In all honesty, I didn’t know what to expect. An alternative-music festival, at Canalside, in the sun, with more than a half-dozen headlining acts from all over Hipsterworld, singing songs about ironic inside-jokes, with an expected sold-out sea of inebriated, freewheeling, screaming, smartphone-drunk, dancing teens and their doting parents, checking their watches from the fence – what could go wrong?
Nothing. Nothing went wrong. It was awesome. It was fun. It was almost exhilarating.
Let’s start with the name – Kerfuffle. I frankly don’t know what that is, even with a dictionary explanation; something about being British. I don’t know. It’s vague and meaningless and not even the point. It’s a perplexing name – like Lollapalooza, the ’90s-born grandfather of alternative festivals – that’s funny to say and hard to forget. It would seem 107.7 FM, our faithfully alternative station and host, knows about smart marketing. Check.
Then there’s the lineup. I know I’d heard of Cage the Elephant, top billing of the eight-hour roster, and I’m pretty sure I knew what they would sound like. This, coincidentally, is how I come to most hipster-focused indie bands, by how I think they sound like, and what their hyper-styled-to-look-exactly-random look implies about their sound, which is usually spot on. If 107.7 knows how to market large events to their listeners, it’s probably in part because of the marketing smarts behind their bands’ brands. Not only Cage, but Big Hands, Bleachers, Big Data, Kongos, and others – they all sound like you heard about them once at a party, a friend gushing over a soundtrack cut or sneaker commercial their big single was on. This buzz is how buying a ticket to seven concerts-in-one seems like an investment. Chances are, you’ll be able to say you saw so-and-so way back when.
Due to deadline limitations, I did not catch Cage the Elephant, though every introducing act was more stellar than the previous.
Bear Hands, a cute post-punk band from New York City, evokes a perfectly bliss California sound, ideal for laying under Canalside’s few trees, shaded from the sun for a quick nap. They sounded fun, and exactly as ironic as their name.
“This is a song about not being able to leave the house,” said singer and guitarist Dillon Rau, before launching into it. Later: “This is a song about having long nails.” I won’t argue with that. Rau also thanked the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, presumably for existing. Their music was serviceably present, not terribly memorable, but enough to create an environment in which the sea of avid listeners could dance subtly and inactively. If you had photographed them in action, they would appear as lively as an airport gate’s waiting passengers. I trust they were having the time of their lives.
Kongos, a four-brother band from South Africa, led more to the alternative mantle’s imagination. These guys bring an inherent uniqueness from the myriad musical influences that must come with being from Johannesburg, but they also know how to use them. Tribal rhythms are painted with accordion harmonies, serving a funk-influenced, rock-dance track. It sounds like a lot, but it works wonderfully. Fans of local band The Forealists will appreciate the Kongos brothers’ aptitude for fusion.
A rap-sung collaboration with Moe’z Art on The Beatles’ “Come Together” was a surprising new layer, bringing some serious downbeat to Lennon’s signature steady rhythm. A little bit of Snoop Dogg’s synth accents found their way in there, too, making perfect, unexpected sense.
One fantastic festival moment: when in line for the portable restrooms, of which there were thankfully many, the Kongos’ hit single, “Come With Me Now” began, prompting everyone around me – both friends and strangers with each other, presumably – to sing along in unison. I thought it might have been a poorly located flash mob, but no, it was just the unbridled fun of a summer single. A nice memory for everyone involved.
If anything, the event’s logistics were too perfect: Canalside’s boardwalk, bridge and docks were fenced off from the ticketed event, meaning you could easily catch a free show if you just stayed on the perimeter; and many did. A nice problem to address next year.
“I’m jealous and honored to be playing in a city that has an alternative radio station,” Antonoff said, noting that not even his New York City has one. He also remarked fondly about having played Buffalo’s Mohawk Place, and bowling at “that bowling place” – the late-night Voelker’s on Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street. But tonight, in this new alley, among rebirthed grain elevators, growing skyscrapers and sold-out, alternative crowds, things felt different.
“It’s so nice to be playing for so many of you,” said Antonoff.
We know what you mean.