Heliotrope Nine's final night at Lab Theater, 5/26/12

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
Heliotrope Nine
The Lab Theater, Minneapolis
Saturday, May 26, 2012

Heliotrope Nine night two at Lab Theater, 5/25/12
Slideshow: Heliotrope 9 at the Lab Theater: Friday
Slideshow: Heliotrope 9 at the Lab Theater: Saturday

The Ninth Annual Heliotrope music festival wound down with a collective bang on Saturday night, as a collection of nine experimental, inventive local bands with not a whole lot in common musically came together to deliver sets that somehow fit together quite perfectly in a showcase for underground, unconventional music in the Twin Cities.

The festival was set in the spartan but spacious confines of the Lab Theater, and the austere surroundings only added to the moody atmosphere of the performances at Heliotrope.

Local trio Unhappy Virgin Damage kicked off the night with a riveting set filled with guitar-laden, tempestuous noise that crafted a turbulent but electric vibe that would carry through the entire evening. Their stormy, minimalist material featured a fitful blend of discordant electronic elements, as well as piercing guitars and sporadic drumming, and their half-hour set opened Heliotrope on a strident, positive note.
Photo by Erik Hess

Guitar and bass duo Oaks were up next, and their gritty, relentlessly catchy set was one of the night's highlights. Their potent sound was augmented by a drum machine, which drew comparisons to both the Kills and the Raveonettes, but with a darker, more sinister edge. It was a well-paced, spirited performance by the group, one that was bolstered by the stellar video work of Emily Kaplan, who added a captivating visual compliment to the music all evening long.

Kaplan deftly spliced live video feeds of the bands performing along with a striking collage of cassette tapes, preening bodybuilders, skulls, and other sensational images, all in two massive 20x20 foot projections on the giant brick wall of the Lab Theater. It made for a dramatic backdrop for all of the bands, and, along with the cutting-edge music itself, certainly went a long way towards making the event memorable.

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Photo by Erik Hess

The enormous stage at the Lab Theater allowed for quick transitions between sets, as bands could set up their gear on the left, middle, and right edges of the stage, giving each performance slightly different lighting and feel. Local trio the Funeral and the Twilight took to the far right of the stage, and delivered a raucous and well-received set filled with heavy, melodic rock. The guitarist added mostly unintelligible vocals to the turbulent sonic mix, which only added another layer of dissonance to the their churning sound. But their songs were ultimately driven by the frenzied percussion of their drummer, who was an absolute beast behind the kit. The three-piece also clearly won the best beards of the fest as well.  

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Photo by Erik Hess

Fortified Five brought a decidedly upbeat style to their brand of experimentalism, which was quite welcome after the dark intensity of the earlier sets. The quintet had a rugged, surf-rock sound, which featured some truly fantastic guitar work as well as some brass flourishes which gave their material an extra buoyancy. As with most of the other acts on the bill, their set was mostly instrumental, with vocals thrown in almost as a laugh by the band, who focused instead on their boisterous riffs and melodies during their highly enjoyable set.

Photo by Erik Hess

The inscrutable two-piece Hasps were next, and they delivered the set of the night. The guitar and drum noise rock combo, which formed out of the ashes of Gay Beast, played a fierce, breathless set that really ignited the room. Guitarist Isaac Rotto, who performed with a decorative mask concealing his face, continually churned piercing, punishing riffs on top of drummer Angela Gerend's untamed rhythms, all coalescing into this volatile, roiling wall of noise and discord that stopped everyone in their tracks, and left us all wanting more.

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Photo by Erik Hess

Next up was local quartet Tips For Twat, and their fiery, riot-girl sound easily filled the room with their slow-burning riffs and the piercing wail of the lead singer. There was quite a bit of tension layered within their simmering songs, and the band was at its best when that tension was released and the songs began to expand and unleash.

Photo by Erik Hess

Things got really dark (both musically and visually) in the theater as the doom metal trio Scaphe made their distinct mark on Heliotrope by delivering the loudest set of the night. Their crunchy, menacing riffs boiled with a vehemence that got a good portion of the crowd banging their heads in time to their ferocious rhythms. All the sets throughout the night were limited to about a half-hour, which gave the bands the perfect amount of time to show everyone what they were about, and kept the night moving along nicely for the fans, as well. 

Photo by Erik Hess

Headliners TVBC have used Heliotrope as their reunion festival as of late, getting back together for last year's fest after a long live absence, and this year's captivating set should go a long way towards encouraging the celebrated trio to hopefully schedule more shows. But for now, Heliotrope seems to be the perfect fit for the band, which makes their ultra-rare 40-minute set that much more magical.

The performance started with Paul Metzger playing his delicate banjo with a bow, bringing a decidedly Middle-Eastern feel to their experimental first number. Adam Linz kept time with Metzger on his stand-up bass, delivering a robust low tone to guide the mournful song forward, while drummer Freddy Votel provided a minimal beat underneath Metzger's sonic journey.

The spare elegance of the first movement smoothly transitioned into a more riotous number, as Metzger picked up his electric guitar and Votel became more involved with driving the rhythm and pace of the song. The group's sound is a carefully studied expression of minimalist experimentalism, with all the members seasoned enough professionally to know when and where to take the music next.

Metzger led the group home with his energetic guitar work, as their sound unfolded into a stormy sonic gale, with Linz's bass lines providing the thunderous undertones to the discordant finish. And, despite shouts for an encore, TVBC were done. At least until next year's Heliotrope (hopefully).

Smoke began to fill the theater as the tumultuous evening wasn't quite finishing yet. Zak Sally's avant-garde noise rock outfit White Map closed out Helitrope in an idiosyncratic fashion, as four drummers dressed all in white slowly ascended from the top of the theater, wearing space-age backpacks with speakers attached to them that were broadcasting menacing news reports, as another member with a megaphone only added to the chaos. They eventually all made it to the smoke-filled stage, where they joined in a untamed rhythmic explosion that brought the experimental evening to a fitting, eye-opening end.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Coming into the night, I had only seen one of these bands play live before (Hasps), and hadn't really heard of any of the other bands except for TVBC. Heliotrope strives to give attention to unheralded but deserving acts, and that is exactly what was on offer on Saturday night at the Lab.

The Crowd: A good turnout for a great festival that only gets better with each passing year. It was also nice to see nearly all of the bands sticking around throughout the night, checking out the other groups along with the rest of the tight-knit crowd. 

Random Notebook Dump: The Lab Theater worked really well for this year's Heliotrope, adding to the ambiance of the performances, as well as providing a stellar backdrop for the compelling visuals. There was also a balcony area that was transformed into a merch stand, with plenty of cool musical and artistic offerings by the acts involved with Heliotrope. I hope the partnership between the festival and the Lab Theater continues next year, as the Lab made a perfect home for Heliotrope.

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