Both the first and the third nights of this year's Troika Music Festival offer a pronounced, definitive "other" option. There's Thursday's hardcore and metal crossover show with headliners Valient Thorr, competing with the festival's more general folk and indie rock fare. On Saturday, the bluegrass base of Chatham County Line and the blender-phonic electronics of Junk Culture offer obvious outlets for those looking to escape rock 'n' roll permutations. Friday, however, never really gets away from the core assets of Troika's booking—a little country, a little heavy, a lot of hooks and a whole lot of guitars. Luckily, it's probably the most tightly curated day, too, with every band deserving its spot on this year's roster. Neither DILLON FENCE nor FREE ELECTRIC STATE get the recommendations below, for instance, but if you find yourself a little less willing to walk tonight, tonight's six bills all work from start to finish.
Friday's music starts with a trio of songwriters playing solo sets at West End Wine Bar. JASON KUTCHMA—who kicks, screams and jumps his way through the arena-punk anthems of his band Red Collar—settles in with an acoustic at 7 p.m. Catch a song or two as a preamble, and race across the grid to Motorco for WESLEY WOLFE. Earlier this year, Wolfe self-released a self-made LP called Storage, and each of its songs felt like daily survival kits, little dispatches from darkness meant as empathetic motivational bursts. "Every day we choose coffee over suicide," Wolfe opens one bustling number. "So far, so good/ Run and hide to stay and fight." Think of these songs as your weekend vitamins.
The 8 p.m. time slot is a question of motivation, really: NATE TARR leads his band, Wood Ear, on Thursday night, but my attraction to his music has long been his husky voice and headlong approach to songs. His solo set back across town at West End Wine Bar offers appeal, then, as does a set by THE SMALL PONDS at Fullsteam, which requires less of a workout. What began as a side-project for Tres Chicas' Caitlin Cary and The Proclivities' Matt Douglas has turned into the most active band in either veteran's wheelhouse, and for good reason: The songs on the pair's debut EP are generous and graceful, turning little situations of love into resplendent, thoughtful hymns.
The night finally roars into full rock mode here. I recommend walking onto Rigsbee Avenue and checking in at both Fullsteam and Motorco to see which venue is on time around 9 p.m. At Fullsteam, THE JACKETS' classic rock chisels and twists like Badfinger and glows like The Band; meanwhile, THE SAMES—pretty much the reason Pox World Empire exists as such a rich pool for local talent—reunite their prickly, expansive indie rock at Motorco.
Now, a little self-evaluation: If you take Troika to the fullest tonight, Friday is going to end with a loud, aggressive one-two shot of rock. If you wouldn't mind more volume and verve, the Craig Powell-curated bill at 618 Foster Street boasts WHATEVER BRAINS at 10:30 p.m. Perfectly snotty and playful, the three-minute bursts of the Brains are as much fun as you might have all festival. If you need to settle down for a second, though, MANDOLIN ORANGE—the duo of Emily Frantz and Andrew Marlin—is an exercise in effective restraint. Remarkably mature and crafted for such a new, young duo, Mandolin Orange ponder things like truth and beauty over mandolin, guitar and fiddle arrangements that are, well, truly beautiful.
This year's sets by IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG and RED COLLAR—two of the most breathless, exhilarating rock bands in the state—overlap, but the Pig bites first. Like their rigidly built sprees through noise and metal, the quintet's sets tend to gather in large arches and collapse in disgusting exhaustion. Catch their whole midnight set at The Pinhook before walking to the Trotter Building. Just as your ears stop ringing, you'll hear Red Collar howling their hymns for the working class. Red Collar's sets have a certain Springsteen bombast, so catching only the last half—when the crowd that arrived early is already swept inside the band's sentiments about rock and local music—will be a perfect chance to be energized for the long, final day of this year's Troika.