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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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Sunday, Mar 22, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

Another sunny afternoon, another stroll down South Congress, a wander into the Yard Dog for a beer and to see what’s up and, unexpectedly, it’s Freedy Johnston. Johnston, you might remember, dropped one beautifully wry, understated guitar pop album, one of the best of its kind ever, in This Perfect World in 1994. He’s been making records ever since, seven of them since then and one more on the way, but operates much lower on the radar screen now. His bass player is wearing a shirt that reads “Nobody gives a damn about your band,” and that, unfortunately, about sums it up.


All of which is a shame, because Johnston plays a lovely little set, first goofing during the sound check on the Who’s “Tattoo”, then the rocking “Don’t Fall In Love with a Lonely Girl”, and the e-bowed and eerie “Neon Repairman”.  Those two seem to be new ones, but Johnston dipped back into the catalogue for “This Perfect World”, and, from his recent covers album My Favorite Waste of Time , a lounge-swinging, hard-rhythmed take on “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” 


“I’ve got one more. What song do you want to hear?” asks Johnston at the end, but he already knows the answer. He and his band break out the ruefully perfect, worn, and wonderful “Bad Reputation”. A perfect world, indeed.


 


 


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Sunday, Mar 22, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

Across the highway again, heading east, I’m not really going to Mrs. Bea’s, but I stop in anyway. Mrs. Bea’s has a pretty amazing line-up on Saturday, maybe 20 bands, underground as hell, and half of them names I’ve circled on other showcases and missed. When I get there, the Mexican punk band Los Llamarada is playing its primitive, noise-skronked dissonance, songs that pound over and over on the same keys, same strings, same short (English) phrases. They make the Stooges sound like Mozart in comparison, unadulterated, un-modulated aggression. The guitarist is sitting on the concrete, holding his own ear against the blast of sound, howling into the mic, slamming on the strings. The girl playing keyboards, splays her fingers straight out, banging on one, maybe two, three at most notes, in the most untutored of patterns. Later, she comes to the mic, making snakey, body-bending dance moves and keening short, anguished phrases like “So sorry” and “We’re guilty” over and over again. 


 


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Sunday, Mar 22, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

I caught Freedy Johnston while looking for a beer. Now I’m hungry and I get another chance to see the Uglysuit (who had just finished when I got to the Touch & Go showcase on Friday). They’re playing at Homeslice Pizza, on the back patio, and while there is a disconnect between some bands and brilliant sunshine, no such dissonance intrudes here. That’s because the Uglysuit’s three guitar pop is tailor made for outdoor venues, as expansive and dreamy as, well, a blue-sky Saturday afternoon in Texas. Heck, they even have a song called “And We Became Sunshine”, full of layered, luminous guitar lines and breezy pop choruses that build like high cumulous clouds. There is, admittedly a slight whiff of pot-and-patchouli jamminess in the band’s extended instrumental breaks. You can see how the band’s communal hippie vibe would maybe be too laidback in certain settings… but not here, not today.


 


 


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