PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Music Day 2: Secretly Canadian / Jagjaguwar / Dead Oceans Showcase

Photos: Jennifer Kelly

Music Day 2: Secretly Canadian / Jagjaguwar / Dead Oceans Showcase


Decisions, decisions… up to the very last minute, I can’t make up my mind whether I want to spend the night with Sub Pop (Obits, Red Red Meat, BBQ) or the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Ocean folks (Julie Doiron, Akron Family, BLK JKS). I’ve told people I’m going to the Mohawk for Secretly Canadian but I still pause for a minute in front of the long line at Radio Room and think about that fantastic Bunny Gets Paid reissue and sigh. Life is full of hard choices, and SXSW is full of life.

Richard Swift

I end up at the Mohawk in time for Richard Swift, whose fourth solo full-length The Atlantic Ocean will be out on Secretly Canadian in April. Swift has a big funky band in tow, two guitars, bass, drums and himself on keyboards, and the sound bounces and bounds, good times to the core, with flashes of jazz, blues, doo-wop funk, and jam-band exuberance. (I write down “Nice, but a little Phish-y.”) Things turn soulful with the piano blues and soft, falsetto’d harmonies of “Lady Luck”, a silky, no-guitars venture into Motown territory.

Mount St. Helens Vietnam Band

Inside, Mount St. Helens Vietnam Band is donned matching flowered vests for its jittery pop set. This is sort of interesting -- the band’s main singer, Benjamin Verdoes, is married to percussion/keyboarder Traci Eggleston-Verdoes and the drummer, Marshall Verdoes, is their adopted son. So, heads up all you bands out there with drummer problems: Just adopt one. The family connection, plus the matching outfits, gives the whole enterprise a vaguely Von Trapp Family Singers vibe, but it evaporates like Alpine dew as soon as the band gets going. This is nervy, sunny, jittery punk pop, pushed frantically for speed, then interspersed with lyrical, melodic intervals.

Julie Doiron

By the time Julie Doiron sets up, a pipe in the Mohawk’s ceiling has started to drip steadily, creating that difficult combination of water and electrical equipment. “It’s just water,” the venue’s guy assures her, after someone raised the question of sewage, but water is bad enough. Doiron’s a little rattled. She’s just changed a guitar string on a stool near the bar (with two Japanese teenagers videotaping the whole event), and now she thinks her guitar is “brutally out of tune.” She’s just like her music, though, fresh, natural, unpretentious, and so clearly a really nice person who doesn’t like to make trouble. She apologizes during nearly every song break, which isn’t necessary at all, she sounds fine, better than fine actually, in the full-rock mode of I Can Wonder What You’ve Done with Your Day. The new album, out last month, is kind of a love letter to Fred Squire, her new romantic and musical partner, who is sitting at the drum kit behind her. “I was not built for this kind of lo-oo-oo-ve,” Doiron breathes into the mic, her voice unembellished with any kind of reverb or effect, but she is clearly happy and flourishing, looking to Squire for reassurance when anything goes even slightly wrong (and, even better, getting it). Her set includes lots from the new album, “Glad to Be Alive”, “Heavy Snow”, and others, and she gradually gets comfortable. For “Consolation Prize”, one of the album’s heaviest, most guitar-centric cuts, she says, “We’re going to try this,” then, “You know how it is when you’re recording and you write a song really quickly and it turns out great and then you don’t practice it?” Probably no one else in the audience “knows” any of this, but we nod, and the song sounds fine, Doiron’s soft singing in contrast to rackety, aggressive guitar chords, the rough and the smooth, the sweet and the bitter together. Her last song, she says, is from 2004’s Goodnight Nobody -- and noticeably less upbeat than recent material. But she makes it rock and at the end she turns around to Squire and flashes him a big squinty smile… drips, broken strings, and all, she’s happy at last and in love.


Just a glimpse of Matthew Houck’s Phosphorescent from the balcony of the massively crowded outdoor stage, as he croons high and haunting tunes from his Willie Nelson tribute. The air on the patio is fine and soft, and he sounds great, but maybe it’s time to get a better spot for the next band?

Foreign Born

That would be Foreign Born, out of San Francisco, a huge band, setting up racks of drums, keyboards, congas, guitars, and a bass on the stage inside. Sunny, high energy, vaguely tropical indie rock is the thing here, with shaken percussion all round, a syncopated, calypso low-end and island warmth and clarity in the guitars. Fun stuff, but not quite over the top into great.
If I were smarter, I would have left Foreign Born early to try to get a spot for BLK JKS, the super-hot township-reggae-art-fusion collective out of Johannesburg, South Africa. As it is, I’m way in the back, barely able to see, and only catch the frenzied, bass-thudding, hip-hop-punk-noise “Shark Attack”, with hundreds of bouncing, bobbing bodies between me and the stage.


Wising up, I stay in place for Akron/Family, one of my favorites since their soft-spoken self-titled, through their collaboration with Angels of Light and on to the latter day collective jazz-funk-rock-improv overload of upcoming Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. The flag from the cover of that album, with a tie-dyed whorl where the stars should be, hangs briefly over the SXSW banner, but someone moves it. Artistic expression is okay, as it turns out, as long as it doesn’t block a sponsor’s logo. Foreigner, of all bands, is playing in the bumper music, and Seth and Miles strike a series of goofy guitar-hero poses, as the set-up finishes.
Let’s just say this up front: Akron/Family killed. They were the best show of the night -- edging even a reunited Dinosaur Jr. and flat out demolishing everyone else. No breaks between songs, no real differentiation between songs, no pauses, no banter, just one continuous freakout that touched the highlights of their new record, easily their best, without slavishly replicating it. A bit of “River”, an exhilarating chant of “Higher Higher”, the percussion-mad long intro to “Everyone’s Guilty”, the plaintive campfire sing-along about hard years gone and better ones ahead -- it was all there, all mixed and spliced and conjured into something else again, something living and breathing and dancing its ass away. (Mine is smaller today, I checked.) Do you know that feeling you get sometimes, that “I’m so glad I’m still alive so I can still go to shows and be blown away?” feeling? I was overcome by that feeling. It felt good.

J. Mascis

I go upstairs to get some air, and I see Kyle from Witch and Feathers, and suddenly it clicks that the “secret guest” has to be Dinosaur Jr. “Is J playing?” I ask him, and he says yes, and so I go back downstairs to start getting a good spot. It’s pretty strange, but I’m wearing a shirt from a show in Northampton in 2006 where both Mascis and Barlow played sets separately, and even did a couple of songs together in a short reincarnation of Deep Wound. But I’ve never seen Dinosaur play, so that’s exciting. And then first Barlow, then Mascis wander onto stage and everybody knows, and all the sudden everyone is high fiving each other just for being there… it’s that kind of feeling. And rightly so, what a band, what a show. More than 20 years on from their SST days in Western Mass, the three of them put on a searing, thundering performance, with songs from last year’s Beyond, but also “Sludgefeast” and “Tarpit” from You’re Living All Over Me, “Feel the Pain” from Without a Sound, “Freak Scene” from Bug, and “Out There” from Where You Been. Barlow is in full head-banging mode, stalking the stage and bouncing up and down with his bass, sensitive Sebadoh-guy subsumed in punk rock aggression. Mascis doesn’t do guitar face or poses, doesn’t move much at all in fact, except for his fingers, sliding up and down the fretboard, spinning high spiraling solos that lift you up and out of the turmoil. It’s a freakily volatile, exciting combination, the guitar bravado in the midst of the hard rush of punk, as monumental now as in the mid-1980s, and maybe more familiar but not in the least safe or tired. The Bishop Allen guys are slamming side to side in front of the stage. The members of Women push right up to the front after their set is over. One guy surfs the crowd. Everyone’s out of control, grinning stupid grins at their luck in being there.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.