Music Days 3 & 4: “Too Much Fun”

[17 March 2008]

By Jennifer Kelly and Kevin Pearson

 

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

 

BELLES OF THE BALL

 

HALF JAPANESE @ Spiro’s Outside

One of five Half Japanese shows at SXSW this year, the set reunites the classic line-up of Jad and David Fair, Mark Jickling, the Dreyfuss brothers, and John Mormen. Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo sits in on saxophone. Jad Fair wields a toy red Razor X guitar, maybe a third of the size of a regular guitar, and plays it like a Guitar Hero avatar, with shreddy solos and Hendrix-y behind-the-back moves. His brother David bounds and leaps like a supersized toddler, clearly ecstatic to be there. In fact, when he leans into the mic early on with a big grin and says, “Too Much Fun”, it’s a song title that could just as easily be a summary of this evening. From the clanky robot Cramps of “Thing with a Hook” to the goofy horror creepiness of “Rosemarie’s Baby” to the sheer geeky joy of “One Million Kisses”, this is pure enjoyment, though quite a bit cleaner and less chaotic than I expect. (JK)

 

HERMAN DUNE @ Stephen F’s Bar

Herman Dune hail from France and are tagged as anti-folk, but sing a sort of abridged version of American alt-country. Playing perhaps the most upscale venue at SXSW—a hotel bar complete with sofas and dark wood paneling—the duo compete with the sound of cocktail shakers and follow a comically unfunny solo artist who played in a cape. Despite the palatial surroundings, the band—David-Ivar Herman Dune on guitar and vocals and Neman Herman Dune on drums—are happy to be here, even bringing out a puppet towards the end of the set to prove it. Their songs mix the lyrical subtlety of the Silver Jews with the childlike naivety of Daniel Johnston; they are rough and ready, like unpolished gems. Lyrically, they sing of the simple things. They go to the beach, get lonely, notice the sun rising, and get angry when obituaries are written before people die. The songs travel from Sweden to Coney Island, along the way offering up fictional quotes and conversations that the songwriters have never had. They are optimistically melancholic, always missing someone but happy that said person is having a good time. They are a band I could have listened to all night. And no, it wasn’t because I was sitting on a comfortable couch. (KP)

1,2,3 / Apple Tree

 

HOOTS AND HELLMOUTH @ Buffalo Billiards

The Philadelphia roots-rock foursome don’t have a drummer, just two guitars, a mandolin, and a string bass. But they don’t really need one, because they are stomping and slapping and knocking and strumming and bobbing in such an emphatic, bluegrass-country-blues-soul way that you can’t possibly lose the beat. “Forks and Knives” is a hard-charging, countrified locomotive, pausing only for a blues-y trilling solo on mandolin, bass player slapping and popping and hammering on the case with his palms. “Want on Nothing”, sung by the rough-voiced, red-haired guitarist, has a rapid-fire, gospel-choir exuberance. But with “This Hand Is a Mighty Hand”, it all comes to a shining, triumphant climax, the four men in the band somehow conjuring a whole church full of sinners singing, the chorus rising and expanding until it takes up the whole room. (JK)

 
Photo: Ryan Collerd

Photo: Ryan Collerd

PEPI GINSBERG @ Emo’s Annex

I wasn’t really sure what I walked into when I entered the Park the Van showcase to find a rotund man wearing a fake moustache and projecting a campaign video for Pepi Ginsberg. In it, people stated that a vote for Pepi was a vote for a variety of things: purity, integrity, and cleanliness among them. Excellence wasn’t mentioned there, but after this set, it definitely should be. While her earlier material seemed to presuppose her as an electronic folk artist, the tunes we hear tonight sound like Patti Smith covering Bob Dylan. With a three-piece backing band providing a blank canvas for Pepi to paint on, she soars and warbles, yodels and cracks. Her voice belies her youthful looks; structured and strong, it also contradicts her nervousness. Removing her sunglasses, she suddenly realizes people are actually watching, says “oh,” and puts them back on. It’s not that she’s afraid, just overawed, perhaps. Introducing each song individually, she’s heartfelt and honest. From the slight surf guitar influence of “Window Degree” to the delicate picking that opens her set, the music doesn’t overpower, acting instead as a backdrop for her impressive vocals. Best of all is “Rumbleweed”, which starts off with “Pale Blue Eyes” picking before proceeding into jauntier territory that finds Pepi dancing around the stage like she’s stepping on hot coals. Remember: a vote for Pepi is a vote for excellence. (KP)

 

THE WACO BROTHERS @ The Yard Dog Gallery

The Waco Brothers, led by Jon Langford, decide to recreate their new live album Waco Express in a song-for-song, banter-for-banter duplicate set, Langford introducing their set with the somewhat disorienting words, “Merry Christmas, everybody. Welcome to Schubas. We’re the Waco Brothers.” The gimmick is abandoned after a couple of songs—maybe thanks to the tequila bottle that starts full and ends empty—but the show kicks like a mule regardless. Literally: anyone in the front rows risks a kick in the stomach as the front line high-kicks, leaps, and slashes out and back with their guitars. It’s a joyful, drunken freight-train of a set all the way through, with Langford mugging for cameras and teasing Tracy Dear about the, ahem, size of his instrument. (It’s a mandolin.) The whole thing climaxes with the rowdy, triumphant “Take Me to the Fire”, these battle-scarred veterans weaving a little but, remarkably, still standing. (JK)

Photo: Jay Kelly

More Waco Brothers Photos

 

ATLAS SOUND @ Emo’s

With the sun inducing heatstroke outside, the dank, dark confines of Emo’s provide some respite from the oppressive elements. It also provides a set from Atlas Sound and their own array of oppressive elements, notably a shoegazey attack with the same effect as the sun—a woozy, disorientating feeling. But unlike the sun, which has drained me of energy, Atlas Sound is an invigorating antidote in a festival of bands that, over time, start sounding slightly similar. Primarily a solo project for Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox, his songs are fleshed out here by a four-piece band that are in sync and, by the sound of it, in love with Sonic Youth’s punk principals and My Bloody Valentine’s sonic guitar attack. Despite the squall of sound, Atlas Sound’s underlying melodic sensibility differentiates them from other bands who utilize drones and feedback as a crutch to cover up for shoddy songwriting. Unlike those bands, this one is at all times in control. They are a band who drive into the skid. Enjoy the skid. Control the skid and ultimately tame the skid. All in all, it’s an exhilarating ride. (KP)

 

HOWLIN RAIN @ Room 710

Ethan Miller’s new band starts out in a feedback-crazed, whammy-bar-laced frenzy that sounds a lot like his old one (Comets on Fire). Still, you don’t need Miller’s Zappa shirt to figure out that the 1960s are the band’s main reference point, Jimi at Monterrey for the squalling guitar solos, Moby Grape for the country-blues-lilting vocals. The show is far more brutal than the band’s latest album, less sunny Grateful Dead vibe and more blistering Blue Cheer fuzz. There’s structure to the songs that was never there in Comets, and that makes the whole chaotic freak-out a little sweeter. Plus, there’s a strong smell of pot down in the pit, and I might be catching a contact buzz. (JK)

 

THE MUSIC BOX @ Somewhere on the Side of Sixth Street

A passer-by exclaims to his friend, “Oh, damn, dawg—they got this old-time banjo, Nirvana grunge thing going on—I’m digging this,” as the band shouts a collective anthem about living free. The fiddle player toes a card-board sign that reads, “photos 4 tips” when teenage tourists stop to take pictures, and an L.A. camera crew poses a Barbie doll anchor lady in front of the band to introduce SXSW to around-the-world audiences. They make a fitting backdrop: nappy hair, road-dust-brown cut-off clothes, no shoes, and a dimpled female lead singing about oral sex as a substitute for food on a freight train. (I had that song stuck in my head for three days.) The band is the Music Box—an eight-piece tribe of old-time acoustic players from the Big Easy busking their combination of New Orleans campfire swing and live-like-you-know-you’re-gonna die punk. The scene is an impromptu swing-your-partner-round-and-round gypsy hootinanny down on the corner of Sixth Street. Too bad the cops break up their street choir after twenty minutes – their riot was just getting started. (Justin Follin)

Honorable Mentions

 

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

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

THE HOMOSEXUALS @ Spiro’s

One of the great lost UK punk bands of the late 1970s, the Homosexuals split before they ever made an album, leaving only a dustbin’s worth of home tapes, EPs, and singles for punk aficionados to ponder over at their 1983 break-up. Those who did invariably asked why this superlatively dissonant, surreal, unarguably great band never broke the surface. Now, some 25 years after the band’s disintegration, singer Bruno Wizard is performing live as the Homosexuals, backed by NYC synth-punkers Apache Beat. It’s just him this time (though he is working with Anton Hayman on a new record), but even solo he’s pretty powerful as he struts and exhorts and glam-punks his skeletal way through forgotten classics like “Hearts in Exile” and “Soft South Africans”. One song, he says, he has not performed in 22 years. Its edges haven’t softened a bit since. (JK)

 

FANFARLO @ Wave Rooftop

Despite technical problems, problems so severe they took an integral keyboard completely out of the mix, London-based Fanfarlo pushed on unabashed, belting out songs that combined the Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, and Swedish pop. “I think we’ve got more than enough instruments to play a song,” explains frontman Simon. They do: A cursory glance around the stage brings into view guitars and drums, trumpet and violin, a mandolin, and a sadly unused singing saw. Due to the technical issues, the set list is scrapped and the six-piece band (five guys and one girl) confer to decide which songs they can actually play. It’s this down-to-earth approach to a major problem that transposes into their tunes. They sound like the first day of summer or a requited crush, all giddy smiles and fluttering hearts. They are precious, yet unpretentious, and may very well, over time, become your favorite band. (KP)

 

CITAY @ Spiro’s Outside

Citay’s set nearly gets hijacked right at the beginning as two hip-hop types from the venue next door saunter on stage and refuse to leave. The band—all three guitarists, drummer, bass player, and keyboardist—look exhausted (it’s their third show of the day), and clearly not ready to fight for stage space. But the two leave without incident, and Citay’s trippy, guitar-centric set gets off the ground. The band, started by Ezra Feinberg of Piano Magic as a studio project, has expanded so that it now has, essentially, two lead guitarists. One of them, Adria Otte (who plays violin on Last Kingdom) is tiny, self-contained, and one of the best female guitar players I’ve seen. She and her counterpart play complicated, interlocking parts, snaking around each other’s riffs, drawing out an eerie e-bowed tone, and doing a complicated dance that makes Citay’s folk-psyche-rock drones all the more interesting. (JK)

 

MAKE A RISING @ St. David’s Church

The music Make a Rising make defies categorization. Tacked tonight on the end of an instrumental showcase, the Philadelphia-based band use vocals, eschewing the edict set forth by the prior groups. It’s this against-the-grain approach that makes them a consistently exciting band, but it’s also their downfall. Their resistance to being pigeonholed (coupled with the fact that they’re competing against several bigger bands all playing the coveted 1 a.m. slot) unfortunately keeps the crowds away. Playing in the beautiful confines of St. David’s Church, a venue with pitch-perfect acoustics, the six-piece put on a full-blown set despite the lack of attendance. Theatrics (at one point a band member wearing a fish head is disemboweled) and their own weird amalgamation of prog, piano-led pop, ambience, and trumpet-led freakouts combine for one of the more compelling shows this weekend. (KP)

 

EVANGELISTA @ Spiro’s Outside

Carla Bozulich announces that she’s learned all her moves, all her sex appeal, everything she knows, from Bob McDonald (of Hank IV) and even does a credible imitation of his poker-legged dance, the band thrashing and slashing behind her. But really, Evangelista’s music is in another universe, eerie, shivering, distorted and beautiful, adorned with altered cello and hypnotic repetition. Big buzzes of bass shake the floor and walls, and Bozulich alternately sings in her deep contralto and plays guitar with some sort of toy microphone. At one point, she is hopping up and down as if buffeted by the sheer white-noise squall of feedback that surrounds her. “Open your eyes, adjust your eyes to the dark,” she wails, and the music pierces you like a too-bright ray of light. (JK)

 

NINO MOSCHELLA AND DARONDO @ Free Yr Radio Broadcast Corner

The story of Darondo is steeped in mystery. After releasing several singles in the early ‘70s, songs that saw him compared to the likes of Sly Stone and Al Green, the San Francisco-based musician simply disappeared. (Apparently—to cut a long story short—his partying ways got the better of him.) But a phone call a few years back put him in touch with Nino Moschella, whose own backing band provides today’s music for the enigmatic Darondo. Striding onstage for a short, two-song set that encompasses soul and funk, blues and jazz, Darondo dances around like a man half his age. His voice is still strong and stunningly unique, but it’s his showmanship that gets the crowd cheering. “Back in the day, they claimed I was too fast,” he states. “They claimed that I was doing things that I wasn’t really doing. They said you have to leave town, so I left town.” With that, he throws his handkerchief in the air, spins around, and catches it. It all just goes to prove that you can teach an old dawg new tricks. (KP)



 

KELLEY STOLTZ @ Spiro’s

While the Homosexuals are finishing up outside, San Franscisco songwriter Kelley Stoltz is hammering away at the jaunty piano of “Memory Collector”, off one of my very favorite albums, Beneath the Branches. At first glance, Stoltz seems a little conventional for this out-there WFMU showcase, but his set is far more rocking and far less well behaved than that of most Sub Pop singer/songwriters. He dedicates “Underwater’s Where the Action Is”, off the great Antique Glow, to program manager Brian Turner, who is, he says, always off exploring new music. Then Kelley himself explores some mind-altering grooves, stretching pop songs into crazy, elongated vamps that rock hypnotically. I ask him later about the rocking-ness of his set, and he says he’s just trying to get ready for an upcoming tour with the Dirtbombs. “We’ve got to keep up with them.”  (JK)

 

HANK IV @ Spiro’s Outside

Though the drummer’s wearing a shirt that reads “Coalition for Aging Rockers,” Hank IV, out of San Francisco, are sort of a new band, led by Bob McDonald (ex of Bun-Kon) and members of the Icky Boyfriends, the Roofies, the Resineators, and about a dozen other bands. (There are only four of them.) McDonald is late to the stage, perhaps delayed by the full-leg brace that is strapped to his leg. Or perhaps not, because it doesn’t seem to bother him at all when he dances a spastic jitterbug, one leg stiff, the other not, up and down the stage. The set is blistering, classic punk, pitched somewhere between the raw power of the Saints and the jokey belligerence of the Nightingales, hitting songs from 2006’s Third Person Shooter—“Crime of the Scene”, “Hole in My Eye”, and “Got Got”—that already sound like classics. (JK)

 

THE CYNICS @ The Soho Lounge

Pittsburgh’s reigning kings of retro NY Dolls-esque garage pop have taken over the long room at Soho Lounge, pulling Joe Emery and Jeanine Attaway from the Ugly Beats up on stage with them to augment their back-to-basics sound. I’ve been loving their latest,  Here We Are, and they do play the lasciviously lovely “What She Said” (sample lyric: “Before I was walking/ I was giving head.”) and “The Warning”. Still, it’s mostly the catalogue. As mop-headed singer Michael Kastelic struts and preens, Greg Kostelich hunches taciturn over his guitar through rough-edged gems like “Living Is the Best Revenge”. This is rock and roll distilled to its essence, made saucy with ambiguous sexuality, and served straight up, no ice. Nothing complicated, but it kicks. (JK)

 

BODIES OF WATER @ SESAC Day Stage Café

The Convention Center Day Stage probably isn’t the best place to see any band, let alone a band as bombastic as Bodies of Water. Frontwoman Meredith Metcalf acknowledges the stuffy surroundings from the off, talking—tongue firmly in cheek, of course—of pyramid schemes. The LA-based five-piece confound the stale environment, though, by putting on a stirring show. Their songs are epic Greek odysseys of oscillating synths and tribal drums, choral calls to arms, and a deep entrenched belief that music is life. Sitting just a few rows from the front, with no one obscuring my view, was like watching the band from the comfort of my own living room. And, after standing through so many shows in varying degrees of distress, I kind of liked it. So did the band. Towards the end of their emphatic set, Metcalf speaks again. This time she’s sincere and a little surprised: “This is fun. I know it’s weird, but it’s fun.”  (KP)

 

SONS & DAUGHTERS @ Bat Bar

Sons & Daughters’ show is being taped for television, which, a guy next to me explains, means that if they mess up, they will have to start over from the beginning and we will have to be excited about them all over again (or perhaps one of those giant cameras will bonk us on the head). That doesn’t happen, though, as the band rips through a kicking set of mostly older material, hitting twitchy “Gilt Complex” and big, booming “The Nest” from their new album, but closing with the considerably darker, more menacing “Johnny Cash”. Great band, weird venue. (JK)

 

BON IVER @ Emo’s

Justin Vernon opens up the ghostly songs of For Emma, Forever Ago in this lovely daytime set, floating spectral, evocative falsetto over strums on a battered silver resonator guitar. “Flume” breaks in the middle with a freeform, feedback-y interval, and “Skinny Love”, a crowd favorite, builds in intensity, a soft song suddenly blown up into a loud one, drums cracking on the upbeats and thumping on the downs. With “The Wolves (Part I and II)”, Vernon and his two-person band sing the phrase, “What might have been lost,” again and again in a triumphant crescendo, as the drumming turns fractious and jazz-like underneath. You expect quiet beauty from Bon Iver, but not this much excitement.  (JK)

 

WHITE RABBITS @ Club de Ville

“We’re Spoon, from Austin, Texas,” states White Rabbits frontman Gregory Roberts at the start of their ferociously energetic afternoon set. Obviously, they’re not. But there is a certain amount of Spoon’s bite in their carefully structured songs. The band couple this with The Walkmen’s taut, tightly wound dynamics, then top it off with the Hold Steady’s barreling, barroom piano. The propelling force is their two drummers, who provide the backbone for the band’s frenetic, emotionally charged, and unpretentious rock and roll. It’s not too hard to imagine Bruce Springsteen making this music if he’d been born in the late 70s and grown up listening to indie rock. Musically, despite their double drum set-up, the six-piece, Brooklyn-based band is not the most original act here, but they’re one of the best to experience in the live environment. (KP)

 

LE LOUP @ Emo’s Annex

Sam Simkoff of Le Loup didn’t have a band when he made his debut, the banjo-flecked, multi-tracked, self-recorded The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation’s Millenium General Assembly. It’s no surprise, then, that now, accompanied by a large ensemble, he sounds completely different, less of a freak-folker, more of a party. The first, as-yet-unnamed song bristles with percussion, Simkoff frenetic in a tambourine-shaking monkey-dance across the stage. The second turns epic, cinematic, and loud as a girl brings a French horn into play. “More banjo in the monitor,” says Simkoff. “In fact more banjo in general.” But banjo is only a part of it now, in an act that is less delicate and way more fun than you’d expect. (JK)

More Le Loup Photos

 

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE @ The Yard Dog Gallery

The son of roots-rock titan Steve Earle fields an old-time country band, including Dixie Chicks pedal-steel man Pete Finney and Buddy Miller drummer Brian Owings. They’re dressed to the nines in black suits and cowboy hats, and armed with fiddles and keyboards pitched to sound like barroom pianos. The tent is packed. From my spot, behind the stage, I have a prime view of piano player Skylar Wilson’s back and not much else. Still, that’s not such a bad spot, as the band forages through shuffling country (“A Good Life”), driving roots rock (“South Georgia Sugar Babe”) and soul (“Far Away in Another Town”). At 25, Earle got fired from his dad’s band for misbehavior. But who knows? At 35, he might be hiring. (JK)

 

THE SCOTLAND YARD GOSPEL CHOIR @ The Yard Dog Gallery

The drummer’s got a “Punk Sucks” t-shirt; the ringleader Elia Einhorn, a Morrissey one.  So it’s fair to say that the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir is not your typical Bloodshot band, neither country nor roots nor really punk. What it is, really, is bouncy, jump-up-and-down pop hitched to difficult, self-lacerating lyrics. Flame-haired, rail-thin Mary Ralph bobs to and fro over a Gibson Melody Maker, and band members crash into each other as they pogo across the stage. The songs are about broken love, suicide, and depression, but you hear them with a big grin. Morrissey would be proud, don’t you think? (JK)

Photo: Jay Kelly

More Scotland Yard Gospel Choir Photos

 

NEON NEON @ Cedar Street Courtyard

Conceived for a concept album about the life of carmaker John DeLorean, Neon Neon’s sound, like the DeLorean itself, is emphatically ‘80s. Primarily a project for LA producer Boom Bip and Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys, Neon Neon perform here with a full backing band and, in keeping with the 80s theme, an impressive array of keytars. Swashes of synth slash against programmed beats. Drum machines thwack, and a fretless bass provides the funk. It’s like VH1’s I Love the ’80s squashed into one 30-minute set. From the power pop of “Alderon” to the Human League-aping “I Lust U”, Neon Neon cover the decade with idolatry rather than irony and remind us that, at some point, in our own ways, we’ve all loved the ’80s. (KP)

 

PATTERN IS MOVEMENT @ Gallery Lombardi

Way down on West Seventh, Home-Tape Records is having a low-key, outdoor party in an almost residential enclave just off the main drag. When I arrive, Philadelphia’s avant-pop duo Pattern Is Movement is setting up, a pair of guys who met at a church youth group, started a Christian hip-hop band, then drifted into a weirdly sweet, elaborately orchestrated brand of baroque experimental pop. Live, it’s much more explosive, thanks to drummer Chris Ward’s manic, off-kilter bursts of fury, but still fragile and evocatively nostalgic, as singer/multi-instrumentalist Andrew Thiboldeaux croons in a tremulous ’20s radio falsetto. (JK)

 

SLARAFFENLAND @ Gallery Lombardi

Danish jazz-rock-experimental collective Slaraffenland drape their mics with fresh flowers as they set up, a complicated procedure involving multiple instruments—brass, wind, and traditional rock ones—for each of the four-person live band. It’s worth it, though, as slow-moving, transformative instrumental vamps crest and subside and the four members sing in unison. The highlight is when they invite all drummers, and anyone who would like to drum, onto the small stage to play percussion (among the takers, Seth Olinsky from Akron/Family and all of Megafaun). The afternoon sun beats down on a blissful, chaotic cadence of drums, tambourines, plastic maracas, and shakers, as if a Brazilian carnival has touched down on West 7th. (JK)

Nice Try, Guys and Bathroom Breaks

 

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

 

NICE TRY, GUYS

 

SHE AND HIM @ Free Yr Radio Broadcast Corner

Sometimes you’ve just got to concede that somebody else’s words are better than yours. Such was the case with the person who introduced She & Him by saying: “It’s not just him and her; they’ve brought a full band.” By “him,” he meant M.Ward, and by “her,” he was referring to the actress Zooey Deschanel. Playing an outdoor stage on an asphalt car park in the blistering mid-afternoon heat probably isn’t the best way to experience the duo’s country-rock ruminations, even if they did bring a backing band. And while their slower songs work better in the weary heat, they come across as more cute than country, leaving us with a case of nice try, guy… and gal. (KP)

 

LOS LLAMARADA @ Spiro’s Inside

The guitarist for this brutally loud, distortion-crusted punk band has the word “Noise!” written in magic marker across his instrument. That’s his name, Johnny Noise, for one thing; for another, it’s what this band is all about—primitive howl and squalling feedback, like Guitar Wolf in Spanish, or the Stooges with girls on guitar and keys. Estrella Ek Sanza, the singer, wails out one discordant note, while Noise chants fast and hard over top, his hands blurring over the strings in assaultive, in-your-face dissonance. It’s a bewildering onslaught of unadulterated sludge, only the vestige of a blues progression showing through to tie it to rock. Rough stuff and not for everyone. (JK)

 

D*R*I @ Fader Fort

D*R*I needs to decide what she wants to be. Former singer for alternative rock band The Anniversary, her new project ranges from mainstream, summery pop to sultry torch singing. But the genres don’t gel, and for every good song, there’s a generic, stylized tune that follows. Playing in the Fader Fort and backed by a three-piece band, D*R*I (also known as Adrienne) fares better when she steps away from her keyboard and cradles the mic in both hands. Her voice is worth hearing but often sits atop songs that don’t measure up to her prodigious vocal talent. (KP)

 

GARY HIGGINS @ Spiro’s Inside

Another long-forgotten hero, the author of the long-out-of-print 1973 folk album Red Hash is playing in front, or rather not playing but endlessly soundchecking. The guy next to me whispers, “He’s been doing this for 15 minutes,” as another mic, another drum is tested. Still, all’s forgiven when strains of “Windy Child” finally drift from the stage, ghostly flute transmuted into keyboard for the stage, but otherwise just as lovely and pure as in the original. Higgins has blown much of his set time before he starts, but manages wonderful takes on “Thicker than a Smokey” (the song covered by Ben Chasny on School of the Flower) and “I Can’t Sleep at Night”. I would have liked to hear the new stuff he was just about to play when the house called time, but at least now we know why it’s been so long between records. (JK)

 

KEVIN BARNES @ Club de Ville

Though Kevin Barnes’s set is listed as a DJ set, the Of Montreal singer strides onstage with an acoustic guitar in hand. Sound issues nix that idea, but he borrows an electric one from White Rabbits and proceeds to serenade us with a new song, an old song, and a few covers. The slightness of this show, however, is overpowered by the chattering masses. He still manages a majestic cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”, which he performs somewhat in the style of David Bowie. With his chameleonic approach to music and love of character-driven costumes, Barnes could perhaps be classed as this generation’s Bowie. Unfortunately, he’d have a better chance at finding life on Mars than at being heard at this outdoor show. (KP)

 

LOU LOU AND THE GUITARFISH @ Room 710

This year’s contender for the Be Your Own Pet Memorial “Too Young to Drink, Plenty Old Enough to Rock” Award, is four kids in their teens from the Bay area: a candy-red-haired singer in glitter skirt and tattoos snaking up her legs; a laconic, fairly impressive guitar player who occasionally sings; a thin blonde girl on a sunburst bass; a drummer; and a bushy-haired guitarist. They have sound problems—you can hardly hear the vocals—but the MC5-into-the-Avengers energy is undeniable. When the boy sings “You don’t know who I am/ because I’m not quite sure myself,” it’s reassuring to know that at least some things about adolescence haven’t changed.  (JK)

 

THE STEMS @ The Soho Lounge

Things have run absurdly late, so the Stems, all the way from Australia, playing scrounged guitars, led by Dom Mariani (who is legendary among retro power-pop fans), and clearly a helluva a band, are limited to two songs. “Leave You Way Behind” from Heads Up, their first album after a 20-year break, is the opening bid, a worthy effort with thumping 4/4 drums and an evil guitar line. There’s another, whose name I can’t catch from the band’s early days. I think it might be “Tears Me in Two”, but whatever it is, it’s super cool, 1960s-style pop, and too bad there can’t be more, but there isn’t. (JK)

 

THE TING TINGS @ Bat Bar

The Ting Tings make music that’s simple and very repetitive. The Ting Tings make music that’s simple and very repetitive. The Ting Tings… you get the gist? Playing real instruments—mainly drums and guitar—the English duo create electronic music for real people. Performing at the Convention Center’s Bat Bar, a cavernous space complete with swooping Orwellian cameras that broadcast the show live on DirecTV, the band eventually begin to win me over with their energetic performance. Unfortunately, they then drop the dance act and break out an acoustic guitar for a short set of heartfelt numbers that finds me, and a large number of the crowd, heading for the exits. (KP)

 

JAY REATARD @ Beerland

Jay Reatard’s Blood Visions almost slipped through the cracks last year, a brilliant punk rock record that came out too late in 2006 to make the lists. But as 2007 went on, more and more people seemed to catch on to this guy’s manic glitter-punk power, and I personally was very excited about seeing him live. Which I do, almost by accident, seeing a flyer, stopping in at Beerland, and catching the very last song of his sweaty-glorious set. It’s “Waiting for Something”, a hammering, melodic juggernaut of a song, that somehow captures all the angst and indecision and should-I-be-here-or-there indecisiveness of SXSW. (JK)

 

GREG ASHLEY @ Room 710

Greg Ashley from Gris Gris is performing an unadorned set at Birdman’s showcase, singing woozy electric blues at meditative pace when I arrive. The drummer from the Modey Lemon is sitting in, but it feels totally solo, as Ashley moans about drowning, belladonna, and liquor-laced failure. (JK)


 

BATHROOM BREAKS

 

THE PANICS @ Brush Square Park

I stumbled into the Australian showcase because of its proximity to the Convention Center, where I had been recuperating, and also the promise of free beer. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the beer had run out, and so, it seems, had my luck. Taking the stage as I entered the tent were The Panics, a Melbourne-based band with American inflections and Coldplay aspirations. While they firmly wore their hearts on their sleeves, it was the sleeve of a shirt I’d rather not wear. That’s not to say that it’s a bad shirt, per se, it just doesn’t work with my wardrobe. (KP)

 

RANA SANTACRUZ @ Copa

Born in Mexico City, but based in New York, Rana Santacruz’s take on traditional folk tips a hat more towards Ireland than to his home country. Armed with an accordion and backed by a band that includes banjo, violin, bass, and drums, Santacruz’s songs could easily pass for the Pogues. Unfortunately, he’s no Shane McGowan in the singing department, vocalizing, as he does, in a traditional Spanish-language lilt. Despite the so-so nature of his songs, I’ve got to give him props for playing the accordion and singing simultaneously. To me, it’s like patting your head, rubbing your belly, and hopping on one foot, all at the same time. (KP)

 

SYBRIS @ Gallery Lombardi

Angular, loud-soft guitar music from the Chicago-based trio clashes and clatters, but doesn’t quite make the sale. Points to singer Angela Mullenhaur, though, for finding bright yellow jeans that exactly match her guitar. (JK)

 

DUFFY @ Stubbs

In complete contrast to Pepi Ginsberg’s, Duffy’s voice is so commercial that it probably has its own barcode. It’s slick and sophisticated, lacking in soul; easily could have been slipped into the festival from a cruise ship cabaret. Backed by a six-piece band that sounds just as commercial as the vocals, the performance actually defies the comparisons to Dusty Springfield. Surprisingly, ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler has written several songs for this Welsh songstress, while several publications have sung her praises. Maybe I’m missing something? If so, I’m pretty happy about it. (KP)

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/music-days-3-41/