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by Jennifer Kelly

20 Mar 2009


Enough so so music; life is short. I head to Beerland again. The chalkboard outside is heavy on Siltbreeze bands, the noise-monster label from Philadelphia and the driving force behind shit-gaze. There’s Pink Reason near the dinner hour, and Naked on the Vague in the afternoon, and that’s good, because I’ve been kicking myself about choosing a big label showcase (Secretly Canadian et al) over Siltbreeze and Post-Present Medium (Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko) for tonight’s evening entertainment. Plus, I’m starting to feel like a regular. The guy at the door doesn’t want to see my ID anymore, just waves me in.

Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

My eyes adjust to the dark, and there’s Zola Jesus on stage, wailing like a banshee. (The tagline on her MySpace, coincidentally, is “fear the banshee”.) Zola Jesus is a striking presence in every way, from her long Morticia Adams black hair, to her spectral keen, a little of priestess-style Jarboe, a little skewed blues Carla Bozulich, and a bit of the extended sound palette of Yma Sumac. Zola Jesus is primarily one woman, Nika Roza Danilova, but for this performance she’s backed by fellow Wisconsin native Dead Luke, who elicits spooky, static, netherworld atmospheres from Korg, Casio, and other keyboards.

Factums

Factums

Crossing Fruit Bats with Intelligence sounds like some sort of weird Mendelian experiment, but it’s actually how Factums, from Seattle, were formed. That folky gene from Fruit Bats is apparently a recessive one, because this band’s post-Ubu, Chrome-plated clank and drone resembles the Intelligence and A-Frames more than any laid-back Americana trip. Drummer Matthew Ford drives clattering, lurching, robot-gone-feral grooves. He sings from the back, in hollowed-out, alienated tones while a storm of keyboard infected feedback, viscous bass slides, all out effects-pedaled frenzies litters the foreground. Bleak, stunning, and powerful.

Naked on the Vague

Naked on the Vague

Naked on the Vague, from Australia, is next, a dissonance churning, industrially distorted duo of keyboard mayhemist Lucy Phelan and bassist/guitarist Matthew Hopkins. Their aptly named Blood Pressure Sessions, out last year on Siltbreeze, pitted the cold mechanisms of drum machine beats against undulating waves of Dead C-ish noise. Here, Phelan howls and wails and intones “try, try, try” as she full-body-bobs over the keyboard, Hopkins all bent intensity beside her. Think of the shape-shifting, dream vocals of, say, Bardo Pond, bludgeoned by noise, pulsed through with techno drums, chaotic, unfathomable, overwhelming, a fabulous trainwreck in progress, and you can’t look away for a second.

 

by Andrew Gilstrap

20 Mar 2009


One of the obvious benefits and pleasures of SXSW is stumbling across enjoyable bands while you’re waiting to see someone else. Today, it was the Donkeys, who were making their SXSW debut. I can’t speak for the record, but live, they offered up some classic, chiming guitar pop with an amiability that brought to mind a band like Guster. The drummer had, by his own admission, overdone it the night before, but like a pro, he soldiered on. Some confusion resulted when they reached the end of the set sooner than expected, but they managed to wrangle one more song out of the soundman.

 

 

by Andrew Gilstrap

20 Mar 2009


Oh Susanna (aka Suzie Ungerleider) is a criminally underappreciated songwriter. Her newest effort, Short Stories, is well-named because throughout her career she’s told a variety of tales in personas ranging from wronged women to God-crazed killers.  Her robust voice cut through the Velveeta Room’s chatter, and she further set herself apart by being one of the few SXSW artists to maintain their normal stage banter despite the abbreviated playing time. Backed by drums, bass, and crackling lead guitar, her songs really came to life tonight.

 

by Andrew Gilstrap

20 Mar 2009


I’ve long been of the mind that Primal Scream’s 2000 effort, XTRMNTR, was a victim of self-sabotage by the band. The disc’s first half marks some of the fiercest and most, well, primal music the band ever put down. The second half, however, faded just a touch. My cockamamie theory is that if Primal Scream had maintained that level of intensity from start to finish, it might have turned out like Monty Python’s skit about the world’s deadliest joke: Anyone who heard it would die. That effect thankfully doesn’t carry over to their live show, which was a relentless assault of rock groove. Couched at the end of the Cedar Street Courtyard, which is pretty much a wide alleyway with a bar at the back, Primal Scream hardly acted like they were trapped or cornered. After getting off to a strong start, technical difficulties brought them to a stop (with the band vamping through the Jackson 5’s “ABC” and singer Bobby Gillespie offering the crowd some thick-accented banter that needed subtitles while things got fixed). After that, they raised the intensity song by song, until they had the crowd going out of their minds by the time they got to “Swastika Eyes” and “Rocks”.

 

by Andrew Gilstrap

20 Mar 2009


This gathering celebrated the recently released Of Great and Mortal Men record, which devoted a song to each U.S. President (well, not Obama, since nothing had been written at the time of the disc’s release—but it’s out there now available for download).  Tonight, the group (consisting of members of Magnolia Summer, Southeast Engine, These United States, and others) would attempt only 27 songs. Far from the novelty nature such a project would suggest, songs like “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus” (about Washington) and “Armed with Only Wit and the Vigor of the U.S. Navy” (about John Adams) are actually very affecting. Noting that they were playing tonight in the state associated with the 43rd President, the group announced they would next play record as part of Grant Park, Chicago’s Fourth of July celebration.

 

 

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