by Jordan Green
Now in its fifth year, Phuzz Phest is upon us again with more than 60 bands. It’s indisputably the Triad’s most adventurous and interesting annual music festival — a mish-mash of indie-folk, garage-psych, hip hop and electronica. (Heavy Rebel Weekender, a retro rock-and-roll extravaganza with as much emphasis on lifestyle accouterments like hotrods and tattoos that falls every Fourth of July weekend, is the only other contender, really.)
As one of the most affordable rock festivals in the country, Phuzz Phest is a movable feast, with action pin-balling between a handful of Winston-Salem venues over the course of three days. It’s a showcase for the small but mighty record label that shares its name and the equally burgeoning downtown of one of North Carolina’s hippest cities. It highlights the love affair between the Camel City and the thriving Triangle indie scene, while radiating outwards through the Southeast, up the East Coast, odd points in the Midwest and Pacific Rim and even around the world. Phuzz Phest champions the local scene while catching rising national acts playing the last shows they’re likely to do in small and intimate rooms. It starts Friday.
Here, in no particular order, is an incomplete list of acts you should check out.
Probably no band on the festival lineup is undergoing as stratospheric a rise as Foxygen, the creative vehicle of Los Angeles songwriting duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado. Check out their performance of “How Can You Really” on “The Late Show with David Letterman” only three months ago. France’s falsetto vocals recall Mick Jagger at his most effete and gospel inspired, while the band sounds like the Stones in their drug-addled early ’70s phase trying to do their best impression of Motown’s Funk Brothers.
Festival organizer Philip Pledger says this will be the last time American audiences get to see Foxygen in their current nine-piece format. For a taste of that experience, and a sense of their electrifying stage presence, take a look at the YouTube of the band’s set at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Paris last November after watching the “Letterman” clip.
Foxygen performs at the Millennium Center on Saturday at 10 p.m.
Jeffrey Dean Foster
The gentleman rocker emeritus of Winston-Salem, Jeffrey Dean Foster released The Arrow, the critically acclaimed follow-up to 2005’s Million Star Hotel, last year. I’m a huge fan, and both albums hold a prized place in my collection. The fleeting quality of his recorded music is only enhanced in a live setting, with each song walking the knife’s edge between exquisite craft and careless accident. Along those lines, Foster has aptly described The Arrow as kind of a lost 1970s hit record. I didn’t get a chance to see his show at SECCA last year to celebrate the release of The Arrow, so I’m really looking forward to this set.
Jeffrey Dean Foster performs at the Garage on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
For Greg Kot, co-host of WBEZ Chicago’s “Sound Opinions,” Protomartyr was a major epiphany of his 2014 South by Southwest experience. Drawing on their native Detroit’s rich musical history — consider the Stooges, the MC5 and the White Stripes, along with Eminem, Bob Seger and Motown — Protomartyr advances a minimalist, post-punk agenda that sounds more like the Fall than any of the aforementioned acts. Setting the band apart from other noise purveyors, Joe Casey’s vocals sound like a barfly’s rantings over the unconventional instrumentation of his younger bandmates.
Protomartyr performs at the Garage on Friday at 11:30 p.m.
The Raleigh-based artist Boulevards distills funk to its essence with Chic-style throbbing bass lines, squibs of esoteric synth and undeniable attitude. “Got to Go” is the most fun, sexiest track this side of Prince’s “1999.”
Boulevards performs at Krankies Coffee on Friday at 8:15 p.m.
Lots of bands these days are exploring the iterations in and around psych, garage and pop, but psychedelic country — or cosmic Americana, if you like — is a more remote crossroads. Futurebirds from Athens, Ga. has the added appeal of being a seasoned and tested unit with new confidence since the release of its latest long-player, Baba Yaga. A new country heartbreaker “Painted Tears” — to be released on a split 7-inch with T. Hardy Morris — will be all of a day old when the band hits Winston-Salem.
Futurebirds perform at the Millennium Center on April 19 at 9 p.m.
Recently signed to Sub Pop Records, Pittsburgh’s Gotobeds play a variant of post punk and indie rock with a feral tunefulness that often eludes their more jaded and broke contemporaries in New York City (as the band addresses on “NY’s Alright” on its recent debut Poor People Are Revolting.) They make a strong case for the connection between affordability and innovation, which is appealing in and of itself.
The Gotobeds perform at the Garage on Friday at 10:30 p.m.
Natalie Prass occupies the same headlining slot on Saturday as Jessica Lea Mayfield, a standout favorite from last year. Prass is coming off dates with Ryan Adams and Hiss Golden Messenger, and festival organizer Philip Pledger says the Garage is one of the smallest clubs she’ll play all year. Like Mayfield, Prass is an unvarnished talent. With a nimble voice and a feel for exquisite phrasing that falls somewhere between Crystal Gayle and Joni Mitchell, her work is complemented by great production with strings and calypso touches.
Natalie Prass performs at the Garage on Saturday at 11:30 p.m.
Flesh Wounds were one of the highlights of the inaugural Suckfest in Greensboro last year. The Carrboro band draws from the Henry Rollins era of Black Flag, with a hardcore ethos of total commitment to onstage catharsis. The intimacy and cohesion of their performance suggests a band stuffed into a van together for endless hours with no privacy or respite from the smell of stale sweat. That’s probably not the actual case for such a young band, and so the perception should only be considered a compliment.
Flesh Wounds perform at Reanimator on Friday at 10 p.m.
Lowland Hum, husband-and-wife folk duo of Daniel and Lauren Goans, might not be Greensboro’s most familiar musical export, but maybe that’s because they’ve spent so much time on the road building a national following. Lowland Hum’s self-titled second album dropped on Tuesday, having streamed at npr.org the week previously. The intertwining of male and female voices suggests the Pentangle or maybe Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, while the lush instrumentation on their new album hearkens to the more recent folk orchestra sounds of groups like Lost in the Trees.
Lowland Hum performs at Reanimator on April 19 at 9:45 p.m.