Summer festival season finally hit Atlanta with the second installment of Corndog-O-Rama at Lenny's. The event ran for four days and included many of Atlanta's most promising and popular indie rock bands. Inside Lenny's Bar there were performances on the main stage and on a side stage which consisted of nothing more than designated floor space to the right of the permanent stage. Outside there was a more traditional festival stage erected in the parking lot, and a smaller DJ booth with surrounding beach sand stowed away in a corner of the asphalt expanse. And of course there were food vendors selling everything from fish tacos to funnel cakes (and of course corndogs).
If you remember how great the locals only stage was at the now defunct Music Midtown, multiply that by ten and you have an idea of what Corndog-O-Rama is all about. The festival replaces MM as the city's premier rock music festival, but it stands alone in its focus on providing local musicians with a chance to play for larger audiences than would normally be available to them. And the festival picked up a lot of steam this year in both its promotional efforts and attendance. We in the local music scene can only hope with all our might that this event continues to go on annually and keep providing us with the chance to see our favourites get their due and discover those developing or under-the-radar talents that have fallen through the cracks.
Nerd Parade was the first group that really caught my attention. The five-piece played the main stage at about 4:00 to a small but appreciative crowd. The band blends punk, reggae, and a dash of classic rock flair into their live shows. Their studio work thus far however relies much more heavily on electronic elements. Led by charismatic female vocalist Abby Wren and guitarist Randy Garcia, the band delivered a fun set that left me for one wanting to see more. Their next show will be at Vinyl on July 10th followed by two sets at The Five Spot on July 18th and August 10th. They also have an album out titled A Delicate Bashing which is available from the usual digital download sources. To hear some tracks for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/thenerdparade.
Thy Mighty Contract was next on the main stage. The band sports a post-punk sound with palpable metal undercurrents countered by the sometimes sweet, sometimes angry musings of their diminutive female lead singer. The sound mix for their set was on the poor side, but the band was able to still get their point across: to bob your head while simultaneously shattering your eardrums. I don't want to call this band a side project for the five members, but many of them do have other active bands from whence they came, including The Orphins and Fagstatic. Sample tracks may be heard at http://www.myspace.com/thymightycontract .
The first eye-opening surprise band of the day was Handsome Jack. It is much too unfortunate that the band is not local, but after playing not just one or two but three days of Corndog-O-Rama to uproarious applause and commendation, maybe they will reconsider. The Buffalo-based band are straight ahead rockers in the classic sense. Obvious influences include the more bluesy Led Zeppelin stuff, Jimi Hendrix, and a little Guns 'n Roses. The band currently has an album out titled Heat Seeker, which is very good at capturing the raucous nature of their live performances. For links to where you can buy it and to hear the band for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/handsomejack. And if you ever notice their name on a show calendar, I recommend you cancel any other plans you may have and go see them.
Young Antiques were the first outdoor stage performance I caught. I think it's fair to say that the stage was much too big in size for the group. The three-piece grungish punk band aren't the most mobile of performers, and the layout of the stage had the members set up too far from one another to visually hold your attention. Their set was pretty good regardless, and I do recommend their more intimate venue shows if you're into '90s nostalgia.
Five Eight followed on the outdoor stage. I never miss a chance to see these guys anymore. They may be aging and they may not have any fresh material, but they always deliver a quality show full of quirky humour and wonderfully performed music. And with nearly 20 years of material already in the hopper, each show is unique in its own right. This set was probably the best mix of old and new that I have witnessed containing mostly material from their critcally-acclaimed mid '90s album Weirdo and 2004's commercially successful self-titled release. And in addition to his hilarious nonsensical rantings, lead singer and guitarist Mike Mantione has the best guitar faces in the state (see photo at top).
Sleep Therapy performed on the main stage and delivered one of their better sets I've ever seen. The band incorporates ambient guitar rock with expansive keyboards. This set was a bit more straight ahead with the rock though, which turns out to be more natural for them live and increased the appeal of their show. This band has also gotten progressively better each time I've seen them, which is always a delightful compliment to pay any band.
Next up on the main stage was Grinder Nova. Equal parts ska and bossa nova style jazz, the group put on one of the more fun shows of the day. With the exception of the dapperly clad lead singer, the entire band wore matching red jumpsuits with a mural of the Virgin Mary on the back. In addition to the guitar, bass, and drumkit, the band also has two saxophonists and an auxillary multi-percussionist who managed to find a way to whip out a washboard for one song in addition to his bongos, woodblock, and chimes. Definitely a novelty act, the band injects a lot of fun into any lineup of which they may be a part. A special trip to see them, on the other hand, probably isn't the best of ideas. A better idea is to sample their sounds at http://www.myspace.com/grindernova and catch them by happenstance.
English darlings The Hiss were also on hand. Based in Atlanta for a number of years now, the band continues to fail to connect with a large local audience for reasons that escape me. They always deliver a quality, high-energy set, and this one was no exception. And if it's name recognition the local whordes are looking for, I can't imagine how sharing a stage with the likes of Cheap Trick, The Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and The White Stripes doesn't catch your attention. Anyway, the band has two albums out titled Panic Movement and Chocolate Hearts. The latter may be purchased in digital download directly from the band by visiting http://www.myspace.com/thehiss. They will also present one of the better ways to spend your July 4th evening with their show at Star Bar with The Booze and Club Awesome.
Whilst almost everyone else was outside having their ears assaulted by repetitive sonic droners Snowden, a few sensible revelers were treated to a fantastic performance by Asheville's The Poles. Flanked by a virtual wall of amps, the band shared their brand of intelligently melodic minimalist rock injected with grungy breakouts and a ton of emotion. They currently have a five-song EP titled As Above, So Below available on iTunes and are set to begin work on a full-length album later this year. To sample a few of their songs, go to http://www.myspace.com/thepoleslive.
With the outdoor shows concluded for the evening, Lenny's was all at once packed for the last few shows of the evening. Dropsonic did not disappoint those returning to the air conditioning. The band put on a very loud and satisfying cathartic set. They have a funky approach to their Southern influenced post-punk style and put every ounce of energy they have into the performance. Drummer Brian Hunter delivered the best performance of the day behind the tubs and was amply accompanied by the formidable guitar talent of Dan Dixon. The band's three albums are all available on iTunes. And if you haven't heard them yet, go to http://www.myspace.com/dropsonic.
I will give full marks to Adam of the Have You Heard? blog and podcast for urging me to hang around for The Howlies. They might just be my new favourite Atlanta band. Fun doesn't even begin to describe their set on the side stage. And whoever decided to put them on the side stage should have his head examined. The band is full of raw powerpop potential and energy. And might I add that if you are going to cover a song, especially at a festival showcase such as this, you had better make it count. That's exactly what The Howlies did with their cover of R. Kelly's "Not Guilty". The swarm of people crowding around the side stage who saw it will be talking about it for weeks to come. Their original songs were even better though. Before I give you the link to their MySpace page, I must warn you that the demos you will hear on there do this band absolutely no justice whatsoever, and you should pay no attention to them. With that said, to see where they are playing (you absolutely must see them), go to http://www.myspace.com/howlies. I'll go ahead and say that their July 25th show with The Selmanaires at Lenny's will be one of the best local lineup shows this year.
So that's my recap of Saturday's events. Overall, it was an awesome day and experience. In my opinion, Corndog-O-Rama is the best thing to happen to Atlanta since Ted Turner. And I'm sure that if I had more funds and time to attend all four days I would be raving about even more of the bands who performed. As is stands, much love to Lenny's for putting on this event so well. May it live long and prosper. Viva la Corndog-O-Rama!
A quick side note: I know I promised pictures on a regular basis. I will, don't worry, but a new lens is definitely needed for most indoor shows. What I have now is crap and will be replaced as soon as possible. Until then you'll have to put up with whatever I can get (which for this particular event was almost nothing). I'm a writer first anyway, so at least there's that.