“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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
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:
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.