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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly
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.


 


 


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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

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.


 


 


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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

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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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Photos: Jennifer Kelly

Enough so so music; life is short. I head to Beerland again. The chalkboard outside is heavy on Siltbreeze bands, the noise-monster label from Philadelphia and the driving force behind shit-gaze. There’s Pink Reason near the dinner hour, and Naked on the Vague in the afternoon, and that’s good, because I’ve been kicking myself about choosing a big label showcase (Secretly Canadian et al) over Siltbreeze and Post-Present Medium (Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko) for tonight’s evening entertainment. Plus, I’m starting to feel like a regular. The guy at the door doesn’t want to see my ID anymore, just waves me in.


Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus


My eyes adjust to the dark, and there’s Zola Jesus on stage, wailing like a banshee. (The tagline on her MySpace, coincidentally, is “fear the banshee”.) Zola Jesus is a striking presence in every way, from her long Morticia Adams black hair, to her spectral keen, a little of priestess-style Jarboe, a little skewed blues Carla Bozulich, and a bit of the extended sound palette of Yma Sumac. Zola Jesus is primarily one woman, Nika Roza Danilova, but for this performance she’s backed by fellow Wisconsin native Dead Luke, who elicits spooky, static, netherworld atmospheres from Korg, Casio, and other keyboards.


Factums

Factums


Crossing Fruit Bats with Intelligence sounds like some sort of weird Mendelian experiment, but it’s actually how Factums, from Seattle, were formed. That folky gene from Fruit Bats is apparently a recessive one, because this band’s post-Ubu, Chrome-plated clank and drone resembles the Intelligence and A-Frames more than any laid-back Americana trip. Drummer Matthew Ford drives clattering, lurching, robot-gone-feral grooves. He sings from the back, in hollowed-out, alienated tones while a storm of keyboard infected feedback, viscous bass slides, all out effects-pedaled frenzies litters the foreground. Bleak, stunning, and powerful.


Naked on the Vague

Naked on the Vague


Naked on the Vague, from Australia, is next, a dissonance churning, industrially distorted duo of keyboard mayhemist Lucy Phelan and bassist/guitarist Matthew Hopkins. Their aptly named Blood Pressure Sessions, out last year on Siltbreeze, pitted the cold mechanisms of drum machine beats against undulating waves of Dead C-ish noise. Here, Phelan howls and wails and intones “try, try, try” as she full-body-bobs over the keyboard, Hopkins all bent intensity beside her. Think of the shape-shifting, dream vocals of, say, Bardo Pond, bludgeoned by noise, pulsed through with techno drums, chaotic, unfathomable, overwhelming, a fabulous trainwreck in progress, and you can’t look away for a second.


 


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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Photos: James Edward Crittendon

One of the obvious benefits and pleasures of SXSW is stumbling across enjoyable bands while you’re waiting to see someone else. Today, it was the Donkeys, who were making their SXSW debut. I can’t speak for the record, but live, they offered up some classic, chiming guitar pop with an amiability that brought to mind a band like Guster. The drummer had, by his own admission, overdone it the night before, but like a pro, he soldiered on. Some confusion resulted when they reached the end of the set sooner than expected, but they managed to wrangle one more song out of the soundman.


 


 


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