Colorful streamers, balloons, and even a donkey piñata adorned the digs at the Trunk Space Sunday, adding an extra festive -- not to mention silly -- air to what was a major occasion: the kickoff of Indie 500, the 10-day music festival celebrating the Grand Avenue music and art space's 10-year anniversary.
It's certainly an ambitious project, planned for months by Trunk Space co-owners Stephanie Carrico and JRC and unlike anything previously attempted by a Valley music venue. The Trunk Space's fans and regulars have been eagerly anticipating it, however, which explains the large crowd gathered for the kickoff on Sunday afternoon.
It probably helped that the first night of the Indie 500 was headlined by skanker-turned-folkster Dan Potthast and Asian Man Records founder Mike Park. The two not only played an early acoustic ska show for the children of other musicians and artists scheduled to perform that night, followed by longer individual sets later in the evening.
Potthast and Park were among the first of 50 different indie bands and musicians from the local scene and around the country that are participating in the Indie 500. Five or more acts are booked per day and each will play 10 songs or so, roughly equaling the event's titular number.
In fact, during the kickoff (and every day since then), Carrico has been using a manual tally counter to keep track of each of the 500 songs as they're played. And the count officially started off when French Girls took the stage on Sunday for a mid-afternoon set to contribute their songs to the total. As the sun shined through Trunk Space's windows off Grand Avenue, lead singer Chela Mischke declared the band's loyalty to the venue.
"We played more at Trunk Space than any other venue," she stated "I'm glad there's A/C."
Someone one in the audience immediately replied, "There's not," to which Miscke countered, "There will be, dammit."
This little exchange is, of course, referring to the successful recent Indiegogo crowdfunder that provided Carrico and JRC with enough cash to both fund the 10-day festival and buy a badly needed air conditioner for the space, which has yet to be purchased as of this writing. (They'd better get a move on, since the yearly scorch is about to arrive.)
Boogie Nazis were next, performing their instrumental surf punk as the sun was beginning to set. Midway through, they brought their dancers, dubbed "The Fungles," to the stage. Three girls made their way and busted out choreographed moves in sync, until proceeding to walk their way through the crowd and dancing with audience members.
It was then JJCnV's turn, and the art-punk band got a fast start into their set as someone from the crowd yelled, "Play more songs about stuff!" The signature jokesters responded, "What if we play more songs about things and not stuff?" Banter such as this went back and forth, and the effects that bassist Pete Hinz used on his vocals created an echo that sounded perfect with their experimental punk jams.
Local ska band Liam and the Ladies played next to a room that knew all the lyrics to their catchy songs, probably because they're Trunk Space regulars. The crowd skanked, sang along, and clapped in beat with the band. The energy of the room was infectious, and like all the bands before them, they clearly illustrated the eagerness of the night on their sweaty faces.
When Potthast returned for his solo set, he played acoustic folk-punk set and had the crowd singing along to his narrative-fueled stories. He told a story of going to Melbourne, Australia and trying to write a song about that place, but instead wrote a song about his brother in the military. He then played a song he wrote about Phoenix, which really got the crowd going, for obvious reasons. He told the crowd that the 10-year anniversary is a celebration of the guts of the Trunk Space, not just the brick and mortar, but the spirit of its patrons and volunteers.
Then things got crazy awesome. Both LATL and Potthast joined Park as his ska supergroup backing band of sorts during his set. He had originally planned to play an acoustic set, but wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to play with a full ska band, so he played the sax and sang to a crowd that recognized each song he played. All of his band members wore shirts with a red and blue target stamped on them. The whole room was excitedly dancing and clearly happy to have Park in the space.
Those in the audience who scrammed after Mike Park, believing him to be the last act, missed one of the best sets of the night: Jamie J. The musician came up from Southern Arizona to play his electro-pop dance tunes, such as "Community College," where he sings about wanting to chase his dreams outside of the traditional school system. And he did it while wearing a pair of short shorts and a shirt that was ripped in half, baring his midriff.
The Tucson native also sponsored a dance contest with three contestants from the crowd, one of which included Mike Park, who walked into the room mid through Jamie J's gig, who was so star-struck that he forgot the lyrics to the song he was singing, and instead said, "It's Mike Park! Holy shit, you're really fucking cool." Park won the dance contest with his moves, one of which included the robot. Jamie J's night ended with everyone chanting "Trunk Space!" and a crowd-sized hug. Aww.
Afterwards, Carrico announced that a total of 80 songs were performed with only 420 left to go, a number that got whittled down even further on Monday.
Day two of the Indie 500 had much less of a crowd, as is par for a show on a Monday night. Those who were on hand, however, got a great show.
Peter Breslin started off the night with an improvisational drum set, alternating between small to big crescendos. The percussionist was clearly in nirvana as he kept playing, even when he would drop his sticks on the floor on accident.
The improvisational set wasn't always on beat, which reminded me of free-form literature that purposefully has no narrative, which bothers some people. The point, of course, is not to bother people, but to provide an alternative to traditional sounds people are accustomed to hearing. Either way, it was cool to see him transitioning from using different types of drum sticks to make small and loud sounds.
A large sign that said, "Happy Birthday," was on the wall behind him as he played his dimly-lit set.
Mr. Atomm's Bombs played next, and their set was fast, dark, and at times, overwhelming. The drummer was also the singer, and the vocals paired well with their loud, melodic sound.
The ostensible headliner of the night was Yourchestra, which usually performs as a quartet, but did the duo thing on Monday night with Richard Bogen on banjo and Michael Plunkett wielding his mandolin. They offered a set filled with their style of old-timey sounds, and noted their fondness for the venue. "As Phoenicians, we're really proud that Trunk Space has been here this long," Bogen says.
Plunkett took to playing the washtub bass next for a song the duo performed about the Heimlich maneuver, which they did with a back-and-forth, call and response style. Yourchestra was charming, and for one of their last songs, both members sat on the floor and played the xylophone and thumb piano, which made it feel like the crowd was just sitting with them in their living room as they played their set.
And that is one of the big draws of the Trunk Space over the last decade -- the ability to create such an intimate atmosphere between audience and musician thanks to its small size.
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The Indie 500 will roll on through Wednesday, April 9. Check out our online concert calendar for more details on who's performing each night.