Three absolutely thrilling sets
Ex Hex at Bailey Park
As the searing chords of Mary Timony’s guitar — like an electric cattle prod — pierced the dusk at the commencement of Ex Hex’s set at Bailey Park on Friday, the fans gravitated to the sound like ravenous hyenas. Small clusters of people rounded the corner from Krankies Coffee and poured out the door from Reanimator. People were literally skipping up Patterson Avenue in their eagerness to get to the brand new bandshell at Bailey Park in a scene reminiscent of the last day of school before summer break in Dazed and Confused.
Aptly described in their publicity material as “unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll spat in the discipline’s mother tongue,” Ex Hex’s music hit all the pleasure points, combining the clean tone and shimmering reverb of Timony’s guitar playing with Betsy Wright’s throbbing and primal bass-playing and Laura Harris’ tough and dynamic drumming. Clad in denim, they cut a smart and cool profile. It was fun to watch Timony grimace through her taut guitar solos, and then break into a smile and she sang the verse.
The Tills at the Millennium Center
The Tills’ garage hootenanny drew rave reviews from audience members at last year’s festival. After signing with Phuzz Records and recording an EP with legendary North Carolina producer Mitch Easter at the Fidelitorium in Kernersville, they could only be expected to solidify their position this year. And they didn’t disappoint.
With a saxophone player on board, their set at the Millennium Center on Saturday took off like a drunken ’60s frat party, and they immediately generated a rousing response.
The lead singer sounded somewhat like Little Richard with a howling vibrato of a voice. The drummer, a maniac player, handled vocals on select tunes, favoring a raspy growl.
Some technical difficulties with the bass hardly broke the spell.
“We got the bass back,” the lead singer exulted. “Now nothing can possibly go wrong.”
As an aside that was possibly inappropriate but felt absolutely right, he added, “Foxygen is here! We’re gonna get you wet… for full penetration.”
Foxygen at the Millenium Center
Scheduling Foxygen after the Tills must be recognized as a masterstroke of sequencing. The Los Angeles band took the privilege of starting about 20 minutes late, which can backfire for groups with lesser talent. Taking the stage they simulated pandemonium, with James France singing angry ’60s garage-rock vocals over Jonathan Rado’s swirling organ, and declaring at one point: “I’ll see you in court.”
The three female backup singers were absolutely fantastic, placed prominently onstage and wearing makeup that gave them a look that was simultaneously sexy and ghoulish. At one point they swirled around France like the three witches in Macbeth.
And France egged the audience with outrageous insouciance, quipping, “Personally speaking, I broke up with my boyfriend and my girlfriend last night. Questions and comments — refer to the suggestion box after this show.”
Led by France and Rado, the duo was performing its final show in the United States as a nine-piece, and the concert had the chaotic and thrilling feel — almost certainly put-on — of a band coming apart at the seams. The backup singers made a convincing show of looking totally pissed, particularly when the guitarist and bass player broke from their groove and initiated a sudden light-sabre duel. As for the band, who mostly remained in the background, their grooves referenced Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” and Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour” while still managing to sound fresh and original. France’s corny jokes and a fake-out cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” contributed to the concert’s uneven feel, but that was all part of its charm. They managed to work in two encores and still finish within an hour.