[Abby’s Road] Strange and familiar fruit


I am a sucker when it comes to nostalgia. For the 4 regular readers I (might) have, you already know this. Just want to put it out there before I start my ramble. Right.

Firstly, holiday. We took off a few weeks ago, destination Poland, where my better half once studied and learned the language (thank Christ, because I’d have been screwed). He was really anxious to meet up with old friends; we were excited to catch the 4-day OFF Festival in Katowice, my first festival in over 10 years. How’d it go, you ask? Well, since you inquired…

This was the smoothest, most well-managed festival I have ever been to. After going to Reading, ATP and the like over the years, it is also the smallest, which explains a lot, plus they’ve had 7 years to perfect it. Topping at a mere 15K patrons, only 2K of which were campers, it was cozy. The ping-pong usage of the 4 stages, 2 on either side of the event property, combined with limiting alcoholic beverages to the festival gastronomy and lounge zones (dry stage and camping areas, huzzah!) left me feeling relaxed and able to concentrate wholly on the music, not Drunkie Marie attempting new dance moves while slurping vodka tonics in my personal space. At 50€ for all 4 days TOTAL (with camping, though we punked out and checked into a hotel after our first and only mosquito-laden tent night) and a line up like this it was, for us, a no-brainer. And, AND! The portable potties looked as good on the first day as the last. Chalk that miracle up to tidy festival-goers or a magical night cleaning staff, who knows. So, the music:

The front runner as far as performances by those I knew of already were The Soft Moon. Luckily they performed their dark and dancy introspective material at one of the two, smaller tented stages during the day so I had no idea the sun was shining outside of the open end. Brilliant. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times: Captured Tracks knows what the hell they’re doing (note: anyone going to CT5 want to grab me some swag? I’m good for it). Electronic Polish duo UL/KR was/is my favorite discovery of the festival. Clear vocals in front of dreamy guitar and just enough digitally generated bloops to satisfy elektro-hounds and singer songwriter types alike. And before you say “but he’s singing in Polish….?!” remember, you listen(ed) to Sigur Rós and nobody knows what the fuck Jónsi is talking about.

The days were long, headliners, as with typical festival schedules, not starting until after midnight. GY!BE, My Bloody Valentine and Deerhunter, of course, were fantastic (THIS happened) so nothing much to say there. One headliner, however, lifted and crushed my heart, brain and stomach simultaneously.  Enter: The Smashing Pumpkins and my good friend, Nostalgia.

Or should I say Billy Corgan and his band of Doppelganger Desperadoes.

When I first saw the lineup I rolled my eyes and was like “whaaaaaaaaaaaat?? He’s still at it? He should have cut his losses in 1995 and retired comfortably without a whimper.” You and I both know that after the 2010 Rolling Stone interview wherein he professed his love for Jessica Simpson, coupled with his already historical ass-headedness, any inkling of admiration for him went out the proverbial window. Against my better judgment and because of a husband refusing not to go, we unfolded our blanket on a grassy knoll and waited for Mr. Corgan to grace us with his presence.

1991-1992 was my first year of college. I turned 18. I went to see My Bloody Valentine for the first time. AND I absolutely adored Gish. Listening today it is a little dated with that fuzzy-grungy sound of the year, but damn if it isn’t just as fantastic as it was day one. It’s Corgan’s voice and Chamberlin’s drumming that still gets me; a match I rarely listen to these days, but since the festival I revisited. Right…the festival. “The Smashing Pumpkins” are currently Corgan and a troupe of strangers who look alarmingly like the original lineup (minus some hair). Laughably so. Why, Billy? What are you holding on to? Kind of like INXS being “INXS” without Hutchence. Why do you insist on calling your band what, well, it isn’t anymore? It’s pretty hard to get around.

What I did do, after I bitched and my partner refused to leave, is pout of course. But I also sat and listened. You can stop reading if you must, but these folks, Billy and Company, once I let my guard down, sounded so.fucking.good. Yes, he was wearing what appeared to be one of those tattoo-sleeved shirts (oh, Billy…), but he sounded as though I was listening to a cassette on a Sony in my Penn Hall dorm room. Really good. Like not missing a beat on old material good.

So. There you have it. As with many of these threads I spin, I am left with a question. With the plethora of new bands popping up at a rate so fast that it is impossible to keep up, is there something wrong with hanging on to the oldies while finding newies, even for selfish reasons like making you feel young again and reliving the past, blabbety blah blah? I think this goes for artists as well. Unknowingly, what I had first laughed about ended up being a pivotal part of the festival for me. Unlike purposeful listening transporting one to a place you haven’t been in decades, this was a surprise. I think I might get what it is Billy is doing. It feels good, wrinkles, achy back and all. Go for it, Billy, you crazy (and entertaining) bastard. I hesitantly approve.

Happy weekend, oldsters. Whoever you are.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

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