The best of Phuzz Phest

by Ryan Snyder


If you book it, they will indeed come. What Philip Pledger has done with Phuzz Phest in three short years is both remarkable in its growth and an optimistic indicator for an independent rock scene in Winston-Salem that for a while seemed resigned to internalize its best qualities. 2011 was a locavore’s delight and the wider net cast by its sequel in 2012 demonstrated that the festival is intent on expanding its reach, but one could hardly have predicted the giant steps taken for 2013. That the April 4-6 event could weather the loss of Lower Dens, its topbilled act (though frontwoman Jana Hunter remains onboard for a solo set) a month before is a testament to the overall strength of its lineup. That said, though the 38 shows on the schedule are quite streamlined for optimal consumption, there are shows that especially stand out.


If it feels like the music writing establishment really wants Mount Moriah to get over, it’s not just because the Durham duo’s Merge Records debut Miracle Temple is as worthy as any country record yet in 2013, it’s because it is one that also requires time and attention to fully embrace. The Lumineering of indie folk has shifted value onto shellacked facial expressions and made-for- TV-licensing syntax, but Mount Moriah is committed to a classically ornate sound and songwriting whose sincerity takes root in the listener’s mind at its own pace — and it doesn’t hurt that the comparisons of Heather McEntire’s voice to that of a young Dolly Parton are spot on.


Some point between Spider Bags’ gleefully scuzzy Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World and the legendary Memphis recording session that produced its follow-up, the band’s chief songwriter and master of ceremonies Dan McGee put a ring on it. For most men, it’s a meet-your-maker reappraisal of their life’s choices to that point. For McGee, it was another excuse to throw a party. That follow-up, entitled Shake Your Head, tosses the band’s roadmap out the window and goes all in on ricocheting guitars and raw hooks. It’s a festive rager crammed into 30 or so minutes that leaves more than enough time for McGee to wallow on the floor of the Garage amidst spilled beer and broken glass.


The ultra bipolarity of Thursday late-night performances logically begins with the downer rock of Must Be the Holy Ghost before the surfy Blood Waves are able to build you back up, but there’s beauty in Jared Draughon’s pathos of infatuation, which is never more sympathetically conveyed than during “Shove My Feelings In the Couch” as he sings the line “Should have f*cked a second time/ Now I wanna leave all the past far behind.” We’ve all been there.

Hiss Golden Messenger — the Garage — 6:25 p.m., Friday, April 5

You can spend as much time as you want listening to the music of Pittsboro songwriter MC Taylor, but there will probably always remain a quality about his music that’s unknowable. See: 2011’s Lord I Love the Rain, which sorted out his existing enigma while creating new ones at the same time. His music with songwriting partner Scott Hirsch in Hiss Golden Messenger is as beautiful as it is puzzling, like psalms to a god that could be benevolent as easily as it could be destructive. He writes under a kind of mystified country influence that suggests he might be a closet solipsist, unsure and probably unconcerned if the tales he tells could ever happen outside his own mind.

Estrangers — Krankies — 9 p.m., Friday, April 5

If for no other reason, Estrangers merit consideration as the band that brought this festival together in the first place, providing the baseline for its most prevalent aesthetic though its miasmic spin on the Zombies and the Lemon Pipers. The again, the same holds true because they are a genuinely great band, who forthcoming LP, due out next month, is good enough to power up Phuzz Phest’s broadcast radius even further.

Kill Devil Hills — Black Lodge — 12:50 a.m., Friday, April 5

Not to be confused with Vinny Appice and Rex Brown’s supergroup of a an extremely similar name, the New York via Winston-Salem quartet’s recorded output is but a single song right now, but it’s quite a doozy — a revisitation of Hospitals-style garage and noise.

Invisible Hand — Krankies — 3:30 p.m., Saturday, April 6

It requires cojones the size of zeppelins to call your album Aja, but then again, there’s no irony lost on a guy named Adam Smith who fronts a psych-pop band’s called Invisible Hand. For posterity, Aja finds about as much influence in Steely Dan as it does macroeconomic theory, save for the rather unpredictable nature of their live sets, powered by songs that are typically and subversively angsty, wrapped in a sweetheart facade of chimey guitars and Casio thump.

Jana Hunter — Krankies — 9:30 p.m., Saturday, April 6

When the top-billed Lower Dens were forced to cancel their Phuzz Phest performance due to a lineup shakeup, it opened the door to potentially a more compelling deconstruction of the Baltimore outfits sound through a rare solo set by frontwoman Jana Hunter. The band defies the genre tags of dream pop and post-punk that they’re typically given, owing more to ’90s slowcore bands like Low, an influence which lustily asserts itself when it’s just her and a guitar. On another positive not, the cancellation brought down the ticket price, so you’ve also got that going for you, which is nice.

Burglar F*cker — Black Lodge — 1:30 a.m., Saturday April 6

The feeling of merely saying the name of Winston-Salem’s Burglar F*cker is almost as empowering as it is printing it in a newspaper (though there’s no telling what kind of bowdlering will be inflicted upon it when this sees light of day), but neither approaches the kind of sonic baptismal by fire that they inflict live. Their music, for lack of a better word, is heavy as a teaspoon of black hole, inscrutable and even more opaque, and allowing them to shut them festival down is akin to scorching the earth and starting over.