Lots of the music at SXSW is about as concentrated as the Coca Cola they sell at the Mohawk… vaguely sweet, see-through watery, and deceptively empty once you discount all the ice. WFMU, one of the oldest and surely the best free-form radio station in the world, doesn’t traffic in that stuff. At their showcase, sponsored with San Francisco’s Aquarius Records, every act on the bill is intense, focused, and compelling. The bands come from lots of genres—spazz punk, metal, alt-country, blues garage, and experimental jam—but they have in common a certain purity of focus and full-body commitment. Nobody here is punching the clock.
Gary War, for instance, on the inside stage, amps his dream-cave-echoing psychedelia, transforming a wavery, illuminative recorded sound (from the excellent Raytheonport) into something denser and more enveloping. Gary War, whose real name is Greg, played for a while with Ariel Pink and another while with cult psych recluse Bobb Trimble, and his songs have the same glistening sheathe of reverb, the same Beach-Boys-through-a-soapy-funhouse-mirror harmonies.
Outside, more mayhem, as the drummer for Prizehog has stripped down to his underwear, the female keyboard player on her knees twisting some sort of knobbery, and an unholy sheets-of-noise racket streaming out of the amps. Metal-ish, but not really metal, Prizehog allows long, sustained guitar tones to mutate into space echos and buzz, doom-ish chants to build in slow, nightmarish ritual.
XYX, from Mexico, is a frenetic, bass-drums duo, fritzed out with angsty, Lightning Bolt-ish aggression, but with the added attraction of Senorita Anhelo, the female bass player, who chants and shouts and ululates like the Latin chapter of OOIOO. Her drummer, Mou, is pretty fantastic, too, all clash and clatter and boxy, sticks-up propulsion. “Anel and Her Problem” is straight-out, shout-punk, but other cuts venture into experimental and improv-type sounds. Great stuff.
Everybody in Wildildlife has huge hair, the drummer with his waist-length dreads, the Tad-shirted bass player and curly-haired guitarist, both sporting extravagant, biker-man manes. But the thing is, you need hair for this kind of music, hair to toss in slo-mo, large-scale head nods, hair to hang down over your face as you slam down another power chord, hair longer than a girl’s but twice as menacing, as you lay down pound after pound after pound of ear-splitting, mind-melting metal. All those guys standing in line at Stubb’s for Metallica in Guitar Hero shirts should put down their text messaging and hear this.