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

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 18, 2013
If a dive bar, tiny stage, and light beer couldn't phase this Seattle septet, nothing could.

The setting: A dive bar near the corner of Trinity and 6th streets in downtown Austin, Texas, that goes by the name The Jackalope. On the wall rests pictures of well-endowed topless women offering up various suggestive expressions that ultimately make the images appear more cartoonish than exploitive. In the back corner, a tiny stage rests in a dimly lit section of the establishment that makes 4:30 in the afternoon appear like 1:50 in the morning. The spot reserved for live performances would be generous for a duo, yet nearly impossible for a trio, and the atmosphere that surrounds the bar itself is suited perfectly for some type of street-punk showcase that would result in broken tables, pool cues, beer mugs and bones.


A seven-piece soft-rock outfit that includes two string players, an accordionist, and a singer who has a voice that could easily be mistaken for Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard? Not so much.


But that’s what happened Thursday afternoon as part of the South By Southwest music festival when the Seattle indie outfit Hey Marseilles took the stage at The Jackalope, two of its members reduced to spilling out into the crowd because of how tight the quarters were. And despite the awkwardness of the setting, the tattooed clientele, and the audible barroom conversation that at times drowned out the quiet rock coming from the stage, the septet still managed to succeed in earning and keeping the attention of the small crowd that gathered to check them out.


“This was kind of tough,” lead singer Matt Bishop told me with a smile after the group’s set. “But we’ll be on the road for a while, so hopefully you’ll come see us again.”


He had no real reason to worry. Leaning almost exclusively on their recent LP, Lines We Trace, Hey Marseilles proved why an organization such as National Public Radio has taken so kindly to them over the last few years – their sound is original enough to deem interesting, yet familiar enough to attract first-time listeners. Their latest record is no different. From the pulsating, expansive nature of their current single, “Bright Stars Burning”, to the orchestral, Beatles-esque “Dead Of Night”, Hey Marseilles exudes sophistication because of both Bishop’s astute voice and his players’ intelligent approach to songwriting.


That precise highfalutin element essentially carried these seven guys over the finish line Thursday, even as the drinkers continued to yell and the light beer continued to be poured. It was a type of maturity that didn’t once cross the line into pretention, a curious yet difficult feat of which each member in the band should be abundantly proud. It’s hard enough to set yourself apart during a week dedicated to finding needles in endless haystacks, but with their wit, charm, and talent, Hey Marseilles somehow pulled it off with strikingly professional ease.


Maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. Not because I didn’t believe in them, per se; rather, it was because of how seamless the entire production felt. These are not the things that make a great band – these are the things that make a resilient band. Luckily for Hey Marseilles, they needn’t worry about competence. And after spending some time taking in a short set in the middle of the mayhem that is South By Southwest Thursday afternoon, it became abundantly clear that sustainability also shouldn’t be an issue for these guys any time soon.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Mar 18, 2013
In a year where social media was an afterthought at SXSW, what really mattered? Space exploration, that's what.

Last year the big news of SXSW was ambient geo-location. A half a dozen startups tried to convince us that we wanted friends and even strangers to find us wherever and whenever, without us having to push a button or swipe a screen. Our mobile phones would be our aura, ever available and connectable, and constantly scanning our proximities for other auras. Glancee, Highlight, Sonar and other forgotten companies competed for room on our smartphones and showered us with swag. The universe of SXSW was built on connecting the dots of people, and these start-ups were the talk of the town. In past years Twitter and Foursquare had their coming out parties at SXSW, creating a precedent for highly anticipated social applications.


This year, there’s nothing comparable. Vine was released shortly before SXSW and, although it got heavy usage to document and share video, there wasn’t any official presence. There were little launches but nothing that carried the title of next-big-thing like past social launches.


Tagged as: sxsw, sxsw 2013
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Mar 15, 2013
Holy Ghost People takes viewers on a trip through a snake-handling church in the heart of the Appalachian mountains as a young woman attempts to discover what happened to her sister with the help of a downtrodden, alcoholic ex-Marine.

Mitchell Altieri’s Holy Ghost People is billed as a psychological thriller set deep in the Appalachian mountains. The film is a sometimes-hypnotic journey into a snake-handling church hidden from modern, mainstream society. Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) and Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) attempt to infiltrate the church to rescue Charlotte’s sister, who she believes is hidden somewhere on the mountain. It’s an eerie film that touches on the relationship between power and religion, especially in communities largely populated by those who have somehow been shunned or tossed out of polite society.


Sometimes called holy rollers, the religious community that Altieri has chosen for his film is very real. Some of the footage in Holy Ghost People seems to be borrowed from Peter Adair’s 1967 documentary of the same name. The mix of the largely ethnographic old, black and white footage with Altieri’s storyline is compelling but also psychologically disturbing. It makes a movie that we might otherwise be able to dismiss as not very realistic seem a lot more accurate. As Charlotte and Wayne travel into the heart of the Church of One Accord, they meet the congregation’s leader, Brother Billy (Joe Egender). They also meet a trouble woman, Sister Sheila (Cameron Richardson), who seems to be hiding in the community more than she is reveling in religious ecstasy.


Tagged as: sxsw, sxsw 2013
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 14, 2013
Carlos Puga's first feature-length film since The S1gnificance of Se7eventeen is a thoughtful family drama that invites contemplation and deserves praise for its excellent ensemble cast.

Before we go any further, I have to confess something: Burma wasn’t on my original SXSW to-do list. It wasn’t even on the second revision of the list. Nothing about it jumped out at me. In fact, the only reason I went to see Burma at all was because I badly needed dinner and it was being shown at the Alamo, which just happens to offer full, in-your-seat food service. Seeing Burma was really just an accident.


And what a happy accident it was. Carlos Puga’s film is an emotionally heady family drama that takes on how we related to each other, and how sometimes we are least able to see clearly those who are closest to us. The film starts with a fairly basic premise: Dr. Lynn (Christopher McCann) returns to tell his adult children something nine years after abandoning them along with his dying wife. The range of emotions felt by siblings Christian (Christopher Abbott), Susan (Gaby Hoffman) and Win (Dan Bittner) seems a bit stereotypical at first. Okay, it’s a family drama with all the attendant sibling issues. However, as Burma progresses, so much more comes to the surface.


Tagged as: sxsw, sxsw 2013
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Mar 14, 2013
Short films are often put aside or overlooked as the appetizers of the film world. The shorts program at SXSW, however, is full of tasty gems that deserve to be seen.

Short films and documentaries are often treated like the wicked stepchildren of their full-length counterparts by cinema buffs. Animated shorts perhaps get a little more leeway because they are more familiar to most viewers—but they are still regarded as just a way to entertain the audience before a movie, not as a legitimate, central event in and of themselves. Maybe it’s because bad shorts can be really bad; there aren’t brilliant moments to excuse the lackluster ones. Or maybe people believe that they can’t get lost in a short in the same way that they can get lost in a feature film.


Whatever the problem is, I’m hell-bent on telling the world that shorts are worthwhile. It’s something that the folks behind your favorite films know. A great deal of them started out in short films. If you’re still skeptical about the medium or have had disappointing experiences with shorts, try my top picks from this year’s SXSW shorts program.


Tagged as: sxsw, sxsw 2013
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.