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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

I’ll be honest: I can’t make up my mind about Ha Ha Tonka. Their high-points, such as “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor”, are catchy, but many of their songs strike me as not quite living up to the band’s potential. Their set during the Bloodshot showcase struck me the same way, although it certainly had a full head of steam by the time things were done, beginning with their standout a cappella rendition of the traditional “Hangman”.  The band’s harmonies, when all four members are participating, are startling enough to make you think that they really underutilize this aspect of their music. It also came in handy on “St. Nick”, which had most of the crowd singing along.


 


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

“I brought my PowerPoint presentation”, joked Earlimart’s Aaron Espinoza, as two screens displayed random images behind him. Billed as an Earlimart performance, the set was really just Espinoza with his guitar and some drum beats (“I usually have a band. I forgot to pack ‘em on the way out of town”, he explained). In the comfortable confines of the church, it was a well put together, well thought-out show, although it didn’t really connect with me, personally. One undeniable highlight, however, was his rendition of the rarely-played “Heaven Adores You”, which Espinoza wrote about the late Elliott Smith.  Given the setting, Espinoza said, it seemed appropriate.


 


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

As part of the 40 Watt Club’s showcase of Georgia musicians, Dead Confederate set themselves apart from the indie and retro fare that dominated both stages. Dead Confederate sound (at least on this day) is a loud, tense Southern Gothic sludge punctuated only by keening slide guitar. The dynamics consist pretty much of a constant rise and fall rather than any clear peaks or valleys, and at times, this listener could have used a little more variety in the short set. Underlit by floorlights, lead singer Hardy Morris went for a spooky appearance that matched the music, sometimes resembling Kurt Cobain from the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video and at other times like the last person you’d want to meet in a dark alley.


 


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

“This ain’t a precision rock show”, the lead singer of 13ghosts announced during the band’s set, likening their approach to firing buckshot and seeing what hit. And who’d want it to be? Cloaked in darkness by the Creekside Lounge’s black-draped walls, 13ghosts brought to mind all those not-quite-tight three-guitar rock ‘n’ roll bands you love with their mix of southern rock, boogie, and vigorous guitar squall. I knew them by name only when I walked in, but had three CDs in my pocket by the time I walked out.


 


 


Tagged as: 13ghosts, sxsw
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Sunday, Mar 22, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

East again, much further east, a long walk along railroad tracks through some very iffy neighborhoods, and I finally find Friend Island, which is hosting a party for Hometapes, Absolutely Kosher, and Misra labels. Megafaun, the North Carolina band whose members used to be in DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (now Bon Iver), are just about to play. Megafun was one of my very favorites from last year’s SXSW, and they have a new album coming out on Hometapes this summer. 


I’ve been trying to avoid seeing the same bands again this year, but in this case, it’s a whole different experience. Last year, they played on a conventional stage in a larger audience, with a much larger, louder, more electrified sound. This time, they’re set up in a gallery room a bit larger than a squash court. The audience is sitting on the floor, mostly, and it is very, very hot inside the windowless room. 


Megafaun, though, seems excited about the possibility of playing a more intimate, acoustic show, highlighting the soft, folky side of its music. The title track from their upcoming album is particularly beautiful and hushed, little flickers of banjo and guitar igniting then subsiding, the percussion made of small sounds, a tiny cymbal clapped to a larger one, jingling chains, brushes on snares. The sound is so quiet, its fragile jangle dipping in and out of range, that the drummer has to hold the bottom of the snare to clamp the buzz down. If he let it go, it would be the loudest element in the music. There are no vocals until the very end, then the softest possible harmonies around lyrics about night coming.


 


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