Tag Archives: 2010

Menomena “Mines”

Menomena

“Mines”

[Barsuk; 2010]

Rating: 7.5

Last week sports writers began releasing their mid-season picks for front-runners in the NBA’s yearly awards races. The hot names of the season were featured on everyone’s lists (Blake Griffen, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Tom Thibodeau).  What you won’t find on these glorified popularity contests is one mention of the San Antonio Spurs. Despite having the best record in the NBA, you won’t see any Manu Ginobili’s for MVP, no Gregg Popovich for Coach of the Year, no Richard Jefferson for Most Improved Player.  Yes, once again the Spurs are the elephant in the room that somehow continues to get no respect. I guess that’s what you get for being perpetually good.

The same can be said for Portland-based band Menomena.  Menomena came out with “Mines” in 2010, and despite critical praise, I have yet to find it on any year end lists. Then again, I can’t point fingers.  I got “Mines” back in August and listened to it one time. Once. And the one time I gave it a chance it was at 6:30 in the morning during my morning commute (that’s code for “zombie drive mode”). As a result, my response was “Eh”. Not hate, not love, just “eh”.

Then a couple of weeks ago I ran across a news story saying that mulit-instrumentalist Brent Knopf was leaving Menomena.  It didn’t strike me as shocking because of Brent Knopf – I don’t know who he is nor do I know how much influence he had on the band’s music – but the sight of the band’s name made me realize, “Holy crap. Menomena came out with an album last year.”  I’d completely forgotten about “Mines” after my driving-dead listening session.

Last weekend I gave “Mines” my second listen, and midway through the first track “Queen Black Acid” I wanted to pound a pick ax through my skull.  How had I let this golden nugget slip down the shaft? Maybe it was the year of incredible music that overshadowed the subtler sounds of Menomena? (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.) “Mines” isn’t going to beg you to explore and enjoy it’s confines like their last effort “Friend and Foe” did, pulling you by the shirt tails on a rumpus amusement ride. This time around, you have to commit to entering it’s dark corridors with an open-mind and a focused ear.

And once I gave it the attention it deserved, a new world opened up to me as “I walked right in through the rabbit’s door and walked right into the rabbit’s hole” (“Queen Black Acid”).  In their past work the band has succeeded at presenting multi-faceted songs filled with surprising twists and turns.  The twists are still here, but you’ll miss your turn if you’re not paying attention, whether it is the spooky owl hiding behind the stalactites of “Dirty Cartoons” or the endless echoing reverb of “INTIL”. It’s no longer about finding the next way to embellish a song; the band’s focus is now simply on the song (the rest is only there to fill in the shadows).

How did “Dirty Cartoons” not make my Best Tracks of 2010 list? I’m ashamed:

It’s not just the music that requires you to focus. Menomena’s lyrics on “Mine” are filled with strange imagery and emotional confessions that most would hide away in their inner catacombs until death. Take “Tithe” for example, a song that at one moment is both hilarious and unique with Justin Harris singing “spending the best years of a childhood horizontal on the floor like a bobsled minus the teamwork and the televised support” and then moments later as you think it’s all fun and games he shifts gears, ominously repeating “and nothing sounds appealing”. But Harris is at his most heartfelt and candid on “Oh Pretty Boy, You’re Such a Big Boy” where he battles with old age and a cold heart:

“I’m not so brave
and I fear, oh I fear, I’m showing my age
All my life I’ve run away
from those who’ve begged me to stay
All your love is not enough
to fill my half empty cup”


I now realize I shouldn’t be upset with the talking heads of the basketball world.  Just like me with my first listen to “Mines”, they see highlights of the Spurs and think “Eh”, but if they’d give them the attention they deserve, they’d see the genius that is Gregg Popovich, the creativity that is Manu Ginobili, and the rock solid asfsf that is Tim Duncan. Once I listened to this album the way it was meant to be heard, I realized that Menomena has created a solitary confine for listeners to hide within for 50 minutes. Let’s just hope that all Brent Knopf is taking with him is his multi-instrumental playing of the cowbell and the kazoo.
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Best Summer Albums of 2010 (20-11)

For me, music moves with the seasons. In the winter I tend to listen to more somber artists, the fall is the perfect time for folk and blues, while the spring is filled with the energetic life of punk and metal.  My favorite season of all though, musically, would have to be summer. There is just something fun about summer, something exciting.  Whether it be a cook-out, a trip to the beach, or a drive through the mountains, the time for high-spirits and goofy grins can be found in the summer time air.

As a result of both my love of summer music and the fact that I’m way behind on album reviews on some amazing offerings from 2010, I decided to create a list of the Top 20 Summer Albums of 2010. Don’t get confused; this isn’t the top 20 albums of the year thus far. You won’t find any Broken Social Scene, Liars, or Beach House despite their impressive output in 2010. For now, they will have to wait (more on them in December). This list is about albums that work perfectly as the back-drop to your summer excursions, to your daily commute, to your afternoon by the pool. Each album has that same positive energy or fiery attitude that will fill your summer days and nights with a fitting soundtrack.

20. Apples in Stereo
“Travelers in Space & Time”
[Yep Roc Records 2010]

I’m not sure I like the direction Robert Schneider is taking The Apples in Stereo.  They once were a gritty pop-punk group hailing from the Elephant Six Collective, but over the course of the past two albums the sound has drastically changed towards a crystal clear space odyssey.  Schneider’s obsession with the vocodor continues on “Travelers in Space & Time” and so doesn’t his fixation with space travel. Almost every song seems to discuss intergalactic travel.  Despite the slow demise of The Apples and Stereo, Schneider continues to write alluring pop tunes, blending the 70s and 80s into some type of futuristic dance hybrid.  Although this apple is bruised, it’s still dripping with a sweet sincerity that will keep the doctor away for at least the summer months.

I guess I’m not the only one who thought “Dream About the Future” sounded like something from “The Peanuts”:

19. Holy Fuck
“Latin”
[Young Turks]

As much as I adore the band name “Holy Fuck”, I have to admit that the moniker is more suited for a metal band. At no point while listening to Holy Fuck will you actually exclaim “Holy fuck!”  Instead, the band’s live-techno decoupage of melody and decisive drum tracks will fill you with a calming state of quietude. Somehow the funky vibe of their pulsing onslaught provides you with confidence, gives you cool, leaves you feeling like Vincent Vega, like nothing can stop you (unless of course you’re caught reading Modesty Blaise on the toilet).  Unlike other albums on this list, “Latin” isn’t meant for those summer days in the sun. Oh no. This album provides an atmosphere suited primarily for those primal nights out scavenging the sweltering streets and dirty nightclubs in search of that life, that energy, that fire that makes summer so electrifying.

This video for “Latin America” and its sunny swimming footage totally contradicts my belief this is an album for summer nights. So be it:

18. Kate Nash
“My Best Friend is You”
[Fiction]

This list may stray from most summer music countdowns. Instead of albums, the masses usually search out the summer-hit songs, which are invariably pop tunes.  If you are a person who scours the radio for the upbeat melodies of pop music but feel over-inundated by Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber, the British songstress Kate Nash may be just what you’re looking for.  While her songs are catchy and seem to be the cheerful tones of summer, Nash’s output on her 2010 album “My Best Friend is You” carries themes and storylines that require a little more maturity than “Poker Face” (we get it GaGa: poke her face, el oh el!). There is still summer fun present here with lyrics that say things like “barbeque is good” and “I love swimming”, but don’t be deceived. In “Mansion Song” the innocent chorus of “I don’t have to be your baby, I don’t have to be your baby, I don’t have to be your baby” is sang right alongside the rambling diatribe of “I can get fucked like the best of men; like the best of men, like the worst of pain, inflicted on another young girl again.” While the rest of America swoons over Bieber’s “Baby”, I’ll stick with Kate Nash’s caustic take on “baby”.

This video for “Do-Wah-Doo” is like “LOST” with bad teeth:

17. Vampire Weekend
“Contra”
[XL Recordings]

Personally, I will not be listening to “Contra” this summer. Not because it’s bad or doesn’t suit the spirit of summer – quite the contrary. My avoidance of Vampire Weekend in the coming months is a direct result of me listening to their 2010 release “Contra” non-stop for the entire month of February. Some would call it overkill; I would call it an addiction to joyous melodies.   I’m guessing you’ve also fallen into the same Vampire Weekend trap (if you are an avid reader, you would know that it was picked as a ‘Best New Album’ when it first came out), but if you haven’t had the fortune of listening to Vampire Weekend and their tender tropical songs about “drinking horchata” and getting  “away on a summer’s day”, then treat yourself to “Contra” (and a nice cool glass of horchata while you’re at it).

This video reminds me of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. All that is missing is Abe Lincoln and, of course, the Wyld Stallions:

16. Hunx and his Punx
“Gay Singles”
[Matador]

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The cover of Hunx and his Punx’s first album “Gay Singles” is simply a picture of a guy’s crotch, his junk only hidden by a pair of zebra print underwear.  In this case, you can judge an album by its cover. “Gay Singles” is a collection of songs released over the past couple years that all happen to be gay love songs. I know the heterosexual in me is supposed to hate this album.  No testosterone driven male should enjoy gay love songs, right?  Well, I can’t deny it any longer. It’s time I come out of the musical closet and admit that I LOVE gay love songs, specifically Hunx and his Punx (although the Lemonhead’s “Big Gay Heart” may be my all-time favorite homo-love song). Despite the fact that the lyrics and effeminate vocals would make any right-wing conservative cringe, the songs, at their core, are as honest, pure, and comforting as anything by the Shangri-Las in the 60s.  And just like the Shangri-Las, Hunx happens to also enjoy kissing guys. Get over your homophobia already and get on the dance floor.

You may recognize the song “Gimmie Gimmie Your Love” from Lenscrafter comercials. I’m guessing Lenscrafter doesn’t want their customers seeing this video, specifically the 1:45 mark where food gets involved:

15. Gorillaz
“Plastic Beach”
[Parlophone/Virgin Records]

The summer of 1995 was one of my most memorable for several reasons. For one, I started my first job as a lifeguard and worked alongside my brother who would be heading off to Iowa State in the fall. Like any other summer, music played a big part in our daily routine.  Two albums stick out most when I think back: Warren G’s “G Funk Era” and Blur’s “The Great Escape”.  I loved Blur’s grandiose approach to Brit-pop with songs about the simple, everyday life of a “Charmless Man” or relaxing days in a “Country House”.  Warren G, on the other hand, told harsh tales of the American streets through a sparse, evocative landscape of pounding basslines and the occasional pleas of Nate Dogg.  The Gorillaz “Plastic Island” is a combination of these two great albums of 95’ with Blur front-man Damon Albarn at the helm, providing his own unique nuances to the world of hip-hop with guest rappers ranging from Snoop Dogg to Mos Def. Although the album title may suggest another collection of upbeat summer jams, “Plastic Beach” is anything but cheery.  Albarn’s backing tracks always seem on the edge of breaking into a celebratory tone, yet the bounding bassline reassures that this is a gangsta rap album for a new century.  Snoop Dogg hasn’t sounded this fresh in years, and without Danger Mouse meddling with his genius, Albarn brilliantly captures the ill-omened world of the plastic beach.  With the BP oil spill I can’t think of a more fitting album for the gulf coast in 2010.

This summer’s “Regulate” is “Stylo”:

14.  Dum Dum Girls
“I Will Be”
[Sub-Pop]

There will always be room in the summer music mix for a cheery grrrl band with adorable vocals and lovable retro-jangle-pop tunes.  In the 80s it was The Go-Gos and The Bangles, while the 90s produced Veruca Salt and The Breeders.  It has been a while since we’ve heard it, but it looks like The Dum Dum Girls have brought this delightful music style back. It seems basic by nature: harmonizing, innocent vocals over bright guitars, and choppy, simple drumbeats. It’s so simple; you’d think it would have become stale after all these years. But on “I Will Be” the Dum Dum Girl’s reverb soaked collection of two-minute songs is somehow a refreshing blend that will dry up any hint of sadness within.

13.Futureheads
“The Chaos”
[Nul/Dovecote]

The Futureheads have been hyped for years now as the next Franz Ferdinand, but it never really panned out for them.  Really, it’s a shame.  “The Chaos” is my first venture into the band’s music, and if it’s any sign of what has come before, the hype was warranted.  This album is a fusion of Devo and Gang of Four, pointed riffs and memorable chants of “Stop the noise!” and “This is the life!”  While the album sounds like it could have been a lost vinyl from the early 80s, it also sparkles with freshness that echoes toward the future.  Maybe they missed the boat when it comes to breaking through the mainstream, but with the type of fight evidenced in “The Chaos”, the tides may turn back in their direction.

Because the game show motif just hasn’t been done enough in music videos, here’s “The Heartbeat Song”:

12. Tony Allen

“Secret Agent”
[Nonesuch/World Circuit]

Remember the scene in “Sideways” where Miles and Jack are driving along the California coast, heading towards wine country while upbeat jazz plays in the background?  Now imagine the same scene, except this time Miles and Jack are driving along the African coast, heading towards South Africa’s wine country (yes it exists!) while the same jazz stylings are playing with the addition of an African choir, a hint of 70s funk, and bubbling drums that seem to be on the verge of spilling over at any moment. This, in a nutshell, is Tony Allen, the 70-year-old drum legend who helped create the influential Afrobeat sound of the 1970s . While most artists lose their passion with age, Tony Allen continues to produce music filled with soul and vigor as shown on his 2010 release “Secret Agent”.

This video reminds me of an African “Soul Train”:

11. Delorean
“Subiza”
[True Panther]

“Subiza” is a multi-faceted summer album because it can serve all your needs.  Its house dance beats seem perfect for a night on the town, yet the airy harmonies and bright vocals lend themselves to a hot afternoon with friends. I’m guessing the Spanish band Delorean’s chameleon-like approach to dance music may have something to do with that.  While other artists like Ruby Suns and Yeasayer have abandoned the ambient natural harmonies that once defined them, Delorean has found a way to move the dance-beat forward without completely abandoning that sun-drenched environment.  The result is much like the planet Pandora in “Avatar”: it looks like a vivid, natural world filled with life, yet there are brief moments where you realize it’s all manufactured.  Which, when you think about it, isn’t such a bad thing.

Watch this video for “Stay Close” and tell me I’m not spot on:

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Video Clip of the Week: NODZZZ at SXSW 2010

Since this has inadvertently turned into “New Jersey Week” here at BDWPS.com, what better video to post than NJ natives NODZZZ performing at Trailer Space during SXSW.  This isn’t one of their best songs, but you get a feel for their poppy, barebones approach.  Since this show was in a record store on the outskirts of downtown Austin, they couldn’t sell beer, forcing patrons to go across the street to the gas station to get booze. Most of the hipsters opted for Colt 45 and PBR, but I chose a giant bottle of Stone IPA.  The mixture of the fresh hops and the playful jams of NODZZZ resulted in pure splendor. (For a true taste of NODZZZ, check out their self-titled 2008 release)


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Video Clip of the Week: Liars Performing at SXSW 2010

Here’s a video clip I filmed of the Liars performing at SXSW during the Insound day show. “No Barrier Fun” is the perfect haunting melody to listen to on this beautiful National Record Store Day. Now go to your local record store and buy the “Sisterworld”!

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Video Clip of the Week: Duchess and the Duke “Back to Me”

Here’s a video I filmed last week at SXSW of The Duchess and the Duke performing “Back to Me”.  They put on a great show, although I wish her guitar and vocals had been a little louder. I like how they are performing this calming song while you can see the bedlam on Sixth Street in the windows behind them.

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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 DiscoveredPivot

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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