Music Days 1 & 2: Rabid Blues-Punk, Americana, and a Whole Lot of Crooning

[16 March 2008]

By Kevin Pearson and Jennifer Kelly

 

Belles of the Ball | Honorable Mentions | Nice Try, Guys | Bathroom Breaks

 

BELLES OF THE BALL

 

FATAL FLYING GUILLOTEENS @ Mohawk Patio

Fatal Flying Guilloteens, out of Houston, play an adrenalized, distorted, explosive kind of garage-punk blues that’s a little scary even on record. On stage, though, it’s unstoppable, brutal, violent…and pretty damned great. Not ten seconds into the show, frontman Mike Bonilla plummets into the audience, clutching two mics, eyes rolled up into his head as the crowd (luckily mostly large men at the front) pushes him back onto the stage. A few seconds later, he’s on stage in three-quarters of a backbend, his skinny body buffeted by the giant, distorted waves of sound coming off the amp. By the second song, he has climbed to the top of a pile of amps, the stack visibly teetering as he whoops and howls, head slammed up against the tent awning from a height of maybe ten feet. And really, the whole band is just as crazy, erupting into wild, siren-like blasts of pure guitar, cranking jittery, loud-as-jesus bass lines, and coming to screeching, annihilating dead stops. (JK)

 

MEGAFAUN @ The Hideout

Akron/Family’s Miles Seaton tipped me off to these guys, a North Carolina trio of unclassifiables who weave traditional folk (there’s a banjo in play), African rhythms, finger-picked blues, and even a little pop into their heterogeneous tunes. Oddball but fabulous, their tight harmonies and traditional instruments make some of their tunes sound like outtakes from O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Still, there’s a deep, goofy weirdness that sets them off from real folk. For instance, at one point, Megafaun decide that they need a backup choir, so they divide the crowd into three groups, assign each a note from a chord, and suddenly, we’re all singing in three-part harmony. It’s the kind of headlong, friendly optimism that’s hard to say no to, and it’s fun. Don’t all of us music writers secretly wish we could play or sing anyway? (JK)

 
Joe Ely / Photo by Jennifer Kelly

Joe Ely / Photo by Jennifer Kelly

JOE ELY @ Austin Television Studios

Joe Ely, a legendary Texas singer/songwriter, starts with “Letter to Laredo”, just his voice and the guitar at first, the guitar eventually thickening from a few splayed chords into more rhythmic strumming, the voice a wonderful, rough-edged instrument, well-worn-in and tested, but supple around the edges. Then, as the song goes on, Joel Guzman joins in, and if the accordion has in Guzman’s own set been an instrument of pure joy, now it turns sad and thoughtful. Then it’s time for “All That You Need”, a bipolar sort of song where the verse is full of tragic images and the chorus full of triumph. For the last song, Ely calls Texas songwriter Ryan Bingham up to the stage to join him in Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner”. They switch off on vocals, Bingham growling out the sad verses in his sandpapery blues style, and Ely kicking in the more optimistic ones in a lighter, more melodic style. Meanwhile, Guzman, off to one side, adds sad flourishes and, at one point, elicits the sound of a truck horn from his red accordion. (JK)

 

THE FELICE BROTHERS @ Opal Divine’s Firehouse

Almost by accident, I walk into a show by a buzz-heavy alt.country band at an out-of-the-way bar on far west Sixth Street. Felice Brothers are an Americana-type band out of the Catskills, with a fiddle player who switches to washboard (actually an old wooden chair), the usual guitar/bass/drums, and a massively built accordion player who, today, is resplendent in a black cowboy hat and western vest. They launch into an exuberant mélange of roots rock, country, blues, and Cajun music that is almost like sunshine itself.  The vibe is loose and goofy and possibly a little bit loaded, and the accordion player introduces a song saying, “This is a song called ‘I’m Saved.’ It ain’t true, but it’s a good song.” And indeed it is, a down-and-out look at salvation that somehow rhymes “stealin’” with “tequila”. Their songs are about hardship, making do, failure, and broken families, and yet, they have a rollicking heft to them, as if we will all get through this, somehow, some way. (JK)

 

THE YOUNG REPUBLIC @ Latitude 30

The Young Republic are befitting of their name. They amble onstage looking like extras from Kid Nation, all threadbare clothes and sweet, cherubic faces. With eight members and instruments as varied as steel guitar, flute, and violin, they’re either going to be wonderful or terrible, I initially think, and am delighted to report they’re the former. Their style is stunningly divergent, yet cohesively held together. “Girl from the Northern States” expertly borrows from early Belle and Sebastian, while the song that follows steals from Pavement’s faux-country styling (they even mention ‘gold sounds’ in the lyrics). “Idiot Grin” starts off as early ’80s English new wave, while their final song of the set mixes all their disparate styles together to great effect. While other bands who utilize this hodge-podge approach often fail to pull it off, The Young Republic makes each song its own, using genres as creative stepping stones for its own musical outpourings.

The star of the show, undoubtedly, is frontman Julian Saporit, who has the ability to begin the set sounding like Stuart Murdoch and finish it bellowing his way through a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Isis”. As a group, the Young Republic are rollicking and rolling, sweet and sincere, slightly angry yet achingly heartfelt—sentiments summed up by Saporit when he tells us, “Love each other and rock out.” As the name suggests, the Young Republic are a fledgling band—pledge your allegiance now. (KP)

 

FRIGHTENED RABBIT @ Emo’s Annex

These two brothers from Scotland made one of last year’s scruffiest, most endearing pop records, full of rackety drums and anguished romantic cries. They’ve been accumulating members since. In addition to core guitarist/singer Scott Hutchison and his brother and drummer, Grant Hutchison, who started Frightened Rabbit, the band now sports an extra guitarist and bass player. It’s still the two brothers who make the show, grunting and grimacing and straining to deliver their mostly new songs. They play their instruments like they’d like to destroy them, Scott slashing away at his six-string, Grant punishing his drumheads without mercy. The first three songs are from Heads Roll Off, their new album out on FatCat, but they slip in a few from the debut (“Square One”, “Be Less Rude”), closing with the frantic, wonderful, jaggedy-sweet “The Greys”.  Who needs the blues when you’ve got Frightened Rabbit? (JK)

 

THESE NEW PURITANS @ Emo’s Outside Stage

By the time These New Puritans finish their set, with the bass player playing percussion, his arms entangled with the drummer as if performing a wedding toast with drum sticks, I have gone from apathy to awe. Like their name suggests, this English four-piece certainly looks puritanical, what with their close-cropped hair and angelic, clean-shaven faces. Even the lone girl in the group, standing at the back and playing keyboards, is unadorned and dressed in pale colors. Collectively, they look like they might have needed their parents to sign a permission slip for this field trip.

Maybe they did; this is their first show on American soil. The sound they purvey firmly fits into the post-punk, dance-punk pigeonhole that skittering drums and angular guitars grant access to. But These New Puritans actually work best as a band when layering beats and feedback, slowly building from them, utilizing their post-punk sensibility while firmly entrenching it in the avant-garde and off-kilter as well. While their music is crisp and clear, lyrically they are indecipherable, if just as jarring. Utilizing dueling vocals that are part spoken, part shouted, and only sometimes sung, the two front “men” (I use that word liberally) spit their words out with a youthful vitriol that makes me want to know what they’re saying. Theirs is a disaffected demeanor that, despite their clean-cut looks, suggests These New Puritans are anything but. (KP)

 

DAN LE SAC VS. SCROOBIUS PIP @ Wave Rooftop

In a perfect world, pamphlets containing Scroobius Pip’s lyrics would be dropped on all nations. During “Thou Shalt Always Kill”, he declares (while holding a bible) “thou shalt not read the NME,” and “thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover.” He’s part insightful, part playful; part preacher, part teacher. For a band bereft of any real stage presence—the only instrument is a Mac—this London-based duo puts on the best show of SXSW so far. Mixing electro beats and samples (including a Radiohead riff), Dan Le Sac provides the backing for Scroobius Pip’s inner monologues, which mix rap and hip hop with Beat poetry; he even performs one song a cappella.

While the songs, which veer from hard-hitting beats to lolloping, piano-accentuated ballads, are strong enough to carry the band on record, it’s the live environment in which they excel. Scroobius Pip, despite his general anonymity on the streets of Austin, is already a star. He carouses into character for certain songs, at various points donning glasses and a tie, unfurling a poster of the periodic table, and sitting at a desk like a news reporter. But it’s his lyrics, which shift from sarcastic to serious to earnestly sincere, that make this duo so important. Towards the end of “Thou Shalt Always Kill”, he declares that the Beatles and several other acts, including The Pixies and Nirvana, were “just bands.” It’s a stirring statement. I’m sure they would disagree, but Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip is more than just a band. (KP)

 

PHOSPHORESCENT @ Mohawk Outdoor Stage

“Can you guys on the sidewalk hear me?” inquires Matthew Houck, who records as Phosphorescent, to the gathering crowd still waiting to get in. “We’ll do our best to drag our feet a little more,” he adds. It’s hard to see how he could. Backed by a three-piece band, Houck’s haunting songs are slow already—drawn out, yes, but never dull. They stretch and soar, stirring up eerie atmospherics that evoke memories good and bad. With Will Oldham edging ever more towards traditional country arrangements, film roles, and Kayne West videos, Phosphorescent seems primed to take over the mantle of the cracked, country crooner for the hipster cognoscenti. While Houck’s voice does bear an uncanny resemblance to Oldham’s, his songs have a more magical, otherworldly feel. In the live setting, it’s a reverential timelessness that they capture, producing a cacophony of sound and swelling sentiments under a ceiling of stars. If there really is a stairway to heaven, I hope these songs soundtrack every last step. (KP)

Honorable Mentions

 

Belles of the Ball | Honorable Mentions | Nice Try, Guys | Bathroom Breaks

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

MIKE FARRIS @ Antone’s

Mike Farris is a musical map. His area of expertise is the Mississippi Delta, but I suspect he also likes to get in his truck on occasion and dart off wherever he pleases. With a ten-piece backing band, including horns and female backing singers, Farris’ performance is the most professional I have seen so far. It’s also one of the most heartfelt. Farris sings it like he’s lived it. Perhaps he has. While his songs fall under the general umbrella of Americana (this is, after all, the Americana Association showcase), he localizes each song through a variety of instrumentation. New Orleans horns, honky-tonk Nashville piano, Memphis soul, bluesy Delta guitar licks, and Southern gospel vocals all augment his already full-bodied acoustic-based tunes. What’s most striking, though, is his music’s redemptive quality. When he sings “a change is gonna come,” you believe him. It’s fitting, then, that his latest album is entitled Salvation in Lights; even the most troubled soul would find salvation in Mike Farris’ voice. (KP)

 

CHRIS BATHGATE @ Emo’s Annex

The first big find of the festival, this Michigan songwriter fields a big band of traditional instrumentalists—hammered dulcimer, string bass, muted trombone, and fiddle—to add heft to his meditative songs. Sensitive ballads about lost love and forgone kisses crescendo satisfyingly into life-affirming choruses wailing with violins. “Every Wall You Own” is a flat-out rocker, every beat punctuated by the thump of a drum and the pluck of rocking bass. (JK)

 

WHY? @ Emo’s Outside Stage

With two drum kits onstage, it’s clear that percussion is key to this group. The band’s songs are like disjointed puzzle pieces that get thrown into the air and manage to land perfectly put together thanks to WHY?’s rhythmic glue. Part of San Francisco’s Anticon Records, the group, led by Yoni Wolf, has developed a sound that is laid back and layered, a sound that, if it has to be termed, could be called hip-hop pop. The songs themselves, lyrically at least, are vignettes, little Raymond Carver-styled slices of the darker side of life. But it’s the subtle twists and turns—musically and lyrically -– that make WHY? such an interesting band. They keep things fresh and interesting by keeping the beats fresh and interesting, throwing samples and vibraphone into the mix. Despite their obvious musical aptitude, there’s a certain childish playfulness to their songs that in the hands of others might not meld. It’s exactly this mix, though, of seriousness musicianship and a refusal to take themselves too seriously, that has fans asking not why, but why stop? (KP)

More Why? Photos

 

THE UGLY BEATS @ Beerland

Austin’s Ugly Beats, an organ-laced, tightly harmonized sort of early Beatles band on record, take things up a notch live. Jeanette Attaway is thrift-shop adorable in a men’s tie, go-go boots, and a miniskirt, pounding at the Ace Tone organ that sweetens and intensifies the band’s sound. In song after song, stinging snarls of guitar run headlong into spiraling swells of Hollies-esque harmony. (JK)

 

JON MUELLER @ The Hideout

Drummer Jon Mueller has worked with a long list of big, out-there names—Jarboe to Asmus Tietchens to Rhys Chatham to Glenn Kotche—but he’s all alone tonight. His set starts with the lights down and a single green spot on the drum set. Mueller is a spectral presence, a shadow above the drum kit, and when he begins, there’s a primal shiver to it; we hear drums at night, in the dark, and there’s something primitive stirring here. The drumming itself, however, is far from primitive. In fact, it’s shockingly complicated. There’s a long interval at the beginning where Mueller is playing the cymbal with one hand, a wood-block-ish instrument with the other…simple enough, right? But no, you realize, after a certain disorientation slips in, that one hand is playing in an entirely different time signature than the other, rapidly, the two beats criss-crossing over each other flawlessly. (JK)

 

MELISSA ST. PIERRE @ The Hideout

Mueller’s back to support Melissa St. Pierre, an avant-garde pianist out of Western Massachusetts.  Her instrument looks like a baby grand crossed with a synthesizer, and it sounds, at various times, like an underwater xylophone and a percussive harp. Jim Schoenecker sits in on electronics, and the interplay of loops and live improvisation is interesting. The skitter of percussion and the plinking tones of St. Pierre’s instrument dance lightly over a surface of tightly controlled loops, a sort of geometrical kaleidoscope of sounds. (JK)

 

COLLECTIONS OF COLONIES OF BEES @ The Hideout

A large, long-running Milwaukee collective sets up a complex matrix of wires, pedals, and electronics on stage. (It looks like black spaghetti, all the wires.) Then, they play an intricate, all-improvised brand of post-rock with lyrical liquid intervals of guitar (and key-tar!), and riveting, tumultuous climaxes. The music is clearly difficult to play, and perhaps to understand fully, but it is by no means inaccessible. In fact, it edges pretty close to fusion-y, technically accomplished rock at times, like Tortoise, but more so. (JK)

 
Sarah Fox | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

Sarah Fox | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

JOEL GUZMAN AND SARAH FOX @ Austin Television Studios

Joel Guzman has been playing the accordion since he was four years old. As a child (prodigy), he was known as “El Pequeno Gigante” or “the little giant,” and as an adult he has played with most of the big names in Texas Americana music. Sarah Fox, his wife, has also played in support of a long line of distinguished twangy and Latin types. They open with a skanky, low-riding groove, then switch up to the sweet, tightly harmonized “Sangre Azteca” from Latinology. With “Angelita”, their fedora’d guitarist breaks out a gloriously thick blues solo, bending at the knees and swaying side to side as he coaxes the music out. The final piece, “Cumbia Mundial”, is full of joy and almost Cajun sounding, Guzman’s accordion romping light-heartedly over syncopated rhythms. (JK)

 

THE BIG SLEEP @ Red Eyed Fly

No one is getting enough sleep here, especially me, so I wander in to check out NYC trio The Big Sleep. They are impressive, starting with an alarming, head-pounding repetitive riff, a fierce churn of guitar, bass, and drums that pummels you relentlessly. And yet, it’s sort of peaceful, as really loud music can be, putting you into some kind of shut-down state, where the storm seems to rage around you (Or maybe it’s the beer?).  (JK)

 

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS @ The Red Eyed Fly Patio

These guys are having problems with the amps when I arrive, but finally sort things out and settle into their massive Jesus Mary Chain-esque groove. It’s an enveloping sound, anchored by thundery bass, pounding bass drum (the 4/4 thump thump thump thump of bass drum is becoming a motif for this festival…blame Arcade Fire?), and glistening, shivering, pedal-altered waves of guitar, with whispery vocals over top. They are fun to watch, too, the guitar player bending and swaying with the waves of sound, the bass player lumbering up and down the stage with his heavy riffs. (JK)

 
Spinto Band | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

Spinto Band | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

THE SPINTO BAND @ The Yard Dog

More bands should play kazoos. The Spintos start with “Oh My Oh My”, a blur of feedback and discord, coalescing into undeniably sugary hooks. They are fun to watch, though, rampaging over the stage, two singers at a mic within teeth-knocking distance, cranking those exuberant harmonies. For “Brown Box”, they haul out the kazoos and every band member, from lead guitar to keyboardist, is buzzing out that silly, joyful sound. “Oh Mandy” is even more buoyant, a cotton candy-ish pleasure that’s probably not good for you, but so much fun while it’s happening. (JK)

 

LAURA BARRETT @ Emo’s Inside Stage

Utilizing the Kalimba (an African thumb piano) as her main instrument, along with bass pedals and the odd accompanying banjo, certainly makes Laura Barrett one of the more unique artists at this year’s festival. She also happens to be one of the sweetest. “You can come up and talk to me after the set,” she states before her final song, compounding the fact that there is no freak in her vibrant folk ditties. On stage, it looks like she could be playing Nintendo, her quick-moving thumbs rotating around the small and intricate instrument with dexterous ease. And while Barrett does sound slightly similar to Joanna Newsom, she forgoes vocal histrionics for heartfelt high notes and sensitive songwriting that makes the audience feel at ease despite the unusual instrumentation. (KP)

 

MODEY LEMON @ Emo’s Annex

Slow-chugging, hard-rocking, mind-altering boogie stretches taffy-like into psychedelic trance in this single-song set from the Philadelphia trio. The three of them are wearing pink Hawaiian leis for some reason, but this is no Don Ho-down. They bob and weave through squalls of pedal-squooch, Moog blasts, and surges of ’70s-style rock with elements of soul and metal and punk subsumed into a single groove. (JK)

 
The Mae Shi | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

The Mae Shi | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

THE MAE SHI @ Mohawk

Adrenalized, abbreviated guitar bursts and robot-funky, sped-up bass lines emerge from somewhere behind a wall of people, and the Mae Shi rampage on, shouting and yelping and wreaking mayhem. As I arrive, they’re unfurling a giant bed sheet over the crowd; suddenly we’re all back in Montessori School playing the parachute game under its giant canopy. Nothing like a Mae Shi set to get out of the stiff-necked, gape-eyed SXSW trance. (JK)

More Mae Shi Photos

 

PAUL COLLINS BEAT @ Beerland

One of the original new wavers, Paul Collins drummed with the Nerves and led the Beat through the late ’70s and early ’80s. Now, dressed like the dad he almost certainly is in sweatshirt and baseball cap, he’s still raggedy and out there as he rips into “Rock and Roll Shoes”, yelping and howling over razor-like guitar and bass. His band closes with the blast-from-the-past “Hanging on the Telephone” (originally recorded by the Nerves), nostalgia for maybe three-quarters of the crowd, just another rocker for the rest. (JK)

 

KITTY, DAISY, AND LEWIS @ Latitude 30

Forget Hanson. Kitty, Daisy, and Lewis is quite possibly the cutest band around, and most definitely the cutest at this year’s SXSW. The three siblings, all in their teens, backed by mom and pop on double bass and guitar, pummel their way through a set of songs that steal from rockabilly and skiffle, pre-1960s country, and early, Bill Haley-styled rock and roll. While Lewis (17) comes across as a young Ritchie Valens, his sisters, Kitty (14) and Daisy (19), look like Lily Allen impersonating Bettie Page. On the surface, then, there’s a certain novelty factor to the band—the hair and clothes, the family factor—but the fact that each of them can play (piano, guitar, banjo, ukulele, drums) and sing, indicates deep musical knowledge and strong songwriting beneath their Greased-up exterior. (KP)

 

TYVEK @ Mohawk

Another buzzsaw-distorted, rabid punk band, these New Yorkers are lined up symmetrically: two bass players at either end of the stage, two guitarists next from the edge, and one drummer, who has apparently left his drum throne at home. The latter spends the entire set standing, bashing the cymbals and toms from shoulder level, beating the kit like he’d like to murder it. Tyvek’s a punk band, but there’s something hypnotic about their frantic, feedback-clouded riffs, as if by playing as fast and loud and dirty as possible, they somehow hit a deeper core of drone. (JK)

 

EL GUINCHO @ Red Eyed Fly

While it’d be convenient to shorthand El Guincho as Spain’s answer to Panda Bear, his sample-based lunacy is far more tribal and tropical than that of his American counterpart. Sure, they share the same ability to build upon beats, sustain samples, and create tension until tracks explode, but El Guincho explores a more dance-based arc. With only a sampler, a tambourine, and a floor tom for company, he gets the most of his minimalist set-up, pounding on his rudimentary percussion with a single drum stick while looping samples with his other hand. Whenever he gets a hand free, he orchestrates the crowd, whipping them into a frenzy with the flick of a wrist. And while his tracks veer from the blissed-out and transcendental to the totally insane, they all succeed in filling the dance floor. (KP)

 
Eugene Mirman

Eugene Mirman

EUGENE MIRMAN, MIKE BIRBIGLIA, AND TODD BARRY @ Emo’s Indoor Stage

I know it’s a music festival, but sometimes it’s nice to put down the instruments and riff on something else, like Google alerts and bloggers. (According to comedian Mike Birbiglia, a Google alert once informed him that he was “pudgy and awkward.”) Like bands, comedians tread upon certain well-worn topics as a lyrical crux. During this set, we hear opinions on politics, religion, and sexuality, as well as the Internet in its many aspects. The key, though—and it’s the same for both bands and comedians—is to keep the territory fresh, yet familiar, which these comics do with a certain acute aplomb that restores the smiles we’ve lost while waiting for countless bands to set up. (KP)

 

BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEY BEARS @ Emo’s Outdoor Stage

Black Joe Lewis’ soulful style employs rock and roll as much as it does Otis Redding. Backed by a seven-piece band, including a three-piece horn section, the 26-year-old Austinite is raw and unrefined. Unlike James Brown, who was such a taskmaster he’d fine band members for any minor misdemeanor, it seems as though Lewis would fine band members if they weren’t smoking on stage. Such is his ramshackle take on soul. It’s a dirty version, all grit and grime, undone ties and scuffed-up shoes. And while his voice isn’t as versatile as those of the soul singers of old, the tunes more than make up for that slight vocal weakness, which is, incidentally, often overpowered by the swirling music that surrounds it. Despite this, Lewis is a great showman, dropping to his knees James Brown style while playing his guitar and hopping from foot to foot throughout a particularly vicious solo. After a while, though, the shtick gets stuck, and Lewis needs some variation to his amalgamation of soul and rock and roll if he wants people to stick around. (KP)

Nice Try, Guys and Bathroom Breaks

 

Belles of the Ball | Honorable Mentions | Nice Try, Guys | Bathroom Breaks

 

NICE TRY, GUYS

 

JOHNNY FLYNN AND THE SUSSEX WIT @ Mohawk Inside Stage

Despite the quintessentially English-sounding name, Johnny Flynn and his merry band of marauders mine the American landscape for inspiration. The four-piece (who are indeed from England) throw forth a mix of folk and down-home hootenannies that sounds like a harbor-side sing-along, all ships and alehouses. But while these are the songs that get people moving, it’s the slower songs that truly engage. Their ballads are full of Americana inflections reminiscent of Clem Snide minus the caustic wit. Running somewhat counter to this obvious affection for the U.S. is Flynn’s lyrical cadence, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Bert Jansch; a weird juxtaposition, to say the least. Towards the end of their set, they even pull out a fiddle, adding an Irish bent to their upbeat hoedown. But while several stamps in the musical passport may make for well-traveled musicians, it doesn’t necessarily make for the best songs. (KP)

 

THE WEDDING PRESENT @ Emo’s Annex

Post-punk innovator David Gedge really is the Wedding Present, the only constant in two decades of changing line-ups. Still, when he takes the stage with just bass player Terry De Castro, there’s something missing, namely drums. His set includes older tunes like “Drive” and “Suck”, as well as “Spiderman on Holiday” and “Don’t Take Me Home Until I’m Drunk” from his upcoming album, and one Cinerama song, “Charms”. They’re all fine, all powered by rhythmic up-and-down strumming, but missing that crisp, snapping band sound that two people can’t quite conjure. (JK)

More Wedding Present Photos

 

CHIKITA VIOLENTA @ Emo’s Annex

Near their set’s end, Mexico’s Chikita Violenta break into what sounds like a cover of “Eight Miles High” by The Byrds. Because it’s wrapped in so much feedback, it’s hard to tell whether it’s an original song that sounds suspiciously like Roger McQuinn, or an actual re-interpretation. This problem dogs their whole set. The five-piece has a tendency to wash everything in a grand wave of shoegazing feedback that renders it slightly unlistenable in a live setting. It’s forceful and powerful, sure—and also a little pedantic. Worse, I can’t make anything out. Their music works best when they drop the My Bloody Valentine façade and face the music instead, mixing things up with the appearance of an acoustic guitar. By the final two songs, the band redeems itself somewhat, but by then it’s too late; my eardrums have already aged 10 years. (KP)

 

EMILY JANE WHITE @ Emo’s Annex

This San Francisco folk artist has a low, strong voice that will remind you of Cat Power or Jana Hunter, and a nice, unprepossessing way about her, as she sits in jeans and black tee-shirt with her guitar. Her songs are quietly pretty, literate, and littered with haunting pickings and melancholy “woo-oooh-oohs”—it’s just a little too subtle for a beer tent in the bright sun. (JK)

 
Helio Sequence | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

Helio Sequence | Photo by Jennifer Kelly

THE HELIO SEQUENCE @ Flamingo Cantina

Helio Sequence’s Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel (ex-Modest Mouse) fill the room with huge washes of pedal-altered guitar and chiming luminous pop atmospherics. It’s a big sky kind of sound, with lots of reverb and big booming drums. If it weren’t so sweaty and crowded, I’d probably be really enjoying it. (JK)

 

THE RUBY SUNS @ Brush Square Park

It’s always a shame when a band travels halfway ‘round the world to play SXSW, only to be drowned out by a louder band playing nearby. Such was the case for New Zealand’s The Ruby Suns, whose stage backed onto the Japanese Showcase tent. Dressed in delightful summer wear befitting their sunny, polyrhythmic pop songs, the three-piece did their best to overpower the rumble of bass that consistently bled through. Unfortunately, their quieter, harmony-driven moments, of which there were several, were submerged by the dissonance. So while the band might deserve an honorable mention, I’m afraid it has to be a nice try, sound guy. (KP)

 

BEN JELEN @ The Yard Dog

Over at the Yard Dog, New Yorker Ben Jelen is playing “Pulse” from his new album Ex Sensitive with a striking orange and green violin. It’s a little too delicate for me, but “Where Do We Go”, with its jaunty Beatles pop beat (oh, man, there’s that thump thump thump thump thing again) is much better. Still, even if you’re not crazy about the music, you’ve got to admire the kid, who has donated time and music to Rock the Vote, Live for Darfur, and Amnesty International. (JK)

 

CURUMIN @ Emo’s Annex

This hip-hop/funk/samba trio have come all the way from Brazil to play SXSW, cranking out a super-loud party vibe that echoes all the way down Red River Street. They start disarmingly, with the bass player and guitarist both playing some sort of electronic keyboard, creating an interlocking web of music box-like tones. But whoa, when the change-up comes, it’s a big one: a blast of super-heavy funk metal with synthetic bass tones that vibrate in the pit of your stomach. Somehow, it’s too loud even with earplugs. (JK)

BATHROOM BREAKS

 

SEAN HAYES @ Emo’s Annex

Sean Hayes is on stage singing high-pitched country/soul/blues, backed by a lady singer, guitar, bass, and brass. He’s not terrible, but the music drags after a long day, and I write in my notebook: “Watery, white Al Green.” I show it to a friend. “He wishes,” was the answer. (JK)

 

LOS CAMPESINOS! @ Emo’s Indoor Stage

While it’s hard to find fault with Los Campesinos!’ exuberance, to me, it’s also their downfall. The Welsh six-piece are certainly energetic and endearing, but this backfires to create a cloying atmosphere of kitchen-sink instrumentation and squalling boy/girl vocals. Their mix of twee and punk rock sounds like a mature, more musically inclined Bis. It’s a case of kids let loose in a candy store, not knowing what they want, and overindulging by cramming everything in at once. They shriek and squall, confound and confuse. Apparently, the band’s Spanish name roughly translates in English to The Farmers; they’ll need to tend to their crop of songs with a little more care if they want them to grow. (KP)

 

THE PLASTIC CONSTELLATIONS @ Mohawk Patio

Plastic Constellations are loud and rocking, with humping big hip-hop beats and bright metallic guitars. All fine, but it’s more than a little fratboy-ish, and worse, cartoony. I move on quickly. (JK)

 

BLUE MOUNTAIN @ Mother Egan’s

It was serendipitous, I thought, that as I waited for Blue Mountain to start playing, my soccer team, Everton (themselves, the mighty Blues), were playing on a television inside Mother Egan’s. Overcoming their own ‘blue mountain’ (they came from two goals down to take Fiorentina, an Italian side, to a penalty shoot-out), they eventually lost, leaving me sad. That sadness was compounded by Blue Mountain, a band who reunited last summer after six years apart. I had fond memories of listening to the group with my parents during the mid-‘90s. But instead of the country rock I remembered, the band relied too heavily on southern-fried boogie. While, like that of my soccer team, their comeback was nice, it don’t mean a thing if you don’t deliver in the end. (KP)

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/music-days-1-2/