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Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon
Jack Oblivion and the Tennessee Tearjerkers

Jack Oblivion and the Tennessee Tearjerkers


The Six Degrees of Memphis party felt like heaven on Earth simply because it took place in a shaded parking lot with plenty of chairs. That the music was consistently strong was a bonus. Jack Oblivion and the Tennessee Tearjerkers offered up some fun, straightforward, slightly bluesy rootsy rock, followed by Cory Branan, who took it upon himself to keep things on schedule. Delivering an overcharged acoustic set (his banter with the soundman concluded with an instruction to leave the buzz in the amps because “I’m not going to be playing any Gordon Lightfoot. Branan was funny, ribald, and aggressive, as if he were reliving the anger in a couple of his songs. John Paul Keith & the 145’s followed with a diverse set of tunes that ranged from blues rave-ups to chickin-pickin’ country to tear-in-your-beer fair to straightforward rock.


Cory Branan

Cory Branan


John Paul Keith & the 145's

John Paul Keith & the 145’s


Throughout the party, bands were exchanging members left and right, so it got hard to tell who belonged in which band and who was just sitting in. Antenna Shoes included Amy LaVere’s guitarist and the bassist and trumpet-player from Snowglobe, as they offered up some very melodic indie rock (the trumpet definitely helped; there’s something about that instrument that makes anything seem epic). Amy LaVere‘s set was short but effective, showcasing one new song and offering up several more from her excellent Anchors and Anvils disc. Lavere’s live show benefits greatly from raucous guitar work, which adds a lot of muscle to her wry songs. Snowglobe finished up the proceedings, playing plenty of older songs and some new ones as well. Snowglobe’s indie rock has a lot of influences, from Beatles-esque pop to Elephant 6-style indie psychedelia to Beach Boys-influenced vocals, so they covered a lot of ground (and as with Antenna Shoes, that trumpet does wonders).


Antenna Shoes

Antenna Shoes


Amy LaVere

Amy LaVere


Amy LaVere

Amy LaVere


Snowglobe

Snowglobe


 


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Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

At first glance, there’s nothing so complicated about what the Thermals do. They find a good riff, lock in on it with drums, guitar, and bass, and go right at it. On the other hand, there is sophistication there in the group’s sense of melody and probing lyrics. The Radio Room’s outside tent wasn’t even full when the Thermals started their set, possibly because:


1) The Thermals had played SXSW several times already;


2) This was one of the only showcases at the Radio Room without free food;


3) After two days of nonstop music, 1:15 in the afternoon starts to feel like the crack of dawn.


Whatever the case, it didn’t bother the Thermals, who tore through a set of songs from their strong recent records. Bassist Kathy Foster pogoed and bounced around, and there was a good amount of energy for so “early” in the day.


 


 


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Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

Lots of the music at SXSW is about as concentrated as the Coca Cola they sell at the Mohawk… vaguely sweet, see-through watery, and deceptively empty once you discount all the ice. WFMU, one of the oldest and surely the best free-form radio station in the world, doesn’t traffic in that stuff. At their showcase, sponsored with San Francisco’s Aquarius Records, every act on the bill is intense, focused, and compelling. The bands come from lots of genres—spazz punk, metal, alt-country, blues garage, and experimental jam—but they have in common a certain purity of focus and full-body commitment. Nobody here is punching the clock.


Gary War

Gary War


Gary War, for instance, on the inside stage, amps his dream-cave-echoing psychedelia, transforming a wavery, illuminative recorded sound (from the excellent Raytheonport) into something denser and more enveloping. Gary War, whose real name is Greg, played for a while with Ariel Pink and another while with cult psych recluse Bobb Trimble, and his songs have the same glistening sheathe of reverb, the same Beach-Boys-through-a-soapy-funhouse-mirror harmonies. 


Prizehog

Prizehog


Outside, more mayhem, as the drummer for Prizehog has stripped down to his underwear, the female keyboard player on her knees twisting some sort of knobbery, and an unholy sheets-of-noise racket streaming out of the amps. Metal-ish, but not really metal, Prizehog allows long, sustained guitar tones to mutate into space echos and buzz, doom-ish chants to build in slow, nightmarish ritual. 


XYZ

XYZ


XYX, from Mexico, is a frenetic, bass-drums duo, fritzed out with angsty, Lightning Bolt-ish aggression, but with the added attraction of Senorita Anhelo, the female bass player, who chants and shouts and ululates like the Latin chapter of OOIOO.  Her drummer, Mou, is pretty fantastic, too, all clash and clatter and boxy, sticks-up propulsion. “Anel and Her Problem” is straight-out, shout-punk, but other cuts venture into experimental and improv-type sounds. Great stuff. 


Wildildlife

Wildildlife


Everybody in Wildildlife has huge hair, the drummer with his waist-length dreads, the Tad-shirted bass player and curly-haired guitarist, both sporting extravagant, biker-man manes. But the thing is, you need hair for this kind of music, hair to toss in slo-mo, large-scale head nods, hair to hang down over your face as you slam down another power chord, hair longer than a girl’s but twice as menacing, as you lay down pound after pound after pound of ear-splitting, mind-melting metal. All those guys standing in line at Stubb’s for Metallica in Guitar Hero shirts should put down their text messaging and hear this.


 


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Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

At the Touch & Go showcase, a man dressed in a pirate suit is sashaying around handing out shots of rum and T-shirts. Well, handing out is maybe the wrong term. One onlooker, emphatically not interested in a T-shirt, is briefly headlocked, while his arms and neck are forced through the openings. He looks down at himself, afterwards, astonished, as if he has just turned into another person. I am pretty sure I did not imagine this, but then, I did have one of those shots of rum.


I am, of course, not here for rum and pirates. I have come to see Mi Ami, whose staccato, Afro-rhythmed, yelp-and-drum-frenzy debut Watersports came out on Touch & Go on the day the label decided it wanted not to be in the record business. It’s a really good record, but Mi Ami is even better live, their guitarist Daniel Martin-McCormick spazzing like a string-tangled marionette, as he falsetto-yips and barks into the mic, drummer Damon Palermo half-naked and slicked with sweat, pulverizing his kit in tribal-on-speed patterns of eighths and sixteenths. Both Martin-McCormick and bass player Jacob Long started in Dischord band, Black Eyes, and a trace of that hardcore, righteously confrontational aesthetic remains. But straight-on punk beats have fractured into a million, Afro-funked pieces, glittery quick-paced cadences that shift in kaleidoscopic patterns. One of tonight’s highlights… and well worth the trip over from Spiro’s. 


 


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Saturday, Mar 21, 2009
Director: Wyatt McDill; Cast: Justin Kirk, Terryn Westbrook, Sam Rosen; Runtime: 85 minutes

At what point of “meta” does it all become one giant tiramisu of bullshit? Of course, I can’t delve too pointedly into that question without revealing the Mouse Trap tricks and plots turns of Four Boxes. What I can say is that it appears to be a generational satire built around the story of two internet liquidators (people who sell off the junk of the dead on eBay) who discover a mysterious website called Four Boxes. Ostensibly, the site used to be the website of a slutty exhibitionist woman who moved out and kept the cameras in for the unsuspecting newcomers. What follows is the morality play of three inter-fucking friends (I see a trend) who watch what appears to be torture, murder, and intricate terrorist plot unfold.


Four Boxes moves at the indie thriller pace that it should and Justin Kirk (of Weeds fame) makes a credibly brooding lead. But several of the satirical gestures either grate too much or make the viewer question whether the writer is satirical or envious. I don’t hang out with a lot of people much younger than I am (full disclosure: 35), but do the people in their mid-twenties, who are supposed to be represented here by people clearly older, really speak in instant messaging speak? It’s a travesty of content-free exclamation whose abbreviations only accentuate its scarcity. It’s difficult to sit through and seems more of a worst-case scenario than a lingua franca of the young ones. It reminds me of the vicious backbiting against the valley girls, whose dialect was also a slang-ridden avoidance of depth. But how many of us actually ever met a valley girl? It’s possible to be so vehemently critical that you give the object of criticism an easy out on the caricature clause?


Many of the themes that run through Four Boxes merit exploration. I think it’s true that normal existential angst has been medicalized to the point where having passion is itself a pathology. But is that purely a function of too much internet and not enough face-to-face? The characters are the tech-savvy undead: On cell phones, using webcams, checking their social networking sites every five minutes, and hollow in a way that deserves to be addressed less flippantly. “Life sucks. Life really sucks,” seems to be as close a summary sentiment as we can get in the film. But why do the characters have such deep disconnections from empathy in their acceptance of violence, suffering, and sexual disconnection. There’s “kid’s today” and there’s “Ted Bundy” and while I personally feel like the greatest achievement of the generation after me so far as been the Lolcats, I’m not willing to write them off as collectively lost. Nor are any of the film’s cultural critiques confined to any particular cohort. Traditional work, marriage, kids, death patterns in the American social experience have been disrupted for decades by everything from the birth control pill to gay rights. I guess I just don’t ultimately understand what Four Boxes is critiquing or saying or whether its simply trying to capture a zeitgeist and make fun it. But it does grow tiring having to create that much context for the meaning on the screen. I don’t mind working for a movie, but I gotta get paid.


In a certain sense, there’s probably enough pay off here to make Four Boxes worth watching. It has its creepy moments, like the grainy, furtive webcam movements that suggest untold mass terrorism. Despite characters that dissolve into characterizations, it’s difficult to pry yourself away until the final fade out. The ending is pure punchline; I had to grant the filmmakers the last laugh with a twist that no one would have predicted. But good satire needs much more than just an unforgiving eye; the best satire is both diagnosis and cure, a window into a different way by tweaking the excesses of the present. In the end, I don’t know who the film is talking to or what it’s taking about; the rest is just an Escher stairwell into pure speculation. That’s not my job. 


 


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