Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly
Micachu and the Shapes at Mrs. Bea's

Micachu and the Shapes at Mrs. Bea’s


Anni Rossi

Anni Rossi


It’s a hot afternoon, sun beating down on the concrete behind Mrs. Bea’s bar on 6th Street, east of the Highway. Todd P., the NYC promoter, has a very strong bill of female and partly female acts, starting with Anni Rossi, a classically trained violist recently signed to 4AD. Rossi, performing with a drummer, plays a percussive, twitchy kind of fiddle, eliciting as many clicks and scratches and blurts from her instrument as sustained tones. Still when she pulls the bow against the strings, she pulls hard. It’s a rough, scraping sound, but also a bit of baroque. Her singing, by contrast, has a folk-ish lilt, lifting in airy slides and pouring in spurts through the interstices in violin, like Suzanne Vega accompanied by bits of a Bach cantata. Her own songs turn metaphors about beekeepers in the Himalayas and glaciers into allegories above life and love, but she is not above the common touch. Mid-set she is singing something about “I see lies in the eyes of a stranger,” banging on the strings with the flat of her bow, and unless she told you, which she does, you would never know it was an Ace of Base cover.


Forever

Forever


Forever, out of Portland, pulls up in the van less than an hour before their set, having driven 36 hours straight from the West Coast and, along the way, rescued TacocaT, playing later on the bill, whose van has broken down in Phoenix. They are goofy tired, slaphappy really, but that’s rock ‘n’ roll. A blistering fast, freight-train drum beat begins their set, a mix of riot grrrl, cow punk, and rockabilly, the heavy-set singer trading harmonies with her equally substantial bass player. Every so often the guitar player whips out a Chuck Berry-ish, old-time rocker solo, and the drummer keeps a ferocious pace, even though one particularly rapid snare/kick-drum pattern eludes him the first time through—he shakes his head, shrugs his shoulders, and gets it right the second time.


Micachu and the Shapes

Micachu and the Shapes


One of the oddest—and most fascinating—bands on this bill comes next with Micachu and the Shapes. Mica Levi, slight, shorthaired, ear-ringed and androgynous, tunes a toy orange guitar, wired with red cables to extreme volume. A drummer with a conventional kit and a keyboard player set up on the tarmac next to her. Levi, who has just released Jewelry on Rough Trade, is apparently heavily influenced by Harry Patch’s home-constructed instruments and fascination with microtones. Her music stutters and lurches over off-kilter, off-timed beats, sing-song-y blurts of melody couched in rickety constructions of rhythm. I write down “ESG via Yoko Ono” and “Devo” in my notebook, but that’s not quite right, there’s a bit of early punk and experimental music, but also a fair amount of hip-hop spliced in as well. For “Lips”, Levi switches to a more conventional guitar, but slips her airline boarding pass (I think) under the strings for a strangled, jittery tone. For “Hardcore”, the keyboard girl gets the orange guitar—using her hotel keycard (again, I think) for a pick—and she and Levi face each other, inches away, singing “ah, ah, ah” at each other. It’s a strange and lovely moment, awkward rhythms and off-tuned melodies coalescing into the real-est, purest kind of human contact. This was genius stuff, hard to grasp and not really suited for hot patios and beery afternoons, but I’d like to hear more, a lot more.


Micachu and the Shapes

Micachu and the Shapes


TacocaT

TacocaT


TacocatT, from Seattle, is pure fun, the band’s day-glo orange-haired singer, Emily, in constant motion, bouncing, swiveling, pounding a tambourine. They are mostly girls (Eric, the lone guy, plays guitar), so all kinds of topics that simply do not come up in boy punk—wearing leotards, urinary tract infections, and buying too-small jeans—are fair game. There’s a Mats cover (“Beer for Breakfast”) and one from Bikini Kill, and also a song about getting high on the lip of a volcano. Emily introduces “Ex-Con Mom” as a song about how drummer Leelah’s mom got over prison, and hands the mic to her blonde, Daniel-Johnston-shirted drummer. Super fun stuff.


Coathangers

Coathangers


I’ve been liking the CoathangersScramble all month (it’s out April 7 on Suicide Squeeze), so they were maybe the main reason I’d crossed six lanes of highway to get to Mrs. Beas. Out of Atlanta, this all-woman foursome, makes a jittery, estrogen-infused post-punk that will remind you of Delta 5 and ESG at its most austere and Pylon and the B-52 when it gets pop. “Stop Stomp Stomping’”, which they play first, is a little bit of both, a rickety keyboard line threaded through all girl chants and shouts. There’s a pink-haired troll doll enshrined on one amp, striking the perfect balance between cute and ugly. Much like the band, whose most acidic putdowns are embedded in party-ready beats and snagged with hooks. “I just want to tell you / I’m going to break your fucking face,” sings Julia Kugel, playfully, jokingly, but I’d get out of her way, if I were you.


Eat Skull

Eat Skull


After the Coathangers, I’m off to Beerland for the Can’t Stop the Bleeding showcase. Eat Skull, the noise pop band from Portland, is first, hawking its thrashy, trashy, echo-encased, fuzz-busted sound. They start with “Beach Brains”, a manic dive through punk turbulence glazed with black-ice sheen. “Stick to the Formula” with its “ay, ay, ay” shouts is even more urgent and, somehow, more pop, its melody locatable under masses of fuzzy sound. Rob Enborn, who sings, is the least stolid member of the band, his eyes rolling up, hands clutching, body spasming as he shout-sings. Unlike in other bands, though, he stays back on the stage (and back in the mix). The bass player, Scott Simmons, is front and center, picking fast and loud and heavy low-end, and even the guitarist, who never makes eye contact, is closer to the front than Enborn. It’s a metaphor, maybe, for the way that Eat Skull communicates, burying its song structured, melodic impulses behind a wall of inchoate sound, forcing you to reach back to find the heart of its music.


Then I’m over at Red 7, wandering around aimlessly, looking at people’s badges, trying to find a place to sit (forget it, SXSW is all about standing), wondering whether I know any of the people around me by email. I catch the very end of Xrabit + DMG$ (pronounced “Damaged Goods”), a Texan dual MC outfit with a new album out on Big Dada. It’s a frenetic, hectic set, shirtless Trak Bully dropping to the floor, pounding the beat with his hands held high, dancing chest to chest with the people in the audience, then leaping up to the stage again, as Cool Dundee, the other MC, urges him on. Fantastic energy… I wish I’d seen more, but I get there just as it finishes.


Turbofruits

Turbofruits



Back to Beerland for Turbofruits, which is Jonas Stein and John Eatherly from Be Your Own Pet, plus bass player Max Peebles. They start with “Volcano”, my personal favorite, with its heavy Sabbath-y riff and accelerating punk-crazed energy. Peebles, who is wearing a Motorhead shirt, injects a bit of hard classic rock into the band’s sound… it’s far less spazz-punk and more straight ahead rock than Be Your Own Pet. He also supplies most of the visual interest, not as frantic as Jemima Pearl certainly, but trying a respectable number of lunches, jump kicks, windmills, and other rock star moves in an otherwise fairly static performance.


The Homosexuals

The Homosexuals


Last year, you had to see the Homosexuals at SXSW, because this Clash-era, art-damaged, unjustly forgotten band hadn’t played in 30-plus years and maybe never would again. Well, surprise, they’re back, or rather he’s back, Mr. Bruno Wizard, the singer backed by a band that he insists is better than the old late 1970s edition. They are, quite good, and Wizard is in great form, stalking the stage like a caged tiger, making various observations on life and love and sex and drugs (he is, apparently, living clean now), and performing the wonderfully jittery, oddly structured, manically intense material from the Homosexuals’ brief flowering—“Hearts in Exile”, “My Night Out”, and “News from Nairobi” among them. He dedicates one song to his original bass player, now dead 30 years, his throat slit on the street, Wizard says, “Just because he was Asian.” Linking that, somehow, to departed president W. and new president Obama, he is restless, non-linear, sparking with intelligence… just like his songs. What the hell, if he stays this on, I’d see him next year, too.


 


Ty Segall

Ty Segall



By this point, I’m getting dizzy from not eating, so I take off for a bite. When I come back, Endless Boogie is playing inside, but it’s full, so I just hear them from a distance. But this is okay, because Ty Segall is setting up outside. Segall’s self-titled has been on heavy play at my house for months, and if it were not a late-last year release, would be a shoo-in for top ten 2009. On the record, and in shows up to now, Segall’s been a one-man phenomenon, taking his fractured, frantic, rockabilly-garage-punk to the people with one hand on a guitar, one foot on the bass drum and a mic. For this appearance, though, the San Francisco native has an actual band, a drummer, and a bass player. His show is still pretty stripped down, however, from the staccato-strummed, string-busting, cave-echoing “Drag” to the rockabilly rave-up of “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly)” to the eerie haunted narcotic spookiness of “Watching You”. By the time he finishes, with new single “It”, there’s a crowd gathered on the sidewalk, and why not? It’s the best thing I’ve seen all day.


 


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly
Michna

Michna


The Mohawk has what seems, on paper, like a really interesting juxtaposition. On the patio, a heavy dose of R&B and soul, inside, the experimental hip-hop and electronic of Anticon and Ghostly labels. Nothing doing on the hipster side when I get there, but NeckBone, an Austin based funk and hip-hop band has taken over the patio stage, so I watch for a little bit. Neckbone has got three singers, a couple of keyboard players, a drummer a guitarist and one hell of a bass player, digging in for funky slap and pop. During a break, the singer, who has a little chip on his shoulder about musical popularity, says that his bass player, who is blind, plays 17 instruments. “If a guy who can play 17 instruments without seeing them, can’t get paid in this industry,” he says, “We’ve got to take it back.” Good point, Neckbone’s slow, funk grooves are exactly the kind of thing that crate diggers are always borrowing beats from, but which never seem to get much respect on their own. I’m looking for backpack hip-hop types in the audience, out looking for another breakbeat, but the audiences at the two venues seem to be sharply separated.


Restiform Bodies

Restiform Bodies


Inside, Restiform Bodies, has gotten going. David Bryant, in sunglasses inside at night, is spitting out long, complicated strings of verbiage, wading out into the crowd as far as the mic cord will allow, and bobbing up and down, side to side, swinging his arms like a track athlete. Behind him, Matt Valerio hovers over an array of electronic keyboards, laptops and synthesizers, huge blots of sub bass overlaid by percolating, synth popcorn. “It’s all too much, it’s all too much,” Bryant chants, leaning in and away from the audience, before launching into another pop-culture redolent tirade that speeds along recklessly, somehow hitting the rhymes in all the right spots. Later, Valerio straps on a tom tom and pulls out a snare, adding an organic layer of percussion to the synth wavery beat. Sweat is pouring off both Bryant and Valerio, as this is clearly not just, or even primarily, an intellectual exercise. There is a physical stress and strain to making big beats and twisted rhymes, heavy lifting alongside mental gymnastics.


 


Michna

Michna


Michna next, out of Brooklyn, has the most complicated set-up I’ll see all night, three television sets and a big screen, a turntable, a drum set, two electronic deck/keyboards, a trombone, a saxophone, a fog machine and laser lights. The band, and it really is a band, is led by DJ Adrian Michna, plays an intriguing blend of hip-hop, jazz, downtempo, and rock, always blurring the lines between organic and electronic instrumentation, between sampled recordings and live improvisation. Everything is anchored by a steady rock beat, a live sound that meshes in interesting ways with the glitches and bleeps of synthetic instruments. Occasionally, Michna breaks off from his deck to hold up the trombone, coaxing out long, jazzy crescendos, and his partner does the same with sax. The show is quite visual, with a stream of images feeding into the television sets and green and white laser beams striking through the fog. Towards the end, Michna asks if anyone wants to play the video game Pole Position, and for the next few minutes, his band’s trippy, half-free, half-locked in music is accompanied by the visual of a car driving through videogame curves, occasionally crashing. It’s a fitting metaphor, I think, for the element of the unexpected, of human choice, within the boundaries of electronic space.


 


 


Tagged as: sxsw
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

The NPR Showcase definitely stands as one of the festival’s marquee events. There’s been some grumbling here and there that NPR is like an old man trying to act hip to what the kids are into, when all it really wants to do is scream, a la Abe Simpson, “I’m an old man. I hate everything but Matlock!” But whatever their motives, you can’t argue with the results…


I thought Ladyhawke‘s performance was fairly revelatory. From the moment the dance beats began pummeling us, Ladyhawke’s set was a vibrant mix of skeleton-rattling bass, skittery funk chords, and washes of keyboards. To my ears, the band did a much better job of connecting than they have on record. 


If Ladyhawke represented the crowd’s chance to dance and get down (when they weren’t heads-down twittering or updating their Facebook statuses), then the Heartless Bastards were all business with loud, grinding alt-country/garage rock. Songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Erika Wennerstrom led the band through songs from their recent record, The Mountain and seemed right at home on the stage at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q.


 


One thing about Stubb’s. The stage is set in this large earthen hollow. Boxed in by the venue’s large wrought-iron gate and a ring of walls and outer buildings, it looks like a giant chicken-yard where the chickens have scratched away everything living. When civilization falls, the Stubb’s amphitheatre will be where the rulers of Austin hold their mutant gladiator fights. The Avett Brothers seemed right at home (granted, though, you could put those four in an Intel clean room and they’d manage to stomp dust out of the floor). Playing an abbreviated set that mixed new songs with old, the band was reasonably subdued. With their set clocking in at roughly thirty minutes, they wouldn’t have had much time to get into full-flight punk/bluegrass mode, anyway. The new songs, from their upcoming Rick Rubin-produced major label debut, sounded strong and even added a piano into the mix. It should at least comfort fans who were afraid the band would lose their “Avettness” (apart from Seth Avett losing his hillbilly beard).


 


If the surroundings weren’t quite where you’d expect to find the Decemberists, they quickly grabbed the night as their own by performing their new record, The Hazards of Love, in its entirety. Hazards is a concept album in the classic sense, telling the tale of Margaret, a young girl who must face rakish men, treacherous plants, and devious woodland royalty. It’s a beast of an album, and lead singer Colin Meloy commits to it fully, swinging from fey British folk to heavy metal roar as his story demands, exhibiting a willingness to include a forest queen that would make 2112-era Rush blush. This is drama on a grand scale, sounding like it takes place in the woods outside of Sweeney Todd’s neighborhood. The seven-piece band of multi-instrumentalists did a fantastic job of replicating the record. Meloy’s backup singers—one dressed in a white diaphonous robe for the role of Margaret, the other in a tight black dress in the role of the Queen—roared through their parts, and “The Rake’s Song” became an instant highlight when five members of the band attacked it with synchronized drumming.


 


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

Former Hüsker Dü member Grant Hart took the small deck/stage at Creekside Lounge to deliver a short set consisting of just him and an electric guitar. Quite frankly, he didn’t look well, with a bandanna over his head and an ashen complexion. But that’s just idle speculation, and his songs were as strong as they ever were, displaying Hart’s longtime fondness for ‘50s and ‘60s style rock hooks and making you remember what a vital contribution he made to Hüsker Dü’s legacy. The crowd was of a decent size, and devoted, and Hart seemed to recognize the bond between himself and his fans, even taking a couple of requests.


 


 


Tagged as: grant hart, sxsw
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

Joe Pug’s making some waves right now in singer-songwriter circles with soaring, confessional fare like “I Do My Father’s Drugs”. Live, his mix of Dylanesque singing, John Prine-style finger-picking, and Springsteen-like guitar movements, made for an interesting folk performance. The room was a little echoey, despite being full of people downing free beer, but Pug held his own, maintaining the forcefulness that makes his debut EP such a strong listen.


 


 


Tagged as: joe pug, sxsw
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.