How do you measure the success of a music festival? For some, it’s all in the number of acts you catch. For others, it’s the ease and speed at which you navigate the terrain. For me, it’s all about the morning after. This Monday I awoke to tired eyes, wobbly legs, and a subtle ringing in my ears that’s still bouncing around some five hours later. I’m exhausted, slightly loopy, and have a dire laundry situation I desperately need to attend to. The annual New Noise Music Conference and Festival has come to a close, and its aftereffects have sealed the deal: The third time around was the best installment yet.
While the festival claimed the Santa Barbara Bowl’s season-ending gig with Deadmau5 to be this year’s kickoff event, it wasn’t until this past Thursday that things really started to heat up. Before sundown, folks were already gathering around impromptu jam sessions all across downtown as part of the fest’s Pianos on State exhibit. In its second year running, the interactive display of brightly painted pianos attracted seasoned and novice players all weekend long and facilitated some of the festival’s sweetest musical moments, which included lots of elated kiddos dancing to (and pounding out) their first notes to smiling passersby.
But the night belonged to Phantogram, who delivered what might have been the best set of the weekend at their sold-out SOhO gig. The N.Y.-based duo-turned-trio impeccably executed their woozy electro-pop tunes with a subtle confidence and a solid understanding of how to construct a set list. Guitar- and synth-heavy tracks like “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “Don’t Move” mixed and mingled with the band’s slower burners, and all allowed frontwoman Sarah Barthel’s breathy, ethereal vocals to shine through. But what elevated Thursday night’s show from great to mind-melting came by way of the light setup, which filled SOhO with more lasers, strobes, and fog machines than any 300-cap venue should be capable of housing. The whole thing made for a killer dance party and will likely be the reason I’ll require corrective lenses in the coming months.
Come Friday, Typhoon’s jam-packed show at The Savoy seemed to be where the crowds were headed. That night I took a reprieve from State Street, however, and headed over to Muddy Waters to catch S.B. rockers Comfort Machine and local luminaries oso — or, at least, their current incarnation, Oso Street Outreach. The project of frontman Phil Taylor and bassist Andrew Fedders, as well as a crew of friends, the band filled Mud to the brim with fans and delivered a well-received new take on their old gypsy punk formula.
Saturday was marked by a bustling day of music and tech conferences and panels at the Canary Hotel, including an affable keynote speech from Facebook app inventor J Sider. And come nighttime, it was the one-two punch of Velvet Jones’s psych-rock lineup that had New Noisers all abuzz. As openers, L.A.’s Allah Las gave us a toe-tapping collection of Animals-inspired guitar noodlings while headliners The Entrance Band delivered a blistering and jam-out-packed set of trippy tunes. Of special note was bassist Paz Lenchantin (of A Perfect Circle, Zwan, Queens of the Stone Age fame), who spent the evening beneath a plastic Viking helmet covered in red chrysanthemums and fully melted minds with a feedback-filled set closer of a solo.
Sunday’s deal-sealing affair at SOhO proved to be the perfect end to a weekend of nonstop music. Oregonians Parson Red Heads easily endeared themselves with a collection of warm and honeyed folk-rock tunes, while Eric Johnson’s Fruit Bats cranked out a set of Bee Gees-esque rock with just enough self-deprecating banter to win the place over. Kudos to the many (many, many) of you who made it all happen. Now, it’s time for a nap.