For the third-straight year, Winston-Salem's Phuzz Phest hit the Triad, treating attendees to more than 30 bands spread across three days (April 4-6), most of which could be loosely qualified as "indie rock." In total, it was a satisfying weekend filled with solid performances from national and regional acts. The following five sets stood out above the rest:
2. Mount Moriah
Well, you can log yet another name on the long list of Mount Moriah drummers. Fresh off a month-long tour in support of its sterling new album, Miracle Temple, the Durham outfit hit Phuzz with Megafaun's Joe Westerlund behind the kit. True to the experimental nature of his main gig, Westerlund pushed the band to be a little more adventurous. Light and lively (in sound, at least), country-rockers like "Bright Light" and "The Reckoning" moved with extra zip, Westerlund's give-and-take approach leaving room for bassist Casey Toll to create deeply satisfying grooves. And it's hard not to imagine that his influence - as well as recent tour dates with William Tyler - inspired the incendiary Jenks Miller guitar solo that brought "Plane" within a few degrees of transcendence. With Heather McEntire still delivering lines with beautifully simmering intensity, Mount Moriah was at its absolute best.
3. Dark Prophet Tongueless Monk
Given the Triad's abundance of appealing pop-rock outfits, it was a little shocking that the weekend's most memorable Winston-based artist would deal in ominous ambience. But such was the power of Jacob Leonard's arresting solo vehicle. Equipped with a guitar, a keyboard and a barrage of vocal effects - as well as an entrancing light display by way of a dude manipulating fluid on an overhead projector - he created dark hues of savory drone. His tones were intimidating but irresistible, inducing trances that were heightened by surprisingly fetching vocal melodies. For this reviewer, it was the festival's most surprising treat.
4. Elim Bolt
Speaking of pop-rock bands, none shined brighter than Elim Bolt, who also happened to be the only S.C. band on the bill. Playing before Raleigh's Love Language, who also brought their own abundance of hook-laden intensity, the Charleston group outstripped the more famous headliner with a set that was more energetic, more precise and more delightfully weird. Standouts like the anthemic "Field" and the appropriately titled "Batshit" rocketed forth with comfortably rough distortion and sumptuous reverb as Johnnie Matthews belted with the wild-eyed fervor of young, psych-enthused Roy Orbison. Judging by the emphatic gyrations of the appreciative crowd, the set - by far the weekend's most fun offering - also earned the band an excited pack of Triad fans.
5. Hiss Golden Messenger
In a most amazing fake-out, M.C. Taylor - the thoughtful and intelligent songwriter behind Hiss Golden Messenger's enchanting folk-rock - took the stage at Winston's Garage wearing a ratty cut-off t-shirt, beat-up boot-cuts, and ludicrously large aviators in addition to his customary "CAT"-embossed trucker hat. He then treated the largely unaware crowd to probing, intimate versions of his spiritual meditations, picking his way through smooth acoustic grooves and singing just above a whisper, forcing his audience to hang on his every word. The rude few who chatted loudly next to the stage did their best to ruin it for everyone, but Taylor proved too savvy, inching his volume quieter, mocking them by forcing them to talk lower and lower. Few performers are so self-aware. Fewer still boast songs that are so wonderfully expressive.
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