Category Archives: South by Southwest

SXSW 2014

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Before I get into all the fun that is South By Southwest, I wanted to first take a moment to express my sympathy for those who were injured and lost their lives during Wednesday night’s festivities.  My two friends actually witnessed the horrific event, and if I hadn’t gone for a quick restroom break before leaving Cheer Up Charlie’s, we could have been out there when the drunken asshole selfishly plowed through a barricaded street. I’m not sure if the media conveyed the amazing speed and efficiency executed by the medics, volunteers, and police that evening. By the time I emerged to meet up with my friends, only minutes after the atrocity, all 25 of the victims were already receiving assistance, often from groups of three to five people, administering CPR and helping to bandage wounds.

With SXSW growing more and more each year, the streets feel more chaotic and dangerous than ever, but the quickness and professionalism displayed by everyone that night assured me that both SXSW and the city of Austin are prepared for literally anything.   While this event certainly put a damper on the week, there were still a lot of highlights to look back on.  Here are some of the best and worst moments from the week…

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SXSW 2013

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Just moments before sitting down to write about the best and worst of the South By Southwest music festival of last week, I found out about the death of Jason Molina, the troubled genius behind folk-blues outfits like Songs/Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company.  This news would have been unsettling and heartbreaking regardless of what I was about to embark on, but sitting here trying to write about my 10th year at the music festival, I can’t help but think back to my first year in attendance and how I got to see Magnolia Electric Company perform at The Parish. 

A lot has changed since that night a decade ago when Molina first enchanted me with his fragile, somber voice. Over the years I’ve seen SXSW grow along with my understanding of the festival and all its nuances.  I think back to those performances from the first few years and wonder where the festival’s one time luster has gone. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great week, seeing dozens of bands each day, but along with the growth of social media, SXSW has become more about the hype and less about discovering unpolished gems like my friends and I did 10 years ago with Jason Molina and his band.  Yes, Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and John Fogerty played a surprise set together, as well as Prince and Green Day (badge only shows), but due to the influx of speculation and misinformation within the Twitter world, I was unable to see several shows I would have in years past due to the miles of sheep lined up in hopes of seeing MTV TRL darlings like of Usher and Justin Timberlake.

Yet as much as these moments of frustration tainted my week, I still relished my chance to see up-and-coming artists pour their hearts out on the stage.  Within the past ten years I’ve seen unknown artists perform at SXSW that went on to big time success (Bon Iver, The Fleet Foxes, and TV On the Radio), and I expect that many of the artists seen this week will go on to do just the same. Who knows? Maybe in ten years folks will be lining up for miles to see some of my favorites from this past week while I roam 6th street, 10 years older and wiser, in search of that next great unearthed treasure.

In memory of Jason Molina, I present to you my list of the best and worst of SXSW 2013.

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SXSW 2012

This year, my SXSW experience felt a bit like a walk down memory lane with performances by such 80s and 90s legends as Jesus and the Mary Chain, Corrosion of Conformity, Built to Spill, and Pennywise.  All these bands, although aged and weathered, put on inspired performances that were highlights of my week.  Despite the daily rekindling of my youth, I also discovered more bands this year than I have in years past.  As with every year, below you will find some of my favorite performances, showcases, and the less than stellar experiences of the week.    

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Best and Worst of SXSW 2011 (Part II)

Worst Day Party- Whoopsy Party

Slough Feg. The instant I saw this name on the SXSW 2011 roster, I vowed to myself that I would see them.  With only a couple of appearances, I knew I couldn’t afford to do like I do with most bands and figure I can see them at a show later in the week. No, I had to see Slough Feg again after discovering them two years ago at a show that still runs vividly in my memory.

After spending the day being pampered at the Rhapsody Rocks day show (read SXSW 2011 part I for more information on this “Spa Day for Drunks”), we hailed a cab and began the long drive over to Trophy’s Bar on Congress where Slough Feg would be playing in an hour. A 15-dollar cab fare just to see one band? You obviously haven’t seen Slough Feg before. Once at Trophy’s, we burst through the door, worried we’d missed the start of the show, but instead, we walked into a bar of zombies, sitting casually at the bar, not seeming concerned at all about the band that was about to blow the roof off the murky little crap-hole. To keep our Guinness buzzes alive, I ordered up a round of four-dollar cans of Lone Star. So much for being spoiled.

I then planted myself in front of the stage as the band set-up.  Soon after, the madness began. Slough Feg sounded as good as I remembered and put on a performance just as grandiose as the last.   The silly banter, the costume changes, the epic double lead guitar solos: it was all there as I recalled. Within five minutes, the once zombie patrons had turned into a raging mass of minions, crowding the stage and begging for more guitar solo insanity.

Slough Feg playing despite the dust storm inside Trophy's.

But then, as singer Michael Scalzi stepped backstage to change shirts one last time, the house music suddenly came up. The band shot confused looks towards the sound guy who made a cutting motion with his hand over his throat. Done? How could they be done? It seemed like they’d just begun! The now frothing crowd began booing and sending their own sign language toward the sound guy, but he stood like a mindless bobble-head, shaking his head left to right.  Soon a chant of “SLOUGH FEG! SLOUGH FEG! SLOUGH FEG!” filled every inch of the bar.  The band forsaw this riot with their album “Ape Uprising!”

Despite our efforts, he wouldn’t budge.  I couldn’t fathom why. They were the final band of the show! There was no reason to make them quit. Yet, he ignored us, exerting his power trip upon all of us and angering the Gods of Metal up above (somewhere Dio is plotting revenge on Trophy’s).  And how had he resisted the power of Slough Feg so easily? He must have been a warlock. It’s the only explanation.

How could anyone shut this down?:

Best Look Alike- Jon Koncak

In the early years, I had a category set aside for former MTV VJs I spotted (Matt Pinfield, Dave Holmes), but it soon after transformed into a look-a-like award. For a few years I had an award for the guy who looked the most like my high school basketball coach Jared Cecil, but that ended when I realized that Justin Vernon was not only the brains behind Bon Iver but that he also served as the bassist to The Rosebuds (I could have continued this tradition if I’d only caught a Gayngs show this year).

For SXSW 2011, the award takes another obscure turn as I name the biggest Jon Koncak look-a-like.   Who’s Jon Koncak? Well, from what I remember as a basketball card-collecting child, he was a power forward for the Atlanta Hawks during the late 80s and early 90s.  It’s not like I’m a huge fan, in fact, I probably haven’t thought of his name since I was 13. Then of course, while sitting around at the Rhapsody Rocks show, I spotted a hipster walking around in a retro Atlanta Hawks jersey, and that old NBA Hoops basketball card came rushing back into my memory. The combination of his quaffed hair and the bright red and gold jersey sent me back to my adolescence within an instant, and I couldn’t stop laughing for the next half hour.

Then, while writing about the Rhapsody Rocks show last week, I went to the Rhapsody Facebook for photos and I came upon a Jon Koncak goldmine:

 

Jon Koncak has never looked more douchey.

Best Solo Artist- Colin Stetson

I wasn’t expecting much from Colin Stetson. Don’t get me wrong, his latest release “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges” has been in constant rotation on my i-Pod for the past month, but I just didn’t see how he could transfer the sounds he conjures up on the album to the stage.  If anything, I figured he had to use a loop pedal or at least have a back-up band of some sorts. You can imagine my shock when he walked out at the NPR day party with only a saxophone in hand.  No drum machine, no pedals, no back-up. Just Stetson and his enormous bass sax.

For the next 20 minutes I was transfixed on Stetson, honking an endless stream of notes out of his saxophone while howling out humming parts via his vocal chords. In all my years of going to shows, I’ve never seen one musician exert so much effort, focus, and passion within a performance. You could see his muscle tensing, every vein straining, his lungs constantly heaving for air as he continued a flow of endless cascading melodies.  The fact that he only played four songs didn’t even bother me; the man deserved a break after putting on what would be the best show I saw all week.

Unfortunately, I probably captured his worst song of the set, and even it is pretty impressive:

Biggest Surprise- tUnE-yArDs


The NPR party had even more surprises in store with tUnE-yArDs breaking the mold I’d set for who and what they were all about. I enjoy Merrill Garbus’s album “Bird-Brains” for its intimacy and raw energy, so I expected a show that was barebones and delicate. Wrong again.  Garbus and her band, composed of a bass player and two saxophonists, put on a spirited show filled with head-thumping beats created via loop pedal, live on the spot, all banged away by Garbus herself. Who knew that she is an 808 in human form? For each song, she’d start off with what sounded like a mistake, off-beats and strange clicks and clacks – everything out of place.  Then, right before all our eyes, one beat at a time, layer upon layer, it suddenly turned into the freshest beat south of the Canada (we all know that Canadians can rock a fresh beat).  Her music also took a turn toward a more dub-reggae direction while her unpredictable hooting and hollering that reverberated off the walls like a pinball.  If her performance means anything, her next album should be a boisterous affair.

This is from a different SXSW show, but you get the idea:

Biggest Let-Down- Cloud Nothings

I probably set myself up for this let-down. Since first hearing Cloud Nothings last November, I’ve been gushing about Dylan Baldi’s irresistible pop sensibilities and listening to his three official albums constantly.  I should not be shocked that after such hero-treatment for an 19-year-old kid that he wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I thought his brand of pop-punk would be perfect for an afternoon show at SXSW, but something was missing.  The guitars seemed weak and trebly, the vocals strained and lost, and the songs lacked the fun that I’ve always found while listening to the albums. But probably what hurt the show the most  was Dylan’s complete lack of confidence as the front man.  It felt like watching a 10-year old kid play his first piano recital. Then again, he’s only 19. I’ll give him a few more years before I write off his stage presence.

Best Band- Pete & the Pirates

A few years ago PtheStudP introduced me to Pete and the Pirates, and I really haven’t been the same since.  There pop-melodies have the playfulness of Pavement with the British swagger and sensibility of early Blur.  Thomas Sander’s vocals take their already brilliant riffs and songwriting to a new level, his falsetto childlike and his anthem’s feisty.  Of all the bands that were “must-see” for me this year, Pete & the Pirates topped my list because:

  1. I’m obviously a fan-boy
  2. They rarely tour in the U.S.

Not to toot my own horn too much, but of everything I saw during the week, it truly was the “must see performance”.  They somehow sounded better than they do on “Little Deaths” with the guitars crunching out a little more attitude to take their already stellar set list to another level.  Throughout most of the show I found myself lost in the music, but during one song break I took a moment to think about my old SXSW buddy PtheStudP and how much he would have loved their performance.  For a show that didn’t seem like it could get any better, having my pal PtheStudP would have made it just a little bit sweeter. Here’s to hoping the Pirates find their way to Austin’s shores in 2012.

This clip is for you PtheStudP:

 

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Best and Worst SXSW 2011 (part I)

Once again, South By Southwest was a much different experience this year. The past six years I’ve always had one of two people by my side, and usually both: PtheStudP and Johnny Goodyear.  For the first time, our SXSW pact was broken due to circumstances out of their control, leaving me reeling and unsure whether I could do the festival all by my lonesome.  Fortunately, after making a phone call to my longtime friend Sewer, I was able to coax him to join me for the week, and as an added bonus, my other friend Doon would also be along for most of the festival.  After a week of great shows, free beer, and nightly stops to the Sausage King, here is my list of the best and worst of SXSW 2011.

Best Showcase- Vans

At first glance, you would think that a Showcase held by Van’s would be an emo-scream-o nightmare based solely off of the rosters they’ve organized for the Van’s Warp Tour the past few years. But the likes of Bad Brains, OFF!, Trash Talk, and Black Lips made for a pretty impressive, multi-facted line-up, running the gamut of what punk rock can be.  Whether it be Trash Talk’s rage against melody, OFF!’s resurgence of Black Flag’s crunch, Bad Brain’s fusion of reggae-punk, or even Black Lip’s punk rock take on the 50s and 60s – there was something for everyone in this  punk buffet.

 

Yes, THAT Bad Brains...

Trash Talk took their act to the crowd.

Trash Talk impressed with a rip-roaring show filled with sweat and stage dives.  Their fill-in bass player deserves recognition for stepping into the slot of an injured Spencer Pollard who was stabbed last week in a hate crime.  Black Lips sounded as jangly and fun as ever, although singer Cole Alexander was tame in comparison to the legends I’ve heard of their performances.  Bad Brains seared through classic after classic, and I would challenge to say they sounded better than they did on classics like “I Against I” and “Rock For Light”. Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but they were pretty damn great for a bunch of old dudes. The highlight of the show though was OFF! with Keith Morris growling and roaring complaints and allegations. He stalked the stage, back and forth, like a man possessed, and if it weren’t for the giant bald spot hidden beneath his five dreads, you’d think they were a group of teenage punks transferred from 1979.

Here’s a clip I took of “Now I’m Pissed”:

Worst Band- Stripminers

She looks excited, doesn't she?

To say the Van’s Showcase was perfect would be a lie.  While I can’t speak for the closer Talib Kweli since we left to go see Pete and the Pirates (more on them in the next post), the opening band The Stripminers were possibly the worst band I’ve ever seen in SXSW history.  Being a “side-project” for The Donna’s Brett Anderson and the Radishes Paul Stinson, The Stripminers not only sang milk-toast-pop-rock fit for the Jonas Brothers, but they were so devoid of charisma that they came across as a vacuum for all that is fun.  I understand that this was one of their first shows together, but you could feel so much tension between the members on the stage that you would swear they are a band of veterans on the verge of a break-up after years of touring.  Nope. They announced their new project in February.

It became obvious quickly that Anderson was the alpha of the group, and the others stayed away from here and avoided eye contact as to not to disturb the sleeping dragon (she didn’t even help the band break down the stage after the show). Mid-show, we tried heading next door to Emo’s Jr. to see a better band, but we were greeted by the rap-metal band Skrew – proof that the curse of Fred Durst still lives.  We decided to return to The Stripminers because at least their miserable performance was funny in a “Piranha 3D” kind of way while Skrew were bad in the vein of “Grown-Ups” (has there ever been a more painful film to watch?).

When we came back to The Stripminers, their crowd had completely evaporated, and Anderson’s request for clapping resulted in only the sound of crickets chirping.  At one point she looked right at Sewer and I and scowled when she saw the two of us laughing directly at her lackluster performance.  I should probably feel bad about that, but for some reason, I don’t.

Best Band Discovered- Davila 666

On Thursday night, when the opportunity to see OFF! arose, Sewer wanted to check them out a second time (plus, Doon had joined us and we both agreed he had to see them). With Megafaun playing next door at the same time, I figured I had an obligation to pay my respects to the guys who wrote and recorded “Gather, Form, & Fly”.  Worried I wouldn’t get in, I left my friends around nine and arrived just in time to catch the Minneapolis band Leisure Birds. I enjoyed their set, but between songs I’d catch a glimmer of punk rock anthems echoing from the “neighbor’s” yard.  After four songs, I decided I had to revisit my friends next door to see what all the commotion was about.

When I walked through the entrance I found what looked to be five Puerto Ricans hopping around while the singer howled out unintelligible lyrics.  Despite the language barrier, the riffs spoke straight to my gut, rumbling for more and pushing me toward my friends who were already taking in the lively set.  Without my old partner PtheStudP around, I didn’t expect to find many new bands, but fortunately I waltzed into the Club DeVille to catch the last half of Davila 666’s set (and I still even got to see Megafaun).

This is the only clip I could find online of their set and it’s cut short, but you get the gist:

Best and Worst Crowd Interaction Moment- Screeching Weasel

I’ve already written a blog on this (see Sunday’s “Video Clip of the Week”), but I can’t deny that Ben Weasel punching two women during what may be Screeching Weasels last show ever will forever be tied to this year’s SXSW.  Looking back, I can’t decide whether it was a horrible moment or punk rock at its finest (hear me out…).  Ben spent 50% of the set complaining about money, SXSW, bloggers, their label, YOU NAME IT. He alienated the majority of the audience by the show’s end, so it’s no wonder that the crowd began tossing beer and ice toward him. In the end he punched two women, something I would never condone, yet I can’t help but feel he pulled an Andy Kauffman on all of us, playing our emotions and leading us toward the type of lowly, unrestrained behavior that punk rock has been missing for a while now.  I bet even he realizes he took his angst just a little too far.

It’s fascinating to watch each time:

Worst Venue: East Side Drive-In

A few weeks before SXSW 2011, a new venue began popping up on all the day showlists – East Side Drive-In.  At first I figured it was just another dude letting bands play at his house a la The Church of the Friendly Ghost, but then suddenly I saw a shocker: Pitchfork was breaking their tradition of doing their parties at Emo’s, opting for this mysterious East Side Drive-In.  It had to be more than just a house, and unfortunately, it was.  I didn’t make it to the Pitchfork show, but I did head out to the east side of the interstate to check out the Fun Fun Fest show at the Drive-In.  When we arrived, we came to find a desolate, dusty field with the type of stages you’d find at a Warp Tour. It looked like a music festival with a food court area, and tents for beer and liquor.  The fact that it was also a free show on a Saturday resulted in a crowd of undesirables. Large crowds, sprawling venues, and food courts: this is exactly what SXSW is not about.

Best Venue- Lovejoy’s

There is not much I can say other than I still adore Lovejoy’s.  It may not have the best stage, but everyday you can guarantee that they will have great free beer on tap. There’s no better way to start each day then with a beer by the likes of Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, and Left Hand.  Not bad in comparison to NPR’s day show offering of one free PBR.

Best Day Party- Rhapsody Rocks

Shockingly though, Lovejoy’s didn’t have best free drinks of the week. The Rhapsody Rocks show at the Club DeVille take that honor, offering up an endless supply of free Guinness, Red Stripe, and Jeremiah Weed. But the free stuff didn’t end there: free posters, t-shirts, bottle openers, pancakes…it seemed like each time you strolled to the port-a-potties a new goody would appear on the table.  Oh, and the show was pretty damn sweet as well. Anytime you kick your show off with Ty Segall, there’s no doubt that someone knows what they’re doing.

Ty Segall woke me from my Guinness haze:

How do you follow Ty Segall up? Kurt Vile and the Violators isn’t a bad choice.  In fact, ever since seeing Vile and his band put on a mesmerizing set, I’ve listened to “Smoke Ring For My Halo” a total of seven times.  With his mellow melodies, I swear he put a trance on me (but I don’t mind).  Starting your day party with Ty Segall and Kurt Vile is like having Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay as your starting pitchers; no need for a bullpen.  I returned to my friends after Vile and we half listened to Small Black and Glasser for the next few hours, although our main focus was on that magical black concoction known as Guinness and conversation that led to excessive laughter.

Around four, the venue began to fill up quickly, signaling the sign that the monsters of indie rock were about to close the show out: yes, my friends, this would be the only Deerhunter show at SXSW 2011, and we were there to see Bradford Cox and company do there thing.  Despite the excessive crowd, we were able to get up pretty close and catch the band under the shade of the tent canopy while all the other onlookers sweated away in the warm Texas sun.  The band took their constantly morphing guitars to a new level, bringing classics like “Desire Lines” and “Nothing Ever Happened” to uncharted territories. At home, I play Deerhunter and focus on the lyrics of loneliness and desperation, but on this day of great music, great beer, and great friends, I listened to them and felt strangely happy.

The Guinness had an affect on my cinematography:

 

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SXSW 2010

South By Southwest 2010 turned out to be one of the strangest yet in my seven years of attending the music festival.  There were some disappointments (both GZA and The Title Tracks were no shows), some major changes (Todd P and his legendary day shows decided to pack up and head to Mexico), and there was, at least in my perspective, an unexpected Canadian take-over of Austin (it will make sense later).  We also began our first real promotion for BDWPS.com, plastering homemade stickers all over the city of Austin.  I even handed out a few business cards, which is just plain silly when you think about it.

Bob Dylan looking over a stranger’s shoulder at the Liar’s show.

But one thing that had the biggest impact on our experience this year was the absence of my long-time SXSW comrade SongsSuck (as he would like to be referred to now).  He did make the trip to Austin but was gone by 6 a.m. on Thursday, opting to forego the remainder of the festival in order to fulfill what he refered to as “a life-time dream” by watching a kid he coached in high school compete at the College Wrestling Nationals (I think he should change his name from “SongsSuck” to “LittleBoysInSingletsRule”). Nonetheless, Johnny Good Year and I still had another great week at SXSW, despite all the changes taking place.

Best Band Discovered- Pivot

One of the best parts of SXSW is coming home with a list of new bands I need to check out.  Unfortunately, this year I didn’t have many of those “Holy crap, this band is amazing!” moments. This is probably due to SongsSucks not being around, the ying to my yang when it comes to going to shows.  60% of the shows he takes us to are hardly tolerable, but those other 40% have the potential to give a jolt to your musical senses.  Without SongsSuck, we went primarily to shows with bands I wanted to see.  This worked out great because I enjoyed almost everything we attended, yet that discovery element was almost nonexistent.

One of the few moments of the week where I found myself mesmerized by an unfamiliar band occurred at The Phoenix.  Johnny Good Year and myself were at the swanky bar to check out the Born Ruffians and caught the last few songs in Pivot’s set. They are a psychedelic/electronic outfit from the UK who approach dance music from an epic stand-point.  Although I don’t have a clip of them playing, I did find a video of the song that first caught my attention, “O Soundtrack My Heart”.

Worst Venue- The Phoenix

Although both Pivot and the Born Ruffians put on excellent sets, the setting for the show left a bad taste in my mouth. On first impression, The Phoenix overwhelmed me with a dramatic decor of velvet walls, elegant chandeliers, and wall sized paintings of Victorian imagery that seemed to be moving like the haunted painting in “Ghost Busters II”.

Vigo? Are you in there?

I thought the environment of the bar was cool, like something out of “Interview With a Vampire” (back when vampires were still cool).  After Pivot finished up, Johnny went to buy drinks and returned to tell me that it cost him 18 dollars for two drinks. SXSW beer prices are usually hiked up, but this was ridiculous. Then we noticed on the table in front of us there laid a silver bucket and a note that read: Do not sit here unless you paid for a bottle to be brought to your table.  “This must be one of those uppity bars on most nights,” I commented to Johnny, thinking that the bottle deal didn’t apply during SXSW since the room was jam-packed with sweaty, hairy, music fans rather than the high-class clientele I imagined usually enjoyed the velvet womb. When Johnny left to hit the restroom, a waitress approached me with a large group and informed me that they paid to sit on this couch.  I guess I was wrong. These people were douches year round, regardless of SXSW.

Despite my irked mood, Born Ruffians still put on a great set, including the following clip I filmed of a new song that will be on their upcoming album (you can see the glow of the blue chandelier on singer Luke LaLonde’s face):

Best Venue- Lovejoy’s

You would think after seven years of attending SXSW and six years of living an hour away from Austin that there wouldn’t be any venues left that I haven’t set foot in, yet every year, I find myself entering strange new environs.  This year I made my first stop at The Phoenix, The Long Branch Inn, and the Trailer Space Record Store.

My favorite venue of the week though was actually one I’d been to before. Lovejoy’s, a hole in the wall bar located on a side street right off 6th Street, is both a brewery and a brewhaus featuring a couple dozen beers on tap.  In the past the little watering hole seemed quaint and unassuming with its walls covered in beautiful murals and intricate artwork spreading across the rotting ceiling tiles and beams.

What made the brewery stand out so much this year was the fact that each day they held a day party, each serving free beer. Oh sure, tons of day parties offer free beer and liquor but not of the quality of Lovejoy’s! Whether it be Flying Dog’s “Raging Bitch” or Ska Brewing’s “Mopus Hoperandi”, Lovejoy’s opted to serve free cups of hoppy goodness all week. These beers, packed with flavor, were a huge step up from the Miller High Life and Lonestar of most day shin-digs. We visited Lovejoy’s so much during the week that by Saturday’s DC Show, the bartenders were handing us fresh glasses of free Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA before our cups were even empty. Free Dogfish Head? Yes, a free glass of beer made with Sam Calgione’s love and filled with joy.

Lovejoy's: an unofficial sponsor of BDWPS.com!

Best Day Party- Rachael Ray’s Feedback Festival

If you’re not an avid reader of BDWPS.com, then you might not know my love of Rachael Ray and her recipes (I’m probably the only straight male in his 30s who subscribes to her magazine). For the past several years, Rachael has hosted a day show at SXSW, featuring free drinks (mojitos, margaritas, etc), free gourmet appetizers, and an array of great bands (the fact that she had Holy Fuck at her 2008 show proves Rachael is no prude). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get into one of her shows. In the early years she had an RSVP. Last year would be her first show open to the public, but the line wrapped around Maggie Mae’s way before the party’s noon start time. This year I went so far as to email Rachael’s talk show, thinking I could be one of those people who wins a prize, in this case a backstage pass, and then screams into the phone over tears for 10 minutes. Of course, those tears never got the chance to shine.

What did happen was a cold spell hitting Austin late Friday night. The frigid temperature and the unforgiving wind both caused problems for any day party set outdoors on Saturday. This included Rachael’s party that took place at Stubb’s BBQ. By the time Johnny and I stumbled by the party, there was no line and still tables stacked with mounds of classy hor dourves. Soon the two of us were stuffing our gullets while She & Him performed on stage. Our menu consisted of Tex-Mex sliders, pulled pork tortillas, quesadilla suiza stacks, and albondigas subs along with a couple strawberry margaritas that were heavily spiked for good measure. After a week of eating cold cut sandwiches in a parking garage and inhaling late night slices of pizzas, Rachael’s fine dining hit the spot.

Worst Band- Voivod

On SongsSuck’s only day of SXSW festivities, he wanted to see the classic Canadian speed-metal group Voivod at the Austin Music Hall. Since he didn’t have a wristband, SongsSuck dished out $15 dollars to see the band, a sign to me that the aging rockers would put on a top-notch show. Boy was I wrong. The decrepit cast of characters moved about the stage slowly and stumbled their way through the music like a band of zombie gypsies. After the first song, SongsSuck turned to me in disgust. “Sorry dude…these guys used to be metal giants.” Now they are simply Metal geriatrics.

I tried to shake the camera to make it look like they were lively.

Best Band- Lullabye Arkestra

I’ve had Lullabye Arkestra’s 2009 album “Threats/Worship” for five months now, and overall, I’m a big fan of the married couple’s approach to hardcore. As much as I enjoy their music, I always felt that the Canadian duo’s album was a bit tongue in cheek. With Justin Small’s main musical project Do Make Say Think, I saw Lullabye Arkestra just being something he did as a favor to his bass-toting wife. Their performance on Friday at the Red7 would prove the sexist in me wrong.  Small, a guitar player for his other band, tore his way through one raucous song after another on his lit up drum kit while Kat Taylor’s fingers plucked up and down the neck of her bass spastically.  Like a modern-day Death From Above (think Canada), the two love birds showed that being married doesn’t mean you have to be boring.

Although the sound quality stinks on this one, you get just a glimpse of their raw power:

Worst Crowd Interaction Moment- Japandroids

Once again my bald head made Pitchfork's SXSW coverage (can you spot me?). This is during "Young Hearts Spark Fire" when the audience still cared.

Another Canadian duo to swoop onto the indie rock musical scene last year were the Japandroids.  I saw them this summer at a small bar in Boise, Idaho with a crowd of a dozen people, so I looked forward to catching them at Emo’s during a day show on Friday with what would be a crammed house.  At first I stood back, watching their performance, but quickly the music took over and I made my way for the heart of the crowd – I needed to dance.  Once out amongst the throng of on-lookers I joined in on the fist pumping and po-going through the band’s biggest hit from last year, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. When the song came to a close, the crowd settled down faster than an anchor.  Despite my efforts to keep the energy up, all the young hipsters looked at the crazy bald man, me,  with annoyance. I felt a bit like Pierce on “Community”.  Despite my eagerness to enjoy an energetic punk rock show, I still felt these kids had some learning to do. Heck, even the 12 Boise natives at the show this summer could produce a better pit than this sad, slew of Twittering introverts.

With the crowd so dead, it was easy to film a steady shot of their show, although the beers seemed to be trying to keep my bouncy cam alive (take note of how their drummer looks like Hedo Turkoglu):

Best Interaction- The Very Best

When we arrived to the Beauty Bar for The Very Best’s closing show of the night, I could tell something crazy was going to happen. It was packed. I don’t know if a show has been that overcapacitated since the last Great White show.   We could barely manuever through the throng of people as Shout Out Out Out Out finished their set.  Johnny couldn’t hack the sardine like surroundings and chose to leave, while I decided to stick it out to see the band perform. I use the word “band” loosely, knowing that The Very Best consist of a couple DJs and Esau Mwamwaya singing his African inspired melodies.

The stage set-up consisted of a table with a DJ kit, and two inflatable palm trees. A DJ came out and basically pushed play, making the performance as close to karaoke as it gets. Yet, somehow, when Esau Mwamwaya came out onto the stage with a pair of African dancers, all negative thoughts subsided and soon I joined in with the other 100 white people in the room, dancing to the tribal music.  Near the end of the set, the guest rapper (I never caught his name) asked a girl up front onto the stage. Bad idea. Soon the entire audience poured onto the performance area like they had just beaten Kansas in the NCAA tournament. By the song’s end the crowd surfing palm trees were deflating fast  and the performers were forced to climb the speakers in order to escape the bedlam.

His climb above the crowd reminded me of Bilbo emerging from the tree-tops of Mirkwood Forest...yes, I'm a nerd.

Best Solo Artist – Ty Segall

For some reason I didn’t attend any “real” solo shows this year. I’m not really sure why. I’m still a folky at heart, but it just didn’t happen. Due to this lack of singer/songwriters in my pool of artists viewed, I’m going to use this category as an excuse to promote Ty Segall some more (even though he technically has a band). Regardless, the accolades for Ty are definitely earned.  Once again Ty Segall put on a stellar show at SXSW, this time in an eclectic bar on the southside of town called the Longbranch Inn.  While the lame-o’s at the Japandroids show stood in what Isaac Brock would call a “cross-armed stance”, the handful of lo-fi fanatics at the Longbranch were up and po-going away throughout Ty’s set.  With the unfortunate passing of Jay Reatard, I’d like to believe that Ty Segall can keep that retro-pop-punk sound alive and well.

Even when videotaping Ty I couldn’t resist hopping up and down. I would make a horrible camera man:

Best Look-Alike- Jack Black

In the early years of SXSW, we used to always enjoy spotting “celebrities” on the streets (although my celebrity spottings were almost always former MTV VJs).  In recent years these spottings have become less and less, although when the Florida metal band Torche took the stage, I swore that lead singer Steve Brooks was actually Jack Black.  He looked just like Jack, had the body of Jack, and even made the facial expressions of Jack. In fact, I’m beginning to think Jack Black may have went the Hanna Montana route and used his Steve Brooks alter-ego to pursue a real life career in the metal world (no matter how great their music, Tenacious D will always be considered a comedy band).

"No one can destroy the metal! The metal will strike you down with a mighty blow!"

Biggest Surprise- Local Natives

I’ve heard a lot of hype about the band Local Natives in the past month or so, and I gave them a chance, downloading their latest release “Gorilla Manor”.  After a couple listens, the music neither annoyed me nor did it excite me. It was just there – a milk/toast sound that reminded me a bit of The Cold War Kids, another band I gave up on simply because they left me in a blank stare stupor.  “Gorilla Manor” does have  its moments, specifically the cover of the Talking Head’s “Warning Signs” but overall it just didn’t enthrall me.

After a recommendation from a friend, a week or so ago, I decided to give them another shot. She seems to have good taste in music, plus they were playing the Frenchkiss Records show.  The Frenchkiss show I attended at SXSW four years earlier would go down in infamy, so I had plans to give this year’s Les Savy Fav headlined set another go-around.  Local Natives came out to a packed house, and I stood in back with my arms folded, awaiting disappointment.  When the band began strumming their guitars for the introduction to “Wide Eyes” my eyes actually got wider.  Not only did the song have me nodding my head and watching in awe, but it sounded so much better than I remembered it on the album. In fact, every song they played sounded better: the bass more plodding, the drums more frenetic, the harmonious vocals resembling a new age Fleet Foxes. I have since given “Gorilla Manor” another shot, but once again was left in disappointment. Not because it bored me as before, but because I knew it could be so much better.

You know it had to be a good show when this was my viewpoint, and I still loved it.

Best Showcase-Arts & Crafts.

As much as I enjoyed Local Natives, I didn’t enjoy the large crowd.  I know a lot has changed with Frenchkiss Records in the past few years with both the sound of their bands and their association with a major label that will remain un-named, but I still would like to believe that at its core, it’s still the Frenchkiss I knew and loved from their showcase four years ago.  Unfortunately, the show felt sterile. There wasn’t any of the camaraderie I remembered from a few years prior when members of all the bands sat by the stage drinking and pulling pranks.  Where were the Fatal Flying Guilloteens when you need them?

With the community vibe gone, I made the tough decision to miss Les Savy Fav for this year and head over to The Parish to catch the Arts & Crafts Showcase featuring the headliner Broken Social Scene.  Once I climbed the creaky stairs leading up to the bar, I could feel that warmth that seemed absent from Frenchkiss. As I entered the door I was greeted by the guy selling CDs and t-shirts. Walking up to the bar several folks nodded and smiled.  These people weren’t industry insiders…they were Canadians! After USA’s devastating loss to Canada in Olympic hockey I wanted to hate our northern neighbors, but these damn Arts & Crafts Canadians wanted to ruin it all by being nice.

That same cozy feeling would spread throughout the bar and all the way to the stage where all the bands hung out in the wings supporting their fellow Canucks as they took to the stage.  The first band we caught was Zeus, a classic rock band filled with multi-talented musicians who could switch instruments on a dime and all sing like choir boys.  At one point I thought in my head, “They’re like a Canadian Beatles” and moments later Johnny Good Year leaned over and said, “They remind me a bit of the Beatles.” Yes, that’s two for two on The Beatles comparison; par for the course as far as I’m concerned.

Next up was Jason Collett a guy I loved before this week and hated after it. Despite my adoration of his album “Here’s to Being Here”, he came off as an arrogant prick in both performances I caught during the week.  Plus, his once folk stylings have been replaced with a disco-dancey pop blend.  He’s our generations Rod Stewart, moving from “Maggie May” to “Do You Think I’m Sexy”.  The only saving grace of his set was his back-up band, comprised by none other than Zeus. You could tell that Arts & Crafts were a family of musicians (Jason Collett would be the step-cousin no one likes but tolerates).

Finally, Broken Social Scene took the stage and Zeus stood aside to take in it all in.  For the first 30 minutes of the show the band enveloped the crowd with their soothing tones, jumping from classics to new material effortlessly as Kevin Drew had the audience hanging on every word.  Finally, the medley of songs came to a close, giving the crowd the sense that the band was finishing. Then Drew stepped to the microphone and mumbled, “Okay. That was the start of our set.”  Of course, the audience went crazy.

A little later Drew asked the audience not to take anymore pictures or videos claiming, “the internet is destroying our memories.” It sounded a bit pretentious, but the entire audience respected his request (including me).  He followed it up saying, “This is our moment” and then broke into another new song.  Throughout the show Drew seemed to be trying to create something different for all of us, at one point even asking for the house lights to be on so he could see the crowd’s faces. Strange, yes, but I had to respect his efforts to connect with the audience.

By the night’s end, the Broken Social Scene’s set would be a two and a half hour marathon of music.  The band’s cast of characters changed from one song to the next with guests jumping on stage to join in on the Canadian three-ring circus. At 1:50 A.M., when everyone was suspecting that the show was finished, Kevin Drew informed us that he had another surprise up his sleeve. “Every Sunday I go to the same bar back home to see The Beauties, so I decided you guys should hear them too.” He turned to the side of the stage and shouted, “Come on up guys! Play us a couple songs.” Right before our eyes, another band jumped up and grabbed the guitars, breaking into a great punk song.  Kevin Drew hopped down into the crowd and stood a couple feet from me taking in the show as if he was one of us. And really, he was. Tonight wasn’t about Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett, or even The Beautys.  It was about the music, regardless of who played it.  We were all a part of this show, this moment, this family.  No photograph or video could truly capture what happened that night in The Parish. Thankfully, it will remain intertwined in my memory for years to come.

I don’t have any pictures or videos due to Drew’s request, but here’s a link to their website where you can hear some of their new songs:

http://www.brokensocialscene.ca/

Biggest Let-Down- Man Man

Let me start off my saying Man Man put on an incredible show. Amazing. I’ve seen the band countless times and this performance ranks up there with the best of them.  Honus Honus was brilliant as he pranced around spitting water and beating the living crap out of his organ.  The band sounded as boisterous and jumpy as ever. There wasn’t a disappointed person in the house…well, that is, except for me.

Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite place it.  I scanned over the cast of characters and noticed a big hole in the scene to the left of the stage…but what was it?  I flipped through my Rolodex of memory, trying to place the missing piece…The cooky guy! With the tiny biker’s cap that played the metal drum! The guy with the great falsetto! Where was the guy with the falsetto?!  Throughout my many Man Man experiences, one of my favorite performers, other than Honus, was Marlette Seveir.  While many in the band seemed to be putting on a performance, Marlette always came across as truly insane. Maybe that’s why he had been kicked out of the band, unbeknownst to me.

In an instant, my mind flipped back to when I saw the band at the SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska almost five years ago.  A morose Seveir sat on the stage by himself pre-show, staring blankly at the floor.  With SongsSuck and I standing stage side, we decided to talk to the lonely looking fella. When asked how he was doing, Marlette replied, “Not so good. The band’s fighting.”  At the time I saw it as a little band spat, but now, watching the band minus their joker, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the beginning of the end for Marlette.

The remainder of the show my eyes kept being pulled toward the empty spot on the stage. No matter how great the performance, I couldn’t help but notice that the falsetto singing wasn’t quite as strong, that the banging upon the metal can didn’t have the same ring, that the stage theatrics didn’t seem quite as chaotic or authentic. And then I realized one other major piece was missing: my good old friend SongsSuck. I’d never seen the band without my partner in crime, and I’d never been to SXSW without him by my side.

Sure, Man Man sounded great without Marlette and SXSW 2010 was a blast even without my friend, but in both instances, it just wasn’t the same without that ornery, unpredictable character keeping things interesting.

A clip of the Marlette-less Man Man:

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SXSW 2008

“Beer is back there. Pour it on your genitals when you get a chance.”

No Age drummer Dean Spunt at the Rhapsody Rocks Austin day show

This year marked our fifth trip to Austin, Texas for the annual SXSW Music Festival.  As with years before, I’ve been scouring through the list of over 50 bands we saw play last week and came up with a Best of list.  I tried using the same categories from years before and even added a few more for good measure.  In the past I always added photos I’d taken at each show, but there are two problems with that this year. First off, my digital camera is busted. Secondly, two days into the festival I bought a disposable camera, but even the photos from it were pretty lousy. Fortunately, someone from Pitchforkmedia.com was at most of the same shows to capture the moments.

Without further ado, the best of SXSW 2008!

BEST OVERALL NIGHT SHOW

Siltbreeze Showcase

Performing in the loft of the swank Soho Lounge, bands from the Siltbreeze label performed a night of noisy pop/punk.  Naked on the Vague, a band Paul described as “the Death Star version of Times New Viking” took the stage first and fit the description perfectly.  I’m not sure I like Death Star versions of any band, but it was definitely interesting to see them put together their slowed-down dissonant dirges.

Next up was Mike Rep with members of Times New Viking taking the role of his back-up band.  The greasy, gray haired Mike Rep looked like a drunken pedophile in his velvet shirt and tight black jeans. Part of me wanted to expect the worst, but with TNV showing their support, I knew we could be in for something special.  His songs were power-pop gems, and soon my pedophile imagery transformed into wise old rock messiah (think Robert Pollard).  I could tell he had an underground cult following by the mass of fans who rushed to the front, chanting along to each song.

Psychedelic Horseshit was next and continued the nights theme of crackling speakers and buzzing bass lines.  With his stoned guy singing style, and witty lyrics, Matt Whitehurst led the blare brigade on its leisurely romp.  I took joy in the set, giggling at the resemblance Matt has to my old high school friend Mike Anderson.  Maybe it wasn’t so much appearance as much as it was the slacker, half-a-sleep stoner demeanor that Mike pulled off so well back in the day.

After struggling through a set by Xno Barbequex (read about below), Pink Reason raised the crowd’s spirits with their chaos laden punk sound.  I don’t know if I liked Pink Reason, or if Xno Barbequex was just an easy act to follow.  I think it’s easy to say the crowd was respectfully waiting through the PR set for the “big get” of the night, Times New Viking.

TNV walked out looking like a band that was moving up in the music world.  When we saw them last year, we were two of a crowd of a couple dozen people, but on this night we were packed in the SoHolike sardines.  The day before we couldn’t even get into the TNV show and that theme would continue the rest of the week.  Taking the stage, Beth Murphy’s hair looked sheen and styled, straight from a Pantene comercial, much different then her disheveled look of the year before, with her tangled mess for hair.

Adam Elliot walked to his drum set with a confident swagger, while last year he looked like a nervous little kid.  Yes, it is easy to say the critical acclaim for their latest album Rip It Off may have given the band big heads, but the fact that they were still playing on the Siltbreeze bill, despite moving to the indie powerhouse Matador, shows they know where their roots are.  As expected, TNV played a wonderful set while the members of Pink Reason, Psychedelic Horseshit, and Naked On the Vague joined us in the pit.  I think the loyalty and respect shown amongst all the Siltbreeze bands on this night was exactly what made it such an intimate, warm night of noisy punk rock.

BEST DAY PARTY

Rhapsody Rocks Austin

There is a ying and a yang when it comes to day parties.  On one hand you have the day shows that are jam packed with amazing bands, a great opportunity to see acts that you might miss at night.  The other types of great day party are the ones jam packed with free beer, free food, and loads of swag.  If I were to pick my day show based solely on music, it would easily be the Pitchfork/Windish Agency super set of No Age, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Yeasayer, Jay Reatard, A Place to Bury Strangers, and TNV. For the free drinks and food collaboration, the Insound party was successful as usual with free Chicago style pizza and kegs of Fat Tire.

But when it comes down to the crowning of the ultimate day show this year, Rhapsody Rocks Austin took the cake.  Not only did their set feature an entertaining performance by the punk rock duo No Age, Rhapsody Rock’s offered the best free shit of all in endless bottles of Blue Moon beer and a top of the line taco bar.  Music is great and all, but sitting around with a couple old friends, bullshitting each other over a few free Belgian beers under the warm Texas sun is pretty much as good as it gets.  Oh, and did I mention No Age played? Holy fuck dude, they rule.

BEST OVERALL BAND

HEALTH

Last year Paul sent me an email telling me I had to check out the new self-titled album by HEALTH.  I, of course, heeded his advice, and bought the album.  I enjoyed its schizophrenic energy and carnal brooding, but didn’t see what all the hype was about by both Paul and music reviewers.  I listened to the album a couple times and let it sit collecting dust on my bookshelf for the next few months.

Fast forward to Friday night in Austin.  Paul, Jon Jon, and I moseyed into Maggie Mae’s at midnight to see the Canadian experimental shoe gaze metal outfit Nadja. When we arrived, the bar was almost empty (something rarely seen at SXSW) and Paul had already warned me that I might not like the music. He recommended I go check out Akron/Family, an experimental folk rock band from New York.  Out on my own amongst the insanity of sixth street, I walked to Emo’s Jr to find a line snaked up the street. Damn. Fortunately I had a back-up plan.  My next stop was the Merge show at the Parish, where Destroyer would be playing at 1 a.m.  My bad luck continued when I arrived, with an even fuller line jam packed with badge toting mucketty mucks.

My last option was HEALTH at Flamingo Cantina, so I speed walked up Sixth, sidestepping drunken frat boys and begging homeless people.  Once inside I found myself a cozy spot amongst the packed bar, five feet from the stage. The place was full capacity and I was sandwiched between two hipster girls, looking annoyed by the bald dude with beer farts separating them.  Health soon after took the stage, and the noise commenced. For the first minute I thought to myself, “Oh great, here comes 30 minutes of noise.” Then, before my eyes, the noise took shape into a beautiful disaster, with the thumping drum roll of the swarthy BJ Miller, the tense banging upon his guitar by Jacob Duzsik, and the towering, slender Asian bassist Jupiter Keyes falling dramatically to his knees, thrashing his waifish body arbitrarily around the stage. During one song, the long haired samurai began stabbing his microphone like a sword into the guitar amp and bass amp interchangeably, creating varying tones of feedback.  Somehow, this howling sounded perfect amidst the grinding guitar riffs and pounding backbeat. Before I knew it, all regrets for coming to the show were long gone, as the band threw all of their sweat and enthusiasm into the show.  Lost amidst the passionate performance, my phone began vibrating in my pocket. It was Jon Jon, informing me that Paul and him were able to get into the Destroyer show and that I needed to hurry over before the line grew again.  Knowing I could catch HEALTH at a show the next day, I took one final glance at the chaos on the stage, and made my way out the door.

The next afternoon, I was able to catch the end of HEALTH’s set at the Volume Night Club and was reassured that the night before wasn’t a fluke; the same fervor was displayed as well as the same t-shirts. Do these guys sleep?!  The only disappointment I was left with is the fact Paul still hadn’t been able to see the band in person.

Here is a clip from the Volume Club show:

That night, I made it a point that he come see a band I knew he loved at Ms. Bea’s, the same Mexican patio bar I swooned about a few years ago in my SXSW blog.  With such a small stage and little PA system, it was easily the worst show of the three I’d seen, but was still captivating to say the least. Jupiter made the best of the space, falling down the patio stairs and recovering on his knees as he flailed away without a care in the world. With the two of us planted in the front, John Famiglietti stood right before us, raging on his guitar, intensely pounding a tom drum, and bouncing off of us as he spastically bounded around the small space before us.  The real treat was that for the first time all day they performed Paul’s favorite song “Lost Time”, singing the building vocal chant a cappella as the drums milled away.

WORST OVERALL BAND

Xno Barbequex

Last year, this award was given to Todosantos, an electroinca-dance band from Venezuela.  This year, when I spotted the beautiful keytar player at a day show, I decided in my drunken reverie to say something, just to be an ass.

“You’re from Todosantos! I saw you play last year! You’re awesome!” I yelled sarcastically over the blaring background music.

“Oh, thank you so much!” she responded with a giant, dimpled smile.  Crap, she didn’t catch my sarcasm, plus she was putting me in a trance with her purple/green eye shadow.

“Um…so do you play today?”

“In two bands,” she responded.

“AWESOME! I can’t wait!” I said, backing away to escape her spell.  Walking back to Paul I started to feel bad about making fun of their fun little band. Sure, there music was horrible, but who am I to rip their music? I decided at that moment to drop the worst band category from my SXSW list.

And then I saw Xno Barbequex.  Upon hearing their first song (?), I decided I had to keep the “Worst of” section.  I won’t go too much into, in respect to the art of music and all, but this band was just plain noise. Not beautiful noise, or anger adrenaline rushing noise, just the annoying, non-musical howling of a beaten guitar and random drum smatterings on cracked cymbals.

There.  I’ll stop now before I start feeling bad for being a judgmental ass.

WORST SOLO ARTIST

The Blow

But wait, there’s more…

While I’m ripping the worst acts, let’s move straight to the most atrocious solo performance I’ve ever seen.  The Blow, a one woman band of 80s pop, was not only douche chill inducing, her voice was off-key 90% of the act, and she sang every song over a karaoke style backing.  Between songs she’d give these “deep” monologues on love, and defined the different responses women have in relationships…I guess maybe I don’t watch enough Lifestyle to understand the estrogen charged cringe fest.  With the physical attributes of a 10-year old British boy, she moved her body uncomfortably around the stage much like a female version of Napoleon Dynamite.  At one point, Jon Jon nudged me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” But I knew I had to sit through the painful performance with the highly anticipated El Guincho show up next. Surprisingly, the entire crowd around me was in love with Khaela Maricich’s performance piece, singing along with each song and swaying with every word.

While looking up information on The Blow for this blog, I read something that explained it all:

“From 2004 to 2006, Khaela collaborated with Jona Bechtolt, a programmer and singer with his own one-person band, YACHT.”

YACHT was my choice for worst solo artist last year. touché Andy; touché.

This is a clip from the performance I saw. Enjoy the off-key hooting of this family picture ruiner:

BEST SOLO ARTIST

El Guincho

I’ve been jamming out the past month to El Guincho’s album, a Spanish masterpiece mixing the sampling genius of Panda Bear with the Tropicalia vibe of Brazil.  Like Panda Bear, El Guincho is a one man project, with Pablo Díaz-Reixa being the mastermind behind the smile inducing head-trip into the tropics. Right before seeing him I was unsure if it would be worth the wait. The Blow had just sucked all my love of music out of me and I feared El Guincho would also perform a la karaoke. Say it isn’t so El Guincho!

Fortunately, El Guincho, who looked a little like Manu Ginobili with a Moe Howard haircut, came out and stood behind a sample machine with a large tom drum to his side.  How he was going to pull it off, I had yet to see, but I knew I wouldn’t be witness to anymore awkward dance moves.

Before my eyes, El Guincho put on a flawless show.  He was multi-tasking at the highest level, tweaking his sampler, pushing buttons, all while pounding the tom drum and singing into the microphone. Pretty remarkable stuff.  2007 was the year of the Panda Bear, and 2008 might just be El Guincho’s time to shine.

BEST BAND DISCOVERED

Jay Reatard

I’ve seen the name Jay Reatard a dozen times, posted on music sites.  It’s definitely a moniker that jumps out at you, but I’ve never taken the time to check out the music. When Paul suggested checking out Jay Reatard and explained it is like old school punk, I was definitely up for it.  We had reached that moment in the week where you’re so exhausted from standing and drinking that your legs feel like they could buckle any moment.  I needed a kick-start, and if classic punk couldn’t do it, my goal of waking up was hopeless.  The instant Jay Reatard and his band of afro haired misfits took the stage the crowd broke into a fist pumping mosh pit.  Throwing caution to the wind, we all joined in, bouncing and pogoing around as the upbeat punk rock blew out of the speakers.  The music isn’t classic in the sense that he’s just trying to imitate The Ramones or Minor Threat; Jay and his sound are authentic to the core.  Not new wave punk, arty punk, nor noise punk: just straight up, good old punk like I grew up on.  As I watched them thrash away through fast paced song after fast paced song, I tried to remember the last time I attended a good old fashioned punk show.  I couldn’t recall, but as the adrenaline pumped through my heart, I knew it had been a long way coming.

BEST SOLO ARTIST DISCOVERED

Totally Michael

I knew the instant I heard this guy’s entrance music (yes, like a pro wrestler), that I was going to like him.  It was the dance song from Mortal Kombat, but instead of yelling, “Mortal Combat!” his voice was overdubbed yelling, “Totally Michael!” This of course got me off my chair and walking away from my Lonestar Beer to see what this guy was all about.  With a backing track playing on his laptop, he strummed on his guitar while singing sophomoric lyrics that forced a smile to grow upon my face.  It wasn’t the most complex music, simple backing tracks and repetitive choruses, but there was something about his stage presence that had everyone in the joint on there feet laughing. Sure, lyrics like “Damn girl, you make my dick erect, my dick erect! Damn boy, you make my pussy wet, my pussy wet!” sound like they are better suited for a 2 Live Crew song (they were at SXSW also!!!), but it’s hard to deny that this kid has an ear for catchy pop songs.

BIGGEST LET-DOWN

The Homosexuals

The Homosexuals are one of the earliest British punk bands to take the music world by storm.  Seeing that they were playing at SXSW, we decided it was a must to see this influential band while we still had the chance.  The night before we saw the great post-punk band Naked Raygun of the 80s, who put on a pretty impressive show.  Sure, they looked old; Jon Jon even mistook the bassist for the Fire Marshall (he was also stoned from smoking a joint with the rapper from The Islands).  When the Homosexuals came out, it was a different response than we had to Raygun.  First off, there was only one Homosexual actually there, singer Bruno Aleph Wizard.  The rest of the band, a bunch of young kids with goofy hair, looked like they were better suited playing with the latest emo band. Secondly, Bruno looked like a disaster.  His face resembled a rotting skeleton and he stood motionless while singing, wrapped in a colorful bathrobe.  After a couple painful minutes of watching the doddering old man, Paul turned to me and said, “I can’t see him like this.” We quietly slipped out the door, try to wash the defamation of The Homosexuals from our memories.

BEST VENUE

Typewriter Museum

Buried deep in the ghetto of Austin, a dozen blocks south of the interstate, stands an old rickety house with a cardboard sign out front reading, “Walk down the alley to get to the Typewriter Museum.” The TM is a venue in some pothead’s backyard.  Upon first glance, the TM looks like it could be a hippie commune, with wild goats roaming around, and colorfully painted fences surrounding the area.  TheTypewriter Museum isn’t about the music business or the next big thing; you won’t see any music execs with badges here. No, this venue is as punk rock as it gets.  The beer was free, but not free in the way other day show parties are sponsored by beer companies.  Like a college party, this beer was provided the old fashion way: beer runs.  Between shows at one point the hippie owner came to the mike and asked, “Can somebody we know take this money and get some more beer?”  Paul and Jon Jon spent their entire afternoon at the Typewriter Museum, and were trashed by the time I arrived.  They regaled me with tales of the crazy Israeli band Monotonix who spit on people in the crowd and carried band members around on the bass drum.  Paul giggled as he explained Jazzus Lizard, a jazz band doing covers of Jesus Lizard songs.  And they both made me jealous, talking about how I’d missed one of my favorites, This is My Condition, who talked and drank beer with them throughout the afternoon.  I was a bit jealous I’d missed out on the insanity of the show billed as “Fuck by Fuck You”. At the same time I was happy my friends had seen such an unpredictable show, because really, isn’t that what punk rock is all about?

Check out this video of Monotonix playing at Typewriter Museum last year:

WORST VENUE

Ninety Proof Lounge

A must see band for me this week was Born Ruffians.  There poppy form of rock reminds me of a young Talking Heads.  A few blocks off the beaten path on 4th street sat the Ninety Proof Lounge, a swank martini bar with velvet seats and mirrors adorning every wall.  I knew instantly it wasn’t a place made for live music.  I couldn’t see the stage, but knew where it was based off the crowd of people huddled in the front corner.  There wasn’t any elevated area; the band would be performing on the same floor as I was standing.  When Born Ruffians finally took the “stage”, I could barely see them, which is pretty amazing considering I’m a tall dude.  I was blown away by the drummers playing and how great the youthful band sounded.  They might have been the best sounding band I heard all week.  The only problem was, I could barely see them in the packed little bar.  Paul, who had been sitting in the back, came up to me and said, “You’re right, these guys sound awesome. I think we’re going to leave though; this venue sucks.”  He was right.  There is no reason any show should be played in this bar.  The Ruffians played a great set and didn’t seem to mind the cramped conditions, but it is a shame that such an up-and-coming band gets thrown in such a shitty little bar.

MTV VJ SIGHTING

Matt Pinfield

I guess I have to keep the tradition going on this one. I know, I know, I already saw Pinfield a few years back, but it’s always cool to see the bald little dwarf who turned me onto so many bands as a youth. This year he was announcing a top a crane. Good to know he’s still employed after the Farmhouse debacle.

CECIL LOOK ALIKE

Bon Iver

Last year I awarded the bassist from the Rosebuds with the award for most resembling my JV basketball coach Jared Cecil. It was a random observation that I thought would be fun to add for those who know Cec.  I figured the award would be gone from this year’s list, until I saw Justin Vernon, the mastermind behind the calming music of Bon Iver.  As I watched his flawless, heart-wrenching set at Emo’s, I couldn’t help but think he also resembled a skinny version of my old lovable coach.

Doing research for this blog, I once again learned that I’m a jack-ass.  Justin Vernon is the same guy who played for The Rosebuds! Who knew!? No wonder his music is so fucking great. Check out the song that Jon Jon later admitted brought tears to his eyes:

FINAL NOTE

This year marked our 5th year anniversary of attending SXSW.  Five years ago, our first show was Dan Bejar’s band, Destroyer at the Parish.  On Friday night, we were able to see the band again in the same venue.  As he played through a riveting set, interrupted by equipment failures, I couldn’t help but think back over the past five years and the amazing experiences we had encountered.  That first year, after seeing an incredible set by a relatively unknown TV on the Radio, we sat around the campfire and made a pledge to attend SXSW until our dying day.  While the others from that night have fallen to the wayside and Jon Jon has missed one year, Paul and I have continued to keep this vow.  Sure, we’ve had to stretch the truth sometimes to escape the monotony of our daily lives (This year I came down with strep throat and had to call in three sick days, while Paul informed his student teaching supervisor that he was the best man in his San Antonio friend Andy’s wedding).  While talking on the phone with my brother Alex last week, I tried to explain to him what made SXSW so great.  Struggling to convey how amazing of an experience SXSW is each year, I finally found the words.

“SXSW is always the highlight of my year.”  And I wasn’t exaggerating.

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