Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SXSW 2007 was a smash

I've just finished jotting down all of the stuff that I saw at SXSW, and it appears that I saw almost 50 bands. 47 different acts, to be exact. I knew that watching live music from noon past midnight for 3-4 days straight would allow for a lot of action, but, damn. 47 bands almost seems impossible to me now that I look back at it. I don't think I ate a single proper meal all week, and I know that didn't have more than four hours of sleep on any night. If my brain is still operating on all cylinders I will try to summarize the best SXSW I have experienced yet.

Tuesday I hung out at the Daytrotter recording and was able to watch some intimate performances by local artists Peter and the Wolf, Voxtrot and Tacks, The Boy Disaster. It rained cats and dogs all day long, and the building that houses the Big Orange studio was barely able to keep the flood from entering the studio dampening some of the equipment. Stay updated at Daytrotter.com where you'll be able to download those performances along with many others, from the people who were voted the Best Free Live-Music Site by Esquire magazine.

Wednesday there was more of the same weather, but more mist than buckets of rain this time. The first thing I was able to get to was Ghostland Observatory's live performance broadcast on KEXP from the Austin City Limits studio. I uploaded a video of part of this performance, specifically the song "Rich Man." The guys put on a great show as always, but the setting wasn't really conducive to the loud, frantic dance-party vibe that Ghostland usually create when they do their thing. From what I heard their official showcase at La Zona Rosa was a killer.


Thursday things really started to get interesting, and the weather cooperated with sunny skies for the first time all week. Here is what I saw:

Softlightes - This four-piece from LA make pop music that is both soft and light, and it wasn't exactly my cup of tea. They were the first act of the day at Urban Outfitters along with Bonde do Role, Beach House and 120 Days.

120 Days - A rock/electronic outfit that came all the way from their home in the capital of Norway to perform a couple of times at SXSW. They were obviously humored by the fact that trendy college girls and metrosexual dudes were walking around Urban Outfitters buying ironic t-shirts during their performance, when their usual scene is a dimly-lit venue and a smoke-filled stage in front of a crowd more likely to riot than go out for a day of shopping. 120 Days will be back in Austin on April 6th opening for Ratatat at Emo's.

Peter Bjorn and John - I had intended to stay at Urban Outfitters to watch Bonde do Role, but the technical staff was ill-prepared for the equipment that Bonde uses so they had to scrap the performance. Luckily I found some live mp3s at this awesome place. Instead of waiting around I hurried down the street to watch the last half of the superb Swedes Peter Bjorn and John at the Austin City Limits studio. These guys, are good. Here is that swell remix once again..

Beach House - The main reason I was at Outfitters to begin with was so that I could see Beach House, because I didn't think that I would be able to catch any of their other sets. They only played for about thirty minutes, though their sound is so captivating that no one was paying attention to the time. They were happy to sign a few autographs and chat with fans who crowded the store.

The Apes - I ran into a guy on the street on Thursday who said that he couldn't wait to see The Apes' showcase on Friday, and that I should check them out. Later, when I went down to watch some music at the Hole, The Apes just so happened to be playing when I walked through the door. Hey, guy on the street who said to check out The Apes, you were right.

"Listen to Erick Jackson's burning, fur-lined bass growls, Amanda Kleinman's horny and celestial banshee organ, and Jeff Schmid's iron-chest-of-cocaine drums, throat chieftain Breck Brunson (ably picking up where previous vocalists Paul Weil and Joe Halladay left off.)"

Awesome Cool Dudes - Woah, these guys really are awesome. I had heard their name many times and knew of the Awesome Cool Dudes from right here in Austin, but I had never heard much of their music nor seen them in concert. Holy crap these guys put on a great show. All dressed head-to-toe in matching atheletic uniforms and belting out some of the funkiest dance inspired tunes that I've heard from any local act, the Awesome Cool Dudes make sure to have a good time when they plug in the keyboard. At the end of their set lead cool dude Cory Plump climbed into the wooden rafters of The Hole in the Wall's ceiling and traversed to the rear of the bar and back while the rest of the band did an extended jam until he returned to the stage bloodied, but triumphant. Video (and rrrough audio) of this can be seen here.

Holy Fuck - I just didn't get enough of Holy Fuck when I saw them earlier in the week, so I made sure to attend their last set in Austin before they hit the road with fellow North Americans Do Make Say Think. I mentioned to them before they went on that the bar they were playing at (Hole) was basically built on country & western music, and that this group of people (including authentic cowboys occupying the barstools) had never seen anything like Holy Fuck before. Before they got on the road I scored the new self-titled EP, and you can check out a few tracks from it at I Guess I'm Floating and Rewritable Content.

The Apples in Stereo - After fun at Urban Outfitters and the Hole I moved again over to the Austin City Limits studio to take in a short and sweet 6-song performance by The Apples in Stereo. If I remember correctly, all of the songs that they performed were taken from their latest (and greatest) album New Magnetic Wonder, which always puts me in a good mood. During the interview with KEXP the Apples' leader Robert Schneider mentioned that the mixing board caught on fire at one point during recording of the new album, because some of the songs are made up of 90+ tracks. I'd say that's worth whatever they're charging.

Errors - I don't remember very much about this band at all, and I think I must have been fairly inebriated. I do know that they kicked off the Clash Magazine showcase that featured five good acts from the UK, and they had a big drum on stage that was getting abused. You can head to ClashMagazine.com to see their coverage of the showcase. Per Sx, "The band take elements of new-wave, electro, 90’s rave, acid-house and make it their own."

(photo by Jon Leighton)

Jack Penate - This was an entertaining set. The 22-year old Londoner jiggled and shook all over the stage while performing his original British pop songs, with a couple of friends manning the bass and percussion.

(photo by)

Fujiya & Miyagi - After seeing Fujiya & Miyagi's name floating around the web so much in 2007 it was a treat to be able to see them live. The softly spoken vocals can get old quickly, so it's a good thing that the music is addictive and makes the people move. I found myself quietly chanting Fujiya..Miyagi..Fujiya..Miyagi over and over again after I left the club.

(photo by Jennifer Ruidera)

The Sunshine Underground - I have already come to terms with the fact that I am going to lose my hearing one of these days. Some day when I'm an old man I will probably be sporting some super fly hearing aids because of the damage done to my hearing over the years. The Sunshine Underground reminded me of that fact on Thursday night. They were the "special guest" on the bill, and they were one of the loudest bands I have ever seen. I woke up on Friday with my ears still ringing.

To continue with the UK night theme I went down and watched half sets by The Young Knives and The Hot Puppies. I wish I could have seen all of both of them because what I got to see was great, and I might not have many more chances to see either of them in Austin.


What I saw on Friday:

Do Make Say Think - I had wanted to see their official showcase at Soho the night before but it didn't happen, so I got down to Emo's early enough to get a front row spot for their time slot (and everyone else's) at the Pitchfork/Windish party. They gave an impressive performance that sounded really good, and closed their set with my favorite track from the new album, "The Universe."

The Pipettes - These three young ladies from England are easily the most attractive trio of vocalists that I've ever seen together on a single stage, and that's only half of the show. They can dance, sing, and dish out enough personality and flare to keep all eyes of the audience focused on them for any good length of time.

The Ponys - They have some really good songs, it was a shame that there were technical difficulties that made it sound terrible. As soon as the keyboard got turned on the surge protector started to smoke, and the bass amp was also on the fritz which made everything sound muddy and jumbled together. Other than that, it was great.

RJD2 - He performed with a full band and played guitar and sang which was cool, but his set was way too short. I was glad to hear him do Ghostwriter and The Horror, those two tracks occupied just about half of the show. I remember that whoever he had playing drums in the band was a total badass, I wish I knew the guy's name.

Menomena - All three members are talented musicians, but their music isn't for me.

Girl Talk - Greg Gillis threw a party at Emo's, and everyone that could fit inside the building was invited. There was a young kid in front of me for the whole show who said he was twelve years old, and this was the first concert he had ever been to. I have a gut feeling that this kid will eventually grow up to be a DJ after experiencing Girl Talk live. "Yeah, but all he does is play songs on a laptop." Who gives a shit? If the man can make a the largest crowd I have ever seen at Emo's dance uncontrolably by using the musical tools that he has obviously mastered, then what else do you need?

After I wiped the sweat off from Girl Talk I caught half sets by El-P and Prom Nite, who happened to be performing nearby.

I had never heard of Nellie McKay before, but apparently the hundred or so people who were all waiting in line before me knew exactly who she was. It wasn't hard to figure out after almost the entire crowd emptied the club after her fantastic performance. The twenty four year old singer-songwriter, actress and former stand-up comedian sat down with nothing but a piano and a microphone and gave the most beautiful, fun, and memorable performance that I have ever seen at any SXSW.

High Class Elite - These guys were covered in glitter, had two go-go girls on stage singing backup and wearing nothing at all, and they were still unable to leave much of an impression on me. I guess they're going for some sort of glam punk look, except their music sounds more like a modern attempt at classic rock. Or, something.

Times New Viking - I knew a little bit about Times New Viking before SXSW and had written about their new album not too long ago, but I wasn't aware that their live shows (and fans) are totally raucous. If you like rock music and a band that can burn the place down when they hit the stage, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with Times New Viking as soon as possible.

Clockcleaner - The highlight of this show was the fight that broke out and left troublemaker with a Bluetooth hanging off of his ear outta the building. You know, just in case you get that urgent phone call that you won't be able to hear while you're picking a fight (that you lose) at a rock show. The baby powder-filled piƱata that was hung from the balcony mid-set and ritualistically destroyed was a nice touch.

(photo by Mike Lewinsky)

Peaches - Oh hell yes, Peaches was awesome. I left Exodus with a body ache after the head-banging set filled with all of her usual performance checkmarks. Bikini and female fro-hawk? Check. Pushing, shoving, dancing and sweating? Check. This was one of the top shows I saw all week.


What I saw on Saturday:

(photo by Leuwam Tesfai)

Deerhunter - When you've got a freakeshly skinny man wearing a dress and sobbing, a bassist who gets floored by a roundhouse kick to the face and a bunch of other random nonsense you've already got the makings for an entertaining show. Deerhunter had all of that, but the music (for the mostpart) was underwhelming.

(photo by Leuwam Tesfai)

Black Lips - One of the bands that I told myself not to miss was Black Lips, who turned in a fine set at Red 7 on Saturday. The action was mostly subdued by Black Lips' standards, see: no fires, nudity or exchange of fluids, but their performance was tight and the songs sounded almost as good as they do on Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo.

Rakim - At Stubbs on Saturday afternoon there was free beer in the VIP area, with warm sunshine coming from above and one of the greatest, most influential rappers and lyricists of all time performing to a packed house full of fans who knew every syllable to every song. We got in too late to watch Ghostface Killah, but having a rare opportunity to see Rakim perform was what mattered most.


After Rakim we headed down to the Fader/Levis party to have some more free beer and see RedMan do his thing. A great live band called No Age were playing when we got there, and they were soon followed by Ladyhawk. VietNam came out afterwords and put on a really great performance, much more impressive than when I saw their in-store at Waterloo Records a few weeks ago. Redman kept the mic to himself and made sure to touch on many of his well known songs so that the crowd could rhyme along.

White Williams - White Williams is a friend of Greg Gillis, which I learned after asking him what he was doing standing next to me at Beauty Bar, when he was supposed to be down the street at Elysium soon to do another show. As for White Williams, his performance was a memorable one. The stage was masked with hard plastic from floor to ceiling and was lit from behind with different colors to show only shadows of the performers behind it, and a two-man team used cardboard cutouts to cast various shapes and create scenery for each song. My camera was dead by this point, otherwise I'd have some pretty cool pictures to show you.

After that I lounged on the patio and watched Clipd Beaks from a distance, before moving inside to watch Kid606. I watched about ten minutes of that while I cursed the Red Eyed Fly for being at capacity an hour earlier when I was unable to get inside and watch the Detroit Cobras. Damn the man.

A few buddies were already inside at Elysium to see Girl Talk's grand finale at SXSW and said the line outside was manageable, so I went over to see how it would go. In my opinion his set at Emo's was better, though I'm sure I will get disagreement from my friends (along with dozens of other people) who danced the performance away while crowding around Greg and his laptop upon the stage. Check out the Austinist interview.


Odds and ends:

I met Tom Morello outside of the Mellow Mushroom, and he recommends the mushroom & cheese. I also met Danny Masterson and offered him a smoke, but he declined. Yeah you heard that right, he declined. I ran into Britt Daniel out on the street and he said that Portland is great, and the new Spoon album will be out on July 11. And I lost my cell phone at some point, did you see it? It's blue in color.

I also have to tip my hat to the SXSW organizers and staff for their fantastic work in running a nearly flawless festival. I can't wait until next March!

(photo by atomburke)

A new friend turned me onto an interesting two-piece musical act from Amsterdam called About, who were recently featured on Daytrotter and played a couple of shows around Austin last week. Below is one of the songs from the Daytrotter session, and here are links to their homepage and MySpace.

One more random find was Fast Heart Mart, who were performing for an enthusiastic crowd on the sidewalk. They hail from New Mexico and apparently travel all over the place and play to any and every audience they can find. I stopped to capture some video and missed my bus in the process. I think you can hear it go by at 1:35 of the video. Luckily, I had something entertaining to watch while I waited for the next one.


Roblyn Crawford said...

Thanks man, you're awesome! ~FHM

vjb2 said...

Danny Masterson declined because he's a Scientologist. That's right, Hyde is a hypocrite.

Don't suppose you saw any of the following:

* HeadQuarters
* Flaming Fire
* Kenna

Well, it's a big festival; somebody's got to have seen them.

sugar momma said...


Mr. Curiosity said...

When Masterson declined, my whole world was turned upside down. That's like George Michael passing on random butt-sex in the forest.

Didn't see HeadQuarters, Flaming Fire nor Kenna.

sugar momma said...

oh & btw, can i get a photo credit?

Mr. Curiosity said...

That'ns not yers. =]

alt-gramma said...

Wowza, I am impressed with your coverage!

About the ear damage: Since I've been going to concerts for 40 years, I'm determined to protect what hearing I have left. I put 1/2 a cotton ball in each ear at concerts. Not way down inside, just so it covers the hole. It absorbs the heavier vibrations but keeps the music sounding like it should--unlike ear plugs. I don't care if I look like a dork; I'll still be able to hear in 10 years.

@ speed of dark

Brad aka Penguin said...

Holy crap, and I thought I was tired from my outings. Heh, your post shows I missed quite a bit..