STPP Fest Part 1: Black Squirrel 10.5.12
Reviewed By: Clay Conger
Photos By: John-Paul Zajackowski
From 8PM to 2AM, I had seven bands to cover at Black Squirrel in Adams Morgan. There were Pumpkin Ales and Triple Hops aplenty, and a slowly increasing mass of anxious bodies. It would be a long night, so hopefully the music would help me through it.
The Fed: This was a perfect starting band, except for the fact they showed more energy, and in some ways more creativity, than many of the bands that followed. This is the best mixture of blues and punk rock I have ever witnessed. The drums and guitar would pound away standard punk progressions but then slip into blues both quickly and smoothly, with plenty of raw vocals and fantastic, piercing guitar solos. They seemed to be bursting out of their skin, and the stage simply wasn’t big enough for them.
Josh Urban: As a deep contrast, Urban was a folk singer on an acoustic guitar, but more than that, he was a storyteller. He was very animated and jovial, constantly speaking to the crowd-and he kept this act up throughout. Although he did several folk songs, including a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues,” he reminded me most of Trout Fishing in America.
Bells and Hunters: During the first two acts I saw a female photographer walk around taking close shots of the bands. She was one of many photographers there but she was the only one I saw that took the stage as well. Surrounded by a four person band, she laid down low pitched, Adele-styled vocals with genuine emotion. The songs themselves were strong, fast-paced rock, often with riffs and chords playing simultaneously. There was tight construction in the songs as well: not a note was out of place.
Pity Rally: This band was the fourth band in a row that sounded nothing like the others. Indie/punk in style, the distorted, rough notes and chords, as well as frequent use of flat strumming and escalation reminded me most of Modest Mouse or The Pixies. One of the guitarists was a girl with a very pretty voice and all four members, including the drummer, sang at one point. They appeared to honestly enjoy playing on the stage and both their zeal and their consistent skill got the crowd nice and riled up.
The Dead Women: The fifth band was another mixture of different styles: this one being punk and reggae. And despite the latter of the two genres, The Dead Women was very high energy. There was a constant outcry of noise from the stage, often with songs ending with a one chord slam like ACDC. Yet even with the sheer vigor and volume, the singing was strong, cruising high over the various sounds. The bass guitar particular ran smooth throughout the performance.
Maple: Energy was still high as the indie group Maple started to play. They were less punk than previous bands, but still keep the energized vibe going, thanks in part to fast and effective use of harmony between the bass and guitars. In addition, the lead guitarist had great stage presence. He was clearly having a blast playing the fierce solos and at one point playing behind his head. Maple was a band that played on the stage and made it their own.
Paperhaus: The crowd was in full swing as the final group, the headlining Paperhaus, set up to perform. From the first few seconds I knew instantly that they were going to win over this crowd if they hadn’t already. They were the first electronic rock group of the night, and their funky rhythms, catchy vocals, and overall joyful performance garnered cheers within minutes. Impressive guitar licks rang from the amps, and a fast, thudding bass powered its way through song. The musicians appeared very natural in front of the crowd, without a shred of hesitation or stage fright. Right as a song gleefully transitioned into a new jumpy rock number, I could see Paperhaus on a much larger stage. And to reiterate, they truly got that crowd amped.
I left Black Squirrel with an ale-addled trot, grabbed a jumbo slice and hailed a cab. I was satisfied to have watched the entire show, but also glad that all seven bands sounded different and brought something new and entertaining to the table. None of it really seemed to drag at any point, and there was enough energy and instrumentation to satisfy all-overall, a good show.
Check out our photos from the show: