Live Review: Athens Popfest

WHEN: October 15

WHERE: Athens, GA

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HIGHLIGHT: Fun, quirky night of wondrous pop, surf and punk.

In its eighth year, the final evening of Athens Popfest 2011 began a bit softly at Caledonia Lounge (behind 40 Watt) with Viking Progress, the solo project of Patrick Morales. Wearing an Oxford shirt and bowtie, he played acoustically until “Golden Calf.” It began with a bow stroked against an amplified banjo’s strings, creating sampled loops of rhythm while Viking Progress played acoustic guitar and sang.
    Moving over to the 40 Watt brought the energy level up considerably, as newly reformed (and underrated) Chicago indie band Kleenex Girl Wonder, in the form of a trio, faced a half-capacity, enthusiastic audience. Singer-bassist Graham Smith had low, offbeat vocals and the bassist and drummer played loosely. The quirky lyricist even performed one song that he said was eponymous, which used a falling melody in the chorus and sob screaming. During song breaks, an upcoming double album was announced.

An extraterrestrial band that met in Alabama, Man or Astroman?  included jumpsuit-clad original members Star Crunch, Birdstuff, Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard and new member ​Avona Nova on rhythm guitar. Wearing a shiny miniskirt, she was young and energetic. The ’90s surf rock band mostly played instrumentals in front of projected videos. Comedy skits and recorded intros kept everyone entertained between humorously titled songs such as “(Classified)” and “Secret Agent Conrad Uno.” After an audience member proposed to Birdstuff, he explained that she would be disappointed when she found out he’s like a Ken doll “down there.” Halfway through the set, an office copier sized dot matrix printer was rolled out on stage and given a mic. It then proceed to play a three-minute number titled “A Simple Text File” as a tribute to Steve Jobs. On the last MOAM? Number, “Principles Unknown,” Coco played Theremin by shaking his fist beside it, sharing it with the audience a bit, then applying lighter fluid to it and setting it on fire as a finale.

The Dead Milkmen – not from outer space, but also pseudonymed, hilarious and reformed –  finished out the festival. Original ’80s-era members Rodney Anonymous, Joe Jack Talcum and Dean Clean joined newer member Dan Stevens (Dandrew, bass) for a riveting set of old and new punk classics. Stating it was going to be a really long show, the veterans lit into a 25-song set with energy no longer seen in today’s punk bands. Anonymous proudly displayed his rainbow Rebel flag on the front of his keyboard set, taking time to discuss its significance as a pride issue. Songs performed included big hits “Punk Rock Girl,” which the audience sang word for word, a cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” and “Bitching Camaro.”

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