Features

Music Days 3 & 4: "Too Much Fun"

Jennifer Kelly and Kevin Pearson
DIPLO [Photo: Mehan Jayasuriya]

With 40+ bands to catch, plenty of beer to be drunk, and only four Bathroom Breaks between the two of them, we wonder about the state of our writers’ bladders. Either they’re shockingly resilient or there was a gold pile of good music this weekend. Our sources say yes.

 

 

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

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)

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