BEST OVERALL BAND
Animal Collective- It was pretty much in the cards for this show to be my favorite: it was St. Patrick’s Day, I was trashed, and I’ve been on an Animal Collective binge for about two months now. The first 10 minutes of the show were made up of 4 guys making as much noise as possible. Squealing, screaming, pounding, tweaking, it sounded like a grizzly bear vomiting Timothy Treadwell. I felt my buzz leaving me, and disappointment setting in. But just as I was feeling frustration, I felt my foot tapping. Suddenly I was nodding my head instinctively to the primal beating and screeching. Before I knew it, what started out sounding like a cannibalistic death march had slowly morphed into an ear pleasing symphony of clamor. The howling and hammering came into sync, as the chanting and murmuring took shape into melody. This song did not quit for the next 40 minutes, with the Geologist meshing one song into another effortless with a twist of a few knobs on his sampler. By the end of the set, I was hopping around, pumping my fist and joining in on the yodeling. Even after the show, walking down 6th street amidst St. Patrick’s Day bedlam, the primordial music still ran through my head.
WORST OVERALL BAND
Brightblack Morning Light- As you walked into the Matador Records showcase, you were handed what looked like 3-D glasses that had the name Brightblack Morning Light printed on the side of them. When worn, the glasses created a kaleidoscope effect, giving spotlights a rainbow appearance, and creating the illusion of threes in whatever you looked at (3 hands, 3 guitars, 3 beers). So when the band took the stage, I excitedly threw on my glasses, thinking it would be a unique experience. It was pretty cool, for about ten minutes. Then I realized that the song was still going, and had not changed at all. Just the slow drone of an organ, and an occasional whisper from the hippie gown wearing singer. Once the novelty had worn off, I removed the glasses and watched the rest of the set in a senseless stupor. Why does Matador sign bands like this? How do bands like Brightblack Morning Light and Early Man get placed alongside the likes of the New Pornographers and Cat Power?
BEST SOLO ARTIST
Charles Bissell- Being a member of the Wrens, last year’s pick for best band, I knew I had to see Bissell and his solo act. Since his night show was alongside artists I’ve never heard of, and coinciding with the Merge showcase, I decided to catch Bissell during a day show on Wednesday. When he took the stage with an electric guitar, I was a little wary. I was expecting an acoustic set for some reason. As he started into his first song, I noticed that what started as one guitar part, had multiplied into several riffs overlapping one another. Bissell was using a couple looper pedals, one of them being the exact same pedal I bought a month ago! Using simply his guitar and voice, he took a song and slowly built it up into a crescendo of melodies colliding. Since I have this same type of pedal, I know how difficult it can be to get everything to loop perfectly and on time. Over the past year I’ve had an idea in my head of using a looper pedal to create music via my banjo/guitar/voice/accordion/harmonica/djembe drum/etc/etc/etc. Watching Bissell do his thing on the looper pedal was like an amateur Expressionist watching Pollock paint.
WORST SOLO ARTIST
Annie Hayden- This choice can be a bit deceiving. It wasn’t that Annie was horrible, it’s just that I didn’t see many solo shows this year, and she was the least enjoyable of the handful I saw. She was easy to look at, but her music was pretty dull. Since she was playing at the Merge showcase, you could see the likes of Robert Pollard, Mac McCaughan, and Laura Banance up in the V.I.P. room watching her and nodding their heads as if they were really digging the music. I would look up to them, then back to her, then back up to them. I decided Mac is smarter than me because I just don’t get it.
BEST BAND DISCOVERED
Tapes ‘n Tapes- Paul was ranting and raving all week that we had to see these guys. He said something along the lines of them being the best band to come out of the Twin Cities this past year. When we noticed they were playing a day show on the other side of town, we quickly jumped onto a bus, hoping to make it in time. As we entered the show, located behind an art studio, we found Tapes ‘n Tapes just finishing their set. Within three songs they were finished, and we were left wanting more. Fortunately, Paul bought one of their CDs, which we listened to on the 15 hour drive home on Sunday. It’s sad to say I’m basing my best band discovered choice on only three live songs and a CD, but they’re that damn good.
New Pornographers- The New Pornographers played a flawless set, with hit after hit bursting forth upon the starving masses. Neko Case’s stunning voice moved flawlessly alongside A.C. Newman’s clever lyrics. So why the let down you ask? Dan Bejar was not present. I’ve read articles saying he was playing with them on this tour, but for some reason he was a no show at SXSW. That’s like going to watch the Celtics of the 80s, with Bird and Parish starting, but Mchale sick at home. What made it worse was A.C. Newman singing one of Bejar’s songs; it just didn’t work for me. Overall it was still a solid show, but Bejar would have made it unforgettable.
FORMER MTV VJ SIGHTING
David Cross- Last year it was Dave Holmes, two years ago Matt Pinfield and this year…David Cross. I know what you’re thinking: David Cross isn’t an MTV VeeJay. Contraire mon frair! David Cross guest-hosted the MTV2 show Subterranian a month ago…okay, I know that’s cheating, but it was still pretty cool to see David Cross step out of the crowd at the end of the Superchunk set, and begin ranting about how they are the greatest band of the past 10 years. After he left the stage I looked back up to the V.I.P. room and saw David sit down next to Bob Odenkirk. Paul’s celebrity sighting of the week was actor Ethan Suplee, better known as Willam in “Mallrats”, Randy on “My Name is Earl”, or the fat sloppy guy in pretty much any movie made in the past 10 years. John John spotted comedian Brian Posehn walking out of IHOP (the “Comedians of Comedy” did a show at SXSW). So maybe I should change this category to famous people…although David Cross technically does count as a VJ!
BEST CROWD INTERACTION MOMENT
Frog Eyes- Frogs Eyes are headed by the neurotic, twitchy, squealing Carey Mercer, who seems on edge of having an acid flashback at any moment. This description, is the exact reason Frog Eyes are a must see. His lyrics seem random, as his head sporadically shakes while a creepy little smile crawls across his face. Playing their day show set at SXSW, some kid up front began singing along with Carey during a song. Suddenly, Carey and the band stopped on a dime, and he looked down at the kid in disgust. The audience broke out in laughter as the band jumped back into their freak out. Then a couple songs later another kid up front attempted to talk to Carey between songs. Carey looks down at the kid and says into the mike “Actually, we’re playing a show right now”. Again, uproarious laughter. Sure, he was being kind of a dick, but he was saying the things I always want bands to tell jackasses at the front of the stage who feel the need to be noticed by the artist they have a hard-on for.
WORST CROWD INTERACTION MOMENT
Criteria- There are various reasons Criteria have the worst crowd interaction, half their fault, and half the crowd. After having John Vanderslice entertain us between tunes with his humorous stories, Criteria’s banter was like listening to a first grader giving a speech. Talking to the crowd is not an easy skill, and after seeing the master Vanderslice, Criteria’s chatting deficiency became quickly apparent. The other part that made the interaction difficult was when some guy standing near me yelled out “Go back toNebraska!” At first I thought he was talking about me, but woke of from my egocentric mind and realized it was aimed at the band. I’m far from a Criteria fan, but I took offense to the guy. It’s kind of like when the guy you hate on your basketball team is fouled flagrantly, you still want to defend him. I hate when crowd members feel the need to attack an artist, no matter how shitty they may be. I’ll make exceptions for Creed.
Mrs. Bea’s- Located in the barrio of Austin, I was a little apprehensive as we approached Mrs. Bea’s for a day show. Once inside, the bar was exactly as expected: a little dirty, concrete walls and floors, with Spanish Budweiser neon signs hanging next to Tecate posters. The shows were in the backyard, with the stage located beneath a little tent. Something about the place felt homey. The bartenders and people serving food were gracious, and the venue seemed ideal for the size of the crowd. It was the perfect place to sit back, drink some Tecate, eat a few sausage tortilla wraps, and soak in the New Zealand pop of The Bats, followed by some death metal for good measure.
Club DeVille- There was free beer and barbeque for this day show. The only problem was it was so packed in the stage area that we couldn’t come close to making headway. Oh well, we took advantage of the free beer for a few hours and could at least HEAR the bands.
BEST OVERALL SHOW
Saddlecreek/Barsuk Showcase- Paul gave me so much crap for attending this show, since the Saddlecreek label is based out of Omaha. “You went to Austin to watch Omaha bands?” His logic makes sense, but this show was stellar from top to bottom (and only featured one band from Omaha!). John Vanderslice started the show off beautifully with his songs about a bluebird with a staring problem and a runaway rabbit. He was followed by the whiney Criteria, which gave me a chance to take a bathroom break and rekindle the buzz that died during my Vanderslice trance. Next up was Two Gallants, playing some of their new frenetic folk/punk old-timey music. I saw these guys back in the fall, and the show they played in Austin was 10 times more energetic. I will of course be attending their show this Thursday at SoKol Underground. They were followed by the Starlight Mints who played with mere perfection. It says a lot for a band to sound better live than on their CD. After them the Mates of State and Nadasurf were to scheduled to play, who I’m sure would have been great, but I chose to leave in order to see The Islands at Emo’s. What I saw of the Saddlecreek show was magnificent, despite the ridicule of Paul.
Overall, SXSW 2006 was another success. There was a lot of drama, not mentioned in this blog, but the music was what kept the week afloat amidst the flooding highways of Dallas. Plus the two days off from work due to snow didn’t hurt.