Thursday, March 19, 2009

Knee Deep at SXSW: Day One

With nothing to do until about 12:30, I hiked down to Ms. Beas for the beginning of their Music Made by Women showcase and was delightfully surprised to see Anni Rossi (granted, I was less delightfully surprised that she started about a half-hour late and I ended up missing lake). Really pretty, voice. Something like a cross between Mirah and, I don't know, Regina Spektor.

After that, it was onto the Terrorbird day party at Red 7. I distinctly remember when Caroline told me the line-up for this party and I freaked out. Like, literally started screaming in the office. I show up a few minutes before Wavves goes on and of course, the show is pretty fantastic. Totally sick, you know? I know everyone's doing the noisy guitar and drum punk thing but goddamn, Wavves just hold that shit down. A great way to start off the day.

After grabbing another Lone Star I head inside and see Shout Out Out Out start their set. Imagine, if you will, four or five very good looking, frat-dudeish Canadian dudes making electro (replete with vocoders). The worst thing, though, is the constant mugging going on and EVERYONE in the band is contributing, but mostly it's the occasional bass player with the "God, we are so fucking good" look on his face as he mouths along all the lyrics. It's the kind of face that I just can't help but want to punch.

Instead of subjecting myself to a certain death by shitty bands, back outside Loney, Dear was setting up. I didn't plan on seeing Loney, Dear, even though I really like them and, well, whatever subconscious reason I had for not wanting to see them that bad manifested itself as the three swedes took the stage, or four if you count the terrible sound quality. You see, on their last album they incorporated some electronic beats and stuff, and here they were playing those off of an iPod, and it sounded really shitty. The songs were good though, and made up for that, but just barely.

Instead of waiting outside for the Thermals, I decided to go inside and check out the much hyped Max Tundra. If you know me, you know that I really don't give a damn about electronic most of the time. Not to say I don't respect it as a genre, but you know, it just doesn't do much for me. But every once in a while I really like something, like Max Tundra, who was amazing. Absolutely full of energy, jumping around the stage, picking up random instruments (a recorder, even, at one point), blasting out sweet synthesizer jams. Of course, no one dances (myself included, but I only dance to very specific songs). I've noticed that this year, and it really kind of bothers me that no one ever seems to really get into the music. I mean, I try, I do as much as I can. My standard foot tap and head bob at varying degrees, but here everyone up front is only there to take a thousand pictures on their digital camera. I should note that I will rail against these people, and I feel kind of like a hypocrite but then I don't because I only take a few pictures of each band and I rarely ever use flash (which, you will learn later, can ruin a show like nobody's business).

At some random point I decided to walk out on Max Tundra and good thing I did, because the Thermals were just starting outside. I didn't really plan on seeing the Thermals (I've seen them twice) but holy shit, goddamn, this set was fantastic. Laced with brand new stuff off of their forthcoming record Now We Can See and classic cuts like "No Culture Icons." I mean, look at Kathy Foster's hair in that picture! They are incredible, goddamnit, I need to see them 100 more times at SXSW. Always a good show. And from what I heard of the new record, it's going to be fucking AMAZING.

After the Thermals, instead of going back inside for whatever shitty band was there I bought more beer and hunkered down in a corner somewhere in waiting for Yoni Wolf of Why? After a long, grueling set-up (in which a sustain pedal was missing or not working, something like that), he played for fifteen minutes. This was kind of a bummer, but whatever I'll take what I can get. Something that sounded new, "The Hollows," and "These Few Presidents" stuck out, made my knees weak, etc.

Again, instead of going back inside after Yoni Wolf's set, I hunkered down with more beer and awaited the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, one of my absolute favorite bands of right now. They capture noisy, reverbed indie-pop like nobody's business and when they finally play, well, it sounds really shitty. Not that the songs are bad, they opened with "This Love is Fucking Right," one of my favorite songs of theirs, but the sound (again) was pretty awful. It sounded like a mess of distortion, which can be a good thing but really, I couldn't hear anything that I needed to hear. The lead vocals were muddled, the back-up vocals were inaudible, but I guess the guitars sounded good. But I realized that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound EXACTLY like "Sunny Sunday Smile" EP Era of My Bloody Valentine. It's not a bad thing, well, maybe it is because now I can't listen to them without thinking about that. Or maybe it's just that the sound is shit and I'm too tired and kind of bored with the day party.

After Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I just wait outside for Vivian Girls to play because I haven't seen them and I really figure I should see them while I have the chance, however once they started playing I felt like I was seeing Vivian Girls for the sake of seeing them. I didn't really have any drive to and once they started playing I just couldn't help but think that their kind of boring. Don't get me wrong, I love their LP, but I found myself watching them not giving a damn. That, and the new songs they played from their forthcoming record didn't really do much for me.

After Vivian Girls I stumbled out to have dinner, which actually was a good way of getting rehydrated given that my spicy noodle dish was much hotter than anything I've ever had in my life and I downed at least eight glasses of water. And then went to the Central Presbyterian Church to see M. Ward and Department of Eagles at the 4AD showcase. I couldn't think of anything else to do and was sick of standing and walking. This proved to be kind of a really stupid idea, because what happened was I ended up spending three hours sitting in a pew at a church where maybe 500-1000 people were waiting outside to get in. I saw Anni Rossi again, and it was interesting since I'd seen her play in a parking lot to about ten people earlier in the afternoon and now she was playing to 350 in a sold out church with beautiful acoustics (which is really the only thing that place has going for it, they don't even have a bathroom you can use and the pews are solid wood and will kill you after a while). After that, M. Ward played to the tune of 8 million blinking flashbulbs for a solid fifteen minutes which pretty much ruined the show for me. Seriously, I don't get it. I don't get how that sort of thing is allowed. Eventually, the flashes started giving me a headache and I really wanted to leave. Fuck that shit, seriously. NOBODY NEEDS TO TAKE 100 PHOTOGRAPHS OF M. WARD. But eventually the assholes left the front of the house and he played "Poison Cup" (by request, apparently) which was easily the highlight of my day as it's one of my favorite songs. Absolutely beautiful.

Department of Eagles were really boring. I hate to say that, because I love In Ear Park, but I kept trying to find a good time to sneak out, but I really wanted to hear "No One Does it Like You." When they finally played it, it was completely stripped down, which was kind of cool but mostly still really boring. Maybe it was the 3 hours sitting in that church, but I felt sick after finally getting out. I stumbled (there was a lot of stumbling) down to 6th and ate some pizza and felt better, but not that much better. Maybe I'm just getting old but it's not as easy this year to stay up for 14 hours wandering all around Austin seeing great music. I eventually made my way to Red Eyed Fly to catch Human Highway (the collaboration between Nick Thorburn of Islands and Jim Guthrie) at the Suicide Squeeze showcase. Had I not been exhausted, I would have ate this up but instead I just quietly observed, smiling most of the time because the stage banter was you know, pretty funny and they played all of the songs I wanted to hear and, with the exception of Jim Guthrie's unfortunate hairdo, everything was pretty excellent.

The exhaustion hit really hard after this. I realized that I had two more hours of seeing amazing bands and didn't know if I could handle it, but alas, I soldiered on to the Beauty Bar for the K Records/ Tomlab showcase. The Beauty Bar that night was easily the most frustrating venue I've been inside of in Austin. The inside's not so bad but the backyard where the cool bands were there was no room and it was weird, but everyone there seemed like an idiot. See, I do this whereI get really defensive of bands that I love, in this case Parenthetical Girls and Casiotone For the Painfully Alone, and I got kinda pissed that the crowd was populated by people who looked like they would ever, ever listen to these bands and when they started playing they stood and talked to their friends and took pictures. Bah, the little elitist in me is coming out, but that's what Austin has done to me. Seriously, why do people have to talk through shows and what is the obsession with constant photography. I know I run the risk of looking like a hypocrite, but I don't take more than five pictures at any given show and if I do I don't spend the entirety of the performance checking the photos, deleting them, and taking the same photos again. Blug. At this point in the evening I want to fall down and die, but I stick around for most of CFTPA's set (which is mostly made up of new stuff that sounds pretty good) but once I know I'm not going to hear "Scattered Pearls," which might have pepped me up, I split.

And that was my first day of SXSW.

Ian Hrabe
KJHK Music Director

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