Tuesday, March 22, 2005

SXSW Report II: I went to Austin and all I got was this lousy tinnitus

Here's what I wandered about to see for a few days in downtown Austin this year. I'm sure I forgot some things but hey, I think I saw (or missed) enough...

WEDNESDAY, March 16th
Jason Moran - Heard some great wailing guitar going by this club and stopped expecting to find some blues player but instead there was this jazz wunderkind. Wish they made more use of the guitarist but the band sure knew how to rock Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock"
Bottle Rockets - Don't know that I'd play their latest album to convert agnostics but their live show should make a believer out of anyone. Their new guitarist is great and they've always written prime song. Still the best Southern Rock today this side of Drive-By Truckers.
Jetscreamer - Initially they sounded like Sonic Youth doing hoedowns to me (which is great, I think) but sad to say, they didn't maintain that momentum.
Boyskout - Didn't even know about them but heard them walking by and had to see them for myself. Guess I just have a soft-spot for tense femme new wave.
David Singer - Hadn't heard of him before but wish I did. He has a great way with songs that reaches back to mid-60's UK acts too Brit for us Yanks (Kinks, Small Faces)
Jawbone - A one-band white blues band is a tough sell but this guy makes it work 'cause he's so raw. His slide sounds like a weapon he's wielding at you.
Devin Davis - He's a talented power-pop-smith for sure but I gotta say that David Singer had it all over him.
The Octopus Project - Genuine oddballs, mixing Le Tigre beats, post-rock climaxes and no vocals. They definitely deserve to break out of Austin.
Manikin - If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a post-punk fiend and these guys were pretty good for revivalists.

missed
Album - Hip-pop (or pop electronica) from Mexico that sounds like it could have been bred in the States.
The Winks - Femme punk, more UK than grrl.
Tift Merritt - Think she overdoes it with the tambourine conceit but next to Kathleen Edwards, she's one of the finest femme singer-songwriters out there.

big names missed
Sleater-Kinney - only because I managed to catch them a week before. I'm not always moved by their records the way I should be but they're one of the best live bands out there.
Elvis Costello - would have more liked to see the career-capping interview he did at an earlier panel though I'm always interested in what he's doing
Billy Idol - walking by, I first heard "Dancing With Myself" and then also passing heard him do a bad Simple Minds imitation.

THURSDAY, March 17th
Afternoon
Buddy Miller - A veteran singer/songwriter who's seen and been threw a lot and sounds like it- a little ragged but also potent. His version of "You Win Again" was heart-breaking.
Nic Armstrong and the Thieves - Greasy, grungy rock, just like the R&B fiends in Swinging London used to make.

Evening
Nathan Hamilton - Pretty good country-rock singer-songwriter.
Mary Lou Lord - It just wouldn't be SXSW without the diminutive singer parked on the street at 6th and Brazos, playing for passers-by (even though she had a showcase the next night). Armed with a guitar and a battery-powered amp, she charmed anyone in ear shot, and was just grateful that the cops didn't tell her to move on...
The Reputation - I thought that this group ran mostly on Elizabeth Elmore's songs but boy, was I wrong. These cats rock mightily live, even more than I remember after seeing them before.
The Adored - Young and loud is good by me but they're too snotty. If they ever get over themselves, they could be a great band.
Grabrass Charlestons with Billy Reese Peters - A good catchy hardcore band from Florida that doesn't carry the stink of mall-punk? Yep, it's true.
Radio 4 - Not a fan of their latest record (they're 'progressing' in time from late 70's bent art-funk to early 80's over-sensitive new wave now) but they've always fun to see live, putting out well.
Shellshag - This guitar/drum duo calls themselves "noise punk minimalists" and that they are. At the end, drummer Jan ran over to the roof of the club (next to the patio they were playing on) and finished her set there, while her partner played on the other side of us on the stage. Gimmicky but boy, did we all eat it up.
Best Fwends - A San Fran rap duo dressed as preppies but screeching like teenage girls. They drove out a good part of the small crowd that was there but I thought they were a hoot.
Heartless Bastards - Great name and a singer that sounds like Bonnie Raitt, albeit fronting a garage band. Some folks aren't moved by their latest album but their live show is undeniable. The Black Keys should take note.
A Gun Called Tension - Maybe the goofy name should have been warning but I was expecting and hoping for more sampling madness than 2nd hand new wave but didn't get it.
The Hold Steady - Craig Finn is a great ranter in the tradition of Joe Strummer. I was worried that a keyboard player would lighten them up but their show quickly dispelled that.

missed
The Moaners - Melissa Swingle returns from the ashes of Trailer Bride to head this garage duo.
22-Pistepirkko - fun Finnish popsters
Edie Sedgwick - A weird concept album build on a dozen celebrities, probably has an equally freaky act to go along with it.
Seyi Solagbade & the Blackface Band - Nigerian band which a lot of people regretted missing because they didn't want to be with throngs waiting for Mr. Plant there later.

big names missed
Robert Plant - Did a great panel interview earlier in the day. When the latest Zep box came out, he was circling the Arctic, entertaining Eskimos. What a careerist guy...
M.I.A. - I know, shame on me but I can wait until she plays in clubs that are larger than a shoebox.
Fatboy Slim - I still like him but I wanted to catch a few acts I didn't know before.

FRIDAY, March 18th
Afternoon
Bloc Party - Like the EP better than the album and I hate to say this but I think part of the buzz is that like TV on the Radio, the whole band isn't white.
Futureheads - They're one of my favorite new bands. I feel like I'm falling in love with XTC all over again.
Louis XIV - Usually, I approve of sleazy rock but something's missing here.
New York Dolls - There's only two of 'em left but David Jo's still got it.

Evening
Exene Cervanka and the Original Sinners - I was surprised and delighted how this Ex-X sounded with this other group (including her hubby). Rockabilly madness which would have been only eclipsed by her former/current band.
Erase Errata - Just caught the end of their set but they still sound unhinged as a trio, doing their post-post-punk thing.
Mommy and Daddy - For a band that billed itself as a mix of B-52's and Motorhead, these guys sounded pretty plain. I didn't stay long though so if you're still curious, check out their site for songs.
Blowfly - Such a dirty old man. This old soul sang "Shittin' On the Dock Of the Bay" and "You're Too Fat To Fuck" and made filth out of "Hold On, I'm Coming," decked out in a superhero costume. What a showman!
The Longcut - A next-big-thing coming from England, their lyrics might make you wince but the way that they worked themselves into a frenzy after finishing off the verses was really impressive (especially as the singer would run behind a drum kit to drive it home).
Busdriver - I'm amazed that this rapper's tongue doesn't fly out of his mouth- forget BPM's, his WPM (word per minute) count would beat any secretary and he's got wonderful stream-of-conscious pop culture references to go with it.
Ida - Yet another band I just catch the end of but even in the brief moments I witnessed, there was still plenty of the sweet folkie sound that I loved from their latest album.
Oxes - Slim Moon thinks of Hella as a less visceral Lightning Bolt. I think of these guys as a less visceral Hella but that's still a compliment in my book.
The Martini Henry Rifles - A Cardiff trio with a drum machine and shredding guitars. Don't know what they were yelling about but I loved their Big Black buzz.
The Go! Team - And yet another tail-end one-song set I caught thanks to long, buzz-driven lines. Love their album but wondered what it was like live. From what little I saw, it seemed that Daphne Carr was right- pop calisthenics that come across better on record. Still wouldn't mind catching a whole show though.

missed
Guitar Wolf - Japanese garagesters.
Ruthie Foster - Gospel soul deserving more ink or online space (which reminds me that I also missed Mavis Staples there!).
Back Porch Vipers - They claim to be in a time warp about 80 years ago but they sound better than most old timey revivalists.
Viva K - Drone rock-dance, kind of like a down-tempo Garbage.
Gorch Foch - Polyrhythmic psych-noise with a touch of Magma. What's not to love?

SATURDAY, March 19th
Afternoon
Savvy - A multi-racial mix of pre-teens doing dance-pop. Hilarious at first to see but they actually have catchy tunes. Recommended to anyone sick(ened) of teen pop.
Roky Erickson - Since I'm writing about this for Harp, I'll just say WOW for now. Didn't think I'd live to see this.
Dalek - nice to see that isolationism (dark ambient music) has finally made its way to hip-hop.
Death From Above 1979 - Someone called them a pop version of Lightning Bolt but that's not fair.

Evening
K/R Featuring Rosie Flores and Katy Moffatt - And yet again, another set that I just caught the end of... I do like Rosie quite a bit- she's the real deal when it comes to country crooners with a heart to match. She sounded in good voice with Katy and I hope there's some record to go along with this soon (she does have a live record out now, if you're interested).
Matisyahu - Granted that a Hassidic rapper/toaster sounds like a silly gimmick but this guy ain't fooling around. As a lapsed Jew, I don't follow all the lyrics but he's got serious rhyming skills.
Tammy Faye Starlight - This way-over-the-top country chanteuse gives it up for Jesus and AC/DC and then prays for her Jewish friends from New York (like me).
Faceless Werewolves - Just caught the end of their set but I liked this grrl punk band better the last time I'd seen them. Still, they're definitely one to something and a very under-rated band.
Yuppie Pricks - Think Dead Milkmen gone preppie. The best way to see them is live where singer Trevor Middleton provides you with hilariously condescending banter about how they're better off than YOU'LL ever be, you blue-state loser...
Perceptionists - Love these guys. This rap duo rocked just as well last SXSW where rhymed over Beethoven and Black Sabbath. The rest of the crowd loved 'em too.
Read Yellow - I'm sure it was fatigue by then but I couldn't really appreciate this Oi-meets-Husker band as much as I know I probably should have.

missed
Bloodshot Records showcase - The Meat Purveyors, Jim & Jennie, Bobby Bare Jr., The Waco Brothers- Ouch... I'll need to see this revue another time.
George W Bush Singers - A pop-choir using lyrics from the President's speeches. Really. Might have been really bad or really good and probably good for a laugh. Also probably one of those interesting balancing acts that Dubya's fans and enemies could both take solace in, just like Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack book.
Otis Taylor - A great blues/drone guitarist that John Morthland turned me on to. I'd seen him here last year but he's definitely worth catching again.
Ariel Pink - I've had a bad taste in my mouth for psychotic folkies since Animal Collective but this weirdo might be a good tonic for that.
Feable Weiner - Bowling for Soup, only they sound like they're actually funny. They could likely blow up, which is probably why there was a long line to see 'em (and why I didn't wait).
Cruiserweight - Emo pop which might be more palatable since it's not done by guys.
Vanilla Ice - OK, I had much better things to do with my time but I was morbidly curious about what the hell he was doing now. Maybe not but my girlfriend said that she was at least sympathetic to him after seeing The Surreal Life. Since I'd seen Matisyahu, I guess I didn't feel too bad for missing him, especially since Ice could never rap as well as him.

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