The Village Voice’s annual midsummer 4Knots festival faced two logistical changes this year: a location switch-up and a transition from free to the modest general-admission fee of $25. This is the fifth year the festival has taken place, and in many ways, it’d outgrown both the free price tag and the Financial District South Street Seaport location that housed previous iterations. Neither of these new factors stopped New Yorkers from coming out to Saturday’s lineup, which boasted plenty of grunge, surf, and psych rock acts like UK lush indie-rockers and Band To Watch Happyness, California garage rocker Mikal Cronin, and New Jersey punk trio Screaming Females. For most who attended, it seemed a little odd that Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks played the second-to-last set instead of headlining the event, but perhaps Super Furry Animals were accorded that honor since they hadn’t played New York in six years. But by the time they took the stage in all-white jumpsuits, backed by an ever-evolving palette of psychedelic colors, plenty of other acts had broken in the small but eager crowd.
Surfbort, Heaven, Heaters, and Meatbodies (another Band To Watch) played during the early afternoon, and the most memorable event from those early sets actually came later in the day, when someone who was rumored to be in one of those acts jumped off the boat chartered to house media and VIPs during the show. Unfortunately for him, jumping off a chartered boat is a crime in New York (not to mention the Hudson is disgusting), and the perpetrator was banned from re-entry — though he did try to sneak back in multiple times. I arrived at Pier 84 around 3 p.m. when Happyness took the stage, and was immediately impressed by their sharp, wistful melodies and cutting lyrics.
They were followed by the festival’s obvious stand-out performance from Screaming Females, another Don Giovanni act that seems destined for bigger stages and even more screaming. Marissa Paternoster is one of those rare vocalists who can make a blood-curdling scream sound melodic, and her band’s heady mix of shredded punk and hardcore remains accessible largely because of Paternoster’s charisma.
Twin Peaks were the other Band To Watch on the lineup, but the Chicago five-piece seemed to be struggling to pull the set off; their keyboardist smoked a cigarette while hammering on the keys and vocalist Cadien Lake James swung the mic stand with such abandon that it wasn’t clear if he even had control of it or not. But the crowd dug their antics, and gave one of the best responses of the day to them. They were one of the few bands that looked like they were actually having fun while they performed, something that’s rarer and rarer to see. One song was an ode to mushrooms, so perhaps there were other substances at play when it came to the band’s good mood.
The biggest moment, of course, was inevitably when Stephen Malkmus took the stage with the Jicks. Malkmus may not be playing with Pavement anymore, but the cloud of glory that iconic band will always carry still hangs over his new project. The Jicks’ jangled, tight melodies and veering psychedelic wandering set them apart from the younger acts on the bill; these were seasoned professionals and they weren’t afraid to show off a bit. As good as the younger acts are, the Jicks play with the kind of ferocious skill and chemistry that only really comes with time. Malkmus remains on a level all his own, even when playing at a small local festival.
After that set, the crowd did abate a little, regrouping during the lull before Super Furry Animals came on. When the Welsh art-pop group began their set, the throng had returned in full force. Looking down from the upper decks of the press boat, I even saw a few people moshing during some of the heavier instrumental breaks. For a festival going through a facelift, this year’s 4Knots guaranteed the fest’s future success by focusing on one thing: putting the music first. Check out photos from the festival above.