REVIEW: Lobsterfest 2012, Day One

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It was almost a quarter to 11 p.m. last night when Whirl, the first act slated to perform at the All Campus Radio Network's annual Lobsterfest, began their hour-long set at The Union.

As Ty Owen and Matt Umland slowly arranged their piles of electronic equipment, an interesting mix of townies and college-aged folks accumulated around the stage, ready for the kick-off to the weekend’s festivities.

Lobsterfest is a series of free all-age shows hosted by ACRN, Ohio University’s student-run Internet-based radio station. The event, which features impressive local and regional musical talent, is taking place this weekend, culminating in a Saturday afternoon set on South Beach.

Although it's pretty safe to say that most of Thursday's crowd were probably there to see Brothertiger (one man, a MacBook, and some delectable chillwave synth-pop magic), the audience was initially entertained by Whirl’s employment of a movie screen, with a video of rainbow static projected on the back wall of The Union.

Thursday night also marked the release of Whirl's new album, 99942 APOPHIS. The band is decidedly experiemental, almost verging on the territory of being straight-up ambient.

The duo started the set with narration about an asteriod crashing into the Earth. Whirl is not unaccustomed to creepy sci-fi themes; their last release, Trapped, was about uploading a human mind into a robot body.

Unfortunately, their song (and I do mean song; it lasted an hour) drove many of the Bro-Tigger crowd out of the room pretty quickly. However, a thin group of people remained throughout the set. There was something oddly mesmerizing about the breaks and waves of thick static emanating from The Union’s sound system.

Whirl's music bore resemblance to some legendary avant-garde acts, most notably Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. This sort of music has a special place in the hearts of some fans, but frankly, it can test one's patience when it isn’t playing through a set of headphones.

Once the set ended, Blithe Field (Spencer Radcliffe) took the stage. Typically, Blithe Field’s sublime audio collage is a bit of stretch for some listeners, but after taking in a full hour of Whirl’s antics, Radcliffe might as well have been cranking out power-pop, inticing one crowd member to try his hand at crowd-surfing.

Radcliffe's set was evenly split between older material ("Bible School" from Beautiful Wave ’74, released in 2010) and some newer stuff from his latest effort, Warm Blood.

The low-key Radcliffe managed to keep The Union audience entranced despite some sound issues. In fact, much of Blithe Field’s set was literally blasted away; everything was simply too loud.

Around 12:30 a.m., the chillwave-craving audience finally received what they had been waiting for when Brothertiger took over The Union’s small stage.

Everything about Brothertiger (aka John Jagos) has an air of control. With his red skinny jeans, artfully unbuttoned dress shirt and perfectly quiffed hair, Jagos' meticulous demeanor was quite different than that of Whirl or Blithe Field.

Right away, Brothertiger's performance was nothing short of spectacular, playing gems like "Lovers" and "Feel," as well as a spot-on cover of The Smiths' "Ask."

Although the audience sing-a-long might have been a little out of tune, hearing a group of excited hipsters howling that "If it’s not love, then it’s the bomb/then it’s the bomb that will bring us together," was still pretty charming.

Fresh off a European tour with Vancouver synth-pop act Teen Daze, Thursday night’s performance marked Brothertiger’s last performance in Athens before Jagos takes up residence in Cincinnati later this month.

"How was Europe?" screeched an audience member between songs.

"It was okay," Jagos responded with a grin, hunched over his MacBook.

Jagos has an incredible stage presence, jerking and eye rolling in a manner that would make David Bryne proud. It's obvious that this one-man act is destined for something bigger than the Athens music scene.

After Brothertiger tore down his equipment, Laser Babez took on the sweaty crowd. With its harder mix of post-rock tunes, the band didn’t entice everyone to dance, but they still did a noble job of entertaining the remaining showgoers.

Featuring members of Athens bands Zapaño and Tribe of the Mountain, Laser Babez released Live at the Indie Boho 11-15-11 in November, which is actually a pretty good portrait of the band's very weird and experimental live show. This is the kind of music best experienced while reclining, with a place to space out and enjoy the strangeness of the band’s sound.

Lobsterfest continues tonight with a 6 p.m. show at the Dragon’s Cup, featuring Nurser, the Pigeonholes, Vagrant Beat, and Sure Plus. At 10 p.m., the festivities move to Casa Cantina with Indigo Wild, The Kyle Sowashes, She Bears and Mindy Braasch.

Photos: Lauren Custis