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Dressed casually, not in their trademark suits, the Avetts delivered a far more relaxed and playful set than their NPR Showcase set the night before. Today, they went deeper into their catalog for songs that emphasized their ragged harmonies (such as the back-and-forth banter of “Distraction #74). Like the previous night, they also played two new (but different) songs. Given the chance to be more rambunctious, the Avett Brothers delivered a highly satisfying set.



The Wrens may take the prize for the most unexpected show of the day, maybe even the whole festival. I haven’t heard every Wrens song, but many of the ones I have heard are dreamy and deliberate. Not today. Today was for a healthy dose of punk spirit.  Bassist/vocalist Kevin Whelan was all over the place, exhorting the crowd to clap along, handing his banged-to-hell and duct-taped bass to crowd members, and jumping off of speakers. There was even some crowd teasing: “We’re going to play a couple of new ones. This does not mean you can go to the bathroom, get a soda, make out, whatever.” Nothing Whelan did could hide the band’s obvious skill, though, even if this was the most unexpectedly aggressive show of the day.



Modern Skirts

Modern Skirts

Meanwhile, at the Flamingo Cantina, Athens, Georgia pop band, the Modern Skirts have deconstructed the drum set, handing out cymbals to one member, snare to another, and bass drum to a third. All together, they are banging, clanking, slamming, bending from the waist in full taiko style, still the song is decidedly pop. Later, they turn to more conventional instruments, guitar, keyboards, and tambourine, but the beat remains very hard and dry, even as singers trade vocal counterpoints and harmonies. It’s not bad, but nothing to write home about.


Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, or, to his mom, Owen Ashworth, takes a while setting up his considerable pile of amps, synthesizers, drum machines, and keyboards, so in the lull, someone from Team Clermont offers ten $100 gift certificates from the Container Store to the best dancers. Not immediately, but not that long after either, the small dance floor is writhing with people, some from bands (Peacedrums), and some just in for the excitement. I personally am not giving up an actual place to sit for a chance at $100 worth of bins, but some people will do anything for a door prize.

So, then, Casiotone starts, and despite my genuine admiration for his short, sharp, story-fragments set to beats, I’m a little disappointed. Part of it is sound. When you have to struggle to make out the lyrics, as you do here, that’s a large part of Casiotone’s charm conceded already. Things pick up when he’s joined by an additional keyboard player—Tyson Thurston from the band Magical Beautiful—who coaxes the tremulous, church organ at the opening to “I Love Creedance”. It’s a lonely, lovely song about a boy struggling with early adulthood, working in an office and pining after a childhood love, its melancholy drawn out with luminous interlocking keyboard parts and braced by a steady beat. The songs are good, often very good, but the performance is unexciting. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is, perhaps, best enjoyed alone, not in concert.



I’m always a little uneasy at a Daniel Johnston show because I’m unsure of the crowd’s motives. Are they there out of sincere appreciation, or for gawking? I certainly believe it’s possible to appreciate Johnston; he definitely appeals to my own desire for straightforward, uncomplicated, disarming connection through music. And in this case, I think the SXSW crowd was genuinely there to hear Johnston. The show started off with two songs by the Hymns, who drip allegiance to ‘60s garage rock. Then, Johnston came out with his notebook of lyrics and performed solo and with another acoustic guitarist.  The Hymns came back on to wrap things up behind Johnston, giving his last couple of songs some bluesy muscle.



The Heavenly States have a song on their most recent record, Delayer, called “Lost in the Light”, and it’s one of those songs that keeps you from hearing the rest of the album because you can’t stop hitting the REPEAT button. A blast of pure rock ‘n’ roll exhilaration. It was good to see that the song, and the rest of the songs the Heavenly States played tonight, lived up to that promise. In a way, the Heavenly States are playing what you’d normally consider indie rock. But it’s amazing what some energy and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude can do. 



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