DALLAS During the middle of a set by Wu-Tang Clans GZA at the Saturday edition of the first Index Music Festival on the grounds of Trees in Deep Ellum, the rapper spied an angelic nine-year-old girl, Abigail (who looked much younger than nine) at the front of the crowd. He promised he wouldnt use profanity for her sake, brought her onstage, asked her about school, and even gave $200 in cash to her parents for books, he said, not video games.
While not everyone who attended Index over the weekend was the recipient of such an easy pay day, the hornrims-and-hoodies crowd did get an easy-to-navigate, mostly-on-time indie-rock festival with some strong performances and a handful of decent food trucks (the chipotle salmon tacos from So-Cal Tacos are worth hunting down like Elmer Fudd during rabbit season). Yeah, its not 200 bucks but itll do. If it werent for the sudden blast of winter weather that swept through Saturday night, Index wouldve been close to a complete success.
At a festival like this, with the bands rotating among three stages (two outside, one inside Trees), the joys often dont come from the headliners but the smaller acts for whom there may not be much expectation. That came early Saturday with the opening set from Austins The Eastern Sea. The groups blend of dark, melodic pop topped with blasts of trumpet, on songs like The Snow, made for a compelling performance. More, please.
They were followed by New Yorks DIIV (pronounced Dive) whose chiming, guitar-drenched psychedelia had a noisy allure. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum was Chambers, a three-piece band whose moody folk-rock, on such tracks as The Octopus Song had a stripped-down urgency.
Avi Buffalo, from Long Beach, Calif., possess a Neil Young-ish vocal sensibility, thanks to singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg. Though his vocals can get grating after prolonged exposure, the group has some pleasant pop songs.
Fort Worths Telegraph Canyon turned in their usually strong set, peppered with old favorites like Shake Your Fist as well as some newer songs. Singer Chris Johnson spoke for the shivering crowd when he said this was the first time in a long time he wasnt sweating on stage.
One of the standout sets of the day belonged to Floridas Surfer Blood whose blend of hard-charging rock, echoing hints of the Pixies and Husker Du blended with whispers of surf rock proved effective.
Maybe it was the presence of Abigail and her parents down front, or maybe he just wasnt in the mood, but GZA seemed a bit constrained Saturday. Though he got the crowd pumped with some signature Wu-Tang beats, he wasnt as impressive as he might have been. It seemed like he was hanging back.
GZA couldve taken some pointers from local hip-hop outfit A.Dd+. Their energetic, rambunctious half-hour performance in which they came across like a younger version of OutKast was way too short.
Washed Out, on the other hand, was a slight disappointment. Their dreamy, ethereal, ambient pop, quite beautiful on disc, got a slightly more aggressive, beat heavy treatment Saturday, perhaps not unexpected when transferring this type of music to a live setting. While it was enjoyable, the music lacked a sense of sweep.
By the time Cold War Kids came out, the first word in their name was astonishingly appropriate as the weather seemed downright Arctic (in reality, it was only in the mid-40s but still). It made it hard to enjoy their set of combustible, melodic indie-rock.
Things were a little warmer, if not downright hot, inside Trees with the avant-jazz trio Yells at Eels burning up the stage. With dad Dennis Gonzalez on trumpet and sons Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums, these guys created an exquisite racket in the tradition of Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra. Their performance divided the crowd (many of whom probably just wanted out of the cold), with some totally into it, and at least one annoyed guy yelling out expletives.
Coming in at the end of the night was a DJ set from producer Datahowler who gets big thumbs up just for not throwing in any dubstep. His funky, chillout grooves was the perfect way to wind down the evening. (He was scheduled to be followed by remixers Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. but, by that point, quite a few in the audience were heading home.)
Index is certainly a welcome addition to North Texas increasingly crowded festival schedule. Now, if only they could schedule it on a weekend thats neither too hot nor too cold. That would be the best performance of all.