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Music Days 3 & 4: Part 3

Jennifer Kelly and Kevin Pearson





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)



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 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)




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)



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)

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