REVIEW: 2012 Nelsonville Music Festival, Day 1

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When Kurt Vile and the Violators took the main stage at the Nelsonville Music festival last night, they easily could have been mistaken for a group of shaggy high schoolers.

With his shoulder-length locks and Joey Ramone-style hair shield, Vile greeted the audience before plowing into an original that sounded a little like J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and a lot like early Meat Puppets.

If Vile didn’t succeed in revving up everyone in the predominantly hipster crowd, at least he had a few of them vigorously swaying. The set was enjoyable, although it definitely had a shoe-gazey sort of a vibe and perhaps tried the patience of some of the listeners.

Forty-five minutes into Vile’s set, Woody Pines took up residence at the porch stage. The band was off to a good start with their upbeat ragtime/country/jazz mix, but seemed to lose the steam after a few tunes.

Then again, Woody Pines had just returned from what sounded like an awfully long tour. Perhaps the most entertaining part of the performance was the sheer storytelling ability that the band seemed to possess as a whole, describing tales of goofy disappearing roommates and women "you need to keep your hands off of."

Pretty soon the main stage was hosting another act: Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. Right away, this set had a completely different feel, as Bradley’s band warmed up audiences with sharply directed, jazzy instrumentals.

Maybe they didn’t completely succeed in building up the kind of anticipation for a performer who earnestly pays homage to the great James Brown, but when Bradley finally made his appearance, it was clear he had a lot of people waiting to lay eyes on him.

"I love you!" he shouted to crowd after a series of wild gesticulations. What set Bradley apart from the myriad of other performers that probably shouted the same thing or something similar to their audiences last night was that he seemed truly sincere about it.

"You know, I need you as much as you need me," he said.

As the set carried on, complete with an unusual, yet appropriate cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold," the songs only intensified. Bradley evoked the Godfather-of-Soul when he shot off stage for a costume change after a couple tunes, returning with red sparkle v-neck suit.

By 10 p.m., the Main Stage was swarming as Iron & Wine took the stage.

Although Sam Beam (and his majestic beard) addressed the audience hesitantly, it was apparent that he meant business when it came to his brand of indie-folk.

"We’re gonna pretty much stick to the music and try to keep everything else to a miniumum," he said, before kicking into "Flightless Bird, American Mouth."

Many of Iron & Wine's songs sounded different from the recorded versions, for better or worse. It just could have been the wonky sound settings (which seem to be a reoccurring theme at the festival), or maybe an intentional change on the part of Beam and company.

In the end, the band played what seemed like a lengthy set, even though they were actually on stage less than the two hours that were scheduled.

Once Iron & Wine left, they took a decent chunk of the crowd with them, except for the determined throng who battled their way to the very front to see the reunited "classic" lineup of Guided by Voices.

Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell teased the crowd, setting up and soundchecking until about ten to midnight, until Mitchell yelled, "Well, we’re gonna go chug a couple of beers and some tequila, you should too!” and went backstage.

By midnight, a throbbing, insistent beat had the audience pretty excited, and when Robert Pollard's fuzzy white head finally made an appearance, there were some shrieks.

At first, the band stuck primarily to material from their recent release Let’s Go Eat the Factory, which satisfied some die-hard fans, but left much of the “G-B-V” cheering crowd unsatiated.

That changed when the band broke into “Tractor Rape Chain” from Bee Thousand, and the entire audience and sang along.

Afterwards, GBV broke into more new material, with a sort-of-apology from Robert Pollard.

"Thanks for letting us practice on you guys, you know, now that we need to practice this stuff," he said.

Before long, the band was playing "all the old favorites" with the audience yeling along to "Cut-Out Witch" and a beautiful rendition of "14 Cheerleader Coldfront."

The problematic sound issues continued, not that Pollard cared. Stepping away from his microphone only long enough to find a cigarette or take a swig from a giant bottle of Crown Royal, GBV's front man was definitely dedicated to his audience.

The band dutifully returned for an encore, playing startlingly fresh version of "Gold Star for Robot Boy," a song that many in the audience had been requesting (well, demanding).

After a couple of songs, the band disappeared behind the stage. The crowd immediately dispersed and the main stage was left in silence, truly free of any audio issues for the rest of the night.

Videos courtesy of Andie Walla Productions.