The first night of Mittenfest is like the beginning of a marathon that you’ve been training for all year. You’ve been to a few local shows here and there and you’ve sussed out your favorite new artists, but this is the big one. Last night’s event was characterized by the sort of crackling energy that attends a newly unleashed force. The incomparable Jenny Harley turned Woodruff’s into a twisted ski lodge with mounted stuffed animal heads, metal reindeer and lots of timber in what I could very well be the most elaborate and delightful Mittenfest set to date.
This little writer had the distinct misfortune of missing out on the first few performances of the evening which included Detroit’s Ungrateful Daughter and Gregory Dean Mcintosh. But I made it in time to see Eleanora fill the stage with their raucous momentum driven by fiddles, drums, and in an enchanting twist, a clarinet. Their idiosyncratic lyrics and vocals that evoke Jefferson Airplane moved the evening categorically into a more hearty direction for partying. Next on the bill were hometown heroes Team Ethic. They took the stage in a flash of gold lame’ and held the crowd spellbound with deceptively touching tunes like “Last Year in Michigan”. Like a ginger Santa Claus, lead singer Abbott Daimler distributed Team Ethic posters to the crowd before leaving the stage.
Hot on their heels were the unstoppable harmonies of The Handgrenades. Their blistering set had them breaking equipment and joking around between songs in a set that was composed mainly of tight new tracks. “Impossible” was one such song that has all of the marks of a hit, which can be downloaded for free on their bandcamp to interested parties. They left the stage a bit disheveled for perennial Mittenfest-ers The Juliets. Lead singer Jeremy Freer fondly recounted a tale of being tossed out of Mittenfest during the early years at the Elbow Room for being “way too drunk”; only to be allowed back in a few minutes later to perform. The Juliets dealt a predictably solid set with a cool left turn as they covered Outkast’s “The Whole World”, which Jeremy declared with a laugh was “the best song I ever wrote”.
One of the most anticipated participants this year was iSPY featured artist Shigeto, and with a bass rumble that shook Woodruff’s steamy windows he began his set. The crowd began to move almost involuntarily to Shigeto’s electronic tapestry. His brand of mixing had a feel that was far more organic than most and conjured images of a flower opening again and again as beautiful sounds spilled over the swaying audience. The night came to a close with the fabled Starling Electric. Their baroque and highly orchestrated vocal and instrumental style was a real sweet cherry on top of the evening. Their prog-rock-harmonies left everyone feeling rather psychedelic and floaty in a manner that had nothing to do with the characteristically generous beer slinging of Hasan behind the bar. Stay tuned for tonight’s installment featuring Matt Jones and the Reconstruction, The Secret Twins and a cast of thousands.