Festival Recap and Photos by Giliann Karon
I joined boomer punks, South Jersey townies, and hip parents with their well-dressed kids at the inaugural Frantic City Festival in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The wide-ranging lineup was just as scattered as the demographic, which also meant there was something for everyone.
I used the day to conduct passive social experiments, as I often do. At each set, I made mental notes of the demographics of those who gathered versus those who roamed around the amphitheater. Rocket from the Crypt fans skewed mid-thirties, while Snail Mail’s audience struggled to reach 26, but attendees of all ages crammed in for Yo La Tengo. I imagined that Car Seat Headrest, who dropped out last minute due to ongoing health issues, would’ve been an odd amalgamation of teenagers, grinning from freshly won parental permission, packed against older millennials who’d been around since Nervous Young Man.
In between Rocket From the Crypt and Snail Mail, everyone flocked to the gates to watch the sun dip behind the gaudy skyline. The rustling breeze extinguished the final remains of summer. Like the aerial shot of a crowd in an episode of SpongeBob, the mass shifted towards the large stage and gathered for the final set, Yo La Tengo.
After 33 years, Superchunk refuses to give up their edge. They came prepared with an ambitious career-spanning setlist, including “Slack Motherfucker” from their inaugural self-titled album all the way to “On the Floor” from Wild Loneliness, which they released this past February. They wasted no time during their fuzzy hour-long set, immediately jumping into shred breaks and jam sessions.
Their infectious performance riled up zealous fans and casual listeners alike. Tangible excitement and conviction adorned in early aughts fashion cemented Superchunk as one of the most celebrated bands of their genre and time.
SHANNON AND THE CLAMS
The late afternoon sun hung high as Shannon and the Clams took the stage. Influenced by doo-wop, Motown, and 60’s girl groups, the warm weather provided the perfect backdrop for their bubbly set. My camera struggled to focus with two subjects – Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard – in the frame, but no photo could capture their breezy performance. Mellow vocals, with an occasional contribution from keyboardist Will Sprott, wafted up into the balmy sky while Nate Mahan’s drums kept things grounded.
Like the artists they borrowed inspiration from, Shannon and the Clams have a knack for wrapping tragedy up in bright distortions and airy harmonies. “Midnight Wine,” a roaring and seductive duet between Shaw and Blanchard, is about “friends I’ve had that have died from drug addiction and that feeling of desperation that drives you to seek shelter from reality in drugs,” according to Shaw. The audience swayed to their jubilant set, while rich, inquisitive lyrics gave them something to chew on after the band wrapped up.
I half-jokingly use Snail Mail concerts to mark time. From 2018 to 2019, I saw her a whopping six times – at festivals, after-shows, and as an opener for Interpol, along with Car Seat Headrest. Lindsey Jordan’s 2018 masterpiece, Lush, was my foray into “sad white girl music,” a label I embrace and chide with equal vigor.
Valentine dropped as I reeled from a bitter breakup, but I found comfort in her diligent reflection on each stage of a relationship’s end, tied up in an angelic palette of pinks and reds. Her dazzling sophomore album documents Jordan’s ongoing journey to regain her sense of self following a breakup of her own, dotted with fleeting moments of bliss only to drown in another crushing wave of loneliness. Wistful anecdotes – tender memories or the realization she’s sleeping alone – slice through the cozy synths.
Her electric performance charmed the humble stage. She riffed with her band members in between songs and cheered on the guitar tech who switched out her instruments. Her palpable self-assurance coaxed the audience to acknowledge their own stories attached to her lyrics but admire who they’ve become after putting all the pieces back together. The smaller stage felt more like a Tiny Desk Concert than a festival set, just as intimate as the album itself. Despite the modest setup, the crowd roared just the same. Fans screamed into my ear, but I didn’t mind; I was yelling the words along with them.
YO LA TENGO
Fred Armisen introduced the final band of the night, Yo La Tengo, before joining them on a second drum kit. Next to Georgia Hubley, Armisen injected some new material into the band’s legacy repertoire. I bundled up in my friend’s Uniqlo windbreaker and felt the end of summer slip through my fingers while they appropriately played “Autumn Sweater.”
Muted vocals allowed grounding rhythms and entranced loops to shine. Singer Ira Kaplan unfurled during a colossal 20-minute version of “Blue Line Swinger.” He strutted across the stage, swung his guitar in all directions, and occupied physical and metaphorical space that only such prolific bands deserve.