Excitement abounded downtown on Saturday September 16, the third day of the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. With hundreds of shows on dozens of stages over a span of ten days, there’s a lot to see and do. I made my way down East Main Street of my native town, heading towards Parcel 5 to catch a set by power pop band The Demos and the second and final night of Plasticiens Volants. A sign on the corner of East Avenue invited festival-goers up to the building’s penthouse terrace. I kept that in mind for later, and continued on to the stage.
The Demos were scheduled to play at Fringe Festival last year, but the show was called off due to rain. This time, the weather couldn’t have been better – a warm and sunny end-of-summer day. Native Rochesterians and visitors filled the square, milling about or relaxing on blankets and lawn chairs. Tonight, the stage was decked out in strands of fairy lights, with lawn flamingos perched about – the same flamingos from the videos The Demos used to promote their show.
The band wasted little time on sound check, diving right into a cover of Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.” While The Demos rocked out, the stage was flanked by a pair of girls with light-up hula hoops, who spun the circles with acrobatic skill to the rhythm and tempo of the music. Bubbles floated around the stage, carried by the wind from the street performer on the corner. The atmosphere was buzzing with a sense of fun and excitement, and people were drawn towards the sights and sounds of the stage.
Members of the band were having fun, too, exchanging smiles and glances as they played “I Don’t Mind” and “Clearly” from their last release, Paramount Clouds. The synthesizer plays a particularly prominent role on these numbers, with Caela Moore grooving out at the helm of a double deck of keyboards. Frontman Jay Milton was on top of his game tonight, putting everything he had into the performance, from rich vocals to on pointe guitarwork.
A rousing rendition of “Veronica” got the audience clapping along. They added some twists to the song, a few call-and-response-style lines sung by bassist Cal Saunders that aren’t on the version they recorded for their full-length album Lovely. Drummer RJ Papaleo may be the newest member of the band, but he didn’t miss a beat as they dug into the catalog of songs from the band’s archives. Jeremiah O’Reilley is also relatively new to the band, but has been a fan since the early days, and slipped seamlessly into the role of guitarist.
The crowd continued to swell as the sun started to set. Jay asked the amassing audience who among us has seen the band before. A sea of hands flew into the air, with cheers. He asked who had been coming to see them since he and Cal started 15 years ago. There were still some hands in the air. “This one’s for you,” Jay said as they started playing a song called “Don’t Give Up On Me.”
The tempo slowed a bit as they did a couple more stripped-back songs, starting with “Shooters and Fixers.” Then they played a new song, “All I Need,” a bittersweet ballad featuring Caela on ukulele, Jay on the keyboard, and Cal singing harmony. Jeremiah, his services not needed on the stage, took the opportunity to come down from the stage and dance with his wife. He hopped back on stage for a couple more new songs.
The sea of people were nodding and moving along to the new tunes, but when the band followed them with their hit “Hardly Done,” people started singing along. Another new one, “Risin’ Up,” represents a departure from their typical lyrical themes. This anthemic song has more of a political bent. “People rising up, they’ve all had enough,” Jay sings. “Where do we go from here?”
The pinnacle of the set was “Better.” The groovy pop song with a sweet hook peaked with a solo in which the instrumental sounds came crashing together in a frenzy of noise, amassing in a sheer wall of acoustic energy. The 75-minute long set concluded with an ode to Rochester called “My City.” They took a quick moment to thank their manager, friends and families before being whisked off the stage. Around me, a group was chanting for an encore, but Plasticiens Volants‘ “Big Bang” show was about to begin.
Still buzzing with adrenaline and not ready to call it a night, I retraced my steps to The Penthouse at One East Avenue to scope out the scene. The 11th story penthouse is now a hip, upscale event venue which offers a unique perspective. The sleek interior does not detract from the view through floor-to-ceiling windows, and glass doors give way to a wraparound outdoor terrace. In the center of it all is a small bar which offers a selection of beer, wine, and spirits. In addition to private events such as weddings and corporate meetings, they’ve also held a series of musical performances and silent disco. Coming up on September 21 is a Bacon and Bourbon tasting, and on October 28 they’ve planned an interactive mystery night. Tonight, they’re open for viewing the events at Parcel 5, including the second and final Rochester performance by French street theater troupe Plasticiens Volants.
Walking the length of the balcony, I witnessed the city alive with lights across the skyline glowing and traffic bustling down the main arteries. A crowd was already jockeying for position along the railing for a look at the multi-media show by Plasticiens Volants, featuring balloons the proportions of Macy’s Day Parade handled by puppeteers who walk through the crowd, a mix of narration and world beat music, pyrotechnics, lights and mirrors. For a more in-depth description, read the review from Friday night’s performance.
The Demos’ Setlist: What Goes On (Velvet Underground), Regal Dimensions, I Don’t Mind, Clearly, Bobby Pins, Veronica, Impossible, Another Day, Only Want The World, Nervous, Truth & Lies, She Lives in Pictures, All I Need, We Could Do Anything, Elegant Ties, Not Coming Down, Hardly Done, Risin’ Up, Life’s A Gas (T. Rex), Better, My City
Rochester Fringe Festival runs through September 24, with a wide variety of music, theatre, comedy, and other entertainment. Advance ticket purchases are recommended, as shows do sell out. For more information, visit RochesterFringe.com.