Saturday, March 18th, 2006
SxSW XX III
Day three down and somehow I’m still upright! That’s actually thanks in large part to the Merge/SubPop party at Pok-E-Jo’s yesterday afternoon. Rather than having me dashing all around downtown to get from day show to day show, I got to plant my ass in front of the stage there and let the bands come to me, which they did. Excellent. So let’s get to it.
Metal Hearts (Baltimore, MD) @ Lucky Lounge – I only caught a song and a half of their set thanks to having to run around hunting down quarters for the parking meter, but what I did hear sounded pretty good. Very much like the record, but in a live context the quietly lo-fi songs take on a more interesting ambievalent dimension. Hard to explain. The addition of real drums overtop the programmed backings was also a nice touch.
Bound Stems (Chicago, IL) @ Lucky Lounge – I think I got sent a copy of these guys’ album many moons ago, but never listened to it. After seeing them play a couple songs (again, the parking meter) I’ve made a note to dig that record out and give it a proper listen. Fairly standard indie rock but with a certain je ne sais quoi that intrigues.
The Brunettes (Auckland, NZ) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – Arriving late I only caught the very end of their set, which was cute as always but maybe it was a little too early in the day for the crowd to really get in the proper mindset to enjoy their quirkiness. They did garner polite applause and their Mary-Kate and Ashley gag did get the guffaws from most. Not so much from me but I’ve already seen them do it three times now.
Kelley Stoltz (San Francisco, CA) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – Another artist who’s album I have at home, most likely unlistened to. He and his band played some slightly goofy, shambolic singer-songwriter-y pop that was rather good fun but didn’t make too much of an impression.
Eugene Mirman (Brooklyn, NY) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – The organizers had the great idea of having comedian Eugene Mirman come out and do some stand-up between sets. I’m not being sarcastic, it really was a great idea. Mirman’s a funny dude.
Band Of Horses (Seattle, WA) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – One of the bands on the bill that I most wanted to see, Band Of Horses gamely endured a truncated set time and a self-destructing microphone to put on a short but impressive set of beard-friendly countrified/country-fried rock. They’ve got a great sound and their debut is due out in a couple weeks. Should be worth checking out.
The Essex Green (Brooklyn, NY) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – A band that’s fallen off my radar of late, but undeservedly so. The put on a quick but quality set of pop from their new album, Cannibal Sea, which is out next week. It sounds classic but not as retro as The Long Goodbye – it may be that they’ve found that elusive zone of timelessness that all pop bands aspire to.
Camera Obscura (Glasgow, Scotland) @ Pok-E-Jo’s – Another band with a new album to shill, though Let’s Get Out Of This Century isn’t out until later this Summer. The new material they previewed all sounded great, and a good deal sprightlier than their older material. Tracyanne even cracked a smile or two! A red-letter day indeed.
Mates Of State (East Haven, CT) @ Beauty Bar – I technically wasn’t at this show, I had some time to kill and couldn’t get past the velvet rope so I just watched the beautiful people at the Jane party from over the fence. Mates Of State sounded excellent from where I was standing, creating a surprisingly full sound for just two people. I wouldn’t mind seeing them properly sometime.
Ambulette (Chicago, IL) @ Red 7 – Starting 15 minutes late (an eternity in SxSW time) and seeing rather disinterested, the band formerly (?) known as Bella Lea and risen from the ashes of Denali were behind the 8-ball a bit with me when they finally got underway. Still, anchored by the powerful and emotive voice of Maura Davis, their moody, dramatic rock was worth taking note of. Pity I couldn’t have stuck around for more than four songs, but tick tick tick.
Dirty On Purpose (Brooklyn, NY) @ Spiro’s – The boys played pretty much the same set as they did in Toronto a couple weeks ago (albeit abbreviated), albeit to a crowd probably exponentially larger. I have to say the sound on this little makeshift stage was actually better in some ways than the mix they got at Lee’s Palace. George’s shrieking guitar was way too low, but the vocals were actually audible. Someday, this band will get a good mix and they will rule the world.
Isobel Campbell (Glasgow, Scotland) @ Dirty Dog Bar – I think Isobel Campbell’s musical muse is still a work in progress. Even if her set hadn’t been plagued by technical gremlins, it probably still would have been rather patchy. Touring vocalist Eugene Kelly simply doesn’t have the weight or subtle menace that Mark Lanegan adds to the Songs From The Broken Seas album, and when paired up with Campbell’s wispy delivery, it just lacks the substance a lot of the material needs. This was particularly evident on their ill-advised cover of “Love Hurts”. When the benchmark for this song is Gram and Emmylou, you better be able to measure up if you try it in public, and they just couldn’t come close to giving it the emotion and gravity it deserves.
Eric Bachmann (Seattle, WA) @ Capital Place, 18th Floor – This fancy penthouse lounge was by far the strangest venue I’d been to this week. The Crooked Fingers leader was playing acoustically on this night, accompanied on a few numbers by a backing vocalist and violin, and my god was it amazing. Ironic that at a festival ostensibly dedicated to uncovering new and emerging acts, it would be one of the grizzled veterans who would put on the best performance of the week so far. Playing a few new numbers intermingled with classic material, Bachmann was absolutely riveting to see perform. His set was the perfect respite from the general state of bedlam occurring 18 stories down, and finale “You Must Build A Fire” was a moment of sublime beauty. Perfection.
Sally Crewe & The Sudden Moves (Austin, TX) @ Club DeVille – Recently transplanted to Austin from her native UK, Sally Crewe and her band churned out a set of lean, compact and irresistably tuneful pop songs. The smallish crowd probably meant that she hadn’t yet won the hearts of her adopted home, but it should just be a matter of time before they catch on – while there was no immediately killer single in her catalog, everything they played was remarkably consistent and quality. Worth watching.
Soft (New York City, NY) @ Spiro’s Patio – A band I’ve written about in the past, Soft were unabashedly Anglo in their influences and it works for them. With a singer doing his best to ape Ian Brown and a band that captures the spirit of dancey Manchester, Soft offer a great alternative for those who want to emulate skinny folk who don’t get enough sun, but who can’t really figure out how to dance to the herky-jerky post-punk sound.
I didn’t make any 1AM shows because, well, there were obscene lineups coming from every club and I was in no mood to stand around and hope. In fact, I was quite happy to call it a night and head back to The Ranch. ‘Cause that’s what I call my hotel. The Ranch. I pretend the bathtub is a corral.
You’ll have to be patient for my SxSW photos – I’ve so far managed to get shots of every band I’ve seen, so there’s several hundred photos to sort through and process with still a day to go. I will be getting to that as soon as I get home, I’m as anxious to see how they’ve turned out as anyone, but in the meantime you can pop over to my now-complete run at Scene From My Life to see a couple of pics from the week. Rest assured there are many, many more.
There was also a big “Blogger Brunch” dealie yesterday morning where almost all the music/culture bloggers in town for the big to-do got together to gnarf down breakfast tacos and drink beer before noon, sponsored by Filter. They also had a “Blogger Of The Year” award to give away to one of the attendees, as voted on by the other attendees. The big prize went to Gorilla Vs Bear, but yours truly took home third place. Yeah, third. It goes without saying they only had prizes for numbers one and two.
And so henceforth, I declare myself no longer the Susan Lucci of the blogosphere – not only does that let on a little too much about my childhood watching soap operas but she actually finally won the damn dayime Emmy – but I am now the Martin Scorcese of the blogosphere. He is the true master of futility when it comes to awards. And, of course, this means I have to develop an unhealthy fixation on Leonardo Dicaprio. But at least The Globe & Mail had some nice things to say about me in the wake of my umpteenth Bloggies defeat.
np – Saturday Looks Good To Me / March 2006 Tour EP