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Music Days 1 & 2

Kevin Pearson and Jennifer Kelly

 

 

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

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)

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