Arts concert review

A look at FredFest

Performances electrify East Campus Courtyard

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The ninth annual FredFest, MIT's largest local music concert and free to the community, took place in East Campus Courtyard on Friday.
Yuancheng Yu–The Tech

Fredfest IX

Performing Artists: Bent Knee, The So So Glos, and Palehound

East Campus Courtyard

Friday, September 23, 2016

An eclectic mix of band performances ranging from avant-garde to punk rock, East Campus’s annual concert FredFest is a reflection of the dorm community itself: idiosyncratic yet inclusive. Despite the looming rain clouds above, this local venue saw EC residents running after Domino’s pizza, audience members sitting on large beanbags in the courtyard, and band members of Bent Knee checking the sound on stage.

Kicking off the concert was Boston group Bent Knee with a statement from guitarist Ben Levin, who explained his connection to MIT: his parents were former alumni who had met on campus and he was excited to perform at their alma mater. The performance that followed was a series of experimental yet enchanting songs. Vocalist Courtney Swain uses her voice as a dynamic instrument, from the fierceful cry of “I imagine your dead body” in “Being Human” to the lilting words of “I Don’t Love You Anymore” and even to wordless vocals — almost screams — that harmonize with vocalist and bassist Jessica Kion’s vocals. Their repertoire was linked by a common theme of deprivation and loneliness, yet rather than sounding severe, their performance was whimsical and at times even mystical. Chris Baum’s violin ranged from mellow to piercing, interweaving with Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth’s flurry of percussion. Disparate as they may seem, the voices and instrumentals threaded together into a charming portrayal of their art.

After a brief intermission, Brooklyn’s punk rock band The So So Glos came out to perform, with some highlights including “Going Out Swingin’” and “Lost Weekend.” The atmosphere shifted as the group began interacting with the crowd and filling the venue with catchy, upbeat songs. Percussion rang loudly while wild guitar riffs backed Alex and Ryan Levine’s insightful lyrics. But the instrumentals did more than just support their lyrical pleas. They excited the words. They intensified them. Lyrics that might not have been so catchy or hard-hitting otherwise became tasteful commentary, such as “I’m a too-much-information-generation cliche, tomorrow’s just a yesterday’s to-do list away” in “A.D.D. Life,” and “just to get you off my mind, I took a pill just to kill time” in “Devils Doing Handstands.” Both pensive and upbeat, the lyrics endorsed a sense of social justice amidst the thundering instrumentals.

After The So So Glos left the stage, Boston indie group Palehound began to set up their instruments as the rain grew heavier. Despite the weather, the group began playing their song “Healthier Folk.” Lead vocalist Ellen Kempner would at times croon her words, almost muttering. Her lyrics elicited jarring emotions — “drizzle honey on my open salt wound.” After the song’s conclusion, Kempner apologized for the pouring rain, telling the audience that they could run back into the dorms and that she would not be offended.  The vast majority of the crowd remained as the rain continued, and Palehound played one last song: “Cinnamon.” The song began with mellow guitar and Kempner’s pensive voice. Suddenly, her voice veered to a guttural bellow as she sang “came down and rocked me” before the song returned to its dreamlike, sincere beginnings. While the rain poured on, the crowd remained outside until the last note was played.