The Wolves Are Not What They Seem
TV on the Radio
Seats are often the death knell of any potentially great rock show. It’s an all-too-easy crutch to lean upon, and too many concertgoers get lazy, opting to sit back when they should be standing up and going nuts. So, when TV on the Radio arrived only 20 minutes or so after the quiet elegance of Laura Marling, nobody expected anyone to go a little nuts — especially a crowd at a charity event. But, then you forget about how hard the Brooklyn rockers can boogey, and how their mercurial blend of critically-acclaimed art rock can leave listeners so susceptible to grooving. Songs like “Young Liars”, “Province”, and especially “Golden Age” will do that, and the band were well aware of this power.
“Get up and dance at your own pace,” guitarist Kyp Malone confidently told the crowd. That latter Dear Science cut got people on their feet, but it was really the punk rock blitzkrieg of Return to Cookie Mountain anthem “Wolf Like Me” that turned everyone into little Audrey Hornes, pogoing around between the aisles as if they were in the Roadhouse. From there, the band embraced the silky moods of Angelo Badalamenti, what with the balmy cadence of “Love Dog”, the dreamy repetition of “Ambulance”, and the dark drama of “Staring at the Sun”. It was a fitting closing medley to an unlikely set that set the bar inordinately high for Justin Vernon, who had to be sweating off to the side.
The Joy of Meditating with Bob Roth
Pete Holmes and Bill Hader
Very few festivals can get away by starting at 10 in the morning. But when said early-bird activities involve a little meditation with one of the truest masters of the craft and two of the funniest comedians around, you get your ass out of bed. Such was the case Saturday and Sunday morning as Bob Roth, the CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and an instructor of Transcendental Meditation for over 45 years, hosted hilariously in-depth conversations with Pete Holmes and Bill Hader, respectively. The festival couldn’t have booked either comic at a better time as both of them are currently at the top of their game. In addition to recording weekly episodes of his podcast You Made It Weird, Holmes is heading into the second season of HBO’s Crashing and working on a forthcoming book about religion. While Hader has his hands in half a dozen projects, ranging from IFC’s Documentary Now! to his own forthcoming HBO series, Barry, to a number of other film and television appearances. Needless to say, they had plenty to discuss.
Yet most of the conversation centered around how meditation helps facilitate their comedy. Without getting too preachy, Roth managed to navigate the discussion so that rather than this feeling like hour-long commercials for TM, it came off like legitimate discussions. True to his introspective spirit, Holmes went deep into how it helps him relax, admitting: “No matter how many times I do it, I still don’t want to do it,” adding that 15 minutes into a session, though, it “feels like you’re wrapped in a marshmallow.” He also ingeniously likened his quest to find his inner calm by pointing to the “green pastures” and “still waters” of his religious upbringing, wondering how he could find that. Hader, on the other hand, explained how his on-screen anxiety at Saturday Night Live prompted him to seek help, and how his fandom for Lynch led him to his book, Catching the Big Fish. Like Holmes, he also wrestles with his daily commitment, but humorously added, “The day that Trump became president, I started doing it twice a day.”
Naturally, these discussions led to some exceptional anecdotes. Both comics are masters of improv and it really seemed like every second was another laugh as they bantered with Roth or played off the audience’s energy. Holmes is a ball of energy and his random asides were a mile a minute and he went deep with his references, touching upon everyone from Russell Brand to Alan Watts to Franciscan friar Richard Rohr to Jerry Seinfeld. Hader, as expected, torched the theater with his blink-and-you’ll-miss-em impersonations, which seem to be a natural extension of his overall personality. As he shared some great memories from Saturday Night Live, he talked about how he and fellow writer John Mulaney would try to get Lynch on the show, which, of course, led to Hader doing Lynch’s high-pitch voice. When Roth pointed out producer Sabrina S. Sutherland in the crowd, Hader, in his best Lynch, shouted, “He said what? Tell him to go fuck himself! At my festival? He does me? Is he fucking kidding?” He continued to riff on this drawn-up scene, joking that he’s going to come home to find Robert Blake (of Lost Highway) waiting for him as revenge. By then, everyone was rolling on the floor.
And yet, 25 minutes later, they were silent and still and meditating.
: – ) ALL (Alone)
“Yes, it is intimidating going on after TV on the Radio,” Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon admitted two songs into his solo headlining set. Anyone who had seen the Brooklyn art rockers would have agreed with him, but if Vernon was truly nervous, the guy did a hell of a job couching his fears. Because really, it had to take the utmost confidence to conjure up the wall of noise that he delivered to a packed house on Saturday night. No, it took loads of passion and faith, and that was ostensibly gushing out of our woodsy hero, who couldn’t have been more grateful to be there. “Mr. Lynch’s foundation is going after love and understanding,” he emphasized between songs. “That’s something we need more of … we need to go in, stop going out so much.”
If Lynch is, indeed, going after a little knowledge and mystery with his Disruption, he couldn’t have booked a better act than Vernon. Much like the famed auteur, the introspective singer-songwriter is always pecking away at the boundaries of his own work, and that forward-style thinking was all over his performance. In addition to revisiting a handful of expected favorites off his three critical diamonds — you know, like “Calgary”, “Flume”, “Skinny Love”, and “For Emma” — he also zig-zagged through inspired covers by Johnny Cash (“Unchained”), Donny Hathaway (“A Song for You”), and fellow festival pal Sharon Van Etten, who came out to duet on her own ballad “Love More”. The way they embraced spoke volumes about their time at the festival.
You could tell this was an emotional event for Vernon, and he was relishing every moment. “There are people out there with massive health issues,” Vernon once again spoke favorably on behalf of the Foundation, before admitting: “I’m one of them.” Now, given his heart-wrenching catalogue, it could have been so easy for this to turn into a heady stroll through Bummerville, but he never relented. Instead, he kept things jovial, whether it was gushing over his engineer Chris Messina or humorously imagining a guy at a charity concert storming out over a buggy loop pedal. He was a charmer, alright, enough that one woman even shouted out, “I love my boyfriend, but, oh, Justin Vernon!” The feeling was quite mutual. He had everyone smiling.
Ladies and Gentlemen…
Sharon Van Etten
“Okay, I got past the butterflies for a second and now I can say hello,” Sharon Van Etten said with a little humility, some three songs into her heart-warming set on Sunday evening. “This is the first time I’ve performed since I’ve had a baby. My friends Heather [Woods Broderick] and Dave [Depper] helped me reinterpret some old songs, especially for this festival.” And how! Bathed in synths and running on electronic percussion, the New Jersey singer-songwriter stepped right back into our lives with a wide-ranging set of songs we all know and cherish, specifically: “Much More Than That”, “Same Dream”, “Our Love”, “You Know Me Well”, “Tornado”, “Tarifa”, “Love More”, “I Wish I Knew”, and, yes, “Everyday the Sun Comes Up”.
As she said, they all sounded new. They were given another purpose, a fresh perspective, which makes sense when you consider the obvious, that Van Etten is hardly the same person she was on her last release, 2014’s exceptional Are We There. Granted, lots of people change in three years, but Van Etten has really soared to new heights, not only becoming a mother but expanding her reach in pop culture. When her music’s not appearing in shows like Twin Peaks or films like Strange Weather, she is herself, as she proved last year when she popped up as Rachel in Netflix’s mystery series, The OA. Then you remember all those times she recently guested alongside The National, too.
In a way, she never really left us, but her performance on Sunday had all the electricity of a much-hyped reunion. She was admittedly somewhat timid, but only when the silence settled in. “Almost made it through the set without any calamities that I’m aware of,” she joked after her sweeping rendition of “Love More”, the same track she performed with Justin Vernon the night before. “I feel very honored to be a part of this fest. As crazy as the world is right now, I feel a lot of love in this room.” She wasn’t wrong, there was a lot of love in the room, and it was quite apparent that her connection to her audience is stronger than ever. Still, that didn’t relinquish the butterflies, as she later teased herself after some banter: “Brilliant, Sharon. Brilliant!”
Hey, no argument there.
The Return of Oz
Truth be told, no headliner could have taken the spotlight off of David Lynch. When it was first announced that he would be sitting down for an hour-long interview with host Kristine McKenna, it elevated this year’s Festival of Disruption from a “nice-to-attend” to a “must-attend.” Save for an incredibly unlikely resurrection by late greats such as Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock, there isn’t a single filmmaker as enigmatic and as universally lauded as Lynch. For decades now, he’s cultivated a personality that’s as mysterious and as elusive as his exhaustive body of work, which comprises films, books, paintings, songs, poetry, sculptures, and we can keep going on until our heads are crushed by woodsmen. But, as anyone familiar with his personality can attest to, he’s one hell of a human being, a sharp and insightful speaker that operates with a mathematical mind. He may be shooting from the hip, as his editor Duwayne Dunham says, but you never get the feeling that what he’s saying isn’t completely genuine. It’s just not in his constitution.
So, you can imagine the energy that ricocheted across the Ace Hotel’s magnanimous theater when Lynch finally surfaced. If you recall, he maybe said two sentences in all of last year’s festivities — fully embracing the titular role of one of his favorite films, The Wizard of Oz — but you couldn’t get him to stop talking this year. Following an expected standing ovation, the rapport between McKenna and Lynch was immediate as the two plunged headfirst into The Return. She asked him about the difficulty in making an 18-hour movie (“It’s all hard work, but it’s so much fun, you don’t realize it’s hard work”), surprising on-screen chemistry (“Hutch and Chantal”, “The Mitchum Brothers”), casting Don Murray (“I love Mr. Mullins and I love Don Murray”), the late Harry Dean Stanton (“Harry Dean, there’s nothing better than Harry Dean”), The Platters’ “My Prayer” (“The lead singer goes high at the end, and before that, you’d think that if it wasn’t for that tremendous last bit, it could have been a more ordinary song”), recognizing bad ideas (“Bad ideas make us do bad things and there’s a law of nature that says ‘what you sow is what you reap’…”), the hazards of electricity (“Like Hawk says, it depends on the intention — like atomic energy, it can be used for good, it can be used for bad”), and the implications of the atomic bomb in “Part 8” (“I don’t talk about things like that, Kristine”).
Unbeknownst to everyone, the conversation quickly pivoted into an open Q&A, and to help facilitate the questions, Lynch called out Candie (Amy Shiels), Mandie (Andrea Leal), and Sandie (Giselle DaMier). Clad in the same pink cocktail waitresses from The Return, the three actresses stayed in character the whole way through, passing the microphone to each fan who lined up to ask a question. One hilarious recurring bit was how Candie refused to listen to anyone but Lynch, who had to keep reminding her to pass the microphone. But to the audience’s credit, there was hardly a single embarrassing question in the mix, which has to be a feat in the history of public Q&As. Instead, the line of questioning was curiously insightful, prompting Lynch to extrapolate on a rolodex of themes, issues, and trivia. Some came to share personal anecdotes, such as one international fan, who dressed up as Julee Cruise, and emotionally confessed that it was Lynch’s work that gave them agency to feel free. But often it was Lynch doing the storytelling, and one uplifting tale involved the Foundation’s work out in Hartford, Connecticut, where their lessons on transcendental meditation at the city’s worst school actually wound up affecting nearby gang youth. The story ended with the unnamed gang leader in tears, having reached a personal epiphany for himself.
Seriously, you could transcribe the entire conversation and find inspiring mantras for days, though his take on the mystifying power of love is one that, hopefully, everyone can appreciate and cherish:
“All this love is in us, and I would say, like the transcendent, this field within every one of us human beings is a field of infinite unbounded love. And that field can be enlivened by transcending, by practicing Maharishi’s transcendental meditation. Also in that field is infinite intelligence, creativity, happiness, energy, power, and peace. So, it’s an unbelievably great field and everybody knows if you’re driving down the road, and you’re sitting next to someone that you’ve just fallen in love with, or you’re in love with, and they are are in love with you, and you are in love with them, and you’re riding down the road together. Some car cuts in front of you, zero problem. Someone wants to come out from a parking place, no problem whatsoever. If you’re riding down the road, and you’ve just broken up with this person, and you hadn’t had much sleep the night before, and a bunch of things are going wrong … someone cuts in front of you, you reach for your gun.”
Yet Lynch also has a way with his words, and the manner by which he recalls some things only solidifies the notion that he is, indeed, Gordon Cole. When one person asked him if he had any ideas — or “fishes” — for VR, Lynch said, “There was a gentleman that came by the house last week or a week and a half ago — a virtual reality man — so who knows, maybe that’ll open up a doorway to something like that.” When another fan came to him with a couple of wild theories, undoubtedly prime stuff for r/twinpeaks, Lynch acquiesced: “I can pretty much tell you — basic rash,” he stressed with a smile, shooting down any high concept theories revolving around Sky Ferreira’s manic itching at the end of “Part 9”. When the fan apologized, admitting how he tends to overthink what’s connected and what’s not in his intricate oeuvre, Lynch contended that he knows the nature of his work warrants this kind of thinking. But here’s the thing, he never once appeared frustrated throughout this entire exchange — quite the opposite. Rather, he appeared to be having a laugh with it, engaging in these zany connections, and that was reassuring. It was one of many kernels of truth peppered throughout this conversation, all of which gave everyone a better understanding of their spiritual mentor: the man behind the red velvet curtains.
For once, we also stepped behind them.
Photographer: Heather Kaplan