35 Denton, now in its fourth year (and I’m told, after several name changes, 35 Denton is the name that’s gonna stick), was epic. It may be the largest music festival that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend, and possibly even the most massive event of its kind that Denton’s hosted to date. I wrote previously about the five acts I thought you should catch if you needed help deciding from the enormous roster of acts slated to perform, and now, after ingesting a ton of great new tunes, I’ve returned to give you my top five favorites from the festival.
1. Ella Minnow
When I wrote about Ella Minnow previously, I spoke from the perspective of a newcomer. Now, I suppose I could call myself a fan. I waited in line to see the penultimate act OK Sweetheart (who also makes my list) so that I’d be guaranteed a spot for Ella Minnow. Good call.
The seven-piece band put on an incredibly energetic live performance. It was an upbeat blend of pop, post-hardcore, jazz, and several other decidedly disparate genres that they pulled together well. Frontman Conor Wallace made the most of his small square of stage real estate, swapping between playing guitar and putting on an emotive vocal performance that ranged from crooning to cutting up. He’s a character, and a great centerpiece to a talented band. One song in particular saw all of the band members shouting out in unison during the refrain, which worked well to get the crowd even more engaged in their performance.
It sounded great for such a tiny venue, and the stage-level lighting cast dramatic upward shadows that added a nice theatrical effect. It was clear that these guys loved what they were doing – and the audience responded in kind. Ella Minnow was a blast to see live – aggressive, unpredictable,
2. Danny Brown
I feel like I am justified in saying that Danny Brown’s performance was off the hook. He’s got a fresh, raw energy about his delivery – a barrage of blunt, verbal chops – and a borderline reckless flow that reminds me of the late O.D.B. The crowd loved him, and it was a packed house – there was a line out the door, and there were quite a few people who didn’t make it in to see him.
His sound mixes a dirty south underground mixtape style, indie rap, and club bangers. There’s not much lyrical depth in much of tracks (“New Era” is about a hat, and many of the songs involve the typical ), which in many cases sound like freestyles put down on tape, but his compelling delivery and apparent passion make Danny Brown a show worth checking out next time he’s in town.
3. OK Sweetheart
I fell in love with this pop act at their Denton Square Donuts performance. I was there to see my #1 pick, Ella Minnow (see above), and because I got there early, I was treated to a wonderful performance by Tulsa, Oklahoma exports OK Sweetheart. I’d briefly glossed over a couple of their songs in preparation for 35 Denton, but hadn’t given a really intensive listen prior to seeing them live.
I was struck by frontwoman Erin Austin’s jazzy, sultry vocals that reminded me of Norah Jones, though layered atop a more upbeat, pop-oriented musical numbers.
I’ve heard of Midlake for years, but somehow or another I’ve never heard any of their stuff. Not, that is, until they announced that they’d be making a surprise stop at 35 Denton on Sunday, performing as “Grandlake” – Midlake featuring Jason Lytle of Grandaddy! I was stoked to hear this, because a friend shared two Grandaddy songs with me about a decade ago that I fell in love with (though I didn’t listen beyond those two tracks, “AM 1080″ and “Crystal Lake”).
5. Mountain Goats
Honestly, I didn’t get the Mountain Goats before I saw them perform on the main stage on Friday. I’d listened to only a handful of tracks from their fairly large catalog, and what I’d heard didn’t appeal to me. That all changed once I saw them play. They owned the stage. John Darnielle’s voice and guitar synced perfectly with the rather low-key bass and tight drum section. The songs were all new to me, but they warranted a second listen. I was sold on the band’s sheer passion – at times, his sing-speaking delivery (recalling The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn in meter, if not quite timbre) approached a southern revivalist fervor that you couldn’t help but get drawn into. I also loved the tongue in cheek attitude all of the songs seemed to be imbued with. One that really caught my ear was “The Day The Aliens Came”, wherein the protagonist