Blackbeard’s Lost Weekender
The Cave and Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Friday, April 10–Saturday, April 11, 2015
On Friday night at the Chapel Hill club Nightlight, the Orlando punk band Golden Pelicans roared through a short set of splattered beer, playful headbutts, larynx-shredding howls from singer Erik Grincewicz and beefy classic-rock riffs from his supporting band. As the foursome whipped the room toward frenzy, Grincewicz slipped a grin. “That’s what I want,” he said. “Intensity.”
It was what I wanted, too. But with some very notable exceptions, the energy at Blackbeard’s Lost Weekender, the garage-rock festival that returned to Chapel Hill after a near-decade absence, ebbed and flowed, at least on the first two nights. Based on the amount of backslaps and bear-hugs shared by attendees, I felt like I was crashing a casual gathering of old friends more than attending a rock ‘n’ roll free-for-all. There was the sense that the real party was happening later, that the shows were just an excuse to enact a reunion.
That’s not to say the festival was lacking: Austin’s A Giant Dog revved up the crowd with a powerful, polished set on Friday. Shortly thereafter, the local punk trio Natural Causes, hiding behind blank face masks, offered a tight, anxious act that bound together paranoid post-punk, synth-blasted proto-hardcore and, at one moment, the haunting, manic shrillness of The Mentally Ill’s “Gacy’s Place” (a punk singles collector’s grail). It was an early thrill. Golden Pelicans, likewise, left a mess of spilled beer and broad grins in their wake.
But these standouts were balanced by letdowns. With a fluid schedule, largely due to headliners Dinos Boys cancelling, I missed Raleigh’s Shitty Boots, who ended up playing concurrently with Golden Pelicans. Wilmington indie quartet Free Clinic, who offered a more subdued counterpoint to the garage-rock bread and butter, also suffered from parallel booking; their set, though sharp, was under-attended. Paint Fumes, who became the night’s de facto marquee act, started late, plugging in after 1 a.m. and enduring technical difficulties from the start. Their sets often have the feeling of impending calamity, but this one never even had the rails to fly off of.
On Saturday, Bohica Sheiks bassist Montgomery Morris introduced their show by doffing his clothes and announcing, “We’re Bohica Sheiks, and this is our last show.” More notable, though, was the crowd’s nonchalance. The trio’s raw garage-punk set seemed to form some sort of turning point, though. It wasn’t explosive—save for the naked bassist, it was a fairly standard set—but perhaps suggested there might be some excitement to come.
Pipe’s performance, meanwhile, was a model of basement-party professionalism. Frontman Ron Liberti’s ragged howl has never sounded better, and the band’s veteran chops were on clear display. It wasn’t quite the beer-can-launching bacchanal I’d expected, but it supplied a shot of adrenaline all the same. Orlando rockabilly trio The WildTones supplied a mid-evening highlight with a crisp, crackling set that perfectly captured the real-gone spirit of their influences. With a sharp performance and playfully confrontational banter, they had the room moving and singing along—in stark contrast to the polite but muted response witnessed earlier in the weekend. It set the stage nicely for Greensboro’s Wahya’s, helmed by festival organizers Joshua Johnson and Lindsey Sprague. They offered a ragged, charming set as a duo.
Another duo ended the night. Dexter Romweber took the opportunity to revisit his salad days as the voice of the Flat Duo Jets, a riotous rockabilly band that earned cult status in the ‘90s. With drummer Crash LaResh (who played with Romweber in early incarnations of his post-Jets eponymous duo), Romweber roared through his late-night set in front of a packed house. “Wild Wild Lover” was as wild as ever. People sang and clapped and danced. Romweber delivered the intensity I’d come seeking. When I left shortly after 2 a.m., the duo showed no signs of stopping. After a slow start, I figured I’d end the weekend on a high note, happy to imagine Romweber and LaResh banging out those old classics, maybe forever.