Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 31, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Day two of WARMfest served as the coming-out party for Joyful Noise Recordings, an Indianapolis record label that has established itself as a bona fide titan in the indie rock world in recent years. From the slacker/garage rock trio Sleeping Bag to the absurdist lyricism of Why? and the circus-like headlining set from of Montreal, the label’s eclectic roster was in the spotlight on the main stage from start to finish on Saturday.
While JNR’s stage appeared to go off without a hitch to the WARMfest audience, it wasn’t without its share of behind-the-scenes logistical snafus. Around 9 p.m. Friday, label owner Karl Hofstetter was hosting a barbecue and marathon recording session at his house across the street from the festival when he learned that Half Japanese’s drummer Gilles Reider was barred entry into the country by U.S. customs agents upon his arrival at Detroit’s airport.
“We found out that he had flown from France, where he lives, into Detroit, and they had detained him because they thought it was suspicious because he was only here for two days,” Hofstetter says. “They searched through his phone and found emails relating to the fest, and he didn’t have a proper work visa. I get the feeling that a large contributing factor to him not being able to come was that he just couldn’t communicate with these people. If he was a native English speaker, he could’ve just said ‘Okay, let me pay the $300 fine, and let me go.’ Instead, they sent him back.”
In the 11th hour, longtime Half Japanese guitarist John Sluggett was forced to shuffle into the role of drummer. Ironically, Sluggett first met lead singer Jad Fair while filling in on drums at an impromptu gig in Florida around 1988.
While returning to this role might seem like an impossible task to a non-musician, Sluggett said it wasn’t too much of a stretch. Sluggett served as drummer in Moe Tucker’s band, former drummer of The Velvet Underground, after Fair introduced the pair in 1989 until recently. Plus, he knows these songs. “I’ve been playing with Jad for so long, about half the songs are riffs that I wrote on the guitar,” Sluggett says. “So, I know how they go.”
Rounding out the rest of Half Japanese’s lineup on Saturday was Mick Hobbs on guitar and Jason Willett on bass. Willett met Fair in his home base of Baltimore around the same time as Sluggett when Fair found himself bandless on the cusp of a European tour. “Jad and I became good friends down in Maryland and he said, ‘Come over to my house. I need to talk to you.’,” Willett says. “ He said ‘I have a month-and-a-half tour and no band. Will you, A: be in the band? and B: can you recruit?’” Willett agreed to both, teaching himself bass and 30 songs in the span of a month and recruited Hobbs via a chance long-distance phone call.
“I called up Mick Hobbs in London,” Willett says, “because I was listening to a bunch music – I was listening to Family Fodder, The Work, Officer, The Momes – all these amazing records coming out of England. I’m like, ‘I’m just gonna call that guy.’ I called him up, international information, and he was like ‘Hullo?’ … ‘Hi are you Mick Hobbs?’ … and he’s like, ‘Yes.’ … ‘Do you want to be in Half Japanese? … ‘Is this a joke?’” With the addition of Reider, the current Half Japanese lineup has been in place in some form ever since, excluding the occasional, decade-long hiatus.
Despite the missing members, Half Japanese’s set proved to be one of my favorites in a day filled with extraordinary performances. Fair played a custom-painted guitar that was literally coming apart at the hinges. It looked to be held together by the four capos clamped to the first fret. Fair’s lyrics are naïve and playful. In an epiphany of sorts, he disproved the long-held theory that nothing rhymes with the word “orange,” utilizing the perfectly placed compound “door hinge.” Brilliant.
The strength of Joyful Noise’s roster made it tough to pry myself from the main stage on Saturday. However, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of Sluggett served as drummer in Moe Tucker’s band, former drummer of The Velvet Underground, after Fair introduced the pair in 1989 until recently. Plus, he knows these songs. local super group, The Last IV, featuring Rusty Redenbacher (vocals), Vess Ruhtenberg (guitar), Devon Ashley (drums) and Tufty Clough (bass). Redenbacher is as dynamic a front man as any act could hope for, gyrating, howling and coercing the crowd into a frenzy. The group’s set leaned heavily on covers, but their impeccable taste left no room for complaint in the audience with a diverse set list featuring everything from The Stooges to LCD Soundsystem.
Another noteworthy, non-JNR performance featured a trio of heavy hitters from Indy’s hip-hop scene. Freddie Bunz, Grey Granite and Sirius Blvck rocked a seamless set under the shade of WARMfest’s Heron stage. The trio was sharp, and the chops earned on their recent Ghost Gun Summer Vacation Tour was evident throughout. All-in-all, Saturday was everything I had hoped for and more — capped off by a brilliant, theatrical set from headliner Of Montreal.
Those late to the WARMfest party need not worry. Today’s lineup is stacked. Come out to Broad Ripple Park for big national acts such as Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Head Todd and The Monsters and indie rock icons Guided By Voices alongside celebrated locals like Pravada and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. My sleeper pick of the day: For $10 you should hop on a boat for a Wapahani River Cruise featuring a performance from Sleeping Bag at 3:45 this afternoon. Purchase tickets to WARMfest online or at the gate.
Written by Rob Peoni