Sunfest? More like Spatefest! The rain was out in full force last night for the opening of the 31st annual waterfront West Palm Beach music and arts festival. We were wondering -- considering it always starts on the cusp of our rainy season -- was calling this five-day-long festival "SunFest," a cruel joke? No matter, it was not the first time the festival was marred by drizzle, so the natives came prepared.
Yes, the poncho was haute couture on Wednesday night, an evening that, through the years, has become recognized SunFest's more alternative, and indie-leaning night. "New Music Night," it was called a few years back, and this year, although not carrying that moniker it featured bands with a less mainstream bend. Portland, Oregon's experimental pop group Aan, the neo-psychedelic Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and alt rock giants the Smashing Pumpkins.
The time slots didn't work in our favor. We weren't lucky enough to catch an entire set of any of the bands. We saw a brief snippet of the squiggly synth splendor of Aan, up-and-comers whose electronic rock is often compared to Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors. Unfortunately, we had to skip out on them, because their set overlapped with cult-like troupe, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Consisting of 13 touring members, with upright and electric piano, a stand-up bass, five or so guitar players, a brass ensemble, violin, and two drum sets, Sharpe's catchy and effervescing cast of members took up every inch of the Tire Kingdom stage. Frontman Alex Ebert, in his spacey, took-way-too-much-acid-in-high school, messianic figure way, announced that it was his band's first time performing in West Palm Beach. "That's What's Up," was a perfect song for the start of the set, a duo with Sharpe's enchanting chanteuse Jade Castrinos. She was dressed for the occasion, in a billowing summer dress, which would be the ideal garment for a true SunFest. The song evokes the evangelical hymn underbelly of the Magnetic Zero's tunes. Skippy "um ba, um ba" lyrics and bubbly bells "Jangling," evoked Saturday morning cartoon jingles.
The group was given a two-hour set, which caught even Sharpe off guard. At one point, he asked the crowd for requests. Obviously, there was an overwhelming number of screeches for "Home," the group's most popular single, but between all those people, yelling "Home," "Home," "please play Home," Sharp managed to pick out someone from the crowd who was shouting for "I Don't Wanna Pray." This country meet gospel choir number of the group's latest album Here was the last Sharpe tune we heard as Billy Corgan's prog rock, dream pop ensemble was getting underway over at the larger Ford Stage.
Upon arrival, we heard the news we had just missed a Smashing Pumpkins cover of "Space Oddity," but our melancholy was broken by the familiar, delicate guitar strums of "Tonight, Tonight," one of the Pumpkins breakout moments from their 1993 smash album Siamese Dream. We were way back in the crowd, but on the big screen, we spotted Corgan's shiny noggin, besides the monk 'do, Corgan has not changed one bit since his band's '90s heyday. And his angst-ridden snarl hasn't lost its edge either. Corgan nailed the number's screeching yelps with ease. At one point, we overheard a girl in her early thirties next to us mention, "I think everyone our age has had sex to this song."