Words by Brian Salvatore | Photos by Dana (distortion) Yavin
The 4Knots festival, the annual Village Voice-sponsored summer festival, hit Pier 84 in Hudson River Park on Saturday, with performances by Super Furry Animals, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Mikal Cronin, Screaming Females, Twin Peaks, and more.
Pier 84 boasts being New York’s largest public pier, and the size of the space meant that it was rarely an unpleasant experience. There was plenty of room on the grass and in front of the stage, and there were rarely long lines for the bathrooms or the food stands. However, due to the layout, the venue always felt a little disconnected from what was happening on stage.
The first three bands I caught – Heaven, Heaters, and Meatbodies – all had impressive sets, but they were all hurt by the lack of variety and an overabundance of reverb. Heaters and Meatbodies would have benefitted from Heaven being placed in between them, as their set was the most varied of the three. The UK group Happyness was the first to really slow things down and do something other than high-octane rock and roll. Sure, there was some of that, but there was also a lot more space in the music, sometimes filled by excellent vocal harmonies, and sometimes just left to pad the skeletal songs with ambiance. It felt like the least appropriate ‘daytime summer festival’ music of the day, but that was part of its charm.
When Screaming Females took the stage around 4pm, the day really kicked into gear. I’ve always sort of hated the expression ‘you really have to see them live’ – it seems to me that many times that means ‘our fans are more interesting than much of the music (see Dead, Grateful).’ But let me tell you – Screaming Females need to be seen to be believed. Marissa Paternoster just oozes charisma, and her guitar tone and ferocious playing created an energy that was felt all over the venue. People seemed to wander over to the stage area every few minutes, jaws agape, mesmerized by the band’s intense set.
Next up was Mikal Cronin, a regular Ty Segall collaborator who has released three records of absurdly great power pop. The band seemed to have a few technical difficulties (as did Twin Peaks, who followed them), and they also seemed to have their set cut short, due to the day being 30 minutes or so behind schedule all day. Cronin, a John Cusack-looking indie rock heartthrob, led his band through track after track of impeccably crafted garage rock, with some absolutely fierce guitar work tossed in for good measure. Aside from the Jicks a few hours later, I don’t think any band’s interplay was as nuanced as Cronin’s.
Twin Peaks, a Chicago freight train, had the crowd in the palm of their hand from jump street, despite a bass amp malfunction that delayed the start of their set (which was also announced as being abbreviated). These barely legal punks seemed to be having a fucking blast, throwing their bodies around the stage with reckless abandon, swinging microphone stands, smashing keyboards, and nearly falling off the stage in the process. Guitarist and vocalist Cadien Lake James was the most photogenic person at the entire festival, channeling Johnny Thunders and using his face to express every conceivable emotion, almost always to the point of humor. “Making Breakfast,” which James is the lead vocalist on, is one of the greatest pop songs of the decade, and some extra screaming on the verses just added more fuel to the fire.
Their set also had the most engaged crowd of the day, with a circle pit opening up in front of the stage, with a mixture of teenage fans, singing every word, along with some greying at the temples dad types, reliving the VFW shows of their youth with a huge smile on their face. After their set, many of the teenage fans started to head out, and it seemed that they were clearly the favorite of the younger portion of the crowd. The band ate up the attention and put on a truly memorable show.
Partly because they had to follow that, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks never quite got their set off the ground, either with the crowd or amongst themselves. Leaning heavily on their last two records, the band’s laid back, laconic jamming was a pleasant change of pace from the majority of the festival, but the set just never really gelled. Aside from a few one-off shows, the band hasn’t been playing out much lately, and it showed at points. “Freeze the Saints,” a track from Face the Truth, the third Malkmus solo record, was presented as a lovely piano and vocal ballad, but featured some shaky piano playing, making one of its lyrics strangely profound: “Done is good, but done well is so much fucking better.” Sure, the band can still jam, and Malkmus is one of the finest guitarists of his generation, but nothing in the set – especially not the “Real Emotional Trash” finale – really caught fire like their best performances really can.
Malkmus is a performer that, in this stage of his career, gets a lot of credit for just being who he is – many of the fans in attendance were far too young to be aware of Pavement while they were still making records, but Malkmus has become a sort of avatar for the ironic detachment of the 90s – the Portlandia of music.
After the Jicks wrapped up, the stage crew, for the first time, focused on something other than amps and drum kits – a screen was erected behind the band, as the setting sun finally allowed for there to be something other than charisma and old fashioned rock moves to be part of the visual presentation. Super Furry Animals, in their first New York show in more than half a decade, had enough theatrics for the entire festival, taking the stage in coverall jumpsuits with Gruff Rhys donning a helmet, through which he sang “Slow Life.” After ditching the helmet, the band ripped through all the tracks you’d hope to hear at a Super Furry Animals show, with “Juxtaposed with U” being a particular highlight. Bok Choy made its live debut as the vegetable munched during “Receptacle for the Respectable,” a role that carrots and celery – munched by Paul McCartney, no less – played on Rings Around the World, their most acclaimed record.
While the rest of the day focused on bands that were doing all they could to play their asses off, Super Furry Animals seemed more concerned with putting on a show rather than necessarily playing a great show. Large elements of the show were pre-recorded, and few steps were taken to hide that fact. I know that for a band with a reputation for as lush a sound as Super Furry Animals, it is hard to put on a truly ‘live’ show without employing additional musicians, but after seeing so many bands leave their all on the stage, Super Furry Animals seemed content to let technology do the heavy lifting at points, which was a disappointment. But there is no denying the quality of their songs which, added to their engaging light show, made the headliner’s set one that satisfied, even if it felt safe and a little cheap.
Much like the VIP Yacht parked on the right of the stage, the Super Furry Animals set seemed to be an attempt to justify the festival going to a paid ticket this year, instead of the free festival it had been in previous years. As the festival outgrew its old location (at South Street Seaport), the consistently great lineups outgrew the typical free festival trappings, too.
Could they have sold more tickets? Sure. Could the lineup have had a little more diversity at the bottom and star power at the top? Absolutely. But overall, this was a truly pleasant day in the park for 4Knots, and one that I look forward to revisiting next year.
TheWaster.com | Pier 84