Thursday, August 23, 2012

4 TOTALED! - A blurry stumble through (most of) Total Fest XI (Part 1)

TOTALED! - A blurry stumble through (most of) Total Fest XI by Jake Weller

Missoula, Montana is a magical little city out in the middle of very little else.  This, the eleventh-annual Total Fest, was my second year in a row making the trip out with SRG honcho, Nik Christofferson.  I regret missing the previous nine.  Last year’s event was one of the highlights of my adulthood and bestowed in my noggin so many good memories and so much new music that compulsory annual attendance was immediately levied upon my future.

This year, I decided to keep a little diary of the events.  If you haven’t experienced a Total Fest yet, it is one of the best weekends you will ever have, assuming you are a fan of independent rock/garage/punk/metal/etc.

Please note: $1 Jello shots and $2.50 tall boys can make it hard for us embedded “journalists” to accurately express pretty much anything over a long weekend spent surrounded by constant natural and aural beauty, so hopefully you will keep in mind the filter that these impressions traveled through to make it here.

Thursday, August 16th – Day One:

It's an 8-hour drive to Missoula from Seattle, not including a time zone jump to Mountain Time, so leaving early to make the Thursday night show is key.  Unfortunately, due to work conflicts, the SRGmobile didn't pull into town until 1am Friday morning, missing King Elephant, Big Eyes, Unnatural Helpers, No-Fi Soul Rebellion, The Bugs, and Dan Deacon... but we made last call! 

A frequent stop for the rugged metalhead vacationer in Missoula is The Oxford; a 24-hour greasy spoon a la Beth's Cafe (but with gambling), just crawling distance from the epicenter of Total Fest.  It is the obvious choice for the discerning partier, and there is no discussion about how else to end an evening in the Big Sky.  The Chicken-Fried Steak at The Ox was apparently still “Pretty Fucking Good,” though I declined to order it this time, if only to give my bowels a brief respite.  I scored a BLT instead; it was Pretty Fucking Good.  Nik won $14 in video poker.  Livin’ don’t get much better. 

Heavy music aficionado, Adam Noble Bass, was predictably in the know and met us outside in time to strut the two blocks back to the Days Inn.  He found his way back to the restaurant shortly after and encountered a college-town imbroglio that nearly derailed his early-morning gravy craving.  But that motherfucker persevered and he got that food.

Friday, August 17th – Day Two:

The thing about Total Fest is that you know you are not going to catch every band.  You know that you are actually going to spend a good portion of the weekend frolicking in the Blackfoot River, soaking in the sun and glacier-cooled water, with a bunch of sun-starved musicians and can after can of mountain-fresh suds.  Because of this (and a fairly lackluster lineup), SRG did not make the early show at Zoo Apparel, choosing instead to hang out with our old friend Nature, and rest up for the bigger, more enticing, later show.

The weekend night shows during Total Fest have, in recent years, taken place in an old brick building in the heart of Downtown Missoula, which is shared by two different venues: The Palace and The Badlander.  They are situated on separate floors and on opposite sides of the building, which means there is no sound bleed between stages.  All interior doors between the venues are propped wide open, allowing a continuous flow from stage to stage, past the merch tables and two of the four bars open for business.  It’s easy to amble through, which is important, as the bands start every 45 minutes on each stage, overlapping with the opposing stage, so there is a good deal of stumbling back and forth throughout the night.

The attendance was decent this evening, and slowly grew as more bands played.  While it can get crowded, Total Fest never sells out, and it never feels super packed.  Folks like us, who would come to a festival of this nature are, by and large, a very niche group of absolute music geeks and/or musicians. We thrive on raw live energy and love nothing more than to see a bunch of van-sore kids bang out their art for the pure joy of being surrounded by appreciative and like-minded souls.  It’s a warm, familial, and inviting vibe – with a tingle of excitement that permeates through the town all weekend long – but, alas, it is not for everybody.  More fun for the enlightened, I suppose. 

Of course, if you are here reading SRG, I bet you’d be into it.

Okay, enough with the setting bullshit.  My night began downstairs…

COUSINS (Milwaukee, WI) - I liked these kids, but seeing as they were kicking off the main show on the Palace Stage, it was the first loud music I had heard in a few days and it struck me right.  Then it struck me as pretty standard shoegaze post-whatever.  After acclimating myself with a few songs, I journeyed upstairs to the Badlander Stage.

THE FUNERAL AND THE TWILIGHT (Minneapolis, MN) – Strange and serious.  It's dark stuff, but the clean, spastic, fractured vocals were not something I was prepared for this early in the night.  They seemed awkward and ill-fitting to the heavy tones emanating from the nether regions of the stage.  Perhaps if they had not played the largest stage in an opening slot, I would have approached their sound differently.  I'd be willing to give them a second chance.

WHITE WALLS (Cincinatti, OH) - I remember nothing about seeing White Walls.  I may have missed them, though I feel like I caught a few songs.  This may have been the period of time I spent talking to the crazy asshole outside the show who kept trying to find a reason to hit my (admittedly punchable) face.

SWAMP WOLF (Flagstaff, AZ) – Last minute replacement for Pins of Light (dammit).  Plenty of grindy enthusiasm.  The feisty Missoula crowd trundled out their rowdy rage to welcome these guys.

CRIMINAL CODE (Olympia, WA) – We were really excited to see Criminal Code.  And yet, I remember nothing about them.  That's probably not a good thing.  Of course, I didn't think to do this journal or start to take notes until I caught Sedan's set.  So sue me – it's not like I got a press pass or anything...

It's all good – the night was only starting.

SEDAN (Portland, OR) – Mind blown.  This one-man keys performance was a plush blanket of droning bass tones bouncing off of delicate melodic lines, creating an atmospheric intensity no full band had been able to reach up until this point in the evening.  I immediately made a point to recommend them/him to my more heady friends back home.

BROKEN WATER (Olympia, WA) –  They weren’t bad, but it seems like they wrote their songs for a particular audience, and not themselves.  There are shades of a tightly-controlled aggressive intensity, but with a simultaneous struggle to maintain a pop sensibility (I hate that term, but it actually fits here).  It all seemed a little schizophrenic, like their disparate influences have made them each compromise their vision a little without being able to push any to the next level.  Eh, it could’ve been the beer.

IRON LUNG (Seattle, WA) – Thick as fuck guitar/drum duo from Seattle.  Amps, grunts, chunks, thuds, and massive forearms.  Also, see Saturday.

LECHEROUS GAZE (Oakland, CA) – Grimy, beer-chooglin’ metal.  Would bring out the fight in a dude who likes to fight.  Luckily, it was just a sea of head-banging music dorks in the room.

TORCHE (Miami, FL) –  Torche was as amazing as always live.  I've always had issues with the band's sound (and still do) but they make very accessible heavy music that has such an appealing charm, it's hard to hate them.  I have come to think of their sound as riff-heavy stoner pop.  Given that description, I have to give them some leeway with my idiotic snobbery; they throw a great party, and the crowd is always full of smiles.  Sadly, I was probably the only one who witnessed the transparent mesh netting descend from the ceiling and land on the swirling Disney angels that dominated the center of the crowdspace…oh, the colors!!

With nimble adroitness and discretion, Nik escorted me and my vegetable self away from people and out into the warm Montana starlight for a drunk-dodging stroll through the now familiar streets.  We eventually decided to brave another cholesterol dose at The Ox, where we found Seth from Rabbits propped happily upon a counter stool, waxing poetic about a divey saloon outside of town.  It’s called Harold’s, and is perpetually populated with a fascinating mix of “ranch hands and weirdos.”  It sounded just perfect for a cold one going to or coming from the river.  Alas, we never made it to Harold’s.  There’s something for next year!

Continued HERE!


  1. Dude! Nothing about the Zoo City stage (it was a CAVE, man) or all of Saturday??? There were tough guys drinking milkshakes. There was glitter everywhere. It was majick. Next year, you better fucking get here on Thursday... I'll buy you 20 jello shots.

    1. I will take you up on that offer! It was regrettable that we arrived late, but I plan on returning every year until I keel. Saturday's portion is coming up!

      - Jake

  2. The write-up states pretty clearly that we missed Thursday this year because of work conflicts. Big Eyes and Unnatural Helpers were the only acts I cared to see anyways and they are from Seattle. As far as Saturday goes, this is part 1 of 2 of Jake's write-up. Says that too. :)

  3. I also want to try the video poker. I can't wait how to learn poker with my brother!



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