Thursday, July 31, 2014

Merge 25 - Night Four at the Cat's Cradle - 7/26/2014

Merge 25
Neutral Milk Hotel, Caribou, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Mould, and Mikal Cronin
Cat's Cradle
7/26/2014

I tried to prepare myself for a long day of standing in the hot Cat's Cradle parking lot by purchasing a chocolate milkshake, and this led to me arriving at the venue late and only seeing part of Mikal Cronin and his super-catchy fuzz pop.  This might lead the regular person to exclaim "damn you milkshake!" for making them late, but it wouldn't be sincere on my part because the milkshake is the true love of my life.  Anyways, I believe all of the songs I did get to hear were from his excellent Merge record "MCII," and since I didn't miss hearing one of the best pop songs of the last few years, "Shout It Out," I can't get too mad about missing part of his set. 

I know this will possibly result in my "music fan" card being revoked, but I've never listened to much Bob Mould or Husker Du.  And the thing is, every time I hear a song by either act I usually enjoy it...just never translated to any prolonged listening to his/their music.  Mould's backing band is the current rhythm section of Superchunk, Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster, their second and third times playing the festival respectively.  Narducy managed not to make himself bleed this time, but Wurster did still sweat a shirt shiny.  I didn't know most of what they played but I liked it - the only song I did recognize was "I Don't Know You Anymore," and I'm told he played a couple of Husker Du tracks.  Also, host Margaret Cho (oh yeah I forgot to mention she was the MC of the day's festivities) came onstage and sang a couple of songs with the band - apparently she's a huge fan.  She didn't have a bad voice for a comedian, but maybe not a great voice for a musician, ha.

Finally, what anyone with good taste had been waiting for, one of the greatest pop bands of all time, Teenage Fanclub.  I was as giddy as one of those crazed One Direction preteen fans, minus the high-pitched shrieking.  I don't think I've ever seen as many musicians watching another band as I did during this set - a large selection of most of the acts on the day's bill were posted at the side of the stage taking it all in.  The band might be a little older but they haven't lost a step musically - everything sounded gorgeous.  The set list, while short, sampled their entire catalog...sure, there was a ton of things I would have loved to hear like "Star Sign" and "Radio," but getting three songs from their perfect record "Songs from Northern Britain" takes the pain away.  And then there was the end of the set, when they amped up the awesome exponentially - first with "The Concept," then "Sparky's Dream," and finally "Everything Flows."  It might sound like an exaggeration but this set alone was worth the price of the entire four day pass; this kind of happy doesn't come along that often. 

After Fanclub I knew I was kinda going to be ruined for any other live music, but there were still two bands to go.  I went inside the Cradle to have a drink, cool off out of the sun, and try to get my brain screwed back on straight.  When I wandered back outside, Caribou was partially through their set.  I had always thought that this band was just one guy manipulating shit on his computer, and maybe that is the case on the recordings - but live it was an actual four piece band with an exceptionally bad ass drummer.  There's nothing I can tell you about this band or show that you can't read elsewhere with more details, but I will say if you are like me and wrote these guys off as boring knob twiddlers, that definitely isn't the case. 

Neutral Milk Hotel were the closer for the night, and for the festival.  After plenty of admonishment not to take any photos or videos or recordings or to look Jeff Mangum in the eye (that last part may or may not be true), Mangum took the stage by himself to perform "I Will Bury You in Time," and was shortly joined by the rest of the band (which could be anywhere from five to seven members depending on the song they were playing at the time).  There was a couple of horn players (hornsmen?  horners?), each of them with a ton of different instruments from trombones to french horns to trumpets to...I think a euphonium?  Also, at least one of those hornsmen was the human embodiment of Papa Smurf, in case you were wondering.  There is really no reason to go into what songs the band played, because it was obviously their two albums they released over 15 years ago.  As much as I love their recorded material, the live show was a bit ramshackle.  Maybe it was the mix, maybe it was the musicians, maybe it was the poor acoustics of an outside show, but whatever it was, the gig wasn't as good as I had hoped.  Not bad by any means, just...okay I guess.  In fact the best material of the night were the handful of tracks that Mangum played by himself, his voice clear and unmuddled by the cacophony of sounds coming from the stage.  That was how Neutral Milk Hotel ended the show, the same as how they started - just the iconic singer and his guitar, closing out a great four days of music.

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