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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly
Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile


After a long, ultimately fruitless wait for a table at Nuevo Leon, I am again faced with the choice between food and music. Guess which I choose? 


That’s right. Fuck tacos, Kurt Vile is on at Mrs. Bea’s. As I excuse myself I am trying to explain to my dinner companions who I want to see, and they think I’m checking out Kurt Weill, you know, the Threepenny Opera guy, who is, I think, fairly dead by now. No, no, no, this particular Kurt Vile is a sometime participant in War Against Drugs greatness, and also has his own pretty fantastic album, Constant Hitmaker out on the Gulcher label. He is, at the moment, of some interest to at least three big indie labels, so you may be hearing more about the guy later. For now, let us just say that he is a slight, shy fellow, with his hair falling down over his eyes, who somehow manages to evoke the lo-fi purity of New Zealand bands like the Clean as well as larger scale Dylan-into-Springsteen Americana anthemic-ness. He is digging into the slanted epic expansiveness of “Freak Train”, when I arrive, a long jammed-out track with just a hint of California country psych from his upcoming Childish Prodigy. His bass player switches to harmonica for “Freeway”, my favorite of all his songs, his drummer is hitting the toms with the open palm of one hand,  the other shaking a maraca. It is, as the name implies, a breezy, endless highway, wind through the open windows kind of song, full of that relentless optimism that comes with starting over, and Vile’s guitar, a wooden Les Paul, arches through its shimmery textures like a rainbow after a long storm. He switches to a flower-engraved Ensenada 12-string for the next song, whose title I can’t catch, coaxing a shivery, ghostly tone from it that is a little bit blues, a little bit folk. 


caUSE co-MOTION

caUSE co-MOTION


caUSE co-MOTION sets up almost immediately after Vile, and I have to say, their album It’s Time, a collection of singles, left me a little bit cold. It seemed like a fairly pale rehash of a lot of things from 1978 - 1981… the Clash, Fire Engines, English Beat, etc…. and without any really memorable songs. I like the show a whole lot more than the record, though, because they are working their songs so very hard. The bass player, in particular, is all over the place, doing the leaps and kicks and lunges that, like MSG, make everything taste a little sharper. The drummer plays a short-order kit, no bass drum, just snare, cymbal and floor tom, getting the most of out it, though with frantic, marching-band-on-speed snare fills, sticks bouncing straight up to perpendicular with the impact. The singing is laconic, flat and stream-of-conscious, classic first-wave punk to the core, but feeling less like an imitation, more like a personal style in the live context. As in much of late 1970s punk, there’s something vaguely ska-ish about the guitars, which sting and chime in a trebly upper register. And here’s the thing, I thought the songs weren’t that memorable, but I remember a whole bunch of them, “Which Way Is Up” with its left-turn triplet break, the razor-y jangle of “This Just Won’t Last”, the summer-y angst of “This Time Next Year”. This band is better than I thought, and way, way, way better live than on the record.


Psychedelic Horseshit

Psychedelic Horseshit


Psychedelic Horseshit is the kind of band that, even if I knew nothing else about them, I would go see just for the name. In this case, though, there’s a lot more to love than the band name, especially if you like that grimy, diesel-fueled punk rock that sounds like the Fall recorded in someone’s shower stall—with the water on. Some of the band members are wearing hand-markered T-shirts that read “Wavves Suxx”, a double consonant eddig at the one-man garage phenom receiving inexplicable love from the blog world. (Wavves is playing later at the same party, but I’ve heard so many people trash him by that point, that I leave beforehand.) “I Fucking Hate the Beach” says the singer, maybe a song title, maybe a statement of purpose, but in any case, the beginning of the kind of mayhem where amps and cymbal stands fall like dominoes and everybody keeps going. Another song is said to be called “We’re Pink Floyd Bitch”, is played from a guitar held together with hope and duct tape, from which sudden flares of wah emerge from something between a drone and a rant. Then they play my favorite, “Rather Dull” just as chaotic and fine as on the record, and maybe a little better sound, and it’s over.


Blank Dogs

Blank Dogs



Blank Dogs is another band I mean to see before I go home, just missed him a couple of days ago at Beerland, but bought On Two Sides at the table anyway. It’s super fun, echo-distorted, keyboard-heavy, post-punk, more synthetic and along the lines of Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnyman than say, the Fall or Gang of Four. It’s getting pretty packed by now, and I have to slither a little to get close enough for a photo. Mr. Blank Dog is reverbed to the max, his voice echoing like a horror movie soundtrack. He plays a few songs, ending with a really great version of “Leaving the Light On”, and then something technical goes wrong and the set is cut short.


The Ohsees

The Ohsees


That means it’s time for the Ohsees, John Dwyer’s current band (old ones include Pink and Brown, Hospitals and the Coachwhips) out of San Francisco, who totally kill, absolutely the best band of the night. Ohsees started out as kind of a lo-fi blues-folk taping project, much mellower than Coachwhips (almost everything is somewhat mellower than Coachwhips, but this was really toned down). It has evidently evolved into something much more garage-y and hard-rocking. Dwyer is typically, maniacally charming, switching between at least three well-worn guitars, biting down hard on the mic, jumping and twitching and yowling a punk rock blues, trading cracks in reverb-echoed god-voice with Todd P. and generally tearing the shit out of his tunes. For the last song, he invites Kyle from the Fresh and Onlys (also Ty Segall’s drummer on Wednesday) up and sets a two-man drum train, for a monster-chugging, amp-damaged, blues-rock frenzy… fantastic stuff. 


Eat Skull plays next, if anything even better than on Wednesday, the sound sharper so that you can actually hear the words. The singer, Rob Enbom (like Dwyer , ex- of Hospitals), has twisted his ankle, and so performs the whole set sitting on the floor, but it doesn’t seem to slow things down much. In fact the fuzz has cleared a little, and I am getting, for the first time, a little whiff of the Sex Pistols out of this band. Another great set, and by this time, the whole backyard, plus the empty lot next door, plus the parking lot behind the stage, are full of kids, some sitting on top of their cars, some hanging out of trees, some climbing onto the railings around the stage, to hear the music. It’s like a punk rock Woodstock, without the mud, but plenty of broken glass to step over, watch your step.


Woods

Woods


Woods has, by this time, set up on the concrete below the stage. They play a set of mostly fairly ethereal psychedelic pop, with high eerie harmonies and dense New Zealand lo-fi guitars. Then right at the end, they all switch instruments, and the sound turns totally punk. 


Crystal Stilts comes next, a band whose full-length Alight of Night I’ve enjoyed a lot, but I’ve heard, over and over, that they are not very good live, and they are truly not. A muddy wash laps over their slacked-out, early 1980s sound, a drone so dense that you can hardly tell the songs apart. I move closer to the stage and further away, trying to find a spot where I can hear, but it’s all just a mess. Getting colder all the time, too, and I’ve dressed for mid-1980s sunshine. Wavves is coming on next, and after that, No Age, but it’s too crowded to see much anymore, and I wander off, thinking vaguely of checking what’s at Beerland. Once I get there, though, exhaustion and overload takes over, and I hail a cab home. Hate to end on a down note, but there it is, my final band at SXSW 2009.


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009

With two upcoming sold out performances at the Bowery Ballroom, The Airborne Toxic Event (TATE) – a five-piece band from Los Angeles—arrived in New York City to expand their audience base. TATE’s eponymous debut album won acclaim from the NME while U2’s Adam Clayton praised their song “Sometime Around Midnight”, but the audience might have been more familiar with a damning review that bashed the album for basically assimilating the sounds of other major indie acts, provoking controversy but adding overall intrigue to the band’s rock credentials. People could pick a side or take the opportunity to form their own opinions. And yet TATE’s hour long performance on Sunday, the first of two shows, may not have been enough to sway the audience from any preconceived notions.


As TATE took the stage, the opening swells of “Wishing Well”, which could have flowed from the calming currents of Death in Vegas’ “Girls”, turned raucous and roused the crowd. The thrashing guitar riffs of “Papillon” and “Gasoline”, which followed with Strokes-like aplomb, persuaded people to jump and stomp about.


The highlight of the evening was the back-to-back pair of string driven stories that would play well on pop-rock radio. “Sometime Around Midnight”, where singer/guitarist Mikel Jollett practically speaks as the music verges to climax as he gets to release with a roar, and the majestic “Innocence”, which slowly colored the venue with Anna Bulbrook’s soaring violin as the band looked towards the sky.


An encore break after these songs allowed TATE to change up the pace; during “Does this Mean You’re Moving On?” instead of pensive gazing, Bulbrook lead the crowd to clap along before teasing the them with her tambourine and then diving in. The final song allowed people to swarm up to the stage; Jollett got to share his microphone with some guy (whether he wanted to or not) as people danced, jumped off amplifiers, and even made attempts to crowd surf.


Just like the album reviews, the audience gave off mixed vibes. Some obvious fans held their own through the show; one youthful group stood front and center in ecstasy and another girl repeatedly shouted her love to bassist Noah Harmon. Yet several people on the sides and back attempted conversations with little regard to the concert. For me, the show did not bode well for future TATE interest; nothing about it seemed particularly memorable. TATE may prove as ephemeral as cheap chic clothes—flashy, disposable, and out of style fast. But maybe for all their talent, TATE could meld their influences more cohesively, rather than emulate them, and fine-tune it into a sound of their own.


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

I’d been hearing about Black Joe Lewis before I hit Austin, and wanted to make sure to see him. Other shows kept getting in the way, though, so this was my last chance: a 1:00 a.m. set on the last night of the festival. What a way to end the week! Lewis (and his seven-strong Honeybears) delivered a show that felt like a classic R&B/soul revue.  Heavy on horns and guitar, it recalled the up-tempo work of the Stax label, although Lewis added his own touch of Texas blues guitar to the sound. Lewis is a charismatic frontman, working the crowd with ease, exuding flawless cool one moment and launching into moanin’ and groanin’ soul shouter mode the next. It was a fun set, one so charged that it made me forget the exhaustion from four straight days of music, and made me want to start again the next morning.


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

This one was a nice surprise. We’d rolled in to Buffalo Billiards to close out the week with the much-talked about Black Joe Lewis, and ended up getting an opening set from Solange (Beyonce Knowles’ sister). Backed by a funky band and two backup singers, Solange delivered a highly enjoyable R&B/funk show that borrowed heavily from the girl groups of the ‘60s. With her backup singers dancing in unison behind her, Solange cut loose with a dancing style that was part Tina Turner, part Diana Ross, and part vintage Axl Rose. The set slowed down when she performed her MTV-successful modern soul ballad, but for the majority of the set, she was cutting loose (even jumping into the crowd at one point, much to the dismay of her numerous—and large—handlers). Hopefully, Solange won’t be talked into giving up this aspect of her career (although it’s obvious the better money is in slick new-fangled R&B).


 


 


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Monday, Mar 23, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

Former Flat Duo Jets frontman Dexter Romweber has the most played-to-hell guitar I’ve ever seen. The finish is worn off of practically every edge on the instrument, and the paint is bubbling up on the face from presumably countless hours of playing. It’s no surprise, because Romweber is a fiend on the guitar, recalling the glory days of giants like Gene Vincent, Dick Dale, and ‘60s border radio. Backed by his sister Sara Romweber (Let’s Active) flat-out swingin’ on drums, Romweber (in his own guitar-playing world, his back often to the crowd) delivered a solid set of soul-influenced ballads and guitar raveups.


 


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