Artists: The Octopus Project and Golden Dawn Arkestra
Event: Music Under the Star
Venue: Lone Star Plaza, Bob Bullock State History Museum
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 24 July 2015
Music Under the Star is an event put on by the Bob Bullock State History Museum in which they sponsor local bands to play free early evening shows in the shade of the museum. The "star" in question is a literal monumental star (i.e. "Lone Star") in the adjoining plaza. It might sound ridiculous, but it actually works well. People can bring chairs and they sell drinks and food. This summer's edition was cosponsored by Transmission Events and Fun Fun Fun Fest, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. This was the final night of this partnership.
Golden Dawn Arkestra came out first, although they actually emerged from the museum and wound their way around the crowd before finally marching up to the stage. Much like when I saw them at SXSW earlier this year, they were all dressed up in various cosmic outfits. While there was no dancing among the audience this time, there was plenty of dancing on stage, as well as much praising of Ra, and a hell of a lot of funk.
[Golden Dawn Arkestra.]
The Arkestra has a lot of members, which might seem like a gimmick, but when the sound is as good as it was, all the instruments were discernible: two guitarists, bass, two horns players, a keyboardist/vocalist/saxophonist, three percussionists, a xylophonist/keyboardist/vocalist, and four dancers. (To be fair, while the dancers were not audible, they were quite visible. Even the somewhat elderly guy that just grooved in place for the entire hour.) All combined, it makes for quite a spectacle and quite a jam. It's really hard not to want to get up and move to this music. It's fascinating and wonderful.
Their grooves would go on for a while and I'd get lost in them, and after what seemed like a long time passed, they'd pause for a moment and I'd fear they were done. But then they'd just go right into another really funky riff and keep going. Their energy never let down. They'd say a few words, mostly about peace and Ra and something cosmic, and then just carry right on. Actually, most of their songs were instrumental, and those with words were not always easy to understand, but I heard plenty of the same themes. And somehow that xylophone took the lead in half the songs!
[Note the bubbles being blown into the air at the end of their set.]
The Arkestra ended up being a great match for The Octopus Project, as they too are a primarily instrumental outfit. However, their approach is less of an ensemble funk style and more of a dancey, high-energy synthpop direction. Their four members were all multi-instrumentalists and constantly traded their tools between (or during) songs. The man that started at the drumkit stayed their for half the show, but even he came out and played guitar and bass for most of the rest of the set, and near the end even contributed vocals.
[The Octopus Project. Note the theremin!]
I'd seen The Octopus Project last year at Austin Psych Fest, but I thought they were a little different this time around. This was partly due to a more cohesive sound and energy (last time they seemed to have two divergent approaches, i.e. noisy rock and more direct synthpop) but perhaps also due to the replacement of Ryan Figg with Lauren Gurgiolo earlier this year. At any rate, I thought they did an even better job bringing together guitars and synthesizers in the name of electropop.
When the various band members did sing, I again couldn't understand a word, but at least the music was good enough to keep me interested at all times. Sometimes words aren't necessary, anyway. It's still quite a thrill to see a band convincingly wield a theremin on stage, and the rest was rather good, too.
[Yvonne Lambert let the audience control the theremin before leaving the stage.]
This ended up being a really fun show with two great local bands. It was amusing to see the intermingling of young and old, where students, parents with kids, and the aging rockers and hippies can come together to enjoy the evening. When they get bands of this quality playing without cover, I'm surprised it wasn't even busier. I'm also fond of the earlier set times, as I too cannot always manage to stay up as late as one often must for concerts.
I kind of wish I'd gone to the previous weeks of the Fun Fun Fun Fest collaboration, as its hard to beat free shows with good bands at accessible times. Why aren't there more shows like this in the early evening, whether in public spaces or not? It seems like a great formula.
Golden Dawn Arkestra: A
The Octopus Project: B+
Golden Dawn Arkestra: A
The Octopus Project: B+