Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mini Review: A.W.O.L. Benefit debuts

A.W.O.L. (All Walks of Life) the Benefit debuted at South Park’s Symphony Park on Saturday with performances by some of the area’s best local bands (Lucky Five, Sugar Glyder), DJs, and national headliners Mike Posner and Matt & Kim. The event, which raised funds for Camp CARE and Don’t Break the Bond, attracted what looked to be more than a few thousand people spread out on the grass behind South Park Mall. The vibe was somewhere between a sold out show at Verizon and a frat party where, like a lot of outdoor shows, the party and people watching was almost as much of a spectacle as what was happening on stage. Concert goers shotgunned beers during Posner's slower numbers while Matt & Kim’s quirky dance rock provided the soundtrack for flying Frisbees in the walkways.

Charlotte’s Paper Tongues, the dance-rock band that famously signed with “American Idol’s” Randy Jackson as manager after slipping him a link to its website while interrupting his lunch, did its best to elevate the party (and the booze seem to flow even freer after its set). Singer Aswan North traveled deep into the crowd during its finale and could be heard hyping Charlotte from the parking lot.

The dancing, bouncing, drinking group-sing seemed to hit its peak during a lengthy DJ set before Posner hit the stage. The crowd was into his handful of hits and covers of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” but not nearly as animated as it was for the string of dancefloor hip-hop singles the DJ sprung on them.

Matt & Kim, the Brooklyn duo that consists of Matt Johnson on vocals and synthesizers and Kim Shifino on drums, were a lot of fun. Their onstage banter, burping synth lines, nerdy vocals, and live drumming made for an adorable package (even their photos are cute, above). They stretched tall atop and beside their instruments but were still just two people on a stage that usually holds an entire symphony. I’d love to see them in a smaller venue at some point. The duo’s set was boosted by nightfall and the subsequent lightshow, but oddly the sound seemed much quieter than the openers or DJs. My friend and I had been shouting at each other all evening, but could have a fairly normal conversation during the headliner.

For a first time event, I thought A.W.O.L. was really well executed. Parking involved circling the back of the mall several times, but shuttles from other parts of town were an option (I found a spot under the mall). The crowd was large and appeared to be having a blast. There was a balance of vendors (not all typical festival food either) and BYOB folks dragging coolers. The festival also gave a bunch of local bands the opportunity to play to an audience that might not have caught them at Tremont, Visulite or Evening Muse. I’m also glad to see this very cool outdoor venue being used for more of a rock concert. It’s great for classical pops, but it could be good for other shows that don’t have the drawing power needed to pack Verizon. How ‘bout reviving the Avetts’ Festival Essex there? There’s an idea.

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