Rolling the credits

Of course Doc Aquatic‘s Sunday afternoon set at Bele Chere — not quite at the end of the festival, but when the waning could be felt as keenly as the hangover from Saturday night — was no fluke. The local psychedelic indie-rock trio had played Bele Chere before. They were a quartet then, and that’s not the only change. With the lineup shift, Doc Aquatic has moved both more deeply into its easy (sometimes breezy) almost-danceable rock and into the darker twists and jabs of experimental music.

Here are some thoughts on both of those facets.

The mind-blistering portion of the set was intended either to shake off any cobwebs lingering from the previous night’s excesses, or to drive the photophobic back into their caves. Or maybe it’s music that emanated from caves — not dark, itself, but over-bright to burn against darkness. Something muscular and searing; an opal unearthed in a mine.

But Doc Aquatic’s guitar, bass and drums don’t combust with quiet opaline flame. Together they craft something otherworldly, though not altogether unknown. The grind and squeal of a train trestle, a steel mill, a river crashing angrily over a rock ledge. Front man JC Hayes wrings notes from his guitar, twisting and turning the instrument to draw sounds from all angles.

Charles Gately is steady and cool-handed on bass. Meanwhile, JC’s brother, Zack Hayes, attacks his drum kit like he’s in a boxing match. It’s woozy music, wavering like the heat from the rare sun of the day. Heat waves off pavement; sound waves off the bodies buttressed by the song’s intensity.

What Doc Aquatic pours into the audience is both a balm and an affliction. The haze of sleep deprivation that rings everything with a fuzzy halo. A scrape of nails and a promise of cool comfort. The welcome shine of the outside world eclipsed by the burn of sunlight onto retinas.

And then there’s the gentle light (light, here, being sound). Dappled, soft, easily warming the skin or flitting just beyond the reach of shade. And an easy beat you can almost dance to. One girl does dance, though it’s more an act of swinging her arms and her long hair like a slow fan around her body. Because hair can dance to Doc Aquatic, and if that isn’t psychedelic, than what is?

But the band does step firmly into dance territory, too. A song begins with samples and an electric beat. JC says, “This is when you dance. Uncross those arms and dance,” and “dance” is like a mantra, but only sort of. Not exactly the thing. The beat melts into Zack’s drumming and JC’s falsetto is icy. Deeply cool. Arctic. Chasing the sting of heat away, soothing the afternoon with meditative loops of guitar and rhythm that allow the mind to drift. The song, the musicianship, remains tight but plays like a score of unwinding. An exhalation. A Sunday of pool floating, hammock swaying, clouds lazing. Playing out the festival, wringing it out with every note.

Photos by John Zara.


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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