2012 McDowell Mountain Music Festival – Day 2 Review

It was a chilly day in Scottsdale for mid April.  When we usually have weather in the 90′s, it was in the low 60′s at best.  Once and a while the sun would peak out from the clouds and bathe the grounds in warmth, but then it would go back to hiding behind the clouds.  And from the looks of it, some folks just didn’t take the warnings seriously and dressed like it was 90 anyway.  Whatever.  Hopefully, The Compound Grill had enough sweatshirts and blankets for sale!

The music for the day helped keep everyone warm.  From the very start, people were once again up and dancing, though others were “conserving energy” and had their lawn chair loungers all the way out and were getting a little bit of shut eye.  Perhaps still shaking off the night before?  Hmm.  Probably!  They looked mighty cozy and I have to admit to being a wee bit jealous!  Just like yesterday, I’ll run through the line-up with a short review of each band.  If you want the short and sweet version, skip to the end…see you at the bottom!

The Nameless Prophets: This local hometown band played a kick ass set with tunes that ranged in sound from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Doobie Brothers bands.  Their strong set on the main stage really got the crowd pumped up for the day.  And while they have no new dates posted for shows in the area, I’ll keep my eye out for them and let you know where they’re playing next!

Synaptic Soul: This is a group of music therapists from Phoenix who decided while they were at it, why not form a band.  Why not, indeed.  I loved the harmonies they sang throughout their set on the Creamy Radio stage and the chill vibe they all seemed to possess.  The keyboard volume could have been a bit higher as they weaved some sweet tunes through that, but it still came across great.  And from the looks of it, they must be part of the drumming circle that is sure to come!

Tramps and Thieves: This local band from Tempe clearly fits the indie rock scene.  Seasoned performers, they’re comfortable on the stage and command the presence of the crowd with their solid set.   Their talent was laid out for all to hear and I don’t think anyone would argue that this is a band to watch as they could explode on the national scene in the coming years.

Trevor Hall: This was the last date of a two month tour, so he was pretty excited to end it at the festival.  His adoring fans clearly made the trip here and were loving it.  My first impression having never head him live was that he sounds much like the Dave Mathews Band.   But then as he proceeded through his set, his sound became his own.  I loved the wicked fast drum licks and guitar work on the long jams.  As he continued the sweet reggae vibe with psychedelic  70′s synth sounds, they covered Death Cab for Cutie’s “There’s a burning in my heart” in that same reggae fashion.  Very nice touch!  Best part of the set?  The drum solo set to a wild guitar distortion.  Sheer talent.  Nice.  And anyone with children probably liked the nod to Dr. Suess with his “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” in his lyrics.  Excellent set and I’m sure with the crowd response, it won’t be the last time we see him grace a valley stage.

Future Loves Past:  Playing inside on the Creamy Radio stage, this band drew in a larger crowd than yesterday’s afternoon bands with a great, smooth set.  They constantly  switch around on instruments showing the diversity the members possess.  At times they could have used more backup vocals as everything else was so loud.  But this didn’t affect their great instrumentation.  This band from Tempe gave a solid performance keeping folks inside to hear the rest of their set as they trickled inside.  Since they’re from the area, go catch a show.  You won’t be disappointed.  They’ll be at The Crescent Ballroom on the 24th and at Tempe Tavern on the 27th, both this month.  Keep an eye on this band as they are sure to hit the scene soon.  Think Young the Giant vocals and you’ve got this band plus more!

 Anders Osborne: Next up on the main stage, this New Orleans group brought it all.  Their cover of “Knockin on Heavens Door” cover was pretty sweet and reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s version of the Dylan tune.  After seeing such large bands all day, these three guys reminded us all that it only takes a few to make some kick ass music together.  Anders kinda sounds a bit like Neil young on vocals, with just enough scratch on his voice for the edge of their sound.  This is another band that plays straight through with little breaks, but Anders did get a really funny one in: “Anybody got a belt?  This is a pg13 show, right?” Someone threw him a belt and he happily put it on keeping his pants from falling to the ground!  Just awesome.  He then asked for a hat, but decided it would fly off in the wind.  Just classic!  And that’s what you get with seasoned performers.  They’re professionals not afraid to interact with the crowd and simply know how to entertain.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters: Hailing from the Denver area of Colorado, they hit the main stage with a larger than life smile and set to playing for two hours keeping a steady pace.  Immediately the crowd was dancing along, bopping to the tunes, new and old.  Since this group has played with so many of the greats, a group to which they belong, a few of those covers were sprinkled into the night.  Two fabulous covers of the night were one from Robert Johnson and then “Boom, Boom” by Johnny Lee Hooker.  And if that wasn’t enough, they played the hell out of the Ram Jam tune “Black Betty” with a wicked, scorching guitar solo.  Unbelievable, but that’s Big Head Todd and the Monsters for you.  They always put on an amazing show and this was one not to miss!  But if you did, they’ll be back this summer with The Last Summer on Earth tour with the Barenaked Ladies, Blues Traveler, and Cracker.  That’ll be at the Comerica Theater on July 25th.  Um, yeah, that will be amazing, too!

Spafford: Back on the Creamy Radio stage, this Prescott band packed ‘em in.  The Compound sort of felt more like a ski lodge at that point, everyone peeling out of their layers of clothes, but the excitement of the night could be felt throughout the place.  Spafford provided a great focal point for that energy with their solid grooving sound.  The keyboards at one time did sound a bit like Ross in that Friends episode at one point, but that was easily overlooked with the rest of the instrumentation surrounding the keys.  I’d try to pin down their sound for you, but the really cool thing about this band is that they bring it all.  They flow from funk to outlaw country, to rock, to indie and back.  Very cool live band.  It would be worth the trip up the hill to see them.   They’re playing shows at the Bird Cage on April 20th and 21st, if you’re interested.

Dark Star Orchestra: This unique band chooses a Grateful Dead show of the past and recreates it on stage every performance.  Many concert attendees had waited all day for this experience and I’m sure they weren’t disappointed.  They play just as smooth as soulful as Jerry Garcia once did with his band mates many years ago.  This band has been touring since 1997 with this concept idea of taking a show in time and playing the set list song for song in its entirety each night.  They have so many from which to choose, so you never know which set you’ll hear in concert.  But they are fantastic!  Unfortunately, they had a show the night before in LA and were unable to get their gear with them, so they were using unknown equipment and having a bit of difficulty with it all.  While warming up on stage, they were having trouble with the sound and a few members became clearly frustrated.  But the show must go on, and really, it was no one’s fault.  These things happen in the industry.  I’m sure they were just tired form travel and frustrated not to have things go as smoothly as with their own gear.  About five songs into the set, they hit their groove and from there went on to play one of the 1900 or so tour sets of the Grateful Dead.  If you’re a Dead Head, check them out their next time around.  You will feel transported back in time along with all those around you.  It’s pretty amazing!

A few special notes about the day: One duo to hit the main stage was in support of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.  The 18 year old boy is a patient there.  He and his cousin did a “Phoenix Children’s Hospital” rap together.  They were pretty good together and it was awesome to see the strength this young man has dealing with his disease and yet being active in the arts.  Truly inspiring!  And inside during the afternoon, the drumming circle did make an appearance to the joy of all inside The Compound Grill.  It’s part of the weekend not to miss as the leader of the circle makes it so enjoyable to all.  A few band members even joined in, humbly joining in on the fun.  Hopefully, they continue it today.  Don’t miss it if they do!

Oh, and again, it’s going to be chilly today.  A smidgeon warmer than yesterday, but be ready to bundle up tonight.  And be generous with the sunscreen.  Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean the sun can’t burn you.  And for the love of all that’s holy, ladies, leave those five inch spiked high heels at home.  You’ll be uncomfortable all day envying all those in their bare feet (yes, even in the cold) or in flats.  In case you didn’t know, this has a very indie vibe, so join the crowd and leave those heals at home!  Get ready for a great last day of the 2012 McDowell Mountain Music Festival.  See you there!


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