Last year's ArthurFest was a welcome addition to the resurgent outdoor rock festival scene and this past weekend the same responsible parties returned with the two-day, indoor ArthurBall in Echo Park. While Arthurfest's lineup was tempered with straight ahead rockers like Spoon and Sleater-Kinney, ArthurBall's programing played up the extremes—the super loud and the super quiet. So much like the burley denim-vested heshers rubbing up against the ladies dressed like they missed the turn to the ye olde Renaissance Fair, the supremely heavy bass/drum pulverizing of OM lead into the delicate harp playing of Joanna Newsom.
Speaking of Saturday night headliner J-New, during her set she revealed that her next album would feature expanded, orchestral instrumentation, though that night it was just her and the harp. The majority of her performance revolved around five new songs and each was at least eight minutes long. And they didn't even really have choruses—just a refrain that she maybe returned to more than once. Each was a fair(l)y epic tale and one featured a lengthy discourse on the differences between meteors, meteoroids and meteorites. So yeah, it was like that.
Other highlights of Saturday included Mi & L'au, Pearls & Brass and Brightblack Morning Light, who climbed out their tents with more groove-oriented compositions since the last time we saw them and an expanded lineup that included a drummer, a percussionist, another lady singer who sat on the floor with a microphone, and the skeleton of a teepee in the middle of the stage.
Sunday brought blazer performances from the 5:15ers (the new project of head Queen, Josh Homme) and Earthless, but our favorite act of the night was Lavender Diamond. Lead singer Becky Stark's Glenda The Good Witch/pre-K teacher antics are charming as heck, even if the schlumpy thrift store suits in her band try to stop her from getting derailed with between-song chatter.
Part of what makes both ArthurFest and ArthurBall so great is the lack of pretension among the audience and the performers. There's no real backstage scene, so everybody just mingles—minutes after Polly Jean Harvey finished playing bass with ex-Beefhearter Moris Tepper's psychedelic blues bar band, she was out on the patio drinking a beer with everybody else. And we think we watched the 5:15ers set just a few people away from Meg White, but we're not sure about that. There was a lot of funny business going on.