I was in Austin for a total of 91 hours and only 14 of those hours were wasted on sleep. It was South-by-Southwest weekend, the annual conference showcasing hundreds of bands that travel to Texas from all around the world. I had wanted to attend Hamilton in Hollywood but plans changed and I had to go here. It takes an entire year of volunteer preparation for the culmination of events that take place. When SXSW day I arrives it is up to the industry experts and the general public to propel the festivities for the next four days. The casual attendee might be found sipping a beer and listening from afar not knowing the talent being displayed. The fact is that these are more than bar bands. They are touring bands. They are buzz bands.
What I thought I would do is give you a brief analysis of each band I saw; most of which were planned for, others whom I was lucky to catch by simply being in the right place at the right time, and the few that I could have done without. That sounds reasonable right? Well, brace yourselves because I saw 45 performances over the course of four days. One of these days I’ll have to learn how to be a more concise reflective writer but for now this is my blog; therefore, everything in my head wants to be transplanted into this entry.
I left immediately from work last Wednesday and, making good time, arrived just before 8pm. I waited in line at one of the hot spots, Stubbs bar, and wristband sales ran out when I was just feet from the ticket counter. That wristband would have eliminated every door charge for the rest of the weekend so long as I kept it on. I thought, “Oh boy, this is not getting off to a very good start.” Nevertheless, I opted to pay the Stubbs cover for the evening, as that was the venue I planned on attending anyway.
Wednesday Night’s NPR Showcase
8PM: When I made it into Stubbs, for the World Music and Arts National Public Radio showcase, I caught the end of Janelle Monáe. Ms. Monáe is a slight, neo-soul, fantasy-fixated girl sought after by Sean Combs and signed to Bad Boy Records. I enjoyed the strange space-funk material that others have classified as sci-fi but I didn’t care for the heavier stuff. I don’t like destruction, unlike some people who get really pumped and riled up when an artist picks up the microphone and throws it to the ground as she did. The crowd surfing I didn’t mind. She wears a bizarre Prince-like hairdo, a black bow tie, and saddle shoes. Furthermore, she combines her look with some reinvented 50’s dance moves.
9PM: Ladyhawke followed as the first of many electronically inflated string and synth sounds of the weekend. She’s from New Zealand and has brought with her a new age style of retro, topped with very few lyrics. “My Delirium” is one of the singles on her self-titled debut album and also the song I found most enjoyable during her performance.
10PM: Songwriter Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards has a new band to back her husky voice. She also has a new, darker, junior album called The Mountain. They did “Sway” and “Out at Sea” from the recent release. Then the newly assembled bunch played “Blue Day” as Erika crooned, Lord knows it’s been a while/ since my face has cracked a smile. I love that song!
11PM: One of the most anticipated shows for me was The Avett Brothers, who are not new to the indie festivals or the magazine interviews. I waited a long time to see these guys who partake in a whole genre that mixes bluegrass with punk. They play their instruments with such intensity. Scott Avett, the brother contributing banjo and drums, showed the most personality, in my opinion. He and his brother, Seth, did a duet called “Murder in the City” with acoustic guitars and a cappella harmonies.
I wonder which brother is better/ which one our parents’ love the most/ I wondered what my dad would say/ he said I love you/ I am proud of you both/ in so many different ways. The touching lyrics sparked a hint of sarcasm in the guy standing next to me as he turned to say, “I just have something in both of my eyes. I’ll be fine.”
12AM: Now for the reason most of the gang showed up at Stubbs Wednesday evening. The Decemerists were there to play the entire new album, Hazards of Love, from top to bottom (of course, that’s the only way this one can be done, as it tells a story). This was the first time they were doing it live and NPR plugged it for a while. This 8 piece rock-opera conglomeration is led by Colin Meloy who, using principle and supporting roles, immerses us in a disturbing forest tale of an abduction. Several cast members come to us from different bands. Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond plays the selfish and revengeful Queen. Her introductory number, “The Wanting Comes in Waves/ Repaid,” is my favorite. Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond plays Margaret, the naïve and childish damsel who always wears a smile and fusses with the ruffles of her dress. Margaret’s love interest is Meloy himself playing the Queen’s adopted son, William. Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Rebecca Gates of the Spinanes also lend their voices.
There is no down time. Not once does the stage fall silent to indicate the end or the beginning of a new song and never is the masterpiece interrupted for audience acknowledgment. During “The Rake’s Song” 5 of the 8 members pelted base drums with cloth covered mallets as they screamed All right/ All right/ All right! This is the part in the story where the rake, translated in this context as the villain, kills his children after their mother dies giving birth to his fourth child. I could only stand in awe as I watched to whole thing unfold. I just have one question. They wanted the beginning of “Margaret in Captivity” to sound exactly like Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” right?
Wednesday Night’s KCRW.com Showcase
1AM: The Swedish rocker, Ida Maria, was scheduled to close the night at Buffalo Billiards to finish off Southern California’s leading NPR evening showcase. She didn’t make it to the show. I read later that she got held up in customs and never made it to SXSW at all. A little acoustic act by Zee Avi filled the slot. I don’t think I’m disappointed. At one in the morning who really needs to hear alt-rock coming from a tiny Norwegian girl anyway?
Thursday morning I arrived at the Austin convention center heart set on attending a blogging panel but wasn’t granted entrance because I didn’t have an industry badge.
Thursday Morning’s Rhapsody Rocks Austin SXSW @ The Mohawk
12:50PM: The first day party I attended was hosted by the online music library subscription service, Rhapsody. It started off with two bands I didn’t care for. To me, The Vivian Girls were just three girls trying too hard to be a punk trio. I read a flyer for Cochella later in the day that listed them in the lineup. I can understand having them on the bill for a free show at SXSW, but Cochella? I haven’t been to Cochella but I know that it’s a big music and arts festival in California. It’s nothing compared to SXSW but that only helps me further in making my point. Shouldn’t they be more selective in who they let in? On second thought, who am I to say they’re not entitled to perform with the likes of Paul McCartney and The Killers at this years’ Cochella? I hope you sensed the mockery in that statement.
1:30PM: I’m bored. Wavves was playing a song called “Beach Demon” which repeated the phrase ‘Going Nowhere.’ I would have to agree. I would say don’t quit your day jobs fellas but in this case I guess you need to. That is, in order to get real jobs. They were young and their lyrics were, by no means, beyond their years. Rather, they were quite juvenile. They played a couple sentimental tunes and front man, Nathan Williams, was singing how he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his girl that he loved her. Although, before he told her he had to ask for a “shitload” of more reverb in his guitar. I don’t know about you but when I hear a sappy song I prefer mellow accompaniment to heavy distortion.
2:10PM: School of Seven Bells (SVIIB). This is what I came to see. Decked out in their fashionable ensembles, the girls couldn’t have looked cuter. I think they resemble The Veronicas but I also think that my conclusion was drawn from the fact that, like The Veronicas, Alejandra and Claudia Deheza are another set of dark haired identical twins. Together, and with the help of founder Benjamin Curtis, they create a cohesive dance and contemporary pop beat. The lyrics to the floating vocals are derived from the twins’ lucid dreams and they contribute to the overall eerie feel. Benjamin provided more guitar than I remember hearing while listening on imeem. At times I thought it got in the way. “My Cabal” is an excellent song, though I don’t have a clue what it means.
Thursday Afternoon’s Paste Magazine Party
4:30PM: I headed over to the Radio Room and had to wait in line but was lucky to catch Thao with the Get Down Stay Down. The creatively playful lyrics are what I find attractive about Thao Nguyen’s music. Fire compels/ fire consumes/ you are a cheater/ you are fireproof. My guess would be that these words, from her song “Geography,” attempt to depict her difficulty escaping the hold a person, perhaps an ex, might have on her. However, it’s hard to tell whether this issue has caused her any pain because she has included jazzy cymbals and bluesy guitar riffs making the song too pleasant. When she talks to the crowd she brings out her edgy side. She asked us if we wanted to hear a new song but before we could respond she said, “Now I’ve cornered you. What are you going to say? No?”
5:15PM: Passion Pit was enough to wake me up, as it was approaching the brief downtime between afternoon parties and evening venues. I was thinking about nabbing the edge of a picnic bench but decided to stick it out. They were rowdy and hyper and all over the place. I think Michael Angelakos’ high pitched voice was a bit over the top. They talked too much for a thirty minute set. If you’re only given thirty minutes you shouldn’t be wasting any time on meaningless chitchat. Beer spilled on the keyboard and Michael showed real concern when he thought he may have broken it, but then he insisted that he had done it for us. “I broke it just for you,” he said.
Thursday Night’s Hotel Café Tour
7:30PM: The Hotel Café Tour is inspired by a venue in California where several promising artists made their start. Now, and for the past four years, a national tour has made an attempt at bringing the café atmosphere to other parts of the U.S. Caitlin Crosby was the first to kick off the evening with a song called “Generation.” She has a raspy voice which she alternates from reserved to powerful and visa versa. She sounds a lot like Missy Higgins and maybe a bit like Brandi Carlile when she gets really excited. She ended strong, aggressively strumming away on her bright red guitar and couldn’t help but let a ‘Fuck’ slip when she broke a string.
8PM: Holly Conlan followed singing a song called “Winter” from her new five track EP titled Bird. Her songs are about love and, if you’re a lyrics person, you might be drawn to her sweet narratives. During her second song she shared a piano bench with her band mate, Phil, and the two of them played a duet.
8:30PM: If you’re from San Diego and you listen to midday radio you may recognize Anya Marina as the KBZT disc jockey. In addition, her music can be heard on various television soundtracks. The follow-up to her debut, Slow & Steady Deduction: Phase II, was released in January. Ms. Marina is a poet and a writer with a degree in English. She writes funny, simple, relatable, and easily interpretable lyrics. She did a cover of T.I’s “Whatever You Like” and I, for one, liked her adaptation better.
9PM: I was introduced to Lisa Hannigan through the fairly long-running drama, One Tree Hill. Long enough, at this point, that I’m too old for it but I still watch because I’ve been doing so since its pilot. It sounds like an accordion, looks like a keyboard, and is called a harmonium. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else play this exotic instrument. Actually, I take that back. I think The Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee played one. Lisa also plays the electric guitar, the bass guitar, and the drums. Therefore, until her recent solo spotlight emergence into the indie-folk world, her instrumental abilities were utilized by other artists such as Damien Rice.
Thursday Night’s Next Big Nashville Showcase at Maggie Mae’s
10PM: I headed to the Gibson Room of Maggie Mae’s, perused the mounted Gibson guitars, and then honed in on the Nashville native, Landon Pigg. I had stumbled upon this singer/songwriter a few months back and was excited to catch his little preview. “Falling in Love at a Coffee Ship” is the track I was familiar with but the rest were equally appealing. I was ready for some easy listening, as it had been a long day. His music is beautiful and poignant and sways into the influential realm of country.
Thursday Night’s Emusic Showcase
10:30PM: There is a stunning Presbyterian church off of 8th Street in Downtown Austin and it, too, was used to entertain musicians and spectators. In the dark I fumbled my way to an open pew and heard a heartfelt number called “Junebug Waltz” by Hurray for the Riff Raff. It’s a four piece junkyard-folk band hailing from New Orleans and fronted by multi-instrumentalist Alynda Lee.
11PM: It’s hard to tell whether Amanda Palmer is part of the hipster world or the roots world. Everyone in the church seemed to know her and, from pre-show networking, I gathered that several people in attendance had also seen her before. I’m guessing that these viewers were fans of Ms. Palmer’s former duo, The Dresden Dolls. I met a girl who books bands for clubs and venues in Detroit and Lansing, Michigan and was naming places like “The State Theatre” and “The Green Door.” We bonded because, while I was enrolled at Michigan State University, I would go to The Green Door on Monday evenings. It was a blues bar but they brought in all different kinds of cover bands and original performers.
Amanda emerged and stood silent in front of us for almost an uncomfortable amount of time. Then she proceeded to sing her first number a cappella without a microphone. In her pure, deep range she implemented a song that was quite vividly about death. She then sat down and played a very tragic piano introduction before inviting requests. For the rest of the show people shouted out their favorites while I was just there to observe what she was all about as an artist. Some of her songs are hysterical, for instance, she has a song called “I Google You.” I Google you/ when it’s late and I don’t know what to do/ I find photos you’ve forgotten you were in/ put up by your friends. Other songs, however, are very dark and dramatic and they honestly scare me a bit.
12AM: Elvis Perkins in Dearland had just put out an album two weeks prior and were in Austin to display tracks from that release. This is folk-rock. Not quite as severe as The Avett Brothers but still very dynamic. The horns were impressive, as was the percussive impact. They had some trouble with their sound and I got impatient and left to catch the last band I had penciled in for the night.
Thursday Night’s Carpark Records/ Paw-Tracks Showcase
1AM: They call it dream-pop. The name Beach House is kind of symbolic to the bands’ approach. The songs are layered with elaborate sounds resonating from keyboards, harpsichords, steel pedals, and so much more (I think the bands at SXSW compete with each other to see who can involve the most instruments in their work). The ambient result of fusing such devices together is that of a lonely and isolated experience, similar to what a secluded beach house would evoke.
Alex Scally spent much of his time bent over his computer manning the drum-machine or maybe the complex additions constructed by some fancy apple software. This possibility comes to mind due to my attendance at a recent seminar organized by The Mitchell Center for the Arts. Caroline Collective, downtown, hosted a hands-on Ableton Live Music Production Workshop, taught by Los Angeles-based electronic musician and DJ Steve Nalepa. He showed us how the intricate program operates and I am convinced that one doesn’t even need to play an instrument to be a musician nowadays. I am also convinced that the world better end soon because I can’t imagine things getting anymore advanced. Look out for this Steve character. He just completed a three disc project. One has original works, one is paired with video footage, and the last one has overdubs of his original songs. It might be something worth checking out. As for Beach House, I came across the flyer distributed at this show while sifting through all the garbage I trekked home with me. As a reminder of how much I enjoyed their performance, I had scribbled on that flyer, “Get the CD!”
1PM: I was in the Austin Convention Center looking for some breakfast. Yes, I know it was one in the afternoon, a perfectly appropriate time for breakfast. Anyway, unfortunately I came across Juliet Lewis singing her heart out. I’m sorry; she should have just been a one trick pony. The acting is alright. The music is bad. I should have gone to the SESAC Day Stage to see Emily Wells, a classically practiced musician who blends her latest album with hip hop.
1:30PM: The Swedish duo, The Tiny, droned on at a constant and steady speed but was sufficient enough to accompany my bagel and orange juice. At least the guy (Johan Berthling) was giving us a little off-the-string bouncing from his double bass.
Friday Afternoon’s Insound Day Party
2:30PM: Insound is an online indie store that sells albums and other band paraphernalia. First on the agenda was The American Analoge Set. These Austin-based guys have had a number of successful releases all emanating a generally relaxing experience. If it weren’t for the intensity of the sun beating on the back of my neck and shoulders I would have been in Heaven. I swear that the soothing, long-held notes and instrumental segments of these mellow songs could drag the tension right out of a person having a stressful day. I apologize for the poor photo. All you get is a silhouetted backlit one, as the sun was behind me.
3:30PM: In my opinion The Thermals are just alright. I was there for a confirmation. I learned that I should never second guess myself. I also learned, however, that you shouldn’t listen to me. You should explore for yourself and come to your own conclusions because I met a guy named Nate, an indi-film producer of Spitfire Pictures currently working on a project called “The Way Back,” who enjoyed The Thermals more than The American Analoge Set. I will say that Kathy Foster is adorable and provides great vocal harmony. She should have taken a lead vocal for a few songs. I noticed her excessive head-banging before she announced that, “head-banging is better than drinking.” I have an awesome picture of Kathy.
4:00PM: It was back to the Convention Center for a performance by Lenka. SXSW films all of the shows at the Convention Center Bat Bar and Lone Star Lounge for television broadcasts. You can tune in for replays if you get Direct TV. Lenka appeared with a tiny black dress and feathers in her hair onto a stage scattered with cardboard cut out replicas of her album cover décor.
She did a complete set, all but one song from her debut solo album. During “Skipalong” she used a key-tar, one of those keyboards that you wear like a guitar. When she sang her single, “The Show,” she asked us to dig deep and pretend to be the drunken chorus singing, I want my money back/ I want my money back/ I want my money back, to which she replies, “Just enjoy the show.” She used actual WWII radio waves to accompany her during “Like a Song” and ended with the uplifting “We Will Not Grow Old.”
Friday Afternoon’s Filter Magazine Day Party
6:15PM: I didn’t even need to pay to see White Lies, as Cedar Street Courtyard is, well, an outside courtyard. I was able to watch from behind the blockade and was beginning to think that I could come in under budget if my luck continued. Wholesome, unaltered, 80’s influenced-English-rock is my assessment of the White Lies.
Friday Evening’s ‘The Bedford @ Creekside at Hilton Garden Inn’
8PM: The Bedford is a venue in London that has jolted the career of many aspiring artists including, Paolo Nutini, James Morrison, and Amy Macdonald. This year the show began with a young lady named Ana Silvera. She sang a song inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, “The Snow Queen.” The story is about a little boy and a little girl who, faced with a struggle, have to band together. So, Ana wrote this song for her brother.
With the phenomenal voice of an opera background she mesmerized her viewers. Not to mention her addition of humor as she gazed over the crowd and said, “It seems we have a nice mixture of Yanks and Limeys out there.” For my sake, it was good that she clarified the meaning for the term “Limey.” It refers to the English population but I had never heard that slang before. Furthermore, she performed a cover of “Womanizer.” To disclose a secret, I went to this showcase as my backup because the second night of the Hotel Café Tour was sold out. My point is, I felt like I had missed out on something and then I heard a classical pianist, who had just finished singing a song in French, performing Brittany Spears. I guess you can never be disappointed at SXSW.
They were casting a virtual version of the performance in Second Life to folks in London and Dublin.
Friday Evening’s ‘ASCAP Present’s…Quiet on the Set’
9:15PM: In the Victorian Room of The Driskell Hotel we all sat on the floor, exhausted from the day, and patiently waited for Madi Diaz to begin her set. When she stepped to the forestage and saw all of us Indian-style on the ground, she joked that she felt like a kindergarten teacher. Her guitarist told us the place was haunted and asked if we knew the story.
I wasn’t expecting a full band. The songs I had familiarized myself with were mostly acoustic. She reminded me of Tift Merritt who I saw last year at SXSW. Her traditional folk style has a southern country tilt to it. She included a gentle cover of Whitesnakes’ “Here I go Again.”
Friday Evening’s ‘The Bedford @ Creekside at Hilton Garden Inn’
10PM: Back at the Bedford I caught a performance by Kiernan McMullan. He had such poetic lyrics to all of his songs. Don’t go changing water into wine/ nobody wants the responsibility of being that divine. Those words were supplemented by the piano but most of his material was on guitar. Way too young to be unhappy/ way too old to think where to begin. These lyrics belong to a song he wrote while touring the United States hitchhiking. He didn’t have a name for that song yet. Nor did he have a name for the next one but he wanted to play all of his new songs for us because, “you guys are listening,” he said. Refreshing for him, as he’s not usually the sole purpose for the gatherings he typically caters to. You know how bars and clubs are. Nobody really pays attention to the acoustic music on the patio. So he wanted to take advantage of our attention.
He played a moving song called “That Afternoon” which was inspired by spending the afternoon with his 8 year old cousin. He didn’t quite know what to do with her so he told her to have a shower, brush her teeth, watch some cartoons, etc. She came back twenty minutes later having done all of those things and decided to engage in conversation with him. How’d you get to be so smart/ she said, “I guess I’m just not an uptight bastard”/ to quote someone a little bit great/ there’s far more to life than making it move faster/ where’d you learn that?/ she said, “In school”/ do you know who it is?/ yeah, it Gandhi you fool. These are the words he credits to his cousin and that conversation. He played an amazing instrumental leading into the song in which he picked the neck of his guitar with both hands.
He was given a standing ovation when he was through. He seemed surprised by that, and also by the fact that people formed a line to purchase his CD and get his autograph. He hasn’t yet had the exposure he deserves. He’s a little bit of Jason Mraz, a little DMB, and a little Justin Nozuka all rolled into one. Plus he’s got a song that sounds so much like Zero 7’s “Do You Believe” (for all you fans of the Garden State Soundtrack) that you could almost call it plagiarism, but what do I care? Most of all he sounds like Kiernan right? All artists like to hear that they sound original.
Friday Evening’s RedGorilla Music Fest
11PM: The purpose of RedGorilla is to promote up-and-coming independent musicians and bring them to Austin to engage in, and be a part of, the SXSW line-up. Taking advantage of this opportunity was a band called SHIROCK. When I was in high school I attended a church in Novi, Michigan called Oak Point, pastored by Bob Shirock. Chuck is Bob’s son, and the front man to the band. In 1998 Our Lady Peace had just released the album, Clumsy, with the song “4 A.M” and I used to compare Chuck’s voice to that performance by the groups’ lead singer and songwriter, Michael Maida. SHIROCK sounds a lot different now then they did in high school; still distinctive but also original. Chuck definitely found himself when he moved to Nashville to attend school to be a musician.
If I may, I would like to share a quick memory I have from one of pastor Bob’s sermons. He was making a point that you can only teach your children so much before they head off in their own directions without your help. In doing so they may even surpass your own knowledge of the skills you introduced. To illustrate his point he showed us an old family photo and looked back on a time when he was teaching his son’s how to play the guitar. He was directing their finger placements as they struggled to reach the proper strings. Bob instilled an appreciation for music that each of his children took to greater heights than he ever did. Teasing he said, “Now I’ve got a jazz drummer on my hands” (Chuck’s younger brother, Scott). I will credit all the talent to Chuck, but sometimes talent doesn’t matriculate until it is induced. Not only did Bob Shirock equip his family with the knowledge of the truth, he also planted the musical curiosity. Sometimes you have your parents to thank for who you become.
SHIROCK just released an album called Everything Burns. Along with a title for the album, Everything Burns is the bands’ non-profit organization. They use the music as a platform to get people connected with the things in this world that matter, like homelessness and hunger. They collaborate with Project: AK 47, a fight against the exploitation of children soldiers.
Friday Evening’s Polyvinyl Record Company Showcase
1AM: I jumped at the opportunity to see Asobi Seksu on the Habana Calle 6 Patio as the last show of the night. When asked by another bystander what I thought I replied, “Well, it’s a big old noise band.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the noise bands and SXSW is definitely celebratory of “noise bands.” Yuki Chikudate puts forth a stunning vocal melody that aims at the impossibility of being distinguished from the modified guitar and keyboard effects. In other words, you can’t understand what she says but you aren’t really supposed to because everything should blend magnificently.
Were any of my readers out there avid watchers of the Television series E.R? I sat down after Asobi Seksu and began discussing the performance with the gentleman next to me. Minutes later his friends reconvened and he introduced one as George Clooney. As I laughed he went on to say that this friend, Dr. Robert Feldman, is the medical doctor at Cook County Hospital whom George Clooney emulated for his character, Dr. Doug Ross. For twenty minutes as we continued talking I wasn’t convinced but Dr. Feldman had an answer for every strange question I had. Who knows. I’d like to think I’m not that gullible.
And so, it was time to head back to my buddy William’s place to crash. He had been sending me text messages and eventually one saying, “I’m going to bed but I’ll leave the door unlocked.” Don’t feel bad for William. He knew what he was in for. I told him I had a set schedule and I was going to be out-on-the-town the whole time I was in town. We did catch a few shows together but he didn’t understand. He was only into the free stuff.
On Saturday, I took the advice I had been given by an Austin native I met on Friday. She said I could park at the public library and take the bus in for $.75. Good idea! I was still under budget.
Saturday Afternoon’s Q Magazine Party (World Tour in association with Guitar Hero)
2:00PM: Just to let you know, RSVPing for a day party does not mean shiet! You don’t get in without paying and you don’t get to go to the head of the line. Furthermore, of all the lists I should have been on I didn’t see a single doorman refer to one. So, after waiting in line and paying the cover I was welcomed into The Parrish for the Q Magazine Party.
It started with a group that I had seen at Austin City Limits called Delta Spirit. Now on Rounder Records, these guys have an official release for their debut, Ode to Sunshine. They bring a lot of energy to the stage with their sort of southern-rock, alt-country fusion. Fitting to the song title, “Trashcan” was performed with one of the band members pounding on a trash can lid. Singer, Matthew Vazquez, made sure to end with a strong vocalic throaty scream. Interesting, as the last song sounded somewhat like bluegrass at the start and Vazquez momentarily reminded me of Ketch Secor, the lead singer for the band Old Crow Medicine Show.
3:00PM: Among the common instruments, Fanfarlo incorporated the aerophone, clarinet, violin, trumpet, mandolin, and melodica. On their second song they did a jam featuring the clarinet. With all these things going on at once I was reminded of The Decemberists and saw a comparison between the two.
3:30PM: Jay Jay Pistolet was under the weather and, for that reason, he only did a few songs. His singer/ songwriter skills have come together to shape a Mediterranean kind of resonance. It’s got a Tuscan feel, if you will.
4:15PM: Pete and the Pirates were performing their eleventh and final SXSW show at The Parrish on Saturday afternoon. I can only imagine how exhausting the week is for the performers. I was tired by the end of each night and all I had to do was bring myself to the shows. Their new album, to be released sometime in 2009, is called Jennifer and the single is already available. They don’t have anything grandiose to communicate in their lyrics. She’s bad for me/ she helped me steal a car/ to drive beneath the stars. This jingle was performed with a line-up of four guitarists sprawled across the front lip of the stage. Their second to last song encompassed a cute little upbeat 5 or 6 note lick which they added doo-doo’s to.
4:50PM: Graham Coxon, the former lead guitarist of Blur, started his set with a song that he said describes what goes through a man’s head during the time it takes for a bullet that has left a pistol to reach his chest. He was a wonderful finger-picker and his artistic endeavors have led to a folky, bluesy, Dylan-ish combination. He did a cover of Grateful Dead’s “Oh Babe it Ain’t no Lie,” after saying he wanted to end with an American song.
5:30PM: When the front man for You Me at Six came on-stage wearing a Misfits shirt I thought, “uh oh.” Sure enough, the lights went down and the Blink-182 stance assumed. You know what I mean, the straddled legs and the head down with an exaggerated full-arm stroke on their guitars. These showcases are so strange sometimes. You can hear some really low-key stuff one minute and the next you’re listening to metal. For the most part, I was lucky to know who I was seeing and didn’t run into this problem too often. The jumping up and down began and I had had enough. I was going to go find some dinner. You’ve all read enough by now to know that punk is not my drug of choice.
Saturday Night’s Barsuck Records/ Merge Showcase
8PM: I have been purchasing Barsuck records for a little over a year now and the whole time I have been pronouncing it wrong. Turns out, it’s Bar-sook, not Bar-suck. Telekinesis, of the Merge record label, was the kick-off act of the night. Michael Lerner sings and writes the songs and also plays the drums. Whoa! You almost never see a drummer as the front man. Written as expressions of his own experiences, Lerner’s lyrics are factual.
9PM: During the downtime between sets we were graced with Jason Hammel from the duo Mates of State. He spun records from a little makeshift DJ set-up that he had tightly packed into the corner of the stage. I recognized Ladyhawke’s “My Delirium” and M83’s “Kim and Jessie.”
It was my second time seeing Andrew Kenny at SXSW, as The Wooden Birds were up next and he performs with them and with The American Analog Set, whom I saw on Friday afternoon. Not surprising, very similar are AmAnSet and The Wooden Birds. In addition, both sound a lot like The Grand Archives. The Birds’ first album, Magnolia, will be available on May 12, 2009.
10PM: Lou Barlow brought enough guitars for a small army. He had one that looked like it could have been eighty years old and was plastered with stickers. With all those instruments to go around he only had one other soul on-stage with him. He and his buddy, Imaad Wasif, strummed their hearts out to every song the two of them knew in common. Lou reminded me of the melodic David Berkeley, a musician I had seen in 2004 accompany Howie Day and Nickel Creek at the haunted auditorium of Michigan State University (we used to call it “The Aud”). I enjoyed Imaad’s low neck strumming. The higher pitched notes added more dimension to their all-around performance. Here they are tuning their guitars.
11PM: Say Hi is one of those raw bands that embrace the minor flaws rather than attempting to eliminate them. You can hear all the hiccups and hums and fuzzy background noises in their album tracks. Oohs & Aahs is their first Barsuk release in connection to their shortened name, as they used to be referred to as Say Hi to Your Mom. It was released in LP format as well as CD because Barsuk likes to do that.
12AM: Kelly Crisp of The Rosebuds had the best dress I saw all weekend. It was a white, knee-high, strapless bell-dress with a pink sash embedded from top to bottom. The black combat boots added a nice touch. The bass and drummer were both stand-ins from other bands because The Rosebuds only officially consist of Kelly and Ivan Howard.
They applied a lot of sing-along numbers in an effort to extract some energy from the sleep deprived crowd. My favorite song is “Leaves Do Fall.” You’ve been gone too long/ where can you be/ they said three months/ you’d come for me/ I’ve shouted, “where?”/ out at the sea/ cuz you’re my love, my family. I think these lyrics explain how one may know that his or her love is not coming back but still the struggle of wanting to know why lingers.
1AM: Now for the big finish! Ra Ra Riot claimed the stage with their arms up begging for a warm welcome. I got excited when I saw Alexandra with her cello. This weekend I had seen more strings taking part in indie-rock outfits than I would have ever imagined. As frontrunners to Ra Ra Riot, however, Alexandra Lawn and Rebecca Zeller were most impressive, in my opinion. Zeller had already rocked her violin hard enough by the third song that she needed a new bow. It was sick! And I mean that in a good way.
Star struck by Zeller and Lawn’s exceptional playing made it hard to concentrate on anyone else. However, I happen to know that each player compliments the others nicely. For instance, thanks to the considerately refined playing of Milo Bonacci, the guitar doesn’t overpower the strings. Lead singer, Wes Miles, mentioned that he had a little bit of the SXSW ailment, that is, lost voice. I didn’t notice and that is probably because he wasn’t nursing it. He said that he was going to leave it all with us. They performed every song on their album, The Rhumb Line, and also included a newly carved piece. I had forgotten how much I love every song on this album, or maybe I didn’t realize I loved it that much until I saw them live. As the saying goes, sometimes seeing is believing.