Prepare the Ground's Inaugural Day Was a Gentle Introduction

Lee's Palace, May 31

Emma Ruth Rundle, 40 Watt Sun, Marissa Nadler, Cinder Well and Miniscule

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Marko DjurdjićPublished Jun 2, 2024

Prepare the Ground's inaugural festival opened last night across three venues (Lee's Palace, Baby G and the Garrison), bringing with it some truly punishing music for the band-shirt-clad masses. And yet, the Crushing Approach™ was somewhat subverted by the subdued, mostly acoustic sets at Lee's Palace, which featured some of the festival's most melodic — yet no less harrowing — performances.

Minuscule opened the night with their lush choral "pop" music. Complex and intricately arranged, the band employed five-part (!) harmonies to evoke beauty, tension, and hope. If you've never listened to Minuscule before, set opener "Lukewarm Love" is a must hear. Cinder Well's timeless folk revivalism, based around Amelia Baker's striking voice, weaved its way through finger-picked songs filled with turbulence, tunings and shadows. As couples held each other close and swayed, Baker performed an evocative, expressive set filled with crisp guitar lines and haunting vocals. Dark and romantic is a potent mix, and Baker does it very well.

Marissa Nadler's gothic, dreamy explorations were pared down to just her reverbed voice and a sometimes-acoustic, sometimes-electric guitar, making for a ghostly, intimate set. It was riveting, infused with sincere shyness and honesty, and while Nadler initially seemed flustered due to some technical issues (she was unable to perform her solo, multi-tracked harmonies), a loud "We love you!" from an audience member — and the resounding applause that followed — assured her early in the set that the audience was there with her, hanging on every fragile, frictive note.

Playing solo, 40 Watt Sun's Patrick Walker took his band's meticulous, hypnotic compositions, all sprawling and dramatic, and made them practically elegiac, soaring his way through a set that was observed with hushed reverence. He even called us polite! During his first of two sets this weekend, Walker was funny and jovial, his banter betraying the intensity of the music. Unplugged or otherwise, Walker's introspective songs are always tremendous, driven by his plaintive, unfaltering and incomparable voice.

Emma Ruth Rundle, one of this year's must-sees, closed out the first day of the festival by playing to a perma-rapt Lee's audience. Accompanying herself on guitar and piano, she started with songs from her 2021 album Engine of Hell, including the skeletal "Blooms of Oblivion" and Les Mis homage "Citadel." The hushed "Razor's Edge," one of her most uplifting tracks, was a lesson in catharsis. As acoustic feedback rose and fell like a frigid, analogue wave, Rundle subtly acted out her lyrics, sticking out her tongue, baring her teeth, or performing gestures with her hands. Later, during the electric portion of her set, her overdriven amp received the night's biggest cheers, the distortion-hungry crowd responding gratefully to the fuzz. "Dark Horse," set closer "Real Big Sky" and doom-laden highlight "Protection" were all particularly well received. Inevitable dickheads aside, Rundle played to one of the quietest, most respectful audiences Lee's has probably ever seen, and for good reason: she's incredible.

While the mood at Lee's Palace Friday was decidedly less aggressive than what you'll find during most other shows this weekend, it was nonetheless a powerful start to a festival that promised a much more eclectic version of "heavy," and delivered.

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