Though a band called This Will Destroy You headlined the Thursday night lineup at Hailey's, we survived the encounter with our excitement for the rest of the fest still intact.
We were some of the first people in the doors on the first night of NX35, and right away, we noticed My Empty Phantom. Though he just introduced himself to the crowd as "Jesse" -- aka Jesse Beaman, the one man behind My Empty Phantom -- this multi-instrumentalist, plus looping wizard, created full-on sonic landscapes with a guitar, keyboard, drums, plus hidden looping hardware that layered his tones one upon another to cascade and crescendo until the eventual conclusion. We couldn't hum the tunes, even if you played them for us again and again, but the ambient noise was a pleasant ease into the evening.
Then things got bizarre -- or should we say, Bizarro. Bumped from a Texas 8 Ball booking (read why), The Bizarro Kids slid into the next spot on the bill and started things up with a odd combination of music and film. With a digital projector hooked into a MacBook, the Kids let loose an array of visual oddities -- bits of what looked like "The Dark Crystal," some experimental films, and pieces of some classic feature starring Orsen Wells (maybe The Lady From Shanghai, but we don't know for sure). Then came the tunes, which turned out to be stronger, more driving evolutions of what the Phantom had left behind. After just a few pieces, the Kids were gone, and it was back to the regularly scheduled program.
But the regularly scheduled Saboteur wasn't anything like the bands sharing the bill. Rocking hard, with much faster tempo than anything preceding (or anything following, too) their set, Saboteur was able to wake up the crowd that had been stoically shoe-gazing in the previous sets. Though the energy jumped, we had our first case of appallingly bad vocal mixing. Every lyric was a unintelligible mess due to a piss-poor job of balancing microphones. Crunchy guitars are fine, especially with Saboteur's edgier sound, but without the vocals, we were left concerned and confused.
Mix problems would affect The Crash That Took Me's set as well. Featuring tight harmonies and varied instrumentation, Crash's recordings were some of our favorites from this NX35 crop (see our other favorites here). Too bad you couldn't match them in the live setting -- something that's truly not the band's fault. Instrument-wise, Crash had it all down, including the right balance between three guitars, a bass, drums, violin, and keyboard. But it was agony trying to make out the vocals on any track with more than two instruments playing at the same time. It was a loss of some nice vocal tones from violin player Becki Howard that made us most peeved.
Our second most peeved event was a lengthy setup and sound check by closers This Will Destroy You that had some of the rowdier audience members shouting at the band to "just start playing" followed by an expletive.The band countered with plenty "we hate the audience/we love the audience" nonsense that brought this Thursday night show into early Friday morning. The working stiffs in the crowd -- read, yours truly -- knew by 12:05 a.m. Destroy was taking too long to get started. When they finally began, they delivered the most advanced pieces of the ambient, experimental sonic swaths that echoed the stuff from Empty Phantom and Bizarro Kids. As we got out the door, Destroy's echo traveled about halfway to our parking spot. Not a bad way to end the evening.