Americana UK 2008 Report of the SXSW Festival
SXSW 2008 by Patrick Wilkins
So here we are again deep in the heart of Texas. The ‘world’s greatest music festival’™ is bigger and (maybe) better than ever, at last estimate, 1700 bands, and 81 mostly bar sized venues, packed into the only town I’ve ever been to that has ‘Musician Unloading’ zones on its streets! Also for the first time multiple www.americana-uk.com representation, which may or may not result in multiple reports!
The great Carrie Brownstein (formerly of the magnificent Sleater-Kinney) described SXSW as ‘musical speed dating’ which is exactly right. Here’s how it works, it’s a 4 day festival, the night times are split into ‘showcases’ each venue hosts 6 different acts every night, each band has a one hour slot. If you don’t like the band after a couple of numbers, next door another will be playing, and another next door to that and so on. The daytimes are filled with ‘day parties’ which are not part of the official festival, but naturally feature mostly the same acts, these are more varied, but usually begin at 12 noon and fit in 8 or so acts finishing around 6pm, many are free, some are invitation only. The big names this year, REM, Van Morrison, the buzz bands Vampire Weekend, MGMT and almost all Brits.
So this is what I did on my 4th SXSW adventure.
Randy Weeks and Steve Poltz at Mother Egan’s on E6th
I started the day with the almost traditional trip to Mother Egan’s for the Guitartown party. Didn’t know the first two acts, Randy Weeks and Steve Poltz, at all. Randy Weeks, from Los Angeles, played with a four piece band in a country pop style with a dash of Nick Lowe to him. His main claim to fame is the writing of ‘Cant Let Go’ covered by Lucinda Williams on ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’, he also had a hot shot guitar player, you cant beat a good guitar buzz early in the day! Steve Poltz was wearing a 'Harold Et Maude' T shirt so he gets some points for that, his music was fine, but unspectacular, once again in a country pop vein, he was however very enthusiastic, an ear to ear grin on his face, that can help. He too wrote for a better known artist, having had a part in Jewel’s ‘You Were Meant For Me’. A reasonable start, we’re up and running!
Randy Weeks website - www.randyweeks.com/
Steve Poltz website - www.poltz.com
Catfish Haven at Creekside Lounge on E7th
The first of the endless cross town hikes for some Catfish Haven at the Creekside Lounge. Ive seen this Chicago band a few times now at SXSW, they are reliably good in their indie rock Average White Band kind of way, so good in fact that its surprising they don’t seem to get any more popular. With the current liking for pop-soul stylings in the UK, maybe someone should ship them over the pond.Catfish Haven Website - http://www.catfishhaven.com/ Transfer, Pink Nasty and Brazos at the Scoot Inn on E4th
This was a venture into the dark and dangerous lands beyond the freeway! It was only 4 blocks from my hotel but it’s literally across the tracks, so not in the town. Americans got cabs, I walked. One of the great things about this festival was demonstrated here, I walked in to see a band playing that Ive never heard of, the rather drably named Transfer from San Diego, who happened to be very good indeed. They were all young men dressed in black, had creative facial hair (the return of the moustache was noticeable at this festival), were very serious and played an interesting blend of Elbow type Britpop with Floydish psychedelia, a few meaty riffs and a spot of shoegazing also present, it was all really rather effective, further investigation needed. Pink Nasty was the big name today, she was playing with just a guitarist here, having ‘lost’ her band. If you were going to try and put her in some sort of box it would go alongside Feist, Cat Power, Fiona Apple, so a bit rootsy, a bit indie, a bit quirky. It’s not really the sort of music that strikes you instantly since a lot of its charm is in the lyrics, so in a live environment focus is the thing! I wasn’t as struck with her as my fellow travellers who were all already fans, but I can see she has something. Brazos up next were yet another band with their feet stuck firmly in the Radiohead/Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev swamp. They could do it well enough but I can remember nothing but what other bands they sounded like.
Transfer website - http://www.transferband.com/
Pink Nasty website - http://www.pinknasty.net/
Brazos website - http://www.myspace.com/brazosbrazos
The Wedding Present at Emo’s Annex on Red River
The Wedding Present were more of an engagement present since there were only two of them, so just David Gedge on guitar and a woman called Terry on bass. The sound wasn’t fantastic, the bass was very very loud, I wriggled through the gathered throngs to nearer the front where it was better. The former Peel favourites played some songs from a new record and said they would shortly be touring with a full band. The audience clearly included many Brits of suitable vintage, (a big cheer to the 'Anyone here from Yorkshire?' shout) all pasty and pink from a day in the Texas sun.
The Wedding Present website - http://www.scopitones.co.uk/
The Barker Band at Latitude 30 on San Jacinto
I went to this show at ‘The British Embassy of Music’ due to the fact I was impressed with the band’s sample mp3 on the SXSW site. Oddly enough they didn’t play that song! They are a brit-folk/bluegrass banjo-mandolin outfit from Acton. Nothing staggering or remarkable, but they were having such a good time their joy in what they were doing was infectious. When you see so many bands wallowing in self pity and playing with such po-faced seriousness a band having a good laugh is a very pleasant change. The vocals were not very audible which was a shame particularly as that was what I liked about the sample track. The closing song ran into a stomping few bars of the Quo’s ‘Down Down’ the significance of which I had to explain to a native after the show.
The Barker Band website - http://www.barkerband.com
Carlis Star at Smokin’ Music on Trinity St.
This venue was sponsored by a tobacco company, hence the catchy name. Free cigarettes were available too which seemed sort of odd! Carlis Star, from Manchester, were another band picked up from a sample mp3, sadly though that was the only half decent number in their repertoire. They are basically a guitar pop punk 6 piece, the bass player was annoying the gang of people I was with, firstly he had guyliner on, and secondly he played Peter Hook style, bass at knee high level, and flung his guitar around like he was in a stadium. ‘All a bit 6th form’ was the consensus.
Carlis Star website - http://www.carlisstar.com
Ed Harcourt at Smokin’ Music on Trinity St.
Thankfully Ed Harcourt was much much better. Im not sure what his band member recruitment policy is but, good grief, the female bass player and fiddle player were both jaw droppingly attractive. When it was possible to not stand there gawping at them for a while, it became apparent that the songs Ed was playing were really rather good, he wasnt doing the moody mumbling ‘Ryan Adams thing’ Ive seen him do before either, there was a Thom Yorke element to his voice but not in a plagiaristic manner. This was a ‘note to self’ moment - I must check out some of his recent output.
Ed Harcourt website - http://edharcourt.com
The Von Bondies at Emo’s Annex on Red River
I had never seen Detroit garage types the Von Bondies and, being slightly underwhelmed by the new rather poppy ep, wasnt expecting this at all. They absolutely rocked harder louder faster than I believed possible, the fire and intensity was a wonder to behold. The songs roared off the stage, often with three guitars zipping out the riffs and all 5 band members on vocals, it was a garage wall of sound! Main man Jason Stollsteimer was completely manic and clearly on a mission to make this one count, flinging himself around the stage (with his very nice battered black Fender Jaguar) and staring at the audience like he wanted to fight everyone. The band were so keen, they actually started 5 minutes before time, none of this faffing around tuning for the first ten minutes, they made sure that when the time came there was lift off, and as such they played a longer set than expected, everybody wins! Jason also said they were playing everything so much faster so they could fit more in! Works for me. The ‘Pawn Shoppe Heart’ material got a monster shot of adrenaline, 'Not That Social' was glorious, 'Been Swank' had massive power, 'Cmon Cmon' was barely under control, and the set closer, a runaway 'Broken Man' left me breathless. When it stopped I realised how damn loud it was. This is why Im here, it’s for shows this good that I make this trip.
The Von Bondies website - http://www.myspace.com/vonbondies
The Kills at Antone’s on W5th
After the Von Bondies, a dash across town for one of my gang, seen them many times before but couldnt resist seeing them again, The Kills at Antone's, one of the largest venues. It was a bit of a scrum trying to get in, but made it before the start, the place was pretty rammed. The band, Jamie Hince on guitars and laptop and Alison Mosshart on vocals and some guitar, were not quite as intense as they can be, but were still excellent. Alison seems to have lightened up a bit, she smiled a couple of times and even spoke! The rest of the time she prowled around like a caged cat. She also played more guitar than Ive seen before. The set was mostly new but included 'No Wow', 'Pull AU' (never seem them do that song before), 'Kissy Kissy' and, the set closer, the fabulous 'Fried My Little Brains'. The new songs are not a departure in style, but had a consistent high level of hooks, and some weird driving beats, suggesting the new album could be their strongest yet.
The Kills website - http://www.thekills.tv/
The Duke Spirit at Buffalo Billiards on E6th
I closed the night with The Duke Spirit (some of the natives say ‘Dook’ Spirit which makes me laugh). Biggest line so far to get in here. The sound was unfortunately bloody awful, no treble in the guitars, all bass and vocal. They played all new material, nothing from the ‘Cuts Across The Land’ album, but the new album, ‘Neptune’, is good so that was fine. Singer Leila Moss was on good form despite the sound and powered things along. 'The Step And The Walk' still managed to sound good, as did 'Lassoo', but including the more thoughtful and ponderous 'Dog Roses' and 'Sovereign' in a short set did lose some momentum, I would have preferred an older song or two. I still enjoyed it whatever.
The Duke Spirit website - http://www.dukespirit.com/
Nico Vega, The Heavenly States and Darker My Love at The Scoot Inn on E4th
One of my favourite records of the last few years has been Darker My Love’s ‘Summer Is Here’, so I was delighted the San Francisco band were playing at SXSW, where I first saw them 3 (or maybe 4) years ago. When I got to the Scoot a metal band called Nico Vega were playing, I know it was early but really this was atrocious, no redeeming features at all, songs began and I thought oh well this one isn’t so bad then it would just explode into a big fat mess. Luckily it was towards the end of their set. Then I moved inside for another band, this was Oakland California band, the Heavenly States, quite enjoyable as it happened, sort of intelligent rough edged indie, with a fiddle for added interest. One song even had a dash of early Replacements to it, which more or less guarantees I will like them, I was told at another show later that day they covered the Replacements’ ‘Cant Hardly Wait’, Im sorry I missed that. I will definitely be buying some of their output.
Then it was back outside for Darker My Love. Two of the band (Tim Presley and Robert Barbato, guitar and bass) have in recent times been backing the legendary Mark E Smith in the Fall (luckily with that revolving door, not a long term position!), so I was very pleased to see them escape from that and play a set here of almost all new material, a new record in the pipeline. The band are older, wiser, and less snotty than when I saw them last, but the sound hasn’t changed greatly since the first record, a heat haze of guitar interspersed with dark shimmering riffs and pounding drums, the vocals so deep down in the mix that they are more of an additional instrument than a source of lyrical enlightenment. The textured songs build and build, and, as when I saw them previously, they don’t break between numbers, almost the whole set passes without a pause, everything flows, a great way to create an atmosphere. There was quite a lot of Quicksilver Messenger Service meets Jesus and Mary Chain in the guitars, and even some Ride, a spacey reverb heavy drone, really quite beautiful. At times for me this was utter perfection, particularly during a transcendent set closer 'Summer Is Here', this was music so perfect it emptied my head of everything else and took me over.
Nico Vega website - http://www.nicovega.com/music.html
The Heavenly States website – http://www.myspace.com/heavenlystates
Darker My Love website - http://www.myspace.com/darkermylove
Constantines at Emo’s on Red River
After the mind expanding heights scaled by Darker My Love it was another band whose work Ive greatly enjoyed over recent times, the Constantines from Toronto. Frankly, this was a let down, the band were simply not in the game, whether it was the time of day or new material from a soon to be released record, I dont know, but they just didnt kick off like they can, their characteristic sharp Clash like edges were not there. I was disappointed since I know they can do a lot better!The Constantines website - http://www.arts-crafts.ca/constantines/ Destroyer at Volume Night Club on E6th
Round the corner for some of indie stalwarts Destroyer. This was garbage, an overcrowded hot and sticky venue, the band spend about half their set time faffing about with plugs and leads, then when they finally do start it sounds horrible, like indie rock by Andrew Lloyd Webber, this band just don’t seem to be confident performers at all, Im not sure they are all even playing the same song. No, I wasn’t expecting a Kiss tribute band, but I probably would have preferred one.
Destroyer website - http://www.mergerecords.com/band.php?band_id=29
Devotchka at Free Yr Radio Tent on Red River
Left the dreadful Destroyer for a dash of Devotchka down the street, now this was good stuff, like a European Calexico (even though the band are from Colorado!). All polkas, fiestas, and joyful blasts of trumpet, the only problem was it was now very sunny and I hadn’t got a hat with me, there was no shade so I was cooking, much as I enjoyed this band's interesting instrumental mix I had to leave.
Devotchka website - http://www.devotchka.net
The Black Angels at The Red Eyed Fly on Red River
With hat I was back up Red River for the mighty Black Angels, a local band that impressed me immensely last year at this festival. I had to queue for about 20 minutes but eventually got in. The band play a kind of Doors based psychedelia fused with alt rock influences like Joy Division and the Cure, they were superb as ever. They’ve lost a keyboard player since last year which did change the sound, it was less droning, but the guitars and pounding tribal drumming were making a gloriously addictive narcotic sound. A couple of new songs were promising, though not any sort of departure.
The Black Angels website - http://www.theblackangels.com
Avengers in Sci Fi at Brush Square Park on E5thThere was a large tent in the park outside the convention centre, which hosted sets of bands from different countries on different days, one day ‘the Canadian Blast’, another ‘the Aussie BBQ’ and this time ‘Japanbash’. Japanese bands are always great fun to watch, if not necessarily to listen to, on this occasion I saw a three piece from Tokyo called Avengers in Sci Fi who played comic book punk over Space Invaders noises, which is of course exactly what you’d expect them to do.
Avengers in Sci Fi website - http://www.myspace.com/avengersinscifi
Popup at Habana Calle 6 Annex on E6th
Popup are a Glasgow band between that lurk somewhere between the Fratellis and the Arctic Monkeys, not bad but not threatening anything too revolutionary.
Popup website - http://www.popuptheband.com
Wussy and Honk Kong Blood Opera at Bourbon Rocks on E6th
This was my first time seeing Wussy, a band from Cincinnati (mainman Chuck Cleaver is of the Ass Ponys) you could loosely call alt.country, with some Velvet Underground angles thrown in. There were also some brasher uptempo moments such as a song that sounded so similar to the Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ that it must have been related in some way. Their new record ‘Left For Dead’ was out at the end of last year and on this evidence has made the ‘must check that out’ list. Also wandered out to the other stage at this venue for a few seconds of Hong Kong Blood Opera, who all wore matching red outfits and made the Hives sound like Radiohead, they were truly horrific, so much so that you had to look in wonder for a few seconds then run out as quickly as you could!
Wussy website - http://www.wussymusic.com
Hong Kong Blood Opera website - http://www.myspace.com/hkbo
Joe Ely and Ryan Bingham at Antone’s on W5th
Off to Antone's for a spot of a Texan institution, Joe Ely, and it was a spot, he probably only played 5 songs. Joe was accompanied by a great accordion player, Joel Guzman, I didn’t know hot shot accordion players existed, but they clearly do, this guy definitely is one! They have a live record out soon. Joe gave the stage to Ryan Bingham (a gravel voiced young local in the Texas troubadour tradition) for one song, the two then duetted. Joe was wearing a Clash 'Straight To Hell' T shirt, nice touch. A good set but way too short.
Joe Ely website – http://www.ely.com
Ryan Bingham website - http://www.binghammusic.com
The Weakerthans at Cedar Street Courtyard on E4th
This place is not a good music venue, it’s a nice place, but particularly to see a popular band like the Weakerthans, it just doesn’t work. There was virtually no organisation outside in the street so it was sort of pot luck as to whether you got in or not, I did get in but the mass of bodies that made it in before me meant I could barely see top the band members heads. The venue had unwisely left café tables in the main standing area in front of the stage, which would be fine if only 30 people were in the place but it was rammed! Under the circumstances the clever pop of this Canadian band, mostly drawn from their recent ‘Reunion Tour’ record, sounded impressive, similar to, but more straightforward than, the New Pornographers. Considering the non existent site lines Im not sure I can say Ive actually seen this band!
The Weakerthans website - http://www.theweakerthans.org
Citay and Jens Lekman at The Mohawk on Red River
Then off to Mohawk. Outside was playing twee indie popster Jens Lekman, inside a pastoral psychedelia band called Citay. Citay’s music was really very pleasant, but the band may be hampered by the fact the band main man looks like George Costanza! Jens Lekman certainly drew a crowd, and is clearly popular with females. His appeal passed me by completely, the music called to mind a very long washing up liquid advertisement. More annoying than the music was the fact the twee one ran ages over time so the contrasting styles of Black Mountain didnt take the stage till 1.30am!
Citay website – http://www.citay.net
Jens Lekman website - http://www.jenslekman.com
Black Mountain at The Mohawk on Red River
Now to me, Black Mountain have less of a thing happening than the vaguely similar Black Angels and Darker My Love, but they are more popular than both, so once again Im right and everyone else is wrong. I enjoyed this set, but the downside was some of the overt 70s lifts didn’t work, as my fellow traveller at the time pointed out 'Man that sounds like Jon Lord up there', he was not wrong, now plundering the treasures of Zeppelin? Yes ok. Sabbath? Less there, but still yes ok. Deep Purple? No don’t go there, I was even thinking of the ghastly Uriah Heep at one point, such material just hasn’t stood up well over time, but then many in the audience were too young to remember the originals. At times Black Mountain were nothing more than pure 70s pastiche, they were better with some less derivative, spacier, more drawn out Floyd stylings. Still, despite the quibbles, and certainly following on from Jens, it was a good finish to the night.
Black Mountain website - http://www.blackmountainarmy.com
The Duke Spirit at the Free Yr Radio Tent on Red River
Friday’s events are dominated by the fact it was hotter than Ed Harcourt’s fiddle player out there. I started with a second go at the Duke Spirit hoping for better sound than the show at Buffalo Billiards. It was so hot I was frying, and without hat! The Duke Spirit showed up and said they could only play two songs since Leila’s voice was shot, this was OK as I couldn’t stay in that noon TX sun for long. They did ‘Dog Roses’ and a passable ‘This Ship Was Built To Last’ and we’re done. It was just unfortunate that I didn’t see as good a set by this band as I know they are capable of.
The Duke Spirit website - http://www.dukespirit.com/
The Chevelles and The Vines at Brush Square Park on E5th
I scuttled off to the Aussie BBQ in the tent in the park to get some much needed shade. The Chevelles were on when I got there, I had high hopes for this band based on their sample mp3, but the hopes were dashed, they were Ok, but they really only had just that one song, which they seemed to play 6 or 7 times. Next up were one time ‘next big thing’ the Vines. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it’s been a long time since this band were contenders. However doubts as to whether they’ve still got it were soon banished, the first couple of songs had a New York Dolls punk-glam swagger to them, madman singer Craig Nicholls as snotty and brash as ever (‘Im Craig Nicholls from Sydney and I like coke’), raw throated screaming one minute, then crooning, then thrashing his guitar about the next, the band nicely underpinning it all in a loose confident strut. The punkier numbers still packed a mighty thwack. An interesting cover was ‘Miss Jackson’ the OutKast song, they did a grand job too. An excellent performance, ok I need to see the night show!
The Chevelles website - http://www.ziprecords.com/artists/chevelles/index.shtml
The Vines website – http://www.thevines.com
The Sadies and The Golden Dogs at The Dirty Dog on E6th
After the Vines, round to the Dirty Dog for some Sadies. Now really you don’t need telling how good a live band the Sadies are do you? A lovely thick surf guitar sound, and stunning playing from the lanky Good brothers. They did the one that gets faster and faster, and the hand swapping thing and more. Another Canadian band, the Golden Dogs followed, a sort of bouncy energetic indie bunch from Toronto, not all that memorable but very entertaining to watch.
The Sadies website - http://www.thesadies.net
The Golden Dogs website - http://www.thegoldendogs.com
A Place to Bury Strangers at Emo’s on Red River
So part of the great thing about SXSW is that you hear about different bands all the time from anyone and everyone. I was in line to see the Black Angels, quite a long wait, happened to be standing with some young Brits, they had been to see the Kills the night before too so we got talking about that, and they wanted to see Darker My Love thereby displaying excellent taste, so in comparing notes on droning guitars, new psychedelia and all that they said to check out a band called A Place To Bury Strangers. So I did. Turns out it was quite a tip. This band are a three piece from Brooklyn, and sound like Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine fighting on top of a cable car. They were playing inside at Emo’s, the room was dark and full of smoke (artificial) which was occasionally split with shafts of blinding sunlight sneaking in from outside. The songs were full of wall of sound chainsaw noise, screaming feedback squall and pounding rhythms, some nice riffage in there too. Moments of melody crept in with intermittent surf guitar, and the vocals all sounded like the singer was mumbling New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ over and over ‘How does it feel...’. I’m not sure this would make a decent record but it was great to see and hear live. The last couple of songs took place in a strobe storm, there was even some minor guitar destruction at the end, and at one point, with a deafening racket being generated, the singer/guitarist, who looked like a young skinny Nick Cage (around ‘Raising Arizona’), stood and stared at the crowd his eyes scanning from side to side, the band’s name seemed to suit them! Fantastic show.
A Place To Bury Strangers website – http://www.aplacetoburystrangers.com
The Ting Tings at Stubbs BBQ on Red River
The Ting Tings are a two piece Manchester band based on the Tom Tom Club meets Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, playing a very hooky collection of songs that very quickly became irritating. The girl singer was aiming for the Claire Grogan Altered Images childish charm, but instead delivered a continuous screech a bit like having a constantly crying child next to you on a plane. Not for me!
The Ting Tings website - http://www.thetingtings.com
Carolyn Mark at Club 115 on San Jacinto
Ran off about 100 miles to see Canadian alt.country singer Carolyn Mark, occasionally of the Corn Sisters with Neko Case, to whom she is often compared. I’ve always had her on my list to see at every SXSW Ive been to, so I finally made it. As it happened she was great, she did some solo songs with her strong voice and characteristic quirky humour, and then seemed to have a band of about 20 people hidden in the audience who strolled on to the stage at various times to play added guitar, drums, clarinet and sing things. She was very funny, in fine voice, and did my favourite song of hers ‘Two Days Smug and Sober’, she was well worth tracking down!
Carolyn Mark website – http://www.carolynmark.com
MGMT and the Cribs at Stubbs BBQ on Red River
Back to Stubb’s for MGMT, the place, a large outdoor venue (where REM played), was packed for one of the ‘buzz bands’ of the festival, with arguably the worst band name ever! I suppose it’s a Flaming Lips thing again, but they sounded like Supertramp without the songs to me, I spent most of their set looking at my watch and the festival guide to see what else was on within walking distance. Instead of fleeing, I stuck around for Wakefield’s finest, the Cribs were on next. Considering they’ve just released a single covering the Replacements classic ‘Bastards of the Young’, this would have been a perfect place to play it, which was part of the reason I was here, but they didn’t so I was disappointed. Im sure there was 4 of them last time I saw them, but they are currently a 3 piece. They did ‘Hey Scenesters’, ‘Men’s Needs’ and plenty of other sparky Jam type romps, and one song had me humming something that I eventually realised was Mott The Hoople’s ‘The Golden Age Of Rock’n’Roll’. Not spectacular, but an animated display that the big crowd liked it a lot.
MGMT website – http://www.myspace.com/mgmt
The Cribs website - http://www.thecribs.com
Vancougar at Club 115 on San Jacinto
Dashed back across town for a call in to see Vancougar, an all girl band from Vancouver (see what they did there?). There was a lot of faffing around due to the fact the drummer had lost her drumsticks, once they fired up they were in a Blondie/GoGos/B52s mould, it wasn’t bad, but didn’t grab me enough to think I could ignore the pull of another show by the Vines round the corner!
Vancougar website - http://www.vancougar.ca
The Vines at Pangaea on Colorado
Pangaea is a somewhat fashionable nightclub and clearly a place normally frequented by the sort of ‘beautiful’ people who are more inclined to try and argue their way in (because they ‘like, know Steve’) without the tedious business of having to queue up with the rest of us. Due to my calling in on Vancougar I arrived late, one’s chances of getting in appeared to be based on a) gender b) perceived attractiveness c) ability to impersonate Chewbacca. Unlike every other venue, official SXSW badges and wristbands didn’t seem to carry much weight. So I missed half the set. When I did get in the Vines were at full throttle, and even more fiery than during the daytime show, Craig airborne, Townshend arms going, and mike stands flying. Despite the haphazard door policy enough fans had clearly made it in and were going suitably wild. The Vines may never have lived up to their early potential, but they are certainly back with a powerful show.
The Vines website – http://www.thevines.com
Ketchup Mania at Elysium on Red River
A lot of walking tonight! Back to Red River for a dash of Ketchup Mania at the Japan Nite at Elysium. As Japanese punk goes I think this bunch are the best I’ve seen. GitoGito Hustler who have played at SXSW for the last two years are great fun to watch but I couldn’t listen to them on record, Ketchup Mania still have the helium voiced girl singer but the guitar player is really quite the riffster, switching from punk thrash, to chk chk chk metal to ska with nonchalant ease, so they have a bit more to them. There was some of the usual ‘Are you leady to go clazy!?’ sort of thing, the singer reading the pre translated slogans, to which the crowd responded enthusiastically. There’s something about the naivety and innocence of these bands that’s appealing, they don’t have the self conscious hipster attitude of their western equivalents. A good time was had by all.
Ketchup Mania website – http://www.myspace.com/ketchupmania
Tilly and The Wall at Habana Calle 6 Patio on E6th
Well it was on the way back to the hotel so I wandered into this. I’d heard the name but didn’t know much about the band, mild mannered indie with tap dancing as percussion. TAP DANCING? No, I didn’t stay long.
Tilly and The Wall website - http://www.tillyandthewall.com
Lightspeed Champion at Free Yr Radio Tent on Red River
This was the day that didn’t go to plan (there’s always one) complete with a bunch of ‘must sees’ that didn’t get seen and some being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Another hot one that began at the open air tent for some of the much hyped Lightspeed Champion, who, like the Raveonettes seemed to be playing a show every few hours. Just three songs were played, it was ok, a bit too understated in a mild mannered indie troubadour sort of way to be impressive. The closing song was a cover of a Weezer song ‘Perfect Situation’, and seemed like a likable guy.
Lightspeed Champion website – http://www.lightspeedchampion.com
Delta Spirit at Flamingo Cantina on E6th
Again on the basis of a sample mp3 on the SXSW site I decided to have a look at Delta Spirit at Flamingo Cantina. It was modern intelligent rock in the vein of the Cold War Kids, and a bit of the Walkmen too, here and there were touches of classic Band and a bit of Dylan, nice to hear a some respect paid to their elders. Promising.
Delta Spirit website – http://www.deltaspirit.net
Grand Ole Party at Habana Annex on E6th
Saw a couple of songs by Grand Ole Party, a three piece with a girl singing and drumming, which she didn’t seem too good at. There was some OK angular guitar playing, but they wanted to play up the Cabaret/Weimar decadent thing which other people do too (Dresden Dolls for one), that just seemed stupid.
Grand Ole Party website – http://www.myspace.com/grandoleparty
Blitzen Trapper at Volume Nightclub on E6th
Since I was unimpressed by Grand Ole Party I wandered into the Blitzen Trapper, a band from Portland Oregon, playing just up the street, who as it happened were pretty good, someone said they were like Beck, which I can sort of see, some roots elements, and some Pavement-esque indie quirks too. Occasionally they over complicated things, took on too much, maybe a touch of attention deficit disorder crept into the writing, and as a consequence the songs lost shape and focus, but then intermittently they did hit the spot, particularly with some nice guitar work. I think I need to investigate.
Blitzen Trapper website - http://blitzentrapper.net
Dax Riggs at The Cedar Door on Brazos
Things started badly, I wanted to see M.Ward, he was on at 9 at St David’s Church, I got there at 7.45 he was starting at 9 (followed by Jim James), the place was already over capacity. A very small venue, I waited 45 minutes, the line didn’t move, in fact it got worse as ‘VIPs’ kept sneaking in. Eventually I bailed and scooted off to see Dax Riggs (formerly of Deadboy and The Elephantmen) who made my record of the year last year ‘We Sing Of Only Blood or Love’. He played guitar with just an additional drummer, a really wild drummer in fact, but conjured up an impressive whirlwind of noise, playing several songs from the album including a fine cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘Wall Of Death’ which was much better live the on the record. ‘Dog Headed Whore’ was also full of guts. Dax did well, but seemed surprisingly nervous, and only played for about 20 minutes, but this is the busiest night of the festival so a bit of extra time to charge around town was welcome.
Dax Riggs website – http://www.myspace.com/daxriggs
The Raveonettes and the Donnas at Emo’s on Red River
I hadnt exactly avoided seeing the Raveonettes all week, we just kept missing each other, this was the last of their 12 (!) shows, I’ve never been that struck with their records, Jesus and Mary Chain lite not really working for me. Live, however, it all fell into place, they are odd to look at, tall skinny guy on guitar with jet black hair, an almost doll like girl on guitar with a blond mop (a wig?), and a standing girl drummer. Yes there was some white noise and droning chainsaw bits, but lots of decent tunes too with more than a hint of Spector girl group as well as modern indie, plus a Stereolab cover. After a while I got drawn into it, particularly when some Angelo Badalamenti moments transported me the RR Diner! Thank you Raveonettes, an excellent show, I’m in. After what seemed a ridiculously long changeover finally, one by one, out came the Donnas. Never having seen them, I thought two of them played guitar, but no just one, Allison Robertson, but holy crap did she bring the rock! It was like watching prime time Eddie Van Halen in a duel to the death with Angus Young! She filled the place with monster riffs and flame throwing solos and threw herself around like her life depended on it. Yes, there was lot of the ‘Alllrighht Auusstiiin!’ rawk cliché going on, but the crowd absolutely loved it, really really loved it, I suspect the common-all-garden SXSW hipster doofus had better things to do as this was the most audience reaction I’d ever seen at SXSW, ‘I wanna see your hands in the air!’ and hands were in the air. The set was mostly from the rather fine ‘Bitchin’’ newish record, including the excellent Thin Lizzy-ish ‘Smoke You Out’, and a fantastic Kiss meets Van Halen styled ‘Save Me’. Good as the record is, I think the band made it sound way too polished they are much rawer and more energetic live. This was no guilty pleasure, this was rock’n’roll, if you’re too hip for the Donnas you’re too hip.
The Raveonettes website – http://www.theraveonettes.com
The Donnas website - http://www.thedonnas.com/
The Slits and Film School at Bourbon Rocks on E 6th
Rather than watch another very slow band changeover at Emo’s, after the Donnas I ducked out to catch some of the Slits round the corner on 6th. They were ok, and made some appropriate reggae noises, but the punk aspect had virtually evaporated, a pale shadow of their former selves, with an element of cabaret/karaoke to it. I stayed for a few songs, including one of the ‘hits’ ‘Typical Girls’. I then moved on to Film School who were playing the inside stage. Film School are yet another in the Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev mould, funny thing was one of two guitarist was playing away, pulling the faces, throwing the
shapes, but I couldn't hear a single note of his, maybe his band mates were trying to tell him something! This band didn’t make an instant impact on me, it was all a bit too earnest. I figured the changeover at Emo’s would be done by now, so headed back for punk legends X.
The Slits website - http://theslits.co.uk
Film School website - http://www.filmschoolmusic.com
X at Emo’s on Red River
X were surprisingly good, particularly if you didn't look at them. They played with plenty of fire and energy
and went down very well with a big crowd. They are a bit long in the tooth now, Billy Zoom in particular looks like he's en route to the garden centre to get some parts for his mower, but to be fair he sounded great. Exene hasn't aged that well either, though John Doe didn't look too bad. It’s 30 years since their formation, and, to their credit, this didn’t feel like a nostalgia show, as the Slits did. Well worth seeing.
X website - http://www.xtheband.com
The Waco Brothers at The Red Eyed Fly on Red River
I finished the night and indeed the festival, at the Wacos, since this is a good time virtually guaranteed. However given the requisite amount of alcohol, the Waco Brothers become more of a comedy/pub turn than country rocking rebels, less Clash more Chas'n'Dave. Jon Langford was pouring whiskey over his head and rubbing it on his chest, for reason’s best known to himself, there was certainly a party atmosphere, uberfan Beatle Bob dancing on the stage with the band the whole time. I’ll not be buying the new Wacos record, but it was an engaging end to another brilliant SXSW. It’s an exhausting four days but I’ll be back next year for more, I wouldn’t miss it!
The Waco Brothers website - http://www.wacobrothers.com