Photography by Philip Cosores
Bigger isn’t always better, but in the case of burgers and, well, Burgeramas, it seems to be a good rule of thumb. An easy way to upgrade the sandwich is just to add another patty, and for Burgerama, now in its fourth year in Santa Ana, California, bulking up on big-name acts like Weezer and Gang of Four instantly added to the appeal for a fest that’s biggest knock is that it books a very similar lineup year in and year out.
Now in its second year of having an outside stage in addition to the two built-in stages within the confines of the Observatory, the event was noticeably smoother than any of its previous incarnations. Sets mostly ran on time, and while the indoor stages could get pretty full, getting from point A to point B never became overly laborious. This may seem like a bare-minimum requirement, but with festivals, you’d be surprised how the most basic of expectations are sometimes not met.
But with a two-day event that featured buzzy acts like Hinds, Girl Band, and Soko along with Burgerama vets like Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and FIDLAR, it became interesting to see just how much harder the out-of-town (or out-of-country) acts brought it than the locals. For some of the acts that play year-in and year-out, there was the sense that this was simply another Burgerama, while bands like Twin Peaks and Palma Violets, well-versed on the difficulties of playing fests, relished the chance to play in front of a thousand enthusiastic people.
And this is the heart of what makes Burgerama fun. Sure, Weezer and FIDLAR can command a big audience, but most of the acts, even down to Ariel Pink and Bleached, don’t play in front of many more than a few hundred on any given night. But at Burgerama, every set is packed with more than these bands typically play in front of. It is almost a chance to see how smaller bands would be received if they were big-ticket headliners. In some cases, like the awful Tomorrow’s Tulips, it becomes apparent at just how unready they were for such a big crowd. But the following 10 acts managed to be that second patty on the concert’s proverbial burger. Or something.
Click ahead for the 10 best sets of Burgerama 2015 plus an exclusive photo gallery.
As fascinating as Ariel Pink’s music is, the guy is equally fascinating as a person, and his band is equally full of characters it might be as interesting to watch eat a sandwich as it would be to watch play a song. Luckily, fans were treated to both an extended sound issue portion of the band’s early set in which Pink marched around testing mics and smoking a cigarette, seeming more like a rock star while repeating, “We’re having fun” than most artists do in an actual set. It was also fortunate that Pink’s set wasn’t cut short after a delayed start. Though Burgerama had been punctual throughout the first day, letting the main stage run 15 minutes behind was necessary and allowed all the acts to play their anticipated sets.
It was just last year that Twin Peaks were giving non-Midwestern audiences a taste of their garage rock, but maybe the most interesting thing about their set on Sunday afternoon is how much like pros they seemed when compared with the varying levels of experience they played up against. There were plenty of buzzy bands over the course of Burgerama’s two days, and Twin Peaks was chief among those seeming worthy of all the chatter.
Walking in to see Soko topless, with a stage full of fellow shirtless young women in the sweaty Constellation Room wasn’t the most notable thing about her Saturday afternoon set, and that kind of proves what a force the young songwriter is. Her performance was frenetic, with the singer shaking, punching, moving with abandon, hair flying. When she lept into the audience and crowd surfed for a solid minute near the end, it was almost as if she needed the break to cool down. On a bill light with women, Soko made most of the boys seem lazy by comparison.
Gang of Four
More than 30 years of public performing might teach a few things, and Gang of Four’s only original member in this incarnation, Andy Gill, displayed his experience and imparted that onto his much younger bandmates. Mixing in numbers from early Gang of Four with tracks from their new offering, What Happens Next, Gill and co. seemed as much about visual aesthetic as they were about the audio portion. And that’s not a slight as to how they sounded, but more a compliment in how surely, stoic rock stars are sure appreciated at an event when many of the bands seem like they just rolled out of bed.
Many of the strongest acts came from far away to perform at Burgerama, including Madrid’s Hinds and Australia’s Big White. But, no one plays it up like London’s Palma Violets, whose sets consistently get a hype-building introduction and as much concern for swagger as for sound. Still, new songs fit well with 180 highlights like “Best of Friends” and “Step Up for the Cool Cats”, cementing Palma Violets as having a sophomore LP worth anticipating when Danger in the Club sees its release this May.
It’s hard not to think about your own mortality and the mortality of your loved ones when taking in a Bone Thugs-n-Harmony concert. Not only does the group offer up the premiere afterlife pondering track “Crossroads”, but their Sunday afternoon set saw tributes to Easy E, Biggie, and 2Pac, all former collaborators whom BTnH mourned with sing-along covers. What may be most remarkable was to see the Burger crowd, hardly the expected hip-hop enthusiasts, singing along to many of the tributes and Bone Thugs hits. If anything, it was a set that proved the ubiquity of rap music for teenagers and just how deeply these hits are embedded in everyone’s musical history.
Early in Bleached’s Saturday afternoon set, frontwoman Jennifer Clavin commented that the next song would be from their last seven-inch, mentioning that they are just trying to buy time before they have to release their next album. And though Bleached seems to play Burgerama most every year, the comment resonated that it had been a long while since Bleached offered up their debut, Ride Your Heart. Clavin even brought some of the records with her and threw them into the audience, picking out one particularly enthusiastic member to get one of the offerings. Later, Clavin put down her guitar and performed one of the sets most punk numbers, which she promised would be on her and her sister’s next LP. For a band that hasn’t quite broken through, Bleached’s music argued that their time is still to come.
Along with Bleached, FIDLAR are annual fixtures at Burgerama, headlining or near-headlining every year. And while the band didn’t have much in terms of new songs to offer compared to previous performances, new to the set were some impressive home-spun decorations: giant cardboard representations of each band member with light bulb eyes that glowed. As the band prepared to play, “FIDLAR” chants began in the crowd, which the band encouraged, big grins vividly on display. When later one member announced that he had lost his virginity at a nearby Jack in the Box, it was clear that sentimentality wasn’t the only reason the band comes back every year. It’s nice to play somewhere you are loved, and FIDLAR might be more loved at Burgerama than anywhere else.
With nothing much but an EP and a pretty disgusting video announcing their intent to conquer American audiences, Girl Band performed in a humid Constellation Room and delivered one of the most mesmerizing, impassioned, and unforgettable festival sets in some time. The band draws on post-punk and dance-punk as influences, but hardly feels like a rehash when allowing their long and rewarding tracks to fully develop. Yes, their name sucks and their music deserves better, but Burgerama exemplified that unfortunate names should not define a band, and Girl Band’s music is worthy of the hype and our attention.
Yeah, this wasn’t the most creative Weezer setlist, with a festival-ready parade of hits on display for the countless time. But still, something seemed fresh in Weezer’s delivery on this night. For one, a Weezer festival set is rarely a headlining moment, and Rivers Cuomo and his long-time compatriots relished the moment to make several thousands of young people extremely happy. “My Name Is Jonas” opened the set with pure bliss, and seemingly every beloved alt-rock standard that followed, be it “Hash Pipe”, “El Scorcho”, or “Beverly Hills”, were all met with massive cheers at the moment the audience realized what song was coming.
As for left turns, “Go Away” saw Stephanie Luke from The Coathangers sub in for Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast (Luke is also Cuomo’s brother’s girlfriend), and Cuomo’s father joined in the action for “Back to the Shack”. The family-affair vibe made sense for Burgerama, a festival that gets bigger but still feels like a big house party of longtime friends. And as more and more new faces join in the fun year after year, the hope is that it doesn’t lose that local flavor. For now, Burgerama has the large-scale and the intimate balanced well.
Click ahead for an exclusive gallery.