Holiday Road: Linus Pauling Quartet Hits Terrastock

Categories: Live Shots

[About a week ago, Houston's Linus Pauling Quartet returned from performing at Terrastock, the periodic psych-rock/noise festival, held this year in Louisville, Kentucky and a family vacation for LP4's Ramon Medina, his wife Rosa Guerrero and their son Orion. LP4's Charlie Horshack was kind enough to let us reprint his account of Terrastock that originally appeared on his MySpace blog, as was Guerrero with her photos. Sounds like they all had a fine time.]

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Ramon Medina (top) takes a ride during Linus Pauling Quartet's Terrastock set.
All photos by Rosa Guerrero

So I'm back at my desk at work now after a very full weekend Louisville, Kentucky, for Terrastock 7, the seventh in a semi-annual string of psychedelic music festivals put on by Phil McMullen (and others assisting and managing) of the British psych magazine Ptolemaic Terrascope. They have these things once every few years since 1996, each time in a different city: Providence, Boston, Seattle, etc…

Aside from this most recent one, the only other one I've been to was Terrastock 4 in Seattle in 2000, also the last time my band the Linus Pauling Quartet played. I think in the future though, given the awesome time I had at this one, I may start making more of an effort to go to any and all future Terrastocks regardless of whether or not Linus is playing at them.

At Terrastock 7, thirty-nine bands played over three and a half days, from Thursday evening to Sunday night. Due to a lack of vacation days, I ended up coming mid-day on Friday, missing the handful of bands playing Thursday night and a couple more playing earlier in the afternoon on Friday. From around noon until around 11 pm or so Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, they had bands playing almost constantly. It was held at the Mellwood Arts Center in Louisville, an old industrial plant/warehouse area converted into a sort of mini-mall for local artisans and craftspeople.

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Seatlle noisemongers Kinski also played the festival.

You could walk all around the interior and see shop after shop of private artisans doing things like watercolor, photography, painting, framing, jewelry, etc. For Terrastock, we had a fairly sizeable outdoor area with a stage for the outdoor shows, and two indoor stages, one for regularly scheduled bands, and one for people to sign up to do largely acoustic performances and little one-off collaborations and such. This stage was pretty interesting, but more on that later.

I'm not going to do a band-by-band recap – that would take too long, and I have a mountain of work to catch up on now that I'm back. That's one thing: I love doing stuff like this, and this really was an incredibly beautiful and wonderful experience that I totally and without qualification LOVED… so naturally now that I'm back, I'm feeling that post-awesome-time depression that stems from getting back into your everyday normal life, which somehow doesn't seem quite as much fun as what you just experienced. If only I could somehow apply for a Green Card to live in Terrastock Nation permanently. That would be immigration work well worth the effort for me.

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Damon & Naomi, one of Horshack's favorite Terrastock performers.

Linus played Friday evening, a little before 8 p.m. I'd just been flitting around the festival prior to that, though I did catch some fine acts. I'd gotten there just in time to catch Sleeping Pill, which featured Ira and Georgia from Yo La Tengo, though the music they did was nothing like Yo La Tengo, so that was kind of fun... much more droney and spacey stuff than their primary band. Both of them played guitar, and I don't think they had a bassist, and I'm not sure who their drummer was for the evening.

However, as often happens when Linus is about to play a big show, I got nervous and couldn't really stay in one place long enough to get into anything. That's just how I get before these types of things… wandering around, excited and nervous with anticipation, unable to lock my focus on anything else. Fortunately, it wasn't long before it was time for us to play.

We sound-checked with "Old Crow," and at that point I kind of knew it was going to be a special show, because everyone started going nuts and clapping and calling out for another sound check. And then we proceeded to play our set proper, and it was transcendent; we just rocked very, very mightily. Afterwards, we would all agree it was one of our best performances ever, if not the best. I thought about it a lot after, trying to figure out why, and then I realized a good portion of the credit belongs to the audience.

Houston audiences just don't go nuts. Not really for much of anyone, but certainly not for a local band who's been around for fifteen years and whose stylistic heyday was back in the 90s. Some musicians will try to maintain that they don't care a whit about the audience's response to them, and maybe some really don't, but most are lying. Music is a true folk art form; it's about a direct line of two-way communication between performer and audience, wherein energy travels in both directions.

So the fact that the audience was so receptive to us, applauding a lot and just obviously really getting into it, drove us to play with more abandon and energy than we usually muster. So if you were there and you're reading this, thanks. We played above our usual level Friday evening, and it's largely due to the audience's enthusiasm.

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Medina and Guerrero's son Orion duets with his dad during LP4's set.

Which brings me to something I sheepishly enjoyed very much: the frequent and pleasurable boosts to the ego. We have a lot of very dedicated and passionate fans in Houston, but the simple fact remains that no one is ever as appreciated in their hometown as elsewhere. Appreciated, yes, but not to quite the same degree. And this was definitely in effect at Terrastock.

The number of people who came up to me out of nowhere to tell me how blown away they were by our show and how we were one of the best shows they'd seen at Terrastock, particularly when you take into account the magnitude of the musical company we found ourselves in, was just overwhelming. Honestly though, the part of all this that made me happiest was not the boost to my musical ego, but the fact that because we made such an impression, lots of people then came up to me and started talking to me.

Those of you who know me know I'm ordinarily a painfully shy person (I think more accurately they call it "social anxiety" these days), so there's no way on earth I can talk to anyone who doesn't talk to me first. So of course so many people coming up and talking to me first was a godsend. Finally I got to be somewhere with hundreds of other people and be given the "in" to communicate with them. That was sure nice. So thanks to all of you: the Tennessee crew, Greg, Jeff, Joe and everyone else. The music was great, but actually getting to talk to so many people was what really made the whole thing totally worthwhile for me.

Parties: Friday night we went to a party in the Tennessee crew's hotel room, just down the hall from the room Larry and I shared. Saturday night was a late night for everyone, with most people (though no one from our group) going to the big afterparty. I would've liked to have gone to that, but honestly I was seriously worn out, so I just walked down and chatted with the kids from Tennessee again for a bit before turning in.

Sunday night pretty much everyone who was staying at the Brownsboro Inn (the motel chosen as the primary place for Terrastock participants to lodge) got together for a big-but-restrained shindig in the courtyard of the motel, with beer and food all over the place, and two people jamming on twin fiddles, until the management came and shut it down around 2 a.m.. We were sharing the motel with a Baptist convention, so I'm guessing some of them had to get some sleep. Odd, putting a rock convention and a Baptist convention at the same motel. That's some irony.

Other bands: I really enjoyed a huge portion of the lineup this year, so whenever I read people on message boards online saying that they thought the lineup wasn't worth the trip, I'm just stunned. You guys missed an incredible weekend. I have to single a few bands out that I particularly enjoyed… I'm not going to get into descriptions or anything; I started to, but then I realized it would take forever, and my memory might not be exact on the details.

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Japan's Mono was another Terrastock highlight, writes Horshack.

Better then to just list some bands I loved and hope you'll go research them and check out their music: Sapat, Grails, Insect Factory, Windy & Carl, Damon & Naomi, Mono, Wooden Shjips, Kinski, MV+EE and the Golden Road, Pelt, and of course Bardo Pond. Pelt in particular had me totally in a trance with their set-long almost totally acoustic drone, utilizing multiple gongs, harmonium, stringed instruments, etc. MV+EE did a great raga out on that acoustic third stage, with one of the guys playing a banjo he specially converted to sound like a sitar, replete with very sitar-like effects that he got by basically playing the instrument with the tuning peg, doing solos by just quickly but deadly accurately detuning and retuning the string to play a melody. Very very cool.

The third stage was really nice. Apparently you could sign up to do something relatively quiet and/or acoustic on that stage, and people took advantage. The same incredibly cool hammered dulcimer player who later joined Insect Factory on stage played quite a bit out there, doing some very Steve Reich-esque minimalist stuff. MV+EE's set on the third stage blew me away, especially since I'd managed to miss their "official" slot on the main inside stage on Saturday because I made the ridiculous error of walking the 4-plus miles from the venue back to the hotel room since I couldn't find a ride and wanted to get back there for a bit before Bardo Pond's set later on.

t one point a girl got up on the third stage and quickly launched into a solo a capella rendition of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," which was just awesome. It was so cool to have someone do something so completely different but so fun.

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Medina, Orion and Swedish psych-rock journalist Mats Gustafsson.

And oh my God, my ears took a beating. Mostly that was our fault. I didn't wear earplugs for our show because I wanted to be able to hear my tone and everything really clearly. But when we launched into "La Tapatia," the monitors simply couldn't handle the abuse Ramon was dishing out with the microphones, so they howled with searing high-pitched feedback, causing my ears to actually shut down. I seriously thought we'd blown the PA out until I noticed everyone was still playing and I just couldn't really hear it.

I managed to limp through the rest of the song by following the drumbeats I could feel through the floor, and keeping my eye on Clinton's fingers so I knew where we were in the song. My hearing started repairing itself so I was okay enough to hear things by Saturday, but that kind of contributed to me not really paying as much attention to the other music going on Friday night after our set. As much as I love and respect Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mothers Temple, I'm kind of glad I didn't stick around for his festival-closing set Sunday night, as I heard he was ear-bleedingly loud. I don't think I could've taken that.

Terrastock founder Phil McMullen

The last set I caught was the third-to-last of the festival, when Windy & Carl took to the inside stage. They played a lovely set of shimmering clean electric guitar duets, and Windy was just the most charming and sweet person on stage, telling stories about Terrastocks past, and about Phil McMullen, the guy who founded the whole thing. He incidentally had a birthday (his 50th?) the preceding April, and was considering Terrastock to be his birthday party, so Bardo Pond led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday to him,” and several tributes to him were given from various bands and such. It was a hell of a lot of good vibes going around, and well-deserved they were.

Anyway, so there you have it. I didn't get much into specifics, but we had a lot of fun, and I loved every second of it, except for the second where my ears blew. Everything else was a pantload of fun, and I can't wait for next time. – Charlie Horshack


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