Culture

Music Day 3: It Ain't Easy Being Green

Zeth Lundy

Further adventures in Austin's bustling nightlife yields run-ins with Dap Kings, Zutons, and singing dogs.

Scheduling SXSW to coexist with St. Patrick's Day is a faux pas of urban planning that's nevertheless embraced as a good thing, like how a Red Sox day game complicates the city-crippling insanity of the Boston Marathon.

Tonight was unexpectedly disorienting. The swarms of St. Patrick's revelers, mostly college students doused in all things green and liquored up like Scott Stapp at the airport, merged with the SXSW crowd. After acclimating myself to the festival's demographic over the past few days, the introduction of a new group of crazed streetwalkers caught me off guard; I felt at times as if I had walked in the wrong direction and ended up in a part of town that was familiar yet newly foreign. I blame the shamrock infestation.

By this point in the week, musical pleasures were starting to blur into one long avalanche of meter, melody, and rhyme. My ears get a 10-minute rest on the hour, give or take, and after gorging myself on all the clubland prospects that don't heed decibel bounds, I had fostered a head of indistinct ringing. As a result, it had become easier to simply take in act after act without stopping to really marvel at the distinct perfections and flaws that each had to offer, the sum of which makes this festival such an excessively rich anomaly in social design. Only now, in these after-the-fact recaps, have I tried to formulate some perspective and extract each experience from the night's series of commotions.


"Bom Bom Bom": MP3

Living Things
Genre: Rock
Hometown: St Louis MO

Austin Music Hall 7:30pm

I scrambled down to the west side of the city to catch Bettye Lavette's set at La Zona Rosa, hoping in part that my quest for some sweet soul music at SXSW would finally be rewarded following the previous night's disappointment. When I breathlessly arrived 15 minutes late, Lavette had not yet begun — not surprising given the club's prior issues with time management. I waited another 10 minutes until a club employee walked on stage, shut off the amplifiers, and, as I took the first sip of my beer, announced that Lavette would not be appearing due to an unspecified "situation". The entire club heaved a reluctant sigh of anticlimactic dismay and then immediately emptied out as everyone hustled to put Plan B into action.

I walked the one block down to the Austin Music Hall, where Living Things were opening the night's showcase. The Music Hall is likely the festival's largest venue, which has the unfortunate décor of an airport hanger. Very few people had gathered this early in the evening, so when Living Things strode onstage, they faced a pathetic hall of subjects. Their performance proceeded awkwardly and was rife with stylistic inconsistencies. The musicians seemed incapable of making their instruments coagulate into the hard rock fist that made their Ahead of the Lions record so kinetic; even the simplest thing, like wielding command over a basic yet vital guitar riff, sounded like a challenge that didn't want to be met. Perhaps it was the lack of enthusiasm from the low-turnout crowd, the enormity of the space, or even the championing of appearance over substance (lead singer Lillian Berlin, dressed in a skin-tight white suit and cowboy hat, wasted most of his time indulging in Mick Jagger mannerisms), but whatever assault Living Things had planned to bring was limply blunted.

The Zutons
Genre: Pop
Hometown: Liverpool UK

Exodus 8pm

Having played their official showcase the night before on a bill with Morrissey and Goldfrapp, the Zutons made a "special guest" club appearance that was only announced earlier in the day. This band is tailor-made for the intimate, inescapable confines of a club atmosphere, and their Liverpudlian flair contributed to this set's rousing success. Admittedly, I was on the fence regarding their debut Who Killed the Zutons?, but there's no question about the Zutons' excellence when they're caught in this particular situation. Their numerous musical allusions (Sly & the Family Stone, Talking Heads, Jimi Hendrix) were downright incendiary when mustered, subconsciously seeping into the heads of all that stood watch, heads bobbing and midsections twisting. As they brought their brief set to a stirring close, it felt as if the Zutons could do this all night long, all this banging on the backbeat and taking us higher, and we wouldn't even notice how time dragged on.

Bailey the Singing Dog
E. Sixth Street 9pm

As Terry Sawyer indicated in yesterday's coverage, there are many other alternative "festivals" being held throughout the city, little Davids to SXSW's Goliath, not to mention a plethora of street performers on accordions, penny whistles, turntables, and poorly tuned guitars. (If you came to Austin this week looking for peace of mind, fire your travel agent.)

I was eating a late "dinner" on the run in the middle of Sixth Street (a slice of cheese from a heavy metal pizza place, of all things) when I gravitated toward a crowd surrounding Bailey the Singing Dog and his two human companions. They were performing this sort of traveling show, wherein following a brief bit of pun-filled banter, the Golden Retriever would howl along to his human's accordion accompaniment. I think they did "In a Gadda Da Vida" — an abridged, ten-second version, but any dog that can kick out the Iron Butterfly jams is certainly preferable over the cover band that was ambling its way through "Peace Frog" two doors down.


"Do You Really Wanna": streaming

Spider and the Webs
Genre: Punk
Hometown: Olympia WA

Friday, March 17 -- 9:30 p.m. -- Red 7 (611 E 7th St)

Olympia's Spider and the Webs are a three-tiered flashback: first, to the adorable punk manifestations of the early '90s Pacific Northwest; second, to psychedelia's eddying essence; and third, to the primal drive of '50s rock 'n' roll. The effervescent trio jackhammered watusis and twists laced with squawking feedback and shoegaze white noise, yelped bubblegum pop with sharp tongues, and even attempted goofy dance moves while performing. They were instantly endearing, the kind of playful garage rock that gets cagey as soon as you get too comfortable, following up a cutesy siren's call with an ear-splitting guitar battering.


"The Demon of White Sadness": MP3

Marah
Genre: Alt Country
Hometown: Brooklyn NY

Friday, March 17 -- 11:00 p.m. -- Antone's (213 W 5th St)

Marah certainly brought the rock to the packed house at Antone's, but there was an undeniably pervasive element of contrivance to it all. The band members' fashion, first of all, was self-consciously working-class chic (fingerless gloves, floppy knitted hats, jackets with the sleeves rolled up), creating an uneasy impression that a style they had once worn for necessity was now spruced up to fulfill a manufactured image. That hard-working image was bluntly communicated through their hammy accentuation of every on-stage body movement; chords were hammered out with the kind of magnified attention-grabbing that unquestionably signaled that, yes, a rock band was playing and, yes, it was really breaking a sweat to give us 110% of the promised rockitude.

I don't mean to sound too negative about Marah's delivery, for there's an innate contrivance behind any band's performance; there was simply no need for them to work so hard to persuade us all of their dedication. They dug into their scraggy rock 'n' roll like excavators working in a trench of stone, and even older songs like "It's Only Money, Tyrone" were treated to fresh interpretations. But with their feverish intensity came this expectation for us to respond in kind, as we were bombarded with repeated demands from the stage to applaud louder and longer — all things we would have done anyways, maybe more so if their sincerity hadn't been spiked with exaggeration.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Genre: R&B
Hometown: Brooklyn NY

Friday, March 17 -- 12:00 a.m. -- Antone's (213 W 5th St)

For sheer enjoyment, Sharon Jones reigned supreme. Her hot-buttered JBs funk, a riotous resuscitation of classic soul, was at once enchanting and liberating, setting free every last ass in the room — not even the wallflowers, mighty-than-thous, or disillusioned could resist Jones's sultry temptation. It was, without a doubt, the one showcase that every attendee at the festival shouldn't have missed. After a brief warm-up, the Dap Kings, a rock-solid, impeccably dressed rhythm and horn section, welcomed Jones, who ripped through altogether infectious songs like "How Do I Let a Good Man Down?" with the appetite of a believer who can visualize the path to transcendence and is determined to take everyone there. She did her thang over every inch of the stage, and not one eye in the house broke concentration for a full 45 minutes.

When she had to leave, our bodies still moving with total disregard for the duration of our collective dance or the fatigue suffered from a full day's worth of walking and standing and waiting, Jones departed with a resounding emphasis. Every pair of hands in Antone's were held high and riddled with motion, an ovation wrought by rapture and sustained until the last piece of equipment was torn down. It was the kind of moment that put everything back into focus, that cleared the excess holiday glaze from the day's palette and, in the end, reinforced the week's memorable inclinations.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image