Monthly Archives: March 2012

SXSW 2012 Journal, Day 5: The Reckoning

Line up:

The World Famous Yard Dog Party
The Silos
Ken Stringfellow
Chuck Prophet

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

The Saturday of SXSW is the day Crossett and I decide to finally take it easy. We have a lavish breakfast at the Kerbey Lane Cafe (University location). 

From there we drive to South Congress, three miles and a world apart. This section of town has more recently been built up and has a really nice eclectic feel. Fun-weird Austin, fewer homemade tattoos and people yelling at themselves weird. This year promises to be low-key and that suits us fine as we have been running pretty ragged over the past few days. We generally head toward the Yard Dog Art Gallery. They have a small stage in the alley behind the building where we saw Peter Buck play last year. Additionally, my high school friend, Laura, lives around the corner. The gallery is very cool. Unfortunately,the prices are a bit out of our comfort zone.

We do a little shopping in the nearby stores, stopping to listen to the many impromptu stages with bands playing all along the street.

We duck into the Yard Dog alley to hear the end of The Silos and then the full set by Ken Stringfellow, the former lead singer for the Posies. You may recall the Posies as a decent band from Seattle with the unfortunate timing of hitting some popularity just before Nirvana and grunge hit big. This was all well and good for flannel shirt sales and wah-wah peddles but not so good for the Posies. Ken Stringfellow makes an opening scatalogical joke about not being able to perform on stage, plunks his microphone stand in the crowd and steps up — right in the middle of the crowd. He plays a beautiful set. Although this is only my second SXSW, I feel like this set, this show, this atmosphere must be like before all the rampant commercialization and consumerism hit the festival. I don’t really know, but it seems right.

He is followed by a rocking set by Chuck Prophet. Very bluesy, pass-the-beer kind of stuff. The power goes off three times during his set. The first time the crowd just kept singing in his place for about two minutes. The subsequent losses of power were handled well by all.

We finally head over to Laura’s house, about 30 feet away. There is definitely something about the friendliness of Texans (or at least folks who end up in Texas one way or another) because we have a nice time chatting with her friends and neighbors as she is called away on hoisting duties.

We get a good night’s sleep and get up early the next day to catch our flights home.

See you next year, Austin!


SXSW 2012 Journal, Day 4-0-4

Line up:

Brooklyn Vegan Day Showcase
Cold Showers
The Big Sleep
The Twilight Sad
Exitmusic
Eleanor Friedberger (of the Fiery Furnaces)
Widowspeak
Django Django
Tennis
DIVE
The Black Angels

Sony Club @ Red 7 Patio
Husky (AU)
Poor Moon
King Tuff
Shearwater
Father John Misty
Blitzen Trapper

◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊   ◊

It is Friday, or so I’m told, in we head east of the tracks to Brooklyn Vegan day show. Three stages and tons of bands. Today we see the last song by Cold Showers in a given credit must really hard to work up a  serious radio early today super rock and roll bands. (That last sentence was how the voice-to-text on my phone translated my desire to say it was too early to play serious rock; it sounds like a failed Turing test, though.)

We catch The Big Sleep, a trio with a really great sound. Simple but like a big wave that, once it gets to you, you finally realize you can’t avoid it. This is probably the best thing about SXSW: you go somewhere to see a band you are excited about and end up discovering a slew of new bands.

It’s hard not to imagine everyone in the room not becoming a Twilight Sad fan after seeing them play. The room and crowd is smaller than when Crossett and I saw them on their first us date, back in DC in 2004. As usual, there is a technical glitch before they start, although we are hard pressed to notice it. Earplugs in, we watch Jamie turn into Mr. Hyde onstage. It’s a quick set people with iPhones are clamoring to get up close to the guy shouting Tourette’s-style in the air with his eyes rolled back in his head. Meanwhile the guitar is laying out some serious layers so dense you can climb them.

We dash over to the second indoor stage to catch the end of Exitmusic’s set but they are running late so we miss nothing. They have a strong but diaphanous, ethereal sound. We were glad to see their whole set as we only saw a small part on Tuesday night.

We rush back to the first indoor stage in time to hear two songs by Eleanor Friedburger. This time the audience is packed. She plays a comfortable solo acoustic set. We catch the last two songs only but are there long enough to pick up on her ease and comfort on stage.

We get outside in time to sit on a big, wonky leather couch left in what can only be descried as a play area. There are some non-music attractions: a cornhole game, wine tasting with free T’s and felt hats, coconut-based ice cream, and a photo booth.

We effortlessly work our way to the second row from the stage with plenty of time before Django Django start. Django Django play a whole new set, quite a bit different than the one we saw at the Scottish showcase. They have a well-scrubbed boys next door look, mixed with hints of Devo. Their music is filled with some insidiously big dance beats, but they also favor playing very old-school hand-held percussion instruments.

Tennis plays next. Their sound is as light and insubstantial as their lead singer who looks like she would float away in a strong breeze. Lovely and energetic but lacking depth, the singer and the music are, respectively. We leave for one of the smaller stages after two songs.

Inside, we settle in on a band of youngsters calling themselves DIIV. Now, these young men must have been listening to oldies like The Cure and Love & Rockets because they did a very decent job of layering their guitars over a straight-forward drum line. The singer looked like he was wearing his father’s three-sizes-too-big shirt.

Finally, outside for The Black Angels, a band that greatly disappointed me last year when they closed South By San Jose on S. Congress. Crossett said they were really good two years ago and give them another chance already.

BTW, there are uniformed women here toting tablets and asking people what they think about, sorry, aboot Quebec. The reward for answering is discount smokes. No thanks, I’m getting enough second hand smoke to develop an excellent case of black lung. As an added bonus, there’s so much pot smoke here that I’m starting to think that the Harold and Kumar sequel maybe was funny.

The Black Angels are better than they were last year but it’s kind of like getting a ride from someone who once drove you recklessly. Even if he promises to be more careful, you still have that seed of distrust. Last year they played what sounded like one long drone-fest with one indistinguishable song following another. Even if the sound is good it’s kind of like watching Andy Warhol’s “Empire”: watching a building for six hours can get boring unless you’re completely stoned.

Crazy guy in audiences is drinking Four Loco. Redundant much?

That night we head to the Red 7 Patio to hear a showcase of mostly lighter and more melodious bands. We enjoyed Husky and Poor Moon (including a Fleet Fox). I didn’t care for King Tuff — at least partly because of the slam dancing co-eds that jumped in front of us for this set.

Shearwater played a more muscular, straight-ahead, guitar driven rock. Jonathan got contacts, ditched the piano bench and let the guitar shout out for him. I haven’t heard much of the new release but I shall in short order.

One of the shows I was most looking forward to was Father John Misty’s and this was based mostly on one song: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery.” Sometimes you hear something and you like the “sound” of the song as well as the song itself. You feel like this kind of thing is up your alley and you don’t need to hear more than 30 seconds to know that you are probably going to like pretty much everything else you hear from this CD.  That’s what this song was to me. Anyway, FJM did a bit of a speech to start off. I saw on his Twitter feed that he was very concerned about some grave situation somewhere in the world recently (I don’t recall the details but you know: famine, inequity, somesuch). He started speechifying about Doritos Jacked instead. Very funny and I thought I recorded it but I didn’t. In other news, his set (backed by most of Blitzen Trapper) was fun, partly moody, partly twangy and filled with good humor.

Blitzen Trapper had another great set. Lots of classic rock influences and lots of fans. (If you need something longer read what I wrote about them on Day 2.)


SXSW 2012 Journal, Day 3D

Lineup:
Nick Waterhouse and the Tarots
Lee Fields and the Expressions
Bass Drum of Death
Youth Lagoon
the Orwells
Futurebirds
Alabama Shakes
Bleached
Brazos
Gardens & Villa
Bear in Heaven
The War on Drugs
Sharon Van Etten

We attended the Aquarium Drunkard day show back at the Hype Hotel. This was a really versatile mix of acts, going from straight-up soul to country to roots and punk.

First up was Nick Waterhouse and the Tarots, playing a fun retro-style while the crowd very slowly trickled in to the Hype Hotel. I should mention that the promoters, The Hype Machine — a MP3 blog aggregator — took this “hotel” metaphor pretty far. We made reservations and were issued room keys upon check in. A lot of shows require an RSVP but, in our experience, none really check them when you arrive. I think it’s more used to get an idea of how many people may come.

Anywhoo, Nick Waterhouse’s band nearly outnumbered the audience — something I attribute more to the check in process than their entertainment value.

Next was Lee Lee Fields and the Expressions. Mr. Feilds is a little guy with a huge voice. The Expressions were a very tight outfit: tenor sax, trumpet, drums, bass and lead guitars. This guy blew us all away with his super-high energy and total cool. When the band played an extended instrumental intro for him before he took the stage (he was about 6 feet away) I realized that this was probably the first proper Soul show I’d ever seen.

First song was about how he loved all women. Second was about how virile he is. Third was about his faithfulness. Yeah, wonder where rappers got their act from.

I cared not for Bass Drum of Death. I was pretty disappointed by Youth Lagoon.

I didn’t love The Orwells, despite the hard-rocking efforts  by the lead singer took to sell the show.

The Futurebirds were really enjoyable. There was nothing to really distinguish them from many of the other bands I saw but they had a nice sound and energy. Notably, at the end of their set the lead singer jumps on the edge of the stage and it seems like his momentum was going to carry him right into the audience, right into where I was standing. Naturally, I quickly shuffled to the side to allow him safe landing — whereupon I find out he had no such intention. He playfully swings his guitar neck at me and returns to behind the microphone.

What to say about the Alabama Shakes. When they came out they looked so un-rock-like. It looked like someone gave the chess club guitars. But after 10 seconds… what can I say? They ripped the place up. Such energy and musicality. Great, great performance.

(The rest of the journal is brought to you by my twitter posts. I think I was pretty tired near the end and kind of went off-topic.)

Tweets

Need to monetize my stream, so say my good friends drinking #Smirnoff at #Dell. Ready for #buzzband Bleached.
16h ‏ @twitbyjames

Crap, I’m doing it wrong. Bad stream, bad stream.
15h ‏ @twitbyjames

I may have accidentally walked in to a Billy Ocean show. #buzzband #smirnoffice
15h ‏ @twitbyjames

Lead singer for Gardens & Villa has a quiver of wood flutes. Prediction: longest setup for least payoff. #IBM
12h ‏ @twitbyjames

Thor from #Shearwater is hanging out 5 feet to our left. I wonder what a lunch break at a #smirnoffice is like.
12h ‏ @twitbyjames

Robin Flute® is growing on me. Still too many flutes. #SXSW
12h ‏ @twitbyjames

This crowd sucks at beach ball. “Pass The Flute” sounds like a gay porn movie. Probably on UrbanDictionary before I can finish thumb typing.
12h ‏ @twitbyjames

When you are stuck in the front row of a show b/c you are waiting for a subsequent band, you are obligated to subtly do The Polite Dance.
12h ‏ @twitbyjames

Sorry, #Bauhaus, but bands should be named after large & scary things like bears, ghosts and Sharon Van Etten. #noahfence
11h ‏ @twitbyjames

Guy fashion at #SXSW? Old-timey lace up brown leather boots and skinny jeans. Not sure how skinny jeans would have worked for the 49ers.
11h ‏ @twitbyjames

Saw a woman with skinny jeans on try to tie her shoe & she nearly broke in half.
11h ‏ @twitbyjames

Everyone attending #SXSW music festival is handed an iPhone & marajuanna cigarette. Not sure where they do this, tho.
11h ‏ @twitbyjames

What are the rules about dopplegangers? Must you look alike? Crossett has a music doppleganger that appears at all the #SXSW shows he hits.
11h ‏ @twitbyjames

Great show by #BearInHeaven. Definitely getting more crowded here. Looking forward to: Sharon Van Etten; not: walking back to the condo.
10h ‏ @twitbyjames

New #SXSW rules: 1) no more than one keyboard player per band. 2) band with most complicated setup plays first.
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

#SXSW rules: 3) Sharon Van Etten shall be referred to as the more Twitter-friendly #SVE, which my phone will autocorrect to DVD or SUV.
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

Is it bad that #everyword’s (robot reading the dictionary) Twitter feed is more compelling than mine?
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

Second celeb musician at the #Mohawk: J Mascis in the audience for #SVE at #SXSW.
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

Crossett & I disagree about the lead singer of French Wives having Marfan’s. Crossett thinks he’s just tall.
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

There should be all-smoking planes in which it is mandatory to light up during take off and landing. #United
9h ‏ @twitbyjames

There’s a fine line between edgy & funny and just plain obnoxious. Sorry, make that wide berth.
8h ‏ @twitbyjames


SXSW 2012 Journal, Day 2

Line up:

Good Dannys @ Parish
Hollis Brown
Crooks

My Old Kentucky Blog & Song, by Toad @ Hype Hotel
Brown Brogues
Jonathan Meiburg
The Twilight Sad
Micah P. Hinson
Big Deal
Blitzen Trapper

Scottish Showcase @ Easy Tiger Patio
Woodenbox with a Fistful of Fivers
Tango in the Attic
French Wives
Three Blind Wolves
Django Django
We Were Promised Jetpacks

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We walk down the street to Arturo’s for a lovely breakfast among Mexican art.

We walk to 6th Street, only to realize that at 10:00 we are way too early for everything. We stroll down to the Four Seasons to sit in their park and check messages, etc.

At 11:00 we head over to The Parish, one of the earliest starting shows today. We hear Hollis Brown perform some straight-ahead rock licks. I recorded a few songs, worried that my peak limiter was working overtime.

They are followed by a country-flavored band, Crooks. Crossett likes them better than I do. I hear their first couple of songs from around the corner and I think they sound vaguely like The Decemberists. When I turn the corner, they sound a little different. Not bad but more country than from farther away.

We leave for our friend’s showcase. He runs “Songs, by Toad” out of Edinburgh and he has a great ear for bands (just don’t ask him about Bin Iver). His involvement in the Hype Hotel day show, on this day, was picking the bands.

As expected, The Twilight Sad put on a brilliant show. The lead singer, James Graham, has taken off the pot belly he sported last year. They are somewhat delayed, apparently their equipment had not arrived with them. They more than make up for the delay with a full-out performance that I’m sure has won over a new slew of fans.

Following is Michael P. Hinson, who has been opening for them on their current US tour. He looks like a cross between Hank Williams and Elvis Costello. He plays what appears to be a 3/4 sized guitar but gets 15 times the sound out of it.

Big Deal is a brother-sister act, and a nice looking couple a that. They both played guitar, nervously looked at each other, and played some decent tunes.

Blitzen Trapper closed the showcase with guitars blazing. They were unafraid to show their Led Zeppelin and Lynard Skynard influences. Bluesy, gutsy music, full of country bravado and swagger. (My camera battery has died by this point, the remaining photos are from my phone.)

In the evening we headed over to Easy Tiger Patio for the Scottish Showcase. We were very interested in seeing Django Django and We Were Promised Jetpacks (and really anything else the Scots were ready to throw at us). We missed most of the opening band’s set but got a good place to watch Tango in the Attic. They played a good set, nothing stands out particularly.

French Wives include a really tall lead singer/guitarist. I wonder if he might have Marfan’s Syndrome, like Bradford Cox of Deerhunter/Atlas Sound. Then I wonder if there’s a link between Marfan’s and creativity. Not that it matters. French Wives played a really clean and fun set.

Three Blind Wolves could be a Seattle group if they didn’t say anything. They come out in plaid shirts and play another great set with some very catchy songs.

We knew Django Django would be different when they started setting up. Unfortunately, all the electronics caused a long set up, something that does not mesh well with SXSW where you are generally playing a 30-40 minute set. They had the audience up and bopping around with their fun, frantic beats but was ultimately anticlimactic as they had to pay the piper for the long set up and stop after a very few songs.

By the time We Were Promised Jetpacks came onstage I was pretty beat. I made the mistake of ordering a real beer (which was nearly taken accidentally by King Creosote) and it was giving me the sleepies. Jetpacks were loud and rocking but I wasn’t. I retreated to a nearby bench to sit out this show. Tomorrow no beer.


SXSW 2012 Journal, Day 1

The Atlanta airport has an exotic, ethnic place called Moe’s.

image

CNN just reported on a plane that crashed had a rough landing here this morning. Everyone at the gate was so relieved that it was a “test” landing and no one was on board. It’s really cloudy here. Couldn’t see the ground until just before we touched down.

It’s always been a dream of mine to take a crowded flight with an adolescent cheer team. Scratch that off the list.

Had a quick bite to eat with my uncle John in San Antonio and we’re off to Austin.

The condo is small but nice. However, it’s a good half hour walk to 6th Street. We end up at the Prefix magazine show and hear the second half of Exitmusic’s set.

New Moods comes on with some very danceable music but they just don’t gel. The keyboard player is very good, the drummer passable and the singer cute. A co-lead, looking a lot like Andy Dick, is annoying and sings way off key.

We grab a slice, see another band (and are reminded that generally the ease of getting in to a club is inversely proportionate to the quality of the band).


Lintermission


Celebrating 40 days of Lint.


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