 consecutive summers. I loved the gentle, pop twee of There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, a record that was a pleasant change in the landscape when it was released at the height of grunge mania. And then came Pefect From Now On. A sprawling opus. Kinda psychedelic, kinda Crazy Horse, fully epic. Monstrous and beautiful in so many ways. At the apex of this band’s powers I saw them live twice. After the second time I made my wife promise me to make sure I never paid to see this band again. They sucked live. They always sounded great, but somehow managed to bore the crap out of me. Maybe it was the dispassion on stage. Maybe it was the insistence on playing almost all new material. While I respect a band’s decisions to play lots of new material live, I don’t necessarily love it. When Perfect From Now On came out I owned every song this band had released, yet I knew practically not one song they played. Add in the dispassion and the wanky guitar solos and forget about it. Snooze city.

I should say that I’m not that into the reunion show scene (though I’ll be seeing My Bloody Valentine in a couple of weeks) and I’m not that into the playing an old album in it’s entirety scene (though I did see Sonic Youth do Daydream Nation a couple of years back). I don’t know, I guess I like to move forward. Playing the old stuff seems defeatist in a way or maybe it’s more like realism--recognizing that most people aren’t interested in your new stuff. Isn’t this an oldie circuit that our twentysomething personalities would decry.

No matter how you look at it, I was gonna be in Pioneertown anyway and so was Built To Spill, so in a way I was psyched they were gonna be playing Perfect From Now On. They were gonna be playing the set that I was dying to see 11 years ago. And they delivered. The band is still somewhat dispassionate on stage, but they sounded amazing. Close your eyes, let the desert wind sweep over you and listen to the soaring guitar parts and twist with the songs’ changes. It was a nice reminder why I loved this band in the first place. And sometimes it’s kinda nice to channel your inner 30 year old.

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