Rainer Maria – Wayne – Michigan Fest – Knights of Columbus Hall, MI – 2000-03-24

Rainer Maria
Where: Wayne – Michigan Fest – Knights of Columbus Hall, MI.

When: 2000-03-24

I really had no idea what to expect as a rode 30 minutes away from home to this so-called “Michigan-Fest” that the record store cashier had told me about two weeks prior. First of all, I don’t go to many concerts, especially indie ones, due to lack of time and/or money. Second, the thing was happening in a frickin’ Knights of Colombus hall. I know that groups like the Alkaline Trio and Rainer Maria (two of the bigger names promised on that particular night) don’t usually play to huge audiences, but I’d never been in a KofC hall that could hold more than a small high school graduation party. But alas, my friend and I drove on, hoping for nothing more than to perhaps get in and catch a glimpse of the beloved Alkaline Trio. What we got was an overwhelming burst of DIY and everything associated with it.

We pulled into the parking lot of what was undeniably the biggest KofC hall that I had ever knew existed. We pulled by throngs of people, most with unkempt hair and undersized t-shirts (as if we were dressed any differently). After the hassle of parking we each exchanged twelve bucks for a bright red stamp that entitled us to the Saturday portion of the three-day fest. Although the music had started roughly at two, we didn’t arrive until about six, which put as there at the start of Jazz June’s set. Let the DIY commence!

The Jazz June stuck to their patented, if unspectacular, emo schtick for what seemed like a rather lengthy set. The music wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly unique, and since the band members couldn’t do much more than rub elbows on the small, ameteur-built stage, the band quickly lost my interest (though they managed to keep my friend hooked as I walked away to explore). The festival was set up like this: it had the small stage (and an even smaller band area) up at the very front of the room, the whole middle of the room was cleared for the attendees, the walls were lined with vendors, who ranged from record label representatives to distributors, to booths for some independent shops. The back of the room had a bar area that was commandeered by a vegan caterer. So, being the record fiend that I am, I perused the vendors as Jazz June trooped through their set.

I hooked back up with my friend after Jazz June got off, and we both decided to push our way up front for the next act. As it turned out, the next act was a female-fronted punk group named Discount. I didn’t expect a whole lot from this group, but quite frankly, I was blown away. The female front-woman didn’t sing so much as attack the microphone, jumping, screaming, dancing, and contorting her body to find the mic stand that she kept tossing around. The band raged on behind her, sounding a bit like Sleater Kinney (though the singer was far more tolerable), only a bit heavier, with more of a thick, distorted guitar sound. I found out through the band’s between-song rants that this was one of their last shows after a six year career. That’s really too bad, I wish I had heard of this band earlier, because they were really very impressive. Their set ended, and I was officially hooked.

Following discount were hometown favorites Small Brown Bike (note: apparently, the father of the lead singer of this band built the stage for the fest), out of Flint, Mich. (home of Kid Brother Collective). They were probably the biggest surprise of the night. Small Brown Bike plays what I like to call “screamo,” which is emo that crosses back over into the hardcore scene. SBB played the most aggressive set of the night, with the lead singer (and rhythm guitarist) and bassist singing and screaming (sometimes simultaneously) chants about girlfriends, discontent, and other popular emo topics. During one song, an associate of the band came on, screamed a few lyrics, and proceeded to slam the mic stand into the ground as the band raged behind him. The end of the song found a mic stand bent at a 45-degree angle and an extremely puzzled band. They finished the set anyway, with their hometown crowd pressing the stage and shouting right along with them. Definitely a band to keep an eye on if you like Hot Water Music or Planes Mistaken for Stars.

After Small Brown Bike finished, I waited very impatiently for Rainer Maria’s set. Although Rainer Maria’s minimalist songs would work much better in a small club setting, the band adjusted their approach for the (this is a pure guess here) nearly 300 kids that stood before them. Guitarist Kyle Fischer jumped and jammed like he was in AC/DC, and the band rocked out a little more than on record. Rainer played many of the songs from their excellent new full-length “Look Now Look Again,” all of which were received warmly by the audience. The band even tried out some new material (which for all intents and purposes sounds exactly like the old material). The highlight was a song called “Spitfire,” which I don’t believe is on any release, but it rocked anyway.

The next act was someone named Ted Leo, and since I’ve honestly never heard of him, my friend and I skipped out to an old-fashioned hamburger joint, returning just as Mr. Leo finished up. He appeared to be an indie-sounding guy (big surprise!) with better than average guitar work.

I began to get a little restless, knowing I still had to sit through two acts before the Alkaline Trio came on. I built up a little excitement for hardcore quintet Isis, but the band soon dissipated any expectations I had. The band basically stood shoulder-to-shoulder and nodded their heads to boring sludge, augmented occasionally by pretty cliched screams. I don’t mean to tear on the band, because a lot of people seemed to be really enjoying them, but their set dragged on without getting much more interesting. The next act was a group called Cave In, which was equally intolerable. It’s odd though, because Cave In had a strong singer, as well as decent songs, but I just couldn’t get into this straight-up indie stuff (so my friend and I hit the car to listen to the recently-bought Drowningman EP [excellent]). We came back in a half-hour later, only to find Cave In STILL playing. They were on for another ten minutes before they stopped, and I began to jump in anticipation of the Trio.

The Alkaline Trio got on at approximately 12:30 (an hour and a half off-schedule…), and they were everything I’d heard about and hoped for. They took the stage with sly grins on their face and tore into songs from all three of their most recent releases. They opened with “I Lied My Face Off (from the excellent EP of the same name [probably their best release]). The band played on, as everyone pushed against the stage, shouting word-for-word with the band, often far-outdoing the band’s equipment.

Pizza box tops with “Chicago Style” (Chicago is the Trio’s hometown) sprawled on them flew like frisbees overhead. The band alternately played songs from their two LP’s, “Goddamnit” and “Maybe I’ll Catch Fire.” It was simply amazing that everyone knew the words to “Maybe I’ll…” considering that it came out only two weeks earlier. The band closed with the hilarious “Radio” and then followed that with the bittersweet “San Francisco.” As the band got off stage, they were only slightly more exhausted than the crowd.

My friend and I felt content skipping the Dillinger Four’s set (since it was 1:30), and we drove home, both astonished at the DIY spectacle we just witnessed. Regardless of my opinions and tastes, every band that played was strong and talented, something indie shows are not always known for. It’s important to note that this is a three day fest, culminating with the Promise Ring Sunday night (I unfortunately could not make that). I strongly suggest that if you live anywhere near the Midwest you keep an eye out for this annual fest, because you’re not likely to find a stronger lineup of bands anywhere.